soccer camp.

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Hi there friends!

We’re enjoying our summer and managing to keep it just-the-right-amount of busyness. Last week David flew to Alabama for PCA General Assembly (an annual gathering of pastors), and Judah went to his first soccer camp at CIU. He had such a great time: learned some skills, saw some old friends and made new friends, and really liked his coaches.

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With David out of town, it was nice for me to have just three kids during the day; I was also thankful for help from family and friends. In the evenings, Judah, Amie and I made slice-and-bake cookies, cuddled on the couch, and watched episodes of The British Baking Show on Netflix. Amie jumped at the chance to sleep with me every night. It was a great week, but we were all very happy to have David back at 3:30 am on Saturday.

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We’re so proud of Judah for working hard at camp!



house therapy.

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If you remember my recent house update (and the update-to-the-update here), you know we’ve been waiting all year to hear back from contractors about our master bedroom addition.

Well here we are in June, still waiting away. At this point, we’ve let go of the hope of breaking ground in 2016 and we’re looking towards next year. But by now we’re at peace with that.

One of the best ways I know to find contentment in my house is to take a step back and say, “____ is what I really want to change right now, but that’s not possible. So what are one or two things I can change instead?”

Well we came up with a couple of medium-sized projects, one of which I’m almost ready to share with you.

In the meantime I’m glancing throughout the house and tweaking little things. I did another major purge last month (of course I did) and also some organizing up in the attic. I’ve finally come to terms with a houseful of small closets and have started viewing the attic as our big extra closet, albeit one with a rather rickety drop-down ladder. You’d be amazed at the pieces of furniture we’ve maneuvered up that small rectangular hole.

After the frenzy of moving into our house and decorating it room-by-room, I took a good year and a half off of Pinterest and Apartment Therapy. I needed time to just live in our space instead of seeing it as a project.

I loved the break. It quieted my mind. It taught me to be content. I turned my gaze toward other things.

But now, this summer, I’m back in creative-house-therapy mode, in a moderate way. I’m browsing my favorite design websites again, and finding little bits of inspiration. I’m “shopping my house,” as the Nester recommends, and rearranging. I’m wondering how I can add at least one plant to every room, and actually keep them alive.

I’ve got a list on my computer of little changes I’d like to make — things like finally adding some wall art in the bathroom and updating the light fixture on our front porch — and I’ll try to choose one or two a month, depending on the cost and space in our budget. I don’t do much shopping just for the sake of shopping (because I’m pretty terrible with impulse purchases), but it’s nice to have a running list of things I’m searching for, in case I stumble upon the perfect crock for kitchen utensils or slouchy book basket for the kids’ room, or laundry hampers that are on sale.

This is a delicate dance, because we’re trying to keep our house as trimmed-down as possible, in order to make it feel more spacious. So I’m very careful what I buy and bring into it. I purposefully don’t thrift-store shop — not because I don’t think there are great deals to be had, but because I don’t have space for all those deals.

But even so I find that I enjoy this dance of finding just enough and not too much.

More fun house updates to come — now what about you, are you doing any house projects (big or small) this summer?



school at home, part 1.

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What I understand now that I didn’t before, regarding my work, is that when you love what you do the drive you have is unstoppable and you will find a way to keep moving forward. I wake up before the rest of the house wakes up to learn, I listen to podcasts in the car and when I cook and clean to learn, and I read any spare moment I have to learn.

– Melinda McCoy via Design Mom

 

We finished our third year of home school at the end of May. The turquoise school cart in the dining room is cleared of textbooks, math flashcards, and random bits of paper, and turned into a summer art cart, year-end reports submitted, Judah and Amelie’s portfolios are complete, and we’re spending June taking a deep breath.

We did it! We completed a whole, legal school year at home, in the midst of adoption and discipline and attachment and sibling adjustments.

Today I feel an enormous sense of accomplishment, coupled with gratitude, because of course I didn’t get here on my own. I had lots of help and support.

I think the thing I marvel most over is that we didn’t just limp along in this hardest-of-years. We actually thrived. Yes there were days I wanted to throw in the towel, but when I look back on the whole sweep of our year, it was my favorite homeschooling year thus far.

It just felt right.

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David and I knew that when we chose to adopt Gabe and Noah, we may be saying “no” to homeschooling in the future. We just didn’t know what their needs would be, what their personalities were like. What has worked so far may need to change to suit our changed family. So we decided to give it one year, both for the sake of family bonding, and to find out, Can this thing be done? Does it work for all of our kids? Does it drive Mommy insane?

So we embarked, however imperfectly. I made a plan and bought curriculum and enrolled the boys in our homeschool community, Classical Conversations. Gabriel spent this year in the 4K class, and Noah in the nursery.

I stumbled a good bit, and I was very, very tired — mostly with the interruptions and the discipline and inability to focus one one task more than three minutes (so I guess the answer is yes, some days it drove Mommy insane). But gradually it got better. And better. Obedience grew, attention spans lengthened, ability to self-entertain developed.

Not only that; we saw that our new boys were sponges. They wanted to be apart of everything. They did CC memory work and found countries on the map and drew pictures and colored and played play-doh and made many messes.

One thing I can say for Gabe and Noah is they jump into life feet-first with a zest previously unknown to our family. And in doing so they made homeschooling — harder at times, yes — but better.

Learning together at home gives me a chance to put aside the cycle of necessary busyness in my day (laundry, dishes, house-keeping), and engage my children. It is the best way I know as a mom to spend quality time with them.

I am not good at lots of things. I don’t do crafts or science projects, I’m not really a “teacher” per se, who writes my own lessons and stands at a whiteboard to explain them. I’m not good at math. I’m not quick to draw my kids into cooking or cleaning projects. I don’t do nature study.

But there are things I’m good at.

I’m good at discovering our family vision for education at home, and sticking doggedly to it. I’m good at creating a peaceful, colorful home that inspires us all to be learners. I’m good at researching curriculum, and tweaking subjects to better suit each child. I’m no school teacher, but I’m good at asking questions of experts and listening to wise counsel and being humble enough to change things I’m doing wrong.

I’m good at finding ways to compensate for my weaknesses (i.e. Classical Conversations and a math curriculum that’s scripted so I don’t have to teach it myself). I’m good at finding books my kids enjoy and reading lots, and also inspiring my children to read  just because they want to. I’m good at giving them art supplies and a big fenced-in backyard to make art and discover nature on their own.

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This year there are things I have done well, and things I’ve done poorly. There are areas I need to push myself in and change. And I am at peace with all of it.

Schooling my kids at home feels like discovering a job that I love. It’s not perfect; it’s definitely not always easy, but it’s beautiful.

And seeing it work for our family this year, in spite of some pretty big odds, gives me a new settledness in our journey.

Of course David and I plan to take any education decision we make a year at a time, a kid at a time. However. This year was the year I began to seriously contemplate homeschooling through high school. All the way. Yep, I know I could be crazy, and that’s why I said contemplate. I’ve long learned to give up saying “always” or “never” as a parent.

And so, at this point, all I’ll say is that we plan to keep on with our school-at-home journey.

So I spend my summer energy ordering curriculum for next year, getting our supplies in order, tweaking our daily schedule, squeezing in a few podcasts. I love the slower pace and freedom from school days, but I miss them too. I love hearing Judah ask if he’ll get to continue cursive next year and what his cursive textbook looks like, and what books we’ll be reading aloud together. I smile when Amie wants to practice reading together so she’ll get faster. I marvel that Gabe continues to find letters and practice their sounds.

Learning never stops.

I’m thankful for rest and I can’t wait for next year.



summer 2016 and the bookshelf.

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Hello, dear readers!

It’s June, the time of year when life slows down and routines become gentler and there’s more free time — right?

Why do I feel like this isn’t always the case?

I’ve been shocked at how quickly our summer has threatened to become as full of activities as the school year. There are so many fun things to do! Invitations and play dates and cook-outs. Even before we returned from vacation in Florida last week, I started to feel overwhelmed and sad.

What about long, lazy days, staying in pj’s most of the morning, slurping homemade Popsicles out in the pavilion, baking cookies together? What about riding bikes? What about chunks of time to teach my kids a few more chores around the house — and to be home long enough so they can actually do those chores? What about book baskets sprinkled throughout the house and plenty of hours to curl up and read?

Then suddenly I realized: Wait. Just because there’s lots of wonderful options, does not mean we have to do them all. We certainly have a say in how our summer turns out.

And so, two weeks into June, I’ve come up with a vision for our summer, and I find myself saying “no” far more than I say “yes.” Not because I don’t have friends to see or fun things to let my kids participate in. But because I want to rest. I want something different than the schedule we keep all year — wonderful as that is.

I want my kids to feel bored, so they learn how to make their own fun. I do not want to be their chauffeur. I want to linger and cuddle on the sofa and tickle Gabe while he cackles with laughter, and play Uno in the living room during the sweltering afternoon heat. I want Poetry Teatime with Mum-Mum, and to practice reading with Amie every day (because she said just this weekend, “Mommy, I want to read Little House in the Big Woods together, but you’re always too busy”).

And so here we are. We’re doing a few fun things this summer. We will certainly see friends and family. We’ve already tackled some big house projects and I’m sure will do some more. We’ll keep up with swim practice twice a week.

But I have whole day-blocks in my calendar that are completely blank. And right now, that’s a delicious feeling.

The last proper Bookshelf post I wrote was at the end of January; I’ve come to know and love so many new books in the last four or so months, and I’m excited to share them with you! Hopefully you’ll find something here that you can take on vacation or to the lake or maybe just to your back porch with iced tea or a glass of cold white wine.

I divided the books into categories, so you can just skim the list and see what you’re in the mood for. Some of these titles I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but I think they’re worth repeating. I’ll keep descriptions brief, to save my own sanity, and yours!

Happy summer and happy reading!

 

Fiction

Walking Across Egypt, Clyde Edgerton

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A little novel set in a Southern small-town that follows the misadventures of the opinionated, 78-year-old Mattie Rigsbee and the juvenile delinquent she befriends. This book was both laugh-out-loud-funny and moving.

 

A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman

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Ove is a middle-aged, bitter, and quite unlikable man. At first. As you peel back the layers of his story, you start to understand the path he’s traveled. I thoroughly enjoy the group of people that march themselves into his life, and change it forever. (Heads up for language)

 

Historical Fiction

These Is My Words, Nancy Turner

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I know I’ve mentioned this book already; it remains one of my favorite historical fiction novels. It’s filled with all the calamity you can expect from a historical novel set in the Arizona Territory in the time of the Indian wars, but despite the violence, and some farfetched twists in the plot, I love it. The characters feel like dear friends.

 

My Name is Resolute, Nancy Turner

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This is a long novel, but one I was unable to put down; so reader, beware. It just might consume your time until you finish it! I haven’t read a novel about Revolutionary-era America in as long as I can remember. I didn’t adore it quite as much as These Is My Words, but still found it a great read.

 

The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson

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Once in awhile I’ll read a book and just swell with pride for the author for his or her accomplishment. That’s how I felt about The Summer Before the War. Set at the start of World War 1 in East Sussex, England, it reads like a much-older classic, in the best of ways.

 

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson

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I then felt compelled to read Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, and highly enjoyed it too. This novel is set in modern day England and it explores the issues of family, immigration, and interracial relationships.

 

Middle grade fiction
I don’t think I really knew what middle-grade fiction was until this year, when I read Brown Girl Dreaming. It’s defined as fiction that targets 8-13 year-olds (think Newberry Honor books), and I’ve come to enjoy this genre. I think one of the biggest ways middle and high-schoolers can gain perspective in the thick of hormone changes and peer pressure and the struggles of growing up, is through reading good books. I look forward to one day reading and discussing these books with my kids.

If your summer is busy and you don’t have much time for reading, may I suggest one of these titles? They are much shorter than the others on the list (with the exception of Echo), but just as delightful.

Feathers, Jacqueline Woodson

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From the author of Brown Girl Dreaming, this is a coming-of-age novel about a girl named Frannie, who experiences the pangs of growing up and begins to see the people in her world with new eyes.

 

When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

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This is a fabulous novel that is part-mystery, part-fantasy, with a heroine you will come to love.

 

Goodbye Stranger, Rebecca Stead

 

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You’ve probably noticed that when I find an author I like, I suddenly want to read lots of their books. So I’m on a Rebecca Stead kick right now. Her books are fun, thought-provoking, and wise. This one pricks as you witness characters make poor decisions, but the subject matter is handled so well, and the lessons they learn are vital.

 

Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan

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This novel won a 2016 Newberry Honor award, and wins the prize for coolest cover art of this list, in my opinion. It follows three children during World War 2, and has a fantastic ending.

 

A Whole Series to Bury Yourself In
You knew I was going here, right? My two favorite series of all time, perfect for burying yourself in all summer long. In fact, I’m still dwelling in Harry Potter, right alongside Judah, this summer, and having a blast.

The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling

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The Mitford series, Jan Karon

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Memoirs

Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir, Jillian Lauren

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I loved this memoir of a couple who adopted a baby boy from Ethiopia. Jillian Lauren is hilarious, painfully honest, and insightful. She feels like someone I’d love to be friends with. (Heads up for language)

 

The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander

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I’ll tell you at the very beginning: at first this feels like a book about death. The author is poet and Yale professor, Elizabeth Alexander. Her Eritrean husband — and father of her two sons — dies suddenly at the beginning of the book, and this beautiful story of their love and Alexander’s learning how to grieve well and cope in a world without him will break your heart, but also fill you with hope.

 

A Girl From Yamhill, Beverly Cleary

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As you know, my big kids are huge Beverly Cleary fans. As I was browsing titles for them, I came across her two memoirs, and decided to check them out. I loved this book, and her second memoir, My Own Two Feet! Cleary is a great writer, and I enjoyed learning about her life growing up in Oregon during the Depression. In her childhood stories, I loved seeing glimpses of her inspiration for the Henry Huggins and Ramona series.

 

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s, John Elder Robison

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I nearly put this book down a couple of times because it was terribly sad and depressing — not so much because of Robison’s Asperger’s, but because of his childhood. However, I’m so glad I finished it. Robison is a survivor, and the way he eventually learned to live and thrive with his Asperger’s syndrome — in the face of many odds — is inspiring and hopeful. (Heads up for language)

 

All is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir, Brennan Manning

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This last memoir on the list is another sad one, but well worth reading. Catholic priest-turned-Christian-evangelist, Brennan Manning, battled alcohol addiction nearly his entire life. This book is his deeply personal, honest account of his childhood and life spotted with sin and pain, but also with an unshakeable belief in the love and forgiveness of God. David and I were both very moved by his story.



new smyrna beach, 2016.

This was the first time in close to seven years that the whole McWilliams/Gentino family could take a vacation together. We loved joining our Florida friends, Jim and Tricia, at their family’s house in New Smyrna, and always have so much fun with them. We also had family come visit from Orlando a couple of the days.

It makes David and I so happy to see our kids become beach people; to be entertained endlessly with the sand and the waves, to want to wake up and go right back for more each morning.

Their favorite thing about the beach?

Judah: “Playing in the waves with my cousins”

Amie: “I loved riding in the tube on the waves with Daddy and falling out”

Gabe: “Building sand castles”

Noah: “I hold a crab!!!”

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meeting the philly cousins.

David’s sister Becky and her kids came from Philadelphia for a visit, and got to join in the fun at the end of Gabe’s party. They stayed around the corner at David’s parents’ house, and we all had a great two days together. It was their first time meeting Gabe and Noah in person. Gabe and Ilan are the same age, and so are Noah and Anli. Lina is in-between Judah and Amie, and the two girls wanted to spend every minute together! Thanks so much for making the trip, you guys!!!

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gabe turns 5!

Gabe had a birthday last Friday, May 27th! When he turned four, he had been in our home for just over one month. We’re so thankful to have spent a full year of his life with him, and marvel at how much better we know him this birthday. We had a small party with cousins and friends from church, and Gabe’s birth mom and her boyfriend also joined us.

This was our first time doing a themed party for one of our kids, and Gabe chose Star Wars. We had a great time choosing a few ideas online, and mainly keeping it simple. David made pool noodle light sabers for the kids, which became their party favors. We also had Jedi robes (large white undershirts with a twine belt), and storm trooper cupcakes. David did “Jedi training” games with the kids; one task and they earned their robes, and another task and they earned their light sabers.

We follow a friend’s recent example and made it a drop-off party. You’d think it would be easier with parents present, but actually it was nice to have fewer people and to be able to focus on the kids. All of the kiddos did great and had so much fun together!

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may.

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Hi there friends!

May has been a very busy month for us! It’s funny that apparently the busiest month of the summer technically came before the summer started. We had 3 weddings (2 of which David performed), a ballet recital, our Classical Conversations summer practicum, and by this weekend will have taken 5 out of town trips!

Amie’s recital was very sweet, and family and friends came to watch her. She had a great year in ballet and enjoyed being with her friends in class on Monday afternoons. We’ve decided to “take a year off” in favor of doing swim team with her brothers (which she’s been at since January), and possibly neighborhood soccer. We’ll see where we stand next summer.

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I did something a little crazy mid-month and decided last-minute to take the kids to the Great Wolf Lodge all by myself. Some friends from our homeschool group, Classical Conversations, were going. Apparently the GWL has a homeschool discount week in May, so we jumped on board. David couldn’t take off work, but we’ve been several times now (we always go for one overnight), and so I felt pretty confident that I could do it. I had a couple of conversations with the kids about how it was going to be a little different trip without Daddy’s help, and we were all going to work hard at being grateful for this great gift and not complain (including Mommy!).

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They did fantastic! I hardly saw the big kids in the water park once their friends arrived; I just focused on being with the boys and they took turns choosing which area to play in. In the evening a friend watched Noah so that Gabe and I could go on all the big water slides together, which was so fun. Sadly Gabe got sick on Day 2 and Noah wasn’t interested in swimming without his brother, so we hung out with our friends and let Gabe doze while the big kids played, then packed up and headed home.

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Poor buddy. If he’s laying down at the Great Wolf Lodge, you know he’s really sick! On the drive home, Amie asked, “You barely got to go on any water slides. Did you have fun, Mom?” and I tried to explain how much joy it gives me to watch my kids have a great time. I remember as a child feeling bad for my parents for not getting to do “all the fun stuff” or get as many birthday presents, and now I understand completely how they didn’t mind one bit.

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Thanks to our family’s babysitting help, David and I spent two nights in Clemson for our friends’, Spencer and Chrissy’s wedding. David performed the ceremony and my brother Kenny and some friends did all the music, which made it even more special. We arrived home Saturday, and turned around for another wedding in Columbia. A couple in our church had a very unique, small wedding ceremony in the house they’re remodeling together. It’s a beautiful house, and we loved being able to bring our big kids along.

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Here’s a cute photo of our “reluctant napper.” He’s so close to giving up naps altogether, but sometimes just.can’t.make.it. without one. Here’s another:

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He’s pretty cute, isn’t he?

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This week was our Classical Conversations (CC) Practicum, which is a three-day conference in Lexington for all local CC campuses. The moms and/or dads go to sessions and receive training, and we have the option of sending our kids to the day camps. My kids love it! This year Judah and Amie were both in Geography/Drawing camp, and Gabe went to Play Camp. My mother-in-law and brother’s mother-in-law kept Noah, and next year he will join us.

I love the chance to learn new information, to shop for some of next year’s curriculum, and most of all to be with my friends and make some new friends. We get to chat during the breaks and eat lunch together, and I always enjoying picking the brains of more experienced home school moms.

I’ve loved this month, but also look forward to June, when things will calm down a bit.

Happy Thursday!



harry potter progress.

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I shared here about Judah starting the Harry Potter series for the first time.

So many people have asked me how we made the decision to let him begin, and how far in the series we’ll let him go (he’s 8 1/2). Honestly, I wasn’t exactly sure when we started, and that may have been a poor parenting decision on my part, but here we are.

After much deliberating, I just let Judah start book 5 of 7, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I keep saying “I” because David hasn’t read the books, and defers to me, but we’ve discussed it quite a bit, and are on the same page.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, they begin when Harry is 11 years old, and each book covers a year of his life at Hogwarts School. The books mature as Harry matures, which is one of the many reasons I think J.K. Rowling is a genius. Not only do they follow a plot that darkens with each book, but the characters become complex as Harry moves from the rather emotionally concrete world of middle school, into the murky teenage years where everything isn’t black and white, and he’s navigating different sorts of relationships.

However, there are clear lines between good and evil in the story, and (spoiler alert), good wins out at the end of each book and at the end of the series.

My main hesitation with letting Judah finish the series now was wanting to protect him from the dark elements of the plot, which, quite frankly, give me the creeps. There are also some “teenage themes” as the books progress, which include dating, falling in love, and kissing, but I think it’s handled fine.

I guess in the end I realized two things:

1. There are a lot of things I want to shelter Judah from right now, while he’s 8 1/2, but the content of the Harry Potter books is just not high on that list. I love the characters. I love the themes of friendship, loyalty, making wise choices, standing up for what’s right rather than what’s popular, and forgiveness. We’ve talked about the dating stuff, which is just part of life, and we discuss other situations and characters as they come up. Oh how I wish I could start assigning him literary analysis papers, because this series is a treasure trove of characters and themes (I’m such a nerd, I know).

2. Judah has always known his limits with regard to what scares him, and he’s said that the books haven’t been too scary yet. You know what I realized? Because of his age, I think he’s processing them differently than I do. Because I’ve experienced more of the world, I shudder at the evil and grief and loss. But right now Judah sees it all as a magical world and a big, glorious battle between good and evil. I’m okay with that.

3. If you yourself are trying to decide when/how to let your children read this series, all I can say is that every family is different and every child is different. Definitely read the books yourself first so you can discuss situations that come up. Both Judah’s Mum-Mum and I are reading each book right behind him as a refresher, and lots of our family and friends have read them too, which makes for fun conversations right now (he’s exchanging letters with David’s aunt as they read, which he loves). Watch your child to see how he/she is processing it. Are they consumed by it? Are they having nightmares?

One rule we have is that Judah doesn’t read the books right before bed; he and Amie listen to something light like Beverly Cleary or the Boxcar Children on audiobook before they fall asleep. Another thing I’ve realized, is that I think in general people can handle violent or scary scenes in books better than on TV. There’s something about the images on a screen that stick in your mind, whereas when you’re reading a book you subconsciously create the image and scene for yourself, and typically it’s not as graphic. So Judah reads the books, but knows that he doesn’t want to watch beyond the first movie for now.

 

So that’s our update! I can’t tell you how much joy it brings me to see my child embrace reading and get swept up in a really great story. I hope this is just the beginning of a lifelong hobby for him!