I met Jenae fifteen years ago on a month-long trip to India and Nepal when she was a student and I worked in the Spiritual Life department at George Fox University. A decade and a half later our paths crossed online because of our parallel justice awakenings and shared desire to instill a passion for justice in our children.
I hope you enjoy this interview with Jenae. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to read some of her favorite justice books with your kids, share them with other kids you know and love, or start your own justice book club.
Q: Who is the book club for and when and where do you meet?
For practical reasons, the book club has been for girls who are about the age of my daughter, plus or minus a few years, and their moms. Initially, the ages were about 4-7, now it’s closer to 6-10. The content and discussions have matured each year.
We meet about four times during the summer because the girls are out of school and as a school-based speech-language pathologist, I am off during the summer too. Most of the moms who come are either stay-at-home moms, work part-time, or are teachers.
We live in the Pacific Northwest, so summer is a lovely time to meet outside at a park and it makes it easy for moms with younger/older children to come and have a place for the kids to play while we meet.
The downside to summer is families’ vacation schedules, so sometimes attendance is sporadic.
Q: What led you to start the book club?
When my kids were two and four, and were finally, consistently sleeping through the night, my brain woke up after a four-year hibernation and I had the energy and mental clarity to read interesting books again and think about things outside the four walls of my home.
At the same time, God was drawing me closer to him and opening my eyes to truths in the Bible that I hadn’t considered before. I came across a book written by Gary Haugen, the president of International Justice Mission (IJM), a human rights organization that rescues and restores victims of violence, sexual exploitation, slavery, and oppression.
Haugen’s book, The Good News About Injustice profoundly impacted me. The reality of human trafficking, modern-day slavery, and other forms of violent oppression in the world, along with Haugen’s numerous references to scripture about God’s passion for justice confronted me. As a woman, a mom, and as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I cared deeply about these issues. I just didn’t know what to do about it.
So I followed the example of Haugen and his IJM colleagues and I prayed. I thanked God for sparking a passion inside of me for justice and asked him to show me how to work for justice, contribute to the work of IJM, and do it in a way that my little family could be on the journey with me. Within a short amount of time, God answered that prayer very clearly.
One night I was meditating on a passage from Ephesians 5:8-11: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light is all goodness, righteousness, and truth). And find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.”
The next morning, the words ran through my head again and the idea of a mother-daughter book club flashed through my mind. What if, together with some other moms and their daughters, we lived as children of light, teaching our girls about justice, compassion, courage, and love; and shed light on the darkness in our world in a way that was developmentally appropriate, drew others into the journey, and raised awareness and support for IJM? I mentioned the idea to some friends and started the book club that summer.
Q: What is a typical book club meeting like?
Each year has been a learning process, but I thought the format we used last summer worked really well for their ages. We met about four times during the summer. About a week before each meeting, I’d send out an Evite to everyone I had talked to who had expressed interest in the book club. (There were about 20 moms altogether, and usually, between 6-10 moms with their daughters were able to come each time).
We met up at a park and gathered our blankets around on the grass. I’d always start with a brief introduction about why we were meeting together. I had asked the girls to bring a book from home that they liked and to share something about the book (e.g., title, author, setting, characters, etc.). I’d model first, then have the girls practice answering the question with their mom, then share with the whole group.
Then I’d read aloud a chapter from the book we chose for the summer (last year it was “The Hundred Dresses”) and have a discussion about that chapter as well as the previous chapter, which they would have read at home during the week. The questions were simple, and my goal was to get them to think about the story, apply it to their lives, and make a connection to justice.
I then talked a bit about fiction vs. nonfiction and I brought in some children’s biographies (from the local library) about a historical woman or girl who was a real life justice hero. We talked about how she exemplified love, justice, courage, compassion, etc. with her life and were able to touch on some difficult moments in history (slavery, holocaust, etc.).
I planned a short activity for the girls to understand the concepts better. For example, when we talked about Mother Teresa, I gave each girl a Band-Aid to put on her mom and practice saying compassionate words to someone who is hurting.
Finally, we talked a little about IJM, modern-day slavery, and worked on our “Freedom Friends,” stuffed toys the girls and moms sewed which we gathered and sold at the end of the summer to raise money for IJM. Each time we talked about how the girls were helping to free slaves by making Freedom Friends. The whole thing took about an hour.
Q: What’s been the biggest benefit or highlight of the club?
I don’t know if I can pick just one! I have loved finding a “tribe” of like-minded moms; teaching children about God’s heart for justice and how that applies to us at home, at school, and in the world; and getting to empower small girls to actually work toward the end of modern-day slavery.
Introducing more people to the amazing work of International Justice Mission is also a highlight. Last summer, someone from IJM found out about the book club and visited one of our meetings. That was really encouraging.
Q: Do you have another book club in the works?
Yes! My son, who is two years younger than my daughter has tagged along, sometimes participating, sometimes just running around during our book club gatherings. Last year he started asking for his own book club. Well, if I care that much about justice, I figured I better do something about that! A good friend of mine who has three boys is joining me in launching a Justice Book Club for Boys this summer.
Q: Do you have any advice or encouragement for parents interested in starting their own book club?
1. Pray and listen to God.
My book club began as a result of prayer – I felt burdened with the desire to do something about the terrible injustices in the world and to raise my kids in a way that they would grow up knowing that God loves justice and empowers us as Christians to seek justice in our world. I believe the initial idea of the book club, the moms and girls who came, and the action steps and ideas that have sprung from it have come as an answer to that prayer.
2. Define your purposes for the book club.
They might be different from mine! I had a few purposes:
- Encourage a love of reading, and help girls learn about books and how to talk about books.
- Teach the girls about people and places in the world that are very different from us. I wanted to broaden their worldview and introduce them to some difficult topics in a positive and developmentally appropriate way.
- Raise awareness and funds for International Justice Mission.
So I knew my book club had to have a literacy/communication component (each time I introduced a different aspect of the book and the girls learned to talk about it), a justice component (hands-on activities and discussions that help them understand justice, compassion, courage, love, etc. in real situations globally and locally), and a fundraising component (IJM has a great fundraising tool online.
3. Be flexible and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do things perfectly or do too much.
Start small and remember that any mom that comes with her daughter is just glad that you’re doing something! Also, don’t be discouraged by a seeming lack of interest in the justice-related topics, even from your own kids! We’re planting seeds and trusting God to make them grow.
Last, include other friends and family who don’t have kids in the book club by telling them about it. Some of my biggest cheerleaders and prayer warriors for this have been people who don’t actually come to the book club. My husband, John, comes to mind immediately.
Q: What books would you recommend?
These are the books we have used:
- Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace. A lovely story about a friendship between two girls who were just starting school.
- Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins. About a girl in Bangladesh who tries to find a solution to her family’s financial difficulties. It discusses issues related to gender inequality, poverty, and resourcefulness in an accessible way for children.
- The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. This timeless story touches on friendship, bullying, immigrants, empathy, and making the decision to “never stand by and say nothing again.” We had very rich discussions with this one.
- Anything by Atinuke. This summer we are planning on reading Anna Hibiscus with the girls and The No. 1 Car Spotter with the boys. Atinuke is a wonderful storyteller and her books delightfully and poignantly capture the beautiful and ugly of two communities (rural and urban) in an unnamed region of Africa.
- Last summer we talked quite a bit about fiction vs. nonfiction and I brought in biographies of real life justice heroes – women like Mother Teresa, Ruby Bridges, Corrie Ten Boom, and Harriet Tubman.
Please share in the comments any children’s books you’ve read that you think would work well for a justice book club.