Bookish Christmas Gifts

As you’re preparing for Christmas, consider gifts that will encourage the love of story. Here are a few ideas:

Homemade Book Mark
When my children were very young, they created marbled and homemade (recycled) paper in art class. The colors and textures were beautiful. I didn’t want to throw the papers away, so I cut the them into 2″ strips, had the children sign and date the backs, then laminated each strip. From just a few sheets of paper, we were able to make several gifts for teachers, family members, and close friends.

Another option is to create bookmarks from photos – of family (individual or group), places you’ve visited through the year, Christmas’s past, favorite quotes or verses, etc. Here’s one my husband (yep) made for me a few years ago:

homemade book mark

Personalized Book Plate
These make excellent baby gifts, Christmas gifts, and birthday gifts. We reserve the usage of book plates for special books – those received as presents, those marking special occasions, or those that become favorites of the child. Personalized book plates say, “This book is important. It is meaningful to me.” There are countless stores from which you can order book plates (including virtually any place that sells personalized stickers). Although not the least expensive option available, this online store has a beautiful selection. For many folks (sadly, not me), it would be easy to create bookplates using an online template. (Embossers are also nice to have, although not ideal for children. I stumbled upon a nice selection of embossers here.)

book plate

“A book reads the better which is our own, and has been so long known to us, that we know the topography of its blots, and dog’s ears, and can trace the dirt in it to having read it at tea with buttered muffins.” Charles Lamb

Subscription to Lamplighter Book Club
This would be an ideal present idea to suggest to grandparents. The Lamplighter Books are beautifully-bound treasures. More about Lamplighter here.


“The things I want to know are in books; my best friend is the man who’ll get me a book I ain’t read.” Abraham Lincoln

Start a Collection
There’s something special about owning a “family” of books. One collection that we’ve enjoyed is the Illustrated Junior Library. Several of these beautifully illustrated books are easily found in bookstores. Older titles are out of print, yet still available at the occasional book sale or online. Whenever we find a used bookstore, my children keep an eye out for a member of the collection’s family. Searching a specific and easily recognizable book helps to keep those who are too young to hunt for specific authors (or are less-than-excited about book shopping) occupied. I hope to read through all of the titles in set before the youngest leaves home. Choose a collection that has beautiful illustrations and easy-to-read print (lots of white around the border of the text). Add a new book each Christmas.


“The book must of necessity be put into a bookcase. And the bookcase must be housed. And the house must be kept. And the library must be dusted, must be arranged, must be catalogued. What a vista of toil, yet not unhappy toil.” William Gladstone

Book Lover’s Journal
A book journal is great place to record books that have been read, favorite quotes, and insights gained. It’s a literary diary of sorts, not only documenting data about books that have been read, but also drawing the heart of the reader out to capture responses on paper. I wish that I’d started one of these years ago.

book lover's journal

Stories on CD
As much as I love reading aloud with my family, I’ve grown increasingly grateful for good audiobooks. When my children were very young, CDs by Jim Weiss (Greathall Productions), Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre, and Lamplighter Theater were staples at rest time and on family trips. Audiobooks are a great introduction to books that may be a bit out of reach for children to alone, and they foster a growing love of story. We recently invested in a family membership to Audible, which has already more than paid for itself.


Hardback of favorite book (children’s book for teenagers/adults)
Don’t feel like you can’t buy a book for someone because they’ve already read it. Quite the opposite. Receiving a hardback book is an affirmation of its importance and an invitation to read it again (and again). Our eldest son had read Lord of the Rings several times in his teenage years, but had never owned a hardback copy. That situation was remedied in he early adulthood when we gave him a boxed set. If you’re looking for a hard-to-find book that is not longer in print, try

lord of the rings

 “Some day, you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.” C.S. Lewis

Christmas Books
I shared some of our favorite Christmas books here (2011) and here (2012).

A few more I’ve added since last year:

On that Night by Elizabeth Yates


The Conscience Pudding by Edith Nesbit


The Twenty-four Days Before Christmas by Madeline L’Engle


A Walk One Winter Night by Al Andrews


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Do you have any bookish gift ideas you’d be willing to share? 

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Ode to The Bard on His Birthday

This is being reposted in honor of William Shakespeare on his birthday
(originally posted this time last year)


I tripped and fell into homeschooling my younger children.  It wasn’t planned, wasn’t the long-fulfilled desire of my heart, and wasn’t the knee-jerk reaction to a bad school situation.  More on what brought us to this place on another day.

But I do love what we do (most days) and am constantly reminded what a privilege it is to be the one who gets to discover and explore this great big wonderful world with my children.  Last week, we had our year-end state-required testing.  They did well, although I’m convinced that “the best” of what we do will never be measured by or demonstrated on any test.  More on that another day as well.

The remainder of our school year will be much more laid back – we’re done with Spelling, Math, etc.  We’ve been freed from the “must-do’s” in order to enjoy more of the “can’t wait to-do’s”.  I must admit that as we entered this phase of the school year, I wasn’t sure what our days would hold.  More serious practice of instruments in preparation for recitals, finalizing details for our eldest daughter’s wedding, and freedom to enjoy our history reading at a more leisurely pace were what we’ve all been eagerly anticipating.

The fruits of a more relaxed schedule always catch me off guard – in the best sense of the term.  Today, Will (my 11 yr. old) disappeared for a substantial period of time.  This was no great surprise, as he is my avid and somewhat obsessive reader.  However, he finally emerged from his solace not with a conquered book in hand, but having created the following:

Although we never gave a test in history, never required a project, and rarely adhered to the “lesson plan”, I think we actually learned something this year!


Some of our favorite resources on Shakespeare:

Beautiful Stories from Shakespeare for Children by Edith Nesbit
Probably my favorite (but take into account that I’m a huge Nesbit fan).  Beautifully written, engaging, and true to story, yet each chapter is short enough to read in one sitting.

Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb
A classic.  Similar to the Nesbit book, but the stories are a bit longer.

The Wonderful Winter by Marchette Chute
Highly recommended.  A little boy runs away to find himself living in the Globe Theatre.  He becomes part of the Shakespeare household.  Many of the actual historical characters are included, and we get to see “behind the scenes” as Mr. Shakespeare’s new play, Romeo and Juliet, is being produced.

Hamlet for Kids (one of a series) by Lois Burdett
This series is a fun introduction for children.  I’d recommend reading the Nesbit story first, then reading through Burdett’s corresponding book.  Each book tells one of Shakespeare’s stories through rhyme.  The artwork (and occasional commentary) is provided by children.  The stories are clever, fun, and often include direct quotes from Shakespeare.

Will Shakespeare and the Globe Theater by Anne Terry White
One of the World Landmark series.  A great piece of historical fiction that walks the reader through Shakespeare’s life and the Globe Theater.  An easy read, but I learned much.

Will’s Quill (or How a Goose Saved Shakespeare) by Don Freeman
A delightful picture book.  Found in most libraries.

Shakespeare for Children CD by Jim Weiss
Weiss is a master storyteller.  I’d recommend his cds for children of all ages.

If you have some favorites, please share for the benefit of others…

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Books for Boys: Why it Matters


Boys. Wow. They’re different. Having grown up in an estrogen-rich home with only one sister, I had a limited understanding of just how diverse the differences between boys and girls were. As a college student, I was stunned to see one of our male neighbors (we’ll call him “Hamilton”) drink directly from a carton of milk. Who ever thought of doing such a thing? I was shocked not only by the action, but also by my naiveté. At the wise old age of twenty, I apparently had a few things left to learn about the opposite sex.

When I married my husband, with him came Chapman, a charming blue-eyed little boy. This life change resulted in my immediate enrollment in “Boys 101”.  No more auditing. This was the real class. One of my earliest “boy memories” was created within the first few months of marriage. I was happily lost in the world of my latest book, when a sudden noise jarred me back to reality. It became repetitious. It was getting louder. In the corner of the family room, lounging happily on the floor, was a very content 4-yr-old Chapman. He had his matchbox cars lined up neatly in two rows. Every few minutes, after they had completed the requisite figure 8’s, one car from each of the rows would collide with great velocity into the another. Each crash came with impressively accurate sound effects.  Mystery of said noise solved. I leaned over and asked what I thought was a reasonable question. “Could you please be a little bit quieter when you do that?” He gave me a look that I will never forget.  It communicated something close to, “And what would be the point of that?” Hamilton’s milk carton sprang to mind. Boys.

Yes, boys differ from girls in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, the literacy rate for boys falling consistently behind that of girls is one of them. No doubt, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the problem, yet there is a consistent common denominator among researchers: Boys read far less than do girls.

Why aren’t our boys interested in reading? 

“Boys prefer adventure tales, war, sports and historical nonfiction, while girls prefer stories about personal relationships and fantasy. Moreover, when given choices, boys do not choose stories that feature girls, while girls frequently select stories that appeal to boys. Unfortunately, the textbooks and literature assigned in the elementary grades do not reflect the dispositions of male students. Few strong and active male role models can be found as lead characters. Gone are the inspiring biographies of the most important American presidents, inventors, scientists and entrepreneurs. No military valor, no high adventure. On the other hand, stories about adventurous and brave women abound. Publishers seem to be more interested in avoiding “masculine” perspectives or “stereotypes” than in getting boys to like what they are assigned to read.” Why Johnny Won’t Read (The Washington Post)

So what’s the response?  

We want our boys to want to read. Unfortunately, many publishers have attempted to solve the problem by “insisting that we must ‘meet them where they are’—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.  For elementary and middle-school boys, that means ‘books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor.’ AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to “grossology” parties. ‘Just get ’em reading,’ she counsels cheerily. ‘Worry about what they’re reading later.”  How to Raise Boys Who Read (Wall Street Journal)

One of the many problems with this approach is that the end-goal is rarely reached. Boys’ hearts and minds hunger for stories of substance. We spoil their appetite by providing them with a steady diet of intellectual junk-food. The “at least they’re reading” theory is a bad one. In dumbing down the books that we give our boys, we’re reinforcing destructive messages about reading, quality literature, and the intellectual capacity of our young men.

In this powerful 3-minute video, Sally Lloyd-Jones (author of The Jesus Storybook Bible and Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing) shares the importance of capturing a child’s imagination:

What can we do to help facilitate healthy appetites for great story?

~Be intentional. Have a standard and a plan – for books to purchase and for books from the library.  For each of my children, I’ve created a list of books that I would like them to read AND that I think they’d enjoy. This makes the quick trip to the library or the Christmas list for Grandma an efficient, pain-free way to obtain quality books for them.  Visit the Exceptional Resources for Children’s Books page.  Each book listed is filled with great recommendations.

~Put limits on “distractions” (screen time).  When left to our own propensities, we often gravitate toward that which requires less work. Reading is deeply rewarding, but it requires more work than do video games and the TV. The studies correlating literacy with screen time are staggering. Our boys are building life-long patterns. The everyday choices matter.

~Listen to their interests and look for books that would be engaging to them. One of my sons judges the quality of a book by the number of battles that occur within. His first literary love was the Dan Frontier series (Frontiersman and Indians). Then came Peter Pan battling Captain Hook, Robin Hood, and King Arthur. He’s also, shall we say, addicted to engaged in  all things Star Wars. Although I might not deem the Star Wars books as great literature, they do embody great story. Battle Boy’s brother has a keen sense of humor and is drawn to books that are clever. To name a few, he’s been absorbed in Edith Nesbit’s Complete Book of Dragons, Jonathan Roger’s The Wilderking Trilogy, and most recently, GK Chesterton’s Father Brown stories. The Chronicles of Narnia and Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga are forever woven into the tapestry of both of their childhoods.  Although we try to provide a “well-rounded meal” of different genres of literature, I always defer to their tastes when purchasing books for gifts or rewards.

~Read aloud.  And whenever possible, have Dad read aloud.  Consistently.  My husband, who is not necessarily a read-for-pleasure guy, has committed to read aloud to the boys at night before they go to bed. I do the research and supply the “boy books.” They’ve worked their way through most of the Ralph Moody Little Britches series, and the three of them have developed a “secret culture” of which I’m (happily) not a part. The characters have become their friends. Together, they’ve endured perilous adventures and explored foreign lands. They’ve experienced the joy of being swept up in story.

~Appreciate boys for who they’ve been created to be.  Have vision for who they can become. Look for books that affirm and inspire them. Look for books that delight the imagination. Begin with “the end” in mind. If you want young men who are thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate, brave, and of high character, give them a steady diet of books that will shape their souls in that direction.

More than the painting you see or the music you hear, the words you read become in the very act of reading them part of who you are, especially if they are the words of exceptionally promising writers. If there is poison in the words, you are poisoned; if there is nourishment, you are nourished; if there is beauty, you are made a little more beautiful. In Hebrew, the word dabar means both word and also deed. A word doesn’t merely say something, it does something. It brings something into being.”  Frederick Buechner

When you have a few quiet minutes, listen to this song by Steve Taylor (you’ll have to listen beyond the very 80’s synthesizer).  At its very heart is the power of the Greatest Story.

For our boys…

Hero by Steve Taylor

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