At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)

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4 Tips For Connecting With the Moms in Your Church | Tirzah Magazine

Before I had children, I didn’t know what to make of mothers. I was a new wife in a church full of young families and students, and though I had plenty of opportunities to meet with the moms in our church body, I struggled to know how to connect with them. Just when I’d have a handle on a conversation, it would dip into foreign territory: diapers, educational philosophies, some story from their day that I only loosely understood. I stuck with those women, though, and I’m thankful for that. . . .

This morning, Tirzah Magazine published my article “Four Tips for Connecting With the Moms in Your Church.” Tirzah is a gorgeous publication written for young women—newlyweds, college students, single women—and I have followed them for years, even though I am no longer any of those things. Writing this article on how I overcame my fear of moms took months and months, but I loved sitting with this subject, mediating on it and finding just the right words to share a topic dear to my heart. I hope you enjoy it, but I also hope that you enjoy reading through Tirzah!

You can read the full article here. 

 

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10 Books That Celebrate Spring

Some years February is mopey and melancholic. It mists the back of my neck with gray rain, and the clouds seem so low, so immovable that I’m tempted to reach up and try to touch them. But this year, I detected a decided tone of mockery in February’s weather: it snowed, and then the snow turned to gray slush and then it went away. The sun came out for a week or so then, warm enough for walking and wondering at crocuses and snowdrops and feeling hopeful about life in general.

And then the snow came back.

It was white and fluffy snow, the kind of snow we’re glad to see in November. But I caught myself shaking my fist at it and wanting to retreat into some inner part of me that remembered crocuses and snowdrops and the promising first shoots of daffodils. Instead, I dug out the picture books.

Normally, I like to fill the weeks of Lent with posts about beautiful Easter books. But this year I decided to start with a list of books about spring, when the whole earth (well, this hemisphere of it) resurrects, and new life buds and blooms in every corner.

10 Books That Celebrate Spring | Little Book, Big Story

You can find a list of my favorite traditional Easter stories here, and I’ll post more in the weeks to come. But today, we’re doing something a little different, something that looks at the new life promised in those crocuses and birds’ eggs.

These are books—many of them poetry—that make you want to go outside and wonder at the world contained within a droplet of water. They are books that till the soil within us so we are ready to consider the breaking up, sowing, and bursting forth that is Easter.

But Then it’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano

This sweet book echoes exactly my impatience right now. “First you have brown, all around you have brown . . . “. But Then It’s Spring reads like a poem—but a charming poem, not a chanty one. And Erin Stead illustrates it with all the warmth and beauty of A Sick Day for Amos McGee (one of our favorites).

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies

This “First Book of Nature” is full of poems that span the entire year, but we’ve been reading through the spring section for now, savoring Davies’ meditations on cherry blossoms and birds’ nests. The book is big, with gorgeous collage illustrations, bright colors, and text that celebrates the small beauties around us.

The Creation Story, by Norman Messenger

The Creation Story | Little Book, Big Story

It is good to remember where all those plants begin, and wonderful to consider that they all spring from the ones spoken into being by God. Norman Messenger’s illustrations are filled with detail and life and do this first story justice. (Read the full review.)

All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, by Valerie Worth

All the Small Poems, by Valerie Worth | Little Book, Big Story

These short poems are not only about spring, but they rest briefly on many spring-related topics, like flowers and small creatures and rain . Worth’s poems are a delight to read together, and remind us of the wonder tucked into some of the most ordinary aspects of our lives. (Read the full review.)

A Seed is Sleepyby Dianna Hutts Aston

A Seed is Sleepy, by Dianna Hutts Aston | Little Book, Big Story

A Seed is Sleepy is one of a series of books on interesting aspects of nature. Sylvia Long’s illustrations are richly detailed and show the beauty and variety of the seeds that house strange flowers and plants from all around the world. This book is a beautiful reminder that though they don’t seem to be doing much right now, there are sleepy seeds laboring all around us right now.

The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker

The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker | Little Book, Big Story

These poems aren’t only about spring either—in fact, they go through a year’s worth of flowers—but spring means flowers and poetry to me, and these are the best flower poems I know. Cicely Mary Barker assigns each flower a corresponding fairy, then writes about that fairy’s quirks and temperament in a way that makes the poems easy to memorize and the flowers easy to recognize in the wild. Some of the newer collections of Flower Fairies add gimmicks like stories and crafts, but this one is just the poems, arranged by season, and Barker’s classic illustrations.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia and I are reading this one together right now, and the image of those little green shoots peeping through the tangle of forgotten rose vines is enough to make my spring-hungry heart happy. A beautiful classic, and one that deserves its own post here on the blog.

A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike

A Child's Calendar, by John Updike | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so this book isn’t only about spring either, but it does fit spring within its context and I love that. John Updike wrote a poem for every month of the year, and Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations follow one family through all four seasons, poem by poem. It’s a wonderful book, and the poem “April” contains one of my favorite lines about spring anywhere: “The blushing, girlish world unfolds.” If that doesn’t describe spring, what does?

The Reason for a Flower, by Ruth Heller

Once at a Young Author’s Conference, I heard Ruth Heller speak about illustrating children’s books. I liked her then, but I love her now—her detailed drawings and unexpected rhymes are just what subjects like grammar and botany need.

Anything by LM Montgomery

LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

LM Montgomery’s books are worth reading at any time of the year. But there’s something about spring that makes me want to read and re-read her work, preferably on the front porch, where I can smell freshly tilled garden plots and see as many flowers as possible. (Read more about LM Montgomery.)

And A Bonus ONe, Just for You:

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

Imagine that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle had been written by Elisabeth Elliot, and you’ll have some idea what to expect from this book. But even so Humble Roots will probably surprise you. Hannah Anderson mediates on the topic of humility, weaving in stories from her life in rural Virginia as well as a vignette about a different flower or plant for each chapter. This is already one of the best books I’ve read this year.


An Aside

Have you had a chance to check out the new Book List? You can find it here, or you can learn more about it in this post.


What about you? What Books do you love reading in the first days of spring?

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The Book List is here!

It took weeks of formatting and lots of chocolate, but I did it! I compiled a book list for you! And I’m so thankful to those of you who asked for a list like this—I may not have done it otherwise, and I’m so very glad I did.

So. What is it?

An exhaustive (that is, very long) list of true and beautiful books, compiled by the blogger behind Little Book, Big Story.

The Book List is a curated list of my very favorite books. Most of the books on it have been featured on the blog, but some haven’t yet. They’re all books that our family has loved—the ones I’m quick to recommend to friends and give as gifts—and they’re organized by category and linked to the original review wherever possible. You can view the full, prettily formatted and linked version here. You can find that any time by looking at the header of this page (see it up there, next to the “About” page? It’s there for you whenever you need it).

But there’s also a printable version that has all of the same titles in a condensed format, so you can print it out and take it with you to the library. You can find that one here. (It’s also linked to on the Book List page, so you can find it again there.)

Ten of My Favorite Adventure Stories | Little Book, Big Story

Now, I said “curated” and “condensed.” But I did not say “brief”: this is a long list. Even when I tried to rein myself in and list only favorites, I still ended up with page after page of recommendations. I hope you enjoy browsing through the finished list and that you find some new favorites for your family!

Footnote

If you do want to look through a complete list of every book that has ever appeared on this blog, you can find them all in the Bookshop—I update that regularly, and it works as a sort of visual display of the entire Little Book, Big Story catalog.

A Second Footnote

If you come across any links that don’t go where they ought to, would you please let me know so I can fix them?

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Found | Sally Lloyd-Jones

This review might seem a little redundant. I did just write about another Sally Lloyd-Jones book, after all, and I reviewed a book about Psalm 23 not long ago. I even went on about books on Psalm 23 in that post, saying that they were nice and all, but that not many were worth sharing.

But the next month Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago released a book on Psalm 23, and of course it’s worth sharing.

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Found is a bigger-than-usual board book that pairs the text from The Jesus Storybook Bibles Psalm 23 with Jago’s illustrations of a shepherd and his sheep. Of course, that’s the approach that I ultimately shrugged my shoulders at in my January post, but Jago’s interpretation is anything but bland. His shepherd is tender with his sheep in a way that seems just right for a book aimed at the littlest readers.

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

An aside: I love Jago’s illustrations in The Jesus Storybook Bible. But his newer work is amazing—take a look at his Etsy shop and you’ll see what I mean. This book, like Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, is done in that newer style, and I love it.

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

So, once again, Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago, the super group we know and love, have illuminated a well-worn passage of Scripture in both word and image. I tucked this beauty away and will give it, I think, to Phoebe for Easter, because it’s just perfect for giving to little people for Easter. What will you do with your copy? (Because you’re buying this right now, aren’t you?)


Found
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jago (2017)

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John Brown | John Hendrix

I knew two things about this book when I grabbed it off the library shelf:

  1. John Brown was a controversial guy whose legacy had something to do with a militia, maybe.
  2. No such controversy surrounds John Hendrix, whose book Miracle Man is one of my favorites, and whose hand-lettered “Hendrix” on this book’s spine compelled me to tuck it in my book bag.

I learned a lot more about both Johns when I got home. John Brown was controversial—I was right about that. As a white man living when the tide was turning, yet hadn’t fully turned, against slavery, John Brown took up arms and fought to bring slavery to an end. He loved the Lord and saw violence as a way to bring a great grief to an end. His raid on a federal armory in the town of Harper’s Ferry was distastrous and led to his capture and execution.

He is not an obvious hero.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But John Hendrix treats his story well, neither glorifying Brown’s call to violence, nor underplaying Brown’s passion and love for those enslaved. Here was a man who saw injustice and said not, “Somebody should do something about that,” but “Something must be done”—and then did something about it.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

I try to keep my daughters’ shelves stocked with stories of heroes—people who trusted the Lord through difficult circumstances, yes, but also figures from history whose stories are worth telling and retelling. John Brown fits almost into both of those categories, but his story is not a clear success and that is, I think, one of its merits. We have to think about this story: Was he right to wage an actual war against slavery? Did he, in the end, accomplish what he set out to do? How was he changed by the events at Harper’s Ferry?

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

There is no setting this book down and thinking, Well, that was nice. John Hendrix’s words as well as his illustrations push the reader into deeper study, and his author’s note at the end of the book gives an interesting glimpse into what drew him to write about John Brown:

John was a devout believer in Christianity. He used the Bible’s words—that men are loved and valuable to God—as a holy plumb line. When he held this truth up against the crooked world, he knew things should be different. I was astonished to read about John’s belief that black people should not just be free but equal, which was an idea far outside mainstream abolitionism in the antebellum United States. His passion for freedom was undisputed. Frederick Douglass said of John Brown: ‘His zeal in the cause of my race was greater than mine. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.’

Those are powerful words about a man who, in the end, did just that: he loved and laid down his for his neighbors. And John Hendrix tells that story well, both in his words and illustrations.


John Brown: His Fight For Freedom
John Hendrix (2009)

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To Dust You Shall Return | Deeply Rooted Blog

Ash Wednesday admits the dark into an otherwise well-lit space. We dim the lights—no, we shut them off. And in their place, we light candles, but around the candles’ contained glow is shadow. That shadow alters familiar faces, draws us near to one another in a ring around our pastor and around the table that ordinarily holds the bread and the wine. Today that table holds candles, a cross, and a small dish of ashes.

Those ashes wait as we read the liturgy. They wait as we sing hymns, somber ones in minor keys. They wait until our pastor takes them up and calls us to him, pronouncing ancient words over each of us as we move toward him in single file. We lower our eyes as he says them, and we remember who we are:

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

He then marks our foreheads with ash, drawn on in the shape of a cross.

Yesterday, my post about Ash Wednesday went up on the Deeply Rooted blog. You can read it in full here.

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