Wild Things: the Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult (Bruce Handy) // One of the best non-fiction books I've ever read, especially because I love children's lit so much. I gave my mom a copy for Christmas and she's enjoying it as well. Handy starts with baby/preschool books (like Goodnight Moon) and moves forward developmentally, covering many of my childhood favorites, with some backstory about the authors and their process in writing the books we grew up on. I was fascinated to learn that many "children's authors" didn't actually enjoy kids that much or have any of their own. Handy makes the case that that actually helped them enter children's psyche better than parents or teachers can, in the sense that they can see the world better from a child's point of view. Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon) I found particularly fascinating. I'm sad he didn't cover Richard Scarry or Robert McCloskey, but there are plenty of other wonderful insights into Narnia, Maurice Sendak, Louisa May Alcott, etc.
The Skeletons in God’s Closet (Joshua Ryan Butler) // On recommendation from Dave (who is the reigning king of theology books/podcasts/etc), I listened to this on audiobook, and then we bought five (!!) copies for Christmas gifts. Even after walking with Jesus my whole life, there are things (lots of things!) about the Bible, Jesus, and Christianity that I find puzzling, troubling, and straight up offensive. Butler, a pastor in Portland, does a FANTASTIC (and orthodox) job of addressing difficult questions in a straightforward way, and enabled me to see far more grace in subjects like hell, judgement, and holy war than I had ever imagined. As a non-ancient Hebrew (hello), so much of the Bible feels entirely foreign to me, and it is so helpful when Bible scholars who have immersed themselves in the study of this culture and language unpack Old Testament stories that appear so violent and "unfair" to 21st century Western minds. I found this book so helpful, and am looking forward to re-reading it this year. In this vein, we've also been listening to a lot of Tim Mackie lately, who is also a Portland pastor/Hebrew scholar. His podcast Exploring My Strange Bible has been helpful to me in the same way that Skeletons has.
Books that taught me something and made me think: I re-read Brain Rules for Baby (Medina) this year, after reading it when I was pregnant with Esther (and mentioned it in this post). She was (and still is) hitting her stride with big toddler emotions, and I was hoping to get some insight into how to help her. This book is possibly my favorite parenting book to date, because it has none of the preachy, self-satisfied overtones that so many other books have. Aka, "do it this way, or your kid will turn into a psychopath" or "you are not a real Christian unless you do it this way." Let's keep it real... anyone else ever feel this!? Rabbit trail, sorry. This book is just helpful, and encouraging. If you are present to your kids, they're probably going to be great. Just Mercy (Stevenson) was a GREAT read (and gift from my bestie, thank you Jessa!) about the deep biases and racism in the justice system, particularly for death row inmates. Thought-provoking, uncomfortable, and super informative. We Crossed a Bridge and It Trembled (Pearlman) was also uncomfortable and heartbreaking, and was a really excellent look into the lives of average Syrians in the midst of their current civil war. It's so easy for me to read news stories about people living in conflict and sigh and say "that's sad," without equating their lives to mine. This book put life behind the headlines for me.