Back Porch Book Chat: Sarah Dempsen (After School Ministry Leader)

Back Porch Book Chat: A casual, virtual conversation about books. Join us as we chat with book lovers like ourselves about a topic we all love! Our guest today is Sarah Dempsen from Washington state. She chats with us about reading with her family, her work on the Yakama Reservation, and more! Check out her bio after the interview for more about Sarah. Interview conducted by Betsy.

Getting to Know Sarah

Before we begin, Sarah, tell us what beverage you’d like as we sit in our rocking chairs on this fall day: Sweet tea? Lemonade? La Croix? Ice water? We’ve had a cool fall, so perhaps you’re thinking hot chocolate or chai or something else warm and cozy.

Ah, what a beautiful day it is today!  Thanks for having me! I’d love a cup of rooibos tea, maybe Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spice Rooibos or TJ’s Rooibos and Honeybush tea.  So cozy and comforting as we move into the colder months!

Mmm. Trader Joe’s tea is so nice. We don’t have a TJ’s in my town, so I’m envious of your access!

Sarah, you and I know each personally, but our Redeemed Reader community doesn’t know you as well. Tell us a bit about your family, your favorite ways to spend time together when everyone’s home, and what you do for school.

My husband and I have three daughters, some dogs and cats, our Jersey cows named Rusty and Sir Half and Half, a mess of chickens, a rabbit, and occasionally turkeys.  Our life is a noisy, messy adventure! We love to hike, and we live in Central Washington near enough to the Cascade Mountains to be able to take day hikes regularly and try to identify every interesting thing we encounter. 

Books are central to our family culture, and you can typically find us reading around the lunch table, reading aloud before bed, listening to an audiobook in the car, or snuggled into the hammock with our own books. That’s not even including the reading we do for our homeschool!  Needless to say, areas of our house are basically library sections. We also love to make things, whether it’s the woodworking my husband Jesse does, or the knitting and embroidery the girls and I all enjoy; our hands are always busy. 

Sounds like a lovely lifestyle! Tell us, what books has your family particularly enjoyed this past year? {Readers, titles are linked to RR reviews/information where available!}

Some standouts for our family read aloud this year have included Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome, the Harry Potter series that we are slowly making our way through together, The Open Gate by Kate Seredy, the Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins, and The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle, and Little Britches by Ralph Moody, which we were especially sad to finish since the characters had become such good friends that we had laughed and cried with.  Some other favorites from this year for each of us are:

SarahThe Dean’s Watch by Elizabeth Goudge, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, a re-read of Anne of Green Gables which I enjoyed even more than I expected to, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel which tapped into my love of history and really expanded my knowledge and interest in 16th century England, and Raymie Nightingale and Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo.

JesseThe Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, Goldeline by Jimmy Cajoleas, Lillith by George MacDonald, The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemison, and the Otherland series by Tad Williams.

Lyddie (age 9): Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, The Warrior series by Erin Hunter, The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart, Goldeline, and City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

Millie (age 8): A Little Princess by Frances Burnett Hodge, Wonder by RJ Palacio, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin, The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill, Goldeline, Raymie Nightingale and Lousiana Right Here by Kate DiCamillo.

Rosie (age 6): Charlotte’s Web by EB White, Ramona and Beezus by Beverly Cleary, the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems, and Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Ooh, I see some favorites of my family in that list! Fun fact: I adored Black Beauty when I was Lyddie’s age and read it over and over and over and over and ….

Sarah’s Family Reading Tips

We obviously love books at Redeemed Reader, and we love passing along good tips for making reading happen in the midst of a busy school year. I know reading is important to you, too. Do you have any favorite tips or routines that work for your family when it comes to finding and reading good books? How do you juggle reading as a family (like listening to an audiobook) with multiple ages all listening together? What books have worked well for that?

We have favorite authors we are constantly watching for and adding to our family’s library.  For example, if Kate DiCamillo has a new book coming out, we are waiting for it! Many of our read-aloud ideas have come from Ambleside Online, our school curriculum, or are favorites from Jesse’s or my own childhoods.  We always read aloud before the kids’ bedtime together, and typically have two books going – one that Daddy reads aloud and one that I read aloud. Occasionally we read from both in a night but often just one, which ensures that even on a night that one of us is gone, there is still a read-aloud we can enjoy together! 

We also travel with books; whenever we have long road trips we check out an audiobook from the library to listen to together, all of which have shaped our family culture by providing a lot of discussion, inside jokes, laughter and tears. My daughters read a lot of books for their schoolwork, but I feel so thankful that they love reading so much that they always all have at least one other book they’re devouring in their free time as well.

Another thing that has developed as our girls are getting older is shared book recommendations!  What a joy that has been! One of my favorite books from this year (Goldeline) actually came from a recommendation from Millie, my eight year old, who found it on the library shelf and couldn’t put it down and insisted I read it immediately.  She was right, it is a gem. 

That IS fun when your children can join in the book recommendations fun. I’ve definitely enjoyed some of my own children’s recommendations to me!

Sarah’s Ministry on the Yakama Reservation

You and your husband have a unique ministry on the Yakama Reservation in central Washington. Can you tell us a bit about your ministry and the Sacred Road ministry as a whole? 

Jesse and I serve with Sacred Road Ministries, which is a church planting organization focused on establishing a healthy, growing church among the people of the Yakama tribe.  We believe that Jesus Christ cares about all our needs, spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and we seek to show our community that He cares about their needs too. Therefore, our family has lived here for eight years, and our primary focus in ministry has been to start and lead an after-school tutoring/discipleship program (named “Kingdom Kids”) for elementary school children in our community with the hope of seeing more kids stay in school, have a stronger foundation and love of learning about God and His creation, and to know Christ’s love for them today and always.  

Do you know what sort of access the children coming to Kingdom Kids have to books outside of Kingdom Kids? Do they have access to a public library? a school library? Books in their homes?

Many of our children here are growing up in homes where not a single book has been read aloud to them before attending school, and after that, the only place for books is often in the classroom at school, so even the idea of learning to read seems to many of the children to be purely an academic exercise.  Many students in our community are already convinced they can never learn to read after a few years of struggle in the classroom; this is often due to classroom distractions and behavior challenges, learning challenges and other difficulties. Given the seemingly insurmountable challenges in developing a love of books, learning, and literature, we started small:  scheduled time at Kingdom Kids each week where the children are required to “sit with” a book, whether they are looking at pictures, reading it to themselves, reading it with a partner, or being read to by a leader. We also have a weekly large group read aloud time with all the children!

One of my personal dreams is to help connect the children we work with to the local public library.  I have really loved getting to know our librarians, especially the ones on the Reservation who genuinely care for the children with generosity. Some kids come into the library after school to use the computers because it is the safest and warmest place they can find at that time, but books never seem to be a reason for most people to enter the doors of the library.  Do I hope to see that change? Yes!! Right now I am working on some ideas I have for growing a relationship between our children and the nearby library as a great resource they can use the rest of their lives. 

Sarah, Kingdom Kids is how you and I first got to know one another, and I remember hearing Jesse read The Tale of Despereaux aloud to the group of kids that first day. Can you tell us a bit about how you use books in your ministry? What are some other read alouds that have worked well in the context of your ministry? I know the kids also get a chance to read from a library you and Jesse have curated. What books are most popular?

Books have been an integral part of our Kingdom Kids program from the very beginning.  We believe that books have great power to shape and enlarge hearts and minds. It is crucial to Jesse and I to provide access to and experience with books full of truth and beauty, but also stories that are unafraid of portraying brokenness and suffering in the middle of that beauty.  This is one of the reasons Jesse chose Despereaux; if you’ve ever read it, you can imagine how the injustice and ridicule the characters experience might mirror some of the things our Kingdom Kids encounter in their own lives.  We’ve also recently read aloud A Wrinkle In Time, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  Laughter is such good medicine and favorites that are chosen time and again include The Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems because they are so accessible to beginning readers (even older struggling readers), and they elicit a smile or laugh for the children every single time.  Look-Alikes and I Spy books are very popular and really helpful for getting kids who don’t read well to open a book.

We’ve supported ministries in the past that use books as part of their ministry. The past two summers, we promoted a summer program that Servant Group International ran in Nashville ( We’d love to help Kingdom Kids in a similar fashion! Tell us what sorts of books you need, what types of books that would most benefit the kids in Kingdom Kids, and how Redeemed Reader can help. 

We’d love more books that feature diverse characters!  We would especially appreciate Native American authors who write for middle grade readers; we have found authors who write picture books and young adult books but that window in between has been a challenge for us to find!  We have an Amazon Wishlist for Kingdom Kids that is up-to-date, and it includes books and other materials!

Readers, You Can Help!

READERS: Do check out that Amazon Wishlist for Kingdom Kids! There are some solid book choices on there that would serve this community well. I recommend the Birchbark House books by Louise Erdrich and In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse as a good starting point. This is a very tangible way to help this ministry reach the children they serve. Consider giving a book to Kingdom Kids/Sacred Road instead of buying one for yourselves this Christmas season. Or, buy one this month for Kingdom Kids and wait to start your personal Christmas shopping until next month! After all, we think it’s important that Thanksgiving comes before Christmas.

If amazon needs an address, use this one (we’re not sure if the wishlist will automatically send books to the correct address):

  • Jesse Dempsen
  • 14531 PUMPHOUSE RD
  • WHITE SWAN, WA 98952-9724
  • United States

Sarah’s Encouragement to Moms (and Dads)

Any last words of encouragement for your fellow moms of busy school age kids as we seek to disciple our kids? Do you have any favorite Christian/biblical resources you use as a family?

My first advice is to trust Jesus.  Trust His work on the cross and let it change everything about you.  Trust Him with your failures and with your successes because both alike can be a distraction to our single-minded pursuit of following Him and bringing His Kingdom light wherever we go, including the hard places of parenting! The Bible Project videos are a favorite resources in helping our family do just that! ( They are free, beautiful, fascinating, and helpful for understanding the Bible as a whole pictures as well as in the cultural and historical context within which it was written.  Check it out!

Lastly, I highly encourage moms (and dads!) to be reading for themselves!  If books are something we value and we hope our kids are lifelong readers, it’s so key to be modeling that and being lifelong readers ourselves!  Find a favorite author or a new genre, join a book club, or find a booklist that looks appealing and work your way through it… whatever works for you, find a way to keep reading!  

Thanks for having me on your porch, Betsy!  I enjoyed sharing with you and other Redeemed Readers and am excited to see what recommendations others have related either to our ministry or our family!

Thank YOU, Sarah, for taking time out of your busy schedule to share your life with us here.

Sarah Dempsen lives in Central Washington with her husband Jesse and their three little ballerinas aged 10, 8, and 6.  Their family is on staff with Sacred Road Ministries, a church planting organization on the Yakama Indian Reservation where she loves to apply Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education to their homeschool and to the after school program (Kingdom Kids) for children that is the Dempsen’s main focus of ministry.  When she isn’t busy lesson planning or making dozens of ham sandwiches for Kingdom Kids, you might see her snuggled on her overstuffed chair with her knitting or cross stitching in hand surrounded by her girls devouring whatever new book they’ve found on the bookshelf.  Sarah runs an Etsy shop full of her knits at The Clever Hen, and shares pictures of the beauty in her life on Instagram. When she’s really ambitious, she dreams up posts for her new education-oriented blog In A Large Room.

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Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Northwest.


  1. Hannah on November 11, 2019 at 8:40 am

    The wishlist does give you the option of sending to the recipient’s address (without showing the address to you).

    • Betsy on November 14, 2019 at 12:04 pm

      Thank you, Hannah!

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