Thursday, 7 March 2013

Patricia St John

For World Book Day, I decided to write about one of my favourite authors. As a child, I loved reading Patricia St John's books. From the day I was introduced to Rainbow Garden, I enjoyed everything I read by her. What was wonderful was the way there was always a lesson woven into the story, in a very non-threatening, non-teachery way. I learnt something valuable from each book at the same time as enjoying a great story.

Here are some of the highlights.

The Mystery of Pheasant Cottage

This was my favourite book for a long time, because of the twist in the story which I didn't see coming, and still amazes me today. As I flick through it now to find my favourite bits, it's taking all my self control not to just read it all the way through again. When reading this book, I learnt some Spanish, and I learnt about the simplicity of faith: that Jesus is my friend and that he is in my heart.

Rainbow Garden

This was the first Patricia St John book I read. I lost count of the number of times I re-read it. It was a wonderful story about a girl growing up in a very different environment to me: she lived with her mother, then moved to the countryside to live with friends while her mother was away working. Whilst living with this family, she learns to make friends and not be selfish. She is introduced to the specialness of Sunday (when they had special toys they didn't play with on other days) and joins her new friend in her Bible reading and prayer times. She, of course, discovers a garden at the end of rainbow one day, which becomes a special place for her. This was a really enjoyable read, a story which opened my mind to different ways of life, to realising that not everyone grows up in the same kind of family as me.

Treasures of the Snow

I read this book while I was beginning to fall in love with learning French: as it is set in the Alps, it includes some French songs. I was also impressed by how much the author knew about life in the Swiss Alps. It is a lovely story of friendship and forgiveness. Along with the main character, Annette, I learnt this from her grandmother about letting God's light into our lives:
"When you come down in the morning and find this room dark with the shutters closed, do you say to yourself, 'I must chase away the darkness and the shadows first, and then I will open the shutters and let in the sun'? Do you waste time trying to get rid of the dark?" 
"Of course not!" said Annette. 
"How do you get rid of the dark?" 
"Well, I pull back the shutters, of course, and then the light comes in!" 
"But what happens to the dark?" 
"I don't know; it just goes when the light comes in!" 
"That is just what happens when you ask the Lord Jesus to come in," said Grandmother. "He is love, and when he comes in, hatred and selfishness and unkindness will give way to it, just as the darkness gives way when you let in the sunshine. But to try to chase it out alone would be like trying to chase the shadows out of a dark room. It would be a waste of time."

It's something I keep reminding myself of all these years later.

Where the River Begins

I remember finding out about this book, going to buy it one day after school and reading the whole thing in about three days, which was quite unlike me at the time. This is a simple little story, shorter and less complicated than the others I'd read before. It's about a boy who runs away from home and is helped by a family he meets by the river. It taught me about helping those in need, as the boy and his new friends help each other. I was also starting to think about writing stories at this time, so I learnt from this book that it's OK to write a short, simple story, and that it doesn't always have to be an epic novel with many twists and turns. I imagine the author thinking up this story and writing the whole thing quite quickly, rather than spending months or years over it.

Twice Freed

This a very different to her other books as it is set in biblical times. Inspired by the story of the slave boy Onesimus, mentioned in the short New Testament book of Philemon, this book showed me that Bible stories can be exciting if told in the right way. I still like the idea of taking Bible stories and rewriting them in a form which is more accessible, i.e. an interesting-to-read novel. (This has also been done by Francine Rivers in Redeeming Love, the story of the prophet Hosea, which I read last year, absolutely loved and thoroughly recommend.) Because of the author's careful research and preparation, I learnt a lot about Roman and Greek life through this book, which helped me understand some of the New Testament stories better. Twice Freed shows us how Jesus brings two kinds of freedom: Onesimus is physically freed from slavery, but he is also freed spiritually when Paul introduces him to Jesus. True freedom isn't just about not being a slave and about having freedom of choice. It's also about being free from guilt or a heavy conscience. It's about knowing in your heart that you are free from spiritual evil because of Jesus.

I Needed a Neighbour, Nothing Else Matters and The Victor

These three books were written for teenagers rather than children, and were set in places which were harder to identify with, so I don't remember them as well as the others. What I remember liking about The Victor, though, is that again it presented Bible stories from a different point of view. The main character is the boy who offers his lunch at the feeding of the 5000. He keeps hearing about this miracle-working prophet, and eventually his sister is healed by him when he comes to visit their village.

I discovered when I read the introduction to Twice Freed that Patricia St John passed away in 1993. That means I started to read and enjoy her books a few years after she died. I looked in the front of my copy of Rainbow Garden and saw that it was first published when my mum was a teenager, so she would only have been a couple of years older than me when she first read it. Patricia St John has left behind her a legacy of timeless classics which I hope will inspire the next generation of girls to read and write as much as it inspired me.

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