Friday, December 30, 2011

The Tricky Wicket of Gift Giving

Birthdays are significant in our home.  We're not big on decorations or even presents, but the hope is that the birthday person feels celebrated and enjoyed.  When possible, we spend the day together enjoying some combination of favorite homemade meals, restaurants, and activities.  It's a veritable crime for the one being celebrated to do any work.  King or queen for the day is the goal. 

This past summer, I was enjoying a relatively low-key birthday day.  My husband had made plans for the evening.  My children, who had been well-trained in the way of Silander birthday custom, greeted me in the morning with shiny, anticipating faces.  They sincerely wanted me to enjoy my day.  They wanted me to feel loved.  Their motives were pure.

Shortly after breakfast, my cherubs were quick to relieve me from manual labor, and they started cleaning the kitchen.  But somehow, in an instant, the mood shifted.  Child A began arguing with Child B about who was to do what chore.  Exasperated Child C interrupted and proceeded to boss give direction to the less-than-righteous siblings.  After giving up hope that the situation would resolve itself, I finally stepped in to mediate. My efforts were temporarily successful, but within the hour, a modified version of the same situation transpired.  My frustration was growing.  It was my birthday.  "All I really want for my birthday is for you all to love each other well and for us to enjoy the day together,"  I stated, as if this would be the obvious end of the matter.  And it was.  For awhile.  

My frustration dissolved into sadness as I realized a hard truth.  My children love me.  From the deepest, sweetest, brightest places in their hearts, they wanted me to be blessed on my birthday.  But, an insidious cloud had gathered and was overshadowing their good desires.  They wanted to honor me... but on their terms.  The cost of laying aside their own agendas was too high.

When for a fleeting moment, I attempt to look honestly at my own heart, I'm saddened to acknowledge that I give to others in much the same way.  We had nine under our roof this Christmas, and it didn't take long for my feeble, misguided attempts at caring for others to buckle under the strain.  Too often, I give out of my natural inclinations and tendencies - which does not necessarily result in a gift that is meaningful to the recipient.  Even if my motives are pure.  

Imagine that my talent and interest was in knitting, and that I knitted the same red wool scarf for everyone on my Christmas list.  For some, the scarf would be a treasure.  The time taken to create, the warmth the scarf provides, and the much-desired fashion accent would leave the receiver feeling loved well.  Those are the easy-to-love people in my life.  My natural inclinations fit well with their needs.

But others may be allergic to wool, look terrible in red, or are hot-natured with no need for a scarf.  If I want another to feel loved, I have to pause and consider what would be best for them.  And all too often, the time and energy required to stretch beyond my natural inclinations, comfort, and agenda...  well, the order is just too tall.  So I knit my red scarf and convince myself that it will be enough.  Or I cook a meal rather than spend time with a sick friend.  Or I clean up the house rather than offer kind words to my husband. Eventually, we both feel missed and hurt.

I've never been one to make new year's resolutions, but I do have some hopes as we launch into 2012.  I want to pause and consider those folks in my life who are difficult to love with new eyes.  Rather than taking offense that my "red scarf" doesn't succeed in making another feel loved, I long to lay down my pride, comfort, agenda, and expectations in order to grow in grace.   I want to be willing and teachable to love in new ways - for the benefit of another. 

I also plan  to be more intentional in my reading, consistent in healthy cooking, and possibly train for a race. And by the way... I'm actually taking my first knitting class with my daughter this month. Perhaps I'll make a red scarf for myself.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Micah 6:8

"May I bring a new friend over with me when I come for coffee?"

A simple question that changed a family.  My family.  Forever.


We live in South Charlotte.  Some have referred to our dear city as an "Atlanta wannabe."  I'm not offended by that description.  It's actually not too far from accurate.  We like to think that we have the best of both worlds - small town feel while still having access to great art galleries, Broadway shows, professional sports, and the ripples from Wall Street's economic power generators radiating throughout uptown.  Yes, for those of you unfamiliar with Charlotte, it is uptown, not downtown.  I've enjoyed the benefits of this energetic town, including a fulfilling career housed in its tallest building.  We've birthed three and raised five children here.  We have a church we love and amazing friends. It is home.

Yet with all that Charlotte has to offer, its strength is also one of its great weaknesses.  I've worried about my children's perspective on life while growing up among such affluence. Given this soccer-mom, banking-hub, Bible-on-every-corner culture, how could we possible raise children who see beyond their comfortable bubble?  Children who are other-centered, compassionate, and have a healthy humility and curiosity with which they approach other cultures - and other people.  Particularly while their parents struggle with the same issues.

Then one hot summer morning seven years ago, a dear friend called.  She and I had planned on catching up at my house over coffee while the children played.  A few hours prior to her coming, she gave me a quick call to ask if she could bring a little boy along with her. "Of course", I responded.  The more the merrier.  She arrived later that afternoon with her new friend - our new friend - Yusuf, who just happened to be from Somalia.  Yusuf was 6 years old, and had arrived in America just weeks prior to our meeting.  Three little bodies darted around the backyard, two with blond hair and blue eyes, and one as dark as coal.  The boys ran and played in the water from our  hose while my friend recounted their unfathomable story.  They had fled Somalia through the dark of night, lived in a Cambodian refugee camp, and had finally been transported, compliments of the UN, to Charlotte.  More on their remarkable journey another time...

Later that afternoon, we embarked on our weekly pilgrimage to the library.  Like a good homeschool-mom-to-be, I searched out as many age-appropriate books on Africa as I could find.  When I showed them to the boys, I instructed, "This is the country where Yusuf used to live.  The people there speak the same languages as he does."  Will, my inquisitive, observant, detail-oriented 5 year old who had just spent several hours playing with his new buddy responded, "Do you mean that Yusuf doesn't speak English?"  

My earnest hope had been that my children would engage with someone who was different than their friends.  That they would develop compassion for other cultures, and that they would choose to build bridges over differences.  But to my surprise, they taught me a greater lesson.   The commonalities of little boys playing in the water instantly bridged the 10,000 mile divide between them.  They enjoyed what they had in common, rather than trying to overcome the ways in which they were different.  They hadn't met a refugee whose family had fled the dangers of Somalia.  They had met a new friend.

Seven years ago on a humid July morning, the seed of love for our refugee friends was planted in the heart of our family.  The great Gardener has continued to provide fertile soil of opportunity, drench us in the water of the Word, and supply power through the Son.  As a result of His tender care and pruning, that small seed has grown.  We've come to love the refugee community in Charlotte, and opportunities to serve them continues to be a significant gift to our family.

I'm consistently humbled by my shallow attempts to give, arrogantly believing that I have something to offer.  Yet each time we show up, our family becomes richer for the time spent with these beautiful people.  People who have fled great danger and had the courage to build new lives from scratch.  People who have farmed for generations, yet now consider fresh fruit and vegetables an occasional delicacy. People who are now strangers in a strange land.

As we were pulling out of the apartment complex last week, I was surprised to note that a small yet significant shift had taken place in my heart.  Walking down the sidewalk was a young man from Nepal.  I had been introduced to him the prior week while he was shopping at the "Clothing Closet." Shortly after our meeting,  he had labored to help me understand what he was trying to say.  The scene resembled a somewhat comical game of charades, and I wasn't doing very well interpreting his animated gestures.  Eventually, we finally deciphered that he was asking for a baby swing for his little one.  When I saw him weeks later this second time, my perspective had changed.  He was no longer one of the many faces who visited the Clothing Closet each month.  He has a name.  He has a baby.  His story has become a part of my story.

In the chronic business of life, I wonder how many remarkable stories I pass and dismiss - from the checkout clerk at the grocery store to the neighbor walking her dog.  Everyday, we're given opportunities to discover a bit more about the Creator through those he has created, and we're given the great honor of sneaking a glimpse of another human soul. Too oftenwe miss out on the miracle and settle for the mundane.

  People who laugh like we do, who cry like we do, who pray for their children's safety... just like we do.  And along the way, I've gotten a taste of what it means to be fully human.
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.” C.S. Lewis

For the past few years, a highlight, perhaps the highlight, of the Christmas season for us has been spending a Saturday celebrating Christmas with the folks from Project 658 (check them out here - you can join us!) and our refugee friends.  The objections raised by my selfish nature (we don't have time... too much to do... we're already tired) quickly dissipate when we drive into the apartment complex across town.  I love the beautiful faces representing the farthest corners of the map.  The content children who are generous with their smiles and hugs.  The adults who delight at the rare opportunity for their children to be photographed with Santa.  And I was lucky enough to catch him under the mistletoe.

That is one cute elf

Project 658.  Yes, they are rock stars.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Twin Towers and a Manger

Out of the wreckage...

Where were you?

I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom holding my beautiful  one-week-old son.  We had only been home from the hospital for a few days, and I was fully intoxicated with the sweet smells of newly-bathed baby, the feel of his slow, steady breathing on my neck, and the slight, warm pressure of eight pounds of perfection curled up and sleeping on my chest.  My two year old was playing contentedly in the corner with his plastic pet shop, a left-over rediscovered toy, compliments of his big sister.  Having been up most of the night, I had traded in my feeble attempt at reading a book for watching Regis and Kelly on the TV.  The air drifting through my cracked window carried with it the hint of the last days of summer.   Life was sweet.  Simple.  Full.

Then it happened.  Within moments, life as we had known it would be changed forever.  It was September 11, 2001, and my dependable, soothing slice of broadcasted Americana was suddenly interrupted with footage of the first plane hitting the tower.  I couldn't believe what I had seen, and I certainly had no idea the lasting impact that the events of that balmy September morning would have on our nation.  On our family.  On the lives of generations to come.  Literally out of the blue, we had all been affected at the most visceral level.

According to a ten-year anniversary article "How 9/11 Changed our Culture" (US News),  our lives were changed in a number of ways including:

~How we speak
~What we fear
~How we keep safe
~What entertains us
~What we read
~Who we admire

We would never look at the world in the same way, and the choices we made going forward would reflect our shift in perspective.

Over 2,000 years ago, the Roman Empire was enjoying a relatively peaceful political climate compliments of the Pax Romana.  The Empire protected and governed its provinces, and the Jewish religion was generally tolerated.  Although there were divisions within the Jewish schools of thought, most had learned to live peacefully under Roman control.  Life was manageable.  They knew what to expect.

Then, one very normal night, the course of history changed forever.  There had been no word from God in over 400 years.  But suddenly, that changed.  At a given point in time, in an unimpressive town, to two ordinary people, the Creator of the world transcended space and time to pierce through the veil between heaven and earth and become one of us.  Literally out of the dark, we would all be affected at the most visceral level.

For those who were present that night and witnessed the divine becoming human, for those who would follow the carpenter's son and listen to his teaching, and for those who would choose to exchange control of their lives in order to serve the unlikely king, the world as they had known it would forever be different.

They would never look at the world the same way, and the choices they would make going forward would reflect their shift in perspective.

A few months ago, we commemorated the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Footage of the planes was dusted off and replayed across the airwaves, memorial services were held, and we all paused to remember.  As I was recounting that pivotal day's events to my sweet baby boy, now 10 years old, I found that a curious phenomenon had transpired.  On the spectrum that ranges from intense experience all the way to detached, my emotion had shifted a few notches.  I'm sure that if I'd lost a loved one during the tragedy, my reaction would have been different.  But for me, the events that had once singed my soul had been quenched through the last ten years, and they were incrementally closer to becoming memorable dates in an American history book.

Time had lessened the emotional impact.  I had become more detached.  The full impact of 9/11 had been diminished.

Unfortunately, the same can often be said of Christmas.

We mark the calendar, attend the performances, religiously decorate our homes, and pause to remember. 

But I long for more.

~I want to feel deeply... not just remember
~I want to look at the world from His perspective... not my limited viewpoint
~I want to believe that the God of the universe is present, relevant, revolutionary in every aspect of my life

Ten years ago, darkness penetrated and impacted the soul of our country.

Two thousand years ago, Light penetrated our dark world and changed it forever.

Yes, we remind one another that he came as a baby in the manger.  The shepherds followed the star.  The wise men came later, bearing gifts.  

But this Christmas, let us not be satisfied to "just remember."  Rather than settling for an annual observation filled with the good things of sentiment, warm tidings, advent readings and tradition, let them serve to magnify the ultimate things.  Perhaps it would help to remember...

Where were you?  

When the story became real.  When you first believed.  When the Maker of the moon and the Author of the faith penetrated your independent, self-reliant heart and changed it forever.  I was on a stone bench overlooking a small lake.  It was late at night, but I could strain my eyes just enough to see white swans gliding through the water - beacons of light in the midst of the dark.  Because of the baby born so long ago, my life was forever changed. And I never want to forget.


I first heard Jill Phillips sing this three years ago on The Behold the Lamb of God tour, and I still get chills every time I hear it.  Take a few minutes to listen...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Visit from the Tooth Fairy

Twas the month before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring...

...unless you count the faintest sound of delicate wings fluttering through the air, down the hall, and under the door into my daughter's room.  The tiny sprite hovered over a stuffed Tooth Fairy Bear, which had gotten quite comfortable in a doll's chair.  His work had been sparse as of late, but the little girl with a mouth full of teeth finally called upon his service a few nights ago.  Caroline's baby tooth, which had managed to evade being pushed out by its replacement,  had snuggled tightly out of sight behind her new gleaming white grown-up tooth.  I'd begun to worry that her dental fate would be the same as that of a Yorkie puppy, with 2 complete sets of teeth, row behind row. 

Alas, the baby tooth had released its grip, the Tooth Fairy Bear was summoned from the back of the cluttered closet, and my plucky little seven year old set out on a mission.  In her best handwriting, she carefully crafted a note to the Tooth Fairy.  She wanted to know if the Tooth Fairy was real, and what she (or he) did with the collected teeth.

Just as Santa's gift creation, selection, and distribution habits differ from family to family, the same is true of the Tooth Fairy.  For some children she leaves notes, for others, small presents, coins, or other tokens of great value.  She knows our family well, and as a result, leaves behind carefully selected and signed books in exchange for outgrown teeth.  In addition to inscribing Caroline's new book, she noted a few of the most common fairy uses for children's teeth.  

Rather than satisfying her inquiring mind, the correspondence fueled the fire of Caroline's curiosity.  She spent the better part of the next morning using her very best penmanship to compose the following:

Dear Tooth Fary- 
 Are you small or larg?

 What do you eat?

 Wher do you live?
 What do you do with your dust?

 What are your magic pours?

 Are you a boy or girl or wimon or man?

 Do you have randbow bridge?

 What is your name?

 Do you have pets?

 Do you have a house?
                                             Love, Caroline

The following day, she awoke to find the following letter penned on lilac fairy stationary leaning against her Tooth Fairy Bear:

Dear Caroline,  
Thank you for my note. Again, you’ve done a lovely job with your handwriting. 
You asked me several good questions. Sometimes in the Land of Fairies, we answer good questions by asking good questions back. For example: “Is Narnia real?” Let me know what you think, after you decide. 
Someday, Caroline, you may grow too big for me. You’ll have your big girl teeth and you won’t think of me too often. But, you will never grow too big for Jesus. No matter how old you get, He will become more wonderful and more real to you as each year passes. You can never outgrow Him. Ever. 
If I fade, Jesus will become brighter to you. And if I become smaller, He will become larger. His adventures are exciting, His gifts are beautiful, and the friendship that you have with Him will last your whole life… even beyond. His is the best story of all, and I am happy for mine to help you to find it. 
In fact, that’s why I’m here, and why Santa and the Easter Bunny exist. Our job, you see, is a lot like the job of Mr. Beaver in Narnia—we point you to the King. 
I can’t answer all of your very good questions, but I’m happy to answer a few.  Indeed, I do love to eat spiffiny drumkies, but not too many or it’s hard for me to fly.  I live wherever I am.  I don’t have pets, but there are many creatures that are my friends, like snicket jumpers and peffiny lumkets.  But, they are too small and too fast for little girls to see. 
Now, if you wouldn’t mind answering a question for me, I could also use some help. Someone once told me that little girls are made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice—and that little boys were made of snakes, and snails, and puppy dog tails. Is that for real? 
                                                           Love, The Tooth Fairy

It should be noted that the above-mentioned letter looks suspiciously like the letter from Santa written to Rebecca Reynold's daughter years ago.  Although I was initially shocked at this discovery, I eventually realized that of course Santa is far better with words than the Tooth Fairy.  His work is quite seasonal, so he has ample time in which to read books and refine his writing.   The Tooth Fairy, on the other hand, is in constant demand throughout the year.  Given Santa's generous nature, he had given his permission for the original letter to be tweaked accordingly. 

With that in mind, if you have any children (young or old) who doubt the reality of the Tooth Fairy, or Santa, or any of their friends, perhaps his letter can be of use.

Wishing a Merry Christmas to all
And to all a good night!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Twelve Books of Christmas

Well, apparently it's book month.  I didn't plan it that way, but after weeks of illness, perhaps gushing over my favorite books requires the least amount of energy and provides the most therapeutic joy.  Oh, and I also wanted to get some book ideas out there prior to advent and the start the Christmas gift buying season.


A highlight of our advent season is the unpacking of our box of beautiful Christmas books.  They, like our favorite ornaments, embody the ghosts of Christmases past.  Each holds a dear memory - curling up by the fire with hot chocolate in hand, the twinkle of Christmas tree lights dappling the ceiling, babes in footed fleece pjs cuddling on mommy, or the "remember whens" represented by many of the vacation-purchased ornaments.  Out of that box of books, we unpack love, anticipation, excitement and tradition, and every year, we look forward to carefully choosing and adding a new addition or two.  

A few years ago, we began a new Christmas tradition.  The kiddos open their sleepy eyes Christmas morning to find a small stack of books sitting at the foot of their beds.  The day starts peacefully, as they enjoy exploring the newest additions to their libraries.  Mom and Dad also happen to benefit from a little more sleep before the present-opening festivities begin.  We do love our books!

Here are a few of our favorite Christmas books, and two new ones we'll be adding to the family:

12.  We're looking forward to receiving a copy of Russ Ramsey's new book Behold the Lamb of God.  For those of you who are familiar with Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God Christmas concerts, this is written with the same heartbeat.
"When Andrew Peterson sings 'Behold the Lamb,' three worlds collide:  ours, Abraham's and Jesus'.  Russ Ramsey's book opens the doors between those worlds and helps us bring them together."  Michael Card
Behold the Lamb of God can be used either for personal reflection or as a family devotional during advent.  The jury is out regarding the book's inaugural use in our home (I may selfishly monopolize this first year),  but I look forward to incorporating it into our annual Christmas reading list.

If you would like to download a free preview of Behold the Lamb of God or place an order, you can visit here.  There is also an option to bundle the book along with the CD, which makes a great Christmas present for those who are unfamiliar with Andrew Peterson's music.  You really can't go wrong with an amazing songwriter (Peterson) and a fellow-appreciator of Rembrandt (Ramsey).  

11.  If you have young ones in your life, you won't want to miss Sally Lloyd-Jones' new picture book Song of the Stars.  Our copy is in the mail, so I can't yet testify as to its beauty and warmth; however, I have the fullest confidence that I will soon be able to do so.  
"The Psalms tell us that the created order now declares the glory of God (Psalm 19 and 65) and then when Jesus returns even the trees will sing for Joy (Psalm 96).  How fitting, then, to imagine the animals and stars sensing and rejoicing in the coming of Christ for the first time.  This is a lovely book!"  Tim Keller

Perfect for young ones, or those who are young at heart.  You can purchase Song of the Stars here.

10.  A few years ago, a dear friend loaned a copy of Jotham's Journey to us for use during advent, and I was not prepared for the significant impact that reading it would have on our family.  Jotham's Journey is the first of a trilogy in which Arnold Yuletide weaves together the story of a young boy, his friends and their adventures leading up to the birth of Christ.  In reading these books, we're able to pull away from the hectic pace and distraction of our society in order to stop and consider the world into which Jesus was born.  A world ruled by the Roman Empire, a world of oppression, a world of political domination, a world of slavery... a world in need of a Savior.  Far from the typical peaceful manger scenes found in many children's books, Jotham's Journey  is rich in suspense, danger, anticipation, and confusion around the events that take place.

Each of the three books ( Jotham's Journey, Tabitha's Travels and Bartholomew's Passage) represents the viewpoint of one of the three friends, and the books don't necessarily need to be read in a particular order.  We read one each year, and I'm amazed by the corroborating details that the children remember from prior years.  Each chapter is to be read on a given day during advent and has a short devotional at it's end.  Given the intense nature of the political and social climate, I wouldn't recommend that they be read to children younger than elementary age.  There is enough substance and depth that these books would easily be enjoyed and appreciated by those without children in the home.  

You can order Jotham's Journey or its sibling books here.

9. The Birds' Christmas Carol is a heart-warming story about a little girl, who although sick and bedridden, embodies gratefulness and unselfishness as she plans a Christmas celebration for a needy neighboring family.  Written and published in 1887, this book whisks the reader back to the Victorian era, yet the love, compassion, and humorous family dynamics shared are timeless.

*You can download The Birds' Christmas Carol for free at

8.  The Christmas Stories of George MacDonald.  How can you go wrong...

7.  We recently discovered This Way to Christmas by Ruth Sawyer.  In this delightful folktale, a young boy is sent away to live on a lonely mountain during the war.  As he gradually befriends his neighbors, he hears their tales of Christmas celebrations from other cultures.  I'd recommend that this book be read aloud, as there are a few sections which deal with prejudice, and some of the terminology merits discussing (or avoiding if you're reading with young children).  As one would expect, all ends well as the diverse, superstitious, isolated neighbors discover and enjoy community.

6.  Plum Pudding for Christmas by Virginia Kahl is pure fun.  True to her other books, it is written in rhyme, and is delightfully witty.  The king is away, and all chaos breaks loose when one of his many daughters eats the last plum in the kingdom.  How will a fitting Christmas celebration be possible?  Although out of print, it's fairly easy to find on Amazon, ebay, or

5.  Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl Buck is probably the least-known yet has become one of my most-loved books among the list.  This simple picture book depicts an unspoken, yet deeply felt love between a father and a son. The young boy makes a selfless choice in order to show his father the depth of his appreciation, and they are both blessed deeply as a result.  Life is found when one lays down his own comfort on behalf of another.  I cry every time I read it out loud.  

4.  A Tale of Three Trees reminds us that God's plan often differs from our own expectations and dreams - yet it is always best.  A beautifully-illustrated book that can (and should) be read during both the Christmas and Easter seasons.

3.  The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean is ideal for children of elementary age through adults, and can be used as a family or personal devotional during advent.  As an old man whittles away at creating a Jesse Tree for his church, each symbol carved introduces a story from the lineage of Jesus.  We are reminded that all of history, beginning in the Garden of Eden, was in preparation for the One who would come to save us.  

2.  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  It just gets better through the years.

*You can download A Christmas Carol for free at

1.  The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston will forever be one of our "staple" Christmas books.  It's simple, sweet story about an Appalachian family which is preparing for Christmas while at the same time longing for the father, who has yet to return from the war.  It's a story of hope, family, faith, perseverance, and Christmas miracles.

Wow.  That was harder than I thought it would be.  I feel compelled to console the books that didn't make the list by assuring them they'll be included next year.  Hmmm.  

If you're a lover of books, I hope that you've found something new to add to your collection.  If you're not, I'd invite you to discover a new treasure to add to your Christmas memories.


During a season that is marked by food prepared to delight the palate, decorations hung to please the eye, and music played to bring joy the ear, it seems fitting that we carefully choose and read books which will nurture the soul.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Foundational Five: Poetry

"Genuine poetry can communicate before it can be understood."
T.S. Eliot 

As I was pulling out my favorite books and resources on poetry, I was convicted.  I’m an idealist.  The world of beauty, goodness, well-chosen words and pursuit of truth is the world in which I aspire to invite my children.  I love poetry.  I’m thrilled that my children share some semblance of that same sentiment.  But as with so many other lofty aspirations, I’ve allowed the “necessary” to crowd out the routine enjoyment of our sharing poetry together. 

In writing this post, I've been reminded… of the wonder of childhood… of the joy found in falling in love with words… of the magic of language.

In the spirit of repentance,  I dutifully dug through a shelf crowded with binders, loose papers and workbooks to extract our book used for poetry memorization (more on that later).  My children’s responses to the sight of the book were delightful.  They clamored to recite long-forgotten verses.  They wanted more.

Why poetry?

“Poetry is the liveliest use of language, and nobody knows more instinctively how to take delight in that playfulness than children.”    
Serious Play:  Reading Poetry with Children

Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty, and Sam I Am.  Although it may have been years (or decades) since we’ve intentionally invested our time in reading poetry, most of us can recall these childhood rhymes with little to no effort.  They’ve been stored deeply within our memories alongside Christmas carols and favorite birthday presents.  Memorizing them came at no cost – we loved the words, the rhythm, the beautiful illustrations, and the endless repetition which provided comfort in a sometimes-unpredictable world. 

Poetry invites us into a magical realm where individual words, each which alone have only their assigned meaning, can be arranged in such a way as to result in a thing of beauty… or mystery… or cleverness.  To discover and enjoy poetry with our children is to cultivate their love for language.

Poetry can provide a vibrant thread to be woven into the unique fabric of our family culture.  When asked, “Who left the door open?”  I’ll often get the clever response ”Mr. Nobody.”  "Jonathan Blake" who ate too much cake can serve as a warning for all those consuming too many sweets. “I eat my peas with honey” (the opening to a clever poem taken from Benjamin West and His Cat Grimalkin) is recited when those particular veggies are served for dinner, and it wouldn’t be Christmas without A Visit from St. Nicholas

In addition to igniting our children’s love for language and enriching our family life, poetry provides the added benefit of contributing to their intellectual growth.
There is perhaps no greater tool than memorization to seal language patterns into a human brain, and there is perhaps nothing more effective than poetry to provide exactly what we want: reliably correct and sophisticated language patternsBy memorizing and reciting, you practically fuse neurons into permanent language storage patterns. Those patterns are then ready to be used, combined, adapted, and applied to express ideas in a myriad of ways. Additionally, because of the nature of poetry, poets are often compelled to stretch our vocabulary, utilizing words and expressions in uniquely sophisticated—but almost always correct—language patterns.”  Andrew Pudewa

We enjoy using A Word Well Spoken… Linguistic Development Through Poetry Memorization (found here) by Andrew Pudewa.  This thin spiral-bound book gives simple strategies for memorization and is divided into four sections, each with twenty poems.  The level of difficulty and length of the poems increase with each level, beginning with such fun poems as "Ooey Gooey Was a Worm" and ending with "The Hunting of the Dragon" by G.K. Chesterton.  Although children may occasionally memorize poems for school assignments, this approach allows a family to enjoy the process together.  A few minutes a day (perhaps right before dinner)  2-3 days a week is all the time required.  We have also found the companion CD helpful, particularly for young children to listen to during naptime or rides in the car. 

Some of our favorite books of poetry:

~Book of Nursery & Mother Goose Rhymes by Marguerite de Angeli
~Mother Goose by Kate Greenaway

~A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson (illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa or Tasha Tudor)

~The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne 
~Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book for Young Children by Christina Rosetti
~Animals, Animals by Eric Carle

~Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O'Neill 
~The Beauty of the Beast by Jack Prelutsky
~The Complete Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
~Poetry for Young People by Emily Dickinson (includes fun "riddle" poems of nature)
~Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot (especially fun if you've shared the music from Cats with them)

Additional resources:
Jim Weiss audio Cds including Famously Funny - A Beloved Collection of Stories & Poems 
Blackstone Audio Cd collection Winnie-the-Pooh 
Dover Publications coloring book of A Child's Garden of Verses

When we share the gift of poetry with our children, we are giving them an inheritance of deep love for language. It is a gift to be enjoyed while they are young, appreciated as they grow older, and passed on to future generations.

*This is post one of what will eventually be five postings on foundational genres of literature for children.  More on the backdrop for those discussions can be found here.