Baby Wren and the Great Gift | Sally Lloyd-Jones

A new book by Sally Lloyd-Jones is always something to celebrate, but when the new book is itself a celebration—even better! Baby Wren and the Great Gift follows the story of Baby Wren, who admires the gifts of the other creatures in the canyon around her and wonders what she can do that’s wonderful, too. By the end of the story, she has her answer, and in the process, gives one of the most stirring examples of worship I’ve read.

The repetition in this story is lovely—rhythmic, musical, but not mind-numbing to read aloud—and all three of my older daughters (ages 2-8) loved the book. Jen Corace’s illustrations (you may recognize her work from Little Pea or many other lovely books) are gorgeous, too.

So. Baby Wren and the Great Gift is a beautiful book.

Baby Wren and the Great Gift, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

But it is also an example of how an author, while introducing a truth to children, may bring that same truth out to meet parents—parents who sorely needed this reintroduction—again. As Baby Wren looks admiringly on the gifts given to kingfishers, sunfish and ring-tailed cats (but not to canyon wrens), I found myself thinking of the many ways that adults do this:

Look at how bold you are, talking to strangers about the Gospel.

Look at how clean your home is, how ready you are to welcome people into your life!

Look at how gentle you are with your children, how kindly you answer their questions. 

Baby Wren and the Great Gift, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

And we ask, like Baby Wren, Why can’t I do those things too? This simple story has for its foundation a deeper truth, one that can bear the weight of adults as well as children, and I found myself challenged as I read this one with my children (again and again—did I mention they loved it?) to admire the gifts that God has given those around me—in our church body, in our neighborhood and in our family—and to look again at how to use well the gifts he’s given me.

Baby Wren and the Great Gift, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

That is one of the things I love about Sally Lloyd-Jones’ books: her ability to connect with parents as well as children, without weighing the story down with a moral or aiming jokes at the parents that soar over the children’s heads. If you’ve read her best-known work, The Jesus Storybook Bible, then you’ve seen this ability in action. Baby Wren and the Great Gift is another beautiful example of Lloyd-Jones using the gifts she’s been given to do something beautiful—to fill families with song.


Baby Wren and the Great Gift
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Jen Corace (2016)

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The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic | Jennifer Trafton

I have a confession to make: I read this book over a year ago, but even though it was lovely and completely worthy of a spot on this blog, I didn’t rush out and review it for you. I should have. The reasons I didn’t review it right away are hard to pin down, but they have something to do with the fact that it’s taken me over a year to realize that I just don’t know how to describe The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. The story is delightful, charming, and unlike anything else I’ve read, but I still don’t know how to describe it. I’m writing about it now because I can’t keep it from you any longer: you need to know about this book.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

I’ll start with a summary, and perhaps that will get me warmed up: Persimmony Smudge (whose name is perfect, by the way) discovers a secret about the island where she lives and sets out to save her fellow islanders from certain doom. But Persimmony’s biggest obstacle isn’t a super villain with a diabolical scheme to take down the island government—it’s the islanders’ persistent refusal to believe that they are in any danger at all.

Persimmony stands up for the truth again and again, and I love that about her. She is ridiculed for believing something seemingly ludicrous by kings, peasants, loved ones, and strangers, but she is a determined heroine who does hard things no matter what it costs her. And the world she inhabits is quirky and worth saving, the sort of place that has new surprises tucked away in every cave and tunnel.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

There! Now that I’ve taken a stab at describing the story, I feel a bit better, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. There’s still that undefinable magic to Jennifer Trafton’s story that I can’t pin down, but I do hope I’ve shared enough to inspire you to add this one to the top of your reading list. If you’re still on the fence, though, there’s this: the book is illustrated by Brett Helquist, one of my very favorite artists and illustrator of many extraordinary stories, the most notable of which is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. You’re sold now, aren’t you?


The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Jennifer Trafton (2011)

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The Wilderking Trilogy | Jonathan Rogers

“I like mysteries because they’re scary, but you always know they’ll turn out right.”

So said our eldest child, not realizing that her words ushered in a new era of reading for our family. This era—in which we can read about the defeat of Voldemort, Smaug and Gnag the Nameless without sending little ones to bed with the kindling for nightmares—is one that I have looked forward to for a very long time. I have hoarded stories for it in the hope that, when this new era dawned, we’d be prepared, and though Lydia made her observation casually over breakfast, I spent the better part of the next two weeks pulling this book and that one off the shelf, wondering if she might be ready (at last!) for The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. Or The Hobbit. Perhaps The Wingfeather SagaMaybe?

But at the same time, I was reading The Wilderking Trilogy myself and enjoying it immensely, so I started there: I nonchalantly handed her the first volume and asked her to tell me what she thought.

She appeared at my elbow an hour later and wondered if I had, perhaps, finished the second book yet.

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Rogers’ books are set in the fictional realm of Corenwald and follow the story of young Aidan Errolson, who confronts gators, meets feechiefolk, and receives a surprising message from Bayard the Truthsayer. Aidan’s story is a retelling of the story of King David, hitting the major plot points but interpreting each one with a swampy, fantastical touch.

I loved the books from start to finish, with just one reservation: in the whole series, there are less than a half dozen female characters, and none of them stick in the story for more than a few pages—even the crowd scenes are notably devoid of ladies. I didn’t know what to make of this, especially given the fact that there are a few fascinating women to choose from in the biblical account of David’s life (see: Michal and Abigail). The good news, though, is that my daughter was so caught up in the story that she didn’t even notice the absence of girls—and for a girl who loves fancy things and books with ringletted heroines, that’s saying something.

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

The Wilderking Trilogy, then, is a great series for kids who, like Lydia, are just dipping their toes into the exciting sea of adventure and fantasy stories, and who may have, like Lydia, turned eight this past week (and celebrated with freshly pierced ears and a trip to The Trampoline Zone—though not in that order). They’re action-packed but not too intense, and some of the characters are profoundly memorable (see: Errol and Dobro). And they are hilarious—perfect fodder for a summer read-aloud.


The Wilderking Trilogy
Jonathan Rogers (2014)

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5 Poetry Books That Our Family Loves

I missed National Poetry Month by a solid month with this post, but you seem like a forgiving bunch, and one who doesn’t mind reading about poetry out of season, right? Of course, there is no “out of season” for poetry, really. It’s perfect for reading in the spring, when garden beds and sunsets seem to speak in verse, and for reading on sunny summer afternoons—preferably on a picnic blanket in a backyard, perhaps with chickens clucking nearby and bees weaving in and out of the flower stalks. Poetry is just right for fall, too, when the rain hits the windows with its own poetic rhythm, and for winter, when the warmth of fleece blankets and black tea are worth a stanza or two alone.

Over the years, our family has collected a number of poetry books, perfect for all seasons. We don’t read from them as often as any of us would like, but we have a few collections that get pulled off the shelf, passed around and read aloud more often than any of our other poetry books. Some are old—very old—and some are new. But all of them are lovely and worth sharing over lunchtime quesadillas or steaming cups of tea.

5 Poetry Books That Our Family Loves | Little Book, Big Story

A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES, by Robert Louis Stevenson

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Pudewa once described this as “A Girl’s Garden of Verses,” but of course, that doesn’t trouble our family one bit. These poems have been among our most-read, much-beloved, highly-dogeared favorites for years. (Read the full review.)

A CHILD’S CALENDAR, by John Updike

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

John Updike takes us through the months of the year with twelve lovely poems. Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations put those poems in the context of one family that you can’t help loving by the end of the book.

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

ANYTHING BY A.A. MILNE

The Poetry of AA Milne | Little Book, Big Story

Just the rhythm of Milne’s poetry is addicting. He gives snippets of it in Winnie-the-Pooh, but his volumes of poetry are so much fun to read. We’re not always sure what happening, but we always love the language.

ALL THE SMALL POEMS AND FOURTEEN MORE, by Valerie Worth

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

These poems are lovely—beautiful and accessible and about the most ordinary things. (Read the full review.)

THE GOLDEN TREASURY OF POETRYEd. Louis Untermeyer

The Golden Book of Poetry | Little Book, Big Story

I found this behemoth in an antique store and purchased it on a whim. When we did sit down with it, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained everything from silly rhymes to giant narrative poems of the old school. Our favorites have to do (rather predictably) with Robin Hood. We read them dramatically—with flair. Over and over again.

Which poetry books have won hearts in your house? I’d love to hear some of your favorites.
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Little Women | Louisa May Alcott

In that last month of pregnancy, strangers asked me the same questions on repeat: When was I due? How was I feeling? Did I know what I was having? I didn’t mind this. What I did mind was the track that conversation sometimes veered onto after I answered that last question with, “A girl!” Sometimes, people gave answers that warmed my overworked heart: “Oh, four girls! How sweet!” or “I’m one of four sisters! It is so much fun.” But sometimes the answers were less heart-warming:

“Just wait until they’re teenagers.”

“Oh well—keep trying for that boy!”

“Your poor husband!”

A much smaller, fully rested me would laugh those comments off. But at nine months pregnant, there were hormones involved; I couldn’t even pretend that the comments were funny. I knew we were excited about life with four daughters and that we weren’t “trying for a boy,” but I was too tired to explain that again and again to strangers in the bulk food aisle.

Little Women | Little Book, Big Story

So I came up with a parry that redirected that conversation into safer, more joyful, more literary waters. Here’s how it worked:

Well-meaning stranger in the check-out line: “Do you know what you’re having?”

Me: “A girl!”

Stranger peers over my shoulder, obviously counting the daughters trailing behind me like ducklings, and raises her eyebrows. But before she can comment, I finish, ” . . . and we’re reading Little Women to celebrate!”

Her eyebrows drop and the stranger smiles. “I loved that book when I was a little girl!” And just like that, we’ve left off discussing monthly cycles and man caves, and started discussing, instead, our favorite March sisters.

Little Women | Little Book, Big Story

Set during the Civil War, the story of the March family recounts the adventures of four sisters—sweet Meg, unconventional Jo, gentle Beth, and precocious Amy—as they help their mother hold down the fort while their father is away fighting in the Union army. The Marches are one of the literary families who seem to belong to the reader: their home began to feel like home as we read, their struggles began to feel like our struggles.  This book is filled with so many memorable scenes that it was a joy to watch them weave into the shared memories of our own family.

I wasn’t sure if Little Women was too far about the heads of my 5 and 7-year-old, but they were warmly wrapped up in the story after the first few chapters. They each called out their favorite sisters and laughed aloud over the antics of Jo or Beth’s kittens. We read only the first part of the book (we’ll save the second, with its weddings—and funerals—for when they’re older), but already Little Women is a favorite in our home—not least because we now have our very own Josephine:

Josephine | Little Book, Big Story


Little Women
Louisa May Alcott (1868)

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Welcome, Josephine Joy!

At long last, she’s here! She kept us waiting nine days past our due date, but on Wednesday, Josephine Joy made her debut and was greeted by adoring fans:

All Four | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia and Josephine | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah and Josie | Little Book, Big Story

I love to hear the stories behind baby names, so I’ll share hers with you: we loved the link to Joseph, one of our favorite figures in Scripture, and we couldn’t resist the literary nod to Little Women. Joy is my mom’s middle name and, combined with Josephine, means, “Jehovah increases joy,” which is perfect, because in granting us another daughter, that is exactly what God has done—he has increased our joy. There are layers to this baby’s name, my friends.

And now, I’m signing off for a bit. There’s a baby to be snuggled, after all!

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Easter | Jan Pienkowski

First of all, congratulations to Carolyn of House Full of Bookworms! She is the official, randomly chosen winner of the Slugs & Bugs giveaway. She is also a fellow children’s book blogger, so in a way, I suppose that you all win a little something, too, because now you know about her blog (if you didn’t already). I think you’re going to like it.

Thank you so much to all of you who entered! That giveaway was great fun, and I really enjoyed hearing from so many of you in the comments—so much so that I find myself wondering, “What else can I give you all?” I just may have to do something like that again in the future.

And now, down to business: this is the last post before I take a little break to celebrate our baby.


This post originally appeared on this blog on March 20, 2015.

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.

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

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.

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.

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

I touched lightly on this in an earlier 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. (We have since purchased our own copy.)

The text is that of the King James Bible, so it is rich and elegant and somehow just right. Pieńkowski’s silhouetted illustrations are 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)

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