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Which CS Lewis for middle school family read-and-discuss?


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I found this old thread, but would love the input of current Hive members. I'm considering one of CS Lewis's works (not Narnia) as a family readaloud-and-discuss for the coming year (DD13, DS11).

I think my kids will grasp the first 2 sections of Mere Christianity, but I think the 3rd and 4th sections may be a stretch for where they're at. It's been years since I read Screwtape or Great Divorce, but those were the other 2 titles I was considering. Abolition of Man would definitely be over their heads, as would Til We Have Faces, so I'm nixing those two for middle school. 

I found a teen oriented discussion guide for Screwtape and Great Divorce by Adam Vermilye. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has used one of these with their DC. 

I'm also open to other suggestions! We've done Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim's Progress adaptation), the Bob Schulz books, and TheOlogy. We tried the Heidleberg catechism using this but it was pretty dry and we didn't get very far.  They hated Hind's Feet in High Places. We've done Narnia and Tolkien. 

Tagging @Carol in Cal.  - I think she's the only one from that old thread who is currently active (though I could be wrong), and I'd love any updated perspective you might have!

They way we'd do it - I'd read it aloud a chapter at a time, with lots of discussion during and after. 

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Two DSs who were excellent thinkers (but NOT that into reading on their own, so we did a LOT of our reading all together all the way through high school.)

We really enjoyed Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce -- but in mid-high school years, not middle school. Also agreeing with your assessment of Mere Christianity and Abolition of Man, and we, too, waited until high school (9th/10th grades) to do Till We Have Faces.

If really wanting to do Lewis, one possibility is Out of the Silent Planet, the first of Lewis' space trilogy books. You may want to wait on the rest of the trilogy, as each book actually can stand on its own, but mainly because Book 2 (Perelandra) and book 3 (That Hideous Strength) get pretty stout, and especially for book 3, there was a lot of stopping for explaining references and context. 

(BTW, in addition to Carol in Cal, Harriet Vane (in that thread you linked) is also still active on these boards. 😉 )

In case it helps, here is a copy-paste version of a list I posted in a long-past thread:

Fiction with Strong Christian Themes
- The Great and Terrible Quest (Lovett)
- Tombs of Atuan (LeGuin)

- Leaf by Niggle; Smith of Wooten Major (Tolkien) -- short stories
- The Golden Key; The Light Princess (MacDonald) -- short stories
- Father Brown mysteries (Chesterton) -- short stories

- The Man Who Was Thursday (Chesterton) -- possibly wait for high school
- I Heard the Owl Call My Name (Craven) -- high school level
- Cry, The Beloved Country (Paton) -- high school level 

Christian Inspiring Biography/Autobiography
- The Hiding Place (tenBoom) 
- Tramp for the Lord (tenBoom)
- Bruckco (Olson)
- God's Smuggler (Andrew)
- Trial and Triumph -- short collection of martyrs through the ages

Christian Inspirational/Devotional
- The Greatest Among You (Simms) -- servant leadership
- Who You Are When No One Is Looking (Hybels) -- choosing consistency, resisting compromise
- Do Hard Things (Harris) -- making the most of the teen years

- Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (Brand) -- devotional
- A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm (Phillip) -- devotional
- Power of a Praying Teen (O'Martian) -- devotional
- How To Study Your Bible 4 Kids; Lord Teach Me to Pray (Arthur) -- inductive Bible studies for late elementary/early middle school


Apologetics
- More Than a Carpenter (McDowell)
- Evidence That Demads a Verdict (Josh McDowell)
- The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel)

- Know What You Believe; Know Why You Believe (Little) -- these feel very dated now

Worldview
- How to Be Your Own Selfish Pig (Susan Schaeffer Macauley)
- Lightbearers video series & workbook -- middle school level
- Understanding the Times (Noebel) -- high school level
- The Deadliest Monster: Introduction to Worldview (Baldwin) -- high school level
- Rethinking Worldview (Bertrand) -- high school level

Trinity Forum curricula -- high school
- Steering Through Chaos: Vice and Virtue in an Age of Moral Confusion -- ethics, and how it relates to the reader personally
- The Journey: Our Quest for Faith and Meaning -- steps toward taking ownership of one's own faith
- When No One Sees: The Importance of Character -- personal character


Worldview and Arts
- Reel Spirituality; Finding God in the Movies (Johnston)-- seeing God's truth in films; high school level

Comparative Religions/Philosophy -- Nonfiction
- Sophie's World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (Gaarder) -- secular author
- Message in the Bottle (Walker) -- Christian author; high school/adult level
- Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Hofstadter) -- high school/adult level

Edited by Lori D.
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My 9th grader read The Great Divorce for a co-op English class and enjoyed it.  We did Screwtape letters at home and I was surprised by what kid didn't get.  I had remembered it as very relatable and still find it to be that way.  There were some chapters that kid liked and some kid didn't relate to just because we all have different issues, but there were several chapters that kid didn't have the life experience to really understand more than very superficially.  For instance, there are chapters that deal with romantic love and chapters that address envy of others' success.  I would have likely related to both as a teen and was looking forward to hearing what my teen had to say, but kid was stumped because they haven't experienced much of either.  

The one great insight that kid had reading Screwtape was in a chapter about...maybe pride?  There was a question in our guide about somebody being the best in the world at something and kid said that being the best in the world at something only matters for the very short amount of time where that's actually relavent...being the best architect only matters if you are talking about building design, and being the best surgeon only matters if you are actually doing surgery.  The rest of the time, why would anybody listen to you over anybody else?  It's a great way to approach life and it would certainly keep you humble, but it's sort of an example of what I was talking about in the first paragraph - kid doesn't have enough experience to really understand that, while that's the way that the world probably should work, it is not the way that it actually works.  

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16 hours ago, Lori D. said:

Fiction with Strong Christian Themes

- Tombs of Atuan (LeGuin)
 

@Lori D. could you talk a little about this?  I had not heard that Ursula LeGuin was a Christian author, and having read only the first of her Wizard of Earthsea books I was surprised to see this book, the second from that series, listed here.  A quick Wikipedia search turned up the vivid description "a classic of stealth-missile literature, a fantasy adventure that's actually a feminist horror thriller".  Are we thinking of the same book?

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16 hours ago, Lori D. said:

Tombs of Atuan (LeGuin)

I loved this book when I was around middle school age and recently found it in a little free library and read it again. Just as good! I’d also be interested in hearing more about it.

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20 hours ago, Lori D. said:

If really wanting to do Lewis, one possibility is Out of the Silent Planet, the first of Lewis' space trilogy books.

Yes, this seems like the most likely choice for middle school too- I don’t know The Great Divorce, but I can’t really picture Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters or Till We Have Faces   being that relatable for middle schoolers.  Out of the Silent Planet seems like it could work, though.

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I thought I had replied to this thread, but apparently I never hit the “submit” button. Thanks for the feedback! I think I’ll check out the 23rd Psalm book by Philip Keller, and Out of the Silent Planet (I’ve never read that trilogy). I might try the first 2 sections of Mere Christianity with the kids - I think they could engage with that part for now.

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5 hours ago, WTM said:

I thought I had replied to this thread, but apparently I never hit the “submit” button. Thanks for the feedback! I think I’ll check out the 23rd Psalm book by Philip Keller, and Out of the Silent Planet (I’ve never read that trilogy). I might try the first 2 sections of Mere Christianity with the kids - I think they could engage with that part for now.

One last thing to bear in mind as you consider your reading list -- your DC are young (if your signature is current) -- just 13yo and 11yo. You have plenty of time to get to the high school level material in a few years. Sometimes we can kill an enjoyment of literature by constantly making all of the read-alouds multiple grade levels above the child's level -- even if they are bright/advanced kids, just because they *can* understand something doesn't mean it is also at their *interest* level. And, we can miss the "window of opportunity" for some books that are written for younger ages and would be greatly enjoyed or be inspiring to them at that age, when we are always skipping those works to do high school/adult level works with the late elementary/middle school years... 

Not that OP is doing that ('m sure you have a big literature list with a variety on it! 😄 ) I'm just mentioning it for anyone reading along, as of course we want to encourage "rigor" in our academics and reading, but we can sometimes fall into the mindset that "rigorous" must mean always/only doing all advanced level work. 😉

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On 6/10/2021 at 1:29 PM, caffeineandbooks said:

@Lori D. could you talk a little about this?  I had not heard that Ursula LeGuin was a Christian author, and having read only the first of her Wizard of Earthsea books I was surprised to see this book, the second from that series, listed here.  A quick Wikipedia search turned up the vivid description "a classic of stealth-missile literature, a fantasy adventure that's actually a feminist horror thriller".  Are we thinking of the same book?

Arrgghh... I had a huge reply almost ready to post to you... and lost it...  😩

The upshot of my response (in brief): -- yes, Ursula Le Guin was NOT a Christian, and her earlier books (esp. book #1 and #3 of the Earthsea books) show her strong interest in Taoism. However, #2 (Tombs of Atuan) has SO much overlap with Christian images and ideas that I find it very easy to read/interpret that book through a Christian worldview. Other people would read/interpret through other  worldviews. Below are a few quotations that I found particularly meaningful in overlap with Christian worldview:

Speaking of the Dark Nameless powers that Tenar had served as priestess:
"They have nothing to give. They have no power of making. All their power is to darken and destroy... where men worship these things and abase themselves before them, there evil breeds; there places are made in the world where darkness gathers, places given over wholly to the Ones whom we call Nameless, the ancient... powers of the dark, of ruin, of madness…  They exist. But they are not your Masters. They never were. You are free, Tenar. You were taught to be a slave, but you have broken free.” 

To become a Christian is to choose to allow Christ to transform one, and to die to "the old man"; in the book, Tenar has to choose between continuing in service to the Dark Nameless powers as the priestess called Arha, or to step into a new life as Tenar:

“You must be Arha, or you must be Tenar. You cannot be both... To be reborn one must die, Tenar. It is not so hard as it looks from the other side.” 

Like Christ who comes for his people enslaved in sin, Ged, who brings the truth to Tenar says of her:

“You are like a lantern swathed and covered, hidden away in a dark place. Yet the light shines; they could not put out the light. They could not hide you.” 

Ged, speaking to Tenar of her new life, is much like the life Christ calls the Christian to"

"...You were the vessel of evil. The evil is poured out. It is done. It is buried in its own tomb. You were never made for cruelty and darkness; you were made to hold light, as a lamp burning holds and gives its light. I found the lamp unlit; I won’t leave it on some desert island like a thing found and cast away. I’ll take you to Havnor and say... ‘Look! In the place of darkness I found the light, her spirit. By her an old evil was brought to nothing... By her the broken was made whole, and where there was hatred there will be peace.” 

Ged, a bit like a missionary called by God:

“...I go where I am sent. I follow my calling. It has not yet let me stay in any land for long... I do what I must do....”

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On 6/9/2021 at 10:22 PM, WTM said:

 

I'm also open to other suggestions! We've done Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim's Progress adaptation), the Bob Schulz books, and TheOlogy. We tried the Heidleberg catechism using this but it was pretty dry and we didn't get very far.  They hated Hind's Feet in High Places. We've done Narnia and Tolkien. 

Tagging @Carol in Cal.

The Pilgrim's Regress is a little too old for your kids now, but worth a read when they get older-maybe late high school?

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4 hours ago, Lori D. said:

One last thing to bear in mind as you consider your reading list -- your DC are young (if your signature is current) -- just 13yo and 11yo. You have plenty of time to get to the high school level material in a few years. Sometimes we can kill an enjoyment of literature by constantly making all of the read-alouds multiple grade levels above the child's level -- even if they are bright/advanced kids, just because they *can* understand something doesn't mean it is also at their *interest* level. And, we can miss the "window of opportunity" for some books that are written for younger ages and would be greatly enjoyed or be inspiring to them at that age, when we are always skipping those works to do high school/adult level works with the late elementary/middle school years... 

Not that OP is doing that ('m sure you have a big literature list with a variety on it! 😄 ) I'm just mentioning it for anyone reading along, as of course we want to encourage "rigor" in our academics and reading, but we can sometimes fall into the mindset that "rigorous" must mean always/only doing all advanced level work. 😉

Thank you for the reminder! I have definitely been guilty at times of trying to give the kids too much too soon - it’s hard to know sometimes what is appropriate when your kids are your only point of reference, and when they are asynchronous! 🙂

I guess I should figure out what we hope to accomplish. I wasn’t really viewing this (the idea of reading CS Lewis) as academic *literature* or work per se, more like a devotional spring board for discussion — an extension of our family’s ongoing “great conversation.”  The way we’ve done things in the past, I sometimes read just a couple paragraphs at a time and we discuss it. Reading an entire chapter might take the whole week. Reading a book might take a whole year.  

I think I’ve been shying away from more contemporary evangelical authors because of the ambivalence I currently feel toward the US evangelical subculture (and perhaps a little suspicion, perhaps ill founded, but I need time to sort it out) towards the evangelical publishing houses. That does limit some of the options that I might have been open to 5 or 10 years ago.

  I found this other thread, which also has some age appropriate (middle school) suggestions specifically for bible study. 

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1 minute ago, LauraClark said:

The Pilgrim's Regress is a little too old for your kids now, but worth a read when they get older-maybe late high school?

I had no idea CS Lewis had written this book… will definitely check it out

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18 hours ago, WTM said:

Thank you for the reminder! I have definitely been guilty at times of trying to give the kids too much too soon - it’s hard to know sometimes what is appropriate when your kids are your only point of reference, and when they are asynchronous! 🙂

I guess I should figure out what we hope to accomplish. I wasn’t really viewing this (the idea of reading CS Lewis) as academic *literature* or work per se, more like a devotional spring board for discussion — an extension of our family’s ongoing “great conversation.”  The way we’ve done things in the past, I sometimes read just a couple paragraphs at a time and we discuss it. Reading an entire chapter might take the whole week. Reading a book might take a whole year.  

I think I’ve been shying away from more contemporary evangelical authors because of the ambivalence I currently feel toward the US evangelical subculture (and perhaps a little suspicion, perhaps ill founded, but I need time to sort it out) towards the evangelical publishing houses. That does limit some of the options that I might have been open to 5 or 10 years ago.

  I found this other thread, which also has some age appropriate (middle school) suggestions specifically for bible study. 

Thanks for understanding what I was trying to say! 😄 I totally get it about having "asynchronous" children, and I also understand your concerns about contemporary evangelicalism of a particular direction 😉. That other thread you linked has some great middle school ideas.

Below are some older works (all first published 50-150 years past) that have strong Christian images and themes in them, and would encourage devotional discussions -- and, you may already have done these, as some are definitely at the upper elementary range, and some are definitely middle school range:

1864 - The Light Princess (MacDonald) -- long short story
1867 - The Golden Key (MacDonald)-- short story
1875 - The Wise Woman (MacDonald) -- short story
1872 - The Princess and the Goblins (MacDonald)
1883 - The Princess and Curdie, sequel (MacDonald)
1945 - Leaf by Niggle (Tolkien) -- short story
1967 - Smith of Wooten Major (Tolkien) -- short story
1967 - The Great and Terrible Quest (Lovett) -- the cover art of the reprint is cringe-worthy, but it is a powerful story; nothing directly stated about faith or doctrine, but every action and choice of the 2 main characters are such clear examples of faith and the "Christian walk"

Maybe historical fiction books that are well-written, "faith friendly," and have great talking points about choices (dates = original publishing):
1930s-1940s - Kate Seredy - setting before/after WW2 (gr. 4-7) - The Good Master, The Singing Tree (sequel); The Chestry Oak; A Tree for Peter
1960s - Joanne Williamson - setting Ancient Egypt (gr. 6-9) - Hittite Warrior; God King
1970s - Mary Ray - setting Ancient Rome/fall of Jerusalem (gr. 8-adult) - The Ides of April, Beyond the Desert Gate (sequel)


And one suggestion with no direct faith aspects in it, but character choices make it worth a discussion:
1994 - The Secret of Platform 13 (Ibbotson) - (gr. 4-7) a sort of "kinder, gentler Harry Potter", lol; some lovely moments of kindness & self sacrifice

 

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