The Lord’s Prayer | Tim Ladwig

There comes a time in every book reviewer’s life (I assume) when the book titles trickle in slowly. Sometimes, they arrive in a rush of books so beautiful that I’m left with a full and happy editorial calendar—those are the good days. But sometimes, I’m left trawling through that vague “Religion” section at the library or clicking thumbnails on Amazon almost at random, hoping there’s a new book out by a favorite author or something worth sharing with you.

I’m in that place now: there are a number of new books coming out this spring (by Jennifer Trafton! And Douglas Kaine McKelvey!), but they’re not here yet. And I have a number of books on hold at the library, but I’m not holding them yet. And so I went book-hunting on Amazon and—success!—found The Lord’s Prayer.

The Lord's Prayer, by Tim Ladwig | Little Book, Big Story

I have reviewed a number of Tim Ladwig’s books, and I know by now that his illustrations don’t sit quietly in the background, behaving nicely while the text tells the story. No, they spring from the mind of a storyteller: as the text tells its story in print, Ladwig tells his in pictures, harmonizing with the written word and illuminating the humor, heartbreak, or joy in each sentence.

The Lord's Prayer, by Tim Ladwig | Little Book, Big Story

The Lord’s Prayer is no exception: many of us have heard it recited plenty (our church says it aloud together every Sunday), and so I imagine it’s challenging to find a way to illustrate such familiar words. But by centering his illustrations around a father and daughter who set out to serve an old woman, Ladwig shows how each line of the prayer can be lived out in practice. A whole story unfolds behind Jesus’s words, and it draws them out of the realm of rote repetition and holds them close enough for us to see what it looks like to ask God for “our daily bread,” or to “deliver us from evil.”

The Lord's Prayer, by Tim Ladwig | Little Book, Big Story

This book quickly became a favorite among our girls. We had fun finding details in the illustrations and talking them through together (“What is she doing? Why do you think he did that?”). But Ladwig’s strength, really, lies in his characters’ faces—he gets those expressions just right, and that brings his paintings to life. A gentle look passed between father and daughter, or the grateful smile of an old woman convey as much or maybe more than plain text could.


The Lord’s Prayer
Tim Ladwig (2002)

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Skip to the Loo, My Darling! | Sally Lloyd-Jones

Our first two daughters ate homemade baby food. They experienced story time at the local library and were both potty-trained by the time they were two.

They did not, however, have sisters big enough to tote them around, sing them beautiful nonsense songs, and read them board books from the moment they were born. They did not have a mom who had learned some things the hard way and lightened up a bit.

Skip to the Loo, My Darling!, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

So, I suppose it works out for everyone, right? But I do miss that “potty-trained by the time they were two” bit. Potty-training in the more usual way, it turns out, is just as much work as practicing EC with a baby, except that babies are pretty chill about the whole thing and toddlers bring a little more sass (and mobility) to the endeavor. There have been days when Mitch and I sorely needed someone to help us laugh about it.

I ordered Skip to the Loo, My Darling! on a day when potty-training morale was particularly low—”We will be doing this for years to come” low—thinking that, if anyone could write a potty book that would make us laugh at ourselves while also, fingers crossed, make the potty seem slightly more appealing to our reluctant pupil, it would be Sally Lloyd-Jones.

It was Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Skip to the Loo, My Darling!, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Her playful rhythm and just-right rhymes had both Phoebe and me in giggles by the end of the book. Skip to the Loo, My Darling! became Phoebe’s favorite for days, and none of us (big sisters included) grew tired of reading it to her or exploring Anita Jeram’s delightful illustrations. Phoebe took it to bed with her at night and slung it into our laps first thing in the morning.

She also, fingers crossed, made great strides in potty-training shortly afterward. I like to think that a certain skipping bunny had something to do with that.


Skip to the Loo
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Anita Jeram (2016)

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Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible | A Kickstarter Campaign

What could be better than news that Slugs & Bugs is currently fundraising for the release of their third Sing the Bible album?

Reading that news while eating a donut would be nice. Reading that news while eating a donut and drinking a cup of coffee would be nice, too. But better than both of those is the news that Slugs & Bugs is fundraising for both Sing the Bible Vol. 3 and for a Vince Guaraldi-seasoned Sing the Bible Christmas album!

You can read more about the project (and watch a behind-the-scenes video) here, at The Rabbit Room. And you can support this worthy project here, on Kickstarter. Happy Valentine’s Day to us!

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The Night Gardener | Jonathan Auxier

There was a time when I did not love scary stories. By “scary stories,” I mean the books I stumbled into in my youth—some of them age-appropriate fluff and some truly terrifying, books that were well beyond me both in content and complexity. Some of them haunt me still, and not in a pleasant “Oh, that gave me chills!” kind of way.

So, I did not love scary stories. And I applied the term “scary stories” not only to books written to send readers to bed with flashlights and cold sweats, but also to books with ruthless and unsettling villains, books that had scary parts in them.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

But then three things happened:

  1. I read ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy and discovered a kind of scary that was also redemptive and, really, quite fun.
  2. My eldest daughter turned eight and woke up one day a much less sensitive reader. Books that might have upset her six months earlier she read without a hint of squeamishness. Indeed, she even seemed to enjoy them. A new vista of reading expanded before us!
  3. I came across ND Wilson’s article for The Atlantic on why he writes scary stories for children. In that article, ND Wilson writes:

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help.

And just like that, my mind changed.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

It was this new attitude that gave me room to try The Night Gardener, a book I may not have bothered with pre-“ND Wilson on scary stories.” But I bothered with it and I’m so glad, because The Night Gardener totally creeped me out, but it also gave me a new appreciation for what a scary story can be.

The Night Gardener follows Molly and Kip, two Irish children who are separated from their parents while crossing the sea to England. When they take a position serving the Windsor family at an eerie manor in the sourwoods, they find themselves in the thick of a mystery. A haunting, don’t-read-this-before-bed mystery.

It’s clear that Jonathan Auxier set out to write a scary story, and I love the way he approached it: Molly and Kip are wonderful, warm-hearted heroes, who are stretched and challenged throughout the story and who grow in some gratifying ways as they face the terrors of the Windsor estate. I love, too, the way Auxier explores what happens when we try to take by force the things we were never meant to have, and his quiet commentary on the difference between stories and lies.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This was a book I wanted to stay up late with but didn’t, because I wanted to sleep and sleep is a rare, fleeting thing here, and so I did not read it before bed. But I did spend an entire naptime on the couch with it, reading, eating chocolate, and refusing to feel guilty about using a pile of unfolded laundry as a backrest. That is a sign of good book.

Also

Have you heard Jonathan Auxier on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast? You really should. I had read none of his books when I listened. I have since read and loved all three (stay tuned for reviews of the other two). This episode definitely made my list of favorites—maybe even top five. It’s a good one.


The Night Gardener
Jonathan Auxier (2015)

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Look and Be Grateful | Tomie dePaola

When you’re growing your first baby, people are quick to tell you how that baby will change your life. They know; you don’t. So they feel free to share. One of the things strangers were most eager to tell me, in a doom-and-gloom, beginning of the end sort of way, was that I would never sleep again. Never. Which I knew was an exaggeration, but still: I like sleep. I’m not a night owl, I’ve (thankfully) never struggled to sleep. My eight hours have always been there, more or less waiting for me, as long as I got in bed in a timely manner and claimed them.

But then I had my first baby and realized that, when the childbirth class teacher said that babies need to eat every two hours of so, she failed to mention (or I failed to hear) that I may or may not get fifteen to thirty minutes of sleep myself between feedings. “Never” was an overstatement, but when I was in those first days of my first baby’s life, it didn’t feel that way: as I snuggled the child whose dark curls struck me with awe even as she hauled me out of sleep again and again, I thought (as much as I could think anything then), “My word. They were right. I’ll never sleep again.”

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

 

When I was expecting my fourth baby, though, folks were not quite as quick with the ominous warnings. I think they assumed that I knew what I was getting myself into, which was fair, but here’s the funny thing: we seasoned parents, we parents of multiple children, who have done this many times before, are surprisingly quick to forget what having a baby is like when we don’t actually have one. As the babies become toddlers, we forget about waking every few hours to cuddle, rock, pat, and shush. We forget what it’s like having an infant.

And then we have one, and we remember.

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

Having a baby is glorious in so many ways. I’m one of those obnoxious people now who revels in it, who likes the smell of my baby’s neck and who gets all starry-eyed every single time she sneezes, and who turns to mush in the presence of a friend’s newborn. I never thought I’d see the day—me, the one who had never changed a diaper until I had my first child and who babysat only when my mother made me do it—but there it is. I love babies.

I even love teething babies, which is fortunate, because I have one of those now. Growing teeth is hard work, and hard work, when you’re a baby, calls for mom-snuggles in the wee hours. But because I usually like to sleep during the wee hours, I find myself sleeping now in the less-wee hours. And that is when I usually write.

So that’s why this post is mostly about sleeping and not sleeping. I’m trying to tell you about Tomie dePaola’s beautiful book Look and Be Grateful, but all that’s coming out is paragraph after paragraph of nonsense, all of which could be summed up in four words: “People, I am tired.”

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

It is fitting, then, that this week I’m reviewing a book on gratitude—a very short, simply worded book on gratitude. Of dePaola’s many books, this one reminds me most of Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise: the gentle illustrations, the carefully curated text, and the small format make this book, too, one that is clearly meant to be held and savored by the littlest readers.

Open your eyes,
and look.
Open your eyes,
and see,
and say thank you

This is a quiet meditation of a book that does my soul good, even as I read it to Phoebe before her nap, even as I fight to stay awake while I read it to Phoebe before her nap. It is a book that I love sharing with all of my daughters, big and small, because I want gratitude and wonder and thanksgiving to saturate our days as a family. I want to take that gratitude and wonder with me, too, into the wee hours, when I wake with the baby again, but can still marvel at her dimpled hands as she nurses, can still wonder at the weight of her and the way we were meant to fit together. I can remember:

Today is a day, and it is a gift.
So, be grateful.

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

On that note

I’m taking next week off. All that baby-snuggling means I’ve had little time to write and little brainpower with which to string words together and no time to take photos of anything (except the baby, of course), so I’m going to give myself a week of grace to catch up on sleep and blog posts. I have a bunch of good books to share with you, though, so I’m excited to get back to work!


Look and Be Grateful
Tomie dePaola (2015)

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Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

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Wingfeather Tales | Andrew Peterson (Editor)

There’s a spot on our porch I check every time I come home—to the left of the door, on the girls’ stripey chair. If I’m going to get a package, that’s where it will be, and if there is a package there, then it is probably full of books. There have been a lot of packages there lately, because, as I write, it’s nearly Christmas and I loathe going to stores (I drank the online shopping Kool-Aid early and never looked back).

But a few weeks ago, I found a package on the stripey chair that said not “Amazon Fulfillment Center” on the return address but “The Rabbit Room,” and I knew that something very, very good was about to happen to me.

I was right. Stickers and posters and patches happened, as well as a signed paperback copy of The Warden and the Wolf King. Happy little girls with their hands full of stickers and posters and patches happened. But I dug into the package looking for one thing and one thing only: Wingfeather Tales.

Wingfeather Tales, ed. Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

When Andrew Peterson ran his most recent Kickstarter campaign, one of the stretch goals was this collection of short stories set in Anniera, but written by a handful of my favorite authors and illustrators (if you’ve read anything by them, then they’re probably your favorites, too): ND Wilson, Jennifer Trafton, John Hendrix, Justin Gerard, Jonathan Rogers, to name a few.

That, I thought, looking at the line-up, is going to be awesome. But even with “awesome” as my starting point, I still completely underestimated Wingfeather Tales.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

The stories the authors turned out differ wildly in tone and style: some are comic, some epic, one is a narrative poem, one is a novella so devastating that I still can’t think about it without feeling an uncomfortable tightness in my throat. At least two of the stories cleverly link Anniera up with the worlds of other beloved books; one tells a story we’ve all been wanting to hear. The authors clearly enjoyed being set loose in the world of the Wingfeather Saga.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

I think I expected this book to be a fun sort of honorary member of the series, maybe a collection of extra material that would be pleasant to read, if not as good as the saga itself—sort of what Chronicles of Avonlea is to the Anne of Green Gables series. But Wingfeather Tales is its own beautiful contribution to the Wingfeather canon, so vivid and enjoyable that I can’t imagine rereading the full saga without re-reading the Tales, too. And that is beyond awesome.


Wingfeather Tales
Ed. Andrew Peterson (2016)

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