Top Five Books before Your Kids Leave Home?

This was a question posted on a Facebook group I belong to: what five books do you think your children need to have read before they leave the nest?

Questions like this are really cruel. How could I pick only five?

Can’t I just choose them all?

So I did like any self-respecting person would do … I just rattled off the first five I could think of, trying not to spend too much time over it. It’s just a silly game after all, right?

For me, the Bible goes without saying and I didn’t count it in the five. Even if people aren’t religious, there are just too many references and literary groundwork that stem from the stories and characters in the Bible, so that I think any Westerner who hasn’t read it is doing themselves a disservice, just from the academic viewpoint.

The Bible is an essential text even just for studying literature.

This was the position I was in as a graduate student, but lucky for me, my PhD project required that I read the Bible for identifying when it was being referred to in the manuscript I was editing. I say “lucky” because that led to my “born again” experience. I like to think I owe it all to John the Evangelist!

As for the “Top Five Other than the Bible”, if you asked me today, they would be:

  • Maybury’s Uncle Eric books for economics
  • Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover for budgeting and staying out of debt
  • Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler as not just a great witness but wonderful look at Cold War Europe
  • Where the Red Fern Grows – perseverance, unconditional love, saddest book ever. Great boo-hoo!
  • Frances Chan’s The Forgotten God – inspiring introduction about the person of the Holy Spirit

If you asked me tomorrow? The list might change, but for books that are useful groundwork for a young person’s independence, their empathy and character, their spirituality, and some worldly wisdom without being “of” the world, then these are my 5/6 suggestions.

Teens are on the brink of adulthood.

What about you? Can you boil your “must-haves” to five or six best books of all time for budding young adults?

Join the conversation on the comments below, or at our Facebook group at:



What makes a book “exciting”??

Now that’s a riveting read!

I was just thinking tonight (while midnight-munching on a bowl of corn flakes, ice cold milk and the washing machine swishing), what is it about a book that makes it exciting?

You can think about that for a minute. Go ahead …

I mean, what book are you reading right now, and what is keeping you going? Why are you persevering with it when there are so many more things you could be doing?

Is it an assignment? Is it something everyone else is reading? Do you think you will get smarter, wiser, more mature through the process?



One of the more recent books I’ve read for the first time (I read a lot of books more than once) was P D James’ Children of Men.

To be honest, I read it because it was a set text on the OCR A-level exam, and I was hired to be one of the examiners; however, there are ways to “read” a book enough for exam marking, and then there’s the kind that you actually want to read, to savour, to enjoy.

Children of Men ended up being one of the latter kind.

So the corn flakes and I were wondering about James’ book and why I read it cover to cover, and it seems to me that it boiled down to three things.

First, I had that external incentive about the exam-marking job, that I read 1/3 of it and became connected to the story and the characters.

Second, I thought I’d figured out a twist that would make the ending really interesting. Sadly, my clever ploy was never applied by the esteemed author so that was a bit of a disappointment, but the anticipation kept me reading till I was about 2/3 through.

Third, the setting for the last third was Cornbury Park, a wooded estate in my home village (“town!”) in England, and a place in which my children and I frequently walked. That really got my emotions connected, so despite a fairly anti-climactic ending, I’ll still have a warm-fuzzy feeling about James’ book.

Hiking in Cornbury


So how ‘bout it then? Why are you continuing to read the book on your nightstand?

Share your thoughts in the comments, or come over to the conversation on Facebook.

Pondering the Audio Book

Last month, I had two very long road trips where I was going to be by myself for about ten hours a day (the occasion was that I was taking my girl dog to a kennel to be bred). I thought I’d take out an Audible subscription and buy some books for the journey.

Bonnie, my Toy Manchester

I let my choices of book be dictated by an exam I was about to grade for the UK, and first on the list was P D James’ Children of Men.

This is a dystopia novel along the lines of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, where human fertility has failed and no children are being born. It was one of eight set texts that formed the background for a unit about dystopias. Other choices in the unit included 1984, The Road, Brave New World, and The Wasp Factory.

I won’t say too much more about the book in this post (a more detailed one is planned to accompany a live discussion of it on Facebook in September), but I mention it here because I thought the book really suffered from reading it in audible form.

Initially, I thought the narrator had a pleasant voice, but the more I listened to him, the more he had a way of sounding really overly posh, self-important, even conceited. Smarmy, maybe. Oily.

Toward the latter third of the book, there were more characters for him to voice, and these weren’t done consistently, and foreign accents were abysmal.

To the credit of the author, P D James, she wrote a book that compelled me to carry on despite the grating voice coming out of my car’s speakers – partly because I’d thought of a very clever twist and wanted to see if I was right, and partly because the setting for the final section was a real woodland near my UK home.


Wychwood Forest at Cornbury Park, near Oxford in England


In the end, was my long, slow slog to the climax worth it? Well, in terms of my dog’s getting bred, the answer would seem to be yes: she’s due to have puppies in September. In terms of the enjoyment of the book? Maybe not so much, and that’s almost entirely due to the actor who read the book aloud on my Audible copy.

How about you? Ever had an audio book that was made worse by the audio, or perhaps, better?

Beginnings with the Bard 1

I have been a lover of Shakespeare’s plays since the moment my high school teacher made me memorize Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot” speech.

I “heart” Shakespeare!

Back in those days, our class would go through the play – or parts of a play – from a giant anthology of “good English selections”, and the exposure to Shakespeare usually meant a line-by-line read-aloud where that funny boy Tommy would pronounce characters’ names like “Fleents” instead of “Flee-ahns”, or “Sigh-wurd” instead of “See-wird”, and we’d all titter when Sally would get tongue-tied over a couple of lines like:

The rest is labour, which is not used for you:
I’ll be myself the harbinger and make joyful
The hearing of my wife with your approach.

When I later became a teacher of high school English, I pretty much followed the same pattern. There was one exception, though. We did act out quite a lot of the scenes, and I was very detailed in explaining in plain terms what was happening,  but the general format was the same – real Shakespeare in real language, unadulterated.

Fast-forward more than twenty years, to when I was introducing my own homeschooled children to Shakespeare. The occasion was a production by our local theatre – yes, the esteemed and world-renowned Royal Shakespeare Company was within a 30-minute drive from my house. My husband and I had bought tickets for The Tempest, this time to include our 6-year-old daughter as a treat for her birthday.

It turned out that I had neither the time nor the heart to plough through a Shakespeare text with her, but I knew she needed to have the general gist of what was going on before we took her to the play. Otherwise, she would be asking a hundred question – loudly, in that little-child-voice. It was more for self-preservation of my dignity, probably, than her own knowledge.

Anyway, I found a brief summary that we read together. I also found a BBC DVD at the library (the one with Roddy McDowell as Ariel – very good, though filmed in that soap-opera-looking resolution that makes it hard to take seriously these days). With no preparation than this, we trotted off to Stratford-upon-Avon.

Little did I know that this production would turn out to be my favorite of all time. Patrick Stewart was playing the lead role of Prospero. The setting was an Arctic wasteland as opposed to the usual Pacific-island-paradise. The comedic characters, Trinculo and Stephano, managed to boot the bottle of booze off the stage – it seemed an accident and took some time in retrieving it from the audience, but was a scene that has stuck in my daughter’s mind a decade on.

When we got home, she wrote letters to each of the actors, telling them how much she enjoyed the play and the funny parts. Only one actor actually wrote back: Patrick Stewart. It was hand-written, and he even enclosed some postcards of himself, signed.

I so wish that my own introduction to Shakespeare could have been so alive, to have such “skin” on it, so when people ask me how to start their children on reading his plays, I suggest the gentle approach.

Don’t get bogged down in the details, but get the gist of the story and then go see a performance.

Seeing Shakespeare is Believing! 

It doesn’t have to be the RSC. In fact, sometimes you may not want to go to somewhere like the RSC, where productions may be too “mature” for your family (a recent RSC production of Othello made use of a power drill for torture … ummm, no – just no), so find a local amateur production instead. Call ahead to ask about suitability for children, just in case!