The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Susan Wojciechowski

The other day I pulled a pile of Christmas books out of the shop and tried to covertly photograph them while the girls were distracted. But they were at my elbow in minutes, hailing old friends, eyeing new ones with suspicion (“I don’t remember that book”), and trying to sneak favorites off the pile while I wasn’t looking. The most adored, the most likely to be snatched from the pile and spirited away to a comfy chair was this one: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver in a small village, known (and feared) for his gruff manner. But before the story itself truly begins, the author lets us in on a secret: Mr. Toomey wasn’t always this way. Once he was young and full of life, but he closed himself off after suffering terrible grief. Because Susan Wojciechowski introduces us to this side of Mr. Toomey first, watching his transformation throughout the story—as he meets the young widow McDowell and her son Thomas—is like watching someone open a gift we just know they’re going to love.

Here is the thing about the widow McDowell and Thomas: they show up at Mr. Toomey’s door with a request. They’ve lost their set of nativity figures and ask him to make them a new set. But Thomas also wants to watch Mr. Toomey work. His comments throughout the story and his true “little boyness” has us all giggling every time we read it, and yet this is a genuinely deep, sorrowful yet joy-filled book that also makes me cry every time I read it. That balance seems to me just right. (The illustrations are gorgeous, too. P.J. Lynch captures the characters’ expressions in such a living way that I feel as if I’ve walked in on the characters mid-conversation.)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

One of the things I love about this book is that, though it is called The Christmas Miracle, Etc., Jonathan Toomey’s transformation doesn’t come about through some nebulous holiday warm-fuzzery. It is nurtured by his interactions with the pieces of the nativity, as Thomas explains beautifully the purpose of each figure. It also nudged along by acts of gentle kindness, both to him and, eventually, by him, as he learns to give himself to others and to welcome them into his life again. And so it is one of the books the girls welcomed most eagerly into our lives this year. This book deserves such a welcome.


The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Susan Wojciechowski; P.J. Lynch (1948)

A Very Noisy Christmas | Tim Thornborough

A funny thing happened when we started packing: our books, that fill shelves throughout our house and are already quite a presence, seemed to multiply. One shelf’s worth filled three boxes, yet there were dozens of shelves to go. We understood, early on, that the bulk of our packable possessions are books.

It also became clear, while we were moving about from place to place, that the bulk of our portable possessions are also books. Lydia packed her entire collection of Redwall books, because she feels at home wherever they are. Josie needed her Sandra Boynton library; I filled a plastic tote with books I intended to read (Enjoying God), books I hoped to read (A Girl of the Limberlost), and books I might feel the sudden urge to re-read (The Lord of the Rings)And none of that includes our school books, of which there are also many.

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

But here is where this works out well: I spent the summer posting re-runs here and the fall posting nothing. But all summer and fall, our family was buying and borrowing and reading and falling in love with new books. Which means I have an abundance of wonderful books to share with you. I am, frankly, finding it very hard to wait to share some of them.

But I will start with this one, because it is so much fun to read and so seasonally appropriate:

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

When you have a toddler or a preschooler (or, like me, one of each for the past eight years or so), the volume in your home fluctuates quite a bit. There’s the high setting: squealing, giggling, ricocheting off furniture, weeping, and so on. And there’s the low setting: sleeping, snuggling, drawing on the wall with mom’s best lipstick.

A Very Noisy Christmas turns that knob up and down as you read the Christmas story, with prompts that encourage kids to whisper and bellow along with a telling on Jesus’ birth. It begins in a whisper, with the shepherds sleeping, and turns to a yell when the angels burst on the scene. Tim Thornborough’s text is fun to read aloud, and Jennifer Davison’s illustrations are full of energy, movement, and color (a great combo for energetic, ever-active, and certainly colorful kids).

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

This book would be great in a Sunday School class, or with a group of kids. Or with a toddler on one knee and a preschooler on the other. Or, really, just any time with any little kid.


A Very Noisy Christmas
Tim Thornborough; Jennifer Davison (2018)


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.

What Every Child Should Know About Prayer | Nancy Guthrie

Dear readers: we are home!! And I don’t know what to tell you about first.

Josie, jumping joyously in her own bed for ten minutes straight, yelling, “Jump my bed! Jump my bed!” with the exuberance of a toddler liberated from the pack-n-play for good?

Phoebe’s sudden urge to dress as though she wants to wear all of her clothes—unpacked at last after two months—at once?

The stab of happiness I get every time I walk into the kitchen and see not a wall but a real dining room so big and pretty it makes our table—even with both leaves installed—look small?

Before . . .

After!

I could tell you about the two-month adventure that went from intense to really intense when we learned that our church of thirteen years was dissolving. I could tell you about sharing a twin bed with Mitch for two weeks, or about learning to cook in six different kitchens, or about how ridiculously well the construction itself went, or about how thankful we are for everyone who hosted, fed, prayed for and/or helped us in the past two months.

But for now, I will tell you about a book.

What Every Child Should Know About Prayer, by Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

We brought a lot of books with us on the road, mostly because we like options and we don’t like leaving books behind, but there are a few that we read daily and that lent structure to our otherwise structure-less lives. What Every Child Should Know About Prayer is one of those.

What Every Child Should Know About Prayer, by Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

Even though half of my girls are well outside the recommended age range for this book, we started reading through What Every Child Should Know About Prayer together because this is the sort of subject I fumble through, either over-explaining or overlooking the fact that it needs explanation. And so I’m glad for Nancy Guthrie’s help here. I’m glad for her direct explanations and for the conversations they generate at our table.

Guthrie’s short readings each explore some aspect of who God is, what prayer is, why it’s important, and how it’s done. Each one closes with a prayer prompt or question that got us thinking outside the box, and they have generated some great discussions with kids little and big. (Also worth noting: this book is part of series that also includes Everything a Child Should Know About God, which we love, and Everyone a Child Should Know, which I suspect we’ll love once we read it.)

What Every Child Should Know About Prayer, by Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

But for now, friends, it is good to be home. We still have a crazy amount of work to do—there are rough drywall edges everywhere and we’re living on the subfloor—but still. We are reveling right now in the amount of work already done.


What Every Child Should Know About Prayer
Nancy Guthrie; Jenny Brake (2018)

Three Questions to Ask Before You Take My Advice | Deeply Rooted Blog

Ah! I meant to go silent, but then this came up: a little something extra to share with you.

When I was small, my dad kept a running joke about something he called The Book of Dad. “I’ll have to look that up in The Book of Dad,” he’d say, or, when I put him in parenting quandary, “I don’t remember anything about this in The Book of Dad.” To me, he seemed to know everything, a fact that I credited to that book (which I never saw but still believed in).

But now, as the mother of three small daughters, I appreciate the joke in a whole new light: there is no Book of Mom, though I desperately wish on certain days that there were. My children look to me for answers, and I feel like I really ought to have them, as though centuries of parents might have had the decency to compile them for me.  .  .  .

Deeply Rooted recently republished an article of mine—an old one, from Issue 8. This is a lengthy article, written for the print magazine rather than the blog, but it’s on a topic that’s especially dear to me: how do we filter out the nonsense we hear daily and decide which authors, speakers, or friends are giving legit parenting advice?

Every writer (myself included) sees the world in a particular way. They have certain beliefs about children—that children are basically good or innately sinful; that raising them should be our primary focus or a peripheral one—and about our role, as humans, in the universe. Though it might seem strange to leap from an article touting “Five Ways to Improve Your Child’s Attitude” to the question of whether we humans are generated by random chance to pursue our own good or by a loving God to pursue him, it’s an important leap to make: the worldview of each author will directly influence the way she approaches her children, as well as the way that she, in choosing the five bullet points of her article, encourages us to approach our own children.

As Christians, we need to at least be aware of that. We are confronted daily with information that has been neither fact-checked nor edited, and we need to approach that heap of advice with a wary eye, feeling for soft spots in an article’s logic or digging beneath an author’s assertion to find the source of her worldview. We should be quick to recognize any parts of an author’s philosophy that conflict with Christian doctrine. . . .

More than anything else I’ve written, this article is, I think, a glimpse at how I strive to approach motherhood, and I’m so grateful to Deeply Rooted for running it again.

You can read the full article here.

Building Our House | Jonathan Bean

I write this morning from the kitchen table of an adorable two-bedroom apartment. We rearranged one bedroom to accommodate four sisters and the pantry to hold our school books. Stacks of suitcases and plastic totes fill corners and line the short hall,  yet it already feels like home.

But why am I here and not at my own kitchen table?

Because that table is in storage. We are in the throes of a major home remodel, one that involves  the destruction and expansion of one portion of our home. Our books are stored in portable totes; we have been watching Fixer Upper to boost morale. I’ve been reading The Gospel Comes with a House Key to remind myself why we wanted to do this in the first place—but not recently, because I lost my copy. I think I packed it in the wrong tote.

Before | Little Book, Big Story

The plants, the porch, the fence, and that whole back addition are gone! And there’s a big hole in the ground (a crawlspace-to-be), reaching to about where the wheelbarrow is in the photo.

In the midst of this mayhem, I do need to keep the proverbial plate light and portable for the next few months, so I am going to take a short break from blogging. I anticipate being back some time in November, but I make no firm promises. Home remodels are not predictable, trustworthy things—that is what I am learning.

But I do want to leave you with a good book, and this, my friends, certainly qualifies as a Good Book.

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

You may know Jonathan Bean from This is My Home, This is My School or from his beautiful (and previously reviewed here) book At Night. I love every book of his I’ve read. But Building Our House is just the right book for now, and here’s why:

Building Our House follows his own family’s home-building endeavor, from the time they moved a camper onto their property to the day they move into their new home. The story itself is charming, but the illustrations add a new level of meaning to the story, as we watch his family grow and change with the seasons of work and waiting. Bean takes a slice of ordinary life and, by lifting it up, shows us that it is worth consideration. It is something worth celebrating.

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

I bought a copy of Building Our House and have it stowed in a tote with various and sundry other Mom surprises (sticker dolls! Non-messy craft kits! New board games!) that I hope will keep us occupied on rainy days in small spaces. I hope to pull it out and read it aloud on the day part of our house gets broken to bits and tossed in a giant dumpster. You know, to remind us that it’s not all destruction, but that there’s some marvelous new construction coming.

Building Our House, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

In the meantime, I will miss you all! I’ll read lots of good books and come back with some great titles to share. I hope you are all enjoying the fall weather and baking things with pumpkin in them. When I return, I hope to have a dining room (no more homeschooling in the kitchen!) and a second bathroom (no more “estimated wait times” for the first one!).

And also, a heart full of gratitude to the One who makes this huge undertaking possible, and for all the folks who took us in and prayed with us and installed things for us along the way. You know who you are.

Before | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

The light in these photos is extra strange and orange-y, and here’s why: I took them when a blanket of wildfire smoke drifted our way from British Columbia, California, Eastern Washington, and Siberia, and smothered our town for a few days. It smelled awful and did who knows what to our lungs, but man—it was pretty.


Building Our House
Jonathan Bean (2013)

Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 13: Holiness

I carry the cold in with me and stand for a moment, still in my coat, and warm my feet over the vent before I sit down. Pumpkin bread presides at the table, attended by the French press, the cream, and a stack of napkins. April, in the kitchen, gathers mugs. A timer dings. We call quietly back and forth—How are you? Tired. A laugh. You?—keeping our voices low so we don’t wake her sons sleeping upstairs. As I take my Bible and notebook from my bag, the front door groans open then closed, and there is Megan, shaking her boots off onto the mat, rubbing her gloved hands together.

We sit down in our usual places and each claim a mug; April pours out coffee. The sound of it, the bitter smell, warms us as we talk for a moment about which kid woke most last night and how that first foster placement is going. But we don’t talk for long. We don’t have much time.

For the most recent issue of Deeply Rooted, I got to write about the Bible study I share with two close friends. This isn’t an instructional, “Five Steps to a Better Bible Study,” but an intimate peek at one of our mornings together—ukulele interludes and all.

The whole issue is, as always, beautiful both in form and content. In it, you’ll find articles on holiness, on identifying different biblical genres, on the story behind the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.” You’ll find DIY spa recipes, and an article on how marriages are shaped by a shared Christian faith according to extensive, long-term research. And more! You’ll find this issue a great late-summer read, perfect for reading at beaches, on benches by playgrounds, or while looking out over a hazy, smoky-pink lake (that’s what’s happening here, anyway).

You can order a copy here.


Deeply Rooted Magazine
Issue 13: Holiness (2018)

What’s in the Bible? (Videos) | JellyTelly

Vischer

The weather isn’t cool, but it will be soon. And when it is, we plan to watch this series for the third (or possibly fourth?) time. This post originally appeared on this blog in October 2014, and we still love this show as much as we did then.

We have discovered some new favorites on JellyTelly since I first shared this post (The Nature of God, Stevie’s Trek to the Holy Land, Friends & Heroes—to name a few), but What’s in the Bible? remains one of our family’s All-Time Favorite Shows. I hope you love it, too!


Way back in this blog’s beginning posts, I wrote a bit about What’s in the Bible? I told you that it was awesome and that you should watch it, but that was over a year ago and now it’s a cozy sort of season when movies and fleece blankets are in high demand, so I thought I’d give the series its very own post—even though it’s not a book, but a show about the book.

What’s in the Bible? is a series of 26 episodes that works its way through the entire Bible, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. Yes, it tells the creation story and shares a stellar retelling of the Book of Ruth, but the overall focus of the series is less on the celebrated stories of the Bible and more on the great, overarching story of the Bible. What is actually in the Bible? Why does it matter to us? What’s in the Bible? strives to answer those questions with creativity and sincerity (a great combination when dealing with anyone, little or big). The mind behind it all belongs to Phil Vischer, of JellyTelly (and formerly of VeggieTales). He briefly explains the vision of What’s in the Bible? here:

As you may remember from my post about his book, Sidney and Norman, I think very, very highly of Mr. Vischer. He appears on the show as a sort of anchor for an eclectic cast of puppets (which features, among other things, a Sunday school teacher, a news anchor, and a pirate), where he doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but speaks to kids as though they can and should understand what the Bible says about tricky topics like sin, salvation, and theological doctrine. Take the show’s explanation of the Trinity, for example:

 

Our daughters love these videos. My husband and I love them, too, and through the show’s vivid illustrations we have both learned a lot about key aspects of the Bible. The episodes that touched on Paul’s back story or the silence between the Testaments switched lights on for both of us, and now our daughters tend to do things like, oh, list the books of the Bible in order just for fun. The show is full of catchy songs (a song about the Pentateuch—sung on a riverboat!) and great topical segments (A Pirate’s Guide to Church History!) that go far beyond the traditional fare of Christian children’s programming.

Take this song about the book of Judges (yes, Judges):

Oh, okay, and our favorite song about Leviticus (yes, Leviticus):

 Now, where you can you find this excellent series? If you live in our area, you can request copies of the DVDs at the public library, but by far the easiest way to watch them is to subscribe to JellyTelly. The monthly fee is cheap and grants you access to all 26 episodes of What’s in the Bible? as well as a variety of other shows and games that our family has yet to explore. (Do I sound like an infomerical? Don’t worry, this is not a sponsored post—none of my posts are—so it’s simply my enthusiasm for this show that you hear taking on a cheesy radio-announcer persona.)

JellyTelly’s mission is “be a tool to help raise the next generation of Christians so they know what they believe and know how to live it and to help launch the next generation of Christian storytellers.” I love that vision and see it succeeding marvelously through What’s in the Bible? 


What’s in the Bible? (DVD series)
Jelly Telly