Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker

Listening and Learning {Book Review – Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker}

Ever since my son was 1 or 2 years old, I’ve said that I’ve learned much more from being parent than I ever did in the years in was a public school teacher. And that statement keeps growing in truth.

Small Talk by Amy Julia Becker

Amy Julia Becker shares numerous examples of this growth in her book Small Talk: Learning from My Children About What Matters Most (Zondervan, 2014). This memoir-style book follows Amy Julia’s journey through several years of parenting two, then three, children, including one of whom has Down Syndrome. This series of stories encourages readers and highlights how we can see grace in the small moments of our lives.

“In the midst of snow days and sickness, in the midst of yelling and tears, grace enters in.” – p. 12, Small Talk

Amy Julia tells the story in present tense with some past tense reflections to draw readers in. She lets the reader know in the introduction that this is not a how-to book. She utilizes a lot of “I think” and “I wonder” and “I understand” sentences to show her own thought processes and conclusions on what she’s learning as she grows along with her children.

My favorite components of these stories are the family conversations. The dialogues between children (child-to-child and child-to-parent) are so realistic and so pure. Any parent can identify, and, as a parent of a child with multiple special needs, I especially relate to many of those conversations and specific fears. She doesn’t present herself as perfect, and these thoughtful stories help spur reflections of the reader’s own family and circumstances.

She covers holding on to certain things, letting go of others. Her children help her realize the importance of forgiveness, understanding, growth. She recounts stories of waiting, of tragedy, of community, of understanding dependence, of marriage. All while exploring God’s presence in all of it.

The reader won’t leave this book with all the answers, and the reader might not even agree with all of the author’s conclusions. But the book will allow readers to marvel in the insightfulness of children and the ability to reflect and grow, no matter one’s situation.

“…But the reminder of God’s promises quiets my soul. A gentle encouragement to trust. This Christian life of ours if messy and mysterious and beautiful. Like water, running down and spilling over.” – p. 219, Small Talk

What have you learned most from your children?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (through the BookLook bloggers program) in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

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The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

On Forgiveness, Grace, and Hope

As much as we can learn from others’ stories, sometimes we just can’t understand them. The “how”s. The “why”s.

Corrie ten Boom has such a story. As a holocaust survivor, she endured and witnessed atrocities no one should. We can’t understand why her story happened or how such things existed. But we can, as she did, still learn from it.

Join me at Do Not Depart today with a look at Corrie ten Boom’s story and some wisdom she drew from her outrageous circumstances. Her story teaches much about God’s presence, about accepting grace, and about holding on to hope.

Also, read her book, The Hiding Place. It’s on my top 10 list of books everyone should read at some point.

The Hiding Place - Corrie ten Boom

While you’re at Do Not Depart, check out the other posts from this month on various godly women and what their stories share.

Share your own stories of hope and grace over at Do Not Depart today.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

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Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, 2014)

A Helpful Bible Study Tool {Review of Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary}

I’ve covered a few Bible study resources on this blog, and I’ve found another one that’s a fantastic help.

The Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, 2014) offers an updated book of more than 7,000 entries filled with information on the people, places, things, and ideas of the Bible, accompanied by photos, charts, and maps for visual reinforcement.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Thomas Nelson, 2014)

I particularly love using a Bible dictionary when I need to understand cultural context of a term or object mentioned in the Bible. (Especially helpful for my posts at Do Not Depart!) I’ve used this Bible dictionary a few times already, specifically in this Do Not Depart post on the greatest High Priest.

If you haven’t used a Bible dictionary much, they’re organized like a dictionary – terms are listed in alphabetical order. Each entry offers a concrete explanation, followed by cultural and biblical significance and Bible verses to support. Many of the entries also offer thoughts on how this theology, place, person, etc. impacts current-day believers.

This revised edition of the Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary includes full-color in the photographs included, a cross-reference system for translations, outlines of the books of the Bible, maps, and more – all great resources to study the Bible in more depth. Some of the photos do seem a bit dated, but still show the intended object.

Besides being beautiful and interesting to look through, this dictionary has earned a spot on one of our “often-used” shelves.

How do you use Bible dictionaries in your study? 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher (BookLook program) in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

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3 Books that Could've Been Finalists for the Cybils Awards {undergodsmightyhand.com}

3 Books that Could’ve Been Cybils Finalists

The last two months of 2014 were spent reading, reading, reading. While that’s not too much out of the ordinary, I was reading many more easy readers and early chapters books than normal because of being a Round 1 panelist for the Cybils awards. The whole experience was amazing, fun, and beneficial as a reader, writer, and reviewer. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to have been a panelist!

Our panel picked our shortlist together, which was posted at the beginning of the year. (See all the finalist lists here.) The final discussion we had was awesome – full of in-depth book talk and passionate responses to books that struck our hearts. Narrowing a list of solid books with a mix of literary merit and kid appeal to only 7 books was tough! Because of our limit, we had to knock a few books off the final shortlist that many of us would’ve kept on if we could.

3 Books that Could've Been Finalists for the Cybils Awards {undergodsmightyhand.com}

Three of My Favorite Books that Could’ve Been on the Cybils Shortlist

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon and Schuster, 2014) – Oh my goodness, this book. This book follows Lucy and her family as they travel to her aunt’s farm in North Dakota to help stop rising floodwaters from reaching the house. Lucy, the oldest in her family, has a special bond with Teddy, the youngest, a 2-year-old. The family thinks Teddy can’t talk, but Lucy knows he can as he sings perfectly to her every night. Lucy feels she lacks talent since she can’t sing or make other music as the rest of her family can, but the family encounters a situation where Lucy is forced to find her voice to help.

This book tells its story in an incredibly moving tone, one that will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading the story. Quiet in ways and seemingly about “slice-of-life” situations, this book tells a powerful story of trust, connection, growth, self-forgiveness, and love. For a book geared towards 2nd-4th graders, it dives deeply into important themes any kid (or adult!) with family-like relationships can understand. The family relationships are unique, the conflict interesting, and the growth inspiring. As I shared on my Instagram account, this book is like a mix between A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (one of my top 10 books I’ve ever read in any genre) and May B. by Caroline Starr Rose (an incredible novel in verse for young readers).

The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness by Lauren Myracle

The Life of Ty: Non-Random Acts of Kindness by Lauren Myracle, illustrated by Jed Henry (Dutton, 2014) – Ty is a goofy, lovable second grader learning to navigate the wilds of 7-year-old life, amongst school happenings and family relationships. His teacher creates a project where each student needs to complete an act of kindness and prepare a verbal presentation for the class by the end of the week. Ty struggles to figure out who he can help as he encourages his friends, aids his baby sister, and more.

I love the tone of this book. Both the family and kid-to-kid conversations feel realistic, and the book offers a positive message without being too “preachy.” This early chapter book is fun and funny to read, offering defined characters and unique aspects of situations, largely because of Ty’s energetic personality. (He follows such a rambling thought process that I can relate to as an adult, too!) I love how this book shares a different family dynamic with a wide age range between siblings, differing relationships between siblings, and parents that aren’t the stereotypical “dumb” or “mean” that you often find in mainstream chapter books. (I love when a book shows that parents need to learn and grow, too!) A great read aloud for 1st graders or individual read for 2nd-4th graders.

The Sea Monster by J.E. Morris

The Sea Monster (A Steve and Wessley Reader) by J. E. Morris (Scholastic, 2014) – Steve and Wessley are two best friends taking a day at the park. Steve sees something in the pond and thinks it’s a sea monster! Wessley says it’s just a stick. Who ends up being right?

This easy reader offers simple sentences for growing readers and a relatable concept (mistaking an object for something else) with subtle humor in the conversation that ensues between Steve and Wessley. The entire story is told through dialogue and funny back-and-forth humor even preschoolers can pick up on. The illustrations are some of the best parts of the book, including a subplot of a bear falling asleep in the background and a duck reading his book. And, if you enjoy this one, be sure to pick up The Ice Cream Shop, an even more hilarious Steve and Wessley book!

Stay tuned to the Cybils website for the final winners, picked by the Round 2 panelists and announced in mid-February!

Cybils logo

What are some of your family’s favorite easy readers and early chapter books from 2014?

Disclosure: I was not required to blog about any books I read as a Cybils panelist. I’m only sharing these because I loved them, and you might love them, too!

I am an affiliate for Signing Time and Amazon Associates. If you click on a Signing Time link or Amazon and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, 2014)

Holding on to Hope {Book Review: Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund}

When Irish immigrant Emma Chambers and her brother, Ryan, are shipwrecked off of the coast of Presque Isle, Michigan after a pirate attack, they’re not sure where to go or how they’re regain what little savings they had. Emma feels, as a 22-year-old in 1859, she’s losing hope of having a home of her own without her brother feeling responsible to take care of her.

Emma meets little Josiah, and his father, Patrick Garraty, shortly after coming to shore at Burnham’s Landing. Patrick has just lost his wife, and is overwhelmed with caring for Josiah and tending the Presque Isle lighthouse. When Holy Bill, the traveling preacher, recommends Emma and Patrick marry to ease both their troubles, Emma accepts to fulfill her wish of having her own home and a child to care for. She quickly finds she’s drawn to Patrick, but doesn’t learn about his tumultuous past until it may be too late. Can she hold on to hope for a happy future?

Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund (Bethany House, 2014)

Author Jody Hedlund easily weaves themes of love, trust, and redemption into all of her novels, but I love how much focus is on hope in Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope series Book #1, Bethany House, 2014). Emma struggles with maintaining hope through drastic circumstances, something all of us can relate to. While the romance between Patrick and Emma is a whirlwind happening in roughly a month’s time, the reader can believe and feel their care for each other, as well as the inner turmoil each experience as they overcome their pasts, doubts, and inadequacies.

Jody draws the reader in with sensory-filled details incorporated into emotion-wrought sentences. And she never fails to create an intriguing, different-from-the-norm male character. As always, the historical aspects Jody includes in her stories fascinate me. I am easily drawn in to the time and place and eager to learn more about the characters’ ways of life. Jody shares in the author’s note what components are real, and which are fictionalized, which I always love reading at the end of the novel.

Reading Love Unexpected will make the reader yearn for open communication between Emma and Patrick, revel in Josiah’s young wonder of the earth, admire Ryan’s loyalty to his sister, grin at Holy Bill’s abrupt yet faith-directed ways, cheer Emma’s housekeeping and parenting attempts, scowl at Bertie’s selfish actions, and adore Patrick’s desire to exude God’s grace. All while learning about an utterly different way of life from what most of us live now. It’s a great blend of historical and Christian romance.

"...no one can sin too much or stray too far from God that He can't bring them back, heal them, and give them a new life." - quote from Love Unexpected by Jody Hedlund

I highly recommend first reading the novella that serves as a precursor to this series, Out of the Storm, available in ebook format only. Isabella’s story in that novella weaves through the rest of the series. Plus, the novella is an enjoyable, fast read that helps introduce the tone and setting of the place and era. Then move on to Love Unexpected. The second book in this series will come out in June, too!

Visit Jody’s website for a Q&A, to read Isabella’s letter (referenced in Love Unexpected), and purchase the book!

Question for you: What is one of your favorite novels on hope?

Disclosure: I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.