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.

The Radical Book for Kids | Champ Thornton

Today’s re-run appeared in November of 2016.


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)

“The Ingredients We Have on Hand” | Story Warren

My friend April and I used to joke that the moment you blog about something it dies. Routines, recipes, updates on what you’re up to now—as soon as you share them, the routines shift or your schedule or circumstance changes. It seems inevitable, and we’ve seen it happen often enough that we’ve joked, after publishing a post, “Well! That was nice while it lasted.”

Today, Story Warren published an article I started writing over a year ago (in much the same way I describe in the post). When I began it, I was a homeschooling mom, and when I revised it, I was a homeschooling mom, but by the time I submitted it, I had an intimation that all that was about to change. I’ll tell you the full story soon, I promise—it deserves its own post.

What I didn’t know until after I heard the happy news that my piece had been accepted was that my writing life was destined to change as well.

Last spring, I stepped down from my editing responsibilities at Deeply Rooted. I prayed over the decision for months, tossing it back and forth and back and forth. I have been with Deeply Rooted since the magazine’s first issue—five years ago!—and I have loved my work there, every part of it. The nit-picky part of editing, the broad-sweeping-changes part of editing, the finding the perfect verb part of editing, the encouraging a writer as she revises part of editing—this was a hard role to lay down. But I realized that, no, I did not have time to both homeschool my kids and give editing as much energy as I’d like to. And so I stepped down in order (I thought) to focus on homeschooling.

But a few weeks later, homeschooling changed course too.

So, I spent the summer finishing my last editing assignment for Deeply Rooted (the fabulous four-part series by Leslie Bustard running right now!) and then, quietly and without ceremony, removed “Contributing Editor” from my email signature. But, Mitch and I wondered: What was that about? What is God up to?

We pondered and prayed and discussed the subject of “What will Thea do with the time she spent editing or planning homeschool lessons?” I considered returning to Deeply Rooted, but neither of us thought that seemed in the direction God was leading us.

And so we waited.

And the very same week—two days later, in fact—that Mitch started looking into what it might take for me to find work as a freelance editor, work found me: I received an offer from a small publishing house (run by people I adore), asking if I’d consider working with one of their authors on a project.

So, Mitch and I celebrated and I took that assignment and already other options have opened up in other places for potential assignments. And now, on account of our schedule changes (again, story forthcoming), I not only write in the early mornings, as described in the Story Warren article (I knew we’d get back here eventually), but also for hours in a coffee shop, one day a week, where the pastries are flaky and the iced coffee gets tossed about in a cocktail shaker. (I love hipster coffee.)

I am embarking, in seems, upon the seas of freelance editing.

Was it the fact that I tried to write about it that killed the current routine? I joke about it, but no, of course not. I see God’s faithfulness through the whole process, in his asking me to (yet again) surrender something I love, and in his generosity in making something new of that gift—before giving it back to me. May I use this gift and any others for his glory, always.


Seriously, though, here is the link to “The Ingredients We Have on Hand,” my new post for Story Warren. I loved writing this one!


Postscript

I am still a regular contributor for Deeply Rooted, so I will continue to write for both the print magazine and the blog.

My Book House | Olive Beaupre Miller

Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in November of 2016.


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)

Wildflowers in General; The Summer Issue in specific

We recently took a vacationa proper vacation, with moving sidewalks and deep-fried Oreos and fireflies and speed boatsand when we came home, the spiders had moved in. The afternoons still felt sticky-hot, but the mornings now feel dewy and chill. We find ourselves reaching for sweaters and slow-cooking stock and we knew, that first morning, that the end was near: summer is packing her things, taking with her the zinnias and the cabbage whites, and fall is settling in for a stay.

Wildflowers Magazine, Summer 2019 | Little Book, Big Story

I am not sorry about thisI love fall. But this “foot in both seasons” moment is a sweet onesummer isn’t fully gone and fall isn’t fully hereand I am savoring it by drinking tea in the morning and eating popsicles in the afternoon. And by re-reading the summer issue of Wildflowers. But not just re-reading it: I got to review the whole magazine for Story Warren, so rather than go on at length about it here, I’ll send you there for the full review.

Wildflowers Magazine, Summer 2019 | Little Book, Big Story

I will add, however, that this summer issue came with a fun, new side project. A group of us (adults and adorable little girls) partnered with Gateway Hymns to record three of Fanny Crosby’s hymns to accompany Jennifer Harris’s biography of Fanny in this summer issue. You can listen to the hymns here and purchase the issue (biography and all) here. With its help you can hold on, just a little bit, to summer before fall settles in for good.

Wildflowers Magazine, Summer 2019 | Little Book, Big Story
My Adventures in Illustration continues! I painted the pictures on the left page to accompany Kendra O’Blenis’s lovely story “The Great Escape.”