The best books about Mennonites

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Mennonites and why they recommend each book.

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Mennonite Girl at the Welcome Inn

By Mary Ediger,

Book cover of Mennonite Girl at the Welcome Inn

This lovely memoir follows Mary, the daughter of Mennonite Pastors. Her recollections are comical and heartwarming as she deals with growing up in a Mennonite home in a non-Mennonite community. The creativity that goes with being raised with little means and living frugally makes Mary and her family rich beyond belief in adventure and storytelling.


Who am I?

I have the expertise for this topic because I was raised in a loving home with a mother who struggled with bipolar disorder. At times my life was hilariously adventurous or heart-wrenchingly sad. Given little direction, I married an alcoholic and then went on to work at a Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center. I have fallen on hard times, but at the age of thirty-two, as a single mother collecting welfare, I managed to grief, heal and dig myself out, creating a rewarding life. I am optimistic, and I try to find humour in all things, especially after the tears and healing have subsided. My writing has brought me tremendous healing and joy.


I wrote...

Where Is My Happy Ending?: A Journey of No Regrets

By Karen Harmon,

Book cover of Where Is My Happy Ending?: A Journey of No Regrets

What is my book about?

Karen's memoir takes place in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 1970-1990. Looking for love in all the wrong places, Karen leaves home at seventeen at her mother's urging. She soon finds herself emersed in the disco scene, meeting unsavoury characters and going from one dead-end job to another. Where is my Happy Ending is a true story about a girl who enters adulthood after being raised in a home plagued with mental illness. A genuine, heartbreaking and heartwarming account that is relatable to women of all ages. Karen's wit and storytelling abilities and simplicity at looking at life will keep you engaged from start to finish.

Menno-Nightcaps

By S.L. Klassen, Michael Hepher (illustrator),

Book cover of Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by That Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons

I love to cook, and given the passion Mennonites have for potlucks, this list wouldn’t be complete without a favorite cookbook recommendation. The trouble is, which one? There are so many classics. I grew up with the worn and scribbled-on pages of The Mennonite Community Cookbook and later the More-with-Less World Community Cookbook, but ultimately decided on Menno-Nightcaps because, well, I warned you this list is eclectic, right? This book is loaded with not just yummy, practical drink recipes, but loads of Mennonite history. My own husband wooed me with stories of his ancestor who supplied George Washington’s troops with whiskey. How could I not love a book like this? Trust me, it’ll be fun and you’ll never view Mennonites in quite the same way.  


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.


I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

Peace Shall Destroy Many

By Rudy Wiebe,

Book cover of Peace Shall Destroy Many

I first read this book about Mennonites in western Canada during WWII while I was in college. Wiebe had the audacity to pull back the curtain and expose the very human inconsistencies between what we Mennonites believe and how we sometimes behave, particularly around pacifism, racism, and money. Mennonites pride (uh oh) ourselves on living our theology, so the book created quite a stir in the Mennonite world because Wiebe took some shine off the denomination. That very act raised important theological questions for me, ones that I’ll always grapple with in one form or another.

I like to think Wiebe would approve that I, too, have pulled back the curtain with Never Enough Flamingos.


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.


I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

By Rhoda Janzen,

Book cover of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: A Memoir of Going Home

A fun, insightful, humorous revelation about a celebrated poet who returns to her conservative home and examines the people and ideas that shaped her. I identify with this book because I, too, was raised Mennonite. In addition. The protagonist of my book is a Mennonite.


Who am I?

I have been fascinated by women who are artists and activists, such as Ivy Bottini, Käthe Kollwitz and Peggy Guggenheim. (All subjects of plays I wrote). They are convicted, unique, champions of justice, diversity and inclusion.


I wrote...

Goods & Effects

By Alvin Schnupp,

Book cover of Goods & Effects

What is my book about?

Devastated by the death of her husband and sons, Hannah, a Mennonite, sells the family farm and creates a store and living quarters in a delivery truck. She travels several circuits, selling her wares.  Hannah becomes the heart of a network of interlinking lives that span many years. As Hannah’s relationships deepen, her faith diminishes but her vision of humanity expands. Hannah is a clever problem-solver, shrewd schemer, spinner of tender lies, advocate for justice, unwitting promoter of the arts, and dream weaver.   

Women Talking

By Miriam Toews,

Book cover of Women Talking

There is subtle genius in the way Miriam Toews pays such close attention to the humanity of her often heartbreaking characters while also being dryly funny. Set in a closed, conservative Mennonite community, the story unfolds as “minutes” taken by a young man as he listens to a group of women from the community who have discovered they were drugged and assaulted while sleeping, by men they know. (Their fathers, sons, husbands, and friends.) The story is based on a real case, and while the details are chillingly horrific, Toews finds a way for the characters to talk about these things that are warm, humorous, and compassionate, as the women become alive for the first time to their own unexamined power. 


Who am I?

Increasingly, the fiction I’m most drawn to occupies the space between literary and speculative. This space fascinates me both as a reader and a writer. I love stories set in worlds shifted ever-so-slightly from the familiar, where characters are forced to navigate new ways of existing or find ways to escape. Perhaps that’s why so many of my favorite stories—and my first two novels!—tend to feature women in cults or other cloistered communities, caught between their desire for belonging and the potential annihilation of the self. Where do you excavate for happiness in a hostile world? My characters spend their lives trying to answer this question. 


I wrote...

Disaster's Children

By Emma Sloley,

Book cover of Disaster's Children

What is my book about?

Disaster’s Children tells the story of Marlo, raised in a privileged community of wealthy survivalists on an idyllic, self-sustaining Oregon ranch. The outside world, which the ranchers call "the Disaster," is a casualty of ravaging climate change, a troubled landscape on the brink of catastrophe. For as long as Marlo can remember, the unknown that lies beyond the borders of her utopia has been a curious obsession. But just as she plans her escape into the chaos of the real world, a charismatic new resident gives her a compelling reason to stay. And, soon enough, a reason to doubt--and to fear--his intentions. Now, feeling more and more trapped in a paradise that's become a prison, Marlo has a choice: stay in the only home she's ever known—or break away.

Days of Terror

By Barbara Claassen Smucker,

Book cover of Days of Terror

I’ve read this book several times and I don’t believe I ever manage to get through it without shedding a few tears. Have tissues handy. A Mennonite family living in Ukraine in the 1920s has their village destroyed by Russian soldiers. The central character, ten-year-old Peter Neufeld, makes a decision to help his older brother Otto escape after he’s participated in counter-attacks, going against the family’s adherence to passive resistance. The Neufelds decide to leave a land of oppression and move to Canada where they will make an effort to assimilate rather than live apart as they have in Ukraine. It’s a journey filled with challenges and heartbreak, but always with the strength of love of family and humanity as a sustaining factor.


Who am I?

As a child, I was an avid reader and particularly fell in love with historical fiction. My favourite corner for reading was on top of the woodbox by my grandmother’s cookstove. Warm and cozy, I delved into such books as Geoffrey Trease’s Cue for Treason and Jack Schaeffer’s Shane. How wonderful to land for a few hours in the world of Shakespeare’s London or the grasslands of the frontier west. When I worked as a children’s librarian and then began writing books myself, this early love has remained with me—so it factored into the books I chose for schools—and some of the novels I wrote such as The Runaway and Firebird.


I wrote...

Firebird

By Glen Huser,

Book cover of Firebird

What is my book about?

Set during World War I when thousands of Ukrainian immigrants were interned in concentration camps all across Canada, Firebird follows the journey of fourteen-year-old Alex Kaminsky, searching for an older brother who has disappeared. Riding the rails, staying with an immigrant Norwegian family in Edmonton and then, when authorities are on his trail, finding sanctuary with an elderly school teacher in Calgary, Alex finally discovers Marco close to death in a camp in Banff. 

My hope is that Firebird will allow young people of today to walk for a while in the shoes of these Canadian immigrant boys—back in the midst of a war that tore families apart not only on the battlefields of Europe but in the quieter corners of Canada.

Thrill of the Chaste

By Valerie Weaver-Zercher,

Book cover of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels

Full confession here. I’m not a big romance reader and so I’m baffled by why Mennonite/Amish mystery romances are such a huge genre. Maybe it’s the perceived simplicity and innocence of the sect? Maybe they take people back to a time they never experienced themselves? That’s why I found Weaver-Zercher’s book helpful in clarifying why so many people love these books. Her writing is witty and engaging and kept me reading even though the subject itself is on the academic side. If you do want to explore the genre, the best source for a recommendation is the podcast Just Plain Wrong where three Mennonite librarians irreverently dissect Mennonite romances on a weekly basis.


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.


I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

The Upside-Down Kingdom

By Donald B. Kraybill,

Book cover of The Upside-Down Kingdom

If you’ve browsed my list this far, maybe you’re curious enough to peek into Mennonite theology, which truly is upside-down from the world we live in. Even though I’d been Mennonite all my life, this book, which I read decades ago, explained what radical Christian discipleship meant in a way I’d never fully understood. All those things that make the theology challenging—choosing pacifism, taking care of the least in society, living humbly instead of seeking power, turning the other cheek, forgiving when it’s easier to seek revenge—are also what make it transformative. If only living it were that easy.


Who am I?

I was born and raised in Kansas and will forever have a soft spot in my heart for golden wheat fields, sunflower-filled ditches, and sunsets that explode colors on the horizon. I always knew I’d write a book set in Kansas, and I’d explore my long Mennonite linage and its seemingly unrealistic theology. Pacifism is a beautiful concept until you’re faced with protecting the people you love. As I grew older, I became more curious about larger, practical questions. It’s one thing to be a conscientious objector to war. It’s another thing to confront the cosmically dark evil of your neighbor. From that, Never Enough Flamingos was born.


I wrote...

Never Enough Flamingos

By Janelle Diller,

Book cover of Never Enough Flamingos

What is my book about?

Ahhh, those quirky Mennonites. They choose peace and forgiveness, but then how do they confront evil in their midst, especially when that evil—the man who steals the souls of little girls—is also the savior for so many in the congregation who are financially desperate. What do they choose to do? Save the farm and sacrifice their daughter, or save the daughter and lose the farm?

Kirkus Reviews says this about Never Enough Flamingos, a 2017 Kansas Notable Book Selection: "It is a testament to Diller's authorial strength that, through the despair, she weaves in disarming humor... Peopled with some enduring characters and driven by both compassion and sarcasm, this is a vivid, surprising page-turner."

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