Teaching Art to Kids (Video)

For the last two years, I’ve taught art to the growing handful of students at our daughters’ school. We draw, we paint, we make messes! We talk theology! It’s glorious.

As part of a series of videos about our school, I was recently interviewed about why art is important and how I approach it as a teacher, and I though I’d share the video here, giving you a peek at what I do when I’m not writing book reviews:

Trinity Classical School: Art from Ben Bender on Vimeo.

If you’re interested, you can watch interviews with our Latin and Kindergarten teachers here.

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5 Great Books on Theology for Kids

One of the great things about reading robust theological books to my kids is that I get to learn theology along with them. Concepts that seem vast and incomprehensible transform, in the hands of the right author, into something simple, accessible, and yet still mysterious when I read them in a picture book for my daughters.

The Trinity, the theology of the Church, who Jesus is and what he came to do—these are topics that learned theologians spend volumes on, and yet a skillful children’s author can distill them down to their essence in a way that swells this tired mother’s heart to worship even as I rush through the readings and send my kids off to bed. The very best authors distill them but don’t scrub them too clean: they leave the hard questions in, don’t over-handle the mysteries, and avoid the pitfall of making theology “cute.”

5 Great Books on Theology for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

We’ve accumulated a library of books like this, but I thought I’d share a few of my very favorites, the ones that have helped form my own understanding of God and that press me into the works of those learned theologians because I want to know more. But they don’t leave my daughters behind: they whet all of our appetites for more of God, for a better understanding of what he’s done.

3 IN 1, by Joanna Marxhausen

3 in 1: A Picture of God, by Joanna Marxhausen | Little Book, Big Story

This simply illustrated book captures the wonder of the Trinity while explaining it clearly and concisely. Not only that, but it delves into the Gospel as well, giving a picture of the different roles God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit play in our salvation. That is a lot to tackle in a picture book, but Joanna Marxhausen does it gracefully. (Read the full review.)

THE BOY AND THE OCEANby Max Lucado

The Boy and the Ocean, by Max Lucado | Little Book, Big Story

A young boy and his parents discuss the attributes of God while pondering the world around them. This is a beautiful, meditative look at what creation can tell us about God, and the illustrations are some of my favorites in any book anywhere. (Read the full review.)

THE OLOGY, by Marty Machowski

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

We recently finished reading The Ology with our girls, and I cannot say enough about how much I love it. Marty Machowski’s systematic theology for children is deep, rich, nourishing—a true feast for readers big and small. He takes immense concepts—the holiness of God, the theology of the end times—and pares them down to the essentials, pulling in metaphors that clicked for our children and for us.

Machowski illuminated verses that I had fought with for years in such a way that I had absolute peace with them when we finished his three-paragraph interpretation, and our daughters asked excellent questions as we read. I’m looking forward to rereading this one again and again as our family grows. (Read the full review.)

WHAT IS THE CHURCH?by Mandy Groce and Bill Bell

What is the Church? | Little Book, Big Story

This is a simple book written in rhyme, but it encourages young readers to see the church not as a building but as a collection of people—not a where, but a who. I loved sharing this little book with my daughters and talking about why we go to church and why our involvement in it doesn’t end begin and end on Sunday mornings. (Read the full review.)

See also: What is the Gospel?, by Mandy Groce

DOES GOD KNOW HOW TO TIE SHOES?by Nancy White Carlstrom

Does God Know How to Tie Shoes? | Little Book, Big Story

This book walks through a young girl’s questions about God in a way that many young readers will connect with. She wants to know the sort of things most four year olds want to know: Does God have to clean his room? Is God sad when he doesn’t get mail? Her parents answer thoughtfully from the Psalms and create a dialogue both charming and deep. (Read the full review.)

Plus:

WHAT’S IN THE BIBLE?

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

Okay, this isn’t technically a book. But the DVD series What’s in the Bible? has been one of our favorite ways of introducing our children to the whole of Scripture, and my husband and I have learned a lot about the Bible while watching it with our kids (in fact, he quoted it to me the other day in conversation). Created by Phil Vischer, one of the original minds behind VeggieTales, What’s in the Bible? brings a creative eye and childlike joy to this study of what is, in fact, in the Bible—from Genesis to Revelation. (For more on where to watch it, read the full review.)

QUESTIONS WITH ANSWERSby Songs for Saplings

Questions With Answers, by Dana Dirksen: music and theology for families | Little Book, Big Story

This isn’t a book either. But songwriter Dana Dirksen adapted the Westminster Shorter Catechism and put it to music so that kids can take theology to heart while stuck in a car seat or having a really great dance party. These CDs are among our very favorites. You can download them all for free or very cheap here. (Read the full review.)

See also: Songs for Saplings’ Family Journal

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The Complete Brambly Hedge | Jill Barklem

Late pregnancy and winter. Those two forces lean heavily on both my shoulders, keeping me mostly content to nap and read my way through January, one volume of Sherlock Holmes stories at a time. But every now and then, a breeze sneaks in the door when I let the cat out and it smells like life, little and green. Sometimes, that smell inspires me to bundle little girls into winter coats and froggie boots and take a stroll through the neighborhood, where forsythia buds stud certain lucky branches and the puddles look blue in the morning light.

Sometimes, that happens. The rest of the time, there’s Sherlock Holmes, tea, and fleecy blankets.

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

Oh, and Brambly Hedge. A few months ago, I asked folks in the Read-Aloud Revival forum for their favorite book recommendations from past episodes of the podcast, and the response was amazing—like asking a room full of kindergartners their favorite color and receiving a response that includes every color known to man and a few not yet invented.

That forum thread cost me a lot of money in new books—really excellent new books that wound up in everyone’s stockings at Christmas (Sarah MacKenzie compiled the list of recommendations for a “Best of Read-Aloud Revival” post on her blog, so you can see for yourself how great some of these recommendations are!).

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

One of the clear favorites among readers at our house was Jill Barklem’s The Complete Brambly Hedge, a collection of stories about English mice living in a hedge near a stream and having all kinds of cozy and seasonally charming adventures, perfect for reading together with tea and fleecy blankets. Barklem illustrates the stories in Potter-esque watercolors, complete with cutaways that show the mices’ homes in detail: these were easily our favorite pages, and we took our time poring over them (and wishing that we were smaller and lived in tree stumps).

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

From the moment I opened this book I knew that my daughters would love it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much they loved it: Lydia and Sarah now answer to Shell and Primrose and Phoebe (the poor third daughter who ends up being Olaf to their Anna and Elsa) is Shrimp. They have taken these mice into their hearts and adopted them as their own—the best seal of approval they can give.


Brambly Hedge
Jill Barklem (1980)

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The History Lives Series | Brandon and Mindy Withrow

I learned long ago that one of the best ways to tackle a new topic is to read a children’s book about it. Books written for adults are, of course, more comprehensive, but a good children’s book will stick to the point, keep the story lively, and will allow the exciting parts of the story to be exciting. So when my husband expressed an interest in church history, I started with these books: true, living stories about key figures in church history, all underpinned by a chronological sense of history as a story with many chapters.

Peril and Peace, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The History Lives series walks through church history in five volumes, chronicling the Ancient (Peril and Peace), Medieval (Monks and Mystics), Reformation (Courage and Conviction), Awakening (Hearts and Hands) and Modern church (Rescue and Redeem). Most chapters depict small scenes in the life of a significant figure in church history, immersing the reader in the details of the figure’s life at one particular time and place in a compelling and vivid way. They read more like stories than like biographies, which makes them fun to read aloud.

Brandon and Mindy Withrow obviously chose their subjects carefully: there are figures in here that we all know, but there are many that are more obscure and whose stories I’m grateful to them for recovering. Tucked between the stories are a few topical chapters that flesh out what was happening in the church at the time and why it was significant.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The Withrows bring a balanced perspective to complex issues like the Crusades, resisting the urge to distill the lives of these very real, sinful people down into cautionary tales or glorified epic adventures. Of the medieval church, they write,

“It is often hard for modern Christians to remember that the people who developed these ideas were studying the Bible in the medieval world—a world very different from today. . . . Like Christians of all eras, they made both positive and negative contributions to the church.”

I appreciated this perspective.

I was less impressed, though, by the way the writers updated the dialogue of the characters to make it feel not consistent with their own time but consistent with ours. Perhaps this makes them appear more relevant or readable, but the moments when the characters quoted their own works within conversation felt refreshing, as though they’d been allowed to breath through the story rather than have to keep in step with the writer’s tone. Those, for me, were the moments when history truly lived as I read.

Heart and Hands, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

But that’s a small complaint, and on the whole, I loved these books. They provide a great flyover view of church history from its early days to the present, and are easy to read start-to-finish or in tandem with a more detailed history curriculum (we’re currently reading Monks & Mystics with the Veritas Press history cards, if you’re interested). In fact, they remind me more than a little of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series, but with an emphasis on church (rather than world) history. They whetted my appetite for history as well as my husband’s, and will, I hope, open up the world of church history for our daughters.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story


The History Lives Series
Brandon and Mindy Withrow (2012)

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Read-Aloud Bible Stories | Ella K. Lindvall

You know what reading to a two-year-old is like: if a book is about cows or kittens or is written by Sandra Boynton, I find I can usually make it through three or four pages before Phoebe tugs it out of my hands, closes it on my fingers, or wanders off to climb on something.

Read-Aloud Bible Stories: great story bibles for toddlers! | LIttle Book, Big Story

But the volumes of Read-Aloud Bible Stories are not about cows or kittens, and they are not written by Sandra Boyton: they are about Jesus and the Bible. In them, Ella Lindvall tells the stories of Scripture in the most basic yet enchanting way imaginable, and when I read them to Phoebe on the morning of her second birthday, here is what happened: she listened. She cuddled up to me as I read all five stories, and she listened. Lydia and Sarah, too, inched closer to us as I read, and all three were disappointed when we reached the end and had to go eat birthday pancakes for breakfast (theirs is a hard lot).

Read-Aloud Bible Stories: great story bibles for toddlers! | LIttle Book, Big Story

By the end of the book, the stories’ magic had worked on me, too: Lindvall doesn’t grasp for big theological ideas here, but tells the familiar stories of Zaccheus or Blind Bartimeus in a warm and welcoming way. She draws lessons from the stories that appeal to the smallest readers (and to those of us grown-ups still willing to admit that we need reassurance sometimes that God hears us, too).

Read-Aloud Bible Stories: great story bibles for toddlers! | LIttle Book, Big Story

I haven’t found many Bibles geared toward toddlers that are worth sharing here on the blog—it’s hard to capture the truth and beauty of Scripture in three stanzas of rhymed verse, and you can only appropriately add so many cows and kittens to beloved Bible stories—but Read-Aloud Bible Stories are absolutely worth sharing. We promptly ordered the second volume (Merry Christmas, Phoebe!) and look forward to collecting the rest of the set over the next few years.


Read-Aloud Bible Stories
Ella K. Lindvall (1982)

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Twig | Elizabeth Orton Jones

For some time I’ve been in the habit of telling our daughters stories before bed. These usually center around three sisters whose names are uncannily like those of our daughters, and whose adventures resemble things that happened to our daughters that day. But there is always a twist: if they hold a tea party in the back yard, a dragon comes to visit. If they lose a first tooth or start school or stay inside all day because of the rain, some dose of magic deepens the story and makes their day somehow enchanting. Some of these twists are, if I’m perfectly honest, pulled straight from the pages of whatever book we’re reading. But the girls don’t seem to mind, and my imagination isn’t exactly sharp by eight o’clock at night.

Twig, by Elizabeth Orton Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Stories like Twig capture that blend of the real and the imagined that appeals to my sleepy daughters. Something magical happens when an author taps into a child’s imagination and draws out a story so wondrous, so childlike, that reading it is uncannily like watching our children invent worlds in our living room. AA Milne had a knack for capturing this: the stories in Winnie-the-Pooh are written with all the clarity and ingenuity of an adult, yet they capture the element—whatever it is—that makes them so clearly the invention of a child.

Elizabeth Orton Jones (Caldecott award-winning illustrator of Prayer for a Childwrites of the adventures of a young girl named Twig in a way that captures that mix of ordinary life and the imagination. She tells of fairies and cockroaches, talking sparrows and chatty neighbors, in a way that kept my daughters wide-eyed and enthralled as we read. I don’t know if this book would appeal to most boys, honestly, but for my girls, meeting Twig was like meeting a kindred spirit in the pages of a beautifully illustrated book. They’re already hungry for sequels.


Twig
Elizabeth Orton Jones (1942)

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Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best

For a while there, our house felt like my favorite bookstore. The shelves lining our living room and small hallway were full; the tops of the shelves were full; the floor to either side of them were full of books. I like that atmosphere in a used bookstore, but in a home I’m tasked with keeping clean, it’s less charming: stacks of books on the floor turn into trails of paperbacks throughout the house, ending wherever the two-year-old was seen last.

And so my husband and a good friend built a set of bookshelves to house our wayward paperbacks. They hang above the couch and give our house a different sort of feel, a well-organized library vs. used bookstore sort of feel, and I love it. It’s a treat to look at one shelf and see (almost) all of our books cozied up together. (And it’s a treat, only picking picture books up off the floor at the end of the day.)

Bookshelves | Little Book, Big Story

Complete with toddler-blur!

This year was a year for savoring books. Compared to my list of favorite finds from last year, these books are longer, deeper, and called for more underlining. I read more during nap time, less while nursing, and took the time to read (or reread) a few of those books I’d been meaning to tackle for a while. I read fiction, yes, and nonfiction, too. I read books that called for deep thoughts and others that kept me laughing. With the exception of the books that have been appearing on this blog all year long, here are my ten favorites from 2015:

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, by Sigrid Undset (Reread)

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

I was deeply smitten with this book the first time I read it. And when I combed our shelves for a book to take with us on an overnight trip (without kids!), I found myself wanting to read it again, this time with the ending in mind. Undset’s masterpiece of historical fiction is beautifully written, rich with details about life in medieval Norway and characters that still make my heart ache when I remember them, but when people ask me what it’s about, I find that a single word comes to mind: sin.

Kristin’s story would be a hugely popular love story if it ended with her wedding (young girl defies parents and society’s expectations and marries her lover! The end), but Undset follows Kristin for the rest of her life, chronicling the effects her sin on her marriage, her children, her years as an old woman. That may sound depressing, but it isn’t: this is a gorgeous and redemptive book, worth reading and rereading despite its length.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

Note: Not all translations of this book are created equal! If you’re not completely submerged in the story and deeply in love with Undset’s language, then you’re probably not reading Tiina Nunnally’s translation (pictured). You should fix that. Hers is the best.

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

You’ve heard about this one already. But it has joined the ranks of my very favorite books, so a list of the best books I read this year just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the hat to The Wingfeather Saga.

DESIRING GODby John Piper

Desiring God, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

I tried reading this book years ago but lost steam in the first chapters. When I picked it up this time, it was like sitting down to a feast: Piper packs so much material into each page that I cannot read it without a pen handy for underlining, and every chapter gives me much to consider. This wasn’t a case of me not liking the book, as I originally thought, but of my reading it at the wrong time. This was the right time in my life for Desiring God. I’m savoring it slowly, still reading it paragraph by paragraph.

THE FAMILY COOKS, by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt

The Family Cooks (Cookbook), by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed David and Uhrenholdt’s first book, The Family Dinner, for the blog this year, and when researching that post discovered that they had a new book out, which I promptly purchased. David is even more fiercely opinionated about food in this book, it’s true, but I love the recipes in The Family Cooks. Their strength is in their simplicity: through them, I’ve finally come to appreciate salad, have reincorporated vegetables into our diet (they had slipped out of it somehow), and have learned at last how to roast a simple, flavorful chicken breast. My daughters love helping me cook from this book, too, so it’s taken up semi-permanent residence on my cookbook stand.

OPENNESS UNHINDERED, by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is a timely writer: before coming to Christ, she was a lesbian and queer theory professor, and her perspective on some of the most controversial topics facing Christians today is not divisive, but saturated with grace. Though this books tackles issues like homosexuality and sexual identity, I found that the most compelling chapters covered struggles faced by all Christians, regardless of the particular shape of our temptations: How should we confront sin? How do we accept grace? How can we truly love our neighbors?

Butterfield writes like a woman who knows how to read a text and how to articulate her thoughts (like a professor, I suppose), and those gifts served her well in writing this book. This is one that I’ll return to over the years, I’m sure, and it’s one that I bullied a few friends into buying because it is just that good. In fact, my copy is currently loaned out, so I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a beautiful blend of fiction and theology, recommended to me by many friends who said, “You like Gilead and Hannah Coulter? [I most certainly do.] Then you’ll love Peace Like a River.” They were right, my friends. So right.

THE THINGS OF EARTH, by Joe Rigney

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney | Little Book, Big Story

I loved everything about this book. I loved Rigney’s examination of how we can glorify God through enjoying his gifts, and I loved his writing style. I found myself wishing that more authors wrote about theology with the obvious joy and delight of Joe Rigney and was sorry to see this book end.

CAUGHT UP IN A STORY, by Sarah Clarkson

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah Clarkson looks at childhood as a story, with a .  This is a skinny book, but it gave me much to think about—and many books to buy. Each chapter closes with a list of books suited to that particular stage of childhood, so I can thank Clarkson for introducing me to (among others) Middlemarch,  and to renewing my interest in Hannah Coulter and The Wind in the Willows.

OUR MUTUAL FRIENDby Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, only that it was by Dickens and I was in the mood for Dickens. But oh, my goodness! The twists in this plot, the subtle shades of the characters, the way Dickens gives us only the details we need when we need them—the man was such a master that even his lesser known books are incredible feats of storytelling. I won’t tell you more: I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself. But I will warn you not to watch the mini-series or even glance at its summary until you have finished Our Mutual Friend. There are some aspects of the plot that cannot be translated onto the screen.

WALKING ON WATER, by Madeleine L’Engle (Reread)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I reread Walking on Water every few years. L’Engle’s “Reflections on Faith and Art” are lovely—loosely organized and sure to reignite certain fires in me that need periodic feeding. Her words on children’s literature and on her life as a writer have shaped the way I view the call and craft of writing. This is a beautiful book, and because I read it when I was young, I sit here now, writing passionately for you about children’s books.

What about you? What wonderful books did you discover this year?
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