Tree of Life Mama’s Book of the Week for Moms: The Summer Book by Susan Branch

To kick off summer I’m blogging about The Summer Book by Susan Branch. I first heard of Susan Branch when I read one of Sally Clarkson’s books, either the Life Giving Home or the Life Giving Table, I can’t remember which one. She highly recommended getting any cookbook by Susan Branch. Upon that suggestion, I started keeping my eye out for Susan Branch books while thrifting. So far I have found four: the one above (for only $1!), plus the one about autumn, the girlfriends one, and the heart of the home one. I think that one was her first. Two of these were misplaced in the children’s book section. Lucky for me, I spied them on the bottom shelf there. Score! They are all soooo delightful! She fills each one with her own lovely, dreamy watercolor and pen illustrations to accompany the recipes. Each recipe is written in her own hand, a beautiful cursive. On top of all this you will find quotes, and tips for homemaking, hospitality, gardening and family life. You can see her lovely website here and sign up for her monthly newsletter, called Willard, after her grandfather, which is guaranteed to brighten up your email inbox. You can read the archives of Willard here, but I’m warning you, they are addictive! You can’t stop at just one!

So who is Susan Branch and why I am sharing her book? Susan is an author and illustrator who lives in Martha’s Vineyard. She grew up in a big family of 8 children in California. Her mother taught her to bake, cook, sew, tend children, as well as all the other homemaking arts. Susan loved learning all of it. She dedicated her first book to her dear mother, who she says was the strong foundation of her life. (You can read about her mother here.) The video below features Susan singing a song her mother taught her. I remember learning this song in third grade, but I only learned the first verse, so it’s fun to hear more of the song.

This is a little excerpt of what she wrote about her mom in the link I just referenced, “I think I saw the loneliness in my mom’s face on some of the tough days when the house would fall into chaos (beyond what was normal), and it stayed with me.  I tried to say thank you while writing my first book, not only to her, but to all moms, to help them know that what they do, and did, really does matter.   My mom (and dad) gave me a stable childhood, something every child deserves — I think if everyone had that, the world would be a better place.  That’s why moms are so important.  And the more support moms everywhere get raising children, it just follows, the better our world would be.  Because no matter what the circumstances, no matter how much money they have, they are capable of being shelter in a storm, just by being there.  I celebrate Mother’s Day deep in my heart, it’s another chance to tell my mom what a FABULOUS, WONDERFUL, HEAVENLY MOTHER she’s been to me. ♥”

After growing up, and while still living in CA, she went through a painful divorce. Part of her “starting over” process was to buy a home in Martha’s Vineyard, thus becoming a New England transplant. Before she moved to New England, she had a friend who encouraged her to write a cookbook. The friend, Jane, loved the illustrated, hand lettered recipe cards that Susan gave to Jane as a wedding gift. Jane thought Susan could turn them into a cookbook. Susan tucked that idea away. After moving to New England and orienting herself to single life and her adopted home state, she dusted off the seed of an idea that Jane had planted in her heart. She happened to have a friend who had a connection with a publisher, Little Brown, who agreed to publish her cookbook. So she now she has these wonderful cookbooks, with her watercolor illustrations and hand lettering, plus she has a memoir trilogy, based on her journals. (The trilogy is self-published.) She also has other types of books, like a memory book for keeping photos and mementos of your baby, Christmas books, her Distilled Genius book, and calendars. So fun!

You can watch a video below where she tells her story.

When you open the summer book, you will feel like you are stepping into the summer of your dreams. It just oozes summer sunshine and the vibe of idyllic carefree days. You will find recipes for yummy summer foods, from appetizers to salad dressings, side dishes, to drinks, main dishes, and desserts. You will learn how to make the perfect picnic sandwich and the perfect cheeseburger. Some examples of some of the recipes: Potato Fish Cakes, Three Layer Coconut Cake with Lemon Filling, and Salad Nicoise. Along the way, turning the pages, you will see suggestions for summer activities: an old-fashioned picnic, a tea party, how to draw, how to garden, how to have great lighting for your summer evening parties. I just wish it had menu ideas and family traditions suggested for Independence Day. Interspersed with all of that are memories of her childhood summers, and lots of quotes full of wisdom. I highly recommend it! Even if you never use any of the recipes, you will just love reading it! Reading her books is one of the ways I dazzle myself, to “romance my heart,” as Ramona Zabriskie of Wife for Life talks about. I hope you enjoy it! Put it on your “thrifting wish list” or get it new from Susan’s shop. You will just adore it! Here’s a brief video review below.

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The Dynamics of Marriage and Prayer and More About the Savior’s Parables

My firstborn, a son, got married last Saturday! Now I can say I have three married children, my three oldest: two sons and a daughter. We traveled to Texas to witness the wedding. It all seems so surreal. I have prayed for this day for years and it finally happened! So I definitely have weddings, marriage and romance on my brain. I blogged about weddings last week here and I’m blogging about marriage again today. (If any of you read that blog post I just referenced, and are wondering what the send-off to the honeymoon involved for my son’s wedding, here is the answer: ribbon and paper streamers.)

It took us two days to drive to TX, then we spent two days there visiting (including the Alamo) and attending the wedding. After the big day, we drove back home over two days, after attending church services on Sunday morning. What a whirlwind trip! My husband showed me some little courtesies on the trip that I thoroughly enjoyed as a touch of romance. Here are some of them: he put my suitcase on the only suitcase rack in the motel room instead of his, he got some earphones situated on my head so I could hear a video on my phone while I was driving, he read aloud trivia questions for me to answer while I drove, and when we pulled up to our motel room to stay on the last night of the trip, it was raining cats and dogs. He let me out under the canopy connected to the motel entrance, so I didn’t have to get wet while he drove the car over by the room and walked through the rain. I looked for ways to show him courtesies too like filling up his water bottle at the gas station when I filled up mine. It’s been 31 years of marriage for us, with a ton of mistakes. Neither of us is perfect. I hope we have been good examples to each of our children of working to make marriage work, including communication, showing affection and appreciation, going on dates, and apologizing and forgiving. My firstborn has been out of the nest for years but hopefully those memories are in his brain as well. It was wonderful to see my son so happy with his new bride. I pray that he will continue to show her romance and courtesies for all their married life together.

I love that Rhonda and Farrell Pickeing address marriage in this video below about some of the recent scriptures covered in the Come Follow Christ study guide of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They also talk about prayer and the parable of the laborers in the vineyard.

Want to read more about marriage?

-go here for what President Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, recently said about marriage

-go here for my top 12 tips for staying married, which I wrote after I had been married 30 years

-go here for instructions for a DIY Marriage Retreat

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An Apostle and His Wife Speak Out About Marriage, Family and Gender Issues

I’ve had marriage and weddings on my mind lately. I’ve attended two wedding receptions this past month (the latest one pictured above), and I’m attending my firstborn’s wedding this coming Saturday. One wedding send-off involved sparklers, this one above involved blowing bubbles, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this weekend.

Photo Credit:

Why is marriage so important? President Dallin H. Oaks, an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, pictured above, answered that question last night in a worldwide devotional broadcast to young adults. Watch below. It’s all soooo good! Look at the photo of them above, eating dinner. Aren’t they so adorable? Sister Oaks speaks from experience of being a single, longing to be married. She married for the first time at age 53, when she married President Oaks.

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5/18/23 Tree of Life Mama’s Picture Book of the Week: The Tower of Life by Chana Stiefel and Illustrated by Susan Gal

This is such a beautiful book! It is a true story, based on the life of Yaffa Eliach. Yaffa was born and raised in a small Jewish village in Poland. She had a wholesome, innocent life as she and her village firends played in the woods, swiming and chasing each other in the summer and skating and sledding in the winter. As she grew, she happily helped her Grandmother Alte photograph the village people. Her grandmother had a camera which was somewhat of a rarity back then. Brides, bar mitzvah boys, and babies all showed up to have their photos taken at Grandma’s studio. People sent their photos to loved ones to share their happy faces. This idyllic life, however, ended abruptly. When she was 11, Yaffa’s family had to leave because the Nazi German army invaded their little town. In an instant 2300 were killed. The others fled for their lives. Decades later, Yaffa made it her life’s work to make sure these people who were killed or scattered by the war were not forgotten by finding all the photographs she could of them. Yaffa honored the memories of these people by creating a tower of photos for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to be a permanent exhibit.

I love that the book includes the real photos of some of the people from Yaffa’s village. The lovely illustrations by Susan Gal add just the right emotional touch to the story. The end of the book has a vertical orientation of a two-page-spread to show the Tower of Faces that Yaffa created at the museum. For those children who already know about the Holocaust, this is a great picture book to add to their knowledge. For those who don’t know anything about it, this is a great way to introduce the difficult-to-understand subject. Because of the subject, it’s for children at least age 7.

Below is a video of the author introducing the book. This book was published in 2022 and it has already won several awards, as you can see when you visit the author at her website here. It has a teacher’s guide with discussion questions and activities based on the book.

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5/12/21 Tree of Life Mama’s Game of the Week: Paperback by Time Fowers

My game of the week is Paperback by Tim Fowers, illustrated by Ryan Goldsberry. I saw this in a Tucson board game shop years ago and immediately felt attracted to it. I asked for it as a birthday gift and finally played it recently. I love it! If you like word games, like Boggle, Scrabble, or Bananagrams, you will most likely love it too! It combines spelling with card-drafting and deck-building.

In the game, you are pretending to be an author, Paige Turner (get it? LOL!) who is writing words for her novel. You “write” the words by using letters on cards. You gradually have to make bigger words and then you get more points to buy more letters. Special effects for certain cards and a special power for each player as an author spice the game up. If you make a word that fits the theme of the game you get extra points. The winner is the one with the most points.

Watch over here to learn how it works and hear Tom Vasel’s review. Spoiler: he says it’s a great game that he loves!

Then over here you can watch about the sequel, called Hardback. Warning, it can feel overwhelming at first when you unbox this game and take out all the cards. Watch Tom’s video above to give you a basic idea of how to play and push through the learning curve, you will enjoy it, I promise! It’s for ages 10 and up, although some precocious 8-9 year olds may enjoy it. I give Paperback 5 out of 5 stars! You can get it here.

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Celebrate Mothers by Learning About the Mothers in Your Family Tree

Above and Below Photo Credit:

Happy Mother’s Day! I got an early Mother’s Day gift two weeks ago when my son and his wife followed me walking into my home right after my church services. I knew they were coming from Texas so that he could graduate from UVU but I thought they would arrive on Monday, the following day. What a nice surprise! We had a delightful time together celebrating for over a week. Brandon Sanderson was they keynote speaker at the commencement. How positively Providential as Marilla of Green Gables would say. My son loves Brandon Sanderson so that was perfect! Actually three of my sons and one of my daughters love all his stuff. We enjoyed his speech. It was wonderful to attend the Saratoga Spring Temple open house with my son and his wife, attend the Provo Temple to do proxy baptisms with them, and play board games with them in the middle of the day. We will miss them! They left yesterday to go back to their home in Texas after dropping some flowers off for me for an early Mother’s Day gift.

Familysearch is celebrating mothers and Mother’s Day this month of May with lots of video classes about finding mothers in your family tree. I was thrilled to find a class by Dr. Astrid Tuminez, president of UVU. I got to hear her speak at the UVU commencement exercises over a week ago. She gave a delightful speech involving her own motherhood experience, after introducing her daughter, who was graduating that night, along with my son. You can see her in the photo above, in the middle. Over here you can watch a speech she gave at BYU last year about her journey of faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Also, you can watch her Familysearch presentation, called “Women Warriors,” over here.

Some of theses classes about women/mothers in genealogy are already available to watch, from previous years of RootsTech. Others will be available starting May 23. Go here and scroll down to watch the ones already available, and then on Tuesday May 23, you watch the ones that will launch on that day.

Mothers a source of infinite strength, when they are connected to Jesus. It’s amazing to think of how we each have so many mothers in our family trees. As we learn their stories, we can gain more strength and knowledge to enjoy the journey of life.

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Our Spring Morning Basket for May 2023

Here’s what we’ve been doing for our spring Morning Basket Time. Morning Basket Time is basically homeschooling time when I share with my youngest what I believe is good, true, and beautiful. My next youngest has been excused from MBT to do her own scholarly work. So it’s just the 13 year-old and me. He’s not quite ready to spend all day studying on his own, and until he is, I’m milking my time with him as long as I can. I will be so sad when I don’t have any one left to do Morning Basket with! Maybe I can start doing it with grandchildren!

You can read about my Christmas MB over here and my Winter MB over here. I’m sad I didn’t blog about my Easter MB in time. I’ll have to share that next spring before Easter.

I’m pleased to report that we finished the Tuttle Twins American History textbook. We are still doing some of the same things as for our Winter MB such as these (pictures are in the Winter MB post):

-a picture book involving spring, gardening, or a historical person, to start MB out

-The Signers book, a bio a day

-The Mad Science book, an experiment a day

-The Action Bible

-another picture book involving the above

That all takes place in the living room, being cozy on the couch with blankets and pillows. It’s still a little cold around here, even though it’s spring. If, however, we are running late for whatever reason, I will read aloud to him as he unloads the dishwasher, one of his stewardships, or gets himself breakfast. (He is picky and doesn’t like what I fix him for breakfast.) I must also admit that half of the time I fall asleep during Morning Basket and take a 15 minute to 1 hour nap. Then my son will go do his math or other work while I’m napping. After I wake up I finish the slate of my MB read alouds.

Then we move to the table to do a board game. Some of my favorites we’ve played lately are shown below.

Here’s what I’ve added for spring:

-I like to alternate an experiment from Thomas Gray’s Mad Science book with a section from the Universal Model Summary book. You can read about the UM over here.

I have the expanded Vol. 1 of the UM. We read from it a few years ago and will return to it after reading the summary above.

-a section from this spring homesteading treasury. We did the winter one and it was so fun! I don’t actually do the crafts or recipes. I just like reading about them and exposing my son to the possibilities. I can see that my married daughter would have loved doing everything in this book if I was reading this to her 15 years ago.

-The Prisoners of Geography map book, adapted from the book by the same author for adults. We do a 2-page spread a day. This is so fascinating!

-I’m also alternating a bio from The Signers with a few pages from this book about the U.S. Constitution. My son got this book from his Key of Liberty class. I find it helpful in explaining the Constitution, almost clause by clause. He wasn’t reading it on his own so I’m reading it with him.

Alas, I still haven’t reinstituted poetry reading into my Morning Basket time like I used to do when I lived in AZ or drawing time. I will definitely be adding those in.

I just love having a Morning Basket. It’s a lovely way to start the day, by being reminded of things in our world that are good, true, and beautiful.

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Homeschooling Moms Aren’t More Patient Than Other Moms

I love this video above! Like Pam who appears in the video, I’ve been told many times that I must have a lot of patience to homeschool. Well guess what? Most moms, whatever the amount of patience they have, can homeschool. It takes desire and a willingness to be flexible. Patience is not the most important factor that determines whether or not you can homeschool.

Here’s what Pam says (copied and pasted from her YouTube show notes):

“As a homeschool mom, I’ve heard countless times that I must have superhuman patience to make it work. But the truth is, I struggle with patience just like any other mom out there. In this video, I share some of my personal tips for homeschooling moms who feel like they don’t have enough patience. I talk about the importance of taking breaks, finding support, and creating a flexible schedule that works for you and your family. I know how challenging homeschooling can be, and I want to help you navigate those challenging moments more easily and joyfully. Whether you’re a seasoned homeschooler or just starting, this video has something for everyone.

Put Your Homeschool Year on Autopilot

Free homeschool community:

Hey, follow me here!

** NOTE: There might be affiliate links in this video or description. **”

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Thrifting Treasures of the Past School Year Including Cardigan Sweaters!

I haven’t blogged about thrifting for over 6 months. It’s been since the end of last summer! So I’m doing it today. Thrifting brings me such joy, and talking about thrifting brings me even more joy so here goes!

So these are photos of MOST of my finds from the past school year.

Above you’ll see my current favorite cardigan, a blue-green one, perfect for spring! It goes with so many of my floral and striped tops. I also love, love, love the green gingham checked shirt. I now have a gingham checked shirt in one of each of these colors: peach, red, teal blue, and lime green. The book at the top with the little boy holding a camera is a book about family traditions by Kimberly Bytheway, John Bytheway’s wife, and her mom. I’ve been collecting books about family traditions so this is a welcome addition to my collection.

I’ve also started collecting some Little Golden Books after getting some for a friend for her birthday when I found out she collects them. I prefer to get the old-fashioned ones, not the ones involving licensed characters, unless it’s Paw Patrol, which I will get just for my two grandsons. The Little Golden Book above is a 3-in-1 book with three of the LGB classics. More books for me to read aloud to my grandchildren when they visit. My mom has a huge Little Golden Books Collection which I hope to inherit someday. She amassed most of it during her years as a kindergarten teacher.

I read in one of Sally Clarkson’s books, either The Life Giving Home or the Life Giving Table, that she recommends any cookbook by Susan Branch. So far I have found two while thrifting. These are charming! The author does all the lettering and the illustrations for the recipes herself. I got these more for the vibes than to use the actual recipes. I will definitely have to adapt them to be sugar-free or low-carb.

I found the above books on a special birthday trip for myself last fall. I had found the Great American Bathroom Book years ago but after we moved to AZ it somehow disappeared. It’s a great book because it has one page summaries of several classic books. I know you can find summaries online these days but it’s great to have them in book form. The Melodie Webb one is another family traditions book. Yay!

I just love the three sweaters I found above. Polka dots and stripes! Plus I found some games for the 6-7 year old class I taught for the past school year, another book about family traditions, and a People’s Almanac. It’s kind of hard to see but it’s in the far right. Here’s a description of it over at wikipedia. I’m nerdy that way in gathering trivia, so this book is right up my alley. I also totally scored with the Feelings Buried Alive and another trivia-filled book of lists.

Since I’ve been keto/low-carb for awhile I love that I found Danielle Walker‘s Against All Grain cookbook. What a find! It pairs with her other book above.

I had also been wanting to find a Bob Ross-themed board game, Happy Little Accidents. I had given my mom another Bob Ross-themed board game for her birthday and was excited to get a different one for me. We played it right away and I was disappointed in the game mechanics, so I’ve tweaked it to make it into a better board game.

More board games! I’ve been wanting the Continent Race for a long time.

The book below with the title, A Book That Takes its Time, has beautiful notecards and little die-cut figures of flowers and such. It was hardly written in. It’s a combination journal/therapy/advice book. I’m going to cut up the beautifully decorated pages for recovering a cardboard box I have with a hinged lid. I’ll glue the decorations on and make it into a pretty storage box.

To the left of that book is an empty journal with a picture of the Savior on the cover, and an empty journal below it, in one of my favorite colors. I’m a big journal writer so these are perfect! Then the floral top in the center immediately spoke to me. I wear it with so many different sweaters: coral, hot pink, light pink, aqua blue, and green.

I was thrilled to find the two books above by some of my favorite Come Follow Christ vloggers, David Butler and Emily Belle Freeman.

I love finding pretty cards and notebooks. I found these black and white notecards for only $1! I use them as cards to go with gifts to female family members and friends. I love the Bible verses! The recipients can use them as bookmarks. I know I would if I were given one.

The Signers book pictured above I first discovered in a Chinaberry catalog. Because of Amazon, Chinaberry no longer exists. It was a delightful company that sold children’s books and products to enhance a warming of the hearth and home-based culture. Any day when the Chinaberry catalog arrived in my mailbox was the beginning of a visual and mental feast. For weeks after, I pored over the product descriptions in the catalog during any break from mom duty I could squeeze out, usually after all the kids were in bed. For years I have checked The Signers book out from the public library to read aloud every summer in the month before Independence Day, as it has a short biographical blurb for every signer of the Declaration of Independence. I’m thrilled I have my own copy now! We’ve been reading a bio a day during our Morning Basket time.

Then the GeoCards and Malarky cards are fun to use during mealtime. I saw the Malarky game at one thrift store. After looking it over, I thought, I don’t want the game, I just want the cards. So I didn’t buy it. Then an hour later, at a different thrift store, I found just the cards, so I bought them for $1. Perfect! Elementals is a chemistry-themed card game. The Fun Bible Facts I keep in the living room and occasionally toss out after our family scripture study or before or after nightly family prayer. Loaded Questions is a fun “getting to know you” board game, which I always love, and the World History Notebook again tickles my love of history and trivia. Plus a cozy teal blue cardigan sweater!

The backdrop in the photo above and below is a darling blanket I found thanks to my recently returned missionary son. He found it for me at Savers and mentioned it reminded him of another picnic blanket we had that has gone missing. So I’m replacing the missing one with this one. I still have hopes of finding the old one though, since it’s much bigger.

I have a small collection of Fandex cards: cats, US presidents, flowers, and trees. So I jumped at the chance to get the Explores deck, shown above.

My married son used to really be into the Art of Manliness podcast. I happened upon the book by the same name, as seen below. So I snatched up the book. I’m thinking I’ll use it with my 13 year old son, either giving it to him for his birthday this summer, or reading a few pages a day for our Morning Basket.

The Gifts of Christmas book will go with the tradition I’ve had for years of inviting each family member to ponder and write down a gift to give to Christ for the coming year on New Year’s Eve. Then we put it in an envelope and I put it in my stocking to be stored away. Then on New Year’s Eve I pull them out and let each person review what they wrote and write a new gift. Now I can read aloud this book to give family members ideas of what to give.

I am a sucker for getting books and games involving maps, so I got the On Assignment National Geographic game for gameschooling. I also love TriBond. I also love finding jr. versions of many board games, (see Backseat Drawing Jr. at the top of the post) hence I was happy to find TriBond for Kids. The TriBond for Kids deck of cards I will probably keep by the dining room table for mealtime pop quizzes, with my other trivia card decks, and dispense with the game mechanics. I checked Boardgamegeek to see what “Rate It” was rated before I bought it. I’ve made it a rule to only buy games that score at least 6 out of 10 or have a review of approval (either text or video) from Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower. In the video below he says that he likes the game, so I got it. It sounds like it will be a fun getting-to-know-you game for when all my family is in town.

When I was in jr. high and high school I read all of the James Herriot books. I absolutely adored those books! So I loved finding an illustrated book about his stories. I’m going to give this to my DH for Father’s Day. He never reads my blog so he won’t know. Shh, don’t tell!

I’m also going to give him the travel guide book below. We both love maps and sightseeing!

I’m always on the lookout for unusual tabletop games. This one below, called Spinergy, is a fun one to stir creative writing juices. Even though it rates at 5.7 on BGG, Tom Vasel approves it here so I snagged it. We played it today for gameschooling. I can see it would be really fun with a group of people who love to write. Tom says it’s one of the best underrated party games. In the game, you see who can be the best author after being given three random words (generated by the spinner shown below) and a random scenario, printed on a card.

Then I got this book on romance to give my husband some clues about what to do when I want him to plan date night.

Image Credit:

Last but not least, I got the tome below. Lots of juicy stuff inside this one! I’m pleased that RFK Jr. is willing to stick his neck out on this issue!

That’s all for now! I’d love to see or hear about your thrifting deals below in the comments!

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A Christian Perspective on Magic In Fiction, Including Harry Potter

For years I’ve wrestled with what to do about Harry Potter. Almost everyone was raving about the HP series when I was a young mom with three little children. Yet, the books talk about witches and wizards. Not just talk about them, but glorify them. Does this make the books bad? After all, the Bible says that sorcery (which I put witchcraft under) is evil. I felt like I couldn’t make a final decision about the series until I read them and saw for myself what the books say, but I had so many other books I wanted to read. To this day, I haven’t read them. My sisters told me the books are great and totally worth reading. Until I read them, I didn’t want my kids reading them. So I forbade them from my home. At the risk of being viewed as a horrible mom who left my children out of the loop of popular culture, I didn’t let them watch the movies based on the books in my home. At least one of them (maybe more, who knows?) sneaked them into my home from the public library and read them secretively in a bedroom. My older kids watched the movies and read the books after leaving my nest.

Yet, I realized that C.S. Lewis uses a witch in his Narnia book. That doesn’t make the book evil. Shakespeare uses witches in Macbeth. I heard this BYU speech about the gospel truths found in Harry Potter and put the issue on a shelf in my brain, to percolate until the right time when I could understand it.

I finally found a source to give me a Christian perspective on the series. Yes! I am so grateful for the people over at the Literary Lives podcast for talking about this!

You can listen to it too. Because of this podcast, I realize I have been wrong this whole time. I’d love to hear your comments.

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