Choosing good books for your pre-teen or teen daughter to read

A reader once asked me (Hi Henna-Maria!) about choosing good books for our pre-teen or teen daughters.  This is such an important question.  
I have a lot to say about this topic, actually, so bear with me.  Just a caveat, here, too: I try to be really selective, but what I think is appropriate or wholesome may be different than what you find to be so.  So please use your best judgment, not mine.  ;)

Also, I haven't done this perfectly, by any means.  In fact, there were two books Ella read recently that had parts in them that I did not remember or anticipate that I wished she hadn't read.  Ugh.  (More on that later.)
Ella (14) has always loved to read, and she reads quickly.  I am thankful she doesn't mind reading books over again!  When she wants a new book to read, she peruses her shelves and finds a favorite and reads it all over again.  :)  I'm also very fortunate because she likes the same type of books I do (classics and historical fiction), so that makes it easier because she can select from my library or from those I have read and remember.  That has given her many books to choose from, and they took us a long way into her life  (just off the top of my head— beginning with Little House on the Prairie and the rest of that series, Anne of Green Gables, and many others by L.M. Montgomery, Little Women and others by Louisa May Alcott.)  
However, she has more time to read than I do and because she reads so quickly, I cannot keep up with her. So I do not pre-read every book she reads.  However, (and this is probably the most significant part of this whole post:) I trust her judgment and I trust our relationship. 

We have a spent years being selective about books.  And by now I trust her taste in books.  We have read primarily whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,... (Philippians 4:8) in our home for so many years that her appetite has been developed for such and she naturally seeks those books. 

For the most part I know what she’s reading.  She may choose a book from the library shelf, but if I am unfamiliar with the author or title I will try to look it up and read some reviews— (check for the low reviews; they will often alert you to something you will want to avoid).

In general, I also tend to avoid newer books.  I’m always looking at the publication date and generally am on alert if it's a book published within the past decade or so.  I am MUCH more prone to pick up something that is older.

If I am unfamiliar with a book and Ella is interested enough to take it home and read it, I will say something like, “Okay, hon.  But I don’t know anything about that book so if there’s anything in it that is questionable, please come and tell me or set it aside.”  She will.  And she has done so.  Also, if it’s something I remember reading and it’s been YEARS since I read it, I will say something along the lines of, “I can’t remember everything about this book, so let me know if something comes up that concerns you.”  And then I ask her about what she’s reading…. “How is it?  What is the story?  Who are your favorite characters?  Is there anything in there I wouldn’t like?  What other book does it remind you of?

Now. To the two books I mentioned earlier that I wish she hadn’t read.  Or at least I wish I had been able to tell her to skip a couple of pages within the story.  BOTH of these books were recommended by me.
(*cringe*)  One was Christy, by Catherine Marshall.  I remember reading it when I was younger and I had loved it.  So I handed it to her without another thought, trusting it was wholesome. And it is a good story.  She was reading it and enjoying it and then I asked her one day, “How is it?  What do you think about it?” etc, and she mentioned that there was a “bad part” and my heart sort of fell and I’m scrambling to think “What?!?  What was in there?” and then she explained that one of the characters had been assaulted (this is a nice way of saying that there was an older man in her life that had taken advantage of her) and was telling Christy about it in the book.  I had Ella bring me the book so that I could read exactly what she had read, and as I read it, I felt ill because it was awful; and there was such a dark feeling with the telling by this older woman of when she was a vulnerable child being preyed upon, really.  I felt so responsible that I had handed her this book.  I said I was sorry, and that had I remembered that part was in there I would have had her skip at least that portion (if not the entire book for the time being).  But it gave us the opportunity to talk about it, and I was able to answer her questions, talk through the reality of this and to pray with her. 

The second book- more recently- was a book by Brock and Bodie Thoene.  I haven’t read all their books but I remember enjoying the Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicle series when I was about her age, as well as a few other titles of theirs.  She first read Shiloh Autumn, which is a story about some families struggling through the Great Depression, and she enjoyed that, so I encouraged her to check out some of their other books at the library.  And she began reading (and enjoying) their Jerusalem series.  She approached me, part way through one of the final books in that series, to tell me that there was something in that particular book that was inappropriate.  Again, that unsettled feeling in my stomach of, “OH NO.  What have I done?” Especially because in this case, I hadn’t read this particular book/series.  She told me about the part that had made her uncomfortable (and for good reason, poor girl), and then later I read *exactly* the scene she was referring to—which involved a husband and wife in the bathtub that was not at all appropriate for a fourteen-year-old.  (I actually don't think it's prudent to have such a scene in a book for any age.)  Sigh.  I was so disappointed. Again, though, we were able to talk about God-given intimacy between a husband and wife and the beauty of that (but that we don't really want to READ about that, thank you very much, Brock and Bodie Thoene) and I answered questions she had and we prayed together and it ended well.  But still.  (Just learn from my mistakes, okay?)

Henna-Maria, I know you asked specifically about Francine Rivers' Mark of the Lion series, which I loved when I read them, but I was also much older when I read those books, and I forget the details.  (You've read it much more recently so you will know so much better than I will how your daughter would receive them.)  I plan to re-read those again sometime within the next year and then hand them on to Ella if I think she's ready.


Here is the most recent book list I've posted with a list of wholesome books:
Book list for a 13-year old girl

(Since then she's read several other good books, too-- most recently Pride and Prejudice and Emma, both by Jane Austen.)  She's still keeping track of everything she's reading so I'll post a 14-year old list when we get to the end of her fourteenth year. 

Celebrating NINETEEN

My Facebook status on our anniversary read:
Celebrating NINETEEN (!!!) years of marriage to Mark.  He loves me so well, and I am so thankful to God for him. He's the finest man I know and the most patient guy in the universe. He has integrity; he is faithful and thoughtful and he is a servant-leader. AND he's romantic, silly, kind-hearted, forgiving, and my best friend in the world. Loving you, Mark.  So thankful to be your wife!

There is so much more than can be posted in a status update or even a blog post.  I feel like I can never accurately express how thankful I am for Mark, or how happily married I am, but I just am.  I even hesitate slightly to say that- about being happily married-- because I know there are so many who are struggling in marriage.  And I don't want it to sound like we have no issues, either.  Because we do.  We're both sinful people and we know it.  He sees my failings very up close and I see his.  And yet we continue to pursue each other with intention and love because we covenanted before God to do so.  And because He strengthens us to do so.

Throughout these past nineteen years, we have walked through some valleys together-- we have felt the deep heartache of infertility, we struggled for years in an area of our intimacy, we have adopted children from hard places that come with their own (invisible-to-most) special needs, we have lost friends and family members and we have grieved the loss of two of our own babies.  These have been very dark seasons.  And yet: by the grace of God we have turned toward Him and toward one another.  He has held us; He has kept us.  I am so thankful.

And so much more than the difficulties, there has been joy, and blessings too numerous to count.  My heart is full.  I am daily grateful for the opportunity to continue to love this man of mine well.

We generally go away every year for a couple of nights-- to the ocean, to celebrate.  But this year we couldn't figure out childcare, so we packed all the kids along with us and had a family vacation instead.  (Hence, Audra in the photo below.) 

Settling into rest, and an update on Isaac

Hello, sweet friends!

How are you all today?

We are well.  I actually came down with some weird virus Friday night, so I spent all of Saturday in bed, with a fever and achy body and migraine-like headaches.  It was fairly awful, but with sickness also comes the kindnesses of my family: sweet get well cards from two of my girls, a kind son who comes up quietly, several times a day, and asks if he can pray for me, and then lays his hand on me and prays fervently.  Another son who comes and asks if he can rub my neck for me.  And my man, who took the day off to spend with the kids so that I could actually rest.

Sunday came and I felt slightly better, but we stayed home from church and ended up spending time in the yard and garden.  It was so restful.  Sunday night came, and it dawned on me that I didn't have any lesson planning to do. No weekly clipboard sheets to print out, no math lessons to assign, no new morning time material to find.

We are done for the year.  (!)

Monday came, and again I marvelled at all that is now not on our plate. It's actually quite staggering, how much space is suddenly in our schedule. We had a lazy morning, did our chores, and headed to the library.  We got stacks and stacks of books and came home, sat on the couch, and read a whole lot of them.  It was so satisfying, not to feel like we had other things to get to, something else school-ish to do.  

Mark asked how things went, our first Monday of no-school, and I made some remark about how the kids are probably a little unfamiliar with this more relaxed mama of theirs-- (she's more silly and more playful and fun).  And I told him that it truly feels good to settle into only being mama, and to check out of my teacher role for a season.  

Today the younger kids were getting restless.  I suggested board games, but that wasn't a hit.  The rain is coming down hard outside, watering our garden for us.  I made three batches of playdough and pulled out all the cookie cutters, rolling pins, and knives.  They've been at it now for more than an hour.  At first they were all pretending they work in a bakery and they were fashioning all sorts of little cookies, pies and tarts, and calling me in every few minutes to show me their creations.  Then they played "Chopped" (which they've seen all of two times), calling out a meal --I've overheard spaghetti, kabobs and hamburgers so far-- setting the timer, and then all working individually to make it.  Then one of the kids- the preassigned judge, judges their entries.  ;)

* * *

Isaac update:  Last week I was becoming increasingly anxious about Isaac's health.  He has been the same-- still making 4-5 trips to the bathroom every day, with an almost constant urge to go.  He still has mucous and blood intermittently. His throat still feels "snotty".  He spends nearly 30 minutes in the bathroom each time, so we're talking HOURS out of his day are spent in the bathroom.  This has been going on for more than four months.  He's tired of it, and has been increasingly discouraged (hence my increasing anxiety).

I pressed in to the Lord again, asking what we should do for him.  I keep asking God to lead us, to direct us to answers regarding his health.  We don't know what is going on with him, but God-- Creator of his body-- does.  I keep asking that God would reveal it to us and impart His perfect wisdom to us.  And I keep asking God to heal him, and continue to entrust him to God.

We feel like we've given it ample time to work it's way out of his system, whatever the elusive It is.  I spent Friday afternoon on the phone again with Children's Hospital, talking to the nurse a few different times, talking to scheduling, trying to get another appointment with the gastroenterologist.  They want us to drive to Seattle to get updated labs.  (And--- they can't get us in for an appointment until the end of August.)  I also researched a naturopath here in town that could do food allergy testing for him.  

On Saturday evening Isaac told me that he'd only gone to the bathroom ONCE.  ONE TIME.  And it was "normal".  (So... not diarrhea.)  You guys!  My jaw dropped open.  This is startling, considering these past several months.  I was floored, and just thankful even for this one day of rest for his body, for this one day of reprieve.  

On Sunday, he did not go AT ALL.  Not once.  He told me and I shook my head, in total wonder at what God has done.  I don't know if He has healed him or if He is just giving his body rest (both of which we've prayed for), but either way, I am SO thankful.

Monday, he went again, ONCE.  He said it was normal, just like it was "before all this started."

I don't have an update yet for today, but I am so incredibly grateful for even these three days of rest for his body; for God's goodness and for His temporary (if not permanent) healing.  

Thank you for your faithful prayers, dear friends. 


On Saturday morning four of my kids and I headed out to pick strawberries. I didn't have any goals for how many berries to bring home, I just knew I'd like some for jam, and some to freeze for smoothies.  I told them, "Let's all try to fill our buckets about half-full!"  So they did, with some help from Ella and I, and apparently that totals up to 36 lbs.  It hadn't seemed like very much at the time, but when I got home and saw all those strawberries in my kitchen, I was just a touch overwhelmed.

The thing about strawberries is that you have to do something about them fairly quickly, because they don't keep well in or out of the fridge.  The first thing I did was pour them, in batches, into a sink full of cold water, and washed them.  Then I laid them out on trays (lined with paper towels) to dry and sit until I could do something with them.  But they get mushy fairly fast, so you have to GO.

I started in on freezer jam, and made two batches.  (In the photo below you can see them against the wall, there, on my counter, with the white lids.)

While I was doing that, I was also arranging whole berries on cookie sheets for the freezer- just freezing them for an hour or two and then transferring them into freezer bags. 

Then I readied the space for canning and processed a canner full of pint-sized jars.

This photo was taken when the end was finally in sight.  This was the last of the berries to do something about.  (It seems only fitting that my photo is blurry, since by this point I was feeling a little woozy from processing all those strawberries!) 
Then I sliced up a full bowl to keep in the fridge for us to eat for the next day or two, and I kept a tray of whole berries in the fridge, too.

And I still had berries to deal with.  So I decided to get out the food dehydrator and fill all the trays with sliced berries.  By the following evening (day 2) whatever we hadn't eaten from the fridge, which was becoming a bit mushy and unappealing, I blended up for fruit leather. 

So, all in all, 36 lbs of strawberries yielded:
10 small jars of freezer jam (2 batches)
7 pints of canned jam (1 canner full)
7 gallon-sized freezer bags of frozen whole strawberries, for smoothies
8 trays of dried strawberries (1+ quart jar full)
1 bowl sliced for the fridge for eating (primarily with yogurt and granola for breakfast....yum!)
1 bowl whole for eating (we took these to a friends' house and gobbled them up)
1 dessert: strawberry shortcake* (my favorite, with freshly whipped cream)
6 fruit leathers

And that was that.  The kids were in and out helping here and there, and that was nice, but for the most part they played outside --it was a beautiful sunny day-- while I worked.  Isaias helped with the trays of frozen berries, Audra helped me slice berries for the dehydrator, and Audra also helped me do the freezer jam.
*Strawberry Shortcake
2 cups flour
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 T sugar
1 stick of butter, chilled (8 T)
lemon zest
2/3 cup milk

Combine the dry ingredients.  Cut in the butter in with a pastry blender until it is pea-sized.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk, combining with a fork until just combined.  Add more milk if necessary, one tablespoon at a time.  Turn the dough out onto a surface for rolling (I use parchment paper, sprinkling flour on it first.)  Pat it down and lightly roll it out and then cut out with biscuit cutter (or the end of a glass or jar).
Bake at 425 degrees for 9-10 minutes, until just slightly browning at the top. 
Serve with sliced strawberries and whipped cream.
* * *

Today is our final day of school, and within the next few days I plan to have those evaluating-the-year conversations with my kids, and I'm very much in analyzing mode as I consider our school year. 

My next blog post will be about choosing good books for your teenage daughter.  Then I will likely move on to a series of homeschooling posts about what worked and what didn't work for us this school year, as I process my own thoughts.  (I hope that's okay!)

Blessings to you and yours today!

Thoughts on ending the year well, poetry, and a God who knows us

Mark decided we would be done with our school year at the end of next week, so we are officially winding down, and I am thankful because it means the end is within sight.  Except now that I know that, suddenly my brain is revving UP for planning, and I keep reminding myself to slow down, get through the end-of-the-year evaluations first, and then allow myself to actually rest before the planning.  But I love planning.  And I've got ideas and so I am jotting them down and thinking about planning.  :) 

End-of-the-year evaluations are probably not what you think they are.  I generally interview each of my kids to find out their favorites of everything from chores to read-alouds to trips to subjects to activities.  All of it.  I have our schedule in front of me and I just ask away.  I find out their favorites and least favorites.  Then I ask what they missed; what they wish we had done more of, what ideas they have, etc.  Those are sweet conversations, and I learn a LOT.

Now that we're down to the last week, we're in review mode, and these past couple of mornings we've been reviewing the hymns and poems we've learned over this past year.  I was really curious to see if the kids would remember any of the poems we did back in September, and they do!  I'm so impressed by their memories.  (Note: I have learned words and lines, but I don't know that I could even recite one complete poem at this point.  Sheesh.)

This was the year I became a fan of poetry.  We have tried to tackle it every year, and usually start strong, but I always fade out.  This year I selected two poems per month, beginning the school year with fourteen poems tucked away, and then I scheduled it into our morning time and we read those poems every day.  And they learned them.  Simple as that.  And they love them and so do I.  I have our poetry books beside my bed and am already peeking into them to select some for next year.  The kids have also requested certain poets.

* * *

OH!  And I found this gem in the Psalms the other day and wanted to share it with you after my somber last postPsalm 38:9:
All my longings lie open before you, O LORD;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
I love that, don't you?  He knows us; He knows our longings and our every need and desire; our tears, our doubts, our disappointments, our pain.  He knows.  He is a hearer of our hearts. He sees all of us. He knows us intimately and personally.  I am so thankful, aren't you?

May you remember today that whatever your longings are; whatever your needs and sighs are-- He knows them already.  He loves you so very much.  (Praying particularly for you sweet readers here.  Tamara.  Quinne.  Candice.  Charissa.  And for you, Melissa, and for your sweet Abby.  And for you, too, Rebecca.)  I love you sweet girls.  I've been lifting up your needs before our Heavenly Father, and trusting that He who knows you will meet each need of your heart.  (((big hugs)))