"Larger-Than-Life Lara" and Her Lesson for All of Us {A Book Review}

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I didn't look at the back cover of this book before reading it. I was in the mood to dig right into a story and that's what I did. It didn't take long for me to feel slightly off-balance by the prose. Being a writer myself, I enjoy observing a new style and this, for sure, was unique to anything I've read in quite a while. After the first chapter I finally turned the book over to see that this was a "juvenile fiction" book. My perspective shifted. I mentally rewound the previous chapter and then completely understood the story more clearly. Then, I repeated the same thought I had earlier:  "I haven't read anything like this in ages!" (And that's an excited exclamation point, not a frustrated one.)

The book is called, Larger-Than-Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall. 

Larger-Than-Life Lara
By Dandi Daley Mackall

This book is relevant, candid, exposing, and thought-provoking. The book gets to you a little more than you expect it to and it urges the reader to take action. Laney is a girl from a broken home who vulnerably tells you the story of Lara. Laney tells it like it is and carefully keeps bad words out of the book by telling you that she realizes some books get burned for having those kind of words in them. She gives you enough detail to know things are very troublesome at home, while still keeping some of the harsher details within nuance. 

Lara is the new girl in class who is overweight. Her appearance shocks everyone, but even more lasting than her indelible appearance is the change she brings to the school's perspective on kindness and forgiveness. She loves those and bears with those who treat her the worst. Even more than merely tolerating them, Lara seems to find the good in them and even helps them.

The characters are believable, especially the villain of the book, Joey Gilbert. Every one of us grew up with one of those boys who was always up to trouble. That character took me right back to grade school. I was grateful to walk with Laney through this story. It reminded me how children judge other children by their outsides and although we should be over that by the time we are adults, we often still mistreat others or make assumptions based on their appearance, just like we did when we were younger.

Here are some things that stood out to me about this book:

  • The author teaches the reader about writing throughout the book. It's a bonus. Laney describes what a climax is, what a villain or antagonist is, she tells the reader what a transition is, and my very favorite- she describes what a "frozen moment" is. (I actually used a frozen moment in my own writing later in the week after hearing the author describe it!) A child could read this book and come out of the story as a stronger writer which is superb. I was impressed.
  • The author shows the harsh reality of bullying. 
  • The author gives a glimpse into the life of childhood obesity. You see the inconveniences, the awkwardness and the sadness.
  • It ends well. There are many things for the reader to consider, one of which is how we treat those who are overweight. Another lesson is that kindness is always an exceptional response. A part of you wants to be like Lara. You will want to be patient and brave like her. 
  • Laney slowly gets more and more comfortable in her interactions with Lara. I would hope that children reading this would also realize that they have the power to stand up for what's right when someone else is being hurt.

I will be passing this book onto my 6th grade daughter and also my 4th grade daughter to read. Please check out the book yourself and make sure it meets your standards of appropriateness for whatever aged kids you have at home. For me, I think this will be a wonderful teaching tool, not only for their writing, but much more importantly for their hearts. I want my kids to be brave enough to help those who are hurting. I want my kids to look past outward appearances without looking past the person all together and most importantly, I'd really like to discuss how returning kindness to our enemies is more powerful than we can fathom!

I consider myself to be pretty conservative, but I also like to be real with my kids and I think this book balanced both of those carefully and tastefully. (Again, please be a part of your kids reading selections as I'm sure we all have different standards.)

In closing, I am grateful for the experience of this book. It reminded me of some things I haven't discussed with my kids and it also took me back to a place I haven't been in a while- the elementary classroom.

Wishing you many frozen moments filled with good lessons and unforgettable take-aways as your family explores the story of Larger-than-Life Lara.

Lindsey Feldpausch :)

Disclosure: This post is in partnership with Tyndale Publishers. Opinions are 100% my own.

Lindsey Feldpausch

Lindsey Feldpausch is a sinner saved by grace who lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her worship leader/youth pastor husband and four delightful kiddos fill life with unbelievably amusing quotes and sweet snuggles. She enjoys Christian rap music, mangoes, and Tim Hawkins. She celebrates not burning dinner. She thinks God is awesome and that the best adventure starts with saying yes to that still, small voice.

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Is Kindness Part of Your Family’s Testimony?

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What qualities define your family? What kind of testimony is your family to Christ? There is one quality you can cultivate that may have an impact far greater than you'd ever expect.

If you would have told me that I'd come home from a Disney Cruise changed at a spiritual and emotional level, I'd tell you "No way, no how." That sort of soul-deep impact seems more likely the result of week at a family camp, listening to solid preaching and taking time to digest the Word before hitting the waterfront.

So I entered into our extended family's vacation, set on enjoying the time celebrating my father-in-law's 80th birthday, but not anticipating any spiritual refueling . . . or conviction. Yes, holy conviction.

From the time we boarded the ship until our return to port, I was beside myself in awe. But it wasn't the bling and bells and whistles that grabbed my attention . . . it was the people who served us that touched me at the deepest level.

The two men who served our table at dinner changed our lives with their kindness.

Ephesians 4:32

Be kind and compassionate to one another . . .

From the very first introduction, they called us by name. It was both uncomfortable and welcomed. How did they know us? Were we being watched? How could they be such a quick study?

In every interaction, they were patient, thoughtful, attentive.

By the last night together, we loved these men like they were family and wanted to serve them in return. Why? Because although they were doing their "job" as well-trained and skilled Disney employees, they treated us with such respect, honor, and tender-heartedness that our lives were touched for the better.

They were a testimony to Disney.

And they left us wondering, what kind of testimony are we to Christ? 

Are we kind, thoughtful and service-minded to those within the family of God and beyond? Are we calling each other by name, acknowledging needs, and seeking to meet them? Are we reaching towards each other in acts of sincere service, or only interested in serving ourselves?

Maybe, the reason we noticed their excellence in all things is because our heads weren't bent towards our screens. 

Ah, three days without internet . . . without email or social media . . . kept our heads upright, focusing more on each other and being present in the moment. 

Yes, our Disney experience changed us . . . reminding us that "kindness is key" and social media doesn't need to be as much of thing. 

Being present in the moment and being purposed in our interactions, as an overflow of our relationship with Christ, is where real joy is found, whether sailing the waters to the Bahamas or sitting around the dinner table at home.

As we returned home, we all felt the challenge to consider our testimony, both to those looking outside in and the one we were cultivating when no one was looking. A heavy conviction rested upon me and my husband, that in order to be kind, we need to be emotionally present and not distracted by our screens and everything happening online.

It's the people in our real life that need our kindness the most.

And so we got busy deleting apps and re-implemented our commitment to docking devices as we embrace the challenge to be wholly and holy focused. Is that a challenge you need to embrace too?

Should you take a social media and internet hiatus with your family, just to get in touch with how it's affecting your lives?

In what ways can you demonstrated shockingly-refreshing kindness to both strangers and family members in the way you serve them daily and interact with them in each and every encounter?

May His overflowing kindness working through you and your family, become your testimony to God’s work to those you interact with on a daily basis . . . because kindness really does communicate His love and meets in a need in all of us.

Humbled by Him,

Elisa Pulliam

moretobe.com & kaleoagency.net

Elisa Pulliam

Elisa Pulliam is passionate about women experiencing a life transformed by God for the sake of impacting the next generation – a mission fueled by God’s redeeming work in her life and twenty-plus years in youth and women’s ministry. She’s the author of "Meet the New You: A 21 Day Plan for Embracing Fresh Attitudes and Focused Habits for Real Life Change," which is a book designed to help women embrace a fresh encounter with God, and "Impact Together: Biblical Mentoring Simplified." She is also founder of moretobe.com and tremendously enjoys working as a life coach and coach trainer. She considers her greatest roles as wife to Stephen and mom to four amazing children. Connect with Elisa at elisapulliam.com.

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