More | IC Springman

Our public library hasn’t changed much in the last twenty-five years. I know this because I used to go there when I was a child, and I used to go there when I was a child because I’ve lived in this town since I was three.

The librarians have probably moved a few things around, added some computers, and updated the decor a bit, but I don’t see the changes: the stained glass window is just the way I remember it, and the picture books are right where they always were. I used to explore those shelves, looking for books I would love. Now I explore those shelves looking for books I would love—and, okay, that my kids would love, too—and that is how I found More.

More, by LC Springman | Little Book, Big Story

More is the story of a magpie who collects and collects and collects, until—well, I want you to read this book, so I won’t tell you what happens. But it’s a story that addresses our bent toward hoarding and draws out, in a mere handful of words and some powerful illustrations, a friendship that is willing to stand up to a friend enmeshed in sin and stand by a friend when that sin’s consequences take effect.

This may be reading too much into a simple story—but I don’t think it is. More doesn’t close with a pat moral, but mixes these broader themes into the story gracefully, leaning on Brian Lies’s detailed illustrations to further the text on each page, so that, by the end of the book, we have laughed at and examined and delighted in the book so fully that it’s hard to believe that there’s little more than one to two words per page. Even the limited text provides a beautiful example of a case in which less truly is more.

More, by IC Springman | Little Book, Big Story

More, by LC Springman | Little Book, Big Story


More
IC Springman, Brian Lies (2012)

Stories of the Saints | Joyce Denham

I grew up with a piecemeal view of history, with some knowledge about Vikings and some about American pioneers and some about the major players in WWII, but without an overarching sense of history’s continuing narrative to pin those pieces into place.

I want our daughters to know that narrative, so they have a strong sense of where they fit in the story of our world and find comfort in the fact that our time is not an island around which the past and future flow but a part of a whole that is shaped by the past and is now shaping the future. That desire has largely informed our decision to educate our kids the way we do, and it influences our decision to bring home books like Stories of the Saints.

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Stories of the Saints is a collection of short stories about figures in church history who lived and died for God’s glory. Joyce Denham does not glorify the saints themselves or dwell on what were probably gruesome deaths, but instead points their stories back toward the Lord they served despite opposition. She writes beautifully, presenting imaginative scenes that focus on the history of the saints’ lives rather than on miracles and legends, and Judy Stevens’s illustrations cloak each story in a visible, reverent joy. (I love them.)

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Books like this help place our own time within its context and remind us that others came before us and withstood trials, persecution, and hardship, and God wrought something beautiful out of their obedience. I think it will be increasingly important to help our children understand this, for we do not want our children to be surprised by hardship when it comes (and it is coming, for us as much as for Christians all over the world); we do not want them to feel alone in it, either, as though something strange were happening to them (1 Pet. 4:12)

And so we hold up the lives of the saints for them to study and know, and hope that they take away this when they close the book: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13).

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Christ’s glory will be revealed; he will return. And we long for them to recognize him when he does.


Stories of the Saints
Joyce Denham, Judy Stevens (2007)

The Conviction of Things Not Seen | Story Warren

Robin Hood came with us to the grocery store this morning. He lives at our house, actually, and eats breakfast seated cross-legged underneath Sarah’s chair. He’s thirty-five, she says, but still a kid.

In case that sounds insane, here is some context: Story Warren, a site dedicated to equipping parents to nurture their kids’ imaginations, has graciously published my post “The Conviction of Things Not Seen” on their blog today. (That feels like a triple exclamation mark sort of sentence, but because I am a well-mannered English major who cannot abide that sort of thing, I shall refrain from actually using three exclamation marks there. But you should read that sentence as though they are there.)

That post has everything to do with why Robin Hood lives with us, as Sarah’s imaginary brother.

The Conviction of Things Not Seen | Little Book, Big Story

You can read the full post here. And then I encourage you to explore the rest of their site, because if you ever get the sense that I am a kindred spirit, then I suspect that you, too, will love their content. Watch the about video. Savor this article. Look at all the books they recommend that I’ve never even heard of! (You know I’m going to fix that, pronto.)

A few of our favorite songs

Two weeks ago, Caspar Babypants came to town, so we gathered our two eldest daughters up and went to see him play. His show was part of a family fair hosted in our town’s sports complex, an event that boasted bouncy houses! Rock walls! Face painting! And so many other fun things for rowdy, outgoing kids!

Our girls wanted none of it. We are apparently succeeding at turning our children into pint-sized versions of ourselves, because the bouncy houses—those bastions of fun for kids of all ages—made them turn pale and cower behind us, while the mere presence of a crowd of children—their peers, their compatriots—made them tighten their grip on our hands and tremble. They have no more love for large crowds and loud gatherings than we do, which led us to conclude, quite naturally, that we all need to get out more.

But though they declined the rock wall, the bouncy houses, and the craft table, the girls did consent to go see Barbara Jean Hicks, author of one of my favorite children’s books, The Secret Life of Walter Kitty (oddly, not featured on this blog yet, but that will be remedied), whom they adored and whose book, A Sister More Like Me, was one of their favorite take-aways of the whole day. And they definitely came out of their shell when Caspar Babypants—who, contrary to the belief of one of our children, is not fictional character at all but a real person—kicked off his set with “My Flea Has Dogs.”

Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew) | Little Book, Big Story

That day at the sportsplex, plus my two previous music-centric posts, inspired me to put together another playlist for you, this one featuring some of our favorite kids’ music. These are all artists that sound again and again (and again) in our home and in our car, fueling dance parties and sing-alongs in which we all five participate because—and this is the important part—we all enjoy their songs.

Children's Music That You'll Want to Listen to, Too | Little Book, Big Story

For sweet and lovely lullabies, there’s JJ Heller. For pure silliness, there’s Caspar Babypants. For a perfect mix of both silliness and sweetness—Charlie Hope. There’s Dana Dirksen of Songs for Saplings (but I mentioned her earlier), and the fun and bluesy tunes of Johnny Bregar. And there are a few other favorite songs on the list, just because I thought you’d like them.

(Having listened to Caspar Babypants, tell me: does his voice sound familiar? No? Okay, then, what if you imagined him singing “Peaches“? Yes. It’s Chris Ballew of The Presidents of the United States of America, doing what he was always meant to do.)

Caspar Babypants (aka Chris Ballew) | Little Book, Big Story

Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven | The Pinkney Family

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” That old adage isn’t really about books, I know. But at its simplest level, where it is about books, I don’t like it, because I do judge books by their cover. Every time I pick up an unknown book in the bookstore or click through to its listing on Amazon, I do it because the book’s cover caught my eye, because something about it piqued my interest enough that I wandered over to that shelf and picked up that book (and not the one next to it). From there, I can judge the book by its book reviews or blurb or even content, but if I don’t connect with the cover then I won’t make it as far as the table of contents.

The cover of Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven had that tractor-beam affect on me when I saw it at the library. I may have dropped another book rather abruptly in my compulsion to pick up this one, I don’t remember, but it seems likely. I have long admired Jerry Pinkney’s illustrations (and have already featured his book, Noah’s Arkhere on the blog), so that was part of the cover’s pull—once you’ve encountered his distinctive illustrations, it’s hard not to recognize them when they cross your path again—but I was also intrigued by the book’s byline:

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

“Gathered and Sung by Gloria Jean Pinkney * Art by Jerry Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, and Myles C. Pinkney * Prelude by Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale.” Clearly, there is more to this book than story and pictures, and the making of it was a family affair.

I brought the book home, we loved it, and I later purchased a copy of our own. Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven is a richly illustrated collection of African-American spirituals, presented alongside photographs of families worshiping together and verses that relate to each song.

The book comes with a CD of Gloria Jean Pinkney singing the songs, simply and in a rich alto, so the girls love listening to the songs in car while taking turns holding the book. We recognized many of the songs as hymns sung in our own church, but there were plenty of new songs to learn and the girls jumped into them with gusto, singing “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho” with hearty enthusiasm, while marching around the kitchen (or walking down the block, or sitting on the couch . . . ).

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

For all that, though, what I like best about Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven is the fact that it gives a clear picture of how one family uses music and art to worship the Lord together. From their involvement in the making of the book to the closing essay by Gloria Jean Pinkney about her own history with music, how she grew up with it and shared it with her children, the book is a testament to the idea that worship is something a family does together—music is a way that we can come alongside each other and rejoice in the Lord through housework or hardship. It is a way that we can rejoice in the Lord on on a daily basis—not just on Sundays—and it is a way that we celebrate holidays like this one, raising our voices together to sing his praise.

Music from Our Lord's Holy Heaven, by Jerry Pinkney and family | Little Book, Big Story

Music from Our Lord’s Holy Heaven
Gloria Jean Pinkney, Jerry Pinkney, Brian Pinkney, Myles C. Pinkney, Troy Pinkney-Ragsdale (2005)


In honor of Good Friday (and because I can’t get enough of making little playlists for you), I put together a short playlist of some of our favorite Good Friday and Easter songs. The first three are songs that we sing together as a family and church body on Good Friday; the last is the one that I blast through the house every Easter morning. Enjoy!

Questions With Answers | Dana Dirksen

This is not a review of a book. It is, instead, a review of some music written about a book—the book—and it is music that I think you and the little ones in your immediate vicinity would enjoy, so I am including it here, for your sake, for mine, and for the sake of those little ones.

Questions With Answers is a series of six albums by Dana Dirksen, who takes the Westminster Shorter Catechism and puts it to music. That means that while you run errands or cook dinner or take lengthy road trips, you and your children can memorize not only the catechism itself but various verses that relate to it (but will you ever be able to answer the catechism without singing? I don’t know. We certainly can’t).

Questions With Answers, by Dana Dirksen: music and theology for families | Little Book, Big Story

That is the good and wholesome answer to the question “Why should you listen to Questions with Answers?” But if you’d like an honest answer to why we have folded these into our family’s daily life and culture, here it is: they’re just really, really fun. You might be tempted to think—as I was—that six albums of any one musician could get old over time, but Dana Dirksen is a creative songwriter, and she pulls in just about every genre of music as she writes (just about: I haven’t heard hip hop in there yet, but then, we only have Volumes 1-4). And it doesn’t sound like she explores different genres because she’s trying to keep us listening: it just sounds like she’s having a great time. That joy produces the best music, I think.

These CDs have traveled with us halfway across the country and back. They have gone with us on the first day of kindergarten, down the Washington coast, over the Cascades, and across town. My daughter’s school used them as memorization tools last year; we have gifted them to missionary friends on the hunt for great preschool materials. We received them as a gift and love to give them to others.

That is the long answer to the question, “Why should you listen to Questions with Answers?” If you’re still on the fence, here is a short playlist of some of our favorite songs in the series:

 

And if you go to their website, Songs for Saplings, you can download all six albums for free! How compelling is that?


Questions With Answers, Volumes 1-6
Dana Dirksen, Songs for Saplings

Easter | Jan Pienkowski

Christmas books are easy to come by. We have many, and there are many more waiting on my “To Read” list, and that is good. But Easter books are scarce—really good Easter books, I mean, the kind that have less to do with eggs and bunnies and the beauty of nature than they do with the glory of God and the death and resurrection of his Son. We have some, but not many. And I was hard pressed to find new ones this year.

Perhaps, I mused in the comments at Aslan’s Library, that is because there is no baby in the Easter story and so few farm animals (just that donkey that crops up again and again). Later on, it struck me: there is no baby in the Easter story and there are few farm animals. But what is in the story is not the usual fodder for children’s books: Execution. Betrayal. Suicide. Torture, death, abandonment. Grief.

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

How does an author or illustrator of books for children handle those subjects with delicacy and honesty? No wonder so many authors prefer to come at the story through peripheral characters; no wonder authors tell this story from a slight distance.

I touched lightly on this in my last post when I mentioned my surprise at finding that we had only one book that told the story head on, without some sort of literary filter. After that, a wise commenter directed me toward Jan Pieńkowski’s book, Easter, which I found later that week at our library and lo! It was beautiful.

If you're looking for a classic telling of the Easter story, Jan Pienkowski's book is reverent, faithful, and beautifully illustrated | Little Book, Big Story

The text is that of the King James Bible, so it is rich and elegant and somehow just right. Pieńkowski’s silhouetted illustrations are so unique and powerful, yet so simple, that they suit the intensity of the story of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, allowing him to depict details that would be too disturbing if shown head on without losing any of their gravity. (How he pulls so much expression out of black paper, I don’t know, but he does and he does it well.)

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

Easter is a moving book—one that is hard to read without sniffling at least a little. It is a book that doesn’t look away from the horror of the Crucifixion of Christ, but one that opens and closes with these radiant endpapers meant to remind us that Christ’s death was neither the beginning nor the end of the story, for after it came the Resurrection. After that, everything changed.

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story


Easter
Jan Pieńkowski (1989)