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Reading: a daily habit or a forgotten pastime?

The following book review was first a short talk I did at the St James Women’s Day Away conference, 11 May 2013.

Morning ladies,

When we look around this room, we see many reading opportunities. The Bible on your lap, the phone in your hand, the notice boards, the multi-media. In fact, if we analyse society today, we’d be blind not to recognise that people read more regularly today than they did 20 years ago. Yes, today society is reading words daily in newspapers, books, text messages, Facebook posts, internet articles and news snippets – on their computers, phones, tablets, televisions and more. But, our daily reading is no longer the deep contemplative reading of yesteryear. Our day-to-day reading is of the fast-food variety. Instead of feasting on a lovingly-prepared, well-cooked meal of excellent writings, we graze at the revolving fast-food belt of titbits and snippets.

book image litIn his book Lit, Tony Reinke says that the type of reading we do today is reactionary. We read and react – we read that pithy saying on Facebook and react by reposting it on our friend’s newsfeed, only to forget it moments later. He quotes journalist Nicholas Carr who complained of how his own reading habits were being influenced by the Internet. Carr said, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” (Lit, p.138)

Is that you? Is that bad? Should we be doing something about that?

Well, according to Tony Reinke, Christians should indeed be reading more deeply. While there is nothing inherently wrong with zipping across the sea of words like a jet-skier as we read in the short bursts typical of today’s technological age, the risk of losing the ability to read more deeply is great. And it is a risk, because reading is essential to the Christian faith. Without the words of the Bible, we cannot know the gospel. Without reading His Word, we cannot know how to live in the light of the gospel. Without deeply considering the heights and depths of God’s love through His words, we cannot begin to fathom it.

And while being able to read and drink from the Bible deeply is essential, being able to read all good literature is a great and worthy blessing. We jet-skier readers may have a lot of fun on the surface, but if we stay there, we will miss out on the incredible, and oftentimes life-changing, beauty deep down in the ocean of words.

But, how? If we find ourselves in the habit of surface reading, how do we change? Well, I’d like to suggest that we can change by starting with this book by Tony Reinke. Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books is divided into two parts. Part One focuses on the whys of reading. Part Two focuses on the hows. If you’re wanting to benefit from excellent literature, but are struggling with the hows, I suggest that you buy this book and read part 2 first! If you’re struggling with the whys, then start right at the very beginning.

book image self-forgetfulnessMaybe you already have determined to read more deeply, but are scared to start with something too heavy? Then this may be the book for you: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller

It’s a small booklet of only 44 pages that focuses on a chapter from Corinthians. It’s written in an easy conversational style. Yet, it contains some of the richest and deepest truths. Keller sets out to show us from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians what the ultimate freedom from self-obsession is. He asks a few heart-probing questions and, here, I’d like to quote:

“Friends, wouldn’t you want to be a person who does not need honour – nor is afraid of it? Someone who does not lust for recognition – nor, on the other hand, is frightened to death of it? Don’t you want to be the kind of person who, when they see themselves in a mirror or reflected in a shop window, does not admire what they see but does not cringe either? Wouldn’t you like to be the type of person who, in their imaginary life, does not sit around fantasising about hitting self-esteem home-runs, daydreaming about successes that gives them the edge over others? Or perhaps you tend to beat yourself up and to be tormented by regrets. Wouldn’t you like to be free of them? Wouldn’t you like to be the skater who wins the silver, and yet is thrilled about those three triple jumps that the gold medal winner did? To love it the way you love a sunrise? Just to love the fact that it was done? For it not to matter whether it was their success or your success? Not to care if they did it or you did it? You are as happy that they did it as if you had done it yourself – because you are just so happy to see it.

You will probably say that you do not know anybody like that. But this is the possibility for you and me … This is gospel-humility, blessed self-forgetfulness. Not thinking more of myself as in modern cultures, or less of myself as in traditional cultures. Simply thinking of myself less.”

book image compared to herI really recommend this book to discover how one can attain this “blessed self-forgetfulness”. And, while I am not reviewing this book today, I would also like to strongly recommend our own Sophie De Witt’s book Compared to Her. It deals with similar themes to Keller’s book, but looks specifically at how women tend to base their self-worth on how they measure up to other women. If you find yourself ever comparing yourself to other women, then that’s a book to buy and read.

Questioning Evangelism

book image Questioning_EvangelismFinally, I’d like to recommend this book, Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman. The less we think of ourselves, the more we naturally think of the gospel and how it affects others. But, if you’re anything like me, starting a gospel conversation with anyone strikes fear and trembling in your heart! I’ve done a great job of botching many a gospel conversation in the past. Which is why I am always grateful for writers like Randy Newman who give us great tools to help us share the good news. And Randy Newman’s book really does an excellent job of giving us a fresh perspective on gospel conversations. The title, Questioning Evangelism, is not suggesting that we should question whether one should evangelise. Rather it’s saying that we should use questions in our evangelism.  Randy Newman explains how often simply asking questions of someone very naturally leads a conversation in the direction of Jesus. He explains how each and every context is relevant. There are even chapters that take you through typical situations Christians find themselves in – like that age-old “Christians are hypocrits” accusation or the claim that God doesn’t exist.  So often we find these situations difficult to field, but Newman’s suggested way of handling them is like a breath of fresh air.

If you ever find yourself walking away from a conversation kicking yourself for not grabbing the opportunities presented to you, this is the book to read.

So, as you contemplate your own reading today, may I encourage you to keep diving deep into great literature, including the greatest of them all: the Word of God.

A Seekers Giveaway at Se7en

I woke up to this tweet in my inbox this morning:

seekers tweet

What that means is  … there’s another opportunity to win a signed copy of my book happening over at Se7en’s blog!! 

If you’ve never visited the crowd over at Se7en + 1, then I highly recommend that you get on over there.  The posts are daily and encompass everything from weekly crafts, to contemplative thoughts, to fun outings, interviews, reviews and more.  Se7en is number 14 on Amatomu, which means that it’s the 14th most popular website in the whole of South Africa! There is always a giveaway or two or 10 (!) happening there with the most fun way of selecting the winner. 

This post includes a great review of the book – always awesome to see what resonates with which readers – and an interview with me.  I had tons of fun answering some great questions like:

Obviously you love writing, you wrote a whole book!!! Can you think of a childhood book that spoke to you and said, “I want to write my own book one day”?


Inspiration: If you had one piece of inspiration for our readers and aspiring young writers… what would it be?

So head on over to this post and enter to win (or share with your friends – the more the merrier!)

Sunday Snippet: Seekers of the Lost Boy; An Author Interview and a GiveAway

Review: Trailblazer’s Patricia St John: The Story Behind the Stories

patriciastjohnMy big sister deserves loads of recognition.  You know how it is – little sister looks up to big sister and swipes all the good ideas from her?  Well, my big sister’s inspiring ideas have, amongst many other things, influenced my all-time favourite toast topping*, my love of gypsy skirts, our choice to home school our children and the many many inspiring authors which now grace our bookshelves.  One such author is the beloved Patricia St. John (pronounced Sinjin). 

Kelly introduced me to her years ago and soon enough I was reading Treasures in the Snow.  Patricia wrote for children.  She wrote to give them inspiring stories where the Bible shines bright and true.  She wrote to tell the tales that were the lives of those she met.  But, as an adult, I found her book inspiring for me.  I had found a treasure.  And I couldn’t wait to read it to my girls.  So we did.  And then the next one and the next one.  Pretty soon, my girls became Patricia St John fans too, soaking up her books and wanting us to read more.

Which is why, when Christian Focus Publishers offered us an opportunity to review a Patricia St John biography for young readers, we were more than thrilled! 

Years ago I read Patricia’s autobiography: Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary Faith.  Not only did I realise where half her stories came from, but I also was incredibly moved by her commitment to the gospel every step of her life.  Sharing her life story with my kids has been on my agenda.  But, I always imagined it would be a bit later in their lives, when they were old enough for her autobiography.  Thanks to CFP and award-winning author, Irene Howat, ‘old enough’ became ‘now’. 

Irene Howat is already familiar to us as a wonderful author.  Having read some of Irene’s 10 Girls Who… and 10 Boys Who… series, I already knew that she was a great writer.  But, I was curious to see how she would manage to condense the full life of Patricia St John into 160 pages appropriate for younger readers.  Well, talent is as talent does, I guess.  Irene’s biography of Patricia St John is as rich and detailed as Ordinary Woman, Extraordinary Faith, yet well geared to a younger audience in tone and style. 

And my kids loved it!  Hearing how the St John family of kids were no angels growing up tickled them – especially when they realised that the fun-loving, wriggle-in-church St John children all grew up to serve the Lord!  They were amazed by the stories of Patricia’s travels as a child and then as an adult.  And they were delighted by the many ways God used Patricia and her family to do extraordinary things. 

The highlights?  Well, there were plenty.  But two stand out for me. 

The delight on the faces of my daughters as they recognised the backdrops to the stories they had read:

As Irene introduced a new chapter in Patricia’s life, one of my girls would wonder aloud if that city or this child or that problem was the prompt for one of Patricia’s many children’s books.  Sure enough, a few pages later we would discover that it was.  Each time their faces lit up with joy as they stowed away that piece of information.  I imagine that the next time they revisit her books, the story behind the stories will stir their hearts that much more.

The seed of missions watered in the heart of my daughter:

Perhaps the best of the highlights was watching my eldest daughter’s desire to be a missionary begin to bud.  Over the years, she has mentioned the possibility of doing mission work.  It crops up in conversation time and again.  But while reading Patricia’s biography, Kiera’s heart was deeply stirred.  Gradually and increasingly, we began being peppered with questions about mission work.  And her teachers at church were too!  How do you know if you should?  Does God tell you?  Where should you go?  Who needs it most?  How do I know if it’s God desire for me or just my desire for me?  Ah!  Some wonderful conversations have grown from those questions as we discussed some big theological ideas and talked about the joy of serving others.  Kiera has decided that she is going to keep praying that the Lord will keep watering her desire to be a “field” missionary if it is His will that she do so. 

We have read many mission books over the years, but this is the first time that Kiera has felt this inspired by a woman who was entirely ordinary but chose do serve God and let Him do extraordinary things through her.

Where will this take her?  We don’t know.  But right now it’s taking her to the foot of the cross and that’s the best place to be!

Christian Focus Publishers have done it again.  Through the wonderfully talented pen of Irene Howat, CFP have produced another fantastic biography for younger readers in the Trailblazer’s series.  I highly recommend Patricia St John: The Story Behind the Stories as a must-read. 


I received a free ebook version of Patricia St John: The Story Behind the Stories in exchange for an honest review.  As with everything that I review, my opinion is entirely my own. 

* and, in case you were wondering about that fav toast topping, here it is: butter and Bovril on toasted Olde Cape Seed loaf!  Mmm-mmm!   

Review and Giveaway! Apologia Science Homeschool Curriculum

The Giveaway…

Apologia Science Curriculum has kindly donated a full year’s worth of science studies to the winner of this giveaway.   Apologia’s Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology is a dynamic “text” book of the living book variety.  Aimed at older elementary kids, it can be used for anyone from 6 – 16, making it perfect for whole family studies.  Accompanying the text is the Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology Notebooking Journal – an all-in-one Charlotte Mason inspired notebooking journal that includes other recording methods such as lapbooking, copywork, crossword puzzles and much more.  Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find out how you can with both these books!



The Background…

Some years ago, my sister introduced me to Apologia – a homeschool curriculum company.  The big drawcards?  Biblical worldview.  Living book style.  Beautifully compiled.  I really liked what I read about Apologia, but we were already following Sonlight Science for my (then) little ones and we were 110% happy with it – besides, I reasoned to myself, Sonlight picks up Apologia science later on in their programme: we can always use it then.

Fast forward to 2012 – we were halfway through this year when I realised that science was fast slipping off our radar.  Plus, we needed to investigate other science options for 2013 as we plan to “take the year off” from Sonlight to do a year of intensive South African history studies.  If ever there is a year in the Hayes home to explore other curricula options it is 2013.

Some intensive nights of scouring the Internet for great science options brought me straight back to Apologia, and more specifically the kids and my favourite interest at present: the human body.  It wasn’t long before I had ordered both the text and the notebooking journal from bookdepository.co.uk – gotto love free shipping!

Why we love it…

We can go at our own pace

The text is divided into 14 lessons (click here for table of contents) that cover just about everything there is to learn about the human body.  Each lesson can take as little as one week or as much as one or two months.  In fact, Apologia encourages each family to go at their own pace, stopping to do some things more in depth or to follow the family’s natural learning patterns and points of interest.


Narrative style

The entire text is written in a narrative style – perfect for reading aloud to your kids.  New vocab words are explained as a part of the narrative in a seamless and fluid manner.


Lots of opportunities for multi-faceted learning

Throughout the book, conversational pieces are added, including funny stories, interesting ideas and suggested projects. Every chapter is peppered with “Try This” inserts that give the kids ample experiment ideas, along with a thorough list of required items – many of which are often in the home and kitchen already.


Integration with Notebooking Journals

While many homeschooling moms are adept at creating their own projects from scratch, I prefer not to!  I did that for too many years as a high school teacher. Nowadays, if I can afford it, I prefer to follow curricula resources and use holiday and other down time enjoying the kids and exploring other activities, rather than putting together extensive project ideas.  Which is why the notebooking journal that Apologia offers totally appeals to me.  A beautiful ring-bound book is stuffed with pages ready to be filled with creative learning – notebooking (writing about what one has learned), copywork, puzzles, creative projects, lapbooking ideas and much more.  by the time we complete our anatomy studies, the journal will be complete and will serve as an all-in-one project book that, I suspect, the kids will treasure for years to come.

Here is just one example from the text of a project that one can do by layering transparent pages with each system on top of each other: bones, blood vessels, muscles, organs etc.


It’s easy enough to print the images oneself onto a transparency, but having a notebook with all the extra goodies already printed and ready to use is a wonderful timesaver.


This is just one example of the project ideas included in the text and notebook – the last 1/4 of the book is filled with cut-out ready projects.  Each project has a special place in the notebook to paste it.  But, if you don’t want/need to do a particular project or section, it’s simple enough to leave it blank, or tear it out.

The *Junior* Notebooking Journal

Along with the Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology text and regular notebooking journal, I sourced the Junior Anatomy Notebooking Journal for Katie (8). Her writing skills are spot on for her age, but her enthusiasm for writing is rock bottom. A notebooking journal would normally cast all kinds of fear in her, but this journal did something quite different. When it arrived, Katie cracked open the cover, turned the pages and oohed and ahhed over each page. Her verdict? I can’t wait to start this science, mom!


It’s everything that the normal notebooking journal is but geared down to suit the younger child or the weaker writer.  It has a few more drawings and colouring-in activities.


But is has less by the way of writing – for example: the first image below shows copy work options for the regular notebooking journal (print or cursive depending on the child’s choice).


The Junior journal draws from the same text, but uses a smaller section as you can see in the image below.  It also uses the dotted middle guidelines as extra guidance for the hesitant writer.


Other sections are also taken down a notch or two to allow for a younger student.  For example, the junior journal has fewer crosswords and the crosswords themselves are much simpler.  Much better suited to my Katie.

First image: regular journal.  Second image: junior journal.

Apologia Anatomy Notebooking JournalApologia Anatomy *Junior* Notebooking Journal

Chapter summaries are a bit more visual in the Junior version – for example, this summary of the digestive system in the Junior journal focuses on labelling the teeth, along with a little section for a short summary, plus a “digestive comic” activity where the kids can tell a funny story of how the food morsel travels from plate to poop.


The regular journal, however, allows more room for an older student to summarise their knowledge in more detail:


…with a few extra questions along the way – but still providing some of the fun activities such as the digestion comic:


We are super excited about our science studies for the next year – and it is all thanks to Apologia!

How to win!

If this appeals to you too, why not enter our Awesome Apologia Giveaway?  Simply follow the instructions below and you can win both the Apologia Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology Text and the Apologia Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology Notebooking Journal.  Valued at around R500 together, this is an awesome prize!


For every step you successfully complete below, your name will be entered in the draw again.  Some steps are worth more than one entry, so read the steps carefully.  You could be entered into the draw up to 12 times!

  1. leave a comment on this blog saying why you’d love to win the Apologia Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology Text and the Apologia Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology Notebooking Journal.  Please make sure that you use a valid email address, otherwise I cannot contact you to tell you you’ve won!  No one else will see your email address – just me. Please note that if you can’t see the comments section, you’re probably on the home page.  To get to the post with comments, click here: Apologia Giveaway Post.  1 entry (worth 1 entries)
  2. share this blog post with your friends on Facebook, either by clicking the Facebook link at the end of this post, or simply copying and pasting the following in your status bar on Facebook: ” Read about how you can win an awesome Apologia Exploring Creation with Anatomy and Physiology curriculum valued at R500! http://bit.ly/Vd3azI .”  Post a new comment here saying, “I’ve shared on Facebook!”  (worth 2 entries)
  3. share this blog post with your friends on Twitter.  Simply copy and paste this text and tweet it: ” @apologiaworld @taryn_hayes #hayesgiveaway Win Apologia Anatomy Curriculum worth R500! http://bit.ly/Vd3azI” Once you’ve done that, come back here and post a new comment saying “I’ve shared on Twitter!” (worth 2 entries)
  4. Go to Facebook and “like” Apologia’s fan page.  Once you’ve done that, come back and, yes, you’ve guessed it, comment here and say, “I’ve liked Apologia on Facebook!” (worth 2 entries)
  5. Write your own blog post linking back to this blog post.  Make sure that you comment here to let me know so that I can enter you into the draw again.  (worth 5 entries)
  6. Hurry!  Giveaway ends on Wednesday 24 October 2012!  Contest is now over.  For the winner see Friday 26 Oct 2012’s post: And we have a winner!

  Want to Buy?

If you’re interested in other Apologia books in the Exploring Science series, you can source them locally at the following stores:

Christian Book Discounters CBD stocks Apologia and other Christian homeschool curriculum. Anything that they don’t have in stock they will order for you. Simply email nick@christianbooks.co.za with your request. They will source it for you with shipment lead time of no more than 6 weeks.

creation ministires

Creation Ministries Apologia product prices are available online. Special orders can be made for products not yet listed on their website, such as the Junior Notebooking Journals.


Oikos Family Ministries Apologia product prices from Oikos are available online. As yet they do not stock the Junior Notebooking Journal but this may change in future.

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