Monday, January 18, 2016

Long ago... a visit with Chuck Black

I love to look at old photos. 

Sometimes they are just a picture that captures a beautiful flower, or an unusual animal. Sometimes photos tell stories, they remind us about what happened in the past. Sometimes they remind us of an event, a person, or a day that had a profound impact upon us. 

I think this picture was from early 2011. We were (all four of us) at a Homeschool Convention, and Chuck Black had a booth there. I had picked up a sale bundle of Chuck's books for Emily to read a couple of years earlier after seeing then recommended in a homeschooling publication. Emily loved them. At the time, I was just looking for something safe that would keep her occupied while I tried to keep up with her insatiable desire to read. Oh yeah, and I though they might give me a few minutes a day to actually help Arlene with her schoolwork, uninterrupted!  :) 

Emily was at the point of having read almost everything I had ever read growing up that was even remotely geared towards her age range. She had also read a lot of Classic and early American Literature that I hadn't personally read, but figured must be OK because my grandparents had read it and enjoyed it. Seriously, she would devour a book like it was a candy bar. I was getting desperate to find something new of quality for her to read, and I really just wanted a few minutes of peace and quiet. Yes, I was nearing the end of a short rope.

Once I purchased the set of four books for Emily, our house got really quiet. This was back in the days before Arlene became a conversationalist. I had a little more time to help Arlene with her work, and I even read a book or two myself. No small feat for a working/homeschooling Mama!

I digress, back to the picture. 

Kurt and I had looked through the convention program and recognized the name of Chuck's company. We knew Emily would want to meet him, so we headed down the aisles to find his booth. After waiting just a few minutes while he finished a conversation with another family, Emily introduced herself to Mr. Black. 

Then they started talking about his books.

(Those of you who know Emily in person can now start humming the theme song to The NeverEnding Story, or some similarly long song... we knew we would be there a while.)

Arlene decided to listen to Emily talk with Chuck, while Kurt and I looked over the rest of the booth, talked with Chuck's lovely wife, and found out about the more recent books he had written. After quite a while we wandered back over to see if they were done talking. 

Umm, no. 

Chuck was talking to Emily about the books he had written that went in the middle of the series she had read, and then they started talking about his newer books. Kurt and I figured out it was a good idea to buy the two books Emily didn't already have from the Kingdom Series. Chuck graciously inscribed them to Emily. Arlene had even joined in the conversation by this time, so we knew he had their attention.

After we got home form the convention, Arlene started reading Chuck Black's books. I even read one myself. The next year I returned to the same convention (without the family) and one of my first stops was at Chuck's booth to buy some of the books from the Knights Series for the girls.

What is it about these books that make them so appealing? A lot of things. First, Chuck's writing is in an allegorical style. So yes, there is a point to every story, many in fact. The Kingdom series is an allegory based upon people in the Bible. If you have read your Bible, you should be able to figure it out. Even if the reader hasn't grown up in a Christian home, they will still be drawn into the stories of knights and ladies, overlords and battles, peasants, and the Prince. Another reason these stories are so enjoyable to read is because Chuck's writing is so descriptive, without ever being laborious, that you really imagine yourself in the story. Thirdly, the characters are realistic. No one is perfect, except the Prince. The Knights Series deals with all sort of character issues that we and our children deal with every day. There are joys and sorrows, learning, and setbacks. The characters make mistakes, yet there is grace to try again. These two series of books are best for Middle School and up.

That day that we first met Chuck Black was a day that has had an impact upon us. Meeting the person behind the stories gave Emily her first opportunity to discuss a book with the actual author, and they conversed as equals, not as teacher and student. Chuck was gracious and kind in their discussion, and prompted Emily to think deeply about the characters and their lives. Emily shared with Chuck about the impact the stories had upon her, and where things in the books were unclear to her. We found out about how the newer versions of the books have discussion questions included, which might have helped her understand some points more easily.

Arlene was inspired to read the Kingdom Series books, which were a little more advanced than what she had been reading at the time. She enjoyed them as much as Emily did. Kurt and I knew that Chuck's books were a good investment, not only for the intriguing stories, but for the discussions they inspired.

Chuck Black has since written the Wars of the Realms Trilogy. This is a series to keep for your High Schoolers or yourself. I would still consider these allegories, but with much deeper thinking required, and, because they are set in modern times, not the Medieval period of his earlier books, I found them much more suspenseful. I would NOT recommend these for your children under 13.

The third book in the Trilogy comes out in February. The girls have it marked on their calendars, as we pre-ordered it for their Christmas present. I'll admit it, I'm looking forward to reading it myself when they're finished.

That day long ago when Emily met Chuck Black made a impact in our lives. One look at this fuzzy photo is all it takes to get us talking about it again. Do you have a photo like that? One that stirs up memories your family likes to talk about? Why not pull it out and spend a little time talking about long ago? After all, the past is what God has brought us through to make us into who we are today.

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