We are kicking off the new season of the Your Morning Basket podcast with a conversation about story. And there is no one better equipped to talk to us about a good story and the impact it can have on our kids than master-storyteller S.D. Smith.
Author of the enthralling Green Ember series of books, Sam is here today to chat with us about what makes a good story and how these tales shape our kids. Pulling from his own childhood and what stories have meant to him, this is an episode you won’t want to miss.
Pam: This is your morning basket, where we help you bring truth, goodness, and beauty to your homeschool day. Hi everyone. And welcome to episode 45 of the, your morning basket podcast. I’m Pam Barnhill, your host, and I’m so happy that you’re joining me here today. As we kick off a new season of the podcast, we’re really excited to have author SD Smith of green Ember fame with us today on the show, we’re going to be talking about the importance of story, what makes a good story and how stories work to form and shape us throughout our entire lives. So we’ll get on with that interview right after this word from our. This episode of the, your morning basket podcast is brought to you by Maestro classics. Would you like to bring classical music into your children’s lives?
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Pam at checkout, go to www.maestroclassics.com. That’s Maestro spelled in a E S T R O classics.com where the best classical music curriculum awaits your homeschool. And now on with the podcast, SD Smith lives with his wife, Gina and their four children in his native West Virginia. He is the author of fan favorites, the green Ember, and it CQL Amber falls as well as the black star of Kingston and a brand new adventure.
The last Archer, a green Ember story. He is also a co-founder of story Warren, which strives to help parents foster Holy imagination in the children. They love Sam stories, plant seeds of truth, beauty and goodness in the hearts of readers, young and old. And he joins us on the podcast to chat about how the stories we read in morning time can mold and shape our families.
Sam, welcome to the program. Thank you, Pam is wonderful to be here with you today. I started to say this morning, but it’s not talking about morning time, but it’s not necessarily, it could be any nondescript time right now. That’s right. It could be any nondescript time and it just happens to be the afternoon. Well, we’re so excited to have you.
We love the green Ember and those stories. And so it’s a lot of fun to get to chat with you about stories. And I know that I’ve listened to you. I’ve had the great honor to sit and listen to you, tell stories before, and you’re a fabulous storyteller, but let’s think back to some of your earliest memories of stories, how have they shaped your life Stories did help shape me pretty early on.
I think that it’s funny, it’s sort of in a non-traditional way. Like I think a lot of homeschooling families and my family certainly like this, like the kids are just all into stories and they’re reading all the time and some slower than others, you know, we’ve had a couple of kids that were just like insanely fast and speaking big words at super young ages and,
you know, blowing away the people at grocery stores who were worried about their socialization with their massive words, but we’ve had others that have been kind of slow to read. But my kid, my family is definitely right now, very shaped by the stories, the storytelling and reading independent and collectively. But for me, when I grew up, I’m 40 years old.
And when I grew up in a very small rural area of Appalachia, I guess it’s pretty, pretty much all rural, but it was especially rural. And I lived in a holler. We call it a holler. Not even that we weren’t even, so, you know, sophisticated enough to say hollow, we’d call it a holler. And that my dad said,
we live so far back in the woods that no one lived behind us. And that was actually a cool sparked my imagination because early on, I was like, is that possible? How does no one live behind us? That’s amazing. And I just wanted to go back and see if there was anybody back there, but I never did see anyone else.
So it could be true, but I didn’t read as a, as a young young girl, I didn’t see a lot of males on a boys. I was in school with or peers that were really readers. And so that was something that, that a lot of girls did, but I, so, but I always had this sort of, I don’t know if there’s a love hate,
but I had this complicated relationship with storytelling. My mom would. So I never had sort of like a lot of desire to go read myself when I was really little, but my mom would read to us. She read the Chronicles of Narnia and I know it’s cliche, but I don’t care. It’s amazing, amazing stuff. And I love it today.
As much as I did then as a little boy sitting in the basement of a half-built log cabin that my father never finished building before he went to the mission field and listening to these stories of Atlanta and Lucy, and then the rest of the pendency kids. And so those stories has really shaped my imagination and forming we, one thing that was really great about the,
where we lived was we lived, we did live back in a holler, a hollow between mountains, a lot of mountains in West Virginia. We are the mountain state and we just, we had a lot of Hills and woods and caves and that kind of stuff. So I’ve played all the time. So I had this sort of scope for my imagination was really,
really powerful in the stories that I did get. We just, we would live them out, playing in the Hills around our home. And so I was really, really shaped by the Chronicles of Narnia and the box car children and Lassie, and then even, you know, things that we see visually like star Wars and star Trek and that kind of thing also had a sort of a big impact on me really early on.
It was very, very powerful for me to, you know, maybe as powerful or more powerful than, than any other influence where the stories that are heard as a child. Well, you mentioned the mission field when you guys were, I know you spent some time with your family in Africa when you guys were there. What were you, did you experience any storytelling over there?
Because I know that those cultures over there have a long tradition of a long oral tradition of not so much writing down stories, but passing stories orally. Yeah, definitely. I mean, I sort of, there are so many it’s different in America. We feel really divided maybe in particular, particularly now we feel like, Oh my goodness, we’re such a divided people.
And we are, I think in some, maybe some important area ways, but the cultural, there’s an amazing cultural unity. And in the United States in a lot of ways compared to say, South Africa has 11 official languages, the country I lived in and there are far, far, far more in use, probably hundreds. So there’s, there are Zulu or COLSA there there’s SU too,
that, you know, there are in the valet, there are English there’s Afrikaans. So there are all kinds of tribes. There’s two European tribes, the English and the Afrikaners, which are kind of Dutch. And so it’s just a very diverse culture and a, they call themselves the rainbow nation and that’s, so they’ve got so many, so many cultures that have incredible storytelling,
traditions, all of them, but I was particularly taken with and where I lived was really close to the Zulu where mostly Zulu folks lived. And so we helped my father helped plant a Zulu church with, with another Zulu pastor. And so we, you know, I was out there all the time and the Mata Dany township. And so that, so that,
that, that those stories, Zulu people really got in my heart for sure. No question. And if you’ve ever read a book, you kind of understand some of the musicality that some of the beauty of the Zulu people in their story. If you read a book called a cry, the beloved country, I don’t know. Have you ever read, I don’t know if you’ve read that,
but I’ve heard of it. Yeah, yeah. You would love it. I’m sure. It’s, it’s, it’s a very, it’s a beautiful book. And so, yeah, that that’s, that definitely had a shaping influence, not so much on me, again, reading a lot of stories myself, but in, I feel like there’s, I don’t know,
I sort of fell in love. I didn’t really know what love was so to speak, but I love the Zulu people and I loved the African sky and somehow mixing that experience of being in Africa with inheritance of growing up in Appalachia in West Virginia, you know, both of which were really, really strong influences that sort of the melding of those two things probably made it probably explains why I’m so weird.
I think that’s probably a good, a good reason. Well, let’s talk about becoming a parent and how Parenthood has changed the way that you think about an experience stories. So, you know, when you were a kid, you heard these wonderful stories and you played them out in your life. So how has it changed now that you’ve become a parent?
I don’t know if you’ve had this experience too, but it feels to me like, it’s just that I’m beginning to see what was always there about the power of storytelling that I didn’t realize. I think even more so than becoming an author and writing stories myself with the story, telling the power of the storytelling moments I have with my kids. And that’s really where the whole sort of career,
if you will, has come from it’s from telling stories to my kids and then those being shared more broadly, but it started at home. And I just, I guess I just see the power more because, you know, it’s like as a parent, you know, you’re looking at your kids and you see something that’s not great, like an attitude or a habit,
and it’s very convicting, partly because of, you know, your role in shepherding and loving them. But also, you know, you see yourself and you see, Oh my goodness, Oh, that’s so annoying that habit. And it’s just like me. And so, and I guess you just sort of can see in a new way, because you’ve got this,
this, this new role of being responsible of, of, of having this stewardship. And I just believe very firmly that my family is the PIR is the first province of my stewardship in the world. And that if I fail there, then that’s more catastrophic than failing anywhere else. And I, I want to fail there last or not at all if possible,
because I just don’t want to be a good dad and I want to be a good husband and I want to do well at home and not to say perfect or anything like that. We’re far from that. But I just, I feel the, so what it feels like is it feels like I was, we were always in a war and, but I didn’t know it.
And now I know it and it feels like stories, good stories, stories that shaped the imagination, that, that spark desire for goodness and for heroic virtue, like now I just see them as this big, big artillery cash, you know, that we’ve found that all these weapons and, Oh my goodness, we’ve got stuff. We can fight this war.
And then I don’t mean to reduce it to of just battle language, but that’s just kind of a serious metaphor, I guess. And that’s how I feel about that. Being a parent, I mean, a father is that this is more intense than anything else in my life, as far as what I feel called to and what I, what I want to succeed at.
So stories just feel like good stories and good storytellers. When I read the cross was marinade to my kids. When I read, you know, other stories from, from token or from Chesterton or from, you know, from, from modern authors, like, like Jonathan Rogers or others, Sally Lloyd Jones. I just, I think of, wow, we’ve got,
that’s just more artillery coming in for the fight. So as a parent, I just feel like it’s, it feels more precious to me even just divorced from sort of my own vocation or calling as a storyteller. It just, I just see it as so valuable and, and crucial like that, that bears, there are a few other things that I feel shaped my kids’ imaginations and who they want to be like storytelling.
And then I can just, I guess I can just see it now. I just feel like I can see it. And so I want to, I want to rally the troops however I can. Yeah, you’re so right. Just the idea that we, when we have nothing else and, you know, Cindy Rollins often talks about reading stories with your kids and then getting out of the way,
not preaching, not becoming the preacher, because they’re going to tune you out. You’re going to become like Charlie Brown’s teacher or they’ll want whitewash. But if you’re reading these good stories and you’re just leaving them there, then those imaginations, those moral imaginations are going to kick in and pick up the pieces. And if you’re constantly blanketing them with these really good,
fantastic well-written stories, you know, we’re not talking about moralistic drivel or anything, but really great tales. Then that’s going to seep into who they are as people and shape them 100%. I totally agree with that talk and talked about, even from a, for a storyteller, he talked about that he didn’t tell, he talks about the origins of stories and he talked about them that the stories bubble up from the leaf mold of your mind,
then all the things that you’ve read and all the things you’ve done, all the places you’ve been, I talked about sort of that unusual combination of being an Appalachian and an African sort of having a heritage of both of those things, in a sense of what kind of that’s just produced something in me. I can’t really describe it. I mean, I don’t know what it,
I don’t know what that’s exactly produced. It’s just something that’s bubbled up. And so, yeah, I feel like it’s just a huge advantage to be able to bring great storytelling, to bear on the imagination of vulnerable, impressionable imagination of a child or an adult. But, you know, I’m not responsible for the adults around here. I’m responsible for these,
these kids. Right. Well, let’s, let’s start breaking it down a little bit and talk about compelling stories. What do you think are some ingredients for kinds of stories that we’re talking about? What do they need? I think that’s a cool question for you to ask somebody else, because I don’t know the answer. I think that’s, that’s a,
that’s a good question. So I have, you know, you mentioned Cindy Rawlings talking about Sonny Rollins, talking about sort of the over-analyzing and the dangers of that. And I I’m like totally of two minds on both of these things. I think it’s a totally agree that like, that we are hungry for mystery and for beauty and for goodness, that transcends like simple reductions of teaching,
that kind of thing. But on the other hand, like I also think teaching is awesome and like, have you, if you’ve ever met a kid, like they love things, explained to them and they ask like, why did that happen? And it’s, that’s totally awesome to me. Like, I love that. I’m totally encouraged to encourage that with my kids.
In fact, they’ve got this trick that they pull, like when it’s getting close to bedtime, they just start asking me questions about like Napoleon or the film industry or Liverpool soccer or Your kids too. Yeah. Like I just can’t make these kids go to bed because we are talking about really cool stuff here. So I think curiosity is awesome. And I think like answering questions is really good.
So I think we can overdo it on the, you know, we’re all poetry reading people with Berets who don’t live in the real world and just want to float away. And I think we were practical and I know you’re a home educator. Like you’re, that’s, you’re very proud, you know, you there’s things we, we, we just want to learn and kids are curious and that’s awesome.
So I think just evaluating stories is hard in that, that it can be, you know, I think too much, at least for me, it’s, I can’t, I’ve got to be careful about looking back and being too like clinical about thinking what elements of these stories work. So, so I’m just say that to qualify it as a really long and boring qualification or why I don’t feel entirely satisfied answering a question like what ingredients are great,
but I will, but I’ll go ahead and say that. I think there are some things that I think are that are great, but I do think there’s something in that sort of that leaf mold, that porridge, that, that is just goes beyond. I don’t know what makes, what combinations make the recipe amazing, but I can tell you that something,
some flavors that I like for me, I mean, there are some, there’s some formulaic things about storytelling that kind of everybody knows, which is, but, you know, it’s surprising how often the, you don’t see these in stories, but I think really big things are, you know, raising the stakes and that’s something everyone talks about, but there is something often that little kids,
when they’re running a story, which, you know, it’s not a big deal to, to discourage. So we don’t want to discourage kids, especially little kids, but early feedback is, well, this guy, this happened, you know, this guy went into the onion patch and he found something. And then he went over here and it’s, they’re kind of rambling and they’re not connected.
And so something that’s really helpful to say, well, what are the stakes? Like, what does the main character, what does the main character fear losing? What ha how much pain they in? How much are they? What, what are they threatened with? What are people they love threatened with? What are the stakes what’s? And so early in a book or a story you often have,
you know, you have the contract with the reader and it’s not, you don’t write in the beginning, like, Hey, I’m going to fix things at the end that may tell you what’s going to happen. But there is an unspoken and unwritten kind of contract. And that starts with what’s wrong with the world. So that the sword toward the beginning of the book to get people’s interests and to tell a good story,
you have to let them know about the stakes and what’s at stake and what can be lost and what’s wrong with the world. And I think for it to be a satisfying story, you have to answer the question that you posed. You have to follow through on the contract that you have with the reader or the listener of the story. You have to tell them,
you have to deliver on what you said you were going to do at the beginning, even though you didn’t say it. So I think raising the stakes, having something like being very clear on that contract on what’s wrong with the world is really, really important. And then I think causal connections, this is another big one. There’s a bunch, but I’ll just relate this story of how,
when I first wrote the green Ember, the beginning, you might be able to see this from my long rambling answers, but I had sort of a, more of a rambling long beginning and Zach Franzen, who, I’m pretty sure you’ve met Pam wonderful guys, illustrator for my books. Just a really bright, brilliant man, fantastic hair. One of his critiques early on was feels a little bit,
like he said, maybe you could tighten up the causal connections. Like, like if it feels a lot of times at the beginning of the story, like you’re writing this happened and then this happened and then this happened and then this happened and he said, it would be better if it was this happened because that happened. And then this happened because that happened.
And then that happened because that happened. So this causal it’s because thread running through the whole story, that feels like the difference between an, an expert or an adept storyteller versus someone who’s just kind of finding their way in a story. And it doesn’t mean it has to be really programmed, but just only thinking like that readers always kind of need a reason to keep reading.
And not that you’re treating them, you know, not that you’re doing things to try to exploit them. Actually don’t like thrillers. I don’t like books that make you that are like manipulative. You know, they’re not, they’re never giving you anything, but they ask a lot of you ask a lot of your attention, but not always give you a lot in like the heart.
And I, but I do want to try to tell stories with a quick pace and paces, that end things where you want to end a chapter where you want to keep reading the next chapter. And it’s sort of like propelling you propelling the reader forward. Those are two things paying like I can do that could probably go on, but I don’t know.
Are you asleep yet? No, I’m not asleep at all. I’m actually thinking about, you know, that was one of the things when we read the green Ember was you just played havoc with our bedtimes around here, Know, this is bad when we get To the end of the chapter and then we have to find out what happens next. You have to read one more torn that Sam Smith.
But yeah, I love that idea of having the contract with the reader and fulfilling kind of that obligation to them. And, and, but also leading them through the story and giving them a reason to continue reading. That’s great. So a lot of times moms wonder what stories should I, what book should I read with my kids? What should I pick up?
How does the Smith family decide? And obviously I think you have ins with a number of people in kind of nowhere to go with reading, but if you’re just standing in the bookstore, what makes S D Smith pick up a book and take it home to read to his kids? Hmm. Well, I think that is great. I think you probably get this too,
that not don’t feel like I have a lot of particular advantage, you know, over advantages over a lot of other people. I feel like I’m in kind of in the same boat, you know, we’re a homeschooling family, that’s busy and tired and happy and, you know, go through difficulty. And so I do I, so we’re anyway, I just say that we’re,
we’re the same way we’re standing in the bookstore or the library and our kids are reading 8,000 books a day and we’re like, what can we do next? You know, where can we go? And, and, you know, you can only read the classics so many times, but I’m probably like you and like a lot of your listeners, I go to people I trust and,
and we even started a website story, warren.com that is sort of centered around that idea of like being a resource to families who are kind of concerned the way I have talked about it is that it feels like there are two dangers that I want to be aware of and a little bit wary of. And I don’t want to be like a big fearful, you know,
reactive homeschooling. I’m scared of everything. And so I’m gonna, you know, we’re going to withdraw and huddle up in the basement. And, but also, you know, I want to protect my kids, but I want it to be a shade, you know, a shade like under a tree in a scorching on a scorching day where there’s openness and there’s life and there’s air and there’s opportunity to thrive one of my protection to be like that.
But the two things that worry me a little bit in the, or that I want to be wary of, or at least aware of, and I find some concern for is that I think on the one hand you have like a sort of a toxic, I don’t know, as a Christian, you know, as a, as a devout Christian family,
like we, you know, there are things that we don’t, we’re not, we’re not excited about our kids being exposed to that. We feel like are dangerous and exploitive and the very least inhospitable to the kids and don’t treat them as valuable and don’t treat them as made in the image of God and stuff. Cause there’s some sort of toxic stuff that’s like marketed to kids that that is just astonishing to me.
And I think, ah, we don’t want that. That’s not, that’s not great. It’s not hospitable to kids. It’s not welcoming. And then, so there’s sort of that side, which I think a lot of Christians are tuned into like being aware of that. But there’s also sort of like, you talked about it earlier, I think sort of moralistic,
reductionist, didactic drivel, or just sort of utilitarian, you know, the people that are just using a storytelling nearly as a vehicle to convey truth. And that’s nothing against truth because boy, I love truth. Truth is so powerful and so wonderful. And it’s such an anchor, but you know, I think the truth, beauty and goodness need to be sort of used in measure and in storytelling and not when it’s just truth.
And beauty is just sort of like a thin veneer to cover over that. You’re really, you just want to tell us, you just want to give a proposition, which I, again, I love proposition. I love propositional truth. That God is powerful is true. I think, and God is loving is true. And I want my kids to believe that,
but when I tell them the story of Jesus, you know, healing, Jarris his daughter, who’s dead. Then, then you get the whole thing you don’t have to, you don’t even have to say, he’s powerful that he’s loving you just see it in the story and you get it all. So I think some propositional just reduction, you know,
to, to just propositional truths can be, can Rob the truth of it’s sort of power it’s reality. So I think they’re on the, so on the one hand side, you might say the right there, there could be a problem with that sort of reductionistic. Like I’ve described it as being safe for the whole family in a dangerous way. Right?
Yeah. Right, right. Not engaging. And so in-between that goal, which may or may not be real, but just for simplistic terms, you know, in between that Gulf and think give a lot of parents are like, I don’t really want to go either way. And sometimes you go from one to the other thinking, Oh, this is just all this safe,
boring stuff. That’s a, so I’ll just go over here to the edge and just take a swim in the septic tank and it’ll be great, but that’s not, that’s not really the answer. And, you know, in reacting from, Oh my goodness, my kids are going to expose to this to just like, I’m just going to do this really simple moralistic stuff that has no heart in it.
The life that’s also dangerous. So I just feel like in between there there’s, this there’s a tension there for us as a family. And I think so. So that’s why we started part of the reason we started story warrants was to be an ally to parents who are in that situation like us who are just saying like, well, I don’t know what to do here.
And how can we help? And of course, other allies like Sarah McKinsey, you know, she’s fantastic for as a resource to read aloud revival and story Warren and you. And so we listened to all you guys and try to try to pay attention. We can’t keep up with all the readings. So I’m actually interested to hear what you say about this,
but we do our best. We read a lot ourselves a whole lot, and we sort of stretch the permissive side of the equation as children become older and demonstrate and responsibility in that kind of stuff. So that we feel a lot of good kind of pressure to be very intentional about walking beside them, along with them and helping shape them. And along the path of wisdom when they’re younger,
so that when they get a little bit older, that we can feel good about them, you know, becoming sort of like having these trial runs at being adults. So that’s our sort of our methodology is that I don’t know if there’s, I don’t know if that’s very particularly helpful Well, you know, I think you touched upon it in this conversation.
It, the community is our biggest asset as parents, the community that we have together. And, you know, so often you have to kind of poopoo Facebook or take a break from Facebook just to keep your sanity. There’s so much kind of, you know, garbage there, but also, you know, as a homeschool mom, there’s so much of my community there and it’s a great place for me to go and say,
you know, along with places like story Warren and read aloud revival, but to go and say, what can we read? Have you read this book? You know, what do you think about this one? What do you think about this author? You know, I have a boy who’s 10 and he really likes Knights and castles. What should he be reading are,
you know? And so it’s such a huge resource and I think it’s our greatest asset each other. And like-minded people we really help each other out in that. So that’s a lot of times that’s where I go and that’s what I do when I’m looking, you know, looking for something That’s so powerful. That’s so powerful. I love that. You said that because that’s,
that’s been my experience too, about a lot of this kind of stuff. And the adventure of being a storyteller even is that finding allies is such a gift. And one of the, you know, the positive sides of this sort of what can be the successful of social media and connectedness is it, Hey, we’re connected. We’ve got these wonderful connections to wonderful,
beautiful, truthful, good allies that can stand by our side. That’s thanks for saying that. That’s that’s fantastic. I’ve enjoyed interviewing you very much. My next, My next question for you. Yeah, No, my, my next question for you is let’s talk a little bit about story and ritual. I mean, so often in our families, whether we’re doing it morning,
time, or we’re doing it bedtime, we’re pairing stories with ritual. Do you see a connection between the two Let’s move on? No, absolutely. I totally do. I think that’s a, I think you’re so right to say that and yes, I think that’s powerful. So powerful. I mean the green Ember itself, that that’s what it, that’s where it came from.
It came from a habit, ritual, a relationship and bedtimes, and sort of taking a walk times. That’s where those stories came from. So I’m a 100% believer in that and you know, you and I come from a little bit different backgrounds, but I came from a very, very, very well, I don’t know, maybe we don’t not come from very,
very low church, sort of like people who are a little bit afraid of ritual, I’m afraid of the word because thinking that it always has the idea of being very empty or just like, you know, possibly false religion or that kind of thing, but just almost the whole experience of my adulthood and growing up has been like trying to re understand that as,
and seeing the unbelievable power of ritual and really just recognizing that we that’s what we are. And we’re kind of those kinds of creatures where we’re ritual creatures, where we’re hope habitual creatures, and we do the same things. And so, you know, making those things count and making them imbuing them with power, receiving them from the inheritance of our, from the various places we can receive it from not at least maybe our faith having.
So even like advent right now that the practice of Avnet for our family has been a gateway to so much light for us so much. I mean, we started that. We didn’t even know what it meant. Like what is this such a weird thing? And it’s been so many years now, our kids have grown up with this ritual that we do every night,
you know, with this cake, with the candles. And we’ve kind of written some songs and we do the certain readings and, and my daughter will read from a certain book and we’ll be saying, and we read, and it’s just, it is unbelievably powerful. And it’s something that I would have thought like, well, kids won’t like that because it’s all ritual,
but the kids love it. They absolutely love it. It’s they look forward to it, their eyes light up with the candles and the stories and the songs, the beauty and the quiet and the longing. It’s funny. It’s funny because, well, first of all, I’m going to ask you, have you read any of James K. Smith desiring the kingdom in his talk about rituals that form us?
Yes. Yes. Okay. Cause I was going to recommend that if you hadn’t For sure, but you Kids are such creatures of habit. And so you were saying, Oh, I didn’t think the kids would like that. But they, I mean, there’s nothing more OCD than a toddler. I mean, you know, they love, they love ritual.
They really, really do. And sometimes I think when Jesus talks about you have to become like the little child, maybe that something that I’m not going to get off into theology because I always get that wrong. But that might be something that he’s alluding to there is that it does the ritual does, I think really grow the faith. He doesn’t Chesterton say that too.
He says like children say, do it again, do it again. And children don’t mind that that is the wonder of repetition. Totally, totally agree with that. What do you think it did for your kids to hear those stories over and over again? Maybe that’s where I’m going. Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, absolutely profoundly powerful, maybe nothing else as powerful,
the formative power of those rituals, which are deeply connected to storytelling, particularly us seeing ourselves as characters in this everlasting story. That’s more beautiful, more good, more truthful than any story we’ll ever tell each other. And every good story echoes the, to see ourselves in that story. And that advent that did that, the, the formative rituals of childhood and families are an invitation to meaning they’re an invitation to understanding,
to wisdom and to desire, to love, to passion, to what new, to seeing yourself for who you really are to valuing yourself, but not centering on yourself or, you know, I just feel like it’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of these formative rituals, which is another reason why, you know, your emphasis on the morning time and is so powerful.
And it’s such a powerful influence because I mean, that’s just, that’s, you know, we’ve had evening rituals a lot of times in life and they’ll, they they’ve centered around, you know, studying the Bible or which is awesome. I, you know, I love the Bible. I think it’s amazing and fantastic. And now it needs my endorsement,
but you know, just that like our admin time is just is fantastic. But this morning time is just, that’s been such a point of focus for our whole family and the ritual. It’s unbelievable what they accomplish. It, it, sometimes I’m working and I’ll come inside. I’ve been working from home for a little while. I have this little office outside,
but I’ll come in to get a drink or something and I’ll hear them like reciting Shakespeare and listening to mom read, you know, we’ve got little kids now, too. So we’ve got sort of every age. So like we’re going through the Narnia books again. And so I hear listening, I hear her reading on Prince Caspian and there’ll be reciting something in Latin or whatever.
And it’s, it is, has been an, a tremendous, tremendous key for us. So I don’t know. I don’t want to say, I just think that you’re exactly right. That it’s unbelievably powerful and that we like that we’ve as gestures and talked about us sort of growing tired of repetition, that, that he talked about us that we’ve sinned and grown old and that we,
that our father is younger than us. And that in a real sense, not at anything against maturity, which the Christian faith would certainly be a lot about of becoming maturity. But I think that miniature maturity is being connected with the re-enchantment of the world and who we are. And so I, I feel like it’s profoundly powerful. Yeah. I like that.
I like that. I’m writing that down. That whole re-enchantment with the world thing, you’re giving me credit. I will make a buck somehow. It will. Yeah. I have to give you credit for re-enchantment of the world. And then, Hey, Sam Smith endorses the Bible right here on my show. I love it. Well, let’s talk a little bit about some things that can sometimes be tough with stories.
We want to give our kids clear examples of virtue. And we’ve talked about that a lot today, but a lot of times, some of the most interesting stories, some of the best stories, feature characters who struggle to do what’s right. Why is it important to read about that struggle? Yeah. And so that we often think about stories as vehicles or as maybe opportunities to inspire our kids to something bigger or better to something we see St.
George. And we say, wouldn’t, you want to be like that? And I think that is completely awesome way to talk to kids and to think about stories. I think that’s wonderful. And that’s happened for me a thousand times, maybe almost more powerful in some ways as seeing some of these negative characters, I think that’s what you’re getting at. And I want to have that even in my,
even in my heroes, that there are moments particularly with, with one of my characters picket in the, in the first book where I’ve heard. So I’ve heard so often from parents who say, Oh my goodness, that was really appropriate for us. That was really powerful for us to see what’s what’s what was happening with him. And, and to the description of him holding onto a sort of bitterness and resentment,
even when he knew in his mind that it was wrong. I think that’s a powerful thing is because it’s not always information that changes me as a morally, you know, or inspires me morally that’s because I feel like I know the right thing, but I don’t always do it. And I need more than, than information. And that goes back to our conversation about formation,
about spiritual formation, about rituals in the powers of things we do repeatedly, but I’ve got it. I got to see it. I’ve got to see it and I’ve got to inhabit it. I’ve gotta walk a mile in a man’s shoes. Who’s walking the wrong way in order to sort of appreciate, Oh my goodness. I don’t want to be that.
I am that that’s that’s happened to me a lot is, Oh, Oh, this guy’s a bad guy. Or he’s a good guy making a bad decision. And that’s just like me and just, I see myself, Oh, it’s a mirror, it’s a mirror that reflects reality. And then therefore inspires change for me. So I think it’s deeply important and powerful to have those experiences as a kid and as a reader.
Yeah. I think a lot of times we have this fear as a parent that we’re going to put a character like that out in front of our kids. And they’re going to say, Oh, look, you know, we can do wrong too. But I think so many times instead, they look at that character and they see, they can relate to having those feelings because they’re fallen and they’ve had those feelings before themselves.
And then they, they see how it all turns out for that character and can make that connection between this was not the right feeling to have. This was, you know, they’re not trying to emulate, but they’re certainly identifying and having empathy with that character and understanding, Hey, this person’s like me. And now I can see that it’s, you know,
cause picket was never satisfied with his feelings there. He was, he was grumpy, You know, he Was never, he never felt good about what, you know, these feelings that he was having and what was going on. And I think the kids could feel that too could feel that frustration. I hope so. I think, I think that’s exactly right.
And I, you know, and this kind of goes back to sort of having storytellers and, and books adventures that we can, that we can trust that come from a good place, because I don’t know about you, but I feel like a lot of the like TV and movies that I grew up receiving, you know, that, that the, that the storytellers were often positioning people who are deeply rebellious and very selfish as central characters and as a,
as like a really good path to follow. And I feel like that’s such a, again, I, the opposite of that is not reducing everybody to these moral sort of equations where they’re good version. This happens, you know, that’s not really that doesn’t really account for reality either. And that, especially in the short term, I mean, that’s what the one reason why the Bible is so fascinating because you have just unbelievable breadth of stories,
of stories of people doing, you know, it’s not always like, well, Johnny told the truth and then he got an Apple at the end, but it’s not, it doesn’t happen like that often. It’s very tragic and very broad and very comprehensive as far as like the storytelling, which I just, so I just feel like the cliche of the rebel against everybody who’s selfish and who is miss,
you know, doesn’t treat girls well, and he’s really cool. And he’s just like a cold kind of a character that, that maybe was typified in the eighties and nineties. I don’t know that. I feel like I saw a lot, like that’s unhealthy too. That’s that’s not a, it’s not a, it’s not healthy. So I felt like I just want to emphasize the importance of sort of the,
the character of the storyteller. There’s a lot of power in how you represent things. You can now we it’s like we can’t even have a hero, every hero. I mean, if you watch the Lord of the rings movies, you know, Aragorn who is a little bit complicated. I mean, he is a stridor and there’s, there’s a dark bent.
The movie just basically turned him into, like, he just never stopped being stridor. He was always this sort of vagabond, antihero. He was unsure. And he was so different, such a contrast from some tokens vision. And the same thing happened with Fermier and other characters who just, there’s almost like Peter Jackson could understand the darkness, could understand evil and kind of a background in horror,
but it was almost like the, the, the good characters were too good to be true. And so it was almost afraid to represent them for a modern audience, because there’s just too much virtue there and that we didn’t know how to represent that very well. And so I feel like that’s just a, so it’s important to me to be able to,
just to be able to trust storytellers, to frame those sorts of things and not lionize or glorify sort of like rebel, like basic rebellion as being like, you know, untouchable virtue, which it feels like a lot of storytelling does. Well, let’s talk about fantasy versus reality for a few minutes and fantasy stories versus realistic fiction. Actually, we know that we’ve talked a lot about Narnia and talking and things like that today as sparking the imagination.
But what about stories like realistic stories like Charles Dickens or Ella Montgomery? Can they wake us up to our moral imaginations? Just as much as Lewis and talking? I mean, I don’t know if there’s been very many stories that have spoken to me on a, like a moral, inspirational aspirational sort of level as tale of two by Charles Dickens. One of my favorite books of all time.
I love it. So, so much in so many ways, but yeah, I think, I think that the, I think what we could probably acknowledge is that sometimes stories that have elements of fantasy help us in that they help us see, you know, again, going back to Chesterton who just can’t stop talking about, because it’s just so much insight about this stuff is particularly his chapter in orthodoxy called I think it’s chapter four,
the ethics of elf land is so profound, but the things he says is it, is that how it’s make this make the apples silver or gold, because we have forgotten that they’re green and they make the rivers run with wine because we are not astonished that they run with water. So I think fantasy has a, has a similar role as poetry in it,
in that it can often get past our intellects to show us something that’s fantastic. And we respond to it in a way that we should be responding to the world as it is the world has God made it, which is a fantasy world, which is incredible. And I say it over and over again, but we, we eat food from the ground.
You know, we frost our cakes, which are not necessary for survival, with sugar that comes from cane. It comes from grass and we, we eat food from the ground. You know, we get babies and it’s amazing way. I mean, that’s, and if you came to a world where that was happening and you didn’t have, you didn’t know that,
but that wasn’t your experience. You’d be like, Oh my goodness, what, what is happening here? How does, how do people that, you know, it just incredible, how do we survive? How do we thrive? How do we flourish? Well, we do it in this, in this fantastic, unbelievably, magically wonderful way. And so I think fantasy has a way of letting us get outside of it,
but that being said, it doesn’t have to, it doesn’t have to not limited to that we can have eyes to see. And I think that they’re there and there’s a unique opportunity with fantasy to get around our, you know, I don’t want to misuse tokens. I mean, Lewis’s quote about the watchful dragons, but it’s kind of applicable with our intellects kind of get in the way sometimes.
And when we can sort of do a short circuit or an end run around our intellects and get to our imaginations, I think we can become enchanted. We can, we can be a moral awakened within chairman in a way that, that some more realistic stories don’t do. But that said, how many women have you met, who have been unbelievably enchanted by Anne of green Gables?
I mean, I know about 8,000 of them, myself and myself as well. It’s fantastic. I love it. It’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. And the same thing happened with Dickens in different ways. And, and the count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorites. Just what an absolute favorite book. And, and it’s not a fantasy, but it’s fantastic.
Oh, no, I don’t know the answer. I just feel like it’s all about, and the fantasy has some unique advantages in that. I think you’re right. They’re not fantasy, But they are fantastic. There’s just something about a well-told story that does awaken your wonder with the world, even though everything in there is grounded in reality, but the experience of the story,
you know, being taken along by a mastercraftsman storyteller into that world and, you know, riding that wave of conflict and coming to that resolution and feeling satisfied, you know, that contract between the author and the reader being well met, it can really turn us on to that wonder. And I love what you said about that. We live in such a wonderful world and we take so much of it for granted and paraphrasing you now to be reawakened to that wonder.
And that’s what stories do for us. So yeah. Tell me what you’re up to. What’s next for the rabbits with swords? Well, I am glad you asked. It feels like there’s a lot going on lately. We’ve we recently published a new short book called the last Archer green number story, which you mentioned earlier, and that’s been really wonderful.
It set sort of at the same time as the first book, the green number, and it follows sort of a side character. I think it’s really enjoyed it a lot, but we are getting ready to, I think when this podcast goes out, you know, we’ll be in the middle of a Kickstarter for Ember rising the green Ember of book three.
So the green number, it was the first book. And then there was the green number book to Ember falls. And then this will be the green Ember books, three member rising. We ran out of cool ideas for titles. So we just, just did the most easy thing possible. Okay. But so I’m, I’m really excited about that. I can’t wait cause we,
we kind of, I feel like, I don’t know how much I can talk about this, but I, I can tell you that, but we have a, so the first book was the green Ember and I think some people did feel like it lasts on that cliffhanger, but I, I sort of didn’t didn’t agree with that too much. I thought that it was as a character story.
It had a, had a good, a good arc and a good ending, but, and as an event story that the main events sort of happened. There was a, there was a climax, but then there was a little bit of a rising action at the end. And, and I thought it was more of like about possibility kind of like Darth Vader,
you know, getting away at the end of star Wars, the first, the first star Wars movie, you kind of like, okay, there’s more to this story. I feel like with the second book with number falls, I, I sort of cashed in on a lot of the capital that I feel like I had from people being very, very supportive and told a difficult story.
I think in a lot of ways, you know, and I think it did leave people a little more hanging in ed and it did too. I wanted it to be somewhat satisfying, but it left you in a challenging place, somewhat like the empire strikes back and with, with Han and frozen in Carbonite. And I feel like just there’s a lot of middle stories are like that.
And, and book three is not the end. It is a middle story as well, December rising, but I feel like I’m excited about the opportunities that we’ve had. I’ve explored a lot with the characters and so that people know the characters a lot better now, so that I think we can get to more of the action and let the story unfold.
And I, I kind of, I don’t know, I really love this, this new on it’s longer, quite a bit longer. And I’m very, very excited to share the it’s it’s, it’s another middle one, but it’s, the action is moving. And I think a lot of reveals happen and a lot happens for our characters. And so I’m very excited about it.
I hope people will, will be interested in, in either backing the Kickstarter or buying it when it comes out. I was going to ask you, how can we take part in this? The first way we could take part would be to back the Kickstarter and in doing that, we would have different goodies that we might have access to different Kickstarter levels.
The Kickstarter is really, it’s really about a story. You know, you can, we, we can publish the book. We, we, we did that with the last Archer and that was, that was good. Oh, the Kickstarter sort of framing allows us to sort of invite people, invite our allies and our friends to come along and be a part of the project.
So when we set a goal, when we get to do it all together and it, it it’s, it’s where a couple of times we’ve done it twice. And both times people have really showed up for us with a lot of enthusiasm. And yeah, I think it’s a cool opportunity to get you’ll need to be the first people to get the book for instance.
And there’s a lot of unique things like people love to be, he fall Potter mugs that we do, and we’re gonna, we have some special ones, hopefully they’re still there when this, but when this podcast comes out, but we, you know, there’s just several little, little, you know, we may have a new shirt I hopefully, and so I think there are some,
there’ll be some cool goodies. Yeah. Th th that would be extra. And I think most important for us is that we, it’s kind of a tangible way for, we, we get a lot of support and a lot of people who write and say, Oh, this was great for us and great for our family and help my reluctant reader, or,
you know, my kid was scared after this event. And walking through this characters is really valuable for us as a family. So we hear, we hear a lot of supportive things, and it’s just kind of a way for people to, to just sort of very publicly help us come alongside and say, Hey, this author that, that we appreciate is doing is,
is sharing his new book. And, and we want to invite you to, into the series. And that’s kind of a cool thing too, is it’s not just about this, this new book. It’s not just a kickstart, cause I think that people who want the new book will find the new book, but it’s about sort of, it’s an opportunity to share the series with the world with more trying to connect with more readers.
So that’s what we, that’s the way we kind of look at it and it’s been wonderful for us. We’ve had amazing allies, amazing friends, and really, really grateful. I’m grateful for you, Pam for inviting me on here and, and let us have a really cool conversation. And thanks for, let me tell people about the, about the Kickstarter.
Well, we are going to put a link to the Kickstarter in the show notes for this episode of the podcast. So you’ll be able to find that there and can go over and check everything out. And so we’re excited about this and thank you so very much for coming on and chatting with me today about story and what it’s meant to your family and what it can mean in a morning time for all these other families too.
So I appreciate it. Thank you, Pam. As a real honor for me, I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much. And there you have it. Now, if you would like links to the books or resources we chatted about on today’s show, you can find them on the show notes for this episode of the podcast. Those firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash Y M B 45.
Also on the show notes, we have a direct link to that green Ember Kickstarter campaign that we chatted about as well. So go over and check out the wonderful goodies they have over there and share that with your friends. Finally, if you would like to meet SD Smith in person this year, you can do that at the great homeschool conventions SD, and I are both going to be speaking at all five of the great homeschool conventions throughout the country.
Both of us would love to meet you there. Find out more information about how you can do that. Have SD sign your books, your green Ember books, or come up and just chat with me for a while in the vendor hall and all the information you need for that one email@example.com. So we’d love to have you join us there. We’ll be back again in a couple of weeks with another great morning time interview until then keep seeking truth,
goodness and beauty in your homeschool..
Links and Resources from Today’s Show
- SPONSOR: Maestro Classics
- The Green Ember
- Ember Falls
- The Black Star of Kingston
- The Last Archer: A Green Ember Story
- Ember Rising Kickstarter Project
- Story Warren
- The Chronicles of Narnia
- The Boxcar Children
- Read Aloud Bible Stories, Volumes 1-4
- Desiring the Kingdom
- The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Boxed Set
- A Tale of Two Cities
- Anne of Green Gables
- The Count of Monte Cristo
The Green Ember (The Green Ember Series: Book 1)Ember Falls (The Green Ember Series: Book 2)The Black Star of KingstonThe Last Archer: A Green Ember StoryThe Chronicles of Narnia Boxed SetThe Boxcar Children Bookshelf (The Boxcar Children Mysteries, Books 1-12)Read Aloud Bible Stories, Volumes 1-4Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural FormationThe Lord of the Rings Trilogy Boxed SetA Tale of Two CitiesOrthodoxyAnne of Green Gables: The Good StarsThe Count of Monte Cristo
Key Ideas about Telling Good Stories
- Storytelling has so much power. Good stories that shape the moral imagination are the weapons we need to build a generation that desires goodness and heroic virtue. As parents, good stories provide us with the tools we need to help raise strong children.
- S.D. Smith shares two important aspects to a compelling story. It’s important to let the reader know the stakes for the main characters. What are they going to lose? Secondly, it’s important to propel the story forward with causal connections, allowing the reader to see things happen as a result of other things that happen in the story.
- There are two dangers in choosing reading material for our families. One is that some stories walk the line of presenting material that is too edgy and inappropriate for children. The other problem is that some parents tend to rely too heavily on material that is moralistic and utilitarian. Though the ideas in the story are “safe” for the whole family, they are written in a way that reduces everything to the lesson that can be taught. Stories like this lose the heart and the beauty of the message they are trying to convey.
Find What you Want to Hear
- 2:45 meet S.D. Smith
- 9:35 how parenthood has shaped Smith’s view of story
- 14:42 ingredients of a compelling story
- 21:12 how Sam chooses reading material for his family
- 28:40 the value of story and ritual
- 34:55 a case for reading about characters who struggle
- 40:52 fantasy vs. realistic fiction and the moral imagination
- 45:20 update on The Green Ember series
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