The Railway Children | E. Nesbit

This summer re-run first appeared on my blog in January 2014. It features one of my favorite books. I hope you enjoy it (and your summer break!), too.


Was there ever a better narrator than E. Nesbit? The way she banters with the reader in charming asides and includes her own voice as a part of the story makes reading her work an act of listening, as though a favorite aunt has drawn little you onto her lap as she tells you a story about some children that she once knew. Her voice is comfortable, familiar; she exists within the story in a delightful way.

C.S. Lewis also had a knack for establishing this intimacy between author and reader. I used to think that I recognized his voice in Nesbit’s work until I learned that she was one of his favorite authors as a child, and that really, I was hearing her voice in his work. This just made me love her more than ever, and I love her best of all in her book, The Railway Children.

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

After their father is mysteriously called away from home, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis leave their comfortable life in London and move to the countryside with their mother, where they are materially poor but find a wealth of excitement in the railway that cuts through the hills near their new home. Adventures of a noble sort ensue, all told in Nesbit’s endearing (but never, ever sappy) tone.

The small fry in our home are so smitten with The Railway Children that, for a time, they answered only to Roberta and Phyllis, and we found ourselves hosting an imaginary brother named Peter for months (we currently host an imaginary brother and sister named Curdie and Irene—from The Princess and the Goblinas well as a sister named Applesauce, and an imaginary cow named Charlotte. Our house is cozy, but never dull).

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

One closing note: you’ll notice that I never give age recommendations on my blog. The reasoning behind that is simple: all children are different, and the book one child cracks open at four, another child may not properly enjoy until eight. You know better than I do where your child falls on the spectrum, so I leave it up to you to decide if your child is ready for this book. Read it yourself and see. I’m quite certain that you will enjoy it.


The Railway Children
E. Nesbit (1906)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Amy L. Sullivan

In ninth grade, I decided that I wasn’t a science person. Most of the other decisions I made that year—”dog chains are a great way to hold your wallet in place,” for example, or “Shirley Manson is everything I want to be when I grow up”—I eventually discarded.

But the science one stuck. We spent a lot of time listening to lectures that year. We watched the teacher diagram things on the board and peeked through microscopes a few times. We dissected frogs. But for the most part, we explored the world around us and the way it worked by sitting in our desks, being told about it.

I left class, my wallet firmly in place and my hair crimson, and thought, “Nope. Not my thing.”

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, while learning how to teach my own daughters to study and explore the world around us, it became my thing. The moth under our porch light with its lace-like wings, the frills and whorls of a snapdragon, the snail’s polka-dotted track—we notice these things now, so much so that our need to stop and study and touch what we see has made us all a bit like toddlers.

But of all the things we studied this year, my favorite was the stars. Learning the basic alphabet of astronomy opened my eyes to what has always been plainly written in the sky: God’s handiwork is vast, intricate, beautiful. We are but one beloved part of it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

Dr. Jennifer Wiseman has known for years what I am just learning now: all of creation sings God’s praises; evidence of his attention and provision is everywhere. As an astronomer for NASA, she works with the Hubble Space Telescope, exploring the galaxy far beyond what we can see with our naked eyes. But in this newest volume of Amy Sullivan’s Gutsy Girls series, Sullivan depicts Wiseman first as a child who loved exploring the creatures in her backyard, marveling at the Creator of the turtle’s shell and the water strider’s legs. These small discoveries led to bigger ones, including a comet now named for Dr. Wiseman and a colleague.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

While the rest of the Gutsy Girls series focuses on well-known women from church history (Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, and Fanny Crosby), this newest volume is different in a few respects: Dr. Wiseman is not a figure from church history (yet), but a living woman. Her work as an astrophysicist isn’t what most would consider missions work, yet she works among many who consider science and faith incompatible and  argues graciously that they are, in fact, deeply compatible. What we learn from scientific study isn’t meant to refute or prove God’s existence but to teach us more about Him.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

In that light, we are all science people. We are meant to learn more about our Creator wherever we are, whatever bit of creation is before us. Creation speaks eloquently of His nature. We have but to listen.


Gutsy Girls, Book Four: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman
Amy H. Sullivan, Beverly Ann Wines (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

Tell Me a Story | eeBoo

It’s summer break!

Huzzah! We’re taking some time off from most subjects here, though math and, of course, reading, continue on. But here on the blog, I’m going to try a new summer schedule. Every other week, I’ll share a post from the depths of the blog archive—one I love, but that is hidden somewhere back in the blog’s beginnings and rarely receives company. On the opposite weeks, I’ll continue sharing new reviews. I hope that hits the sweet spot between last year’s every-other-week posts and the previous summers’ “month of re-runs.” We shall see!

May your summer be sweet, sunny, and popsicle-sticky. And may it be filled with great books.


Today’s post was originally published in August, 2013.

Our minivan smells like potato chips, sweaty shoes and chlorine. We find crumbs where there shouldn’t be crumbs, and little lost toys secreted in nooks and crannies. We know all of the songs on a handful of albums by heart; when we sleep we see the road unroll behind our tired eyes.

But, my friends, we are finally home.

Tell Me Story (Story Cards) | Little Book, Big Story

For the last twelve days, we’ve been off and on I-90, driving from our corner of Washington state to Mount Rushmore, where we spent four lovely days with extended family before piling back in the van and retracing our route. My husband has driven for hours, and I have heard the word, “Mom?” countless times, while perfecting the dexterity needed to fish toys out from beneath seats without turning around. We have loved (almost) every minute of it.

But it really is nice to be home.

We didn’t have a lot of time for reading on our trip, so today’s post is going to be a little different: we’re not talking about a bound book, but a deck of cards meant to inspire our own stories—a portable item, perfect for restaurants, quiet evenings in hotels and, yes, car seats.

Each set of Tell Me a Story cards features 36 beautifully illustrated, surprisingly durable cards. Each card features an illustration (but no words). From card to card, recurring characters appear: here, the bear holds a button. There, he chats with a pig. It’s up to you and your child to tell the story that brings him from one scene to the next.

Tell Me Story (Story Cards) | Little Book, Big Story

A set of game ideas is included with the set, and most of them look like they’d be fun. But we’ve enjoyed free-styling with ours: shuffling them up or spreading them out and telling a story card by card. My two-year-old loves to rifle through them, just looking. (So I keep them in my purse, just in case.)

What is your favorite approach to storytelling in your family?


Tell Me a Story: Creative Story Cards
eeBoo

An Interview with N.D. Wilson

You know the question that goes, “If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you choose?” It probably gets asked as a “getting to know you” question at book clubs, I guess, and it overwhelms me every time I hear it. Just one? Why not five? Or ten?

Twenty?

I don’t know what my list would look like or which names I’d have to whittle off to reach the single digits, but I am confident of this: N.D. Wilson‘s name would be on it.

Or would have been on it. Because I did  get to talk to him. And it was fantastic.

I had the privilege of (or, I should say, I super-professionally begged for the privilege of) interviewing him for Deeply Rooted about his gorgeous nature documentary The Riot and the Dance. He was as articulate and intriguing as one might expect and said things like this:

When you’re able to sit in awe of an ant war on the sidewalk in front of your own house, then the awe that you experience looking at God’s creation near you, where he has placed you, will lead you outward. It will give you a desire to see more of his work, to walk through the rest of his museum.

And this:

 If we’re the art appreciators—the ones who understand that there is an artist and this is his work, and we want to celebrate it—then we need to do everything we can to create a beautiful artifact ourselves and not just have talking heads explaining fairly bland cinematography. We wanted to use our words and our cameras and our lenses in a more effective imitation than that. We wanted to tell the truth, and beauty is part of the truth.

Normally, this sort of post—a “here’s something I published elsewhere” post—would be a midweek bonus affair, not something I would publish in place of a book review. But I think you’re going to love what N.D. Wilson had to say so much (I did, even after listening to the recording a half-dozen times as I transcribed it) that I decided to publish this instead of a book review this week. Go forth! Read and enjoy!

You can read the full interview here.

The Outlaws of Time Series | ND Wilson

Not long ago, Mitch and I spent eight days on an island. The girls packed up the essentials—clothes, pajamas, pillows, dolls, complete dolls’ wardrobe, journals, schoolwork, beloved books, and a half dozen stuffed animals—and spent the week with their grandparents, savoring what became fondly known as “The Big Sleepover.”

We, meanwhile, boarded a plane bound for Kaua’i. (It is a big moment, taking off into the air knowing that one’s children are still below, hidden in one of those tiny dots of light.)

One elbow of the Na Pali coast | Little Book, Big Story

We spent the week exploring—riding rented bikes to beaches, befriending wild roosters, and hiking, in one morning, both the muddiest trail I’ve ever seen and the most beautiful. We ate out for every meal (glorious!); we considered the wisdom of smuggling home shave ice in our suitcase for the girls. We spent hours browsing the island’s one, noteworthy bookstore and managed to leave with only eight new books.

And we read. Without interruption.

But we did not read just any books. For a trip like this—a “we haven’t been away this long since our honeymoon fifteen years ago” trip—one cannot read just any books. And so we packed the Outlaws of Time books by N.D. Wilson.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Mitch read them first, then re-read the second one while I re-read the first, then read something else but looked longingly over at my book while I read the second one for the first time. The third book released not long after we got home, and we passed that one back and forth and, when finished, debated the wisdom of immediately re-reading the entire series all over again.

That explains, pretty well, our relationship with these books: Outlaws of Time is a brilliant series, and that is one reason to read and reread it. But these books are also intricate, well-tuned. The plot features time travel, and it is a bit of work to keep straight who is where when and what iteration of themselves is currently in action. But “confusing” is the wrong word. “Dizzying” might be better. The books are satisfying, though they leave one’s ears ringing by the end.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the book’s premise: Sam Miracle can’t bend his arms. His joints are fused together by some forgotten trauma that makes motion stiff and painful, and his memory is pockmarked with holes, confused by daydreams that end with his own death. He is broken and cast off in a youth home in the desert—until a terrifying visitor from the past he can’t remember arrives.

(If that story sounds like a fever-fed dream to you, there’s a good reason for that.)

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

And so, I recommend reading Outlaws of Time when you have time to reread them immediately, just in case you’re inclined to. You’ll find more in them each time, I promise, and things that didn’t make perfect sense the first time through will feel fitting—inevitable even—the second time you read them.

I will make one more recommendation: pre-read these for your kids. I love so many things about these stories, but they are dark—maybe even darker than 100 Cupboardsso I recommend reading them through for yourself before handing them over to your kids.  You know best what your kids ready for.


The Outlaws of Time Series
N.D. Wilson (2017-2018)


One last Note

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of Wildflowers magazine! You can do that here.

Wildflowers: A Creative Magazine for Girls (GIVEAWAY!)

My friend Maegan made a magazine. It is a work of art, the way I remember her home being: warm and full of noise and beauty and smelling like fresh biscuits and gravy (not the magazine, I guess, but the home). Or maybe it reminds me of her daughters’ room more than the whole house, because no one roars in this magazine or brandishes swords or leaps from a high structure just because. But there are clever stories and poems and drawings of birds, and plenty of talk about books.

This is a magazine by my friend Maegan. It is a magazine for girls. You will love it.

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

This first issue, the spring issue, is the one I’m talking about today, and I’m tempted to describe it in lists: lists of the excellent people who contributed to it, lists of the lovely and varied content you’ll find inside. I had the joy of reviewing a book I haven’t featured on the blog, and both Lydia and Sarah contributed reviews of their favorite books.

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

But maybe I should tell you more about what (and why) Wildflowers is. Wildflowers is a quarterly magazine centered around truth, beauty, and goodness, written for girls aged 8-12ish (but I bet you’ll snuggle up with it sometime, and your little ones will want a turn admiring the little chicks and coloring pages). The articles range from biography to short story, with everything from poetry to hand-painted stationary to DIY projects sprinkled in between. (Future issues will have even more content, including nature projects and how-to lessons.) The illustrations are lovely and the layout so fun! And the price is oh-so-reasonable!

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

But one of you won’t have to worry about that price at all, because I get to give you a copy of the spring issue of Wildflowers for free (oh, joy!). You can all enter to win that one below, and you can head over here to pre-order a copy of summer issue.


Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

Enter to win a free copy of wildflowers!

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Friday, June 29. After that, the winner will be randomly selected and notified by email. Good luck!