What Are Ears For?

Reading can be such an interior journey, with the things we imagine all tucked away inside our minds—we sit back; we receive; if we’re being read to, we listen. But I love a hardy lift-the-flap book that invites readers to get their hands involved in the story. Back when my girls were little, those flaps were a fabulous way to encourage them to sit and listen to a whole book (one whole book!) before trying to fit a page into their mouths. These days, my girls are too old to need the flaps, but my younger daughters still enjoy opening them as though they’re doors to a secret compartment that might contain, oh, anything.

In the case of What Ears Are For?, the flaps often conceal the answer to questions just asked in the text, so those flaps give you a beat to discuss the question before revealing the answer. This series of sweet teaching books invites readers to explore why God gave us eyes, or hands, or—in this case—ears. By walking readers through some ways we can and should use our ears (and some ways we shouldn’t but often do use them), Abbey Wedgeworth gives parents and children time to discuss the beauty of God’s design for us.

But better yet, she shows us how Jesus used his ears, how we can do the same, and what we can do when we don’t quite get it right. This series doesn’t just tell readers what not to do: it engages those busy little hands while giving us a vision for what we can do, what we are made to, and what Jesus has done for us.


What Are Ears For?
Abbey Wedgeworth; Emma Randall (2024)


Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary.

The Sin Eater

This book, in addition to being written by the incomparable Gary Schmidt, contains three of the things I love most in a story: a very old house, some cloudy family history, and a cemetery. No—two cemeteries, one of which is hidden away and overgrown. Which is my favorite kind of cemetery.

So regardless of what my daughters think about the book, I’m here to tell you that I loved it. Gary Schmidt has a reputation for tackling Hard Topics, and this book is no exception: after losing his mother to cancer, Cole watches as his dad disappears into his grief like it’s an attic he can lock himself inside. But they’re living with Cole’s grandparents in the house where his mother grew up, and it is layered with family stories—joyful and sad—that provide a sort of counterweight to his father’s depression. And his grandparents fill it with laughter, good food, and meaningful work.

The tension between these two parts of Cole’s life—his father’s despair and his grandparents’ comfort—becomes a force at the heart of the story as the light strives to overcome the darkness. That tension propels the story forward. But in the community Cole finds in Albion, New Hampshire, Schmidt has created something that is substantive, memorable, real. The setting itself seems to support Cole as his grief over his mother’s death and his father’s absence ebbs and flows.

This is a moving book, a beautiful one. I’ve read many of Schmidt’s novels, and he’s a master at what he does. But something about this older title especially got to me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(And yes, my daughter loved it, too.)


The Sin Eater
Gary D. Schmidt (1996)


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Something Better Coming

I have written recently, in a few different places, about the loss of a very good friend and about her legacy. My daughters didn’t get to meet her, but they love her because she loved them—Leslie always asked about them, and even sent the occasional birthday gift their way, so she was a sweet presence to my girls even though she lived on the other side of the country.

The other day, my daughter asked about Leslie’s birthday. “We have to celebrate it,” she said. But when I opened my contacts to double-check the date of Leslie’s birthday, my daughter grew suddenly still. “You mean,” she said quietly, “you used to text her, but now—you can’t anymore?”

And then she slipped her arms around my waist and squeezed hard.

My friend has been gone for almost a year, but somehow that was the thing that made her death real—and suddenly, acutely wrong—for my daughter. That realization that, though my friend lives still, in a newer, better way, no message I can send her now will reach her.

“Oh death, where is your sting?” Scripture proclaims (1 Cor. 15:55). And yet, we feel the sting of death around us all the time—as it claims those we love, or in any number of endings that are woven into our daily lives. Things aren’t what they should be, and even our children know it on a bone-deep level.

And so I’m grateful for the season of Lent, where we expose that undercurrent of dis-ease for a bit and put it in its proper place, by reminding ourselves and one another that it will not always be this way. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, death will truly—and forever—lose its sting.

Megan Saben’s book Something Better Coming shows beautifully the hope and anticipation we have, in Christ, as we lean toward Easter. By telling the stories of the resurrections Jesus performed, each one building upon the previous one and pointing toward the next one with the refrain “There’s something better coming,” she gives readers a sense of culmination and completion through the story of Jesus’s resurrection.

This is a glorious way to read the Easter story. We see, through the building tension, that his resurrection was not a single event, disconnected from Scripture, but one woven seamlessly into it—a grand disruption, yes, but one that was promised and foreshadowed through a series of smaller resurrections sewn all throughout the Bible and, specifically, the Gospels.

I am deeply grateful for the truth of the resurrection and for its assurance that, though death stings now, there’s something better coming. I’m glad for that truth when I squeeze my daughter back and assure her that it won’t always be this way—there’s something better coming.


Something Better Coming
Megan Saben; Ryan Flanders (2022)


Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!

The Mousehole Cat

My favorite kind of mail is Surprise Mail: the packages that I didn’t order, but that arrive on our porch unannounced and full of possibility.

The Mousehole Cat arrived in just such a package: a friend sent it as a surprise, but also, because the card ended up arriving separately a few days later, as a bit of a mystery. I saw her name on the package but I didn’t have context for the gift. Instead, we opened the book and wondered at it—the why? and the what for?—before we sat down to lunch and read it aloud.

And the book was wonderful. The Mousehole Cat is about a cat, Mowzer, who lives with a fisherman in a place called “The Mousehole” because the bay is almost completely closed off from the sea, but when a storm rolls in that prevents the townsfolk from fishing and famine looms over them, the fisherman makes a brave and sacrificial decision to save the town. And Mowzer sails out with him.

The illustrations in this book are detailed and gorgeous, so much so that it felt hard to read aloud (almost!) because my eyes kept straying toward the pictures even as I tried to read the words. Imagine: Nicola Bayley portrays the storm as the Great Storm-Cat, personifying it in a way that makes it fun for young readers to spot the Cat curled among the clouds and wind, batting playfully with the waves and pouncing through the sky. How could one not get a little lost in illustrations like that?

The only solution, I suppose, is to read it again—and again—making this a book worth savoring. Through both the story and the illustrations, The Mousehole Cat gives us a stunningly beautiful example of what it can look like to love not merely “in word or talk but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber | Little Book, Big Story
Sometimes I have “helpers”

The Mousehole Cat
Antonia Barber; Nicola Bayley (1990)

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship

We live in a college town, where jobs are few and far between and the cost of living is high. So that major event so many kids face at least once—the best friend who moves away—has happened to each of my daughters many times. It is hard to stay here, so many friends they love have had to leave.

And each time, it is hard. Some of these friends have been good, true friends—those rare friends who speak your particular language, however quirky the dialect, and who seem utterly irreplaceable. The hope of “making a new friend” just doesn’t cut it when you lose a friend like that (for example) the summer before you start high school. Of course you don’t want a new friend—you want that friend. But that friend is halfway across the country now, and letters don’t sufficiently bridge that distance.

(In case you’re noticing the high school examples here and asking, “But I thought this was a picture book?”—yes. Under the guise of reading them to my younger daughters—and while everyone is busily eating lunch—I sure do still read picture books to my teenage daughters. I am staunchly of the opinion that one can never be too cool for picture books.)

So Jesus and the Gift of Friendship says beautifully what I’ve tried to say fumblingly to heart-broken daughters many times, when it’s been too long between letters or when they feel achingly alone in their class: Jesus is our true friend, and he will never leave. But also, pray for a new friend and be open to the idea that a new friend may not resemble your old friend in the slightest.

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship is a beautiful book, both in its message and in its artwork. The style of the illustrations reminds me a bit of Ezra Jack Keats, so while the book feels new and fresh, it still has a classic feel that fits this old, old story of Losing a Best Friend perfectly.

In this book, it is Zeke who moves away from his best friend, Sam, and he grieves that loss. But as his mom walks him through what friendship with Jesus looks like—both for Zeke today and for the followers who walked alongside Jesus during his earthly ministry—Zeke begins to pray each night for a new friend. When he does find one—after a long wait, by the way—she isn’t anything like Sam. But Zeke’s heart is no longer focused on replacing Sam, so he’s open to the idea that he can have an entirely new friend.

As a mom, I love books that help articulate some of these deep truths of childhood and that give us room to talk through tough things during the cozy safety of a read-aloud time. So I’m grateful for Jesus and the Gift of Friendship—I suspect we’ll return to it often.


Jesus and the Gift of Friendship
Trillia Newbell; Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell (2023)

Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!


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