Getting Out of the Boat: An update on blogging and life

For the last four years, we’ve been homeschooling part time with the support of an amazing Classical school. Our daughters attended class three days a week and studied at home with me on the remaining two. All decisions about curriculum were made; I taught art classes and watched my daughters flourish alongside their classmates. Attending this school was our plan for the foreseeable future.

Back to School 2013 | Little Book, Big Story

Kindergarten (2013)

But then the future took a sharp turn around a corner, and I can no longer see where it leads (Anne of Green Gables reference intended). A few months ago, we learned that a change to the school’s schedule meant that it would no longer be the perfect fit it had been for our family.

When I learned this, I stood watching my husband wash dishes, the scrub brush going around and around the inner lid of a pot, and I said, Well, I guess we could homeschool.

Queasiness. That was what I initially felt. But within an hour, the fear had given way to another sensation, one the bubbled up from some buried recess in my heart and surprised us both: excitement. The prospect of homeschooling our daughters full-time excited me.

Back to School 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

1st Grade (2014)

The re-enrollment deadline went by, and we did not turn in our application. I taught my last classes, cleaned out the art cupboard, held my daughters’ hands as we said goodbye to the friends we’ve made over the last four years, to the teachers we have loved, and to the school that has served us so well.

In her beautiful book Teaching From Rest, Sarah MacKenzie writes:

You are Peter. You, mother of that little flock of children you have there. Motherhood is a mad and swirling sea. It is wind beating on waves, storm on the horizon, tumult on the waters. It’s bigger than you can ever hope to be. You are clinging to your boat, quite a distance from the land now, and the storm is rougher than you imagined it would be.

And then God calls you to homeschool—to step out on the water. “Come.” Homeschool? Must I take on this too? “Take heart; it is I. Have no fear.”

And so you do. You step out of the boat.

Crossing the parking lot that last day felt very much like stepping out of a boat onto the waters.

Back to School 2015 | Little Book, Big Story

2nd Grade & Kindergarten (2015)

So, that is the update on life: big and exciting stuff for our family. The update on blogging may not strike you the same way, but you are a gracious bunch, and I feel comfortable assuming that you will receive it well. I will say first, though, that I am not retiring this blog. So that’s out now.

What I am doing is reducing my blogging schedule a bit. Since starting this blog four years ago, I have posted a book review every single week, with only a few exceptions. But between taking on some additional writing assignments and beginning that unsteady trek across the sea of home education (I have a lot of reading and learning things the hard way ahead of me!), I’m going to move toward posting reviews every other week on the blog. I love writing for you all, and I hope the existence of the book list helps soften the blow here. That and the assurance that I have some really great books on the calendar to review this summer.

Back to School 2016 | Little Book, Big Story

3rd Grade & 1st Grade (2016)

Thank you all for reading this blog and, better yet, for reading the books I review here for you! I love hearing about the ones you have loved, so just for fun (and because this is a bittersweet post that I’d like to end on a sweet note), would you share in the comments your favorite books that you’ve found through this site? I would love to know which ones resonated most deeply with you. Survival tips on homeschooling are most welcome, too!

Love,
Théa

2017 | Little Book, Big Story

Before the last end-of-year program (2017)

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Henry and the Chalk Dragon | Jennifer Trafton

The plight of the quirky, artistic kid is not unknown to me. I was the child who preferred drawing indoors to recess, and who, in seventh grade, curried favor with the popular girls by drawing them pictures of horses. (In high school, I designed their tattoos.)

To this day, it’s rare to find me without a pen (or a collection of pens, to my daughters’ delight), and if required to sit still for any length of time—say, for a sermon or in a waiting room—I’ll be the one covertly doodling in any margin I can find. So I should clarify: the plight of the quirky artistic kid is not unknown to me, nor is the plight of the awkwardly doodling adult. (This TED Talk  made me feel a lot better about that last one, though.)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

So I recognized in Jennifer Trafton’s new hero, Henry Penwhistle, a kindred spirit. The premise of this book is simple: Henry draws a dragon on the back of his bedroom door and the dragon comes to life, slipping off the door and into the world, where he runs amok. For Henry, this is akin to learning that one’s diary has been stolen and is now a New York Times bestseller. His art is out there for all to see, and the results so far aren’t pretty.

But Henry’s heroic quest to vanquish the dragon (with the help of his wonderful friends) is both hilarious and sweet, in just the right doses. Jennifer Trafton’s books are a delight to read aloud, and Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations suit the story beautifully.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Her encouragement to quirky, artistic kids everywhere (we have a few in our house) is invaluable:

Once you make something . . . a picture, or a story, or a song, or an invention, or even a delicious meal, it isn’t yours anymore. It has a life. It could spend its life lying on your paper, staring up at you and saying, ‘Thank you for drawing me. Aren’t I wonderful?’ Or it could fill the stomach of a queen or give strength to a poor man in the street. It could wrap itself around a city and make the people in it cry an ocean, or it could wiggle into the ears of a baby and make her burst into giggles. . . . All you can do is make the best thing you can, and love it as hard as you can, and let it go loose in the world, and watch what happens.

This is a beautiful book, both for the kids who feel on the outside of things, and for the ones who seem warmly at the center of things but would benefit from an interlude on the outskirts. This a book for the artists and for the ones who have forgotten that they, too, are capable of making beautiful things. Henry and the Chalk Dragon is for children who like to laugh and for ones who don’t but need to, and it’s for grown-ups, who can always use a reminder about the power of chivalry and poetry and art.

That is: this is a book for all of us. And I suggest you go read it with your family now.


Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Jennifer Trafton, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

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7 of My Favorite Books About Books

I was raised a reader. Though I don’t have many clear memories of being read to, my dad opened his bookshelves to me and kept a steady supply of good books on the shelves in my room. My mom gave me books at almost every birthday. That I would pass this love of the written word on to my children seemed inevitable, but how I would do it and why, exactly, it was so important were harder for me to articulate when I first became a mother.

So today I thought I would share with you some of the titles that helped shape our family’s reading life, either by supplying us with specific titles or by encouraging me to try again when a read-aloud flopped or a child waded stiffly through a reading lesson. This is a broad list, and one that I hope gives you some inspiration as you build your family’s library. It’s not an exhaustive list, though, because I have a pile of books about books that I’ve yet to read, and it’s almost as long (or longer!) than this one. Perhaps this post is only the first in a series?

A few of our family's favorite books about books | Little Book, Big Story

 

HONEY FOR A CHILD’S HEART, BY GLADYS HUNT

Honey For a Child's Heart, by Gladys Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

When it comes to books about books, this one must be the standard: it’s the first I read when I discovered the genre, it’s the first that crops up any time someone asks a blogger or interviewee where to find good books, and it continues to be a favorite since its publication in 1969. Gladys Hunt shares a beautiful vision for reading aloud as a family, some practical tips for how to do it well, and chapters upon chapters of wonderful recommendations divided by age and topic. This is one to own and dog-ear thoroughly.

As parents we are concerned about building whole people—people who are alive emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. The instruction to ‘train up a child in the way he should go’ has enormous dimensions. It is to teach a child to think, to influence character, to give high ideals, and to encourage integrity. It is to provide largeness of thought, creative thinking, imaginative wondering. How large are your goals for your children? . . . Young children, fresh with uncluttered minds, the world before them—to what treasures will you lead them? With what will you furnish their spirit?

— Honey For a Child’s Heart (p. 23)

FOR THE CHILDREN’S SAKEby Susan Schaeffer Macaulay

For the Children's Sake, by Susan Schaeffer Macauley | Little Book, Big Story

In For the Children’s Sake, Macaulay distills the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason down into a slender, inspiring book. This is a great introduction to the work of Charlotte Mason and to homeschooling in general, but best of all, it introduces the concept of “living books.” (If you’re not familiar with that term but you enjoy reading this blog, then read this book posthaste!) Macauley also gives a beautiful portrait of the life of a family, as well as some really great parenting advice. I reread this one every few years and come away each time refreshed and reminded that it is a joy to explore this world (both in person and in story) with my children.

If we begin by choosing the tried and true, the best of literature, we will give the child a love of excellence and the really ‘good.’ As we go on reading he will find that there are distressing happenings, stories which need discussion. Literature can help children think about what life is like before they live it as adults.

— For the Children’s Sake (p. 115)

CAUGHT UP IN A STORYby Sarah Clarkson

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah Clarkson’s lovely book views childhood as a narrative arc with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement. She dedicates a chapter to each part of the story and peppers her book with book recommendations that suit each age and whose great and timeless stories can shape the hearts of young readers.

Stories challenge us to see our lives as the narrative in which we have the chance to live all the beauty and bravery we can imagine. What hero will I become? What great thing have I been created to accomplish? I believe those questions of heroism are the driving force behind a life of virtue, creativity, and purpose . . . Search deeply enough into the history of any real life hero and I am convinced that you will find a story, imagined or actual, on which that hero’s life is largely based, a narrative that opened their eyes to the part they were called to play in the story of the world.

— Caught Up in a Story (p. 5)

AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH, by Neil Postman

Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Neil Postman | Little Book, Big Story

Though this book was first published in 1985 as an examination of how television was transforming the way our culture learned, thought and reacted at the time, it has turned out to be eerily prophetic: what Postman had to say about the advent of TV could easily be said about the introduction of the internet, smart phones, and social media today. (To test this theory, I read a passage aloud to Mitch, leaving out the references to TV, and asked him what the author was talking about. “Twitter,” he said. Oh my.)

Postman’s contrast between the printed word and image-based learning made me want to read a lot more and cancel my Facebook account. This is a fascinating book, folks.

This book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact in the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television.

— Amusing Ourselves to Death (p. 8)

GIVE YOUR CHILD THE WORLD, BY JAMIE C. MARTIN

Give Your Child The World, by Jamie C. Martin | Little Book, Big Story

Jamie Martin provides us a booklist with a slightly different vision: in Give Your Child the World, she takes us around the world, chapter by chapter, sharing a different global region at each stop. I hadn’t realized that our home library was a bit thin when it came to multi-cultural titles, but that quickly became apparent (and was quickly remedied) before I finished the first chapter of this book.

Martin’s enthusiasm for introducing her children to many cultures (or deepening their connection with their own) is contagious, but it’s also timely: listening to the news each morning, I’m reminded of the importance of teaching our children to value and respect everyone they meet, regardless of race or culture, and books are a beautiful way to do that. (Read the full review.)

Parents naturally get concerned when we look at the state of the globe today. And it’s true—your children and mine will one day inherit a world filled with unique issues and problems. But that is no accident. They have been chosen to lead their generation through its difficulties. Destined for this moment in history. With love, faith and compassion firmly rooted in their spirits thanks to the power of story, they’ll be able to see the people beyond the headlines . . . Our job is to fill their lives with that love, faith and compassion today—so they can rest their feet on a story-solid foundation in their tomorrows.

— Give Your Child the World (p. 24)

The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease

The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease | Little Book, Big Story

Jim Trelease was one of the first people to write a popular book on reading, a book that made its way into the hands of teachers and parents and brought out the importance of not just teaching kids to read, but of reading to them. This book is full of research (some of it pretty astonishing) on the benefits of reading to kids little and big, and it includes a treasury of read-aloud titles at the back of the book.

I found this book inspiring and helpful, but deliberated about whether or not to include it here. Trelease’s tone can, at times, put pressure squarely on the shoulders of parents and teachers in a way that might be discouraging, were we to forget that we do not raise our children without God’s grace. I am including it here, though, because The Read-Aloud Handbook is full of so many practical ideas for including stories in the daily life of families and classrooms, I just couldn’t pass it by. This one also includes a list of great read-alouds.

Reading is the ultimate weapon, destroying ignorance, poverty, and despair before they can destroy us. A nation that doesn’t read much doesn’t know much. And a nation that doesn’t know much is more likely to make poor choices in the home, the marketplace, the jury box, and the voting booth. And those decisions ultimately affect an entire nation—the literate and the illiterate.

— The Read-Aloud Handbook (p. xxvi)

THE READING PROMISEby Alice Ozma

The Reading Promise, by Alice Ozma | Little Book, Big Story

When Alice Ozma was in the fourth grade, her father set out to read to her for 100 consecutive nights. But when they reached that goal, Alice and her dad decided to keep going. This sweet memoir about a reading streak that ended only when Alice left for college is charming, yes, but it’s also deep and, at times, quite sad. I loved Alice’s perspective and her way with language.

The greatest gift you can bestow on your children is your time and undivided attention. As the years advance, you may reflect upon your life and see that in some areas, you have regrets about what you took to be a priority. No one will ever say, no matter how good a parent he or she was, ‘I think I spent too much time with my children when they were young.’

 Alice’s dad, from the foreword of The Reading Promise (p. xiv)

Bonus!

The Read-Aloud Revival Podcast, by Sarah MacKenzie

Why I Love the Read Aloud Revival podcast | Little Book, Big Story

In every episode of Read-Aloud Revival, Sarah MacKenzie inspires and motivates listeners to “build your family culture around books.” To that end, she introduces guest after amazing guest and fills our wishlists with rich and beautiful books. I have bought many books on her recommendation and can’t think of a single one that fell short of my expectations. Listening to the podcast is a sure way to revive my waning enthusiasm for reading as a family. (Read the full review.)

What about you? Which books have shaped the way you read?
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The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

It’s serious work, choosing a book for vacation. I overthink it every time. A book cannot be too absorbing (see: family reunion, Estes Park CO—the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, and I read in the midst of a beauteous landscape, ignoring family and nature alike). And it cannot be so meaty that I don’t want to pull it out in those moments when the coffee is hot and the cabin’s front porch calls.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

A book for vacation needs to be just right—every paragraph satisfying, so that even ten minutes in its company sends me back into a cabin full of children feeling recharged—and I have elevated the choosing of a vacation book to an art form (or an obsession, depending on your view). But this time, the artistry (or obsession) was solved for me when a package from the Rabbit Room arrived on our porch the day before we left for a weekend on San Juan Island. In it I found the slender new edition of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s story, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

I’ve mentioned McKelvey before on this blog, albeit indirectly. In my review of Wingfeather Tales, his was the “novella so devastating.” I have been waiting ever since to get a copy of this story, hoping it might be as lovely as that novella.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

I read The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog in full during a single naptime, in a log cabin overlooking a lake. And it was lovely, a book so sweet and true that it’s hard to describe because I am afraid that if I pull pieces of it apart to show you, I might damage the well-woven fabric of the book . I will say this: the new edition from Rabbit Room Press is illustrated by Zach Franzen, of The Green Ember, so it is beautiful in both word and image. And it is worth reading immediately—especially if you have a vacation coming up.


The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Zach Franzen (2017 – republication)

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Featured Author: Sally Lloyd-Jones

It’s been over two years since I shared a featured author with you, I know. But today is the day: I’m bringing the series back!


When I choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just skip to the part where you read any book they have ever written.”

Featured Author: Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Today’s author is a contemporary one, and one you’re familiar with if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sally Lloyd-Jones.


One of the first picture books that I acquired as a parent, one of the first ones that showed me how beautiful Bible stories for children can be, was The Jesus Storybook Bible. We lived in an old corner store then—a meat market actually—that had been converted into an odd, stucco, square-shaped home, perfect for our family of three. The back quarter of the house had cork-lined walls left over from its days as a meat locker, and the front had windows that started near my knees and reached nearly to the top of the very tall room. I loved those windows. I loved sitting in front of them in the spring, watching the neighborhood dogs saunter past, and the cherry trees outside trumpet the season’s change. I loved sitting in front of them, with eighteen-month-old Lydia on my lap, and reading to her from The Jesus Storybook Bible.

The Jesus Storybook Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Sally Lloyd-Jones writes not simply for children but to them. Her books makes me feel, as a parent, like I am sitting in on a conversation she’s having directly with my child. I love and laugh with and am shaped by her words as well, but my involvement feels like an added bonus: her words speak right to my children with a warmth and understanding that reminds me at times of E. Nesbit’s writing.

Since that first copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible, we’ve made it a practice to purchase a new copy for each of our daughters around their second or third birthday (Phoebe just got hers). We do this mostly because we want each daughter to have her own childhood copy to carry with her into adulthood, but also because that’s usually about when the spine on our current copy begins to give way.

Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

But The Jesus Storybook Bible is not the only book Lloyd-Jones has written, and it’s certainly not the only one I’ve reviewed here on Little Book, Big Story. Here are a few of our favorite books by Sally Lloyd-Jones:

Picture Books

Baby Wren and the Great Gift (Illus. Jen Corace)

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

– How to Be a Baby, by Me the Big Sister (Illus. Sue Heap)

– How to Get a Job, by Me the Boss (Illus. Sue Heap)

– How to Get Married, by Me the Bride (Illus. Sue Heap)

– Skip to the Loo (Illus. Anita Jeram)

Skip to the Loo, My Darling!, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

– Just Because You’re Mine (Illus. Frank Endersby)

– Found (Illus. Jago)

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

– Bunny’s First Spring (Illus. David MacPhail)

– Baby’s Hug-a-Bible (Illus. Claudine Gevry)

– Lift-the-Flap Bible (Illus. Tracey Moroney)

Not Quite Picture Books

The Jesus Storybook Bible (Illus. Jago)

– Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Illus. Jago)

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing | Little Book, Big Story

Christmas Books

– Song of the Stars (Illus. Allison Jay)

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

– Little One, We Knew You’d Come (Illus. Jackie Morris)


Also, if you want to know more about Sally Lloyd-Jones, or just want to be enchanted by her vision for life and writing, I highly recommend listening to her interview with Sarah MacKenzie on the Read-Aloud Revival

The ladies of Aslan’s Library interviewed her a while back, and that one’s lovely, too (Part 1 | Part 2).

Featured Author: Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

And (how neat is this?) here is a video interview with Lloyd-Jones from Haven Today, celebrating the tenth anniversary of The Jesus Storybook Bible. Tell me: do you recognize any of the photos featured in it?

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Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom

The newest issue of Deeply Rooted arrived at my house last week, and since then I’ve loved flipping through its pages, sampling articles and admiring artwork. I’m anticipating a nap time some day in the near future, when I may sit out on the front porch and read with my feet on the porch railing and a cat in my lap.

But that probably won’t happen. I’ll probably read this issue in the pick-up line at school or in bits and pieces throughout the day.

And that’s okay. Deeply Rooted is a magazine meant for women who want deep refreshment in small bites and for women who are able to linger over the articles, savoring them like a feast.

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

My article for this issue, titled “The Good Gift of Feeling Left Out,” was a hard one to write:

Being a member of a church is not unlike being married. The first few years for me were like something from the end of a story, where the heroine decides that at last, after everything she’s been through, all is well. I was glad to be there with my husband, making friends and singing my heart out to old hymns and understanding new things about God with the suddenness of a light switched on in a dark room. All was well.

But a membership covenant is no more an end to things than a wedding is. Five or six years into life at our church, I found myself wondering uncomfortably if those early years were not an epilogue but a prelude to something much bigger, something I had not fully understood when I signed up.

We have been a part of our church for twelve years now (that’s much of my adult life, most of my married life, and all of my time as a mom), and in those years we have experienced a lot of joy in deep fellowship. We have also suffered some deep, deep wounds. Writing this article hurt, and I think that’s a good thing. Submitting it brought a measure of relief, and seeing it in print felt even better.

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

But that piece is only one in a curated collection of works. Lexy Sauvé wrote a beautiful piece titled “Thoughts From a Recovering Minimalist.” Dianne Jago assembled a playlist of music by Christian artists for people who aren’t overly fond of the usual Christian music (sound familiar?). And my dear friend Jennifer Harris contributed her first piece, a rich and satisfying look at how we can sow seeds of wisdom in our children. (You can order a copy of this issue here.)

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 11: Wisdom | Little Book, Big Story

Whether you read it in a leisurely manner or in bits and pieces, I hope this issue of Deeply Rooted is a blessing to you, too!


Issue 11: Wisdom
Deeply Rooted Magazine

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Brave Girls: Beautiful You | Jennifer Gerelds

Nine. My eldest daughter just turned nine.

I thought this was momentous because it was her last single digit year, but no: a friend mentioned yesterday that she was halfway there, and the park around us got suddenly swimmy. It took me a minute to realize what my tear ducts understood instantly: “halfway there” meant halfway to adulthood, and the park looked swimmy because I was crying.

Yikes.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

But this birthday called for a little something different, as birthday books go, and so I explored the “devotional Christian girl” shelves of Amazon. I found a cheap book, one that looked promising, and ordered it.

Brave  Girls: Beautiful You was (whew!) not a theological mess in pink and floral print. It is a collection of devotions that encourage girls with a growing awareness of their appearance and identity to measure these things by God’s metric and to weigh their beauty on his scales. As I flipped through it, I was impressed by the depth of the devotions and the simple way they illustrated, through the imagery of “putting off” our old selves and “putting on” Christ, how a young girl can best glorify God in whatever situation comes her way.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

There are quizzes in here, too, which initially made me nervous, but again and again I saw that they were intended as an expedition through a girl’s heart and not as a measurement of her value or success.

So, this is a new sort of book for this blog, because we are in a new sort of season. Brave Girls: Beautiful You is sweet, yes. But it is also rich, and, I hope, it is the sort of fuel my young daughter needs as she begins to set her sights on becoming a young woman.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

I was not able to read this book from cover-to-cover before I needed to wrap it up, so though I recommend it, I can’t promise that there isn’t some murky spot in there somewhere. But every page I landed on was good and true.


Brave Girls: Beautiful You
Jennifer Gerelds (2016)

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