Mary Ann Kinsinger on an Amish upbringing + Life with Lily 3-book giveaway

Mary Ann Kinsinger grew up Amish in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.  Mary Ann has teamed with Suzanne Woods Fisher on a series of children’s books, the first of which is called Life with Lily.  The four-book series is based in part on her Amish childhood.

I’m not the target market for this series, but it looks like a wholesome and fun read if you have children.  Given the popularity of Amish-themed books with adults, I’ve wondered why there weren’t more aimed towards that age range (or maybe there are, and I’ve just missed them).

I thought this might be a nice chance to ask Mary Ann a little bit about her Amish upbringing, and Suzanne about how this collaboration came to be.  The interview below hits on those topics and a few others.

A few thoughts on Amish children

The topic of Amish children is one that evokes extremes.  Amish children are portrayed or seen, often enough, as impeccably-behaved angels living idyllic lives.  On the other end of the spectrum we’ve seen former Amish sharing their difficult upbringings, challenging the idea that an Amish childhood is by definition peaceful and plum.   Practices typical to Amish also run against current trends.  Spanking, common in Amish homes, evokes a lot of criticism today, certainly more than it would have one or two generations back.

I think the rosy impression of the Amish upbringing is more common.  I definitely had that early on (probably still do, somewhat).  What most sticks out from book-selling days were the numerous times when Amish children would sit around the table, wide-eyed and silent, as I would run through a book demo and speak with the parents.  Interruptions were few or nil.  English homes I visited were often different in that regard.  However I realize that the volume level of children over a 20-minute period is a pretty thin basis upon which to draw sweeping conclusions.

Later I saw that kids will be kids, and of course every family is different.  I will say that, on balance, I think that if you’re born Amish you probably have a better chance to be exposed to an upbuilding environment than the average non-Amish child does.  You’re at least more likely to have both parents in the home.

Life with Lily giveaway

Life With Lily Kinsinger FisherWe also have a 3-book Life with Lily giveaway for Amish America readers.  To enter, just leave a comment on this post.  I will select 3 names at random and post the winners in a week’s time.  Now on to the interview, and thanks to Suzanne and Mary Ann for taking the time.

Amish America: Mary Ann, can you share a little on your background and upbringing?

Mary Ann Kinsinger: I was born and raised Old Order Amish. My parents moved from a small Amish community in New York to Somerset County when I was only a few weeks shy of my 8th birthday.

Every Amish church has their own set of rules and guidelines they go by so you always expect to make changes when moving. Moving to Somerset required a lot of changes for our family. All our clothes needed to be changed. Dresses had to have their pleats sewed and ironed a certain way, apron belts had to be a certain width, shirts had to have no more than seven buttons total counting the ones on the sleeves and collar, shawls that were worn by women during cold weather were folded in a triangle shape instead of rectangle like most other Amish churches, our prayer coverings were made differently and the bonnets to wear over the coverings when ever we left home were made with narrow slats tucked inside fabric which made that they could be folded.

All the clothing changes didn’t really faze me at that age. There were bigger changes that I noticed a lot more. In Somerset County, we attended church in a meeting house instead of homes and there were no fellowship meals served afterwards. I really missed that special church peanut butter.

Another change occurred when my Dad bought a little tractor to use around our farmette. Somerset Amish use tractors for farming for everything—except planting corn for which they still use horses.

A change I didn’t like was that refrigerators weren’t permitted to be kept in kitchens. For a long while, our refrigerator was out on the front porch. We all rejoiced when Dad built an addition to the house and the refrigerator was moved inside to a pantry.

How does an Amish upbringing compare with a non-Amish one?

Mary Ann: I can only speak from my own experience of growing up in an Amish family and how it compared to some of my friends who weren’t Amish. I think we both felt a little sorry for each other. They felt sorry for me because they thought I was “deprived” of most modern conveniences. I couldn’t watch TV or listen to music. But I felt sorry for them! How awful life would be to have to wear shoes every single day, to not be free to run and explore the countryside, or to experience the joys of working with my parents. As a child, I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that one friend was not allowed to help her mother prepare meals. And she had hardly any chores!

Basically, it all depends on what kind of non-Amish families I would choose to do my comparison.  Some of my best friends came from a non-plain background and as far as I could tell, the only differences that caught my attention was that they addressed everyone as Mr. and Mrs. and they spoke freely about more spiritual things.

I have noticed how in some families everyone seems to focus on their own thing—hobbies or interests or television or computers—instead of being more family-oriented like the Amish.

I’ve heard non-Amish, briefly encountering well-mannered Amish kids, describe them as “perfect angels” and in similarly glowing terms. What do you think of that description?

Mary Ann: Children are children where ever you go. How well-mannered they happen to be is much more of a reflection of the parenting they have received than whether or not they are Amish.

Some of the most well-mannered children I have ever met had no connections to the Amish at all. And I have already experienced having some Amish children visiting at our house and being enough of a terror that made me vow to never invite them back. Most Amish children fit somewhere between those two examples.

How “Amish” are you raising your own children?

Mary Ann: We are not focused on trying to raise our children on anything other than being Christ-centered. A few things we have retained from when we were Amish that we are teaching our children is observing Sunday as a day of rest with preparations beginning on Saturdays to make that we don’t have much to do on a Sunday. Like preparing food, laying out the clothes we will be wearing, and making sure that the house is in order so we won’t have any cleaning chores to do on Sundays. We still believe in the core values of the Amish culture. Family, faith, forgiveness.

Have you seen the new television show on TLC, called “Breaking Amish,” and what is your opinion of it?

Mary Ann: I have seen it. To sum it up in one word: “Fake!”  Their reactions to things when they reached NYC reminded me of when my brothers and I were still little children. We used to enjoy a game where we pretended we were pioneers and visited our house and acted in awe over every little thing. Amish are not nearly as challenged in the outside world as those cast members tried to pretend.

The cast members had all left the Amish years ago. They’re pretending to be leaving now to go experience the English world. There were so many scenes that proved how scripted everything was. Here’s a few examples: There was a scene in Ohio when Jeremiah was talking about how the bishop’s wife was watching him. Then they showed her and she was wearing Lancaster clothes.

The boys didn’t have Amish haircuts at the beginning of the show. When the girls let their hair down, you could see their hair had already been cut. Amish women have long, long hair.

I don’t think that show portrays how it is to be Amish in any sense, or even how it is to leave the Amish. When all is said and done, they’re just actors playing scenes.

How did you get the idea for this series and the two of you come to collaborate?

Suzanne Woods Fisher: Life with Lily is the first in the ‘Adventures of Lily Lapp’ series for children, ages 8-12. Mary Ann recently left the Amish church—a painful separation for her family—and started a blog to capture her happy memories for her children. Very shortly, her blog (ajoyfulchaos.blogspot.com) was receiving 30,000 hits a month. And then…the New York Times noted it in an article.

In the meantime, Mary Ann and I had developed a friendship through my own books about the Old Order Amish. She asked me to collaborate with her, so we pitched a series proposal to my publisher, Revell, who happily accepted.

How is writing for children different than writing for adults?

Suzanne:  For this age group, we created each chapter to have its own story arc because that’s how children read. There is an overriding story arc, but it’s not quite the same as an adult novel—with building suspense that reaches a crescendo. Also, the vocabulary is aimed for 8-12 year olds. My editor even has a software program that checks reading level of vocabulary. Happily, we passed!

What do you hope readers take away from the Lily books?

Suzanne: Here’s what drew me to collaborating with Mary Ann: her memories reflect a warm, happy Amish childhood with fully dimensional characters. Nothing saccharine, nothing severe. The Amish are part of America—a unique culture living right in the midst of a busy, modern world…and thriving.

The ‘Lily’ series invites readers to peek in the window of a delightful Amish family. I think there are many layers to enjoy about the Lily stories—the top layer is getting to know a funny little girl. But there are deeper layers, such as seeing how Lily’s wise parents handled difficult situations (wait until you meet Teacher Katie. Hooboy!).

By the way—we want to invite your readers to check out the interactive website for children that our publisher, Revell, created to complement the ‘Lily’ series: www.adventuresoflilylapp.com. Coloring pages can be downloaded, Mama’s recipes are shared, there are games and crossword puzzles, and readers can ask Lily a question. Hope you’ll all drop by!

Thanks, Erik, for letting us visit your blog. And thanks, readers, for your interest in Life with Lily.

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    99 Comments

    1. Maxie Anderson

      Life with Lily contest

      I enjoyed this interview so much. Will sure be a fan of Mary Ann’s and already love Suzanne’s books. I would love to try to be one of the 3 winner’s of this book. I will read it and have several grands who will love it too! I’m sorry that the movie misrepresented the Amish. Thanks! Maxie ( mac262@me.com )

    2. carebear57

      Greatly enjoy reading Mary Ann’s blog, as well as Suzanne’s books. Good luck to everyone!

    3. sue whitmarsh

      lily contest Hope it’s not to late I just got this

    4. Marie W

      sounds like a great giveaway. My grandchildren would love a Lily 3-book giveaway!

    5. Mary Hake

      I’d love to read the book. Love the cover.

    6. Jane Foard Thompson

      Lily book

      From research I’ve done, I believe my great-grandmother was an Anabaptist, who left Switzerland for the U.S. with my German great-grandfather. The more I read, the more of my grandmother I find, so I’m fascinated with all things Amish.
      Plus, I have a granddaughter who would love the Lily books. Guess if I don’t win I’ll have to buy it!

    7. Maria Thomas

      Lily

      I would love to read the book. Great interview!

    8. Niki

      Love to read these books to my grandchildren!

    9. SueAnn Dolinsky

      interview

      I missed the interview, unfortunately, but would so love to read these books. I bought so many recently that my husband is ready to make me work a 2nd job to pay for them (not really – LOL). Would be so awesome to win these!!

    10. Sandy

      Loved reading about Mary Ann Kinsinger moved from NY to Somerset. Ironically, I was a freshair girl from NYC to Somerset area and stayed with Beachy Amish-Mennonites out of the Mt. View congregation. I had a very dearfriend who made me a beautiful quilt for my 21 birthday, she was Old Order from the Niverton congregation. I know many from Niverton and Summit Mills congregations, were you from any of those? I still return on my own and have brought my nieces and nephews and now I have started bringing my great nieces and nephews. I visit with one of the girls whom I grew up with as a child, I enjoy all my visits and many of the folks always tell me about my nixnutsie ventures.
      I will be getting your books as the girls are all so interested especially since they know people who are Old Order Amish. Thanks for the good work too!

      1. Sandy, I’m so glad you got to stay in Somerset County for a while. No I didn’t belong to Niverton or Summit Mills. I was part of the Pocahontas district but had a lot of friends in the rest of the Somerset church districts as well. There are seven of them.

        1. Sandy

          I am acquainted with the Pochantas area, going up from Salisbury is the route I remember. I am looking for your book and I have found it at Christain book club. Can’t wait to have a copy, to read to my nieces and great niece.
          Thanks for replying too.

    11. Karen

      want to read Lily but can't find at library so would like to win so I can read

      WANT TO WIN BOOKS SO I can read since I can’t find in the library. please give me a chance. thank your Karen S at khsmith97217@yahoo.com

    12. Mary

      I would love to get her book myself!

    13. O Norman

      Loved the interview

      Always something new to learn about the Amish. Great interview!

    14. Juan Carlos Villanueva

      WOULD LOVE TO READ IT TO MY 4 KIDS

      Thanks for offering another opportunity to win good books. We have 4 children and I’m sure this would be a great wholesome read for them.

    15. Wanda

      Life with Lily

      The book sounds fantastic. With Suzanne the book would be a hit, but probably even better since there is an actual is real “ex” Amish writing with her, so you know even the facts would be correct. I read every thing concerning the Amish I can get my hands on, fictional, factual, or otherwise. I just enjoy reading them, even the kiddie books. I can’t wait to read these books. Keep up the good work both of you, and I look forward to other series you guys come out with!

    16. Jeff FRame

      Perfect

      I’ve been subscribing to the Family Life and children magazine for my grand daughter for several months. She devours them. She would really love these books.

    17. Judy C.

      Enjoyed Mary Ann’s blog very much, she has such great stories to tell about her childhood. Can’t wait to read her new book.

    18. sharon cawley

      can not wait!

      I can not wait for the series! I will get them (if I do not win them) for my grandduaghters…they will receive them AFTER I read them…!

    19. Missy

      Been reading Mary Ann’s blog for over a year and looking forward to reading Life with Lily with my 12 year old daughter.

    20. Very interesting interview! Looking forward to reading these books ans sharing them with my children 🙂

    21. Linda Laws

      Contest: Life With Lily!!

      Awesome, you were raised at Somerset, I was from Uniontown, Pa.

      Blessings!

    22. Char

      Thank you for the great interview.
      Please enter me in the giveaway.

    23. Felicia

      I love Suzanne’s books and have two daughters that I tell about Amish fiction books all the time. Mary Ann’s books might just be the ticket to helping them to love Amish fiction as much as I do!! Thanks for the opportunity to win her books!!
      mrsa984@gmail.com

    24. I try to remember… I think the only ‘Amish fiction’ I ever read was a book from Josy Picoult. They even made a film about it : the only truth, or something like that. It was in french, because it’s the only amish fictionnal book available in french 🙂
      Entering the world of children in Old Order communities could be very interesting to my wife and I…

      Thanks Suzanne, Mary Ann and Eric and for this interview !

      Have a nice week-end !
      Bob.

    25. Love to win them!

      I’d love to win this book series. Not only am I doing reasearch to write an Amish romance novel but I have three grandchildren to pass the books down to.

    26. Loretta

      If I win, I will read them first then share them with my granddaughters! Thank everyone who has a hand in the giveaway.

    27. Teresa B.

      I have two 10 year-old granddaughters who know nothing about the Amish and the Amish way of life. They live in a very modern world, where living plain and simple is a completely foreign concept. Not only would they benefit from reading these books, but I would encourage them to take the books to school to share with their classmates, who also live in a very materialistic world. This is a lifestyle I have long wanted to educate them about. They (the girls) are at a very open and accepting age, and this would be the perfect time to introduce them to the Amish.

      This is my first knowledge of books written about Amish children, in a children’s dialogue. Very exciting!

      Thanks for the info, Erik.

    28. Valerie

      I'm thrilled these are out

      I wasn’t going to enter the contest as so many here have children the right age and grandchildren. But my co-worker is just getting interested in Amish and has her 3 small grandchildren often and I believe these books would be so beneficial to them that I’d like to try as well, could open up a door of learning Godly values.
      I’m very excited that these books came out for children.

    29. Marilyn from MI

      Life With Lily

      I have been a fan of Suzanne’s for a long time. I’m sure I will also be a fan of Mary Ann’s. I can’t wait to start reading her blog. My 8 year old granddaughter is an avid reader and she is also interested in all things “Amish”, so I am sure she would enjoy these books.

    30. KayG

      Please enter me in the giveaway. Would love to read this. I enjoy reading Amish books of all kinds. Thank you

    31. Loretta T

      Comment on Mary Ann Kinsinger on an Amish upbringing

      One comment only: I was so glad to read Mary Ann’s thought on “Breaking Amish”. If anyone is farmilier with the Amish it is easily recognized as a ‘fake’ show.
      I am so disappointed the world is getting such a sorry imitation of Amish life.

    32. Linda

      May I jump on the buggy to be included in the Life with Lily giveaway? Suzanne and Mary Ann and Erik make a great team!

    33. I'm intriqued

      My husband and I have met the founders of a new Colorado Amish community. It has grown in a few years from 2 families to several hundred members.

      They were kind enough to invite us to their beautiful home nestled at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. They seem to have a special, yet simple life.

    34. Jessica M

      What a neat concept these books are! I was wondering recently what Amish families do in the evenings after work and chores are done?

      Thank you so much for sharing with us!

    35. Terry Berger

      Is it too late?

      Hey Erik,
      Is it too late to be included in the book give-away. It would make a nice addition to my grandchildren’s library.

      Terry

    36. Stephanie O

      I would like get this series for my daughter, she is nine. Looks like an interesting series… think I will read it myself.

    37. life with lily

      Would love to share this series with my granddaughters!

    38. Marilyn

      If I’m not to late, I’d love a copy of Mary Ann’s book…I follow her blog!

    39. Sharon Henning

      Breaking Amish IS fake. I want it off the air.

      I want these books so badly!! My 81 yo mother and I read them and pass them around. I will be getting these even if I don’t win. AND I WANT TLC TO TAKE BREAKING FAKE AMISH OFF THE AIR…. The Amish are bothered enough by the Englisch without this show…RIDICULOUS…just venting here.. ;)Thanks!!

    40. Juanita Cook

      Hoping to win this book. Have a wonderful grand daughter that I want to introduce to the Amish fiction books. So it will go to her if I should win after I read it too.

    41. Linda Y.

      I realize the above contest is closed.

      Another way to win a free book, for those of you who like to write captions, is to enter Suzanne Woods Fisher’s Photo Caption Contest. The weekly winner will receive a copy of the book, LIFE WITH LILY. To participate, go to http://suzannewoodsfisher.com/blog/ until Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2012. You may need to scroll down.

      Also, until Dec. 4, 2012, a giveaway is going on at http://hutt-writevoice.blogspot.com/2012/11/life-with-lily-mary-ann.html

      It will not work to enter here on Amish America; you have to leave this site and go to the others if you are interested.