hope and honesty

Barking with The Big Dogs: Hope and Honesty for Children

“It is necessary to be hopeful to write successfully for children, yes, because children themselves are generically hopeful, but the quality of hopefulness is not an immature quality.” -Natalie Babbitt ( pp 42)

Natalie Babbitt’s book Barking with the Big Dogs is a collection of her essays and speeches written over several years. In all the various topics she focuses on, from types of fantasies to critical thinking to childhood itself, there are two major themes that pop up repeatedly: hope and honesty.

Hope is woven into the very nature of children’s books. Babbitt kicks off with an essay on happy endings and explains that children’s literature contains a quality of joy adult fiction lacks. In fantasy for kids, the belief that the world can and will be better is proven true. What is a happy ending if not a proof of hope? The villain can be defeated, the ordinary child can be a hero, and the world can be saved. Hope and optimism reign in children’s literature.

Does this mean that children’s books must present utopias?

Absolutely not. Natalie Babbitt claims that when authors try to write perfect worlds, they instead create worlds that are, “patently artificial, a placebo, lacking. . . consistency with the author’s philosophy” (37). In order to escape the one-dimensional depictions of life, Babbitt explains that authors need to write with “as much honesty and skill as we can muster,” (40).

She argues that we need to write stories that have flawed characters and flawed worlds, because flaws are part of human nature. But she also writes that we need to write authentically within our worldview. If we try to write what we don’t believe, we rob our stories of depth.

Herein lies the important message for Christian authors. For Christians, a huge part of writing truthfully is writing hopefully. Hope and honesty go hand in hand for us.

Natalie Babbitt misses this connection between the two. She writes, “it seems a peculiarly contradictory thing for the Bible to say in one place that truth is liberating when in another place it puts hope on a level with faith and charity. . . For hope and truth don’t always go together” (108).

However, hope and honesty are inseparable.

As Christians, the truth we cling to is our hope. God overcomes our greatest fears with His power and promises. The hope of eternity stands in defiance to death, the promise of God’s provision quiets our daily worries, and prayer itself brings us to God’s throne when we face trials.

Babbitt views as a contradiction something she doesn’t understand. She doesn’t recognize a solid hope. Her hope seems to be simply defined as the belief in possibility. She writes, “Life is infinitely more interesting when we can believe in the possibility of something wonderful just over the next hill” (110).

For Christians, hope is so much deeper. We know that something wonderful lies over the next hill. We know that the God of the universe is sustaining His creation. The son of God came to bring us life, and He’s coming again soon. His resurrection is the promise that everything broken will be renewed. A new heaven, a new earth, and a life forever with Him. What greater hope could we ask for?

Therefore, since we have such hope, the only honest way we can write is with that same joy. Hope and honesty should define Christian fiction.

Perhaps more than any other authors, we have the ability to write happy endings authentically. We believe in the greatest happy ending the world will ever know. The ultimate defeat of evil, ordinary people chosen by God for great tasks, and the world forever saved.

As we enter Easter week, may we reflect on the incredible hope that Jesus has brought to the world. May our hope and honesty in our writing be a light in the darkness.

Book Review:

What about the book itself? Natalie Babbitt’s essay collection wasn’t what I expected. While the essays usually focus on discussions around children’s literature, they also tap into Babbitt’s philosophy on life. Her words are instructional at times, but are more personal at others. If you choose to read this book, pick it up as an opportunity to hear the perspective of a fellow author. You’ll learn far more from her words if you view it as a conversation rather than as a lesson.

Overall, I give her book 3  1/2 out of  5 stars. She makes some strong points, but there are still lulls in the book, as well as points that seem out of place or repetitive.

Shelter in Place, by Carol Baldwin

Copyright: (c) Hustgh | Dreamstime.com

 

Majestic Lord,

Ruler of the Universe,

Help me to find

shelter in You this day.

You are my rock,

my hiding place.

a high tower to whom I can run.

Always.

Underneath the cover of your almighty wings,

Let me know your protection.

Love.

Mercy.

and comfort.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Scripture References:

Psalm 27:4-5

One thing I have desired of the LordThat will I seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion;
In the secret place of His tabernacle, He shall hide me;
He shall set me high upon a rock.

********

Psalm 61: 1-4

Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer.
From the end of the earth, I will cry to You,
When my heart is overwhelmed;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

For You have been a shelter for me, a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah

Note from the Reformation Heritage  KJV version:

“Tabernacle” refers to God’s tent, not the sacred tabernacle into which only priests could enter, but a symbol of dwelling in fellowship with God, claiming Him as his Host to protect and provide for him. “Covert” means shelter.

Social-Distancing for Writers

social-distancing for writers

This week has been a turning point for the COVID-19 crisis in the United States. Many governors have enacted stay-at-home-orders, New York is erecting temporary field hospitals, and American manufacturers have pledged to build ventilators and protective equipment. All of this made me wonder: what does social-distancing for writers look like?

As writers, we often gain our inspiration from traveling, visiting historic sites, attending cultural events, and spending time with friends. Those things are not possible right now. Coffee with friends is limited to a FaceTime call and Google Earth is the only safe form of travel.

Social-distancing may be easy for some. And while working from home in your pajamas and watching Netflix all weekend seems like a welcome break from the usual pace of life, one can only handle so many hours of mind-numbing indulgence. Here are some tips to help writers be good stewards of their social-distancing time:

Self-Betterment

Reading

Take time for professional development, research, or inspiration — read books you’ve been wanting to read, listen to podcasts from inspirational writers or speakers, and take advantage of free online learning.

Whether you’re interested in developing your writing skills, learning about the publication process, researching for your own writing, or gleaning inspiration from fiction, take this social-distancing time as an opportunity to catch up on your reading.

Listening

There is a podcast for everything these days — from true crime to daily news updates to radio dramas. Here are two of my personal favorites that tell true stories and encourage me to see the world as a place full of opportunity and ideas:

  • This American Life — One of the most popular podcasts in the United States, This American Life shares true stories from Americans. Each episode is laid out in a three-act format and focuses on one central theme. One of my favorite episodes is set in my town of Lynchburg, Virginia, and tells the story of seven black students who integrated into an all-white boarding school in the late 1960s.
  • Criminal — Not for the faint of heart, Criminal tells true-crime stories in 30 minutes. The soft-spoken, inquisitive host — Phoebe Judge — tells true stories ranging from kidnappings to murder mysteries. Each episode also features original artwork!

Online Learning

If you enjoy learning new skills or knowledge, consider taking a free online class or watching a Ted Talk. Depending on how you like to learn, there are a variety of ways you can learn online.

  • Sites like Coursera offer traditional online courses that provide a structured, classroom-style environment. You can take courses from some of the country’s top colleges and companies.
  • If you prefer a more laid-back learning environment, sites like SkillShare provide video-based courses on a variety of topics. These courses are taught by professionals in the field. Students can even share their work with each other for feedback. While this is not a free service, you can sign up for a two-month free trial to occupy you during this time of social distancing.
  • Ted is a nonprofit dedicated to sharing ideas about technology, entertainment, and design. Ted Talks are usually presented at conferences and are available on YouTube and the Ted website. Search the Ted database for talks on any topic that sparks your interest.

Writing

social-distancing for writersIf you do not already have a writing routine built into your schedule, this time of social distancing is an opportunity to establish a writing discipline. Pick a time during your day to just sit down and write. You don’t have to work on a project or even write with intention. Just take some time to put a pen to paper or your fingers to keys and flex your writing muscle.

I’ve found the best way to exercise my writing muscle is to do “sprints.” Set a timer for five or ten minutes and write without stopping to edit or review. This sense of urgency allows me to write without my usual self-censorship. Some of my best work has come from “sprinting.”

Self-Care

social-distancing for writers

My governor ordered a stay-at-home order until June 10, so I will be spending a lot of time at home.

Practice self-care for writers: meditate, pray, practice yoga, or go for a walk.

By the grace of God, I’m still employed and am working from home. Though my workday is as busy as ever, I no longer have to budget time during my day for the commute to and from work, and I’m home for my lunch breaks. This gives me an additional hour and a half each day! I’ve opted to practice self-care during the time I spend at home.

Meditation and prayer are two things I’ve focused on over the past two weeks. My favorite spot to meditate and pray is my deck, which faces a treeline. I put down my exercise mat and lay on my back with my arms by my sides. Taking time to notice the noises — my wind chimes singing, birds chirping, and bees bumbling — and enjoying time away from the barrage of COVID-19 updates has really improved my mood. This is also a wonderful opportunity for prayers, either silently or aloud.

social-distancing for writers

Light activity like stretching, yoga, or walking has improved my moods and posture and decreased back pain from sitting all day.

Yoga or stretching helps with the stiffness and pain that comes with sitting at a desk. If I’m feeling stiff, I’ll either do some basic stretches or follow an instructional video on YouTube. My favorite video right now is called “Yoga for Writers” from Yoga With Adriene.

This week, my governor instated a stay-at-home order, which only allows me to leave home for groceries, medical appointments, family visits, and outdoor recreation (with appropriate social-distancing). Thankfully, my apartment complex has a short walking trail, so I’ve been able to go for walks during my breaks throughout the day. I’ve found that I have more energy to continue my workday when I go for a walk during my lunch break.

These are suggestions based on what I’ve found works for me. I hope this was helpful to you! Tell me how you’re spending your time social-distancing in the comments or on social media — I’d love to hear from you.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. — Romans 15:13

This is Your Captain Speaking: Book Review by Teen Reviewer, Kathryn Dover

This Is Your Captain Speaking is not a typical actor’s memoir, so I was pleasantly surprised when I purchased this autobiography for a quarter at a used bookstore. The title is derived from Gavin MacLeod’s popular role as the captain on the 1970s television show The Love Boat. Interestingly, MacLeod dedicates the book “to the Captain of my life, who came that I might have life and have it abundantly.”

I first saw Gavin MacLeod as Big Chicken, a drug pusher, on my favorite television show, Hawaii Five-O. Once I knew who he was, I noticed several guest roles he played in other television shows, the most familiar being The Andy Griffith Show. In all these, he was the same character: always a “bad guy.” Several years later I was stunned to see him in the Christian film, Timechanger, where he played a Bible professor. Having seen him in this role, I naturally assumed he was a Christian, but I had no idea how profound his story is.

REVIEW

MacLeod was raised Catholic but rejected that faith when he was older. His father was an alcoholic, and he, unfortunately, was an alcoholic for a brief period in his life. MacLeod married his first wife at twenty-four years old, and they later divorced because of his drinking. He remarried, and once again, divorced. However, his circumstances were different, for his second wife, Patti, became a Christian. At the same time, MacLeod found out his mother had a brain cyst and could die in surgery. That morning, he prayed that if God would let him see his mother one last time, he would give his life to Him. Then, he contacted Patti, and they soon remarried. (Read the book to find out the rest!)

His entire life changed; MacLeod didn’t want to be the “bad guy” anymore but instead use his fame to be a testimony for Christ. Indeed, because he is famous, Gavin MacLeod exerts a strong influence over his audiences. After being saved, MacLeod had the unique opportunity to witness to a dying friend, Ted Knight, whom he had co-starred with on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Both Knight and his wife were saved as a result of MacLeod’s testimony.

In addition to his captivating story of faith, the principal component of MacLeod’s book is, of course, his life in Hollywood. MacLeod loves trivia on actors and filmmaking, and he relates much in his autobiography. Did you know Raymond Burr raised orchids? Or that Julie Andrews was married to her husband, Blake Edwards, for forty-one years, until his death? I love interesting trivia as well, so this book appealed to me even more. Yet the most unique thing about Gavin MacLeod as an actor is that even when he plays a villain, viewers still like him. He confesses this oddity in his book: “It’s a strange thing, and I say this not to be boastful but because I’ve never understood exactly what it is about me that makes audiences react this way: even when I’m playing a really terrible character, there’s something about me that audiences still like” (51).

The accomplishments of Gavin MacLeod are incredible. He has known two US presidents, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and worked with famous actors such as Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe. But what is more incredible is his testimony: “My greatest wish, though, is that whoever reads my story will walk away at the end with a smile. And maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be found in my journey—especially me journey of faith—that will help give someone a little bit of hope. Maybe even change someone’s life for the better.” Many of you have probably never heard of Gavin MacLeod and are wondering, “Why should I read this book?” I admit I’m biased—I am a big fan of Gavin MacLeod as an actor—but as writers I think it is important to see the impact one man can have on the world. I recommend this book to teens and adults alike, and I believe that if you do read it, your life will be changed for the better.

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

Researching for Historical Fiction in Bath, UK

I had the privilege of visiting England the last week of February — one of my favorite destinations before the coronavirus situation became a deterrent for travel.  I am so grateful! Since I am a historical fiction author, researching the location in person is a real treat, as you can imagine!

The day after I arrived in the UK, and before my week-long intensive Bible course began (the main reason for my visit), my teen friend Mariah and I headed to Bath on a local train to do a bit of research at Sally Lunn’s. During my last visit, I discovered a tidbit of information that led me to write about Sally. More later . . .

The Sally Lunn bun (the size of large hamburger buns, but with the texture of brioche) was excellent — worth risking a reaction to my gluten intolerance. I couldn’t come to Bath without enjoying one! I would describe it as the best hamburger bun you have ever tasted. Hopefully, that’s not offensive to a Brit. Here is a pic of my daughter five years ago when we first experienced this culinary delight. In my story, which I tentatively have titled, “Soli’s Saving Grace,” I bring to light a purely fictional crisis that inspired her to create her bun recipe.

The top of the bun is on the right, and the bottom section is on Olivia’s plate. It is so large, that you must use a knife and fork. Since the bun is as light as a feather, it is no problem to eat both parts in one sitting.

This time, I asked for both. Although the server happily agreed, she seemed a bit perplexed. Evidently, very few people ask for both. Leave it to the Americans to want more! Isn’t this a lovely tearoom? You can feel the history seeping out of the walls.

We finished our lovely meal and headed down to the basement, where a small museum is located. I wanted to revisit the tiny historic exhibition which inspired me five years ago. At that time I found a little sign tacked into a wooden cabinet. It noted Sally Lunn was probably a Huguenot girl named Solange Luyon. That tidbit of information is all I needed to let my imagination run wild! Hopefully, someday, you will read Soli’s story in print.

Next, we visited Bath Abbey, where my character, Soli, flees for refuge. Last time I was in Bath, we were not able to tour it, so I was thrilled when I realized it was possible!

 

So, my reason for visiting the Abbey, other than enjoying the architectural beauty, was to ask a question: Did the Bath Abbey indeed offer refuge for Huguenots who came knocking (did they?) at their enormously imposing wooden doors?

The card given to me by the priest

I found a priest who had time to chat with me. I was surprised to discover he had Huguenot roots himself. Small world! But, unfortunately, he wasn’t able to answer my question. But he did refer me to the archivist who works at the Abbey, and on my way out, I was given a card.

Just what I needed. Now that I have all this time on my hands, due to the #covid-19 crisis, I will email him this week. Who knows what that will uncover!

So, that was my short day trip to Bath for research — quick but productive.  If you are interested, here is a link to my blogpost about my trip to Charleston, SC for Huguenot research.

For a more in-depth look at the city of Bath see my blogpost.

I have two questions for you:

Which era of history is the most fascinating to you?

How is the Covid Crisis affecting your writing habits?

I’d love to read your comments below!

 

The Power of Reading Books You Hate by Sarah Hope

Welcome to my fifth grade RtI group. Seated at this table are four students who have spent most of their academic careers cycling in and out of various levels of reading intervention.

Seated at this table is Sara, the girl who spent last year traveling the states in an RV with her family, who washes her hair with pink dye shampoo every other day, and who can empathize the heart out of any story you give her. Here is James, who can make origami yodas out of post-it notes, who struggles to carry the weight of his depression on his 10-year-old’s shoulders, and who likes to give names to my dry erase markers. Next to James is Mateo, taller than me and a good bit wider but somehow the shyest fifth grader I have ever met. When asked to illustrate his dream house, he drew a potato with a door in it. Finally, we have Maisy. If anyone has a right to hate reading, it’s this kid. She has been in RtI for as long as she has been in school. But Maisy is also the girl who fills my whiteboard with motivational quotes, who dances down the hallway at the end of our sessions, and who rewrote the words to “Holly, Jolly Christmas” to congratulate me on my wedding.

Today, we are discussing a 16-page booklet we read last time about a Mexican folk tale.

“Is there anything else you guys noticed?” I prod.

Silence.

“Honestly, this writer wrote something that didn’t interest me,” Maisy confesses.

The other fifth graders at my table stare at her in shock and horror. How dare she have a negative opinion about a book a teacher handed her? She cracks under the pressure and immediately starts to back-pedal.

“You guys,” I interrupt, “You don’t have to be interested in or even like everything we read in here. In fact, I’m reading a book right now that I don’t agree with at all.”

They looked at me like I had grown a second head.

“…what? …why?”

***

If you’ve made it through some or all of high school, I know that you’ve been where Maisy was today. We have all begrudgingly read a Romeo and Juliet or a Twelfth Night or a To Kill a Mockingbird or a Brave New World.

Have I traumatized you enough, or shall I continue to name drop?

In twelfth grade, I hated Holden Caulfield, but I still look back on The Catcher in the Rye with fondness. As a protagonist, Holden was a selfish, unreliable, and extremely angsty little twerp, and I was glad to be done with him when Mr. Watson moved us on to the next book in the curriculum. However, five years later, and I still reference The Catcher in the Rye a handful of times each year, I still think about the ducks on a frozen pond, and I still can picture Holden’s recurring nightmare as if it were one of my own.

Why is that?

Why is it that a book that I did not care at all for has become one of my happiest memories of high school?

Rory Gilmore of the eponymous TV show Gilmore Girls hits close to home when she says in her valedictorian’s speech, “I live in two worlds. One is a world of books. I’ve been a resident of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, hunted the white whale aboard the Pequod, fought alongside Napoleon, sailed a raft with Huck and Jim, committed absurdities with Ignatius J. Reilly, rode [sic] a sad train with Anna Karenina, and strolled down Swann’s Way.”

I did not like Holden Caulfield, but I walked with him for 277 pages, and that is not easily forgotten. I did not appreciate some of his choices—or any of his attitude, for that matter—but by Jove, I learned from him. I walked a sad and tumultuous road with him, and I will never forget what life looked like to this blue-eyed, already-grey-haired 16-year-old.

We say that books have great power, but how often do we challenge ourselves with that power as adults? How often do we pick up books we know we will not enjoy or that we may not agree with and make ourselves read them anyway? How often do we ask ourselves to stretch as readers and as humans into someone else’s shoes now that there is no high school teacher telling us to?

***

“I’m reading a book right now that I don’t agree with at all,” I confide to my fifth graders, grimacing at the thought of The Fountainhead and just how many more chapters I’ll have to wade through to get to the end of it.

“…what? …why?”

“Because even though I don’t agree with all of the characters or even the author of this book, I know there are people out there who do agree with them. And I can learn from this book how to understand and empathize with those people better.

You can learn something from everyone.”

***

What are you learning? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below.

Sarah Hope is a West Michigan reading interventionist and writer who someday hopes to invent and obtain the position of a professional friend. She believes strongly in empathy, storytelling, and humans. You can follow her on Instagram at sarah.hope.97.

 

Have You Ever Doubted that God is Good All the Time?

God is goodWhen a friend had successful cancer surgery, she joyfully announced the results, along with her conclusion that God is good. And the social media responses were positive and predictable:

 

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