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A Best Kept Tanglewood Secret

Patricia St. John, the author of Treasures of the Snow and Tanglewoods' Secret, has inspired me with her life and writings. I choose to research St. John for my term project for my Children's Literature class in 2014 . We, as humans, find it difficult to forgive and reconcile each other at times. We face everyday life, hoping people will love us. We long for peace with God. We experience tragedies. In St. John's books, her real-to-life plots mimic ours and show us how to live. I think the spiritual honesty, the emotional realism, and challenging situations that need overcome are easy to follow. Every time I read her books, I'm always thankful for the simple messages from Jesus---"come to me, I will save you, I will give you rest and protection." Biographical research and writing is a good exercise for all students. In writing class, I like to pull out my portfolio and show them how to write a biography.

Patricia was born in February of 1919 to her parents, Harry and Ella who lived in England. Patricia's father was an evangelist and a missionary. He established Bible Schools, nurtured native believers in other countries, and taught about the Bible wherever he went.

Patricia's mother was outstanding. Warm, affectionate, and intelligent, she made a perfect match for Mr. St. John. Ella stayed home and created a warm, comfy home for Harry to return to after his many journeys abroad. She enthusiastically raised her children and gave them a wonderful upbringing. As Patricia says, "My mother brought us up to love God and to love all things beautiful and to laugh." (St. John, 32) Etched forever in Patricia's memory is the scene she saw one night while trying to sleep. Her mother went from bedside to bedside, praying for her children. Such security and warmth Patricia's mother added to her life!

When Patricia was seven years old, her mother moved her family to Switzerland for a year so the children could learn French in a village school. The children thrived heartily in that glorious year of outdoors and happy vacations. Years later, the book Treasures in the Snow was born out of her real experience with her best friend Annette, the little boy, Dani, who broke his leg, and the little kitten name Klaus.

Patricia was a girl that blossomed in the outdoors. Her own words depict the fineness of nature, "Perhaps I loved the autumn the best of all; harebells on the high chalk turf, the last glory of trees, more beautiful in the dying than in their living; the freshness of wind on the slopes of the Beacon, laden with the scent of the russet bracken..." (St. John, 52-53)

Patricia wanted to start in medicine schooling, but it didn't work out right away. So she became a house mother in Clarendon at her aunt's school for girls. In 1943, Patricia began her nurses training at St. Thomas's in London. Patricia had a lot of colorful experiences in the next two years serving as a nurse in World War 2. In ministering to children, Patricia wanted something to read, so night after night, she wrote the stories of Tanglewoods' Secret, reliving the days when her brother and she roamed the woods and hills. Her sister Hazel convinced her to publish the story. When the letters from people came back to her, she was pleased and embarrassed at the same time. The thought came to her that writing was something she could do for God and the thought thrilled her.

Patricia spent some time in Tangier, Morocco as a missionary with her brother Farnham and his wife Janet. But opposition to the Christian's work and zeal in the Morocco mountains began and Patricia was forced to leave. Patricia went back to England and wrote Rainbow Garden, Three Go Searching, The Fourth Candle, and Star of Light. She also wrote the biography of Hudson Pop, and had her book of verses published.

Patricia never married. She was a dedicated missionary wherever she went. She faced many times of discouragement. She would wonder if she was wasting her time, or if she had mistaken her call. But through it all, she maintained her sweet, Christian outlook on life.

After her father died on May 11, 1957, Patricia stayed with her mother in England, and wrote her father's biography. Two years later, she was asked to write the history on the revival in Rwanda, so Patricia gladly went back to Morocco to do research in 1965.

In 1966, Patricia fulfilled a life-long dream of walking in the steps that Apostle Paul walked in. Her sister Hazel, who lived in Beirut, went with her since she knew the country. Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, Tarsus, Laodicea, Ephesus, and Rome all became real to her as she walked those paths. Returning home with lots of sun-gilded happy memories of their trip, Patricia sat down and wrote Twice Freed, the story Onesimus.

Although Patricia grieved the loss of her parents, and her two brothers, she found new sources and ideas for her writings in England. The broken homes around her prompted her to write Where the River Begins. In May of 1985, she was asked to visit refugee camps on the Sudan/Ethiopian border. She was glad to go, always having a heart for African people. She came home and wrote the story called I Needed a Neighbor.

On August 15, 1993, Patricia St. John fell asleep never to wake up. Her life and her going seemed comparable to Enoch's in the Bible. She had been an amazing prayer warrior and led many to Christ. It seemed that Patricia followed her own words: "Is not the heart and crux of all our work - all Christian witness worldwide - so to live day by day that those who watch us will say, 'If that is Christianity, I want it'?"

Patricia St. John was not famous on earth, but in Heaven she had made a difference. Her life will continue to pass on a legacy.

I enjoyed this study, and love finding more "hero's" for students to look at for encouragement. Some of my favorite books by Patricia St. John are Tanglewoods' Secret, Treasures of the Snow, and Star of Light.

Patricia never seemed to make a big deal out of her writing. Although her books have been translated into more than twenty-two languages, they never got any literary recognition. Nevertheless, her books have affected many, many children and adults across the world. Try to find some of her thirteen chapter books for your children to read! You won't regret it. I only have four of her books but want to find more titles.

Happy May!

Jennifer Yoder


St. John, Patricia Patricia St. John Tells Her Own Story. Indiana: Kingsley Press, 2008

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