All Things Bright and Beautiful | Ashley Bryan

That morning, our car wouldn’t start. It made a sound like an emphatic no, and that was that. So we had it towed–the first in a series of car-related but otherwise disconnected events that would end four days later, with a crunch that was the sound of another driver colliding with (and, ultimately, totaling) our parked car.

The same day that we sent our car in for a minor repair, I had a backache. I assumed it was the sort of thing one gets for carting a toddler around on one hip all day, so I took a bunch of ibuprofen and went to bed early in a room redolent of Tiger Balm. What it was, though, was the flu–not the gruesome kind that leaves you sweaty and asleep on the bathroom floor, but the kind that whittles away at your constitution until you’re gaunt and delicate and feel the way I imagine Victorian invalids feeling as they sip boullion in beds hung with damask curtains.

I was the first, but we all caught it. Two weeks later, as I write this, three of us still have it.

I have forgotten what it’s like to feel rested.

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Little Book, Big Story

If confronted with one of these things at a time, I would probably feel badly used by the universe. I would complain and feel bad about complaining, but I would complain anyway. But because the troubles have come all at once and have so shaken us out of our schedules and routines that I cannot rely on any single day to look the way I think it should, I have taken to peering behind every new issue to see what God is doing back there and how the heck we are supposed to respond.

And then J.I Packer comes to my rescue:

. . . the whole purpose of [the Christian’s] existence is that with heart and life they should worship and exalt God. In every situation, therefore, their one question is: what will make the most for God’s glory? What should I do in order that in these circumstances God may be glorified?

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Little Book, Big Story

How can we glorify God in these circumstances, when we are feverish, fatigued, and on hold with insurance companies? We can praise him by making homemade chicken broth and fetching water bottles for each other even when we’d all rather lie on the couch. We can get up with the baby again (without grumbling). We can keep the teapot full.

Little Red Teapot | Little Book, Big Story

We can glorify him by showing patience toward insurance agents, each other, and the other driver. We can give thanks for the fact that the driver–having fallen asleep at the wheel–hit our empty, parked car and not a building. Or an oncoming car. Or a pedestrian.

Do we do this perfectly? No. Not even close. But it helps to remember that, even at 3:30 in the morning (when there is typically a lot of grumbling), we can thank God for giving us these particular trials at this particular time, because through them, we see him at work in us. We depend upon him, because we can’t take for granted some of the things that we’ve grown accustomed to–our health, for one. Our car. Our quiet nights.

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Little Book, Big Story

None of this really has to do with today’s book. It would be a neat little conclusion if I could tell you, “And this book was so encouraging to us while we were sick!”, but in truth we read a lot of Mo Willems, watched Robin Hood about four times and read this book not once.

But All Things Bright and Beautiful is lovely and restorative and I like looking through it now–it’s the literary equivalent, perhaps, of that Victorian boullion. Notice the lively, paper-cut illustrations! The comforting words of a familiar hymn! The fact that we check this one out from our local library over and over again!

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Little Book, Big Story

And notice the joy! The joy is good. I needed the memory of that joy around 3:30 this morning.

The Friend | Sarah Stewart

I had intended to tell you about a different book entirely today, but when I happened across The Friend in a used bookstore this week, it shouldered its way to the top of my schedule and demanded to be written about right now. That’s rare–I can’t remember the last time a book was that bossy. But I suppose that when a book is this good, it gets to be bossy.

I pulled The Friend off the bookstore shelf because I recognized the names of Sarah Stewart and David Small as those of the author and illustrator of one of our family’s favorite books, The Gardener (also, The Librarian). I started reading from the beginning because the story whisked me into itself, rhymes and all. And I bought the book because in the end, it punched me right in the gut, in a gentle but still sort of violent way that made me cry right there in the bookstore.

As a reader, you have to respect that.

The Friend | Little Book, Big Story

I don’t really want to tell you much about the story, because its power lies in its unassuming charm, but I will tell you this much: The Friend is a sweet, rhymed poem (in the style of The Librarian) about quirky, precocious Belle who is overlooked by her wealthy parents but beloved of Bea, the family’s servant. But there are deeper themes of love and redemption in this story, and there are glimpses of the Gospel–like those in The Orange Shoes, they are comfortably a part of the story, perhaps included accidentally. But you’ll know them when you see them.

One last note: Be sure to read all the way to the dedication at the end. That is all.

The Friend | Little Book, Big Story

100 Cupboards | N.D. Wilson

I am a black belt in Taekwondo. By “am,” I mean “was,” as in “I earned my black belt in eighth grade.” And by “black belt,” I mean “zero degree black belt,” which is the lowest possible black belt a person can earn. But I like to toss that sentence–“I am a black belt in Taekwondo”–into conversations with boys of the ten-and-under set, just to see what happens.

I don’t have a lot of currency with boys, after all. As a mother of three daughters, I can throw a mean tea party, tell stories about sweet, talking animals but no bad guys, and please everyone in my house just  by putting on a nice dress and some lipstick, but I’m not adept at talking about football, playing ninjas, or understanding the appeal of wrestling. But I do know how to hold a nunchuck properly and I can still do a pretty decent side kick, so I like to think I’m not a complete dead zone where the boys are concerned.

100 Cupboards | Little Book, Big Story

Likewise, I’m not that great at finding good books for boys to review on this blog, simply because there isn’t much of a demand for them at our house, so when I do find a book that I think boys might like I get really excited–and then I second guess myself. I start asking friends if their sons read the book and if so, did they like it? Do boys even like that sort of thing?

But I didn’t even have to ask about this one. I read 100 Cupboards in about two days, got more than a little creeped out, loved it, and knew I’d found a winning book that didn’t center around an unlikely heroine in Victorian dress, a book that would doubtless appeal to boys, their sisters, and their parents.

100 Cupboards | Little Book, Big Story

The premise of 100 Cupboards is straightforward and awesome: while staying with his aunt and uncle after his parents’ mysterious disappearance, Henry discovers a bunch of cupboards hidden beneath the plaster of his bedroom wall, each one leading to a different place including (but not limited to) Endor, Byzanthamum, and Arizona. Adventure ensues.

This is the first of three books, and though I have not read the other two, I am definitely looking forward to reading them. The worlds that N.D. Wilson uncovers are enthralling–I can’t wait to see what else he has hidden away in those cupboards. A word of warning, though: parts of this book are unsettling to say the least, so this may be a bit much for younger kids (or for squeamish older kids). I’d compare the creepiness factor to that of Coraline, if that helps.

100 Cupboards | Little Book, Big Story

But it is an awful lot of fun to read.


 

Good news! The Count of Monte Cristo was worth every one of its thousand-plus pages. I loved it right to the very last word.

Of all the books I read this year, I liked these 10 the best

Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby–not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.

Literary Highlights 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014–so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.

Reading List | Little Book, Big Story

I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself–books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (the series)by L.M. Montgomery

I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)

On Writing Wellby William Zissner

On Writing Well | Little Book, Big Story

This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zissner says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)

North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell

Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs. In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)

Slouching Towards Bethlehemby Joan Didion

Slouching Toward Bethlehem | Little Book, Big Story

In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.

But at William Zissner’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of  one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.

 A Loving Lifeby Paul Miller

A Loving Life | Little Book, Big Story

This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.

The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White

The Once and Future King | Little Book, Big Story

This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.

Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn

Money, Possessions and Eternity | Little Book, Big Story

Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is a lively enough author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well–so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.

For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Colorby Leatrice Eiseman & Keith Recker

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more–all in one huge and beautiful book!

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin

There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story–the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.

I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexadre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it–but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.

And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (I’ll report back next week and let you know–without spoilers!–how the final chapters went.)

First Coming

Our Christmas Tree | Little Book, Big Story

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the maker of the Stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane,
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

- Madeliene L’Engle

Merry Christmas!

Born in the Likeness of Men | Deeply Rooted

I have an aversion to reading birth stories on the internet. It’s not that I don’t care about birth stories–quite the opposite, in fact. I love hearing them told in person, when I can watch a new mother gesture with her hands as she tries to wrestle those first moments into words. I love laughing with her over the things people said, the things she said, during labor, and over how far away it all seems now, as though she has crossed a great chasm and we’re standing there together, looking back at the bridge that brought her to safety.

Birth stories are personal stories, and not just because they have to do with bodily functions: their power lies not in the litany of details–minutes, centimeters, hours–but in the fact that each story is truly unique to the woman who lived it. No one else can share your story with you–not fully, anyway. And while the rest of us can enjoy your story and be moved by it, we eventually have to back away and leave the experience with you, where it is meant to stay. Telling these stories on the internet, then, feels to me like shouting from a platform what ought to be treasured among close friends.

Yes, I have an aversion to reading birth stories on the internet. And so it is fitting (and just this side of hypocritical) that my first full essay for Deeply Rooted opens on a scene from the night of Phoebe’s birth. It seemed right, as I was writing, to include that moment, and so I did. But the irony of it all makes me laugh.

Deeply Rooted, Issue 4: Root | Little Book, Big Story

From there the essay moves into a consideration of the birth of Christ–what we know happened that night in the stable, what might have happened, and what it might have meant to Mary–but still. As I wrote it, I found myself walking a line I never expected to walk, sharing what I never expected to share. But the essay isn’t a birth story: it isn’t about me. Or Phoebe. Or Jesus, much. It’s mostly about Mary. And it’s in the newest issue of Deeply Rooted: Root. (You can purchase a copy here.)

Deeply Rooted, Issue 4: Root | Little Book, Big Story

10 Books That Make Great Gifts for Preschoolers

Your baby is not such a baby anymore. She’s speaking in clear sentences (though the syntax is often an endearing mess); she’s stopped eating books or throwing them off your shelves, but will instead sit still for stories longer than that of Pajama Time! What then? If you’re looking to bulk up that part of your library dedicated to good reads for the over two set, here are my top recommendations:

1. The Story of Creationby Norman Messenger

The Creation Story | Little Book, Big Story

The detailed (and animal heavy) illustrations are fun to study with small zoologists, and the story is a great one for those little readers to learn. (Read the full review.)

2. The Maggie B., by Irene Haas

The Maggie B. | Little Book, Big Story

This one really started warming hearts at our house when each of our daughters reached age four. (Read the full review.)

3. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne

A classic typically recommended for slightly older children, but we tried this one as an early chapter book with our preschoolers and met with great success. (Read the full review.)

4. The Jesus Storybook Bibleby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Every Christian family should own this book. It’s one to read and re-read often. (Read the full review.)

5. The Golden Featherby David and JJ Heller

The Golden Feather | David and JJ Heller

A charming bedtime story, complete with unicorn and hidden bunnies. (Read the full review.)

6. We Are in a Book!, by Mo Willems

We Are in a Book! | Little Book, Big Story

How to describe this book? I can’t do it. But your little reader will love it (you will, too). (Read the full review.)

7. Let the Whole Earth Sing Praiseby Tomie dePaola

A lovely and simple call to worship for everything, everywhere. Beautiful illustrations. With animals! (Read the full review.)

8. How to Be a Baby, by Me, the Big Sisterby Sally Lloyd-Jones

How to Be a Baby (By Me, the Big Sister) | Little Book, Big Story

A hilarious guidebook, by the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible (Read the full review.)

9. Does God Know How to Tie Shoes?by Nancy Carlstrom

Does God Know How to Tie Shoes? | Little Book, Big Story

A young girl asks questions about God, but not catechism-style, “Who are the three persons of God?”-type questions. No, she wants to know if God has to clean his room and if he gets letters. Her parents answer her well. (Read the full review.)

10. Or, you could write your own stories

On Writing for Your Children | Little Book, Big Story

Sound like a crazy idea? It isn’t. (Read more.)

 Bonus List

Here are our favorite Christmas books to read with our preschooler:

1. The Stable Where Jesus Was Bornby Rhonda Growler Greene

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

A gorgeous rhymed poem paired with rich yet cozy illustrations tell the story of Christ’s birth with beauty and grace. Also, there are kittens. (Read the full review.)

2. The Friendly Beastsby Tomie dePaola

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

This lovely book tells the story of Jesus’ birth through the lyrics of an old Christmas carol, and rounds it out with his own distinct illustrations. Tomie dePaola fans, you’ll love this one. (Read the full review.)