Stories, Truth, and the Reading Life (with Megan Saben)

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

I love all my interviews, but some have more obvious providential planning involved than others. Ok, so take a deep breath here for a minute and try to follow this amazing story: when I was a homeschooled child, a slightly older teen was my babysitter. Fast forward a few decades and we both have daughters the same age who are good friends. Ok, still with me?

My now-friend-former-babysitter reached out to me on Instagram and asked, “Hey, do you know Megan Saben? She spoke at my mom’s group at church 16 years ago, and it was amazing. I really think you should talk to her.” Well, obviously, I was intrigued by this and followed up with Megan immediately! I mean, if a talk stays with you for 16 years, it must have been something pretty special!

And, indeed, I can see why Megan so impacted my friend those many years ago. Megan is associate editor for Redeemed Reader and a homeschool mom of 5. Our conversation was so lovely and encouraging, and I know it’s going to be one you share with friends yourself!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast. Read the show notes. Share with your friends!

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

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Who is Megan Saben?

Megan Saben is a follower of her gracious Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. She and her husband and their five boys live in southwest Virginia where she homeschools, plays with words, knits, and never quite keeps up with the demand for homemade chai. She is associate editor for Redeemed Reader and the author of Something Better Coming.

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

Watch my interview with Megan Saben

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Amy Sloan: Hello, friends today. I am joined by Megan Saben. She is a follower of her Gracious Lord Savior, Jesus Christ. Megan and her husband and their five boys live in Southwest Virginia. One of my favorite areas of the country. I love North Carolina and Virginia and the mountains. Ah, anyway. Where Megan homeschools, she plays with words, knits, and never quite keeps up with the demand for her homemade Chai. She is associate editor for Redeemed Reader and the author of Something Better Coming. I actually reached out to you, Megan, because an in-real-life friend of mine- shout out to Sarah- she listens to the podcast. She sent me a message on Instagram and was like, “Hey, do you know Megan Saben? She spoke at my mom’s group at church 16 years ago, and it was amazing. I really think you should talk to her.” Whatever you said at that mom’s meeting group at their church, obviously it was used by the Lord lo these many years in the future.

Megan Saben: I love it.

2nd-generation homeschooling

Amy: Well, Megan, could you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, and how you guys came to start homeschooling?

Megan: Sure. I was homeschooled in Iowa where I was growing up. That’s back when it was illegal in Iowa. I remember going and picketing in front of the Capital and holding up signs and being on TV and being in the newspaper, and really my homeschooling then was mostly going and playing in the barns and reading a lot of books. We didn’t have any animals. I just played lots of make-believe at the barns. Reading books and doing math sometimes and assigning myself a research paper, because I love to write. I just remember mom washing a lot of dishes and I had seven sibling. There were a lot of babies, and every now and then she would do unit studies. We did a big salt map of Africa.

But it was in the early days of homeschooling. When I was in about fifth grade, my parents sent me to a small Christian school in our church basement. There, I had a really good high school education and I was in a class of five. It had basically whetted my appetite for homeschooling.

When I started working as a children’s librarian after getting a Master’s degrees in children’s literature and library science, my supervisor gave me $1,000 budget to spend on homeschooling materials. I was like, “Wow, this is great. I could just spend other people’s money on books.” That’s what I did. I became known as the homeschool librarian. That was fun until I got married and moved out to Virginia. My husband and I always knew that we wanted to homeschool. That pretty much consisted of being surrounded by books and trying to figure out what was the best way to get it all done while I was still having babies and trying to figure out what worked.

Amy: I love that story. I thought always thought being a librarian would be such an ideal job just to be surrounded by books and get to recommend them to people like all the time.

Megan: It was. Actually, I first pursued a Master’s in Children’s Literature at Holland University, but I had an undergraduate in English from Covenant College. What am I going to do with that if I didn’t want to be a classroom teacher? Being a librarian was a natural fit, because my grandmother had been a librarian, I’d grown up surrounded by books. That was how I had justified getting a Master’s in Children’s Literature, but I always wanted to write, too, and to write about books. That worked out nicely. I met my then-future husband at a church in Roanoke. It was all God’s wonderful Providence.

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

Growth and Change in the Homeschool Journey

Amy: Well, Megan, I love chatting with fellow second-generation homeschoolers, because it’s really interesting to see how God takes your own experience. Then you apply things both positively like, “Oh, I want to continue this,” or, “Oh, I want to do things differently,” in your own unique homeschool family. I would love to hear then how your own family’s approach to education has grown or changed over the years that you’ve been homeschooling.

Megan: When my oldest who’s now 14 was about five, we started with My Father’s World and I think we got about halfway through. I loved the idea, the book nature of it. We did as much as we could, but I also had a toddler and a baby at the time. It was just– My oldest wasn’t having as much fun with it as I wanted him to. I had all of these ideals, and he just wasn’t excited about picture study and classical music. They just study and I was trying so hard and he didn’t even wanna learn how to read, because I had read him Pinocchio and the Hobbit while I was nursing him. He didn’t want to waste his time on things like Hat, hats, hats or Bob books. He wanted audio books.

I was just feeling my imperfections and struggling. Then someone told me about Classical Conversations. That turned out to be a good fit for us, because it gives just enough structure. I feel like someone else has made just enough decisions for the big picture. I don’t have to figure it out every single year. Having a community day, one day a week gives my boys lots of time to be with their friends. My older two are accountable to another teacher to be motivated, to get things done. It leaves me more freedom to do the things I really want to do with them at home, which is mostly read books and sometimes just teach them how to do laundry and get through the day. That’s been a good fit. Not that I love absolutely everything and about Classical Conversations, I’ve had to reconcile to, “Okay, I would’ve done something differently,”, but like I said, it gives the structure that I need so that I know we’re making progress.

Amy: Yes. Just like any other homeschool curriculum, it’s become a tool that you can use. It doesn’t have to be the master over your homeschool.

Megan: Right. I see that some of my boys thrive in certain areas and some of them thrive in others. Having some of those decisions made gives me freedom to encourage them in their strengths and to help them in their weaknesses, rather than thinking, as I have many times, maybe a different math program would help. [laughs] Really what made a difference in math is my husband is an engineer and he loves math. Being dismissed from that responsibility has been a wonderful blessing. My boys go up and at least, even if they’re not doing a math lesson every day, he knows where they are and he’s okay with it. He’s a good teacher rather than me just being frustrated and saying, “Oh, just go do it.” That wouldn’t look– It didn’t work.

Amy: Yes. For anyone who’s listening, who wants to hear another podcast episode related to classical conversations, I interviewed Marc Hays, I think last season or maybe two seasons ago. He’s one of the curriculum directors at CC and a long-time friend of mine.

Megan: I will have to listen to that one.

Favorite Parts of Homeschooling

Amy: Well, Megan, what are some of your favorite parts of homeschooling? I’ve you already mentioned books, which does not surprise me. Anything else?

Megan: I think having the relationships with my boys and being able to listen to things together while we’re on our way to art lessons or piano lessons or anything like that. Some of the conversations that we have just out of the blue, really being able to listen to fighter verses, and poetry or Judy Rogers or even if it’s the electronic of video game themes that they love. Just being able to appreciate each of my boys for who they are and learning how to nurture them and appreciate them.

We try to connect over devotions. Doing World Watch together so that we are familiar with current events and sometimes just the funny things that are going on it. It helps us to pray and to have conversations, but then we also read aloud from a variety of books and try to work on memorizing or reviewing scripture.

It’s all the ideals, but sometimes it’s really short, and sometimes we have longer. Other times, it’s just delayed and we just do the best we can. We also love attending homeschool dances several times a year. They’re not super formal, but I have some boys who really love dancing. My husband and I love dancing, and so we get out there on the floor a lot. I have some other boys who just sit along the wall and they watch, and that’s okay. [chuckles]

Amy: My teens went to their first local-ish homeschool dance this winter and loved it. It was such a good memory for my own teen years doing similar things. This particular one doesn’t have the adult’s dance. We’re just supposed to be a chaperone, and it was so sad.

[laughter]

Megan: That’s disappointing. Basically, we can waltz. We did ballroom dancing when we first had babies, and then it just wasn’t working, but we can waltz. They always do a simple waltz, it’s not a group dance. My husband and I are trying to encourage that movement and try and get other parents out there on the floor, even though right now, we’re just about the only one. [laughs] Some other people are saying “Yes, I want to do that too.”

Amy: Oh, I think we should just make dancing part of normal life again, just like have friends over for dinner and be like, “Hey, let’s go do the Virginia Reel in the backyard.”

Megan: Exactly. Exactly. Learning that structure and that it is fun. As my ten-year-old said a couple of years ago when he was dancing with his classmates all the way home, he said, “Just because you ask a girl to dance doesn’t mean you have to marry her.” That is great. [laughs]

Amy: Important life lessons.

Megan: It’s a healthy way for them to interact. Then there’s nothing permanent. The one we go to is a family dance and it’s really neat.

Amy: That’s fun. Oh, I have all these rabbit trails I want to talk to you about.

Megan: I know. I know.

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Challenges of Homeschooling

Amy: Stay focused. Stay focused, Amy. We know that homeschooling is not always roses and sunshine. You’re talking about the favorite parts, that kind of reality that those favorite parts don’t always happen. What have been some of the challenges of homeschooling? Then how do you seek to overcome those challenges?

Megan: I have learned over the years that when I have a problem, I feel like I need to make a checklist to make it happen. I’ve made some really nice checklists and they really don’t last. I’m realizing that checklists are not a solution, they’re not the best way to track our learning or our progress. Really, at the end of the year, I don’t care about how many times I checked off the box, it’s more the memories that we made that maybe I wrote down in my five-year journal or in my planner or something like that.

I really struggled with starting the school day before eleven o’clock in the morning, because I’ve got things to do. Even if I think, “We’re going to start at 10:30 today, somebody needs some character training.” “Okay, it’s eleven o’clock again..” Just learning to embrace the interruptions and the distractions and just accept them, and trust that the Lord is going to accomplish his purposes whether I start it at eleven o’clock and having the checklist or not.

Another challenge that I have that probably most of your listeners have is too many books and not enough bookshelves. I actually found a solution during– Are you ready for this? Over Christmas, I found an app. It’s called Handy Library. Part of the problem was I was afraid of forgetting where my books were, because if I put them in a box, even if I say these boxes have the American history books and these boxes are the biographies, I’m not going to be able to remember or go through the trouble of digging them out.

This app lets me do a visual catalog basically of all the covers. I can save box one, box two, box three, box four. I have about three more boxes I need to do in here. I can take those piles of books in the hallway or the random ones that are overflowing and crowding the bookshelves, and I can put them in boxes and be able to find exactly what I want when I want it.

Each record is really customizable, which makes my little librarian heart very happy, but for the sake of getting it done and not overthinking it, right now, I’m really just getting them in boxes. That’s really helped my housekeeping, because there aren’t so many piles of clutter and I feel like I can find what I need when I need it.

Amy: I love that. I actually just downloaded the app. It’s Libib or Libib, L-I-B-I-B. Just because a friend was already using it so I didn’t even research. I just was like, “Okay, fine.” I was thinking, this will be helpful if I’m out at a used bookstore, I’d be like, “Do I own that? Was that the thing my owns? Did I borrow that from the library?” I didn’t even think about using it to actually declutter some of our bookshelves or use something where you could– That’s really smart. I will keep that in mind.

Megan: This has an option where you can keep track of books that you loaned to friends. It has a place where you can track your wishlist. For example, I have some series that I would like to find a hardcover to replace a softcover. We’ve got most of the series that we’re missing one. I can put in there books that I want to track down or if I’m putting an order on ThriftBooks and just need one more book to fill it out. Handy Library app is a game-changer. It’s my game changer of the year.

Amy: That’s amazing. I will definitely put a link to that app in the show notes for this episode. I think many homeschool moms are frantically like, “Right now. Download it right now.”

[laughter]

Megan: I hope so. I hope so. It’s $4 for the premium.

Amy: That is reasonable.

Megan: Total no-brainer. I also find another challenge is running out the door on the piano lessons and art lesson days, and always feeling rushed. Just deciding Wednesdays, we do corn dogs, and Thursdays, we do chicken tenders and having those pre-made decisions helps.

Amy: A lot of times those little decisions, they’re not even about something important like what you’re going to have for lunch or what you’re going to have for dinner, but that can just be what trains you so much, because there’s so many of them every day with every child. That’s really wise, just find some things that you can just take the decision out of the equation. It’s just like a burden lifted.

Megan: Right. If my boys are excited about corn dogs, then we’ll just pick a day that they can have corn dogs.

Amy: Then you get to be the cool mom too.

Megan: Right. Exactly. [laughs]

Amy: Bonus points.

[laughter]

Megan: Exactly.

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Why Stories Matter

Amy: I’m very excited to chat with you, because you were a fellow book lover. Books have already been coming up a lot, but I would love to hear a little bit about your own personal story of how you came to love books. Then big picture, more philosophy, why do you think stories, in particular, matter in our lives and in the lives of our children?

Megan: As I said earlier, my grandmother was a librarian. My mother went to all these books sales, at the library, and I just grew up surrounded by books. As she’s unpacking her box of books in the closet, I’m appreciating more of her collection. One whole wall of my room was built-in bookshelves. Some of those books were wonderful and I read them over and over and over again like Magic Elizabeth, and fairytales, and all of the kinds of family.

Some of them looked really boring and I still have never cracked them open. My mother despaired and thought that I was never going to read the classics, because I was wasting my time on fairytales. Fast forward to my senior year of college at Covenant, and I took a class on children’s literature, and that was taught the assistant librarian that I worked for. In one class session, he talked about Truth with a capital T and truth with a lowercase T, and Story with a capital S and story with a lowercase S.

That day was changing for me, because I could start to see how Truth with a capital T, which is any truth as God has ordained it, creation, fall, redemption, wisdom, foolishness, good, and evil, and the battle. Even the happily ever after ending, those are all woven into us by God. That’s the truth that we are longing for.

Then you have lowercase truth which is fact and things that we agree on. Alligators are different than crocodiles. Elephants do not lay eggs. Those are truth with a lowercase T. A lot of books have those.

Then you have Story with a capital S. It’s hard for me to describe what that quality of the story is, but it would be more than just an experience.

Good examples of story with a capital S would be Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings or fairy tales. Anything that shows that there is more than just an experience. It’s not just getting through a day. It’s how you handle a crisis or a problem and its character development, and a really well-crafted story that lingers with you that you want to read over and over again and you want to share with someone else, okay?

Then you can take capital T, Truth, and capital S, Story, and those would really be like Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia or a lot of other really high-quality books that are out there. Those are the ones that you really read over and over and over and over again, and they change you. You can also have books that are capital T, Truth and lowercase s, story. Those would be things like Sunday school pamphlets or some of the books that are popular, and they’re things like God loves you, you are special.

Those are true. They’re very true, but there’s not much story to really engage you or you can have lowercase t, truth, and capital S, Story. Those are stories that are really well told, but they do not reflect God’s truth.

Years ago, I read the Philip Pullman Golden Compass trilogy. That was when I first really saw this play out, because the story was really good, but I found myself having to stop and think, “Wait a minute, my sympathies are with the wrong side.” Learning to recognize this range, it’s not like it’s in neat little boxes, but this range of truth and story. It doesn’t mean that we should never read lowercase t truth books or lowercase s.

I think I would say lowercase t and lowercase s books would be things like Garfield, which my boys love to bring home from the library and I tolerate, and I’m glad to take them back to the library. It’s not the end of the world, because I know that they’re reading a lot of other really good things. Let’s see. Okay. Did that make sense?

Amy: Yes. I love that. I haven’t heard it like with the capital T, lower t truth then the capital S, lowercase s story. I thought about this idea and in my own mind, I’ve thought of the X, Y-axis right from math. One of the things I think people get hung up on a lot, especially on the internet, when everyone likes to tell people what to do, is it’s like the good books and the bad books. People have these very distinct categories in their head.

Instead, I think it’s more like if you think of one axis being how well the story is told and one axis being how well it reflects God’s truth, books are going to be scattered all in that lot, right? Every family and every individual is going to, of course, find their own range of the graph that they’re comfortable with. It’s not so much like these strict categories, it’s much, not complicated, but maybe more nuanced than that.

Megan: Right. Well, and it’s a good way to just talk about what you’re reading and to be pursuing discernment and literary criticism. Some books you can really just enjoy and you don’t have to discuss them, but it’s just one more tool to put in your pocket of, well, would you say that that was a capital S story or a lowercase s story? You and your child may have different opinions, and that’s okay too.

Even capital S stories that have mostly lower t truth, they’re written by secular authors and may not have a lot of depth. They can hint at capital T truth. It’s just another way of seeing why it is that some books resonate so well with us and are so strong and really carry on to the next generation.

Amy: I love that. That’s a great tool for our conversations with our kids. I’ll never forget a few years ago you mentioned Garfield, and every once in a while the kids will get cotton candy books from the library. It’s like, “Fine. I don’t want them in my house necessarily. I have very little bookshelf space. I’m not going to read them to you, but knock yourself out. You won’t die.”

My older two children were reading the How To Train Your Dragon series, and I was so snotty about it. I just really thought that was the dumbest thing they could be reading. Then the Lord really used that to humble me, because I was puttering around the kitchen doing dinner, and they were sitting, discussing this book series. They were literally talking about like, “I feel like this book is really asking us question, what makes a man and who is a hero? Did you notice how these two characters are giving two different answers to this question?” They were having this whole deep, profound conversation. I was like, “Okay, I stand corrected.” I always think of that.

Megan: That’s fine. I’m not too strict about what my boys bring home from the library. I try to be aware, especially if I hear that there’s some concern about. The Lord can use any of those things and that’s why there’s really no perfect booklets. There is one book that we need to read, and that is the Bible, there’s no question. Otherwise, having too many book lists of all the right books is overwhelming, and it keeps changing. It depends on who you talk to.

You can’t read them all, because they’re not going to all be at your library, and they might just make you too busy to reread a really good book or to read a book that your child wants to have time for. My boys are all avid readers. They read more than I do these days. I’m grateful that they’re reading more challenging books, but at the same time, we can have better conversations about Calvin and Hobbes than about some of these other great literary works that they will appreciate next time that they read them.

I mentioned that my oldest didn’t want to read the Bob books and Hats, Hats, Hats. What actually convinced him that reading was worthwhile was Calvin and Hobbes. He found those at my brother’s house and he said, “Well, I could read. I just didn’t want to admit it, because I didn’t want to read those stupid books.” He started devouring Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin when he was about seven.

Then his brothers saw that he was enjoying these books so much and wanted to do whatever his brother was doing, so he started reading Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin. Then the third boy did the same thing. Well, he wants to start with a German-language dictionary and my college logic textbook. He just loves that. Then the fourth son is still struggling to read, he’s making progress.

I used to buy reading curriculum, and then I realized it was becoming one more thing to check off the list that we were not enjoying, and really, the point of learning to read is just to enjoy reading. The more exposure they have to books they want to read, they’ll get it eventually.

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

Amy: That’s a really good encouragement I think for moms maybe who are stressed out like, “Oh, no, my kid isn’t reading what I thought they ought to be reading at such and such an age.” That’s just such a good encouragement. Just pointing out the simple ways, you’re asking the same questions as Calvin and Hobbes that you’re going to be asking of Homer. For a child, they will probably learn how to think about a book much more easily. They’ll learn the questions. They’ll learn how to think about a book, much easier with something that’s maybe a little more accessible, to begin with, then they’ll fight later on.

Megan: Yes. Even easy readers, you can talk about why is this a good- why is this a better story than this one? Like the Elephant and Piggie books, I would say those are mostly lowercase T, truth. Although some of the books I would say are uppercase T. There there’s one where elephant is struggling to be patient and what he’s waiting for that piggie wants to show is the glorious night sky. Sorry, I just spoiled it for you.

Amy: No.

Megan: You read something like that and it’s worth rereading, because a child knows how it is to struggle to be patient to wait for something exciting. There are other easy readers that my 14-year-old brings to me and says, “Why did we get this from the library?” I don’t know. Because my five-year-old put it on hold and he’ll say, “Well, read this. The character is really not good and it’s really not showing anything with that.” We’ll take those back. The fact that my oldest can recognize those things, he’s learned a lot of discernment over the years, and sometimes you can’t quite put it into words, but it is a family ongoing conversation.

Amy: That’s not something you can put on your checklist.

Megan: No, exactly.

How can a homeschool mom pick out good books?

Amy: Let’s talk to the mom who’s like, “This all sounds great.” It sounds like you’re a librarian and you both were homeschooled or you had a lot of books growing up or whatever, but I am walking into the library or walking into the bookstore and feeling completely overwhelmed. I’m staring at a bookshelf and I don’t recognize any of the titles, any of the authors. To that one, how does she just pick? How does she know? She pulls a book off the shelf and she’s like, “Should I take this home or not?” What are some ways she can make that decision?

Megan: Well, first of all, it depends. Is she in the picture books and the easy readers or in the chapter books section and the graphic novels? If she’s in the picture books and the easy readers, well, actually, first of all, I would say the first thing I look at is the illustrations and the artwork, because so many picture books are given mediocre artwork. I already know that this story is probably going to be mediocre, and if it doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t want to read it, then I don’t want to take it home.

Now, there are some books like it used library sales that have really bad covers, but they are classics. You know what? I’m going to wait until I can find a better copy or if I know it’s hard to find, I might buy it and look for a replacement eventually. The visual appeal is huge to me.

The second thing I would say is just trial and error. You’re going to learn as you go. It helps to just start making a list of authors and illustrators that you like and then when you go back, for example, Nate the Great books, there’s a whole bunch of them in the easy reader section. Your child can just binge read those for a little while, but it helps to have a list to start with that you can put books on hold when you’re at home and then pick them up the library, and then you don’t have to be standing there faced with a whole bunch of decisions.

If the book that is in your hand is one that your child brought to you and said, “Please, please, please, please, please, can I take this home?” that is harder, because you’re going to have to decide, “Is my child able to discern if there are some concerns in this book are we going to discuss it later?”

Then you need to remember to ask some of these questions:

What does it say about where things came from?

Who are the good guys?

Who are the bad guys?

These days you can ask, “What does it say about men and women or boys and girls?” That’s a really important one too.

You don’t need to beat your child over the head with, “Oh, we have to answer all these questions and you have write a book report.”

You just keep the casual conversation going. Like I said, it helps to have an older child who will read those things and he’s pointed out, “You know mom, in this board book, there are two men in bed together in the morning,” and that’s in a board book. I hadn’t taken the time to look at it, but later on, we got to have a really good conversation about why does it matter that God designed families to be with one man and one woman? It’s a picture of Christ and his body. That’s really what it is. It is Christ in His bride, Christ in His church. You can’t have a body with two heads.

Sometimes using that opportunity, if you bring something home and think, “Okay, we’re not going to take this out again,” use it as an opportunity.

I will say too sometimes books by an author that I like, I don’t like everything that that author does. It’s not necessarily an automatic green light. I’m going to take a minute and see what else I want to remember.

 I’m going to put in a plug Redeemed Reader right now. Redeemed Reader is a website where I and three other ladies are trying to help parents by reading ahead for you, because I can’t read all those books and you can’t read all those books. How do we make those decisions?

If you have a few minutes at the library, then you can check Redeemed Reader and see if the title has been reviewed and if there are any cautions that are mentioned at the end. If you don’t have time to read the whole review, look at the bottom. Is there evolution, is there language, is there sex, are there other issues? It depends on what your comfort level is with some of those things and what your child is mature enough for. Even if that particular book hasn’t been reviewed, because we’re a small and we’re trying, but we can’t cover them all, you can at least look up the author and see if that title is in there.

I will say that there’s one series that we reviewed the first couple books and they were fine and someone else came and said, “Do you realize that books 11 and 12 have gender-fluid characters?” No, we didn’t go and read all of the rest of the series. Parents need to continue to be discerning. If Redeemed Reader hasn’t covered the book, then you can always look on Amazon or on Good Reads and sometimes you can catch some sense of whether it’s a well-written book or what kind of content is in there. If there’s any question, you can always either decide to take it home and you can look at it first when you have a few more minutes and you don’t have three other children who are saying, “Can I bring this book too?” Then you can read the first couple pages and read a couple pages in the middle and read a few pages at the end and just pray that God would open your eyes and lead you to those pages where there might be problems.

That’s one approach or you can just focus on putting books on hold from home, and then you’ve got some pre-made decisions there, and that will at least reduce the number of, “Can I get this huge stack of books” when they’re at the library. I also wanted to say about illustrations. I said that they’re really important to me. For years, I avoided reading Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor, because I could not stand the illustrations. They all just seem to be really mediocre. I believe that children really appreciate good-quality illustrations.

Every October, I read a version of Pilgrim’s Progress allowed to my boys, usually Dangerous Journey, because they love the gory, very detailed pictures and it’s short, but the language is still really rich. We’ve read some other versions too and it’s fun to see the contrast and the differences, but when Moody came out with this new version of Little Pilgrim’s Progress, I got a review copy. I was really impressed. We’ve been reading this one now and I am enjoying it in a way that I couldn’t have if I was just settling for a book that the text was good, but not the illustration.

Amy: I recognize that cover from seeing it all over social media for the past few months. For those who are not watching the video, could you share the illustrator? What’s the name of the illustrator of the new book?

Megan: It’s Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen Taylor and it’s envisioned and illustrated by Joe Sutphin, S-U-T-P-H-I-N. One difference that they made in this edition is they changed the children to animals. Some people might not agree with that decision but I appreciate it. I feel using cats or owls or rabbits or different kinds of animals helps to show the nature of the characters, and because so many good classic children’s books do have animals in them, I think that that made the book more timeless.

Amy: Yes, that’s really fun. I’m on a like, “Don’t buy any more books,” I’m trying but I keep finding all these new books I want to add.

Megan: Exactly.

Amy: It’s really hard.

Megan: Yes. Well, this is going to be around for a while, so you can always put it on your handy library app on your wish list.

Amy: That’s right.

Megan: It’s there and you won’t forget.

Amy: That’s right, okay. Resisting temptation.

[laughter]

Stories Truth Reading Life Megan Saben Redeemed Reader Homeschool Conversations podcast

How can we find the time to include more reading in our family life?

Let’s talk a little bit about just the practical realities of bringing reading into our own lives, reading books on our own as moms and reading with our kids. A lot of times we have these ideals or we’ll hear people on a podcast talking about books and we’re like, “Yes. Okay, today I’m going to read with my children for two hours.” The reality is that just doesn’t happen all that often. Maybe some of you listeners, that’s your life, that’s not my life.

I would just love to hear what are some of your tips for not having I guess an all-or-nothing approach for including, but also making sure that we do include it. You do have to be purposeful, you can’t just be like, “We’ll get to it” because then it never happens. Then what encouragement would you have for a mom who’s feeling she’s not reading enough?

Megan: Okay. Well, first of all let me encourage you, I’m not reading enough either and I’m really not reading to my kids nearly as long or as often as I wish I could. I’m not reading myself as much as I really want to. There are so many other things going on, and that’s okay. My boys are readers and so when I have time to read with them, I want to make sure that I’m choosing something I want to read. When I’ve picked up something I felt obligated to read, I didn’t enjoy it and they didn’t enjoy it.We either put it down or it really did not increase the joy. There weren’t any conversations later on about what we were reading.

The first priority is reading the Bible because everything else is optional. Even that can take different forms, reading scripture with your children might come in reviewing memory work or in fighter verses, the CDs from Truth78 or Children Desiring God, those have been a huge key in our family homeschooling life from the beginning.

Not overthinking what you want to read; it doesn’t have to be the perfect choice. It doesn’t have to be on three book lists in order to be good enough to read.

It doesn’t have to be approved by a literary influencer. What do you have in your hand? Do you have a picture book that you really love? Do you have an easy reader or a chapter book? Just sometimes having too many choices can really be paralyzing. Being content and not overthinking it and just taking it one day at a time, that sounds cheesy, to be honest.

Amy: It’s true.

Megan: Well, it is true and you know what? If you can read a chapter and your children ask for another one, go ahead and read another one. I think always having a book along or be working on an audiobook. Sometimes we have audiobooks that I’m listening to with this child and some that we’re listening to with the whole group. Definitely using audiobooks so that I’m not the only one reading and– Oh, anything that John McDonough reads, especially if it’s Freddy the Pig or Homer Price, I think he’s also done The Great Brain. He is one of our favorite readers and I’d rather listen to him read than read the book myself.

When we’re on our way to art lessons or piano lessons, I’m thankful that we have a bit of a drive so we can listen, and then I can relax and enjoy it more too. My husband reads a chapter or two of something in the evening if we’re doing– Well, getting ready for bed. Having books in different places in the house, next to the bed and in the bathroom and next to where you sit down, just wherever you have a few minutes to pick something up and read. Some people can only read one book at a time and I do better reading several because sometimes the books are talking to each other. Sometimes I just am not in the mood for something heavy.

Mr. Pettit, the librarian who taught the children’s literature class, gave us the tip about strewing, that if you’re concerned that your kids aren’t reading enough, have appealing book covers. Leaving books lying around, yes, it looks messy, it’s okay.

 Non-fiction for boys and also for girls who tend to be more active and have shorter attention spans, things like the DK books. Just trusting that the Lord is using those little grains of sand and that they do build up over the years.

Something else– Oh, something else I wanted to mention is there’s a Redeemed Reader Reading Challenge that is available on our website.

That’s a good way to get the whole family involved in reading more broadly, reading some more variety and picture books count and graphic novels. You might be reading one book together as a family and someone else is adding what they’re reading to the list. If you are promising ice cream at the end of each level of the challenge or something, then whatever works.

Amy: Ice cream’s always a good idea.

Megan: Exactly. [laughs] Or lattes. For us, it’d be Starbucks. [laughs]

Amy: There you go. I will make sure to put a link to that reading challenge in the show notes too. I love everything you just said. I think so often there can be this pressure that comes maybe from– Well, I don’t know if you know Dawn Garrett, but she talks about the composite homeschool mom who torments us. We take this piece from this one homeschool mom and this piece from another one and this piece from another one and we splice it all together in this ideal homeschool mom. Right?

Megan: Right.

Amy: As if any one of those people are all of those things at the same time, and I think with our reading life too it can be the same way. We see this family that seems to do really well, all sitting around after dinner reading the chapter book with the dad. This family that’s doing their poetry tea time book clubs themed for their reading, and this other family and we’re like, “We’re supposed to do all of those things all the time,” and you just I can’t. No one is–

Megan: Right.

Amy: That’s okay.

Megan: Yes, and I used to try to do the afternoon tea time. It’s a lot easier to do it in the summer and to just go out and do iced tea and popcorn and read a couple poems. My mistake then was trying to fit too many things in there. I think it would just drag on and rather than just trying to just picking something that we would all enjoy and maybe something that would stretch the boys’ interests a little bit, I was trying to put cram too many pieces in there at once, so it became tedious. This is more of a season when it gets dark earlier.

If we can read at night because the boys are getting ready for bed, and that’s something else we struggle with, is getting ready for bed early enough. If it goes well and my husband can read, then that’s wonderful. If not, then we’ll just pray before we go to bed. If we happen to do an afternoon tea, then maybe we’ll read and maybe we won’t and it’s okay. I mean reading is not the perfect solution to everything. I envy those moms who love going out on hikes and doing nature study, and that’s something that I struggle with prioritizing. This really just comes from a life of loving books and wanting to do it. I wouldn’t want to put a burden on someone who wasn’t enjoying.

Amy: Yes, that’s a good encouragement. All right. Before we close, I would love to hear your recommendations of maybe a book someone might not have heard of. We can go to Redeemed Reader and other great resources for a lot of classic books and newer books that have been around for a little while. If you were going to leave listeners today with maybe a suggestion for mom, maybe a picture book and then maybe a middle-grade chapter book or something, what would be a recommendation you’d give?

Megan: [laughs] All right. Let’s see. This was a really hard question because I’m thinking, “What, only one?”, so I’m going to have to talk fast. Mistmantle Chronicles, by M. I. McAllister. These are being reprinted by Purple House Press.

Amy: I am so excited. Okay, I’m so excited because nobody talks about this book series.

Megan: Really?

Amy: Nobody, and I’m like, “Why is not everyone reading these books?

Megan: We listened to it several years ago when we were on a family trip, and I was really impressed. Yes, I was surprised that it had taken so long for me to hear about this. I think in my review on Redeemed Reader, I tried to explain how it models truth and story. I think I’ve read through books either two or three. I just always have these series, I’m starting a new one and trying to finish the old one. Yes, definitely Mistmantle books.

I’m going to sneak a poetry one in there. This is I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature GrownUps, it’s by Chris Harris and illustrated by Lane Smith. I discovered it at Barnes & Noble several years ago.

After making sure that it looked like there wasn’t anything I objected to, I brought it home. My boys were reading it on the way home and laughing, and I kept laughing. Then my son was reading it outside the bathroom door when his father came home because he couldn’t wait to share it. Right now my 14-year-old is memorizing a poem from this book for his individual event, for classical conversations. That’s a really fun– I don’t really like poetry, what do I do about poetry? Okay.

For mom, I’m going to recommend something old and something new really quick.

There’s Steeped in Stories by Mitali Perkins. This is where she goes into old classic books and these are books that she loves and that she grew up on, but she also recognizes that some of their cultural assumptions are not necessarily loving. She’s not going at them to tell us why we shouldn’t read them, it’s more with grace. Mitali Perkins is a Christian and so she’s reading these old books with grace and saying, “Yes, this was wrong, but this is what this book does really, really well.” I appreciate that approach.

Last year, I finally read or finally finished reading Les Mis, unabridged,  I’d been meaning to for 30 years and I finally committed to getting it done.

Then I finally finished reading the Harry Potter series 20 years after they came out, enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Now I can enter into those conversations with my son. I got halfway through the Anne of Green Gables series that, I love the TV show, but I’d never read the books when I was 14. I know it’s shocking, and I don’t think that I had the maturity then that I would have really enjoyed and appreciated them. I am loving them now, and so I’m just getting ready to start Anne’s House of Dreams. I’m excited because everyone says, “Oh, I love that one, it’s my favorite.” I’m going to read an old copy of Anne’s House of Dreams.

Picture books. Okay, so we’ve got The Watcher by Nikki Grimes, and it’s illustrated by Brian Collier. This one came out a few years ago and it’s based on Psalm 121. Each stanza ends the lines of poetry with words that are the verses in Psalm 121. It is amazingly crafted, but it’s a story about a boy and a girl in a modern school who are struggling with various things, and then they become friends, but the title is, The Watcher.

Amy: I’m getting goosebumps.

Megan: I know, me too. It is amazingly crafted. I’m going to give you a really fun one because I have boys. This is Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld, and this is just fun.

Then– Oh, one more for mom, Honey for a Child’s Heart, the 50th-anniversary edition that actually recommends Redeemed Reader. I got to endorse this one which was so cool because this is a book that was part of starting my journey back when I was in college. If you want some good book lists and some articles about how to appreciate children’s books, not just why you ought to read, but more, it’s the truth and story ideas.

Then I’m also going to put out, this is my book. Something Better Coming. That is a story in itself but especially as it’s a book about resurrection and about the power of Jesus Christ over death, but it’s not limited to Easter. It’s a picture book but it’s not limited to children. There’s a 98-year-old lady in our church who every time she sees me she says, “There’s something better coming,” and she knows it. I’m grateful that my friend, the artist, put no pictures of the face of Jesus Christ in it, but he did the illustrations in such a way that it’s– I’m trying to think how to put this into words.

He illustrated it in such a way that the adults would appreciate it too. My desire is that many families would read this book and encourage one another that there is something better coming, and that’s something that children can say over and over again. It’s something that weary adults and tired homeschool mamas need to hear.

Amy: Yes. Oh, our eternal hope is where our true rest and joy comes on those weary homeschool mom days, those weary just family moments. What an encouragement. I look forward to check that one out too.

Megan: I should tell you Something Better Coming is not on Amazon, it is independently published. You can go to my website, I have a website, somethingbettercoming.com and that’s where you can get it.

Amy: Great, and I’ll put that link in the show notes too.

Megan: Absolutely.

Amy: Everybody’s going to just go check out all the show notes today, there’s lots and lots of links to things. [laughter]

Megan: I try.

What Megan is reading lately

Amy: Oh, here at the end before we close I’m going to ask you the questions, I’m asking every guest this season. The first is just what are you personally reading lately?

Megan: Well, like I said, I’m getting ready to start Anne’s House of Dreams, and I’m reading some books– Let’s see. I just finished reading Fallout by Steve Sheinkin– Oh, my goodness. That one I started reading for a committee that I’m on and also for Reddemed Reader. My 14 year old looked over my shoulder because he was watching my face and my reactions. He started reading over my shoulder and then he said, “I want to read that.” Okay, fine. [laughs] He finished it with a flashlight before midnight.

Amy: Oh, my goodness.

Megan: [laughs] It’s a really, really good book. Right now I’m reading Amber and Clay by Laura Amy Schlitz. Let’s see– With the Redeemed Reader team, we’re working through The Feminization of Culture in America, which is we’re reading it very slowly but it is fascinating.

 Then this morning I started a book by Joan Aiken because she’s a trusted author. It’s really important to check out good books from the library and not just buy them because then the library keeps those stats and keeps them on the shelf. I really like Joan Aiken, she’s a British author and I looked at this one and thought that would be a new one I haven’t read, but I think that I’ll enjoy it.

Amy: Okay. More books added to my to be readlist.

Megan: [laughs] What did I do?

Megan’s tips for helping the homeschool day run smoothly

Amy: I love it, I love it so much. Okay. Well, the final question would be, what are your best tips for helping the homeschool day run smoothly?

Megan: This is easy not because I always apply it, but because years ago my pastor’s wife saw that I posted on Facebook, “Oh, I’m not ready for school to start.” I didn’t have all my planning and I wasn’t ready for summer to end. She said, “What is this ready of which you speak? Love your children, teach them what you can, and lean hard on Jesus.”

When all else fails, it’s not the curriculum, and it’s not the books, and it’s nothing that I do. I love my children. I teach them what I can. If I can lean hard on Jesus and they can see that, then that’s grace.

Amy: Oh, what a beautiful wonderful way to bring this to a conclusion. Thank you for chatting with us today, Megan. This has been-

Megan: Thank you.

Amy: -so much fun.

Megan: With pleasure.

Find Megan Saben online

Amy: Where can people find you all around the internet?

Megan: Okay. redeemedreader.com is where I write book reviews and collaborate on other resources. One of my favorite articles that I did a couple years ago was Ordinary Homeschooling: Just Served Dinner, because I realized I was trying to spread a feast and I was exhausted. Really, my children just need a simple dinner, whether it’s frozen pizza and cucumbers, or a really special feast, or somewhere in the middle. Redeemed Reader, definitely, and then also on somethingbettercoming.com is where they can learn about my book. Lord willing there will be some other things coming up.

Amy: All right, great. I will put those links in the show notes along with the other things we’ve talked about today over at the post for this episode at humilityanddoxology.com, and I’ll chat with you later.

Megan: Thank you so much, Amy. It was a delight.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast HumilityandDoxology.com Amy Sloan

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