Tag Archives: stories

A Book Discussion (and a Sermon Quote): The Green Ember series by S.D. Smith

“The Green Ember burns; the seed of the New World smolders. Healing is on the horizon, but a fire comes first. Bear the flame.”

-S.D. Smith in The Green Ember, p. 364

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We could easily become discouraged. The world has become obsessed with hatred and bigotry and violence. Our public voice of dissonance has no hint of forbearance. Children’s problems are growing weightier, darker, and their literature is reflecting that in the name of “reality,” “daily life” and “awareness.” It is not any worse than previous generations have experienced, but it is certainly a marked characteristic of our current culture. For this very reason I am pleased my family and I have found S.D. Smith. Somehow, through a share on Facebook, or maybe a pop up on my newsfeed, we discovered The Green Ember series.

Building on the Christian fantasy genre, Smith has created an inspiring world of anthropomorphized animals who are attempting to battle the evil in their own world as it spreads throughout the Great Wood, and beyond, into all Natalia.

Rabbits with swords.

After wolves attack their village, set fire to their home, and take off with their parents and baby brother, Heather and Picket begin a journey. It is a coming of age story in which Smith seemingly draws on his love for C.S. Lewis. Not only are they seeking their family, but are likewise in search of a more peaceful world. After a previously unknown Uncle Wilfred and his adopted son Smalls rescue them from the wolves of Redeye Garlackson, they are sequestered in Cloud Mountain, a hidden community determined to preserve the old peace and order of the Great Wood. The rabbits live in true community as they prepare for eventual battle, and continue developing beautiful skills of creativity, artisanship and industry.

“Everywhere they looked, energetic work was underway.” p. 200

Smith utilizes a great deal of Christian imagery throughout the book.

“Of course!” Emma said. “Now, they do other work like everyone else: gardening, cleaning, teaching – whatever’s needed. But all the crafts are honored here. We’re heralds of the Mended Wood.”

The Green Ember, p. 155

We see similar ideas within the early Church.

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…”

Acts 2:44-46

Endearing characters are introduced, such as the slightly bumbling, clay-flinging Eefaw Potter, or the sweet, grandmotherly sage, Old Mrs. Weaver. They slowly begin to help heal and strengthen  the aching hearts of Heather and Picket as they grow into the vision of Cloud Mountain. I won’t reveal what events transpire, but they are distressing to the rabbit siblings, and demonstrate how betrayal and true evil exist even in their fantasy world.

My boys and I completed the first in the series, and are midway through the newly published sequel Ember Falls. I love that even though there are many battle scenes and deaths, this is not too scary a read aloud for my six year old, and yet it has maintained the interest of my twelve year old. I love that family members within the book unabashedly profess their love and affection for one another, that there is not bullying among the allies, but a focused purpose in defeating the evil. To borrow an expression from Andrew Pudewa from the Institute of Excellence in Writing, this is not so much a “twisted” or “broken” story, but a “healing” story. It is a glorious tale of fighting evil in unison. Heather and Picket are fully aware they are still in the middle of their story. They are painfully unaware how it will all end, but the unity of Cloud Mountain has taught them of a greater hope. The Great Wood may have been razed by the destructive fire, but as they repeat triumphantly,

“It shall not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Yes, Old Testament concepts of the remnant  (Jeremiah 42:2, Ezra 9:8) resonate here as the rabbits huddle in their warrens awaiting eagerly for the heir of King Jupiter to appear. We can see the imagery of a broken or a cursed world becoming new and healed and mended.

He glanced at Smalls, then said in a strong , defiant voice, “It will not be so in the Mended Wood!”

Then the group, all but Picket and Heather, each struck the air with a fist and called out in an echoing reply, “The Mended Wood!”

p. 132

“Cursed is the ground because of you…”

Genesis 3:17

“…the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”

Romans 8:21

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21:5

This past Sunday our minister chose the oddest text, three brief seemingly insignificant verses at the close of the epistle to the Philippians. You can listen to the sermon here if you like. He discussed several observations based on the fact that there were Christians in Caesar’s household. At this particular time, this would have meant the infamous Nero. Among the fact that these people had witnessed blatant evil, but saw themselves ultimately, defiantly as citizens in the kingdom of heaven, they all understood they were a proleptic community.

Proleptic. Living into our future reality as if we are already there. It is living in anticipation of the future promised or hoped for.

“Here we anticipate the Mended Wood, the Great Wood healed. Those painters are seeing what is not yet but we hope will be. They are really seeing, but it’s a different kind of sight. They anticipate the Mended Wood. So do all in this community, in our various ways….This is a place out of time. A window into the past and the future world. We are heralds, you see, my dear, saying what will surely come. And we prepare with all our might, to be ready when once again we are free.”

p. 220

This is the inspiring image The Green Ember series provides us. Through Heather and Picket, Mrs. Weaver, Emma, the gentle doctor-in-training, Uncle Wilfred, Smalls and others, we see a group of rabbits wholly living out the vision of the Mended Wood, even in desperate times. S.D. Smith draws on the beauty of Christ’s church, working together, as if they have already fully entered the Kingdom of Heaven.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

Bear the flame.”

Building a case for picture books

The first time I intuitively felt someone dismiss picture books as only for little kids, I was genuinely surprised.

“Oh, we don’t read picture books anymore with Connor.*  He’s reading chapter books on his own now.”  This mother’s statement perplexed me then as it was unexpected.  And it still perplexes me today.  My oldest two were six and eight at the time, and while they were both independent readers, I felt we were a long way from discarding picture books.  Chapter books.  Picture books.  Are they really so mutually exclusive?  Must I give up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder once I have begun to read Willa Cather?  So, it stands to reason, I refuse to abandon Jane Yolen for Katherine Patterson.  Let us linger a bit longer on the delights and purpose of the picture book.   There is a case to be made for the necessity of high quality books with beautiful illustrations, specifically targeting independent readers 9, 10, 11, 12 years old, and beyond.  Here is why we still read picture books.

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

Just as Margaret Wise Brown‘s charming Big Red Barn may be a perfect bed time read for  a three-year-old, but not so much for a ten-year-old, so there are some subject matters best left for older children.  Many authors/illustrators provide safe places for older children to explore potentially scary or sensitive issues through the haven of clear illustrations and well-intentioned words.  Death, war and severe prejudices can be broached in ways a chapter book may not be able.  Here are a few examples.

Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco

Chicken Sunday  by Patricia Polacco

The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Peter Sis

The Yankee at the Seder by Elka Weber and Adam Gustavson

SPECIFIC INTERESTS

Whereas an eleven-year-old may not pick up an entire biography on a famous mathematician or botanist, a picture book can usher them into a brand new world with ease.  Through more complex storytelling, greater vocabulary and unique interests, the older reader may enjoy these great finds.

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Wise Guy: The Life and Philosophy of Socrates by M. D. Usher and William Bramhall

When Jesse Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest and P.J. Lynch

Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman

Starry Messenger: Galileo Galilei by Peter Sis

My Brothers’ Flying Machine by Jane Yolen and Jim Burke

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter and Melissa Sweet

The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman and LeUyen Pham

EMOTIONAL SAFETY

For some tweens, there is a sweet reassurance that our pains and feelings of inadequacy may be universal.  There is a comfort in knowing we are not the only ones.  This is true whether we are four, fourteen or forty.  Here are some wonderfully written stories full of emotional intelligence.

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Odd Boy Out by Don Brown

Chowder by Peter Brown

Basket Moon by Mary Lynn Ray and Barbara Cooney

Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

GREAT STORYTELLING

Just as it is a little sad that the short story genre is dwindling, it is also unfortunate that we may not appreciate the genre of picture book in its own right.  I marvel at the craft of these below. With fewer words, they transport us to magnificent places, and succinctly help us in learning new perspectives.

The Firekeeper’s Son by Linda Sue Park and Julie Downing

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

Crow Call by Jane Yolen

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Lassie Come-Home by Rosemary Wells(adapter), Eric Knight (author)  and Susan Jeffers

VISUAL ARTS

Once you open the cover to the books listed below you will not wonder how they might appeal to an eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen-year old.  These books for older children can easily be appreciated for the visual humor, charm or poignancy.

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Locomotive by Brian Floca

Sitting Ducks by Michael Bedard

The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Zen Shorts, Zen Ties and Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

Tibet Through the Red Box by Peter Sis

NOSTALGIA

While the following books may readily be enjoyed by younger children, older ones may feel the thrill of nostalgia as they read them again.  Reading them later, after a span of time, just might give them the gift of growing perspective.  If they related to the little girl at six years old, now they can see things through the older sister’s or mother’s point of view.  I know we all re-read stories from our younger days, simply because it brings back some of those warm memories associated with reading.  Here is my list.

Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran and Barbara Cooney

Days of the Blackbird by Tomie de Paola

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list, but this should get you started if you need to re-aquaint yourself with this genre.  Does your family have a favorite not listed?  Leave it in the comments.  There are so many great ones lining the library bookcases, as well as our own at home.