Favorite Books for Spring

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Springtime brings so much with it from a bounce in your step to a breeze in your hair to a song in your heart. There’s a feeling that can only be described as spring, or perhaps the longing for a true spring on sunny February days before the cold has completely gone like we are having now. What can we do when we want spring so badly but we can’t have it quite yet?

We read, of course! If you’re itching for the perfect book to read this spring, a book that will sing of the season as you do, try the ones below.


The Iridescence of Birds: A Picture Book about Henri Matisse by Patricia MacLachlan – This picture book about Matise is full of delicate springtime colors that make me want to sing like the birds. The entire book is only two sentences long, but it is lovely in its simplicity and delightful in its message. Parents and educators will also appreciate the educational component as the book explores the life and works of Matisse in the most poetic way imaginable.

1328751On Meadowview Street by Henry Cole – I’m not sure this book is too well known, but I think it should be someone’s life goal to change that. This picture book follows a young girl who grows tired of the grassy green lawn at her house that looks just like the grassy green lawns of all her neighbors. Nothing much happens in her lawn, and it isn’t very interesting. All that changes when she convinces her father to leave part of the yard to grown the next time he mows. From there she decides to plant a tree and even put in a pond. The family’s boring old yard quickly becomes a beautiful park, as well as the envy of all the neighbors – who begin to plant trees of their own. Again, the educational element of this book makes it a great pair for learning about ecosystems or permaculture.

140212The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis – Nevermind the snowfall on the cover, this is my number one book for springtime. Why? “Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight. At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more. When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death. When he shakes his mane, spring shall come again.”



272752Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman – I think I have mentioned this book on the blog before, but I just love it so much! This tiny book tells the big story of how a community garden is begun and cultivated in a vacant city lot. Each chapter follows a different character and the book truly shows the value of our connection with the earth and with each other.



402032The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgeson Burnett – A list of springtime books would be incomplete without this classic. I love my copy of Mary Lenox’s story like an old friend, as I remember the wonder with which I read it for the first time. That first desire for a bit of earth in the spring which is the rain falling on the sunshine is etched in the memory of many children, for in no season more than spring are we aware of the Magic all around us. This beloved book tells the story of the awakening earth and the awakening heart.


I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – This book makes my spirits soar in the same way the spring does, which means I’ve probably talked about this one on the blog before, too. Everyone should read this charming story, but especially writers. To read Cassandra’s diary is to meet a friend and have long, late night conversations with her, finding that you are alike in all of your fears and aspirations.



Write Every Day?


Write. Write more. Write even more. Write even more than that. Write when you don’t want to. Write when you do. Write when you have something to say. Write when you don’t. Write every day. Keep writing. ― Brian Clark

You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. ― Ray Bradbury

I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired at 9 am every morning. – Peter DeVries

These quotes, and more like them, can be found all over the internet, in writing craft books, and in those images with words on them that get put up in classrooms everywhere. They are repeated because they are quotes from writers who are published, renowned, and – perhaps most importantly – successful. Somehow, I think we writers believe that if we can just follow the advise of those who have gone before, who have “made it,” we’ll be able to make it, too.

The concept of writing every day, sticking your but in your chair and typing away until you have something, is common in quotes like these. That’s why they make me nervous. There was a time in my life when I did, in fact, write every single day. No matter what. Sometimes it was a paper for school, sometimes a blog post, sometimes a newspaper article, sometimes just a few pages in a journal. After a few weeks of doing this, I did find that when I decided my writing for a given day would be directed toward an essay or a story that my fingers moved a little faster and the words flowed more readily than before. It was great place to be, having a semi-regular schedule that offered the opportunity of following all of the advice of the writing gods and writing every day.

But those times never last for ever. Since I’ve been working through my MFA, I find that the few short weeks where the workload is lighter during semester transitions are cherished times – times where I do home renovation, catch up on housework, do a ton of yard work, go to parties, watch TV in the evening, catch up with friends, and generally do not write. At all.

During the heavier parts of the semesters, I find myself thinking of these in-between-weeks wistfully. But during the in-between-weeks, I find myself afraid, because I absolutely do not write every day. I find myself wondering, is this what my life will be like when I’m done with my program? Will I make myself so busy with home and friends that my writing desk is just sitting there to hold up the wall? Will writing simply be there, in the back of my mind, as something I will do when I have time?

All of which makes me wonder – is writing every day really necessary? Are quotes like “Don’t be a writer, be writing” both inspirational and unnecessarily harsh? If I only write a few times a week, or even once a week, does that mean I am not a writer?

I don’t think so. But while I am enjoying this time of home improvement, relaxation, and “spare time,” I am looking forward to beginning the next term, where I will once again be writing every day.

2014: A Big Year

Yes, this is a recap post. 🙂 2014 has been such a huge year for me, personally, academically, and in the world of literature. Instead of summarizing my summary, I’ll get right to it.


January Wedding

In January, I became Mrs. Vander Ark and moved all the way up to Southwest Michigan, during one of the snowiest winters they’d had in years! Our wedding was largely DIY, and it was a huge relief to be done planning for it.

Shortly after we moved into our cozy basement apartment, I received my first online publication (independent from my undergraduate school’s journal) from TWJMagazine.

In February I started working at the Bridgman Public Library, where I do children’s programming and order picture books through middle grade books – which increased the number of books I read quite a lot!

Notable Reads

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian – Sherman Alexie
  • Fortunately, the Milk – Neil Gaiman
  • Bats at the Library – Brian Lies


Left Bed

My MFA in creative writing at Spalding University began at the end of May, and the week I spend surrounded by other writers in Louisville, KY, was probably the most inspiring time of my life. It came just after the official closure of my undergraduate degree when we walked with our classmates in the early May graduation ceremony at University of the Cumberlands.

After Memorial Day, I also began writing for the Infusco Coffee Roasters blog… and spending a lot of time in the shop!

Caleb and I also tried our hand at raised-bed gardening for the first time and were far more successful than we anticipated.

Notable Reads

  • Wonder – R. J. Palacio
  • The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap – Wendy Welch
  • Turn Me Loose: The Unghosting of Medgar Evers – Frank Walker


Brick House

We bought a house! And proceeded to spend an entire month renovating. We refinished the floors, painted ceilings, walls, and cabinets, and moved in to our first house.

My CNF story “There Are No Buffalo Here” appeared in print via Garbanzo Literary Journal this summer. I couldn’t have picked a better place for it!

Notable Reads

  • Norman, Speak! – Caroline Adderson
  • Young House Love – the Petersiks
  • This Moose Belongs to Me – Oliver Jeffers



As if we hadn’t been blessed enough by the rest of the year, September brought us our beloved beagle/foxhound puppy, Juliet. She is smart, loving, playful, and generally pleasant, and we love her to pieces.

We hosted our first Halloween Party and Thanksgiving dinner in our new home, and settled in for the rest of the holiday season.

I switched my concentration at Spalding from CNF to writing for children and young adults, and so far I’m loving it!

Notable Reads

  • Landline – Rainbow Rowell
  • Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  • We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

If you’re interested, you can see everything that I read in 2014 (200+ books) through this link. If you’d rather just know which books I had a lot to say about, check here, here, here, or here.

Here’s to a great 2015! Anyone want to share your resolutions? Mine are to start running again, have a more successful garden, and read more than I did this year. 🙂






NaNoWriMo: A Room of My Own

My whole life I’ve imagined what it would be like to have an entire room in a house that was dedicated to books, both their creation and consumption. In honor of NaNo, here’s what that looks like!

When we bought our three-bedroom cape cod in August, I knew exactly which room I wanted for this purpose. It’s on the main floor, not too far from the kitchen (caffeine access), gets great light in the morning, has a tiny closet for crafting and art supplies, and has a perfect view of our back yard. We painted the room a lovely, inspirational shade of green, put up some pretty curtains, and filled that sucker with books. Every writer is familiar with Virginia Woolf’s recommendation that each writer needs a “room of her own” to think, read, and write in. This is my room, and I love it to bits.

My desk

My desk and the matching chair were a craigslist find, and the items on this wall were gifts. The desk provides the perfect amount of space to work in, and it has a wonderful view.


When I write at this desk, I am surrounded by the whisperings of the hundreds of books that have influenced me with their pages. There are two more bookcases in other parts of the house, but this is the bulk. On the leftmost bookcase I have antique books, filled journals, writing reference, and to-read. Next is nonfiction with blank notebooks and school binders at the bottom. On the other side, young adult books get a shelf, with filled sketchbooks, art journals, and photo albums at the bottom, and lastly is the fiction shelf with magazines and oversize books at the bottom. This room is such a happy place for me!

LibraryDo you have a room of your own? I highly recommend it. 🙂


NaNoWriMo: Why “serious” writers should promote rather than dismiss

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Many of you will shake your heads upon reading this. Or perhaps even roll your eyes. Maybe blow a raspberry, send a prayer heavenward.

I’m going to say it anyway.

NaNoWriMo season has arrived.

This year, more than usual, I’ve seen a number of posts by those lofty, unattainable beings who claim to be, above all else, serious writers. They scoff at the mention of month-long noveling, turn up their noses at the thought of it. Discourage whoever they can from participating. Wait patiently for that far off day (December 1st) when Twitter, tumbler, and the internet at large will return to it’s regularly scheduled programming.

And I am here to set the record straight, at the risk of sounding like a broken one.

Serious writer or first time participant, you absolutely should try National Novel Writing Month.

Let me tell you why.

NaNoWriMo is fun. It’s a month-long (distressingly, horrendously, terrifyingly hard) party, where we spend time with people who are working toward the same goal that we are. Whatever our methods, our means, our motivation, or our end result, we’ve all attempted (and hopefully achieved) the same result: a 50,000 word piece of crappy first draft fiction. Maybe that’s all you do. Then the next time you’re buying coffee at your favorite place or books at your favorite shop (please buy books from shops) or groceries at the supermarket, you can say, truthfully, without guilt, remorse, or modesty, “Yeah, I wrote a book once.” But maybe you go on and spend a long, long time doing the hard, hard work of revision that gets you, eventually, to final draft fiction. And maybe somebody somewhere likes that final draft, a lot, and your name gets to be on the cover of a book. And you become an author.

There are plenty of wildly successful, quality authors out there who cannot be described as serious. Just check out a few of their YouTube channels. Being a not-so-serious writer can be key to getting in touch with your audience, making friends, and (someday) selling books. Any aspiring writer who finds that one of their favorite authors thinks they should (attempt, try, stumble through the process of) write a novel will be inspired and pleased and instantly find a little more space to add to the box in their heart that belongs to that writer. An author who discourages (snubs, belittles, snickers at) this endeavor, however, might actually loose some of their holy-authorness in the eyes of readers.

Besides, any writer, serious or not, who says they aren’t pleased to tell people in coffee shops that they’re a writer and yes, they’ve written novels is lying.

A Note About Quality: Or, Mediation

To the Naysayers: anyone who has read Sara Gruen’s Water For Elephants cannot truthfully declare that NaNoWriMo is a worthless, awful feat. Don’t allow you negativity to discourage the next book that good from being written.

To the Wrimos: Water For Elephants was not the book that it is on December 1st. As described above, there was a long, long time and a lot of hard, hard work between then and publication. Don’t send you 2014 NaNovel out to agents or publishers until after January 1st, 2016 (no, I don’t mean 2015). And only then if you’ve given it everything you possibly have to give. And don’t self-publish it just because you can.

To the One Who is Just Considering: Try it. You’ll like it.

Okay, I rest my case. Here’s to NaNoWriMo 2014, my fifth (hopefully) completed NaNovel, and more crazy than any other time of year. Futher up and further in!

One of These is Not the Same

Not the Same

Dear Internet,

I’ve been a little confused lately when I observe the things in the media that Christians decide to rally against, the things they latch onto believing are wrong, and the things they seem to let slip under the radar. Here’s a quick summary of my observations.

I was a teen when Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series was coming out, and I remember all of my friends and everyone on the internet rushing to buy the new books when they came out. I only read the books myself in order to satisfy a friend who thought I would like them. I didn’t, but unlike most people who don’t like things, since I have read them I know why. Many people replaced the names of their previous favorite books with those of Meyer’s. This occurred equally within Christian circles as it did outside them. Very few families saw anything wrong with the books, and some even encouraged their daughters to read them.  One pastor who did speak out against the series was Mark Driscoll, who was then attacked by many who did not share his view. One observation he made, correctly, was that “many [young girls] will be driven by their parents, including some cougar moms encouraging and joining their daughters’ obsession with handsome young males” to get the newest books and see the newest movies.

Lets just think for a second. In the words of Stephen King, Twilight is “about how important it is to have a boyfriend.” The entire second book revolves around whether Bella will kill herself because her boyfriend – who thinks her blood smells tastier than anyone else’s and is approximately 100 years older than her – isn’t around. She spends the third book trying to convince him to bite her so that she can become a vampire, too, and they can live forever in perfect harmony. All of this was written by a woman who is a proclaimed and observant Mormon and who got the idea for the pivotal scene in the first book from a dream. I will be the first to say that most writers get some ideas from dreams, but in light of all these facts, isn’t it a little odd that a pastor would be so attacked for arguing that Christians should be worried about their daughters reading these books?

Moving on to the adult realm, the reactions of Christian circles get even more odd. I have much less experience with these two series because I haven’t read them. There are facts, however, that cannot escape even the uninitiated such as me. A massive series of books that has enjoyed new popularity with the release of an HBO series, the medieval fantasy drama Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin, has captured audiences that grew up watching the Lord of the Rings and reading Eragon. The show, as evidenced by the costumes, set props, and cast is well made, and based on fan reactions to season finales suspenseful and well told. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, however, there’s one big difference between this story and the fantasy stories that came before: sex.

I love a good fantasy, and when more and more of my Facebook friends and relatives began posting about how much they loved the show, I gave it a try. And I couldn’t even make it through the first episode. Nudity, nudity, nudity, sex is what this show is about – and I couldn’t look at some of those friends the same way. Even more shocking to me, when I thought about it, was that even the small outcry that came from Driscoll and few others against the Twilight books seems nonexistent when it comes to this show. Christians watch this show without thinking, and no one is there to make them think twice. There is an article from Desiring God that addresses Game of Thrones directly, but it hasn’t been widely spread.

Finally, lets look at what Hollywood hopes will be the next big draw – E. L. James’ Fifty Shades series. Described by many as soft porn, these books enjoy the popularity they do because they were originally available only in e-book form. Anyone could read then on an e-reader or tablet without worrying that someone might see what they were reading. Additionally, the original manuscripts of the books were blatant fan-fiction of the Twilight series, using even the same character names. Thus, the middle-age women who were delving into their daughter’s vampire books now had a book of their own to read. This “love story” is insultingly slated to release on Valentines Day. Before you go to see it, read this blog about why shouldn’t. But before you judge too harshly, read this, too, and realize that the percentage of practicing Christians who have read these books is the same as the percentage of all Americans. Then feel free to ask why there aren’t more Christians speaking out against these books. Could it be because they have read and enjoyed them, themselves?

These three stories have a lot in common, not just when it comes to content, but also when it comes to criticism (or lack thereof). But lets think of an example of something Christians have latched onto and spoken out against – for more than a decade.

The Harry Potter series took the world by storm and encouraged an entire new generation of young readers. With these books, J. K. Rowling instilled the concepts and values of chivalry, bravery, friendship, loyalty, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, social justice, equality, reading, learning, justice, standing up for what is right, sacrifice, and love – specifically and incredibly platonic love… I could go on. Over and over again characters in these books put their friends – and even their enemies – before themselves. They choose to do what is right instead of what is easy. They choose to fight back against evil even at the cost of their lives. They choose to do what is right instead of what they want. They choose to do what is right instead of being with a significant other. These are incredible decisions that are not present in much of today’s entertainment.

In spite of all this, unwitting Christians have vilified this series for years. They banned their kids from reading it. They tried to persuade as many other parents as they could to do the same. They railed against this story more strongly than perhaps any other entertainment in the past half-century. The attack on Harry Potter has died down as of late, but I still see comments such as “Have your kids read the Chronicles of Narnia? Better a story with a Christian message than one about demonic spirits,” and “Do you have the Narnia movies? Need Christian shows for kids.” Anyone familiar with the books knows that there are no demonic spirits in Harry Potter. Anyone familiar with the Narnia books knows that there is magic in them, too.

Most baffling of all, anyone who has read Harry Potter can tell you that the most powerful magic in that world is love. Platonic love. The love of a mother for her child, the love of a friend for a friend, the love of a man for everyone. Hm… does that sound familiar? A great theme in the seventh book is what Harry finds carved into his parents’ gravestone: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” That sounds familiar, too? That’s because it’s 1 Corinthians 15:26. And Harry, for all of his human flaws, is as much a literary symbol for Christ as Aslan, or Gandalf, or many others. I could go on and on about how wonderful I think these books are, and the valuable beliefs they have instilled in many children from my generation – whatever their faith. As a Christian reading with a Christian perspective, I find in each reading some new way in which these books point to truth.

So why? Why are many Christians so adamantly opposed to something that, in dozens of different ways, illustrates their Gospel? And silent on so many others that don’t – or even participating in them?

Your guess is as good as mine.


A Confused Christian