Category Archives: history

Inspiration and Generations: 17 Books for Asian-American & Pacific Islander Month

The books below came to me initially because of their relation to East, South, and Southeast Asia or the Middle East. As I read, images recurred: accomplished individuals, resourceful kids, legends and traditions. But by far the most common—and somewhat unexpected—was grandparents.

On reflection I realized the theme is a natural one. While parents are often consumed with utilitarian tasks aimed at keeping us alive, grandparents are an intimate link to the long flow of ancestry and heritage that contributes to our identity.

Ancestry is, of course, only one of many such streams. Genetics and personal experience, world events and the swirling currents of majority culture shape our preferences and perspectives.

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What History Is Made Of

We all make history every day, whether we are the fundamental elements that make up the swift-flowing stream or the droplets that leap out and sparkle in the sunlight. In reflecting on what the women below possessed in common, one answer that turned up was, Not much. Many (but not all) worked hard to develop an exceptional gift in art, science, or sports. Others pursued a consuming interest. Several campaigned for a vision they believed in. For a few, birth and family situation positioned them for leadership. Early observers of others, by contrast, may have tagged them as unlikely to succeed. At least one of the women here simply rose to meet the need of the moment.

All of these women experienced many ordinary days. Maria Toorpakai spent three years hitting a squash ball against the walls of her bedroom. Lilias Trotter rode camels across the North African desert for days at a time (and relished the quiet).

We may not all be champion athletes or talented artists. Our lives may be full of mundanity. But we can all make a difference. I hope these history makers will challenge us and our daughters and sons to take stock of our gifts and circumstances. How might we be positioned to make a difference in our current situation? And what can we work toward for the future?

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Fantastic Fantasists

In some previous stage of my theological thinking, I conceived of the spiritual realm as an arena essentially separate from the materiality of daily life. More recently, influenced by the writings of N.T. Wright among others, I have come to realize the significance of the existing Creation as part of God’s eternal grand design.

The new creation, Wright stresses, is not something that is “up there” or “out there.” It commenced here on Earth with Christ’s resurrection and will be fulfilled, here on Earth, at his return. The kingdom of heaven is not so much “other” as “more”—an unseen that includes and extends beyond observable reality.

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Books for Black History Month, pt. 2

You can read Part I of this series on the Story Warren website or the BirdsBooks blog.


Stories of those who have suffered injustice and resolved to reverse it inspire awe and admiration. Likewise worthy of respect are those who create profound art from sorrow and loss. In his treatise Art and Faith, painter Makoto Fujimura references artists who draw upon their own suffering to create works of deep significance.

Some of the historical individuals below were literal artists—painters, potters, musicians. Others created by shaping society, moving us toward a more just world. Still others left behind words from which authors and artists have crafted their own works of beauty and significance.

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Harriett Tubman’s Beautiful Mind

Moses: When Harriett Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weartherford, ill. Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006, 48pp, ages 4-8)

Weatherford’s picture book bio ranks alongside So Tall Within (Gary D. Schmidt, ill. Daniel Mintner, Roaring Brook, 2018) as one of my favorites for Black History Month. It might even be an all-time pick for outstanding children’s biography.

Weatherford pays tribute not just to the indomitable Tubman (c.1822-1913) but to her unquenchable faith. Tubman’s ongoing dialogue with God punctuates and often provides the vehicle for the narrative. Nelson’s paintings, rich with color and form, pair perfectly with spare poetic text, uniting action and emotion.

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Architects: Creating Natural Space

Cities, generally characterized by massive buildings and busy streets, are often conceived of as the antithesis of nature. But when I first began reading about architects and their work, I was struck by how frequently the theme of harmony with nature arose. Many if not all of the titles below describe how the featured architects drew inspiration from the natural world and sought to emulate it in their designs.

On reflection, it makes sense that artists whose work is built on the natural laws of physics would be firmly grounded in the study of nature. The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) avowed, “Man does not create … he discovers.” He went on to say that creators “collaborate” with the Creator—the one who originated the laws of nature.

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Mrs. Porter Calling, by A.J. Pearce

This third installment of the Emmy Lake Chronicles is a delightful choice for the long evenings and short, cloudy days of winter.

It’s 1943 London, and Emmy’s new husband is away fighting fascists offstage. The Blitz, fore-fronted in Dear Mrs. Bird, is now in the background. But enough bombings are still taking place to precipitate a tragedy among Emmy’s closest comrades. In its aftermath, Emmy, her neighbors, and we as readers wrestle with the fallout of war.

But as usual, Woman’s Friend has other causes to rally round as well. This time the staff must save save their beloved publication from the devastating “improvements” designed by its new owner, Mrs. Porter.

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I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith

I Capture the Castle (1948) came to my attention as a novel recommended for aspiring writers. The Austenesque plot features a quirky, down-on-their-luck British family in the 1930s. A thwarted novelist father languishes at the helm while the oldest daughter pursues a loveless marriage to save the family fortunes. Her intended is the wealthy young heir of a nearby estate.

The heir has recently returned from America with his brother, who is enamored with the American West. Thus the narrative straddles not only the 19th and 20th centuries but the Atlantic Ocean, flanked by British venerability on one side and American innovation on the other.

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Compelling Historical Fiction: The Henna Artist, by Alka Joshi

It’s difficult to enumerate the many ways in which this historical novel impressed and delighted me. To begin with the most fundamental of fiction requisites, Joshi excels in conjuring the sights, sounds, scents, and savors of mid-twentieth century India. Descriptions of aromas (geranium, thyme, frangipani, jasmine, peppermint) and concoctions (pakoras, chapattis, masala, pilau, and lassis) grace the page and tantalize the reader. Having traveled in both North and South India on various occasions, such sensory details inevitably evoke familiar and fond associations.

But unfamiliarity with the subcontinent and its history won’t put readers at a disadvantage. Joshi deftly slips in bits of culture and history, intuitively sensing where explanation is required and avoiding excess. Readers are neither left in the dark nor overwhelmed with information. Nor does Joshi indulge in gratuitous detail. Personal narratives intertwine with the broad sweep of history; everything serves a purpose.

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The Major and the Missionary: The Letters of Warren Hamilton Lewis and Blanche Biggs, edited by Diana Pavlac Glyer

As an inveterate letter writer (my e-mails all too often turn into epistles), I greeted the prospect of this collection from the Rabbit Room Press with great excitement. Not least because it promised a better acquaintance with the elder brother usually portrayed as living in C.S. Lewis’s long shadow.

And indeed, I did learn a great deal about the Major, who also served in WWI. For one, Warren Lewis was an author in his own rite having written a series of books on 17th-century France. An admittedly narrow niche, but Biggs, confessing she had expected to find the subject dry, wrote that Lewis’s treatment proved “excellent reading.”

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