Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

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Wingfeather Tales | Andrew Peterson (Editor)

There’s a spot on our porch I check every time I come home—to the left of the door, on the girls’ stripey chair. If I’m going to get a package, that’s where it will be, and if there is a package there, then it is probably full of books. There have been a lot of packages there lately, because, as I write, it’s nearly Christmas and I loathe going to stores (I drank the online shopping Kool-Aid early and never looked back).

But a few weeks ago, I found a package on the stripey chair that said not “Amazon Fulfillment Center” on the return address but “The Rabbit Room,” and I knew that something very, very good was about to happen to me.

I was right. Stickers and posters and patches happened, as well as a signed paperback copy of The Warden and the Wolf King. Happy little girls with their hands full of stickers and posters and patches happened. But I dug into the package looking for one thing and one thing only: Wingfeather Tales.

Wingfeather Tales, ed. Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

When Andrew Peterson ran his most recent Kickstarter campaign, one of the stretch goals was this collection of short stories set in Anniera, but written by a handful of my favorite authors and illustrators (if you’ve read anything by them, then they’re probably your favorites, too): ND Wilson, Jennifer Trafton, John Hendrix, Justin Gerard, Jonathan Rogers, to name a few.

That, I thought, looking at the line-up, is going to be awesome. But even with “awesome” as my starting point, I still completely underestimated Wingfeather Tales.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

The stories the authors turned out differ wildly in tone and style: some are comic, some epic, one is a narrative poem, one is a novella so devastating that I still can’t think about it without feeling an uncomfortable tightness in my throat. At least two of the stories cleverly link Anniera up with the worlds of other beloved books; one tells a story we’ve all been wanting to hear. The authors clearly enjoyed being set loose in the world of the Wingfeather Saga.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

I think I expected this book to be a fun sort of honorary member of the series, maybe a collection of extra material that would be pleasant to read, if not as good as the saga itself—sort of what Chronicles of Avonlea is to the Anne of Green Gables series. But Wingfeather Tales is its own beautiful contribution to the Wingfeather canon, so vivid and enjoyable that I can’t imagine rereading the full saga without re-reading the Tales, too. And that is beyond awesome.


Wingfeather Tales
Ed. Andrew Peterson (2016)

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The Best Books I Read in 2016

When I spend time with my favorite moms, we ask a lot of questions of each other. Mine tend to focus around housekeeping, a subject that has perplexed me well into adulthood: “But when do you clean? Why are your floors so shiny?”

Very few people ask me for tips about housework, which is probably wise. They do, however, ask me a lot about reading: what am I reading, what should they read, and, most often, when do I read. My answer to that last one is simple: whenever I can. I read in the pick-up line, the bathtub, in bed, while nursing, while waiting for the pasta to cook (this may answer the housekeeping questions, actually). I read during naptime and in those rare moments when everyone is playing contentedly outside and no one is looking at me or needing me for anything. I am always armed with a book, even if it’s just a pocket-sized book of poetry.
Of all the books I read in 2016, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

This year was a year of reading everywhere. Many of these books were finished in bits and pieces in unlikely places, because that is what life is like with two school-aged children, one toddler, and a baby: bits and pieces. I read nonfiction, deep and rich, and started keeping a commonplace book for the first time. I read a lot of great kids’ books, too, and many of my favorites from this year have already appeared on the blog.

But here are ten books that I haven’t shared yet, ten that I thought you, dear parents, might like for yourselves:

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon | Little Book, Big Story

I’m hard pressed to know what to call The Supper of the Lamb: part cookbook (with recipes), part meditation on the beauty of creation, part opinionated treatise on cooking techniques, part endearing glimpse into the life of an Episcopalian priest in the 1960s, this book made me laugh aloud, spring for new wooden spoons, and stare with wonder at an ordinary onion.

Teaching From Rest, by Sarah Mackenzie

This book on homeschooling, by the beloved host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, plunges beneath the technical details of how to do it and into the depths of why we do it. Her heart for connection with her kids is contagious, and I love her big-picture perspective on education and where we, as moms and educators, place our priorities. This is a short book, but it’s a rich one, and it’s worth reading whether you’ve been homeschooling for years or are just starting to wonder if it might be for you. (I loaned this one out, so alas! I could not photograph it for you.)

Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge

Pilgrim's Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

This is the second book in The Eliot Family Trilogy, and all three of the books are worth reading. But in Caught Up in a Story, Sarah Clarkson singles out this book for her recommendation, and I can see why: by telling the story of a post-WWII family who buys and restores an old pilgrim inn, Elizabeth Goudge paints a beautiful picture of what a home is and how a good one transforms us.

(Also: resist the urge to judge this book by its cover. That’s a strong urge, I know. But fight it! The book is lovely inside.)

Letters & Life, by Bret Lott

Letters and Life, by Bret Lott | Little Book, Big Story

Confession: I am still reading this one. But when Lott opened his book on writing with the Apostle’s Creed, anchoring his view of art in the solid ground of theology, he endeared himself to me immediately. His tone throughout the book is warm and wonderful, as he explores who artists are within our culture and as created beings. He quotes Francis Schaeffer at length, while calling him, “that old Hobbit-like fellow in the knickers and sporting the funky little white beard” and shares stories from his life that made me giggle and read them aloud to Mitch. I’m reading this one slowly on purpose, and I can already tell that it’s joined the canon of Books I Re-Read Every Few Years.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Speaking of hobbits and books I re-read every few years, I re-read these books this year. Good news! They’re still amazing.

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman | Little Book, Big Story

By reminding us of God’s ultimate plan for our salvation and of the grand story he’s woven throughout Scripture, Gloria Furman argues that no woman is just a mom. We are all called to work that has eternal significance, even though it seems tethered (rather tightly, at times) to the quotidian work of wiping noses, settling disputes, and fishing Duplos out of the baby’s crib again.

This is another gospel-saturated book from Furman, worth reading and re-reading and heavily underlining. (If you want to know more about Gloria Furman, you can read my interview with her here.)

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness | Little Book, Big Story

The story of Lilias Trotter, a woman who followed God’s call to Algeria though it meant laying down her work as an artist to serve as a missionary, is one that’s dear to my heart. Though God calls many of us to surrender our gifts to him so he can cultivate and use them in his own way, that surrender is completely contrary to our culture’s cries to “Dream Big” and forge our own success. I found it encouraging to read about God’s faithfulness in Lilias’s life, and to see how her surrender gave God room to use her gifts in ways she couldn’t have foreseen. (I have written about Lilias Trotter here on the blog before. Twice.)

A Whole Lot of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures, The Memoirs) | Little Book, Big Story

We re-watched all the seasons of Sherlock this year, and that drove me back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Some of these I had read already; some I encountered for the first time. All of them are masterful pieces of fiction, perfect for reading with tea, under fleecey blankets, while the wind rattles the bare branches outside.

The Life-Giving Home, by Sarah and Sally Clarkson

The Life-Giving Home, by Sally and Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

This book, by mother and daughter team Sally and Sarah Clarkson, reminds us why traditions and little bits of beauty in the home matter so much to our souls. Every chapter takes readers through one month of the year, touching on seasons and holidays and providing a library’s worth of ways we can show love to those in our home. Some are practical, some are lavish, but none are required: this books gives us a feast to pick and choose from without burdening us with guilt over what we cannot do. This book reads like an updated version of Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking (one of my favorites).

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot | Little Book, Big Story

Anything by Elisabeth Elliot is, of course, deep and beautiful and dripping wisdom. I picked this up in the later stages of Advent and decided that I should probably read it every December: as a collection of excerpts from Elliot’s newsletters, this reads almost like a devotional, almost like an anthology of brief essays, and exactly like a precursor to blog posts.


What About you? What beautiful books did you discover this year?
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Psalm 23 | Barry Moser

Of all the psalms, this one feels most familiar. This is the one I recite to myself when I can’t fall asleep, the one I’ve taught my daughters to recite to themselves when they can’t fall asleep, the one whose images are comforting in an unfluffy way: David talks about The Valley of Death, after all, so this psalm is assurance for very real suffering.

There are a number of good picture book versions of this psalm out there, but none that have made it onto this blog yet. I don’t know exactly why that is, but until now, I returned every one to the library without feeling the need to review it. Barry Moser’s version is different.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

By following a shepherd boy through his day’s work, Moser takes a fairly standard approach to illustrating this psalm, but instead of featuring a Sunday-school David in short bathrobe and sandals, Moser models his shepherd on a young Caribbean boy. Moser’s shepherd wears modern day clothes, squints into the sun, and tends his sheep gently as the text of the psalm follows him from scene to scene.

The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.

Putting these familiar words into a fresh setting made me listen closely as I read them to my daughters. It reminded me that the Lord is my shepherd, yes, but he is also their Shepherd. And your Shepherd. And the shepherd of the shepherds tending flocks near the equator. His gentle hand guides and comforts me in trial, but his reach extends even to islands in the Pacific, where the trees are laden not with prickly evergreen boughs but with slender palm leaves. His reach extends further even than that.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

The comfort of Psalm 23 runs deeper, then, when I realize that, though the flock of sheep he tends is vast, our Shepherd cares for us all. He knows not only my name, but yours too, and that of the boy Moser modeled his shepherd on.

That is, I think, why Moser’s Psalm 23 connected with me more deeply than any of the other versions I’ve read. His illustrations are light-filled and beautiful, and they present Psalm 23 as a psalm for all of us, no matter where we live or what we look like. He illuminates the goodness of our Shepherd through the picture of one faithful young boy.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

Speaking of Psalm 23 . . .

Did you hear that Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago are working on a version as well? A happy dance here is perfectly appropriate.


Psalm 23
Barry Moser (2008)

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In the Beginning | Deeply Rooted

When we tell the Christmas story, we often begin like this: “Once, there was a girl named Mary.” Or “Once upon a time in a manger.” Even the gospels open with things that happened here on earth—the birth of John, the words of Isaiah, or the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Only the gospel of John backs all the way up and starts the Christmas story right at the very beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

My newest piece, “In the Beginning,” went up on the Deeply Rooted blog this morning! In it, I got to look at how the Christmas Story fits into God’s larger story of redemption. You can read the full post here.

May you all have a Christmas that is restful in the deepest sense—a celebration centered on Christ, who tucked himself into a finite human body because he loves us. May that be your refrain as you travel, bake, and wipe noses: Because he loves us. Because he loves us. Because he loves us.

Merry Christmas.

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10 Beautiful Books About Jesus

This last week of Advent hits our house like a hurricane. We light candles and dress up our Jesse Tree, but we also skip naps, binge on sugar cookies, and attend at least three different family celebrations (not counting our own here at home). We have a lot of family very close by, and that is a blessing.

But right now, reminders of who we’re celebrating and why are crucial: when I’m tempted to hide under a fleecy blanket with a good book and recover from the crowds, I need to be reminded of Jesus, who went on pouring himself out for others, even when the crowds followed him to his quiet mountainside. He didn’t seem to worry much about boundaries or expectations or past hurts—he went on serving. He gave himself to others, and in doing so, gave us all the best gift imaginable.

10 Beautiful Books About Jesus | Little Book, Big Story

So this year I made a list of my favorite picture books about Jesus. These aren’t necessarily Christmas books, because you’re already reading your favorites for the year, aren’t you? These are beautiful, all-year-round books about Jesus, books that prepare us all, parent and child alike, to live the rest of the year like the Incarnation matters.

Because it does. Remembering that refreshes my soul more than the deepest of post-party naps. I hope it refreshes you, too.

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

When I make book lists, I usually arrange the books in “no particular order.” Not so this time. Miracle Man comes first for a reason. John Hendrix uses every medium at his disposal to capture the tenderness of Jesus as well as his intensity by following his miracles and the crowds’ reactions to them. Everything about this book—illustrations, story, layout, cover—is arresting. (Read the full review.)

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson | Little Book, Big Story

The Light of the World  walks readers through the full life of Jesus, from birth to death and resurrection. Newbury-award winning author Katherine Paterson tells the story well; Francois Roca’s illustrations deepen it. This is a great book for any time of the year, but I do love bringing it out at Christmas and Easter because it puts both the Incarnation and the Resurrection within the context of the larger story of Jesus’ life. (Read the full review.)

The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross, by Carl Laferton

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

This is another “big picture” book, but it looks not only at Jesus’ life but at his role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Carl Laferton fits a lot of great theology (and history) into one slender, richly illustrated book. (Read the full review.)

The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

In ten chapters, Kevin DeYoung tells the story of Scripture with Jesus at the center. Full of beautiful truth and beautiful illustrations, The Biggest Story would be a great read for the last week of Advent or for Holy Week. (Read the full review.)

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Allison Mitchell’s book explores the question “Who is this Jesus?” by telling the story of that time Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations play beautifully on the humor in the story while still keeping things serious in just the right way. (Read the full review.)

The Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Song of the Stars, by Sally-Lloyd Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so this is a Christmas book. In it, Sally Lloyd-Jones shows how the whole world anticipated the coming of Christ. This is my favorite book for Christmas Eve. (Read the full review.)

Ballad of Matthew’s Begats, by Andrew Peterson

The Ballad of Matthew's Begats, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson’s book reminds us of the long history behind Jesus’s coming by turning the geneaology of Jesus into a picture book and a catchy song. (Read the full review.)

The One O’Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell

The One O'Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

What does it look like to trust Jesus? Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri get it right in The One O’Clock Miracle. (Read the full review.)

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

It is good to be reminded, as we celebrate the Incarnation, that Jesus came with a purpose. That purpose wasn’t pleasant, but it was good. Jan Pienkowski shows us why in this gorgeous book. (Read the full review.)

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Of course. (Read the full review.)

Which books about Jesus are your favorites?
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The Christmas Promise | Alison Mitchell

When I pulled our Christmas books out of the attic this year, I couldn’t help but notice a theme: our collection is heavy on stories about the first Christmas and noticeably light on stories about any Christmas that came after.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

We have some notable exceptions (Great Joy; Saint Nicholas; An Early American Christmas), as well as the classics: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Snow Man, and Good King WenceslasWe even have the token Fancy Nancy Christmas book.

But every other book is set in a stable in Bethlehem.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

I don’t think this is a short-coming, not really, because what impresses me is how many ways that one story can be told. Some books tell it from the perspective of the animals in the stable (Who is Coming to Our House?, The Friendly Beasts); some books tell the story just the way it’s told in Scripture (The First Christmas).

Some tell it through the eyes of  Mary (Mary’s First Christmas; My Son, My Savior), or through the perspective of an imagined character (The Little Drummer Boy).

Others are by Sally Lloyd-Jones and are, therefore, wonderful (Little One, We Knew You’d Come; Song of the Stars).

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

But The Christmas Promise begins not with the good news that Jesus has come, but with the news that he is coming: Alison Mitchell (beloved author of two of my favorite picture books) begins with God’s promise of a coming king—”a new king, a rescuing king, a forever king!”—and then goes on to show, through the telling of the nativity story, how Jesus is all of those things.

That big picture approach is one that we did not yet have in our collection, and it’s one that has endeared Mitchell’s other books me. The fact that it’s illustrated by Catalina Echeverri, illustrator of three of my favorite picture books, is a thick, delicious swirl of frosting on the cake.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

One more thing this book has going for it: The Christmas Promise falls under the heading of “Books I Will Read Any Time, For Any Reason, No Matter What Else Is Going On.” It’s short. It’s charming. It’s hard not to read with gusto. And I am reminded every time I read it of the ties connecting this season to the rest of Scripture, to our strange times now, and to the wonderful times that are coming.


The Christmas Promise
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2014)

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