Every year I make a list of topics to study with the kids, and every year I include hymn study. And every year I fail to get it done.
That doesn’t mean that my children do not know any hymns. They actually know many, many hymns. In fact, many more than I did as a child. Almost seven years ago, we left the mega-church that we had been members of for 5 years. (Actually my husband had been a member his entire life until he got married and moved away. Then we moved back and joined the same church.) One of the things that we were looking for in a new church was one that used hymns in worship. It didn’t have to be only hymns, but we were looking for a more traditional worship style. The Lord did lead us to a church that, among other things we were looking for, used hymns for congregational singing. This long digression can be summed up with, my children know hymns, but we have failed to learn about the hymns and hymn writers.
One of the reasons I think I’ve failed at implementing hymn study is that I tend to make it too complicated. This year I received a great resource that is a super simple way to learn more about hymns. The book is Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers by Douglas Bond. The book, published by Christian Liberty Press, is a fictional account of Annie and her brother Drew. While spending the summer in England with their parents (who really aren’t part of the story), they meet an old man affectionately known as Mr. Pipes. Mr. Pipes is an organist in the village and is very knowledgeable about church history and specifically hymn writers.
Annie and Drew quickly become friends with Mr. Pipes as he teaches them to fish, row a boat, and takes them on the train to London. During their visits, Mr. Pipes relates the story of a different hymn writer such as Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, John Newton, or William Cowper. Mr. Pipes is a great story-teller and the children are very interested to hear his tales.
Along with presenting the stories of the hymn writers, Annie and Drew are also growing in their faith. Their priorities and behaviors change from the beginning to the end of the book. There is evidence of spiritual growth in the characters.
I received this book with the intention of having my 12 year old daughter, Anna, read it. But now that I’ve read it, I have changed my mind. I would like to use it as a read-aloud for the whole family. Even though the book is recommended for grades 7-10, the story is engaging enough for younger children especially since they’re familiar with many of the hymns discussed. I like the idea of teaching about the hymn writers using a living book instead of just facts about the hymn writers. And rather than get all strict with it and making a schedule and finding extra things to go along with the study, I am allowing us the freedom to just read the book! (Shocking, huh? If you’re reading this and have never made plans that you didn’t use or purchased curriculum and never opened it, then you probably don’t understand what I’m saying at all. But I am finding it necessary to simplify. And I’m finding that simple is often better anyway!)
Another reason that I am not having Anna read it is that I received the pdf of the book. I own a Kindle (the old style with the keyboard) which I love. However, Anna doesn’t like it very much and much prefers “real” books. To further complicate matters, this book is not in Kindle format (.mobi) but pdf. That means that one page of the book appears on the Kindle screen (which is smaller than the book). Thankfully, the pages in the book are not 8-1/2 x 11, but the words are just barely large enough for me to read in this format. (I do not need reading glasses yet, but I suspect they may be on the horizon.) Anna suffers from frequent headaches, and I fear that this type size would bring on a headache.
I am really pleased with this book, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a gentle way to study hymns and hymn writers. There are also 3 other titles: Mr. Pipes and Psalms and Hymns of the Reformation, Mr. Pipes Comes to America, and The Accidental Voyage: Discovering Hymns of the Early Centuries. All the books are available from Christian Liberty Press. I’m personally tempted by this complete set of all 4. The pdf version of Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers is $8.79.