When I was in my pre-teen years I had a long bout with the flu, and begged my mother to go to the library and get me something...anything...to read. My mother was not particularly literary, so I was very intrigued when she came home with a green faded book that she told me she had loved and read when she was my age. I savored the book because it was such a refreshing contrast to the junk-food I was used to reading as an unguided teenager. Sadly, the book went back to the library and I spent the next twenty years trying to remember its title.
I would go into bookstores and tell the staff what I remembered of the storyline. I would say "It is about a girl who lives really far away from school and has a lunch pail with a custard cup." They would pat me on the shoulder and say some patronizing thing and then try to steer me to the latest best seller. This went on for years. One day I was sitting and reading an Edith Schaeffer book and she began to talk about her favorite authors and books. She mentioned a book called A Girl of the Limberlost. I jumped out of my chair, calling to my husband that I would be right back and drove manically to the local children's bookstore. They had the book and I returned home gleefully rejoicing (like a twin that was reunited with his brother from whom he was separated at birth!).
My love affair with Gene Stratton-Porter books resumed where it had left off. Several years later John and I were out to dinner with a business associate of his and his wife. The men were discussing business, but we women were discussing books. I told her that A Girl of the Limberlost was among my favorite books. She then asked "Well, have you ever read Freckles? It is even better!" I tried to be polite but inside I was gritting my teeth. How could anything be better than A Girl of the Limberlost? Several years later I finally got my hands on a copy of Freckles, and wouldn't you know it...she was right. The best part about Freckles was that it starred a young man. If you have been around literature much you know that there are tons of great books for girls but very few for young men. After reading Freckles I began to search her novels out every way I could. I came upon what I consider to be her masterpiece Keeper of the Bees. It stars a wounded WWI veteran named Jamie McFarland who has rarely been surpassed in literature in terms of character and integrity. As a very successful stock broker told me after reading this book, "I want to be like Jamie when I grow up." The stock broker ordered a case of these books for Christmas, one for each of the men in his firm. These are characters building books without the sermonettes.
When our son was about to graduate high school I realized he had never read Keeper of the Bees. I felt the Holy Spirit's nudge that this was a book he could not leave home without reading. When I told him God wanted him to read this book he took me seriously and did so. After he finished reading, at the ripe old age of 17, he said "You were right mom, thank you." And then he wanted to be alone to go think about its impact. It is just that kind of book.
As the years progressed I read Laddie: A True Blue Story. I discovered it was the retelling of Gene Stratton-Porter's childhood. Porter was born Geneva Grace Stratton but lived in an era when female authors were unacceptable. Geneva was raised on a farm in Indiana, the youngest of twelve children (born in 1863). She was raised in a very godly home. Her father told her mother that she should be allowed to run as free as a little lamb. She fell in love with nature as a child. All of her books, in addition to being the personification of character building, are richly steeped in the glories of creation.
She grew up to be called the "Bird Woman of Indiana." Her love and interest in all the things of nature radically set her apart from the Victorian corseted women of her era. She was known to tramp through the swamps of Indiana, dressed in rubber wader with her camera and tripod to photograph unusual specimens. Her passion for birds and butterflies will be translated painlessly to anyone who is exposed to her beautiful writing.
These are the best character building books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. While learning more about God's creation than you ever could in a science class, her heroes and heroines just cannot help but make their imprint on your life. So, read them aloud or quietly to yourself. Savor them over and over again, and don't let your children leave home without reading them!