The Ology | Marty Machowski

On one end of the children’s literature spectrum, we find what Charlotte Mason famously called “twaddle”: books with pat morals, flat characters, and no life. These are often books adapted from TV shows or toys, where the crisis involves fairies losing their sparkle or forgetting the secret of spring or something. They are the books we sneak back onto the shelves before leaving the library, the ones our kids enjoy for a while but ultimately forget. They don’t stick in the hearts and minds of our children because they assume that our kids need to be entertained by what they read, not shaped by it.

On the other end of the spectrum, we find The Ology. Marty Machowski is an already-beloved author in our home: his Gospel Story Bible has been a favorite among every one of every age here for years, and his family devotional Long Story Short (mentioned last week) gives us hope that one day we will study the Bible with our children. With The Ology, though, he’s departed from the tried-and-true forms of the story bible and the family devotional and written a systematic theology for children.

Yes, you read that right. The Ology is a systematic theology for children. It doesn’t get further from twaddle than that.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The Ology opens with an interesting premise: two children find an old book in a disused room of their church and discover that it was left there by “Jonathan E.” In a note accompanying the book, Jonathan E. writes,

Those who were helped [by the writings of the theologians] wanted to pass these truths on to their children. And so they wrote a book for children, entitled The Ology, so that they too might understand deep truths about God, drawn from the Bible. . . . But sadly, after many years, The Ology was forgotten. Parents and children began to think the truths of The Ology were old-fashioned and out of date. One by one these books vanished. The book you now hold may be the very last copy of The Ology in existence.

From there, we get to read the text of that last copy of The Ology in short chapters, each of which focuses on a specific doctrine. These are clear enough to read with preschoolers, but can be adapted to share with older children. I can see both Lydia (7) and Sarah (5) gleaning a lot from the readings, while Phoebe (just shy of 2) combs the illustrations for kitties.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

Machowski is an author who clearly believes that children can and should have access to every part of Scripture. He believes they’re capable of understanding big concepts and so he doesn’t dilute truth for them, but lays it out in a methodical, accessible, interesting way. I am not pulling these beliefs from a parent’s note or introduction, though: it’s evident from the way he writes every page that Machowski respects his readers, no matter how small they are or how outlandish their questions.

A systematic theology for children? Yes! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

The more we read of The Ology, the more deeply I love it. This is a book that strives to shape our children, to nourish them and help them grow in the rich soil of the gospel. It is not meant to entertain them (though it does), and its content will not be easily forgotten. Our daughters may not remember where they learned certain doctrine, but it will linger there, in their hearts, one of the means by which the Lord helped root and establish them in their faith.

Fun Fact!

Sovereign Grace Music has released an album to accompany this book. I have only listened closely to a few songs so far, but I loved this one (my daughters deemed it “too scary”):

If you have given the rest of the album a good listen, I’d love to hear what you think!

The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New
Marty Machowski, Andy McGuire (2015)

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7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions

Family devotions, we have learned, are fluid. We start a book and stick with it until a baby joins us at the table in a high chair or somebody’s bedtime shifts or a child (who shall not be named) rebels against dinner in all its forms and we leave the table fatigued, having forgotten to pick that book up off the shelf, open it, and read aloud.

Our kids change constantly, and we seem to be always two steps behind them. This makes any kind of routine hard to maintain.

7 Favorite Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

Part of me mourns that fact, and the fact that we’ve yet to finish a devotional together, but another part is grateful for what time we have spent with each of these books. That is the part of me that holds out hope that we’ll get back to them one day—maybe when the high chair has been retired for good, and we’re all eating with forks like civilized folks.

Because we have found a few devotionals worth returning to, plus one that has been an anchor in our family worship, I thought I’d share a few of our favorite resources for family devotions with you. Perhaps you are all eating with forks like civilized folks and you can enjoy reading these books with your family—or perhaps you’re a few steps ahead of us and have realized that that may never happen, and it’s time to buckle down and do family devotions anyway. Whatever your circumstance, here is a list of gems for you:

LONG STORY SHORT, by Marty Machowski

Long Story Short, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

This book takes families all the way through the Old Testament—through the famous bits and the weird bits, too. It’s arranged by weeks, with each week divided into days, and each day complete with a reading from the book, a reading from the Bible, and a short list of thought-provoking questions.

We tackled this when our two oldest girls were four and under and were pleasantly surprised at how much our four year old gleaned from the readings (the two year old was more interested in finger-painting with her soup). I look forward to coming back to this one and to exploring Machowski’s book on the New Testament, Old Story New(We’re currently reading his brand new book, The Ology! So far? So good.)


Training Hearts, Teaching Minds | Starr Meade

Our church is collectively working our way through the Westminster Shorter Catechism with this book. Starr Meade orients each week around a catechism question and includes a series of Scripture readings and small devotions to correspond with each day of the week. This one, too, was a winner—but somehow, we only lasted six months before it returned to the shelf and stayed there.


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

I read this book to the girls over breakfast for quite some time. It’s beautiful—the illustrations by Jago are deeper and richer than those in The Jesus Storybook Bible and more mature somehow. And Sally-Lloyd Jones’s meditations on various things truly do make the heart sing. (Read the full review.)

THE FAMILY JOURNALby Songs for Saplings

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

We haven’t used The Family Journal as devotional material exactly, but as a landing place for the discussions that arise as we read together as a family. It is fun to revisit the questions and answers our daughters have learned by heart from the Songs for Saplings albums and to make notes on the spontaneous theological questions the girls throw my way. We have stuck with this one—perhaps because we don’t need to read it every day. (Read the full review.)

The Bible

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Every so often, we dip into Scripture itself. I have also been reading one-on-one with our oldest daughter, so she’s getting portions of Scripture straight from the source and that has been a rich time together for us (though pregnancy naps are edging that habit out already . . . ). (Read the full post.)

THE ADVENT JESSE TREEby Dean Lambert Smith

The Advent Jesse Tree: A Family Devotional for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

The Advent Jesse Tree has seen us through Advent after Advent, so we know that we can stick with a series of readings for at least one month! This is a clean, basic, theologically solid look at who Jesus is, what the Bible said about him before he came, and why his coming matters so much to us. We have loved this one year after year, returning to it even after a fancier book with better illustrations briefly lured us away. (Read the full review, or learn how to make your own Jesse tree.)


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

This book has anchored our devotional time since our eldest was eighteen months old. Knowing that our older girls are learning the New City Catechism as part of their schooling has helped direct our family devotion time toward something that will help build a solid foundation for our younger girls. And so The Jesus Storybook Bible comes back again and again as a part of our evening ritual.

It has traveled with us halfway across the country and back and is held together mostly by box tape—not glamorous, perhaps, but a sure sign of a book that has seen service in the hands of small readers. And that is what we want: we want them to know that this is their story. Perhaps as the whole family levels up together, we’ll tackle other, deeper devotional books, but for now, this is our tried-and-true book for family devotions. (Read the full review.)

What About you? Which Devotional books (or habits!) have worked for your family?
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It’s a girl!!

When reviewing our ultrasound results yesterday, my doctor asked, “Do we know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“A fourth girl!” I said, beaming.

He smiled, thought for a moment, and asked, “Have you ever read The Penderwicks?”

A medical degree is important and everything, but what I really look for in a doctor is the willingness to discuss literature in the exam room.

A baby blanket in the making | Little Book, Big Story

I’ve compared our family before to the Marches and—best of all—the Ingalls, and now I can add the Penderwicks to the list (I do hope this daughter is just a little bit like Batty). One more, and we’ll be the Bennetts!

Sarah has changed her name vote from “Robin Hood” to “Maid Marian,” Lydia has already mentioned “Mary . . . or maybe Laura,” and Phoebe has taken to marching around with the ultrasound photo, chanting “Bebe! Bebe!” Mitch has been to the bank to see about expanding our wee little home, and I have cast on a handful of stitches for a lovely and feminine baby blanket.

To celebrate, I’ll dig up a favorite post: “Ten Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter.” That particular branch of our library is about to get stronger and richer:

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter | Little Book, Big Story

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47 Beavers on the Big, Blue Sea | Phil Vischer

Phoebe pulled this book off the shelf the other day and slammed it down in my lap. Then she climbed up on the couch beside me, folded her hands, and waited. That girl knows how to get things done.

47 Beavers on the Big, Blue Sea, by Phil Vischer | Little Book, Big Story

And so we read 47 Beavers on the Big, Blue Sea. I had almost forgotten about this book, purchased when our seven year old was Phoebe’s size and read many, many times since then. Reading it to Phoebe reminded me of why I love Phil Vischer: though it doesn’t have the theological depth of Sidney and Norman or What’s in the Bible?, this book is hilarious, fun to read, and held together by a message that my daughters need to hear every so often: things work better when we work together.

47 Beavers on the Big, Blue Sea, by Phil Vischer | Little Book, Big Story

Jared Chapman’s illustrations make the whole thing feel like an old cartoon—Rocky & Bullwinkle, perhaps?—and add to the slapstick feel of the book’s comedy. And rediscovering this story reminds me that it’s good for a home library to have a wide range of books: sometimes, you need a long, thought-provoking story. And sometimes you need to read about forty-seven beavers at sea—with a shark.

47 Beavers on the Big, Blue Sea
Phil Vischer, Jared Chapman (2012)

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The Black Star of Kingston | SD Smith

When I reached the end of The Green Ember (and gave out a whoop! of triumph), I was both satisfied with the story’s ending and hungry for more. But when Smith revisited the realm of The Green Ember for his next book, he did not write a sequel to the story of Heather and Picket—instead, he returned to The Green Ember’s opening pages and wrote a prequel.

The Black Star of Kingston, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Those opening pages detail a scene between two rabbits named Fleck and Galt. It’s a short scene, but it’s rich in the themes that make Smith’s books so worth reading—honor, bravery, loyalty—and that small scene springboards us into the story of The Black Star of Kingston.

Long, long ago, before Heather and Picket, there was King Whitsun and Fleck. Their adventure fills the pages of this slender book with so much excitement and tension that I found myself perched on a folding chair during the few minutes between art classes, frantically snacking with one hand and turning pages with the other. Though I cannot put my finger on exactly why, there was something about this book that I liked even better than The Green Ember. The characters are more mature, the story’s pace is satisfyingly quick (but not too quick), and the action—oh, the action! SD Smith writes it so well that I’m not tempted (as I’m usually tempted) to skim the fight scenes until the story picks up again.

The Black Star of Kingston, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

It is always a pleasure to watch an author improve from book to book, and liking The Black Star of Kingston so well has me looking forward to Smith’s next book. (A sequel to The Green Ember, perhaps?)

The Black Star of Kingston
SD Smith, Zach Franzen (2015)

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God Made All of Me | Justin and Lindsay Holcomb

I hate it that books like this one exist. I hate the fact that sexual abuse is something that we need to protect our children from and that it’s something we need to teach them about. But because it does exist (and because it happens shockingly often), I am thankful for authors like Justin and Lindsay Holcomb who are willing to take on a challenging and emotional subject and equip parents to handle it with grace.

God Made All of Me, by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies | Little Book, Big Story

But even though God Made All of Me addresses a dark and painful subject, the authors center the subject in a loving family discussion, so the overall tone of the book feels warm and secure. In the “Note to Parents,” they write,

“We wrote this book as a tool so you can explain to your children that God made their bodies. Because private parts are private, there can be lots of questions, curiosity or shame regarding them. For their protection, children need to know about private parts and understand that God made their body and made it special. The message children need to hear is: “God made all of you. Every part of your body is good, and some parts are private.”

That emphasis places the book not just within the context of a secure family but within the context of a secure worldview: God made us and he made us for good things. We have to be wary of those who would distort those good things and use them to their own ends, but we don’t have to view those good things with suspicion or fear. That’s a message I want my children to grow up knowing well.

God Made All of Me, by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb | Little Book, Big Story

God Made All of Me focuses on equipping children to recognize dangerous situations and to respond to them well. We do our best to protect our children, but there will be times when they are outside our protection and vulnerable to abuse, and when those come, our children need to know what to do. And so the authors discuss the difference between secrets (bad) and surprises (good!), and emphasize the fact that you don’t have to allow anyone to touch you:

“If you don’t want to be hugged and kissed or give a high five or a handshake, just say, ‘No, thank you.’ . . . . we don’t always want to be touched even if it’s by someone you love. If the person doesn’t listen to you, ask for help right away.”

One of the children even raises the question (wisely), “But what if you or Daddy or my teacher are too busy to talk?” And the parents help him work out how to respond.

God Made All of Me, by Justin and Lindsay Holcomb | Little Book, Big Story

The book puts just enough emphasis on teaching children that they are in charge of their bodies, but it doesn’t stop there: it presents that information in a way that shows that they have a support network around them of parents, teachers, and doctors to talk to, so even though they are in charge of their bodies, they are not alone in protecting them.

This is a little book, but it’s one worth reading to your children. And while I hate having the conversations that remind our children that there are people out there who would hurt them, I’m thankful for a book like God Made All of Me that helps me share that information in a way that feels complete, empowering, and grace-centered. It becomes not something I tell them, but something we discuss together in the light of Scripture.

God Made All of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies
Justin S. Holcomb, Lindsay A. Holcomb, Trish Mahoney (2015)

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Anna Hibiscus | Atinuke

Before we get started: If you look up and then slightly to the right, you’ll notice a new feature on my menu labelled “Bookshop.” With the help of my web-savvy husband, we set up an Amazon shop for Little Book, Big Story.

In that shop, you’ll find every book mentioned on Little Book, Big Story, sorted by category and displayed by image. For you visual learners, this is exciting stuff!

And if you buy books through that bookshop, I get to buy books, too: a small percentage of every purchase made through the shop will help me purchase more books to review for this blog. (It is also worth mentioning that I have started converting the links on this blog to Amazon affiliate links, which means that anything you purchase through those will help keep me in books, too.)

And now for our regular programming!

Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke | Little Book, Big Story

I have a bittersweet relationship with early reader chapter books. I say “sweet” because those chapter books are legion: my daughters can check out seven books in a series and savor them throughout the week, and I don’t have to pre-read every one.

But I also say “bitter” because many of the early reader series tend to be a bit flat: they incorporate interesting historical or geographical elements, but the characters remain pretty static and the stories tend toward the formulaic—I suppose they must if they’re to have fifty or more books per series. The more of these we borrow from the library, the more I find myself willing to settle for fewer books of better quality.

Anna Hibiscus, by Atinuke | Little Book, Big Story

Anna Hibiscus is the first early chapter book I’ve found that strikes both the educational and the character-rich chords at once. Anna Hibiscus lives in Africa (“Amazing Africa!”) with her Canadian mother, her African father, her twin baby brothers, and all her aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. She doesn’t travel through time or make a single pun on the word “mouse,” but Anna Hibiscus does long for snow, love her family, and learn a bit about how truly wealthy she is.

Atinuke paints an enchanting picture of urban life in Africa through the musical language of her characters and through sweet stories about Anna herself, while Lauren Tobia’s illustrations portray a family life that is rich and vibrant, even in black and white drawings.

Anna HiAnna Hibiscus, by Atinuke | Little Book, Big Storybiscus, by Atinuke | Little Book, Big Story

I found myself actually wanting to read these books aloud to my daughters—rare praise for a genre that caters toward independent readers! There aren’t many books in this series, which gives me hope that the rest of them will be as well-written (and charmingly illustrated) as the first.

Have you found any early chapter books worth reading aloud? Which ones?

Anna Hibiscus
Atinuke, Lauren Tobia (2010)

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