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Reading Well Review by Kathy Gelzer

By Mary W. Hines
Faith and Facts
6530 N. Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268

Reading Well is a 215-page paperback book consisting of 52 stories, essays, and poems with accompanying King James Version Scripture passages. Some of the featured writers are Blake, Lincoln, Longfellow, Browning, Twain, O. Henry, Shakespeare, and Thoreau. Most of the entries are two to four pages in length with some exceptions. Each entry includes illustrations, the Bible verses, and a bit of biographical information about the author. One of the best features of the book is a little box containing a question, a discussion topic, and an activity to go with each literature selection. The activities are simple and range from sending a card to watching a specific video. At the end of the book is a Scripture index.

The intention of the book, according to the author's preface, is to promote important spiritual discussions with our children. Using the parable of the seed and the sower as her foundation, Mary Hines believes parents need to ensure their children are the good soil by instilling the right character traits in them "if we are going to help them be saved." Reading these short chapters to them can lead to that. Though I'm not sure I agree exactly with her interpretation of this parable, I agree with the importance of reading quality material to our children and talking about it.

I don't think it is an accident that there are 52 chapters to this book, but the fact that there are enough entries for one weekly reading per year is not mentioned anywhere. It is meant to be read aloud to one's children, but there is no age recommendation. Because some of the language is "old-fashioned" and difficult to understand, I would recommend this book for upper elementary children or even older. If you have a mixture of ages and your younger children are used to sitting in on the older children's read-aloud sessions, they will no doubt enjoy this book, too, on their own level. Here is one of the poems in Reading Well, entitled "The Forward Thistle" by Basho Matsuo:

The thistle, thrusting himself into view
To be seen by strangers that pass,
Got himself noticed all too well,
And was eaten by an ass!

The scripture passage is from II Samuel 18 where Absalom is pursuing his father, King David, and is killed by some of David's men after getting his head caught in a tree bough. I was compelled to read the rest of the story to my children (ages 6, 8, and 12) to show them how much King David loved his son even though Absalom wanted to kill him and usurp the throne. An excellent discussion ensued about the incomprehensible, unending love parents have for their children, and how David was a "type of Christ" when he said, "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you-O Absalom, my son, my son!" The corresponding discussion topic is: "Tell of something about which you are proud and how that pride could backfire." This also provided excellent fodder for discussion, especially with a piano recital right around the corner!

Reading Well has a very pleasing layout. The mixture of text and illustration is balanced-interesting but not too busy. The book has a quaint, vintage feel to it, with almost sepia toned pages, black-and-white illustrations, and lots of old photographs. Because the passages are short, they lend themselves to little bits of time, whether it's "one more story before bed" or waiting in the car for a sibling who is finishing up soccer practice.

I so wish the book had included some background information on the author, Mary Hines. I assume she is a kindred spirit, a homeschooling mother or grandmother, but I don't know. How did she make her selections for this excellent compilation? What is her experience with great works of literature? What was her spiritual upbringing like?

On an editorial note, no source information is provided for the myriad of pictures in the book, and hardly any for the biographical data given on the many writers and poets whose works are included.

Reading Well is a book to pack in your car or pull out at tea-time. If you enjoy reading aloud to your children and you want to introduce important ideas and a variety of great authors to your family, some lesser known than others, you will like this book.

Product review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007