“She is always sitting with her little nose burrowing into books. She doesn’t read them, Miss Minchin; she gobbles them up as if she were a little wolf instead of a little girl. She is always starving for new books to gobble…”
That’s how Captain Crewe describes his 7-year-old daughter Sara’s love for reading in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic A Little Princess. And like Sara Crewe, my pre-teen girls always seem to be gobbling up books and starving for new ones.
Hunting down a steady supply of wholesome, captivating books to feed their souls, encourage their hearts, and inspire their imaginations can be quite a daunting task. I want my girls to read and think about what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise, just as Philippians 4:8 instructs. But so much of what is newly published on the shelves for pre-teens is none of the above. Either it looks dark, creepy and twisted, or else it appears completely frivolous. Sometimes just seeing the book covers makes my heart sick enough that I don’t want to explore what unpleasant characters might lurk inside.
In His grace, God has been faithful in equipping me as I search for books. His hand is at work through wonderful websites that offer Christian reviews of children’s literature, such as Redeemed Reader and The Story Warren. God has led me to meaningful, age-appropriate books that I don’t have to pre-read entirely before sharing with my daughters. Specifically, I have felt God leading me to entire series of books written by trustworthy authors – some who lived a century ago and a select few from recent decades. Finding an entire series of books is a treasure! It helps satisfy my bookworms much longer than when I offer them a stand-alone novel. In addition, finding older books usually helps us steer clear of the objectionable worldviews that characterize some recently published works.
Because of television and movies, nearly everyone is familiar with the classic fiction series like Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery, The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis and The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We do enjoy reading these, and we especially adore Anne of Green Gables.
Sometimes in hunting for book series, I realize that a well-known, classic book has a sequel or is part of a series. For instance, Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is one of four in a series, and Caddie Woodlawn has a sequel entitled Caddie Woodlawn’s Family. Who knew?
More often, though, God leads me to a less popular series that tells the enchanting stories of lovable characters who demonstrate commendable virtues like perseverance, kindness, gratitude, creativity, patience, forgiveness, and gentleness.
For example, one of the older book series that we treasure is the All-of-a-Kind Family series written by Sydney Taylor in the 1950s. This delightful series relays the holidays and surprises shared by five Jewish sisters growing up in New York City in the early 1900s. The girls are genuinely kind to their family and others, and they persevere through challenges together.
Also based in the early 1900s, the Betsy-Tacy series by Maude Hart Lovelace features best friends Betsy and Tacy and their whimsical childhood excursions in Deep Valley. Their devotion to each other and their creativity in playing together make these stories sweet and memorable. They were first published in the 1940s.
Another excellent series published in the 1940s, the Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright introduces readers to the four Melendy children and their lively adventures while residing in the city and in the country. The siblings endure change, hardship and occasional disputes with one another as they grow in perseverance, forgiveness, and patience. Elizabeth Enright also wrote Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away, in which three brave cousins discover an abandoned lakeside resort and courageously make new friends.
Of course, not all of our favorite book series are old. One newer but lesser known fiction series my girls cherish is the Sarah, Plain and Tall series by Patricia MacLachlan. It includes five books about a mid-western farm family in the 19th century. Like the Ingalls, they carry on through the trials of farm life and adjust to family changes with love, forgiveness, patience and selflessness.
The Kathleen McKenzie series by Tracy Leininger Craven, which includes four books about a spunky and competitive 11-year-old growing up during the Great Depression, is another favorite collection. Kathleen bravely works through difficulties and uses her talents for God’s glory.
The newer collections that my oldest daughter reads over and over are those written by Lois Walfrid Johnson. Her faith-based historical fiction work includes the Freedom Seeker series, which is set in the 1850s along the Mississippi River and features the daughter of a steamboat captain. Set in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the early 1900s, her Adventures of the Northwoods series portrays the life of a 12-year-old who becomes part of a new family. And in her Viking Quest series, a young girl named Bree is captured by Viking raiders and taken from her home in Ireland. I had the great joy of meeting Lois at a conference this spring, and I told her that my 12-year-old had already gobbled up all of her books – most of them twice – and was eagerly awaiting her next series. Lois gently told me to tell her, “I’m sorry I can’t write books as fast as you can read them!” We look forward to her next series.
Besides reading a lot of fiction, my girls also appreciate biographies. An excellent collection of faith-based biographies for pre-teen girls is Wendy Lawton’s Daughters of the Faith series. Each book features a girl who lives out her faith boldly and overcomes significant struggles. The titles are Almost Home: A Story Based on the Life of the Mayflower’s Mary Chilton, The Tinker’s Daughter: A Story Based on the Life of Mary Bunyan, The Hallelujah Lass: A Story Based on the Life of Salvation Army Pioneer Eliza Shirley, Ransom’s Mark: A Story Based on the Life of the Pioneer Olive Oatman, and Courage to Run: A Story Based on the Life of Harriet Tubman.
Another collection of biographies that we just began reading is the Chosen Daughters series, which portrays the lives of women who accomplish extraordinary things by the grace of God. The first book we read is A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell by Christine Farenhorst. It’s a compelling and very well written biography about Edith Cavell’s family, her childhood, her life of faith and her exemplary service as a nurse during World War I. We loved it and are eager to continue the Chosen Daughters series this fall. The other title by Christine Farenhorst is Wings Like a Dove: The Courage of Queen Jeanne D’Albret. Other titles in this series are Dr. Oma: The Healing Wisdom of Countess Juliana Von Stolberg by Ethel Herr; Against the Tide: The Valor of Margaret Wilson by Hope Irvin Marston; and Weight of a Flame: The Passion of Olympia Morata by Simonetta Carr.