Last Stop on Market Street | Matt De La Pena

Not only has this book been in the world for a while, winning awards and such, but it has also been on our shelves for a while. And I’m sure I had read it to someone before; I know I had read it to myself. But recently, Phoebe and I snuggled on the couch with this book spread across both our knees, and the pinball struck home: the story sunk in, and I came back to it after the girls were in bed, to read it again on my own.

Last Stop on Market Street, if you haven’t read it yet (though you probably have), follows a young boy and his grandmother as they ride the bus through their town. We see them leave church in the beginning of the book, but until the last pages, we don’t know where they’re going. The boy grumbles the way we all often do: Why do they have to ride the bus? Other people have cars. Why doesn’t he have a phone? Those big kids do.

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena | Little Book, Big Story

But the way his grandmother answers his questions unhooks his eyes from fleeting pleasures and fixes them on the pleasures before him: You don’t need little music threaded through earbuds—you’ve got live music right here. Your poor friends in their cars—they miss meeting all the people here on the bus. They’re poorer for it.

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena | Little Book, Big Story

There are lots of books out there about gratitude, but this one shows us what it looks like. I want to have eyes, like the grandmother’s, that see gifts in the most unlikely things. I want to remember that I am owed nothing, but have been given much.

When we learn where the boy and his grandmother are headed, it makes sense. For a woman who sees the world the way this one does, her gratitude must overflow into kindness.


Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Pena; Christian Robinson (2015)

God Gave Us Sleep | Lisa Tawn Bergren

A note to three-year-olds everywhere: if your parents buy you this book for your birthday, they are almost certainly hinting that it is time to start sleeping through the night. (We were when we bought this for Josie.)

Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us series is lovely and I’ve reviewed a few of them here. But none have garnered as dedicated a following in our home as this one: for a time God Gave Us Sleep was Josie’s favorite pre-nap read. She flipped through it after I put her to bed, and I often found it on the floor beside her when she woke up, as though it had slipped out of her hands when she drifted off.

God Gave Us Sleep, by Lisa Tawn Bergren | Little Book, Big Story

And it is a book worth reading and re-reading. Bergren explores sleep and why it matters; through the story, she shows what happens and how we feel when we don’t sleep well, and she reminds readers that sleep is not a punishment or an inconvenience but a gift from our loving God. Exhausted parents know this. Three-year-olds don’t always, so I’m thankful for a book that gently explains it.

God Gave Us Sleep, by Lisa Tawn Bergren | Little Book, Big Story

Josie has finally started sleeping through the night, though she will sometimes come quietly into our room and wait for us to wake up and take her to the bathroom. She never tells us she’s there, but lets us become gradually aware of her presence by singing “Happy Birthday” softly to herself. That’s so much better than how she used to wake us that we don’t even mind.


God Gave Us Sleep
Lisa Tawn Bergren; Laura J. Bryant (2015)

Little Me, Big God Books | Steph Williams

I am well into eleven years of reading board books and can tell you that the few we still read—the ones that have been repurchased when their covers, loosened by soggy gums, finally fell off—are all by Sandra Boynton. Our daughters can still chant the full text of Moo Ba La La. I once recited—with friends at a dinner party—But Not the Hippopotamus from memory, as a spoken word poem, possibly read by William Shatner.

Little Me, Big God Series, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

I tell you this not because I’m reviewing a Boynton book today, but because I want you to remember, before we begin, how hard it is for an author to win over both toddler and parent at once.

And then I want to tell you that Steph Williams gets it right. Her Little Me, Big God books are ones I happily re-read any time Josie slings one into my lap. And she slings them into my lap often.

The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

Each one tells a story about Jesus in a few short pages, and tells it in a way that neither condescends to the young reader or soars over their head. Williams researched the stories thoroughly and tells them simply. She also includes the stories’ full text in the back of each book.

The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

The Best Thing To Do tells the story of Martha and Mary; Never Too Little tells of the children coming to Jesus; The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet tells the story of Bartimaeus. All of them are short and small and deep, as they point both toddler and parent toward the One they need most.


Little Me, Big God Series
Steph Williams (2019)


Disclosure: I did receive copies of these books 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.

Every Moment Holy | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

I came of age as a Christian in a church plant “for people who don’t like church.” We were reinterpreting church, making it new for those who had grown up in stodgy, liturgical places and hungered for something heartfelt and sincere. We were a composite of black sheep: some of us had never gone to any church at all; others had drifted in from mega-churches, in search of a tighter, more authentic community. Most of us owned skateboards. We were all under thirty.

Mitch and I were married in that church when I was nineteen, but within the year, we gradually stopped attending—I don’t remember why. For a few years, we didn’t attend anywhere. But eventually we found ourselves at another small church plant, this one full of people who were not running from the church, but to it: some of them, like us, refugees from churches that had jettisoned doctrine in a dive toward “relevance.”

We heard a call to worship and prayed the Lord’s Prayer every week. We took communion not at special believers’ services, but every Sunday, together. We looked into one another’s eyes as we broke the bread.

Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

It was through this church that I began to appreciate liturgical worship. I didn’t notice it happening—at first, I read clumsily through the bold print in the bulletin, not sure what I was supposed to feeling as I read.

Years later, a decade in perhaps, I began to understand that I didn’t have to adjust my feelings before reading the liturgy, but that God can use a good liturgy to shape my feelings and affections. No matter what I am grappling with when the service starts, by the time I’ve recited and responded and prayed and sung “The Doxology” and received the benediction, the Spirit has unstuck my heart from my worries and oriented it once more toward God.

It is a quiet work I cannot control. And it is one we participate in together, every Sunday.

Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

Every Moment Holy invites liturgies into the home, around the table, outside under the stars—it is a collection of liturgies written by Douglas Kaine McKelvey (a writer I very much admire) and illustrated by Ned Bustard (an illustrator I also very much admire). These liturgies are prayers, meant to be read alone or together; in unison or in a call-and-response exchange. They are intended, as Andrew Peterson writes in the book’s introduction, to “edify you, reshape your thinking, recalibrate your compass, ignite your imagination, and pique your longing for the world to come.”

And they do: the words themselves set my thoughts running along new lines, and they draw my eyes upward in moments that may not normally elicit prayer. “Upon An Unexpected Sighting of Wildlife,” for instance. “Upon Feeling the Pleasance of a Warm Shower.”

Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

These liturgies are not only for Sunday mornings, but for the week-in, week-out trials and celebrations that we often hurry through. Pausing to read “A Liturgy for the Preparation of a Meal” or “Liturgy for a Moment of Frustration at a Child” reorients our thoughts toward the One who gives us hands and herbs and aromatics and children who challenge our sense of order.

Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

Though I had begun to appreciate liturgies at our last church, it wasn’t until that church dissolved and we started attending our new church that I truly began to love liturgies. We closed that final service with “The Doxology,” and the next week stepped into our first service at our new church knowing that we didn’t have to muster up certain feelings during worship but that we could rest in the familiar rhythm of the liturgy.

Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

Participating in the liturgy of a new church was like hearing a beloved piece played by a different musician: we heard variations, but the melody still came through, beautiful and clear. At the end of the service we could sing with our new church family, “Praise God from Whom all blessings flow,” and by then we really meant it.


If you’re new to the idea of liturgy, or would just like to read more about it (besides reading Every Moment Holy, which is an excellent place to start), I highly recommend You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith. That book more than any other has helped shape my understanding of liturgy.


Every Moment Holy
Douglas Kaine McKelvey; Ned Bustard (2017)

Empowered | Catherine Parks

Our kids keep getting bigger. It’s the weirdest thing. I remember the ladies who gazed at Lydia asleep in my arms and cooed, “Oh, it just goes by so fast!” I knew they weren’t talking about my child, who was all of two weeks old, but about their own children, whose babies played sax in the jazz band and goalie for the JV soccer team. And I thought, the way we do, that it would be different for me. I wouldn’t let the passage of time catch me by surprise. Time has only been marching forward since, well, time first began.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

And yet. Lydia is almost as tall as I am and is occasionally, from a distance and by people who don’t know us well, mistaken for me. There are times when I hear her speaking in the living room and think, “Whoa! Is another adult here?” before I realize that it’s my daughter talking. Sarah just turned nine, which means that she’s halfway to eighteen, which means that I suddenly need to sit down.

And then there’s Phoebe, who just started kindergarten and is so okay with it. She told me over her snack, “Mom? Today a girl in my class cried ’cause she wanted her mom,” like it was this bizarre thing she’d never considered that someone might, you know, miss their mom on their third day of kindergarten*. And Josie, the baby who is not a baby anymore except sometimes I forget and just need to smell her hair.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

It turns out that those old ladies knew their stuff—life really does go by quickly, even when you’re paying attention. But if I miss the things we’ve passed by, I also love the things happening now. One of my favorite aspects of having these new older kids (besides carrying a diaper-free purse and having enough people to make card games legitimately fun) is the level of conversation we get to have on a daily basis.

Many of these conversations stem from—wait for it—books, and lately, specifically, from biographies. Even though the girls are back in school, we still do one day of studying at home, and I’ve commandeered a good portion of that day for read-alouds. A good portion of that time, I’ve dedicated to reading biographies. So I am always keeping an eye out for good biographies, and Empowered is one of my favorite finds yet.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

Empowered is an anthology of biographies—each one readable in a long sitting or two or three shorter ones—of Christian women from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Catherine Parks shows how each woman’s story displays God’s glory and power, emphasizing that the things the women accomplished were not the product of mere grit, but of God’s strength made manifest through them. He is a God who equips us to do far more than we could do alone, and each of these stories demonstrates that.

The anthology format allows Parks to share that good news not just once, but eleven times through the lives of eleven very different women. Though we read about women from all over the world living at different points throughout history, Parks makes it clear who the story is really about: God’s hand in each woman’s life becomes the unifying thread that holds story to story.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations—they were the reason I purchased the book. Her beautiful pencil and ink drawings make each women seem like someone you’d like to know, someone who is glad to see you.

We read about Joni Erickson Tada first, and that led naturally to looking at her paintings and listening to one of her talks (because you can take the mom out the homeschool, but . . . ). And this led naturally to more of those fabulous big kid conversations: deep reflections from the eleven-year-old, questions about quadriplegia from the nine-year-old, and, from the five-year-old: “Mom? Why don’t skeletons have ears?” Josie had wandered off somewhere, probably looking for the cat.

* The novelty of new colored pencils and cozy reading rugs has worn off, and now Phoebe fully understands how someone might miss her mom while at school.


Footnote

Catherine Parks has also written a companion book for boys, titled Strong. I own it but haven’t read it yet, though my hopes for it are high.


Empowered: How God Shaped 11 Women’s Lives
Catherine Parks; Breezy Brookshire (2019)

Jesus And the Lion’s Den | Alison Mitchell

I try to rein in the superlatives here, because I assume that you don’t want to read, week after week, that I thought a book was “extra super truly amazing.” I assume you’d rather not wade through the adjectives to reach the punchline, which is that, yes, I loved the book.

But this book, Jesus and the Lion’s Den, the newest addition to the Tales that Tell the Truth series (a series beloved in our home and on this blog), is extra super truly amazing.

Jesus and the Lion's Den, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Each book in the series tells a Bible story, and each one does it with an eye toward the gospel: “What does this story tell us about Jesus?,” the authors ask. But Jesus and the Lion’s Den is still more purposeful about pointing the story forward to Christ.

Jesus and the Lion's Den, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Alison Mitchell tells the story of Daniel in a way that doesn’t only show readers how it connects to the story of Jesus, but allows readers to work it out for themselves (spoiler alert: there’s a code). Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations are vibrant and expressive, as always.

Jesus and the Lion's Den, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

This series continues to be one of my favorites, and Jesus and the Lion’s Den is an extra super truly amazing new addition to it. (And they just keep coming! I can’t wait to read this one.)


Jesus and the Lion’s Den: a True Story About How Daniel Points Us to Jesus
Alison Mitchell; Cataline Echeverri (2019)


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.

A New (School) Year

Twist and turns: this year has been full of them! The most recent twist came as a surprise even to us, though we ended up being the ones to make the decision. Here is how it went:

We have loved homeschooling our girls, and we fully intended to keep doing it. I bought bins full of books for the coming school year and read through them with the vigor some folks bring to a buffet: the periodic table, ancient civilizations, the construction of pyramids, biographies—I heaped my plate with them and ate quickly so I could go back for more.

But as I tinkered with spreadsheets and lesson plans, something peculiar happened: I felt enthusiasm for the coming year—but no peace. I felt ill at ease, as though something wasn’t fitting the way it was meant to. I tweaked plans, I prayed about it, and yet still I felt restless. When I finally loosened my grip on the problem enough to mention it to Mitch, he took the news as though I’d put words to something that had nagged him for a while.

That night I hardly slept, and when I did sleep I skimmed the surface fretfully, dreaming my way through the problem still. By the next afternoon, my brain was overheating, I was exhausted, and yet, peace softened the line of the horizon ahead: by that evening, we knew what we needed to do.

A New (School) Year! | Little Book, Big Story

At this point, we didn’t know if it was possible for our girls to return to school—the school the girls had attended before has grown and classes have filled up. We doubted they’d have openings for all three of our school-aged girls (Phoebe started kindergarten this year!), but we needed to give it a try. That was what we knew.

Then: emails and waiting. And further considering. What had changed, we asked ourselves and each other. Why home school for just two years and then return to school? The single biggest change, we realized, was that we are now attending the church that launched the school, and a number of the teachers, students, and board members are now not just friends but church family as well. We wanted them to be a meaningful part of our daughters’ lives, and we wanted to get to know their kids. There were other factors, but that was the biggest one. So, we waited.

And behold! The school had openings for each of our girls, and I abruptly shifted gears from planning out a year’s worth of history readings to measuring kids and shopping for uniforms. It seems that we are going back to where we started—but we aren’t. Our home addition was made possible by the those two years of homeschooling, and the relationship the girls have with one another and with Josie (two years is two-thirds of her life, after all) was worth the detour into unstructured afternoons and time spent around the table, feasting and reading Shakespeare together.

A New (School) Year | Little Book, Big Story

There are things I miss about homeschooling—and things I don’t miss. There are things I felt apprehensive about returning to school—but they were few. There are many more things I am enjoying, not because I think school is a shortcut to perfect kids, but because it is right where we need to be right now. I am excited to see what God will do through this.