Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?
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The Radical Book for Kids | Champ Thornton

When our eldest daughter was a toddler, my mom dropped a heavy box off at our house. “Your books,” she said. “From when you were a kid.”

I had no idea what a wonderful thing she’d done until I took the lid off the box, and two dozen or more picture book spines looked back at me: books I’d forgotten completely were there, tucked alongside old favorites, and many bore handwritten notes from my mom, marking the birthdays and Christmases of my childhood.

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

Those books now live on our family shelves. The gift of those childhood books was so powerful that I have made it a tradition for every birthday, Easter and Christmas since to buy a new and beautiful theological book for each of our daughters and to inscribe them with a short note. I’m looking forward to the day when I can drop off a box of books with each of them and help establish their picture book libraries.

I ran into a hitch this year, though. Lydia was suddenly harder to shop for: the only Christian books I found at her reading level were missionary biographies, and while she has a few of those already, she doesn’t seem particularly enchanted with them yet. So I wanted to get her something different—but what?

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

Enter The Radical Book for Kids, by Champ Thornton. Part encyclopedia of the Christian faith, part Dangerous Book for Girls (or Boys), The Radical Book for Kids is full of so many wonderful things that I’m finding it hard to improve upon the publisher’s description of the book. So I’ll just quote it here:

This power-packed book is “radical” in more ways than you might think! It is “radical” in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “going to the root or origin.” The Radical Book for Kids will take children on a fascinating journey into the ancient roots of the Christian faith. But it’s also “radical” in the more modern sense of being revolutionary. Kids read about men and women who learned to trust Jesus and stand for him—displaying radical faith—even when everything seemed against them.

But The Radical Book for Kids is also “radical”—meaning fun or cool—in the eyes of a child. Kids read about ancient weapons (and how to make one), learn about jewels, create pottery, discover ancient languages, use secret codes, locate stars, tell time using the sun, play a board game that’s 3,000 years old—and more.

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

This is the sort of book that I pull out after the kids go to bed and get lost in: the material in it is deep yet engaging, and every page is beautiful. I have a hunch that Lydia will disappear into it, too, and emerge full of interesting facts about ancient Hebrew, Lottie Moon, and handmade slings. And my hope is that, when she finds The Radical Book for Kids in a box of childhood favorites, years from now, her eyes will light up and she’ll say, “Oh, I loved this one!”

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story


The Radical Book for Kids
Champ Thornton,  (2016)

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An Incomplete List of Bibles for Kids (Sorted By Age)

Finding beautiful, theologically sound Bibles for kids is, to me, like finding volunteer sunflowers in a flowerbed given over to weeds: you know you’ll find flowers in that bed, of course, but somehow you don’t expect them to be so flashy and radiant. And in the three-and-a-half years since I started this blog, I have found quite a few children’s Bibles worth writing about—so many, in fact, that I decided to do something only people who love checklists do: I made a list for you. Of all of them. Organized by age.

An Incomplete List of Bibles for Kids (Sorted by Age) | Little Book, Big Story

This list is not comprehensive. There are a lot of wonderful Bibles out there for children, but I haven’t seen all of them in person or read them through with my kids, so I’m sticking with the ones our family knows and loves. And because our family is full of children 8 and under, my list is woefully short on anything targeted at children over age 8. Sorry about that.

But these are our favorite Bibles for kids:

Story Bibles for Readers 5 & Under

Read-Aloud Bible SToriesby Ella K. Lindvall

lindvall-ella-read-aloud-bible-stories-3

These tiny re-tellings of Bible stories pack a lot of truth into a few short sentences. Each volume contains five or six stories, but they’re not told in chronological order. In fact, we own the first four, and with the exception of a few excursions into the Old Testament, they’re all mostly about Jesus. But these are great for beginning readers as well as toddlers. (They’re especially great for beginning readers who like reading to toddlers.) (Read the full review.)

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

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

If you don’t own this book, forget the rest of the post—no matter how old your children are. Buy this one. Even if you don’t have kids, buy this one. The Jesus Storybook Bible tells the stories of Scripture in such a way that “Every Story Whispers His Name,” and reminds us again and again of who Jesus is and why he matters. (Read the full review.)

The Big Picture Story Bibleby David Helm

The Big Picture Story Bible, by David Helm | Little Book, Big Story

David Helm walks through Scripture one story at a time, always keeping the big picture of Scripture in mind. Each story has its place in the greater story of Scripture, and the large format, short readings, and colorful illustrations make this a great Bible for toddlers. But the truth in it makes it a great fit for everyone else, too. (Read the full review.)

The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

Kevin DeYoung’s book is a flyover picture of the big story in Scripture: in ten short chapters he moves from Creation to Revelation, looking at Jesus through a new lens in each story. Also worth noting: I love Don Clark’s illustrations in this book. (Read the full review.)

 

Story Bibles for Children 5-8

The Gospel Story Bible, by Marty Machowski

The Gospel Story Bible | Little Book, Big Story

The big people and the little people in our home love this Bible. Machowski doesn’t shy away from the less popular corners of Scripture, but includes over 150 stories in The Gospel Story Bible. They’re well-told, pretty short, and finish with discussion questions. These readings are compact, but they go deep quickly. (Read the full review.)

Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories

Tomie dePaola's Book of Bible Stories | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie DePaola selected stories from the Bible, illustrated them, and arranged them in a way that reads like a story Bible but features the full NIV text for each story. (Read the full review.)

The Jesus Storybook Bibleby Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Because, honestly, this book is amazing at any age. (Read the full review.)

 

Full Text Bibles for Children 5-8

ESV Seek and Find Bible

ESV Seek and Find Bible | Little Book, Big Story

This full-length Bible contains a neat coding system that builds beginning Bible study skills by teaching kids to look for context, to cross-reference verses, and to ask interesting questions about the text. It also has all manner of interesting maps and background information about the people and places in Scripture. (Read the full review.)

The Big Picture Bible

 ESV Big Picture Bible | Little Book, Big Story

This Bible contains the full text of Scripture, as well as the familiar illustrations from The Big Picture Story Bible. We just bought it for our six-year-old, and it makes a nice transitional step from story Bible to full-length Bible. (Read the full review.)

ESV Children’s Bible

The ESV Children’s Bible is classic and simple. Full-text, some illustrations, no frills. Our church keeps this one on hand for kids to read during the service, and it’s a good one.

Resources for Studying the Bible With Kids

Long Story Shortby Marty Machowski

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

Marty Machowski’s family study moves through the Old Testament chronologically, using short readings and engaging questions to introduce kids to every inch of Scripture. The accompanying book on the New Testament, Old Story New, is supposed to be good, too, but we’re still making our way through Genesis, so it will be a while before I can tell you definitively that it is good. (Read the full review.)

The Ologyby Marty Machowski

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

Marty Machowski again? Yes. His books are worth putting on any list about any kind of children’s Bible. The Ology is a systematic theology for kids (yes, you read that right) that introduces key doctrines in a clear way that connects for parents and children. This one, too, has short readings and solid questions, and I love it so much. (Read the full review.)

What’s in the Bible?  (JellyTelly)

What's in the Bible? DVD series | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so this isn’t a book. What it is, though, is an amazing collection of videos that leads kids through the Bible chronologically, while answering questions and providing background along the way. Created by Phil Vischer, one of the original masterminds behind VeggieTales, What’s in the Bible? is one of our family’s very favorite resources about the Bible. (To learn more about where to watch it, read the full review.)

What about you? Which Bibles do your kids love?
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Interview with Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz (Authors of Golly’s Folly)

Last week, I told you all about Golly’s Folly. This week, you get to hear from the authors themselves! We’re also giving away a copy to Golly’s Folly today (details on how to win are at the end of this post).

Dear Readers, let me introduce you to Eleazar and Bekah Ruiz—your new favorite kindred spirits:

Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz, authors of Golly's Folly | Little Book, Big Story

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?

Eleazar: I’m a graphic designer by day and a publisher/art director by night. My background as  a graphic designer/art director has been helping, serving, and equipping churches to communicate effectively to their different audiences through the mediums of branding and design. Other clients include Microsoft, Xbox, Focus on the Family, Tooth & Nail Records, among others.

Bekah: I’m an educator at heart and just love to be around people in general. I’ve worked with elementary kids, middle schoolers, and college students. I’ve been working in higher education for 6 years now. I love DIY projects, coffee, and learning more about the publishing world with Ele.

Why do you think kids need to hear Golly’s story?

Eleazar: I think people including myself have the tendency to intentionally and unintentionally seek happiness, contentment, and fulfillment in all the wrong places. Some people turn to finding fulfillment in relationships, others in money, and some simply find their meaning in what they do 40-60 hours a week.

I believe that is our natural bent and it starts at a young age. I personally realized it in my twenties. I realized that everything I had worked for up until that point in time and everything I’d accomplished had been done in hopes to satisfy me or fulfill me. At one point I expected my wife to be the person to “complete” me (like Jerry Maguire would say). Other times I sought that satisfaction in my job or in people’s perception of me.

Eleazar Ruiz | Little Book, Big Story

Golly’s Folly is simply our way of giving kids a heads up about this tendency. At some point they will unconsciously expect things like the ones I mentioned to satisfy them. We are here to say, from a Christian worldview, that the only place such satisfaction can be found is through a loving relationship with our loving father, God.

Bekah: I believe kids have brilliant minds, and are so capable of taking in this message. We often underestimate them. When everyone in their classrooms and everything in the media is telling them to “get this” and “buy that,” we want them to hear that seeking things first will not give them the satisfaction in their hearts that Jesus can.

I would love to hear more about your publishing company, Patrol Books. What is your vision for the company?

Eleazar: At Patrol Books, we are trying to raise the expectation people have about Christian art. Have you ever been to the theater and stared at all the movie posters for upcoming movies? And then noticed one of those posters had a religious bent? Once you perceive that, you think to yourself, “Nah … I’ll pass.”

Recently we’ve visited several bookstores due to our latest book release and have found the same is true in the children’s religious section at those bookstores. Those shelves have been either half full or filled with poorly executed content. No wonder people don’t expect much of Christian art! We believe it is our (Christians’) responsibility to change that perception.

Rebekah Ruiz | Little Book, Big Story

Bekah: The selection [of excellent Christian children’s literature] is kind of sad, really. In “religion and social issues” within the children’s section at bookstores, we found a slew of books on potty training, learning manners, pregnancy (new sibling), one or two children’s bibles, a handful of Islamic writings, and that was it.

Patrol Books exists to create content that is both orthodox in its theology and surprisingly beautiful in its content. We are here to raise the bar. And we are tasking ourselves with literature to start.

Golly’s Folly is beautiful, both in the illustrations and in the way it actually feels as a book. It’s clear that the physical presentation of the book matters a lot at Patrol Books. Why do you think it’s important for a book to be beautiful and well-written?

Eleazar: We believe beauty and sound theology should be inseparable simply because the epicenter of Christian theology is God himself. A God who proves his care for beauty in multiple instances in the Bible. Starting in Genesis with the creation of Eden, then again in the building of his temple in Exodus 31, and ultimately bleeding over all the way to the book of Revelation where the heavens, the place of God’s throne, are described. God often uses the beauty aesthetic to communicate something about himself in the same way he uses the ugly aesthetics to describe sin. To quote Dr. John Piper [Bible scholar, teacher, theologian], “Nothing ugly is ever called glorious in the Bible.”

Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz, authors of Golly's Folly | Little Book, Big Story

What’s next for you as authors?

Eleazar: Most of our time is currently focused on making sure Patrol Books succeeds as a business and in the midst of that we’ll be working on the second book of the Golly’s Folly series for which we already have a title!

What’s next for Patrol Books?

Eleazar: There are a lot of exciting things on the horizon for Patrol Books. In the next year people should expect us to release two or three more books from other authors. But we are trying our hardest to not make you all wait until next year! This holiday season could be a particularly exciting time for us at Patrol Books, so please stay tuned!

Enter to Win a copy of Golly’s Folly

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Friday, Nov. 18. After that, a winner will be randomly selected and notified by email. Best of luck to you all!

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Golly’s Folly | Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz

Some of the best parts of Scripture feature unsavory elements. Genocide, for example. Prostitution. Murder. And because those passages tend toward the unsavory, they don’t often get shared with children.

Maybe that’s as it should be. Maybe those books are better after the wait.

Golly's Folly, by Eleazar & Rebekah Ruiz | Little Book, Big Story

But sometimes authors take the plunge and pull surprisingly beautiful themes out of Scripture’s darker corners. Authors Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz did just that when they adapted the story of Ecclesiastes into a parable called Golly’s Folly.

Golly is a prince who grows impatient for his turn to be king. But when his father hands his crown over to Golly, Golly uses his new authority to surround himself with wealth, possession, and knowledge—all in an effort to make himself happy. That goes about as well as you might expect. Eventually, Golly learns that what makes him truly happy was his before he ever wore a crown.

Golly's Folly, by Eleazar & Rebekah Ruiz | Little Book, Big Story

I happened upon a trailer for this book months ago, and while I was promptly smitten with the illustrations and the design, I was most taken with the message of the book. From a young age, our children are surrounded with countless variations on the theme that we can find our happiness in possessions and experiences and achievements, and they watch us wrestle with those same temptations (with varying degrees of success). So I’m thankful for a book that shows our children, clearly and concisely, where our true happiness lies.

Golly's Folly, by Eleazar & Rebekah Ruiz | Little Book, Big Story

And while I’m excited to tell you about Golly’s Folly myself, this week’s review doesn’t end there: on Tuesday, you’ll get to hear directly from authors Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz, who were kind enough to let me interview them for this blog! I think you’re going to love what they have to say about children’s books, beauty, and their new publishing company, Patrol Books. (We’ll also be giving away a copy of the book!)

But if you can’t wait until then and want to know more about the book right now—why they wrote it, how it was made—here are a few behind-the-scenes videos about the making of Golly’s Folly to tide you over:

Behind the Story |  Behind the Art | Behind the Letters


Golly’s Folly
Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz, Rommel Ruiz (2016)

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My Book House | Olive Beaupre Miller

Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.

I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.

But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that like.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.

That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.

To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.

Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

How We Use Our Set

These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.

We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)

I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.

Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

A Note on Editions

I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

One Last Thing

If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots. Read it here.


My Book House
Olive Beaupre Miller (1920)

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ESV Big Picture Bible

For years, we have been adoring fans of David Helm’s Big Picture Story BibleWe’ve read it so many times that the spine has begun to crumble, and it has a distinguished spot on our short list of favorite story bibles. So when I learned that Crossway had released a full-text ESV Bible with illustrations from The Big Picture Story Bible, I was all over it.

ESV Big Picture Bible | Little Book, Big Story

This Bible is beautiful and basic: beyond the illustrations, there are no frills, and I kind of like that. The illustrations are small and interspersed throughout the text (with an occasional full-page spread), so they embellish the text in a way that makes it easier for children to navigate.

ESV Big Picture Bible | Little Book, Big Story

We bought this Bible as a Christmas gift for Sarah, our six-year-old who knows where to find the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 in her dad’s old Bible, and I’m excited to see how she puts her very own Bible to use. There’s a part of me that hopes that the binding on this Bible is nice and sturdy. But there’s a bigger part that hopes that, a few years from now,  it looks as battered and beloved as our copy of The Big Picture Story Bible.

ESV Big Picture Bible | Little Book, Big Story


ESV Big Picture Bible
Crossway (2015)

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