The Friend Who Forgives | Daniel DeWitt

Peter is a very relatable guy for many of us—he is bold and devoted to Jesus and ready to speak up (often before thinking). He is impulsive, which sometimes works in his favor and sometimes doesn’t. Daniel DeWitt tells Peter’s story through the lens of friendship. What was Peter like as a friend? What is Jesus like as a friend? How does Peter’s understanding of friendship change during his time with Jesus?

The Friend Who Forgives, by Daniel DeWitt | Little Book, Big Story

I enjoyed reading this book, but I was also deeply grateful for it: I have one child whose sins, ahem, go before her in a way some of her sisters’ sins often don’t. And that can be hard on her. I was glad to give her this book, a beautiful picture of a friend who failed several times, in very big ways, and of the friend who forgives over and over and over again. This is an excellent book for many different reasons, but that was the one that endeared it to me: for those kids who struggle with impulsivity, who are asked several times a day “What were you thinking?” and can’t give an answer—here is an answer. And here is hope.

The Friend Who Forgives, by Daniel DeWitt | Little Book, Big Story

The Friend Who Forgives is my current favorite in the Tales That Tell the Truth series, but probably only because it’s the one I just read. I love them all so much!


The Friend Who Forgives
Daniel DeWitt; Catalina Echeverri (2018)


Disclosure: I did receive copies 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 Child’s First Book About Marriage | Jani Ortlund

As a child, I found marriage confusing. I lived with each of my parents half of the time and saw them happily married to step-parents I loved. But my life had been revised by divorce, and I wondered, Why do people get married at all?

By sixteen, I vowed that, rather than risk a split, I’d skip marriage.

By twenty, I was a wife.

What changed? The Lord tenderly showed me that my life was not my own—not a thing I was meant to fumble with, trying this and that in the desperate hope that something might span the chasm at my feet.

Instead, he built a bridge himself and carried me across, and for once I saw the world as a place of beauty and order—a place where marriage wasn’t intended to make us happy (though it often does). No, marriage is a part of God’s old, old plan for us, born in the moment when God, three persons in one, looked at solitary Adam among the animals and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

Marriage was not our idea.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

Jani Ortlund picks up this thought and carries it through A Child’s First Book About Marriage. 

Ever since that first wedding, people have been getting married. Just like everything that comes from the heart of God, marriage is beautiful and good.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

Much of the book centers around this idea that God created marriage, and though it isn’t always easy, it is good and beautiful. She touches gently on topics like sex and attraction, and the beauty of friendship within marriage. She pares away the whorls of doctrine and says simply,

Marriage is about love, but it’s about more than love. Marriage is a vow, a sacred promise. When a man and a woman get married, they promise God that—no matter what—the man will stay with the woman and the woman with the man as long as they both live. A bride and groom make these promises because sometimes it is hard to love each other. Marriage vows help keep a couple together even when they don’t feel like loving each other.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

She knows that marriage doesn’t always look beautiful and good, and I appreciate the gentleness with which she discusses divorce and conflict within marriage. And the love with which she discusses differing views about marriage. She doesn’t pick up the harsh language that seems to characterize many of these discussions, but speaks kindly to readers, exhorting us to love those who see things differently than we do and to trust God’s plan even when we don’t understand it. And she doesn’t idolize marriage either, or treat it as anything greater than a good gift from our Creator. She explains,

A biblical marriage shows the world a tiny picture for all to see of the Big Romance—the one between Christ and His Church in love together. When you love Jesus, then you are a part of that Church and nothing and no one will ever be able to separate you from God’s love for you.

I bought this book on impulse because it was the only book I had ever seen for on marriage for children. But I love how balanced it is, how wise and clear Ortlund’s perspective is. I love Angelo Ruta’s watercolor illustrations, which show families in different configurations, from different backgrounds, and subtly use color and composition to deepen Ortlund’s text.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

I realize that much our own daughters’ understanding will come from watching us, their parents, live out our marriage before them. We will fumble our way through this, too, but God is here with us, giving us the grace we need to apologize, to forgive, to go on setting the other’s good before our own. But I am grateful to Jani Ortlund for writing a book that equips us to lift our daughters’ eyes above that one, living example, and see the big picture of marriage: what it is, what it isn’t, Who made it, and why.


A Child’s First Book About Marriage
Jani Ortlund; Angelo Ruta (2018)

Psalms of Praise | Danielle Hitchen

firstly

I apologize for not sharing a post last week. We were down with the flu. But we’re back now, with appetites! And senses of humor!


These days, Josie exits a room just as quickly as she entered—a ringleted blur, sometimes wielding a ukulele, sometimes wearing pants (sometimes not). She is two, and she moves at full speed.

Psalms of Praise, by Danielle Hitchen | Little Book, Big Story

We have always lived in small spaces and have joked that we always have at least one less bedroom than we “should” have. Before the remodel, our home was 900-ish cozy square feet, and our kitchen was also our dining and school rooms. But on the other side of the remodel, we have a little elbow room and, to Josie’s delight, a little running room. Her track extends from the front door, through the kitchen, into the dining room and back, and she often jogs it in a monkey hat and little else, bellowing “Jingle Bells.”

She is a toddler in motion. And Danielle Hitchen gets that: Psalms of Praise is filled with encouragement for small readers to move and dance as we praise God. The readings on each page are short and center around an active verse from the psalms.

Psalms of Praise, by Danielle Hitchen | Little Book, Big Story

Jessica Blanchard’s illustrations add to the energy and joy of the book, and make it a fun one to read aloud with a little one (who may or may not wear pants).

Hitchen and Blanchard also collaborated on First Bible Basics, as well as on a few other books in the series that I haven’t yet read. But with these two, so far, they’re bringing theological meat to the board book set in a way that is active and honest but not oversimplified. I respect that, even as I jog along behind Josie, reading aloud.


Psalms of Praise
Danielle Hitchen; Jessica Blanchard (2018)

The Mistmantle Chronicles | M.I. McAllister

Some might consider what I’m about to do cruel.

First, I’m going to rave about The Mistmantle Chronicles. I’m going to tell you that they are everything I look for in a book. They are:

a) a delight to read

b) beautifully written

c) shaped by a deep and rich Christian worldview

And then I’m going to tell you that they’re difficult to find. Not so difficult that you can’t find some of them, but elusive enough that you may search for months for a copy of the last book. You may scour eBay and ThriftBooks and every used bookstore in your area, just in case someone didn’t realize what they had and let it go. You may briefly contemplate spending $120 on Amazon for a paperback copy*. You may request that your library purchase a copy. You may even email the author directly with a plea for help.

You may search and search. And you still may not find it.

I haven’t.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

I wondered if it was fair to introduce you to something so delightful and gripping and then announce that you might not be able finish the series. But I decided to introduce you anyway, because these books are among the best we’ve read, and also because I have this slim hope that maybe somebody someday will have the good sense to reprint them. And if we’re all out there requesting it at libraries and talking it up online and perhaps emailing the publisher, maybe that will help? Let’s start a Mistmantle Movement, people!

Here is the premise of the story: Urchin, an unusually pale squirrel, is discovered in the shallows off Mistmantle Island just after his birth. No one knows where he came from or what happened to his mother, but he was found on a night of riding stars, when portentous things are said to happen. The books follow Urchin as he grows and faces challenges of different sorts, but while they primarily center around him, McAllister also deftly weaves the stories of other animals, both good and evil, into Urchin’s story.

The Mistmantle Chronicles meld the gospel-rich worldview of (Scripture, of course, but also) The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wingfeather Saga with the warmth and coziness of RedwallM.I. McAllister’s characters are far from formulaic: they exhibit the unexpected quirks and details that make them inflate from two dimensions to three. They live; we believe in them. And though the challenges the characters face are deep and hard, they often resolve them by looking to the Heart (the God of their world) for strength and guidance.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

These books do have some dark themes—the first book deals with the subject of “culling,” a sinister plot to kill any babies who are weak or deformed in any way—but McAllister handles these gracefully, and always with an eye on what is right and good. These are stories that will bend our affections toward the good and lovely, and they are worth searching out, however long our quest.

*Those of you who read ebooks won’t suffer this hardship: the digital version is available for $6.99. If our library can’t track a copy down for us, I may go that route out of desperation.


The Mistmantle Chronicles
M.I. McAllister (2005-2012)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

My reading life didn’t begin with a bang or even a spark last year. It was more like a puff of smoke, drifting in from the year before. Which is to say: at the start of 2018, I read plenty, but few of the books I read in those early months are worth mentioning on this list, and the ones that are worth mentioning have already been mentioned here on the blog.

The rest of my selections seemed to be mostly functional: I read a lot about homeschooling, and I pre-read a lot of middle grade books that went from my nightstand to my daughters’. I read about writing—picture books and poetry this year—but I also spent an embarrassing amount of time reading reviews of paint colors online. And researching light fixtures. And pinning pictures of subway tile.

(A tragic thought: maybe my best reading energy went to Pinterest this year.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

But then we moved out of our house, and I had to pack a single tote filled with everything I might want to read over the course of two nomadic months. It was hard to justify bringing functional books when I rightly suspected that I would need books to a source of both both rest and reinforcement. My portable library became a travelling source of truth, beauty, and goodness. And, excepting only the first one, all of the best books I read this year were in it.

(A thought worth considering: maybe I should read like books are a source of rest and reinforcement more often.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

Writing Picture Booksby Ann Whitford Paul

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul | Little Book, Big Story

I asked a friend where I should start if I wanted to learn more about writing picture books and this is one of the many excellent resources she suggested. Writing Picture Books explores the different components of picture books and the mechanics of making them work, but discusses the music of language and gives some excellent practical advice for revising and tightening manuscripts. This was the class I wanted to take in college but couldn’t find.

Note: I read an older edition of this book but loved it so much I bought and photographed the new one, too, which I haven’t yet read.

Enjoying Godby Tim Chester

Enjoying God, by Tim Chester | Little Book, Big Story

In a year of utilitarian reading, I needed a book like Enjoying God. Tim Chester reminds readers that God doesn’t just intend for us to obey him and follow him but also to enjoy him. According to the Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is the chief end of man, so this is important stuff. Chester unpacks it well.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

Go put these on hold at the library! Or, if you find them used, buy them immediately. I’ll explain why soon, I promise.

The Stars: A New Way to See Themby H.A. Rey

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey | Little Book, Big Story

Last winter I became besotted by stars. We studied them together during school, and H.A. Rey’s The Stars introduced helped us amateur stargazers make a little more sense of the night sky. Rey (better known for Curious George) has a knack for translating the abstract into the concrete, and his quirky sense of humor and his illustrations serve the subject well here. (Find the Constellations, his picture book for younger readers, is excellent, too.)

You Are What You Loveby James K.A. Smith

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Many of us consider ourselves thinking beings (we think, therefore we are, right?), but James K.A. Smith asks “What if we’re not thinking beings but loving ones?” You Are What You Love  explores the idea that what we love determines far more of our actions and decisions than what we think. Consider the success rate of New Years’ resolutions: if we think we’d better get in shape and come up with a plan for getting up early, etc., but we love comfort and are willing to do pretty much anything to obtain it . . . how long will our plan hold out?

Smith’s thoughts on how liturgy and church life trains our affections was an especially rich part of the book for me as we found ourselves looking, rather abruptly and for the first time in thirteen years, for a church to call home. This book gave me much to ponder and is definitely a re-reader.

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

John Hendrix brought his A-game to this one. The Faithful Spy is somewhere in between a graphic novel and a young adult biography, and I can only spottily imagine the amount of work he must have put into researching, writing, lettering and illustrating this fabulous biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book deserves (and shall have!) its own full-length review.

Botany For Gardenersby Brian Capon

Botany for Gardners, by Brian Capon | Little Book, Big Story

If Mr. Penderwick wrote a botany book for layfolk, it would be this one. I borrowed Botany for Gardeners from the library while researching a writing project and fell for it hard. Capon’s language as he describes cell growth or the emergence of a root tip from a seed is winsome: his delight in plant life is contagious and had me thinking happy thoughts of apical buds and meristems. Though decidedly a science layperson, I bought my own copy of this book and read it lingeringly.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

A few years ago, I read a biography of Lilias Trotter and finished longing to study some of her artwork closely. A Blossom in the Desert is a compilation of both Trotter’s devotional writings and her paintings. I read this while we moved from home to home, and it was a great comfort. Trotter’s words have a way of reorienting one’s heart, as she draws lessons from both Scripture and creation, and connects the two into beautiful parables.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler | Little Book, Big Story

Tamar Adler does for the egg what Robert Farrar Capon does for the onion: revels in it, writes about it with such delight that I had to poach one myself as soon as possible. An Everlasting Meal is Adler’s collection of food writing, based on M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf and with a nod to Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb. I’m reading this one slowly, not wanting it to end, and carrying it with me whenever I go to the kitchen.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs | Little Book, Big Story

This is a simmering book, one I am still reading. When in a season of unrest, when so many things are changing at once, and so many needs seem pressing, it is good to be reminded rather firmly that God is unchanging and in him we have everything we need. This book is a beauty.


What about you? What are the best books you read this year?

God’s Timeline | Linda Finlayson

One of the bits of planning I struggled with most this school year was history: What will we study this year? (Modern history.) Which books will we read? (So many good ones.) How can I prepare for the hard conversations that will inevitably follow our readings on the World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

I didn’t expect history planning to be emotionally draining—but oh, it was. Modern history isn’t a light read.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

But I found comfort both in zooming in and reading biographies of people who lived through those devastating wars and in zooming out to look at the whole scope of history and where those wars fit in context. Zooming in, because though the statistics are staggering, the perspective of one child in one city gives, in some way, a manageable picture of what it might have been like to live through a world war. And zooming out, because though there have been wars throughout history (and none like the world wars), the people who suffered through them have all been under God’s sovereign care. Not one of them lived or died without purpose.

I love zooming out.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

Linda Finlayson does exactly that with her book God’s Timeline. It is a survey of church history, laid out in a way that will make visual learners squeal with joy. From a fold-out timeline to biographical sketches of key figures to overviews of particular times in church history, Finlayson gives us a big picture view of God’s work through the history of the church.

God’s Timeline is the sort of book you could read for family devotions, in Sunday school, or in a solitary fashion under an apple tree. You could use it as a spine for history studies and tie it to lengthier biographies and such; you could use it (and I have) in your community group, to help explain to grownups when the Bible we know came to be. Or to refresh your memory about when the Great Awakening began.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

This is a versatile, beautiful book. It zooms out and takes in the whole of church history in one shot, and from that perspective reminds us that God has cared for his church throughout her whole history, even as he cares for her today.


God’s Timeline: A Big Book of Church History
Linda Finlayson (2018)

ESV Story of Redemption Bible

This full-length study Bible aimed toward adults may not seem like my usual fare. But I’d like to argue that, actually, it is. This is a children’s book (as well as a book for the mostly-grown, the fully-grown and the elderly), and it is certainly one that emphasizes the Big Story. What makes it seem like an unlikely subject for review, however, is the fact that I don’t really intend for you to read it to your kids.

Here is what I mean:

The older my children get, the more I realize that I can’t teach them anything I don’t know. And I can’t expect them to follow me in anything I don’t live. I can tell them, Yes, we must eat our salad. Here are three excellent reasons why salad is beneficial. But if they hear me say this and then watch me take the tiniest helping of salad and push it around on my own plate without taking a bite, they won’t be fooled.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Likewise, if, in my attempts to encourage them to love Scripture, it becomes clear that everything I know about it comes second-hand from Marty Machowski (excellent though his work is), they won’t be fooled by that either. What I need, in those heated parenting moments, is not a flow chart from a parenting book or an applicable devotional (though those are both helpful), but a deep love for the gospel and its Author. I need to know the Big Story of Scripture and how my kids (and I) fit into it. And I need to be fluent enough in it to remind them of it when called upon, in a heated moment, to do so.

This is brought home to me again and again.

I make no assumptions about you other than that you are, like me, in need of the gospel, and you clearly love good books (or you wouldn’t be here). So I offer for you the best book, in a format that makes that Big Story—the gospel—shine like a diamond just rubbed free of grit.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

The Story of Redemption Bible is something between a study Bible and a reader’s Bible: it’s beautifully formatted in a single column so it reads like a thick, pretty book, but woven through it is commentary by Greg Gilbert. Every interjection is meant to point back to that single narrative that arcs through all 66 books of the Bible. See how this connects here? he asks, pointing from some obscure prophecy in Malachi to the moment Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in the Gospels.

Making these connections always enlivens my understanding of Scripture. It helps to put those strange passages of Scripture in context. Understanding where the sacrifices began and why they were necessary makes Jesus’ coming—and his abolition of the sacrificial system—all the more beautiful. I love the Author of this story; I love that we are a part of it.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

And the gorgeous design of The Story of Redemption Bible reminds me, when I read, that the Bible is no ordinary book. Peter Voth’s illustrations illuminate the text. Elegant maps and timelines don’t gather idly in the back of the Bible, waiting for an invitation to dance, but stand proudly where they’re most needed: right where they’re mentioned in the text.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

The Story of Redemption Bible also offers two reading plans: one that will take you through the whole Bible in a year, from cover to cover, and one that will take you through the Bible in chronological order, interweaving the prophets with the narrative books about their lives, or interspersing Paul’s letters throughout readings from Acts. And a fold-out timeline of God’s redemptive story tucks into the back of the book, ready to be explored.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

So this one, dear parents, is for you. Let us love our God more every day and draw freely upon his wisdom and grace when we need it. Let us remember that we’re not yet at the end of his story, but that that ending, when it comes, will be glorious.


ESV Story of Redemption Bible
Crossway (2018)