By now, you know that I love books - living books. I'm always excited to review books with potential, so I signed up, gleefully I might add, to review Life with Lily (PDF excerpt) and A New Home for Lily (PDF excerpt) by Mary Ann Kinsinger and Suzanne Woods Fisher, from Baker Publishing Group. They are good-sized paperback books, about 250 pages, with glossy covers.
Mary Ann Kinsinger grew up in an Amish community, and now blogs at A Joyful Chaos about her journey after leaving the Amish community. Suzanne Woods Fisher has written several books about the Amish, both fiction and non-fiction. Her interest was sparked by her grandfather, who was raised Amish in Pennsylvania.
These are some lovely books about the life of a little Amish girl. They remind me of the Little House on the Prairie books, except in the setting of an Amish community. They are written from the perspective of Lily, who is 6 when the first book begins, so the language is quite simple. They are written for children ages 8-12, and would be great chapter books for younger readers who are ready to take that step. I enjoyed them myself. My girls and I read these individually, although they would have made excellent read-alouds.
Life with Lily begins with Lily's Mama having a new baby. I found it interesting that Lily had no idea her mother was pregnant; her Papa woke her up to take her and her brother to their grandparents, where they had to wait and wonder what was going on. Even the grandparents didn't tell them, and little Lily was sure there was something dreadfully wrong.
Emma and I both enjoyed reading about the cranky neighbor, Mr. Young. He came over when Lily's Papa was building a fence to create a pasture for their new cow, and pitched a fit because he didn't want the cow eating "his" grass. Papa had Mr. Young show him where he thought the property lines were, and then simply moved the fence so there was no way Jenny the cow could possibly eat grass on Mr. Young's property. Lily was quite put out at Mr. Young's behavior, but Papa said whenever they thought of him, they would think good thoughts. There were other instances when Mr. Young was most unkind - including when he refused to take cookies from Lily's friend, Trisha, who happened to be African-American, but when Lily's family needed help, Mr. and Mrs. Young were both available to help. Sometimes "loving your neighbor" is not always easy, but this sweet Amish family refused to take offense at things that would have made me VERY angry and went out of their way to be kind.
One of my favorite parts of Life with Lily is when Mrs. Young gave her a sewing machine. Lily was absolutely delighted, and sat right down after telling her Mama she was ready to start sewing clothes for her doll. Mama gently informed her that she would have to learn to sew nine-patch squares first, and work her way up to doll clothes. Lily was not impressed. When Christmas time comes, Lily wants to make gifts for her parents. This quote makes me giggle:
"Later that day, Lily dug through Mama's bag of fabric scraps to see if she could find anything she liked. She didn't know how to sew anything except dumb nine-patch squares, but at least she could make a pretty nine-patch pot holder for Mama." p. 248She also made a colorful tool belt for Papa. When her parents opened her gifts, they expressed such love and thanks to Lily!
In the second book, A New Home for Lily, Lily and her family left New York and moved to a new Amish community in Pennsylvania. Lily didn't want to leave her home and her friends, and it made me laugh that one of the things she disliked most was that her new house was painted olive green and it had orange counter tops. I would not have appreciated orange counter tops, either!
Lily gets into some funny scrapes in this book, too, like getting caught up on the billy goat's horns with her coat. It wasn't funny to Lily, but I certainly laughed (and so did Mama). It's interesting to read how her responsibilities grow at home. As she learns to cook, she makes rookie mistakes (just like I did), such as when she put cayenne pepper on the stuffed eggs instead of paprika, and made a bucket full of Jello for dessert. She made me laugh when she got upset about yet another "ugly" baby, when Mama has another little boy - not only did Lily want a sister, but she was really hoping for a prettier baby.
At one point, Lily decided to write different Bible verses to hang on the wall at home, because she has lovely handwriting. Mama thought it was a good idea too. After a visitor leaves in a huff without explanation, and Mama's brother who is visiting from out of town tries to leave after a very short stay, they realized that Lily had copied this verse for the wall:
Withdraw your foot from your neighbor's house; lest he be weary of you, and so hate you." -Proverbs 25:17Lily's parents laughed and laughed when they saw what had happened (and so did I)! Mama hadn't seen this particular verse before Lily hung it on the wall because she'd been resting after having a baby. She did tell Lily that she'd like to see the verses before Lily put them up, in the future.
Charlotte Mason's first principle of education is that "Children are born persons," meaning they are not blank slates or empty buckets. Any parent with more than one child knows how very different each one is, right from birth. The Amish truly value their children. They have high expectations of them, but nothing unreasonable for their age. They certainly do not coddle their children, and the children don't complain to their parents about much at all. However, the parents are quite aware of what is going on, and when there is a problem, they step in. There was one instance in Lily's school when the teacher, who was not particularly nice, did something over the line - she forced a little boy who had a problem with stuttering to wear a garbage can on his head for the rest of the school day after he had a hard time reading aloud in class. Lily was very upset, but didn't complain at home. Her mother noticed she was upset, though, and when she heard what had happened, she didn't rail aloud against the teacher - but every day after that, one parent or another would show up and spend the day in the classroom, and at the end of the school year, the teacher was not asked to return. This was often the way: that when something happened, nothing was said at that moment, but later on, a parent would make a comment to a child that let you know they were fully aware of a situation and they gently instructed their child how to handle it without lecturing.
I enjoyed these books very much, and so did my girls. They are a wonderful peek into Amish life, which I've always found interesting. They also show good examples of teaching with love and offering grace to those who are less than gracious to us. The Amish are hard workers; I don't think most of us have any idea what it's like to work as hard as they do anymore. There aren't many modern-day books that I recommend, but these are lovely.
Life with Lily and A New Home for Lily are both available from Baker Publishing Group for $12.99 each, and you can choose between paperback and e-book formats.
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