True Grit

No, this is not for the movie that was released into the public a few years back. This is a book with real women who took God’s calling to missionary work seriously: women who suffered during a war, a near shipwreck and scornful discrimination. Between chapters of awesome stories are real numbers about deaths resulting from abortions, poor health, angry relatives who do not hesitate to kill or torture (or even do both to) female relatives and the like.

Far from being the aggressive female persona so prevalent in today’s culture, the stories speak of women who submitted to their husbands’ will and living victorious Christian lives. Being a committed follower of Christ didn’t mean weakness as page after page featured how His faithfulness and love endures even through unsettled times.

This is what God did and what He still can do.

Reading Light: Coffee Table Books

I understand that times are a-changing and that free time is in short supply. Just to ruin this sorry excuse of having no time at all to read, I made this list of wonderful books that you can pick up anytime.

Up to No Good (Kitty Harmon)

This is a delightful compilation of photographs and stories as real as the spit on the classroom ceiling made by little rascally boys. One for the laughs and nostalgia (my, oh my, are we getting old or           what?), even a grumpy grown-up day can be relieved with one or two stories.

This is My Story (Various authors)

Miracles can happen, and God is still changing lives. Grab a copy and be amazed by these heartbreaking stories by real celebrities from the Philippines. A friend gave this copy to me years ago, and        now it has a special place in my heart, especially when I needed to be reminded that who’s in control. I am not. He is. (And) what a wonderful fact that is.

Creatures Bright and Beautiful (James Herriot)

Some of the warmest stories I have read are from this country vet/writer. Written in old British English style and in short prose, it is hard to put down. I have lost count when I laughed out loud, over       silly cows, miser clients and wacky vets. This book is actually one of the four parts Mr. Herriot has made. Although I am a teacher, this has inspired me to feel for all the vets everywhere. Bravo for         taking care of some of God’s creatures.

Animals Can Almost be Human (Reader’s Digest)

This is another compilation about animals and how intelligent and loyal they can be. There’s a kangaroo who refuses to fight; a bear tamed by a boy; a shy gazelle who wanders in from the African                                 savannahs into human hearts; a bright dog who trained his master; a family of raccoons who came a-knocking every evening, polite as you please begging for food; among others. A story can be as                short as one page to three pages long.

32 Third Graders and One Class Bunny: Life Lessons from Teaching (Phillip Done)

Phillip Done won an award for one of America’s most well-respected teachers and he has wisely put some of his nuggets of wisdom in these pages. His work is hilarious and never fails to give me a     belly laugh. Sometimes cynical but often optimistic, his teaching has been shaped by one fact: he loves children. He’s been doing that ever since his first interview as a new teacher applicant up to now. Yes, it shows in the pages, too.

Sponsored by Residential Landscaping of San Antonio, “Done Right”

For the 20-somethings and the Going-there Teens

Yes, you read it right. For the twenty-odd people and the serious teenagers in College, you can also find a list here! It’s never too late to start reading. Take that from my husband, who had to start serious reading in his late teens. One page a day, he said as I devoured three books in one week (more, if you include the textbooks I have to read). There is a reason why comparing yourself to others is definitely not a good idea. Try challenging yourself instead.

Zorro (Isabel Allende)

This is an English translation of the Spanish original, retelling the story of Diego de la Vega (aka Zorro) from his colorful childhood to the maturing years as he defends the poor and the weak as the famous masked crusader. The novel is infused with quirky humor and trivia. (Who knew that Zorro’s alter ego was such a scaredy cat?) This is a wonderful example of how history (albeit fictitious) can be fun to read.

In the Potter’s Field (Patricia Cornwell)

Medical students can relate with this sassy heroine. Dr. Kay Scarpetta is a medical examiner that not only performs autopsies but also investigations of difficult cases. Driven to a corner by a serial killer who was stalking her, the doctor realizes she has to act fast, before more people will die in his hand. I don’t usually get the blood/gore fascination of a lot of readers out there, but I will have to make this an exception. This is a delightfully easy to read.

Glory Lane (Alan Dean Foster)

Three teenagers found themselves in the middle of an intergalactic war. There’s Seeth (don’t-call-me-Seth), a bore punk looking for excitement, Miranda, blessed with beauty, not so much on the brains and Kerwin, a nerd who just wants to fit in. The unlikely trio will save the universe with speed-of-light starships, intergalactic shopping sprees and a frontline action in the war. All this from a master of sci-fi, Mr. Alan Dean Foster. Funny and light, this book will be a delight for the young (and the young at heart).

Marley and Me (John Grogan)

Two reasons why you should read this: an adorable yellow Lab named Marley who turns a young couple’s life upside down; and that this was written by a guy who knows how to poke fun. Here is the bonus: IT’S REAL! Please don’t let me spoil by giving you other reasons to pick up a copy. Just please read it. Please.

The Walking Drum (Louis L’Amour)

Another historical fiction, the Walking Drum is about a prince who found himself an orphan after soldiers killed off his family. Rallying for revenge, he sets out and discovers interesting characters along the way. Romance, action and suspense can be found in this book, made by one of the greatest masters of literature. It is ironic that this was the first book I have read from this author. Mr. L’Amour actually wrote hundred of serials about cowboys and bad guys. This was probably the only book he made Middle Eastern-Medieval-like. Don’t let the thick book frighten you. It is really a good read.

Young Adults: Keeping the Imagination Alive

Apparently, my husband got wind of my blog and shared all my posts to the office he was working. I received (not got, so informal, don’t you think?) a number of calls, tweets and some private Facebook messages, asking for more. So, here is more!

In with the Out Crowd (Nora Howe)

Some storybooks just get you into the feel of things, just like this one. Robin has been part of the In group ever since she can remember. Suddenly, she just isn’t anymore. Her friends just drifted from the same values and perspectives they used to share with her. Now, Robin has to come up with the pressures of high school like and the feelings of isolation. From getting new friends, to passing her subjects, it has never been easy to readjust but somehow, she did. A must read for kids who found themselves discriminated because of unwavering standards.

Nothing but the Truth (Avi)

It was meant to be an allegory of sorts (at least to me) but it was hilarious all the same. A boy suddenly shot to fame when he acted out in school. The teacher just wanted the whole class to stand up quietly while the national anthem was played through the speakers, but not Phillip. After all that was said and done, he got this teacher sacked, and he himself transferred to another school where he was given the privilege of singing the anthem out loud. I won’t tell you the ending because it would spoil everything, but this is a perfect poster book for overvaluing only one side of the story.

The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)

This book is a series of books considered classic and controversial. When the movie of the book was out in the market, it was placed under fire by religious people for blasphemy, because it was supposedly against the existence of God. Personally, I would like to categorize it under “parental guidance” for its philosophical issues. Read it for pleasure and take it for what it is: a very good story. Nonetheless, just like Harry Potter and other such books, you may want to properly instruct your child about your own convictions.

Running Out of Time (Margaret Haddix)

Jessie and her entire village lived in an open secret: their frontier setting was actually purposely made for scientific experimentation in modern America. Restricted from having vaccinations, the children start getting sick from diphtheria, something that should not have happened in the first place. Then the children started dying one by one. Jessie was sent out to look for help from the outside world. Totally clueless and whirling from the horrible realization that they were all being duped, can she possibly get help before she run out of time? One can see how Haddix is into sci-fi genre and this book not that different, although this book involves a bit of social issues. The pacing is fast, while remaining to be child-friendly. Want a suspense/thriller/sci-fi for your teen? Try this out for size.

Tell Me Everything (Carolyn Coman)

The book centers on a heroine whose parents died, leaving her in the care of her weird uncle. Yet unlike Everything on a Waffle, there is little humor here. The whole book feels dark, as the story revolves around her misery and isolation. Children may appreciate the innocence of the heroine anyway. It is most definitely sad, but then, sometimes your tykes need to read about a little sadness to be able to understand loss and grief.

Young Adults: Keeping the Imagination Alive

Allow me to start this post with a story. There was a time when the family sat on a (not-so) fancy restaurant downtown. We were ordering a huge meal (don’t you just hate it when you order a lot when you’re hungry?). The staff told us that it was going to take twenty minutes of waiting but we were given free garlic (!) bread for starters as well as free use of Internet. So, we were in the middle of the restaurant, nibbling halfway into the bread basket when I (sort of) eavesdropped on a conversation from the table nearby. The kids were delightfully asleep on their high chairs and my hubby was too hungry to start a conversation (with the garlic bread between his teeth and all). The conversation went on like this:

She: Eat now, Andrew. Before your steak gets cold

He: …(mumble, mumble)

She: You have to talk louder, Andrew. It’s not polite.

He: …

She: Louder.

He: Yes, Ma. (with a loud sigh)

She: Would you please talk to me?

He: Not now, ma. I am levelling up in this game I’m playing.

Curious, I turned my head and saw this eleven year old boy playing with a huge tablet in his arms, with another boy sitting beside him, looking on. I was not even aware from listening that there was another boy. There were an occasional awwww shucks and cartoon sounds. The mother tried to stare them down but to no avail. Our eyes meet. She smiled, as if saying, teenagers, right? Then probably from embarrassment, she took out her mobile phone from her bag and started playing as well. This went on for the whole duration of the time they were on the restaurant. It got me thinking how sad it must be for our generation. All these tablets and cell phones and no time to chat. Almost everywhere I go, people don’t seem to be doing except check social media or play games. It has even happened on my brother’s family. He goes home to see his wife on the phone, doing Facebook and his kids on the laptop playing Minecraft. The house is quiet and they don’t even talk on the dinner table at all.

Experience-wise, I can’t even see people reading books anymore. Textbooks are even available on digital formats. In all due respect, I am not lambasting technology. It’s wonderful. I have a classroom of children who sometimes need a small video or two when there is a topic I cannot explain in terms they can understand. I am happy with email (free mail, as my Mom used to say), Viber and FaceTime.

But what is happening? Too much use of these gadgets is teaching us poor social skills. A parent from school bemoaned her kids getting impatient, tantrum-ish and aggressive. In a fit of divine insight, she took away the right to play with tablets and cell phones from dinner to bedtime and discovered they were more patient and less rough. What did she do with all the free time? “I got them started on books,” she said.

It feels right about starting this little project, Operation Reading! I have already started on a book list for toddlers. Here is another for the older kids. I hope you may be able to influence them to read instead of playing online.

From the mixed-up files of Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigburg)

I have yet to know where Frankweiler fits with this book, but it is certainly a read for school-age kids. The heroine Claudia decides to run away because she feels she’s not getting enough recognition at home. She invited Jamie, her brother who hoards money like a dragon hoards treasure along. They stayed on a museum and the adventure starts. The story is fast, interesting and will be a good head start.

Everything on a Waffle (Polly Horvath)

For older children who have experienced the loss of one or both parents, they can certainly relate with the character Primrose. She lost both parents at sea, yet all through the story, she has never given up on the hope they would be back. In the meantime, while waiting, she regularly goes to a restaurant that serves (you got it right), everything on a waffle. She helps out and busies herself with cooking. To the author’s credit, there are even recipes in between chapters. Maybe a great way to encourage helping out in the kitchen? (wink, wink)

The Wanderer (Sharon Creech)

The book tackles on some fine points about family, cooperation and self-actualization (what a big word). Amazingly, the young female protagonist (that’s main character for you), Sophie embarks on a sea trip along with her quirky uncle and cousins. Trouble ensures because of different personalities, priorities and secrets (hint: Sophie has one). But there’s a happy ending in the end, I promise. The bonus here is that your teen may be interested to learn about nautical terms like helm, starboard, and the seaman’s alphabet (A is for Alpha, B is for Bravo and C is for Charlie).

Found (Margaret Haddix)

This mystery book is the first instalment of the Found series, and one for the detective wannabes in the family. Jonah is a kid who knows he’s adopted and never thought it was a big deal, until he finds a mysterious letter saying: “you are one of the missing” and “beware! They’re coming back to get you.” Creepy, huh? Have your kid read this and find out what happens next!

My name is America: The Journal of Ben Uchida (Ben Denenberg)

This book may have some serious undertones here. It was inspired by true events in the American past when some citizens living in the country were treated inhumanely simply by just being Japanese. The setting was around the time when Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese forces. Paranoia ensured and a lot of them were taken into camps under harsh conditions. All’s not gloom and doom, though, as Ben tries to understand what was going on.

There are some more books I can post later. Do leave a comment and I can give you a more extensive list. Good day and God bless your undertakings!

Children’s Books and the Wonderous Worlds they Transport Us To

My love for book reading goes even before elementary years. Around 4 or 5 years old, I remember the first time I was being made to read a book about Dick and Jane.

You know, the typical: “Jane is running. See how she is running. Run, Jane, run!” It must have been the most boring book I have ever read, but it was instrumental with how I learned how to read and pronounce words effectively.

Although there are so many books for children out there, here are some of my favorites. They have served to instill the love of reading in my seven-year-old niece who hates reading. Most of these are very short and repetitive at times, so they are generally for toddlers (meaning up to three years old). Don’t despair should your niece, nephew, child or pupil not immediately pick up on the words. The key here is consistency. In other words, read them every day. The worst case scenario is your little munchkin nodding off to sleep but that’s not probably bad at all. Have fun, you all!

Dr. Seuss’ “One Feet, Two Feet”

Dr. Seuss or Theodore Seuss Geisel is currently known today for the story Cat in a Hat. Whimsical and light-hearted, his stories match the creativity of little children. This tiny story features a lot of opposite words (small feet, big feet, feet on the table and below) that rhyme so it is easy to start and finish. You can even bring in a tune or two. There are a lot of pictures as well, enough to start making stories of your own or to explain. I have always been a big fan of Dr. Seuss’ works because the characters he introduced are wacky and out of this world. My fussy niece likes to read his books. She says she likes the creatures of every shape, size, and color that line up, along with the dozy eyes, the lazy grin and the huge furry feet. It also helps that the artwork is very attractive. A must for early readers.

“Why Noah Chose the Dove”

If your kid is more into pictures than words, here is a wonderful book to try on. Eric Carle is a bestselling author and illustrator of children books. He works on a collage technique, putting tissues painted and cut into designs of different shapes and colors into unique images of birds, dogs, people, among other things. These pieces are then interwoven with short stories.

“Where the Wild Things Are”

If the kid is not afraid of monsters, you can pick up this book by Maurice Sendak.             The main character is a grumpy little boy who was made to do a time out in his bedroom by his mother for unruly behavior. There, he travels and discovers a world of monsters, each trying to scare him. The artwork is realistic but you can appreciate          the          soft lines of fantastical monsters on each page.

“Chronicles of Narnia”

This timeless piece of around seven books may not be readable for all toddlers but the worlds and the characters are simply too irresistible to pass up. If you aren’t already familiar with this story, I encourage you to give it a try. For your little kid, read up one chapter at a time. Some old English terms may need to be explained, though, so it may be a good exercise to brush up on your vocabulary and grammar. Enjoy reading about Aslan, Peter and the whole gang, fighting against bad guys. I should warn you that once you start, you may not stop until you read the end of it!

“Cricket and the Lady Bug”

If you don’t have enough money to spend on actual books, it may be advisable to stack up on kids’ magazines like the Cricket and the Ladybug instead. Written by upcoming and established authors and illustrators, there are at least five stories and poems included per magazine, with wonderful illustrations. I think that’s enough for one week’s worth of daily reading material!

I cannot emphasize enough on the consistency of daily reading for you and your children. Storybook reading is such a great way to spend time. The smell and feel of paper, as well as the simple act of turning to the next page is a wonderful exercise on patience and careful handling. Besides, you will be expanding their minds to the beauty of the world.

One other thing, although many say that experience is the best teacher, it may be prudent to first introduce wisdom in the pages of a book, so you can better prepare your children for adult life. Prevention is better than cure, I always say.

Remember to have fun while reading!