The Giver – And More

The-GiverLois Lowry’s Newbery Medal winner The Giver has been part of the literature curriculum in both Christian schools where I have spent my teaching career. Years ago, I had read the book and found it disturbing, but intriguing. It lacked a true resolution. Even though my natural optimism held high hopes for Jonas and Gabe, I would never know for sure. I hate making up my own ending. I want to know what the author had in mind.
Oh. There’s a Book Two?

Actually, Lowry wrote a quartet.



Our English teacher graciously loaned me all four books. I started over with The Giver, and then read the next three as though they were one huge volume.
Satisfying. Very satisfying.
Gathering Blue introduces the new main characters of Kira and Matt who seem to have no connection to The Giver until the last three pages. It still leaves us hanging since Kira cannot have her heart’s desire.
Messenger continues with Kira and Matty, and we only get a few clues regarding any connection to the quartet’s original title. While Book Three hints at a better future, it also ends in sorrow, and we know there’s got to be more.
Finally, in the last section of the fourth novel, Son, Jonas and Gabe reappear, nothing hidden, and we can see what Lowry intended all along.

Tapestry - Kinkade

art by Thomas Kinkade

All four tales can be read as stand-alones, but string them together, and the final novel weaves every thread of the previous stories into a tapestry of God’s love. Which is an odd thing to say, because like A Wrinkle in Time, whose message is similar, the word “Jesus” is never mentioned.
For that specific reason, The Giver and its companions are controversial in some Christian circles. Schools use it as a study in types of government since it so closely parallels communist societies. Students in Christian schools are challenged to consider the spiritual insights in the book.

We are free to interpret the series, as well as each individual novel, as we wish. Isn’t that what makes a great book? Like art, classic literature doesn’t dictate; it leaves room for discussion. Do any other classic books for tweens and teens come to mind that lead to lively debates?


The Antithesis of POLTERGEIST


Tis the season for witches and wizards, ghosts and goblins, slasher movies and celebrating the satanic. Not for me.


Don’t assume I’m the Grinch who stole Trick or Treat. Dressing up like a princess, a fireman, or a clown and begging the neighbors for candy doesn’t bother me, but our culture’s fascination with the bizarre and the occult drives me to God’s Word where I cling to Philippians 4:8-9. “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things… and the God of peace will be with you.

However, October is filled with invitations to witness whatever is false, whatever is gross, whatever is ugly, whatever is evil, and whatever is to be feared. When we think about these things, we do not enjoy peace.

I have seen first-hand the effects of Nightmare on Elm Street upon a young mind. Knowing I would not approve, one of my sons decided to watch this “thriller” at a friend’s house. We spent two days dealing with unexplainable fears and trembling (literally!) until he fessed up. He wasn’t a little guy of five or six years old. He was twelve. Only after the spiritual warfare of prayers and scripture and praise to the Savior did the spirit of fear flee.

Considering the date of this post, I decided to search for the perfect classic children’s book to represent peace and satisfaction to the soul, the antithesis to horror. Here’s what I chose:


Good Night, Moon never mentions God, yet the essence of Philippians 4 flows through every word and illustration. Minimal text conveys the sweet peace and security that we wish for every child in the universe, including ourselves.

When my boys were tiny, Good Night, Moon was their favorite bedtime story. I could whisper the words as we said good night to all that was familiar and safe: clothes, toys, furniture. Then I would tuck them in, knowing they would drop off into slumber safe and secure in their beds, in their home, with their parents, and under the watchful eye of a good and loving God.

child sleeping

What books have you found to be balm to the soul? What have you used for bedtime stories to invite the God of peace to rock your children to sleep?


Poetical Immersion


If I were to compare the number of novels to the number of poems I’ve read, the ratio would be at least 100:1. It’s obvious how I prefer to spend my leisure time.



poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae

poem by Lt. Col. John McCrae


Let me get lost in a story. Let me join Wendy in the adventure of a lifetime in Neverland. Let me travel to planets outside my galaxy with Meg in A Wrinkle in Time. Let me wake up in Oz with Dorothy.



wendy peter pan







And yet. Every once in a while, I love to sink into poetry. Read it. Read it again out loud. Feel its rhythms. Luxuriate in its emotion. Reflect upon the meaning of life.


photo by Sharon Birke


When I pick up a novel I read for escape, for entertainment, for a “good” story. At The End, I set it down with a sense of satisfaction and move on to the next good read within twenty four hours. Occasionally, the novel’s theme remains with me for years. Those are the best – stories that encourage me to emulate selfless heroes and teach me how to live a life glorifying to God.


Poetry, at least the poetry I’ve taken time to memorize, always stays with me. When I taught fifth grade, our curriculum offered an excellent selection of poetry to memorize. To this day, my son, now in his thirties, can recite “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow. I wanted my students to own that same passion for poetry. We had fun with it, discussed meanings behind meanings, and I hope many of them have a favorite poem from their year with Mrs. Samaritoni.

Next time it’s my turn to post in Scriblerians, I’ll share my favorites. In the meantime, please share with me any poems that you still have memorized from childhood.

Hinds’ Feet on High Places

My good old 1980 edition of the New World Dictionary of the American Language defines (in my own paraphrase), “classic:” 1) being a model of its kind, 2) having a balanced, formal, and objective style, 3) well-known, 4) able to last because of its simple style.

classic little black dress courtesy of

classic little black dress courtesy of











I choose to review class books, and a few others that have not yet stood the test of time, because I don’t want these marvelous stories to fade into oblivion. We are a culture that constantly anticipates the next hot item, another shiny, new bauble. Some of the bright and attractive novels of today will become classics; most will not.

credit to

credit to


To start 2015, I’ve chosen to review (or introduce you to) Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. Like John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Hinds’ Feet is an allegory.

“Allegory:” a story where people, things, and events have symbolic meaning; used to teach moral principles.

Do kids even read allegory anymore? Think about it. Every novel that teaches Biblical truth in an author-created fantasy setting is a subtle form of allegory.

Hurnard and Bunyan are more direct. People’s names describe their personalities. Place names inform the reader of the problem to be solved, the obstacle to be overcome, or the conflict to be resolved.

Would I have read Hinds’ Feet as a child? I’m not sure. I wasn’t brought up with a Biblical worldview, but I’ll assure you of one thing. During the rare crises in my family, I would have read Hinds’ Feet from cover to cover.

The main character is named Much Afraid. How many teens do you know who are afraid? Of peers, of the future, of their own inadequacies. Much Afraid goes on a journey with the Shepherd.

credit to

credit to

For nineteen chapters, the Shepherd leads her on a circuitous route to the High Places. He assigns to her two companions, Sorrow and Suffering. As they travel together,  Much Afraid gains strength until she —

I don’t want to give the end away! For now, be content to know Hurnard uses wonderful parallels to portray the Christian walk and dying to self. (And for more on dying to self, check out this month’s post at on taking tests over and over again.)

If you know a kid going through rough times, if you are going through a tough, terrifying season in your own life, I can’t recommend Hinds’ Feet on High Places highly enough. In fact, I believe if your walk with Christ is going smoothly right now, you can read it, enjoy it, put it down, and say “nice story.”

KEEP IT. Jesus leads all of us on a circuitous route of rugged mountains to climb, desert wastelands to cross, and raging rivers to ford. When those times come, read Hinds’ Feet again. Hannah Hurnard’s words will soothe your soul.


When I am afraid

It’s More than Okay to Love your Mom

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa posted a blog in Scriblerians talking about moms in YA literature. I reacted quite strongly about the lack of good mom role models in modern YA novels.


Bamboo People


The very next week, I read a novel by Mitali Perkins titled Bamboo People. Not only did it have an excellent role model in the main character’s mom, two other moms stood out as women to be admired as well. AND two dads! I was so excited to find an author who wrote in a style I admired, that I emailed her and gushed my appreciation. I also asked for an interview for a future Scriblerian post. She graciously agreed. Stay tuned!


But back to Bamboo People. This is the kind of fiction that I love. Realistic. Gripping. Teens striving to be the best people they can be – so their parents will be proud of them!


By the title alone, you know the story does not take place in America. The setting is Burma. Or Myanmar if you are supportive of the communist regime that runs its government. (Another tidbit that I learned from this real, gripping, fictional story.)





Chiko is the son of a doctor. His father has been sent to prison on a trumped up crime. In Burma the reality is that an educated man should be feared, thus imprisoned. Chiko is forced into the army, and he must figure out how to survive without shaming his parents.


Tu Reh is a member of the Karenni tribe. Strongly independent, mostly Christian, his people flee from the army’s intended annihilation. When he stumbles upon a wounded Chiko, Tu Reh must decide: kill the enemy or offer a wounded boy refuge. Which decision would his Christian father find most honorable? Since his father is away on a mission, Tu Reh cannot ask for advice directly.


credit to

credit to


The mothers do not tell their sons what to do. Mitali Perkins writes in such a way that the reader knows the mothers have already instilled righteous values in their boys. They encourage, they praise, but each boy must make an adult decision on his own. This is the perfect meld of the protagonist solving his own problem AND his parents as influential mentors in his decision.


When I returned to  my local library, I searched the shelves for more Mitali Perkins books. They only had one: Extreme American Makeover. Totally different premise, far more lighthearted, but the parents were there, married, loving each other, teaching their daughter right from wrong. Mitali has several other books published. I’m looking forward to reading them all.


Realistic and gripping, with excellent parent role models. What other YA books are out there that you may know? Inform me!

The Inheritance

It had been ever so long since I read a lovely story complete with pure hearts and with villains who need only be shown the love of a kind soul to turn them from their wicked ways.
Does the above sentence sound a trifle old-fashioned? Such was the prose of the 19th century. While I wouldn’t want to limit my reading to Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and their contemporaries, I admit I weary of our more direct, slangy style of language in most modern novels.


The Inheritance
Recently, I read The Inheritance by Louisa May Alcott. I believe it was never published until 1997, nor was it discovered until 1988 in a collection of her personal writings. She inscribed it (with a smile and much fluttering of heart I would wager) with the words, “My First Novel Written at Seventeen.”
The prose is Victorian in nature, and I could easily picture a young Louisa – talented, idealistic, romantic – penning a tale of selfless love, kindness to the poor, and including an evil rival who still had the benefit of a guilty conscience. The settings are described in flowery language, yet even at seventeen, Louisa May Alcott could create word pictures with such clarity that you picture yourself standing beside the heroine, perhaps one of the house servants observing the goings-on of the aristocratic family whom you serve.
Introducing modern generations to the literature of Louisa May Alcott may take some doing. Our children (and we ourselves) may complain that “not much happens” in her stories. Yes, it’s rare to find anyone in a pitched battle of blood and guts, but life happens in her novels and many others of that era.


Louisa May Alcott courtesy of

Louisa May Alcott courtesy of

If you’ve never read books by Louisa May Alcott, or you would like to introduce them to your children, The Inheritance may be a good place to start. Like learning to swim, start in shallow water. The novel is relatively short (under 200 pages) and contains plenty of relationship conflicts. From there move on to the deeper water of her famous works.
I believe she is best known for Little Women because it portrays the life and the quiet courage of those who soldier on at home while their men are off to war. She teaches us that by God’s grace the human spirit triumphs over adversity.
Louisa May Alcott knew that God doesn’t always ask us to strive mightily and publicly to be icons of virtue in His eyes. And it takes more courage to be faithful in daily struggles than to make one heroic gesture in the heat of battle. Such are the qualities I want to groom in my own children and grandchildren.


Dear readers, you are welcome to share your thoughts on other classic stories that you find uplifting to the soul.

“I Won’t Grow Up”

Recognize the title? Peter Pan sings the song with his Lost Boys. While I could review that original novel (maybe I will someday), I want to share with you the bittersweet story of Peter Pan’s female counterpart, Lucinda Wyman. The book is Roller Skates by Ruth Sawyer and tells the story of a girl you will fall in love with, a girl who discovers how to love life.


Roller Skates was published in 1936, a Newbery Medalist in 1937, and is set in New York City in the 1890’s. Too old-fashioned, you think? Ah, but that’s what makes a classic. The story is timeless, for every human soul longs for friends and desires to be a good friend to others.

Like The Little Princess, Lucinda is the poor little rich girl. In her case, Mother and Father still live, but no one in her family pays attention to her other than to bemoan the fact that she isn’t a lady and will never be beautiful. With that kind of nurture, Lucinda has been labeled a “problem child” whose temper is constantly on the rampage. When her mother needs a year in Italy to regain her health, they send Lucinda to live with a trusted teacher at her school. And that wonderful lady understands children.

Lucinda has the freedom to explore the wonders of people. Her enthusiastic interest in everything around her, her desire to learn about the people she meets endears her to all of them: the hansom cab driver, the Italian immigrants who run a fruit stand, the Irish policeman on her block, guests at her parents’ hotel, the poor family who rents the apartment above her teacher’s, and many more.

Children playing in the street circa 1900

Children playing in the street circa 1900

As she experiences one adventure after another, Lucinda literally roller skates through New York. Her energy is contagious, and as the reader, I wished I had taken advantage of all those small precious moments when I was a child.

At the end of the story, Lucinda must return to her own home. Will she strive to continue to savor life’s little moments? Or will she allow herself to be molded into a young lady of high society? The author gives you a hint (I won’t tell you where in the story such hint occurs.). Let’s just say Ruth Sawyer wrote an autobiography of one slice of her life.

roller skates


So often, we Scriblerians review books, talk about authors, and recommend the latest or the best that we’ve read ourselves. As I happened to read that most familiar of psalms, number twenty-three, I was reminded how much I take for granted when reading scripture. The Bible is literature, too!

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.”





I’ve known Psalm 23 my whole life. When I was little, people read it to me. Later, I memorized it, and over a lifetime I have daily read the psalms for decades. When it’s number twenty-three’s turn, I tend to run through it once again. Ho-hum. And shame on me.

But it struck me on my last reading: how do these words sound to kids the first time they hear the psalm? What were my perceptions when I heard this at age three, five, eight?

I want to look at each verse through fresh eyes. Today, let’s start with verse one. Just the first part of it.



You: The Lord is my Shepherd. What does that mean?

Kid: Oh! Oh! A shepherd wears a long robe and some kind of scarf on his head, and he carries a stick that looks like a candy cane, and he tells the sheep where to go.”

You: That’s right. And do the sheep always go where he tells them?

Kid: Yeah. But if they don’t, he has a dog that chases them back to all the other sheep.

You: What if he doesn’t have a dog?

Kid (takes a moment to think): He yells at ‘em?

You: Maybe, but that’s what the candy cane stick is for. He grabs the sheep with the hook part and pulls it back to the rest of the flock.

Kid: Ow!

You: Yeah, but it doesn’t hurt as much as a wolf eating it after it runs away.

(Now, that could make an impression on a young mind!)

You: Do you know that Jesus was really talking about God and people? Jesus is the Shepherd and the people are sheep?

Kid: I’m a sheep?

You: You’re like a sheep. You don’t always know the right thing to do, but Jesus the Shepherd does. He tells you which way to go and what you ought to do.

Kid: So who is like the wolf?

You: Anyone who tells you to do something bad so you can get in trouble. The devil, for sure. Sometimes, bad people who try to get you to do the wrong thing could be called wolves.

Kid: But Jesus doesn’t grab me with a candy cane stick when I get in trouble.

You: No, but he uses people to make you behave or protect you from trouble. Remember when your dad held onto you so you wouldn’t go over the edge of the waterfall?

floating on Grafton Pond

floating on Grafton Pond


I could go on with this fictional conversation, but you get the idea. What if you had a similar talk with a child in your own life? Or maybe you already have. I’ll bet the child’s viewpoint was as refreshing to you as yours might be to him or her.

Once a week, I’ll be adding additional dialogs concerning Psalm 23 on my personal blog, Come on over and check it out. You might be able to use those conversations as a jumping off point for a discussion in your own family.





WWJD. What Does It Mean to You?

Several years ago, the fad of WWJD bracelets made the rounds of Christian schools and spread through surrounding neighborhoods. The whole thing irked me. Yes, IRKED me, as in annoyed, irritated, bothered me.


If you’re too young to remember the fad, WWJD stands for “What Would Jesus Do?”

“How could such a reminder irk you?” you might ask.

Well, (big sigh), I watched my students at school and the teens in the youth group and anyone sporting a WWJD bracelet. I’m sorry to say I saw no difference in their behaviors or their general outlook on life.

What’s more, I had used the phrase, “what would Jesus do?” as one of the major themes in my Christian walk, long before WWJD became a popular acronym. And I meant it. I got in the habit of asking myself that question, really a form of prayer, for hundreds of decisions that I needed to make, big and small. Those four words changed my worldview and my heart.

Do you know where I first learned of the phrase? From the book, In His Steps, by Charles M. Sheldon.

In His Steps

Written over a hundred years ago, Sheldon created a fictional town where one pastor and a few members of his church pledge to spend a year doing only what they think Jesus would do. The editor of the local paper has to decide what Jesus would want in the news. A wealthy young woman must consider if she is in the same position as the rich young man who met with Jesus. All who participate have some tough decisions to make as they endeavor to help the needy, serve their fellow man, and most of all, please their Savior.

Of course, their decisions affect everyone in town.Some neighbors, even fellow church folk, are not pleased at all, which makes for great conflict, and great conflict makes a great story.

While Sheldon originally wrote the book for adults, Helen Haidle has written a version for children. Either works well for read-aloud if you want to make this part of a family story time. If you’ve never read In His Steps, I urge you to add it to your list. Like me, you may never be the same again.

The Bronze Bow



When I taught fifth grade, I would have story time after recess. I chose excellent children’s novels and read for ten or fifteen minutes as we settled down from lunch and active play to the afternoon’s academic pursuits.

You may ask, “Fifth grade? Aren’t they a little old to be read to?” Not a bit. If our time got scrunched, I received a collective groan because I skipped our story. Each year, one of my never-miss books to read was The Bronze Bow.

Bronze Bow

If A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite children’s book overall, The Bronze Bow is my favorite inspirational children’s book. And I never read it until I was an adult!

Elizabeth George Speare brought history and Christian faith together as well as a beautiful plot line with several conflicts and resolutions. Set in first century, Rome-dominated Palestine, the reader can be sure that Jesus will show up. For the most part, He remains a shadowy figure while His disciple, Simon the Zealot, plays one of the secondary characters.

The protagonist, Daniel, is a teenager with a tragic past. He abhors the Romans with a passion almost to the point of obsession, yet we can see a pure heart underneath all the anger. As Daniel’s hatred endangers not only himself, but his entire village, he watches Jesus from a distance. Surely this man must be the Messiah, yet the man doesn’t call the Jews to revolt against Rome!

The book takes us on Daniel’s journey. We meet him as the follower of a Robin Hood type of thief. He progresses in maturity to realize that he needs to take responsibility for his own actions and he ought to take care of others, in particular, his little sister and a mute slave. When all is lost, he must make a choice between continuing his hatred or —

I can’t tell you that. You’ll have to guess what his choice is or read the book! And it’s not a stereotypical conversion scene to Christian faith.

Can you see why my students loved story time?