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Book Review of Simple Pleasures

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I recently read and reviewed a book that I enjoyed as an adult, but I think would also be appropriate for middle or high school students, particularly those interested in learning about those who choose a different type of life from theirs.  The book has no inappropriate words or violence and is suitable for all readers.

Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother

by Marianne Jantzi

When I reflect upon Simple Pleasures: Stories from My Life as an Amish Mother by Marianne Jantzi, the first word that comes to mind is “sweet” and the second is “comfortable.” Usually a reader of mysteries and action novels, I was pleasantly surprised by this work.  It lacks the frenetic pace of fiction, but it pulls the reader along, not by suspense, but by the desire to view more of the daily life of a rural Amish family.

This book is a collection of the author’s journal writings and contributions as a monthly columnist to the Amish periodical “The Connection.” Jantzi is a Canadian, an Amish wife and mother, and a former school teacher.  Her book is part of a series called “Plainspoken: Real Life Stories of Amish,” which provides opportunities for outsiders to read about Amish life from the viewpoint of Amish writers.

In an “Author’s Note” at the beginning of the book, Jantzi offers some structure for her non-chronological tales by briefly profiling her family and providing a few explanations of terms specific to her family. Although she provides this essential introduction, it would also have been helpful to provide at least a brief summary of Amish beliefs and customs or to explain them in context.  These details could help clarify misconceptions about the Amish way of life.  For example, they eschew motorized vehicles. As a non-Amish Christian, I wonder why it is acceptable to go to work via a car with a driver. Perhaps if the writer is Amish, these “irregularities” do not stand out as such.

What this book excels at is allowing the reader a peek at the daily life of an Amish mother of four in a very cold climate.  In addition to the normal childcare activities, Jantzi raises fruits and vegetables during the short growing season and preserves them for the long winter.  She cooks without electricity, operates a shoe store on their property, and tries to find time to fulfill her passion for writing.  She has many social roles and duties in the close-knit Amish community as a woman of God, a wife and mother, daughter and sister by birth and by her membership in the Amish community.  She obviously has a good relationship with her in-laws: they share a connected house and even move from one side to the other as their families change in size.

Although Jantzi’s life is different in many ways from that of the typical non-Amish mother, most will be able to identify with certain familiar themes.  She finds there is rarely enough time or energy for the things that need to be done.  Despite good planning, the unexpected always arises with young children.  If you look for the good and the humorous, you will usually find it.  Jantzi is an introspective woman of faith, always trying to achieve a closer walk with God through obedience and humility.

I extend my thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Herald Press. They have afforded me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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