Bookish Highlights of 2021

According to GoodReads, I read 88 books in 2021. I report this more as a confession than anything. Honestly, I probably should slow down. This is a higher number than I typically consume in a year. In the last few years, I have largely read nonfiction, and specifically theology, at a rate as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Or if not my life, my very soul. But I am starting to realize that reading goals need not (should not) be measured in numbers, but in something much more elusively slippery and subjective: freedom, growth, spiritual maturity, expansiveness, empathy, and healing. And sadly (or fortunately) these are not so obviously quantifiable.

Something else that can be difficult to appraise are others’ opinions on what constitutes a “good book.” Because of this, it may be pointless to list my stand-out reads for this year. Even so, here I go. If for no other reason, I list them here for my own benefit. Perhaps two or three years from now I may look back at this post and see what was occupying my time and my thoughts, and I may smile, or realize how far I have come.

Many books on this list have been recently published in the last year or so. A few are older. A few appear in my “most excited to read” queue from last year. I read a scant number of novels and a hefty stack of theology.

In order to make it easier on myself to decide, and so I wouldn’t be comparing a children’s novel to the latest social critique, I list my favorites in five separate categories: fiction, children’s fiction, general nonfiction, literary criticism and writing, and theology and worship. Even this was hard. I have made some great reading choices this year! I am interpreting my “favorites” to be the ones that made the most positive and strongest impact on me.



Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, Knopf, 2020

Honorable Mention:

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, Knopf, 2014



Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri, Levine Querido, 2020

Honorable Mentions:

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo, Candlewick Press, 2002

The Vanderbeekers: Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020



The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth by Beth Allison Barr, Brazos Press, 2021

Honorable Mentions:

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin, Vintage, 1994 (originally Dial, 1963)

How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice by Jemar Tisby, Zondervan, 2021

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes du Mez, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2020

Keys to Bonhoeffer’s Haus: Exploring the World and Wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Laura M. Fabrycky, Fortress, 2020

My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2013

On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity by Daniel Bowman Jr., Brazos Press, 2021

Pillars: How Muslim Friends Led Me Closer to Jesus by Rachel Pieh Jones, Plough Publishing, 2021

Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep by Tish Harrison Warren, IVP, 2021

Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May, Riverhead Books, 2020



A Swim in the Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing by George Saunders, Random House, 2021

Honorable Mentions:

Steeped in Stories: Timeless Children’s Novels to Refresh Our Tired Souls by Mitali Perkins, Broadleaf Books, 2021

A Subversive Gospel: Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth by Michael Mears Bruner, IVP Academic, 2017



Preaching the Luminous Word: Biblical Sermons and Homiletical Essays by Ellen F. Davis, Eerdmans, 2016

Honorable Mentions:

Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer by Rowan Williams, 2014

Glimpses of New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts by W. David O. Taylor, Eerdmans, 2019

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright, HarperOne, 2008

Systematic Mythology: Imagining the Invisible by Jennifer Agee, Wipf & Stock, 2018

Women and Worship at Corinth: Paul’s Rhetorical Arguments in 1 Corinthians by Lucy Peppiatt, Cascade Books, 2015

I would love to hear from you.

Did you read more novels than ever before?

Did you learn something new?

What was your favorite read in this past year of the lingering pandemic?


If I were to count up all the hours my boys and I read Strega Nona, or Days of the Blackbird,  or our very favorite Tom, it would span a life time. At least, it would seem so. I cannot think of another author whom we read more than Mr. Tomie de Paola in those preschool and very early elementary years. He absorbed the largest amounts of time, along with perhaps, Beatrix Potter, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Barbara Cooney. This all makes me smile through my sadness, because, well, what great friends I introduced my children to!


Tom: dePaola, Tomie: 9780698114487: Books


Tomie de Paola passed away yesterday due to complications from surgery after an injurious fall in his studio. Because of the necessity of isolation during COVID-19 concerns, he apparently died alone in a hospital room. I don’t want to think about this too much. He was not alone. From all I  have read about him, he was a gentle man full of kindness and joy. I know he provided our family with more laughs and hugs than we would have otherwise shared.

Today, we will sit under the willow tree in our backyard. The leaves are just barely returning to bending branches. G has always called it “the Jesus tree,” because the flowing branches waft in breezes as he imagines Jesus’ hair did. We will sit and we will thank Mr. de Paola for Strega Nona, and Big Anthony, for the beautiful Bible story illustrations, for Fin McCoul, for The Night of Las Posadas, but especially for Tom and his poignant and hilarious relationship with his grandfather. And he will be in our thoughts and prayers. He will not be alone.

“Garunga! Garunga!”


Strega Nona' author Tomie dePaola is dead at age 85


Holding on

You may recognize Garth William’s illustration above from E.B. White’s classic Charlotte’s Web. This is from the portion of the beloved tale of friendship when Fern and Avery spend their summer days hanging around their Uncle Homer’s farm. The brother and sister run from the kitchen after eating blueberry pie to swing on a rope from the barn loft. E.B. White not only seemed to remember childhood and its great sense of wonder, but he also seemed to genuinely respect the people living it.

I suppose I was about seven years old the first time I read this book. It was the first book that made me cry, and not just a few silent tears slipping past my cheeks. You can hardly classify this as realistic fiction, but there is something so poignant and deeply true about White’s thoughts on the importance of the right people in our lives at the right time. It is a story which still speaks to bravery and loyalty and selflessness, even to an audience of six, seven, eight and nine year olds.

As my nine year old and I are re-reading excerpts for our narration and dictation work, I was struck by a passage in a new way. I chose this part of the story specifically because it contained a sentence that had struck my seven-year old self as just and true. But as a much older adult, the application had grown much rounder and more robust.

Mothers for miles around worried about Zuckerman’s swing. They feared some child would fall off. But no child ever did. Children almost always hang onto things tighter than their parents think they will. p. 69

At seven, eight, nine, ten years old I remember the comfortable feeling of stubborn satisfaction I felt at having an adult express my capability. Forty years later, I suspect Mr. White may have subtly been straddling the fence with layered meanings.

Certainly children can climb higher than we think they can, but they also may hold on to swings and siblings’ hands and ideas and values and teaching tighter than parents think they will.

At least, with some emerging adults in my care, I live in hope and faith that this is the case. Although proverbs do not always ring true in every case, I have the comfort of the words of Scripture:

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.

Proverbs 22:6

Although as I imagine Fern swinging from the old barn rope, I like E.B. White’s way of expressing it as well.

Ratty and Mole and compassion and grace

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been a classic for over a hundred years. I have heard about it all my life, and yet I am reading it for the first time now. S and I are sharing the same beautiful copy I purchased online, a hardback with richly expressive and detailed illustrations by Robert Ingpen. It has been a little tricky trying to share a copy. We both tend to want to read it at bedtime curled up with pillows and the welcome silence of the house. We are also writing summaries, or “skeletons of the plot” for each chapter.

Even as an adult, if you have not read this 1908 classic, I highly recommend it even though I have only completed the first four chapters. It tells the story of inexperienced but eager Mole, wise river-residing Ratty, distractible Toad, unsociable Badger and others. Grahame is a master at presenting their distinctly animal-like characteristics while also providing a discerning eye toward our own human peculiarities. The stories flow at an easy trickle. No great events happen, but we are privy to more and more of their strengths and flaws with each chapter. Mole, for example, is quickly dismayed when his foolishness causes him to get lost in the Wild Wood. Not heeding the sage advice of his friend, he persists in entering the forest alone in search of Badger. A rabbit races past him screaming, “Get out of this, you fool, get out!” This is not helpful to Mole.

But then, there is Rat, ever true and brave, seeking out his foolish friend, despite his own fears and the dangers. His only thought is to rescue Mole. Rat holds no grudges. It doesn’t matter that Mole had previously refused his warnings and brought this calamity on himself. Instead, the Rat responds kindly and works to get them out of the situation.

“Dear Ratty,” said the Mole. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’m simply dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You must let me rest here a while longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to get home at all.”

“O, all right,” said the good-natured Rat, “rest away. It’s pretty nearly pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon later.”


And that, my friends, is love and compassion and grace. Not once did Rat chastise Mole, though it was all completely his fault. He did not abandon him. He saw his predicament, and it became their predicament.

Here is the way to lead others out of the terrors of the Wild Wood:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2

Ode to the Sunday School Teacher

Unashamedly, I am still basking in the glow of my Prince Edward Island adventure. Upon returning home, I have read The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery for the first time, which incidentally, I purchased from the Site of the Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Cavendish Home. The paperback proudly bears the stamp.

And I have been re-reading The Story Girlsupposedly the author’s favorite of her novels.

Combine these readings with the fact that our church has been talking about our responsibility of reading for the sake of the community, and throw in the fact that I just completed Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish by C. Christopher Smith, have been planning Bible home school curriculum for this next year for my boys, and the fact that I have substituted teaching in children’s Bible classes a few times at church this summer, and it is not difficult to see why a couple of these passages spoke sweetly to me.

Montgomery, who married the Presbyterian minister Ewen MacDonald, was a theological thinker in her own right. With a knack for describing hypocrisies and frivolous loyalties to tradition and prejudices, Montgomery often snuck in satirical statements through her most upright and judgmental of characters. Remember the proudly outspoken Mrs. Rachel Lynde? In a letter to Anne in college, she writes,

“I don’t believe any but fools enter the ministry nowadays….Such candidates as they have sent us, and such stuff as they preach! Half of it ain’t true, and what’s worse, it ain’t sound doctrine. The one we have now is the worst of the lot. He mostly takes a text and preaches about something else. And he says he doesn’t believe all the heathen will be eternally lost. The idea! If they won’t all the money we’ve been giving to Foreign Missions will be clean wasted, that’s what!”

~from Anne of the Island, chapter 5 “Letters from Home”

Now contrast Anne’s enthusiasm for the young and lovely minister’s wife, Mrs. Allan.

“I never knew before that religion was such a cheerful thing. I always thought it was kind of melancholy, but Mrs. Allan isn’t, and I’d like to be a Christian if I could be one like her.”

~Anne confiding to Marilla in Anne of Green Gables, p. 172

Wouldn’t we all want this to be said of us?

So, for those of you who are teaching a Sunday school class, who open the Bible in front of young minds and share words of truth and life, you are filling more than an hour’s void.

“The social life of juvenile Carlisle centered in the day and Sunday schools. We were especially interested in our Sunday School, for we were fortunate enough to be assigned to a teacher who made our lesson so interesting that we no longer regarded Sunday School attendance as a disagreeable weekly duty, but instead looked forward to it with pleasure, and tried to carry out our teacher’s gentle precepts- at least on Mondays and Tuesdays. I am afraid the remembrance grew a little dim on the rest of the week.”

~ from The Story Girl, p. 26

You are providing a vision of what it means to be part of a kingdom of grace and love. It is a great service in which the subjects are only coincidentally small. If nothing else, you are narrating a picture of God’s appealing beauty. May your story be consistently bewitching and inviting.

in Just spring: a photo gallery

During our “together time” today we read this poem.  After running around under bright blue sky, over squishy grass and with the birds all around us, it seemed like a great choice. We read it together from the computer screen so we could all see the poem as well as hear it. A and S were amazed more by the (lack of) structure to the poem, and the “created” vocabulary.  Why am I surprised that A instantly made a connection to Pan or fauns?

I have always loved it -and e.e. cummings- for the imagery.  Happy Spring.

in Just-


spring                    when the world is mud-

luscious the little

lame balloonman


whistles           far            and wee

and eddieandbill come


running from marbles and


piracies and it’s


when the world is puddle-wonderful


the queer

old balloon man whistles

far           and            wee

and bettyandisabel come dancing


from hop-scotch and jump-rope and







balloonMan          whistles


and wee



What we would be reading if I had girls

May I preface this post with two small clarifications?  First, I really do not regret having all boys.  How could you regret the loves of your life?  I do, however, wonder from time to time what it would be like to share some really great children’s literature with them from my own childhood, you know, the kind boys just don’t truly appreciate.  This brings me to the second clarification – yes, there really are differences in girls and boys.  As much as I detest the pink aisles of toy departments in box stores, as much as I dislike labelling “boys books,” we all must admit, there are just certain subject matters to which one gender or another naturally gravitate.  This is particularly true as children grow past those early years.  So, what follows is a wonderful (and personally dear) collection of books which I would still be reading aloud if I had girls.  The list may not be surprising.  They are mostly classics, widely read, but if you do have a girl in your life, snuggle up next to her and share a treasure, a shared language of  literature.  Or, try some of these out with the little man, too.  At least as long as he will allow you.Spring2014 004


Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – Oh, sure, A was partially toilet-trained on chapters like “Grandpa and the Panther,” and “Mr. Edwards meets Santa Claus,” but even a wild prairie tomboy does not generally hold the interests of boys in the same way that I was captivated by Laura’s trek across the grasslands of pioneering America.  Reading about sugar snow, Pet and Patty, Nellie Oleson and Laura’s early romance with Almanzo after the long, long winter held me spell-bound and made me wish I had also traveled by covered wagon.

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich is where young girls might go after they have grown a bit older and read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories.  Beautifully written, they are told from the opposing perspective of the pioneer girls.  Ojibwa is from the Omakaya tribe near Lake Superior around 1847.  She is mysteriously discovered as an infant on a neighboring island, but grows up strong and full of curiosity.  Her people go through difficult times, and though the culture is a new one for most of us, through Ojibwa’s eyes, it is full of humanity and love.  This is a relatively new read for me.  They were first published  fifteen years or so ago, after I was well into adulthood.  However, I can imagine treasuring Erdrich’s books as a youngster.  Also in this series Chickadee, The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence.

Spring2014 003

Anne of Green Gables/ Emily of New Moon series by L.M. Montgomery.  I cannot emphasize the importance Montgomery’s writings had on me as  an 11 and 12-year old (and far beyond!).  I feel, like Anne-with-an-e, we are “kindred spirits.”  I cry every time Matthew gives Anne the “puffed sleeves” at Christmas, and I laugh when Mr. Carpenter “goes out with the tide” warning Emily to “beware of italics. ”  I have never been able to decide which series I enjoy more.  Emily is certainly darker, but more grown-up.  I will always be grateful to Lucy Maude not only for her characters, but also for introducing me to poets like Tennyson, Keats and Byron.  I would still love to make a pilgrimage one day to Prince Edward Island.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.  Putting on plays in the parlor, eating apples in the attic, timidly playing the piano in the neighbor’s house, befriending the boy next door, reading war letters from father, growing up a March…..Who has not loved this family?

All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor.  Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, Gertie, then later, little brother Charlie.  Growing up Jewish at the turn-of-the-century in New York seemed neither strange nor unfamiliar. The books are full of sisterly love, patient parenting and Jewish holiday traditions.   I loved Ella as the Purim jester!  My favorites were always Sarah, who loved to read, and Henny who was always getting into so much trouble. All of a Kind Family Downtown, More All of a Kind Family, All of a Kind Family Uptown, and Ella of All of a Kind Family portray Mama’s and Papa’s girls (and baby brother) as they grow up before WWI.

Spring2014 005

Betsy-Tacy-Tibseries by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Was there a happier place to live in than Deep Valley on Hill Street? Modeled after her own childhood experiences in the turn-of-the-century Minnesota, Lovelace helps us feel what it is like living in a community and growing up with best friends.

No surprises here in this list?  What were your favorites growing up?  Which childhood character seemed more flesh and blood than words on a page to you?  May you and your own “half-pint” bury your noses in a book, may you love every leaf, every page as you turn them together.



For the little paleontologist

If you are a parent, chances are you have gone through, or are going through, or will be going through the “age of the dinosaurs.”  While G’s level of interest has not reached the great heights A’s and S’s did at his age, he still enjoys a good dinosaur story now and then.   I remember the pleasure in being able to recognize and rattle off their prehistoric and substantial names when I was young.  I see that same joy for large, multi-syllabic words in my boys as well.  They love being experts in their chosen field.

Below are a few of our favorite dinosaur books over the years.  I have limited these to a.)  the ones my own paleontologists genuinely loved, and b.) books which have increased our knowledge of the dinosaur world, whether the books were fiction or non-fiction.  In other words, I have not included any of the multitude of whimsical dinosaur stories out on the market.


The Children’s Dinosaur Encyclopedia has amazing artwork, detailed descriptions of each dinosaur family, as well as information on where the dinos were originally discovered.  My two oldest have literally memorized this entire volume.

T is for Terrible by Peter McCarty was an absolute favorite of S back in the preschool/kindergarten era. S checked this out of the library so many times I thought we actually owned a copy.   We still deeply love Peter McCarty for his gentle illustrations and sense of humor.  Although this is not an informative book, it helps us think about what it may feel like to be a dinosaur, and possibly understand our own feelings, too.

Sammy and the Dinosaurs by Ian Whybrow, as the cover shows, is about a little boy who carries his bucket full of dinosaurs with him wherever he goes.  Sammy loves to repeat the names of all his dinosaur friends.  Stegosaurus. Triceratops.  Apatosaurus.  And, of course, we do, too.

In Barnum Brown: Dinosaur Hunter by David Sheldon we learn some of  the tools of the trade, a little  history of paleontology, and about an amazing man who could “smell” dinosaur bones.  The unusual Barnum Brown discovered the now popular “tyrant lizard king,” Tyrannosaurus Rex!

Margaret and H.A. Rey’s Curious George and the Dinosaur Discovery is a fun way to introduce your little paleontologist to the tools of the trade.  George learns how to use a pick, a brush, a wheelbarrow, and also learns that patience is an important guide for a geologist and dino digger.

The very prolific Aliki provides us with one of the most informative books for 3-8 year olds on what it means to be a paleontologist.  From discovering a dig site, to carefully sifting through layers of rock and dirt, to hand wrapping each piece and reassembling it in museums, she gives little ones a taste of what really goes on.  Your reader will know how geologists, paleontologists, photographers and museum workers all work together to get the job done.


After all that reading I wanted G to get some hands-on experience and playtime.  We do have a purchased dinosaur excavation kit that he sometimes chips away at, but the real fun was when we made our own dinsoaur dig sensory bin.


Coffee makes wonderful dirt if you buy an inexpensive brand, and don’t mind the additional mess.  Children love the gritty texture.   We always have rocks about the house.  I threw in a few wooden beads and, of course, plastic dinosaurs from a dollar store.  Notice the dinosaur skeleton?


G has had a great time digging and sifting and brushing, re-discovering his dinosaurs.


S was even tempted to join him for a bit.  Of course, by this time, it was all about digging their hands in the coffee.

My hope is they never outgrow playing together.

Days of the Blackbird

Frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall have ensured much of America has spent a great deal of  time indoors since the New Year.  In between board games, baking cookies and muffins, and eating soups, chilis and stews, G and I  have been snuggling up with a good book.  This time of year I like to reach for Tomie dePaola.  Though they may not always admit it, A and S have not fully outgrown the Italian-Irish American author and his picture books.  G will always happily sit for a Tomie dePaola story.  He has many wonderful Christmas-time tales like Tony’s Bread, Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, and The Night of Las Posadas.  Yet now that the holidays have passed us by, and we are simply left with the icy winds, salty, slushy stains in our entry way, and mittens thrown here and there, I take comfort in The Days of the Blackbird: A Tale of Northern Italy.

2014-winter 095

According to dePaola, northern Italy refers to the final three days of January as the days of the blackbird.  The author spins a sweet story of kindness, love and miraculous hope.  In the northern mountains of Italy, possibly in the late Middle Ages, the Duca Gennaro falls ill and daughter Gemma desperately struggles to nurse him back to health.  The Duke’s sole comforts are his daughter and the beautiful song of the birds in his courtyard, particularly that of La Colomba, the all-white dove.  Gemma sets out plates of seed and suet for her bird friends.  She creates baskets for them stuffed with wool in hopes of persuading them to stay through the winter.  Gemma believes her father will recover with bird song and the arrival of spring.  The miracle of the story is when La Colomba (the white dove) remains all winter, finding warmth on the coldest final days in January at the top of the duke’s chimney.  She is transformed by the soot into La Merla (a blackbird).  Of course, the Duke is restored to health, and the birds return in the spring.  La Merla is forever black, and Duca Gennaro honors her by naming the last three days in January as the days of the blackbird.

Our first activity with this book was basic geography.  We looked at many maps and talked about Italy.  This is not an unknown country to G.  We have read many stories which take place in Italy, and his father spent several of his growing-up years there.  We learned the basics: Italy is in Europe, mostly surrounded by water, and is shaped like a boot.  Northern Italy is in the mountains and can get cold in the winter.  Fortunately, dePaola sprinkles his book with Italian vocabulary and expressions.  Not only does this give a more authentic feel to the tale, but has given G the opportunity to take ownership of the story.  He knows the white bird, for example, is La Colomba.  He is also excited when Natale arrives, because the villagers get to eat panettone.

Our next activity drew our attention to the birds.  G realized we had not filled up the bird feeder in awhile, so we trudged out in the deep, crispy snow to do that.  This book focuses on kindness – the kindness of the duke to the villagers, and then Gemma modeling this kindness to the birds and the children.

We peeked in our family room fireplace to talk about ashes and soot.  La Colomba was miraculously transformed into La Merla after sitting at the top of the chimney.  I printed out a basic bird color page.  I lit a couple of matches and let G hold his hand a good distance above the flame to feel the warmth.  After blowing out the match, I showed him how to use the burnt end as a “crayon,” and we colored or painted the bird a sooty black.  PLEASE be careful when doing this activity with little ones.  Obviously, you want to make sure they are supervised at all times.  In fact, S warned me when we started that he thought this was NOT a good idea.  He is always the concerned brother.

2014-winter 094             2014-winter 092







After a couple of days we made a warm basket for our bird, just like Gemma did with   a couple of handfuls of cotton balls stuffed into a basket I had on hand. Secretly, I think G was a little disappointed.  I think he thought we were going to make a basket for the real birds.

2014-winter 097


2014-winter 100For those of you in wintry climes, may you stay warm with great bowls of soup.  May you ALL enjoy health and the warmth of family.  Curl up with a good story; hug your children; plan some kindness.  May you find and create beauty in these days of the blackbird, the coldest days of the year.




A Little Night Music…and some day time reading

Holiday2013 014All three of my boys are growing up feeling very comfortable in a library. Our tiny suburb has placed a hefty importance on its local library as a place of learning, reading and community. I could not be more pleased. A, S and G spend as much weekly time at our local branch as they do at the grocery store, the park, or anywhere else for that matter. They have each known exactly what they are looking for when they walk through the doors, past the fish tank and into the children’s section. From an early age they learned where the early readers are located, where to find the biographies and which magazines are best. They know the names of their favorite authors and illustrators. This life-long bibliophile is proud.

So, it didn’t surprise me a few weeks ago when G suddenly remembered another book he wanted to check out. We were headed to the self-check area when he threw his hands up and suddenly exclaimed in a disappointed voice, “OH! I forgot to look for the book on Mozart!” Um, alright. Namely, I was a little surprised, because I was ignorant of the fact that he had even intended on looking for Mozart, or that he had ever thought about the Austrian composer. “Well, let’s go look him up on the computer,” I suggested. And thus was born my three-year-old’s love affair with the childhood biographies of dead, European composers.


The Famous Children series has quickly become his favorite. The books are written in a brief enough fashion that they hold his interest, yet provide enough detail for him to feel like he has learned something. Susan Hellard’s illustrations are slightly muted and charming. Ann Rachlin has written a single event, or short series of events, in the childhoods of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Handel, Haydn, Schumann, Schubert, Chopin and Tchaikovsky. There may be others, but these are the ones we have been able to lay our hands on. At the end of each book, Rachlin includes a list of operas, concertos, or ballets, as the case may be, for which the composer is most famous. G has been eager to locate so many of these pieces. Every time we check out one of these books from the library, he must also either check out a CD or dig through our own music collection to listen to the Brandenburg Concertos, or Beethoven’s Fifth.

Ann Rachlin and Susan Hellard have created these beautiful picture books to introduce young readers (and listeners) to the worlds of biography, music, history, geography and aspirations. “Mommy!” G breathlessly told me yesterday, “When I grow up I am going to play the violin, and you and Daddy will listen to me and be so proud of my music.” I love this. Realistically, who knows if he will care about playing a musical instrument in a few years, but I simply love the fact that he is excited about envisioning new fields of interest. He is learning to be passionate about what specifically interests him.

Holiday2013 038All thanks to Ann Rachlin, Susan Hellard, Mozart, Bach, Haydn, and our local library!