Ten of My Favorite Adventure Stories

Nap time settles over our house. Those small enough to sleep, sleep. Those too big for naps go into their separate rooms armed with books—many books. I briefly consider washing the dishes from lunch or checking my email, but a breeze sweeps in the screen door and it smells like—oh, like the summers of childhood or something, so I step outside to explore it for a moment.

I come to my senses two hours later in a cushioned porch chair, sunburned and blinking. Somehow, I’m holding North! or Be Eaten.

Ten of My Favorite Adventure Stories | Little Book, Big Story

Today, I have the privilege of introducing you (perhaps you’ve met?) to Mother Daughter Book Reviews, a site that abounds with reviews of children’s literature. I’m serving as a guest poster today and my subject is perfectly summer worthy:

Ten of My Favorite Adventure Stories | Little Book, Big Story

Some are classic; some are recent releases. Many will (hopefully) be new to you! May you spend your summer investigating wardrobes, cupboards, and tollbooths. May you pick up a magic coin, a bandolier of bells, a bow, or a ring linked to enchanted thread. May you steer clear of Voldemort and the toothy cows of Skree.

(You can read the full post here.)


Top Ten Adventure Stories
Théa Rosenburg, Guest Post for Mother Daughter Book Reviews

The Giving Tree | Shel Silverstein

Once, a friend sat on the couch with Lydia, reading The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. Like many of Beatrix Potter’s books, Benjamin Bunny is a meandering story, so while he read and Lydia listened, I went back to making dinner and chatting with his wife. But then, something from the next room caught my ear: it was Lydia, saying, “If my mom was reading this, she would be crying right now.”

I stopped, mid-chop, and burst out laughing. She is mostly correct: I have never cried during Benjamin Bunny, but I do cry, freely and unattractively, during most of the books that we read. That is a fact of our life as family and our daughters have learned to wait patiently until I’m ready to go on (this can take a while in books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Railway Children), even patting my arm in a comforting way or asking, “Are these happy tears? Or sad ones?”

The Giving Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Usually a book elicits one response or the other. But occasionally, we read a story that hits the space right between happy and sad and draws enough of each emotion into my tears that I don’t know how to answer that question. I’m happy because the story is beautiful and because something about it rings true, but I am sad because there’s a bitterness to its truth. It feels like the coming of fall.

The Giving Tree is one of those books. You’ve almost certainly read it or had it read to you as a child; maybe you’ve tried to keep your own voice from trembling as you read it aloud to your children. The Giving Tree is a beautiful story of sacrificial love, one that demonstrates for us what it looks like to give until you have nothing left to give—and then to give away even that nothing.

The Giving Tree | Little Book, Big Story

I had read this book as a child; I had enjoyed it as a child. But rediscovering it as a parent was like peeling back a fresh layer of an onion: the story was sharper than I remembered, sweeter, and, yes, it made my eyes water.


The Giving Tree
Shel Silverstein (1964)

Glimpses of Grace: Book Review | Deeply Rooted Magazine

When you’re assigned a book review for the book that you’re currently reading, you know you’re the right girl for the job. Or you know that the book is the right book for the job. Or that—never mind. What I’m trying to say is that I had the privilege of reviewing Gloria Furman’s book, Glimpses of Grace, for the summer issue of Deeply Rooted. (Of lesser importance is the fact that I got to use the word “rhinoceri” in the review.)

Glimpses of Grace, by Gloria Furman (a review in Deeply Rooted) | Little Book, Big Story

You can order the new issue here.


Deeply Rooted Magazine
Issue 6: Light (Summer 2015)

Glimpses of Grace
Gloria Furman (2013)

The Green Ember | SD Smith

My husband and I called work assignments back and forth as we unloaded the minivan after church. “You get the baby, I’ll get lunch,” “I’ve got the bag!”—that sort of thing. I was halfway up the front steps when I saw the box.

“Never mind!” I called. “No lunch today! I’ve got books!”

We did eat lunch that day—I even made it—but while we ate cold leftovers in rumpled church clothes, I unpacked the box at the table. My family watched the proceedings with varying degrees of interest. How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare, Caught Up in a Storyboring Mom stuff (clearly influenced by a recent Read Aloud Revival binge). Treasuring Christ With Your Hands Fullagain, Mom only. But then:

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

“Oh, what is that book about?” Only the baby remained uninterested—everyone else huddled around me to study the cover of The Green Ember. My husband murmured reverently, “It’s beautiful.”

I dropped everything else from my reading list and started The Green Ember that afternoon. Written by S.D. Smith of Story Warren, The Green Ember tells the tale of Heather and Picket, two rabbits set adrift in a corrupted wood by the loss of their home and family.

Someone somewhere (where was that quote?) called this “a new story with an old soul,” and I can see why: in the tradition of classics like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Princess and the Goblin, Smith uses fantastic elements to tell a story that is lively and engaging but that courses with good, old-fashioned virtue. Though the story has allegorical moments, it is not a strict allegory, and in that way Smith presents a beautiful picture of a community living in the hope of restoration, looking forward to the day when harms will be mended and the world made right.

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

A word of warning, though: the opening chapters are intense. If your family is up for that, awesome! Proceed. But if your kids are anything like mine, you might hold off on this one for a few years lest they have nightmares. Those opening chapters gathered steam slowly for me—I wanted to know more of the story earlier in the book—but once the train left the station, the ride was wonderful. And by the end?

No spoilers. But the book rocketed to the top of my favorites. May that be endorsement enough.


The Green Ember
S.D. Smith, Zach Franzen (2014)

Good news! You can also pre-order a copy of the prequel, The Black Star of Kingston!

The Family Journal | Songs for Saplings

When we learned that we were expecting our first child, we Made the Announcement, scheduled appointments, wrung hands, and rejoiced. We contemplated, with an ecstatic sort of sobriety, the fact that our lives would never be the same again.

And then I bought a notebook.

Why We Keep a Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

Thus began the first in a three-volume set of notebooks chronicling the first months—or years—of each of our daughters’ lives. They bore witness to first teeth, first words, and first steps, but more than that, they contain a steadily evolving picture of what our family was then when each of the girls was small. In them, I dropped stories of missed naps and meltdowns, overheard conversations between siblings, favorite bedtime stories. But I also dropped my own perspective into them—that couldn’t be helped—and so essays like this one, or this one, sprouted from my musings upon life then as a mother of one daughter, two daughters, three.

I became the family historian.

On Keeping a Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

On Keeping a Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah’s notebook is the only one still active and a part of me feels bad about that (poor middle child!). Her babyhood is a slim notch on the timeline of that book, but of the three children she will have, I think, the richest, most complete picture of our family life captured in time lapse over the course of four years. But her notebook is almost full. What then?

We don’t know yet if that will be the last volume in that set, or if there will be other children for whom to keep other books. But I had begun to wonder about a place to keep a family history, one that is open to everybody and that will contain a little of everyone’s story—a braided work, with room to include the small moments of the next few decades.

On Keeping a Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

And then!

The day after I posted my review of Songs for Saplings, Dana Dirksen emailed me. That is how that sentence sounded in my head, but when I said it aloud to my husband, I think it came out of my mouth like this: “DANA DIRKSEN EMAILED ME.” And in case that wasn’t clear, I clarified: “She sent me an email! In my inbox. There is an email from Dana Dirksen.”

On Keeping a Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

I’m obviously small potatoes when it comes to blogging and I’m not used to having the authors and musicians I review notice my reviews, let alone contact me and thank me for them. But Dana noticed. And her email was really very nice. There was more in that email that shall be revealed in the fullness of time, but for this story, the important part was that she sent me a package to thank me for loving her music so much that I wanted to share it with all of you.

In that package was, among other things, the Songs for Saplings Family Journal: beautiful, hand-bound, smelling of leather and travel and memories in the making.

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

And now is when I pause and inform you of my unofficial policy on solicited reviews: I don’t write them. People can send me free stuff if they want to, but I can’t guarantee them a review. Because this blog is about you and me and our shared love of books, I like to think that we’ve built up a certain amount of trust over the years: you come to me for book recommendations and I give you a library of carefully curated recommendations of books that I love—not books I wanted to love because they were free and I felt beholden to authors or publishers. Perhaps that policy will change one day, I don’t know. But that’s what it is right now.

I’ve never said that on this blog before, but there it is. I say it now because I want you to know that Dana sent me the journal as a thank you gift, understanding that I was not obligated to post about it on my blog. I am posting about it now because I do love it.

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

The Family Journal features the full text of the catechism as adapted for the Songs for Saplings albums, along with related Scripture and—this, my friends, is the clincher—blank pages in which to make notes on the conversations you and your children have about the topics covered.

I’m still feeling my way around that part, getting the hang of what I want to record and how to go about recording it, but already I find that having a place sent aside for recording little steps in our spiritual growth as a family causes me to pause and take note of moments like these: the child too shy to pray aloud finally piped up at dinner. The child with a lie on her conscience came to me unprompted and sought forgiveness. The child who struggled with fearfulness at night announced that she is not alone, not really, because God is always with her. The baby made “Amen!” one of her first ten words.

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story

These moments are stones in the road our daughters travel toward faith, and I expect that recording them in our journal will not only keep us looking forward toward the day when each of us will stand before Christ and, I pray, hear the words, “Well done,” but will keep us looking back at the sins overcome, the prayers answered, the victories won by grace.

I continue to be the family historian. And this is our new chapter.

Songs for Saplings Family Journal | Little Book, Big Story


If you’re interested in purchasing the Family Journal, you have two options: you can buy it through the Songs for Saplings store at full price for (gulp!) $90 (that’s when I remind you that it is hand-bound, leather, beautiful, and smells like memories), or you can get one for free by becoming a monthly supporter of Songs for Saplings for whatever amount feels comfortable to you. If you’re not sure why you should be a supporter of Songs for Saplings, read on.

ESV Seek and Find Bible

I have reviewed a few different story Bibles here, and I have written about why it’s important to read directly from Scripture with our kids. But our family is now moving into the season where our daughters are ready to begin laying bricks on the foundation prepared by story bibles with readings from Scripture itself, and in preparation for that, I rummaged around in Amazon’s recommended titles for full-length children’s Bibles.

I wanted one that offers the full ESV text with just the right amount of maps and things. The illustrations didn’t have to be amazing, but they couldn’t be cheesy. The theology in the extra-Biblical portions had to be sound (obviously).

ESV Seek and Find Bible (Ruth) | Little Book, Big Story

There aren’t many Bibles out there that meet those qualifications, actually, so I’m thankful that we found one that fits the bill as precisely as the ESV Seek and Find Bible does. The extra material is presented in such a way that it sets kids up for very basic Bible study skills by quietly teaching them how to cross-reference and compare texts, identify key verses, and ask questions about the text that will help them understand it more completely.

ESV Seek and Find Bible | Little Book, Big Story

This Bible also contains paraphrased versions of the most familiar Bible stories. While the language in these is a little basic, they provide a great overview of the stories for kids who might find them helpful to read alongside the longer text (which is referenced at the end of the story). Best of all, they point each story forward (or backward) to Christ.

This approach roots each story in the gospel: in that light, Samson is not merely an action hero whose life culminates in an act of brutal revenge, but is a broken man made champion by God, who brought us the perfect champion in Christ. Isaac is the son promised to Abraham and Sarah, but he is also the forefather of the Son promised to the world.

These connections prepare our children to read Scripture with the big picture in mind, looking for evidence of God’s work in the stories where he seems most absent and rejoicing in his faithfulness through chapter after chapter of his word. They join the stories of Scripture beautifully, like (to quote Marty Machowski), beads on the silk thread of the gospel.

ESV Seek and Find Bible | Little Book, Big Story


ESV Seek and Find Bible
Crossway (2010)

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter

When we read a good book to our children, we delegate: we enlist the help of gifted authors to demonstrate for them (and for us, too) what life is like in other places, other times, other bodies. This is what it looks like, a good book says, to ask for forgiveness even when the asking is hard, to love the unloved, to find joy in the common graces of life.

A good book takes us outside our own experience, outside a particular moment where Papa reads aloud to the rest of us, who were drawing a moment before but now sit—sniffling, pens suspended—as we listen to Prince Rilian’s farewell to his father. This is grief. This is joy.

This is, in a sense, one aspect of what the Bible does for us: it shows us what it looks like to fight against God, to persevere when we don’t want to, to look forward to the life yet to come. We study the movements of the Lord’s hand through each story and find comfort in the fact that his hand moves in our stories, too. We watch other lives lived out in its pages and recognize ourselves in them; that recognition then shapes the way we respond to trouble when it comes. This is where rebellion leads; this is redemption.

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

And so we fill the corners of our hearts with Scripture and the corners of our home with good books. We surround our daughters with characters that they can connect with, characters who are foolish and funny, warm and wise, prone to mischief or perhaps a little too perfect. We introduce them to Anne, Jo, Heidi, Lucy, and Laura, of course. And then we move on to Bobbie, Phyllis and Irene, Emily and Rose—heroines of the lesser-known works of great authors or of the books picked up on a whim that are, perhaps, unassuming on the outside but radiant within.

Here, for your pleasure, is a list of our favorites. These stories don’t appeal exclusively to girls, by the way. Quite a few of them feature male characters that share the spotlight with the female lead or simply steal it outright, but they’re boys (and men) of good quality that I want my girls to know and love. I suspect that those of you with sons might find that your boys scoot their Legos a little closer to the couch whenever you pull these books out to read with your daughter. (I’ve marked those books with an asterisk.)

*THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly (and mysteriously) called away from home, three children move to the English countryside with their mother. Adventures large and small ensue, all told in the charming style of E. Nesbit. This book is one of my very favorites. (Read the full review.)

*THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

An old fairy tale of the best sort, written by an author who came to my attention because C.S. Lewis gave him a hearty endorsement. This is, I think, the best of his books for children, and features the princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. There is also a magical great-great-great-great-grandmother and a whole passel of ornery goblins. (Read the full review.)

WHAT KATY DID, by Susan Coolidge

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge | Little Book, Big Story

Circumstances change abruptly, both in life and in plot lines. What Katy Did demonstrates both aspects of this, and through the story of Katy Carr, shows how the road of suffering often leads to the most glorious destinations. (Read the full review.)

THE TINKER’S DAUGHTER, by Wendy Lawton

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

Here is a marriage of history and fiction. Wendy Lawton tells the story of Mary Bunyan, the sightless daughter of John Bunyan, as she navigates life during her father’s imprisonment. This is a beautifully told story and shows the progress of Mary’s fledgling faith alongside the robust, proven faith of her father. (Read the full review.)

*THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

There is a good deal of “bashing of crowns” and “striking one another with blows” in this book, it’s true. But this unlikely candidate merits a spot on this list for three reasons: 1) Maid Marian is no nameless damsel in distress here but a woman bold, courageous, and virtuous. 2) The men in this book know how to treat the ladies. 3) My daughters loved it. (Read the full review.)

EMILY OF NEW MOON, by L.M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon, by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

You already know about Anne. Emily of New Moon is the slightly darker tale—a deep violet to Anne’s brassy red, twilight to Anne’s fresh morning—of Emily Starr, poetess, orphan, and bewitching lead lady. My affection for this book is deep, my friends. So deep. (Read the full review.)

*TREASURES OF THE SNOW, by Patricia St. John

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John | Little Book, Big Story

Have you heard of this book? I hadn’t either until a friend recommended it at a wedding reception dinner. But Treasures of the Snow is a beauty worth seeking out: in it, you’ll find the gospel faithfully represented in a fictional setting, as a feud rises up between two families that needs the wisdom of a grandmother and the power of the gospel to resolve. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

The author of Bridge to Terebithia tells an old-fashioned tale of an arrogant prince who cannot assume the kingship until he finds a wife who is “his equal.” (He thinks himself so wonderful that this must be all but impossible.) The King’s Equal is available as either a very short chapter book or a rather long picture book. In either format, it’s a joy to read. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so you probably have heard of this one. It isn’t as famous than its celebrated cousin, The Secret Garden, but if I’m perfectly honest, I liked it better. Sara Crewe—wealthy and petted, but gentle and kind—suffers a fall of fortunes and determines to be a true princess throughout her trial. Unlikely friendships, unexpected blessings, and a satisfying conclusion spring from this decision. (Read the full review.)

*EIGHT COUSINS, Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott | Little Book, Big Story

Sheltered and newly orphaned Rose meets her uncle and eight boy cousins for the first time, finds them bewilderingly active but ultimately endearing and goes on to forge the best sort of friendship with them. This book is funny, charming, and beautiful all at once, and sparkles with the same delight in story and language that fuels Alcott’s Little Women. (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any? What are your favorite little-known chapter books for girls?