Author: mitch (page 1 of 3)

Jeanne D’Albret | Rebekah Dan

Lately my reading has begun to branch off our school studies, as I find that a picture book about Martin Luther whets an appetite for his full story, which sparks an interest in the life of his wife, which sends me on a quest to learn everything I can about the Reformation.

I love that about history: we cannot reach the bottom of it.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

One of my favorite recent discoveries is the story of Jeanne D’Albret, Queen of Navarre. Rebekah Dan has worked hard to reclaim her story from near obscurity, for though D’Albret was a contemporary of John Calvin and some of the other Reformers, and though her role in furthering the Reformation in her kingdom was costly and critical, she is not so nearly well remembered. I am glad that Dan has written a book that draws her name back up to history’s surface.

As the princess of Navarre (and eventual queen) during the Reformation, Jeanne had a powerful impact on her region’s response to the changes the Reformation ignited within and against the church. Her commitment to the gospel and the cause of the Reformation cost her the peace of her once-happy marriage and repeatedly put her life in danger. But D’Albret remained steadfast to the Lord, despite threats and unpopularity, and though Navarre would eventually revert back to a Catholic state, her faithfulness gave the Reformation a foothold in her country that was not easily lost.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

Rebekah Dan tells this story in a way that appeals to young readers, introducing Jeanne as a determined child, then young woman who, when married against her will, had to be forcibly dragged down the aisle when she refused to walk (this marriage was later annulled, and when she married again, it was to a man she loved). Dan captures moments like this one in vibrant colored pencil illustrations.

The only caution I have with this book is that it describes the causes of the Reformation in a simplified way that I felt needed more discussion with my daughters. But even so, this book is a lovely introduction to a nearly-forgotten woman whose life and sacrifices helped further the gospel among the people of Navarre. It was a delight to read with my daughters—and it sent me on a quest to learn all I could about Jeanne D’Albret.


Jeanne D’Albret: Princess of the Reformation
Rebekah Dan (2017)


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.

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby | Amy Sullivan

“Brave is the new pretty,” I know. And there is a part of me that says, “Yes! Brave is great! We should raise brave daughters, not meek ones!” But there is more than one sort of bravery. Some bravery stems from the desire to help others, and some from a ferocious drive to define life and success for oneself. I think it is popularly used to mean that a person does what they think is right or what they believe will make them happy without regard for anyone else’s objections. They climb that mountain, they invent that machine, they face up to that injury—they don’t back down. They’re fearless.

But Scripture calls for a different sort of courage altogether. The results might look similar—Jesus, for one, did not seem particularly concerned with the Pharisees’ objections—but this courage is rooted in obedience and trust in the God who made that mountain, created the need for the machine, orchestrated the injury that refines us. It makes no sense, according to popular bravery, that Paul, imprisoned for refusing to back down, should rejoice rather than fight. Or that Mary should surrender her body and bear a Savior. Or that the women at the foot of the Cross should risk their lives simply to weep at Jesus’ feet as he died.

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby, by Amy L. Sullivan | Little Book, Big Story

Brave Christian women throughout history may look as though they didn’t care what others thought—Lilias Trotter entered the mission field though no organization would back her; Queen Jeanne D’Albret rode to war with her armies, though her own husband opposed her cause—but in truth they cared very much what one Person thought. That is why they labored so hard and risked so much—not to solve a problem or to prove themselves, but because they loved the One who set the task before them.

Fanny Crosby’s life is one of these stories. Though blind from a young age, Crosby flourished not in spite of her limitations, but because of them. She said, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby, by Amy L. Sullivan | Little Book, Big Story

Amy Sullivan’s biography of Fanny Crosby, whose hymns are still sung today, is beautiful. In it, she tells the story of a young girl who was loved the Lord and did not fear blindness but learned to serve him through it. We sing a few of them at our church, and her affection for her Lord is evident in their cadences. You’ve probably heard several, too: “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “Blessed Assurance.” But she wrote hundreds more.

Amy Sullivan featured Fanny’s story as part of her Gutsy Girls series, which (so far) also features Gladys Aylward, and Corrie and Betsy ten Boom. These are stories I’m grateful for—women whose lives remind my daughters that bravery isn’t driven by defiance but by love.


Gutsy Girls, Book Three: Fanny Crosby
Amy H. Sullivan, Beverly Ann Wines (2016)


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.

First Bible Basics | Danielle Hitchen

First Bible Basics is a board book written on two levels: on the ground level, it’s a counting primer based around core doctrines of the Christian faith–One God, Two natures of Jesus, Three persons of the Trinity, and so on.

First Bible Basics, by Danielle Hitchen (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But on the second story, it’s a theological primer for young readers, as Danielle Hitchen uses quotes from Scripture, hymns, old writings, or her own simple explanations to expand upon these core doctrines of the Christian faith.

Josie, at one, stays on the ground floor. We count commandments and beatitudes together, close the book, and go to bed. But four-year-old Phoebe rides up to the second floor, where we discuss those things a little more deeply. We read the verses and quotes and study the illustrations and sing whatever songs we know that go with them (after years of listening to Slugs & Bugs on repeat, this is a reflex. I can’t read “Matthew, Mark, Luke, John . . . ” without bursting into song).

First Bible Basics, by Danielle Hitchen (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Jessica Blanchard’s illustrations help articulate these truths for children (and, if we’re honest, adults). She represents broad, abstract ideas in a way that familiarizes readers with some of the wonders of our faith.

First Bible Basics would be a beautiful gift for new parents (or for new believers with a sense of humor). Hitchen and Blanchard have released a second book in the “Baby Believer” series, Psalms of Praise, but we don’t have it yet. It’s only a matter of time before I find an excuse to add it to our collection of board book theology.

First Bible Basics, by Danielle Hitchen (review) | Little Book, Big Story


First Bible Basics: A Counting Primer
Danielle Hitchen; Jessica Blanchard (2017)

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Bruce Whatley

These days are dreary.

Candles take the edge off the darkness, but just barely. Twinkle lights stuffed into jam jars help, but only a little. We wake in darkness, live in twilight, and part with the sun around 3:30, when it is so low in the sky that it scarcely trickles into our living room.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

The days are getting longer, but slowly. While we wait, we listen to Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday. We drink pot after pot of tea and dance to The Black Keys. We knit and eat and jump on the counch, and we nap (a lot). We read books about spring and light and hope and remind one another that it’s coming—spring is coming! The days won’t always be this dark.

This book is one of my favorites right now, because it is all of those things: a beautifully illustrated depiction of hope and light, set in the outdoors at a time when people can go outside in short sleeves and smell the budding trees. It’s coming.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed another book on this hymn years ago, and I do still love that one. But, if I had to play favorites, I think I’d choose this one: Bruce Whatley illustrates one small girl wandering about her own home, exploring the things God has made. Ashley Bryan’s book has more of a “whole world” perspective that is wonderful, too, but I like the coziness of seeing one square of the world’s beauty through one child’s eyes. As this girl, accompanied by her dog, visits favorite spots around her home, we get to delight in her childlike wonder over just what the Lord has made and what that creation means to her.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

All Things Bright and Beautiful stirs us to worship. It reminds us that the Lord God made all things and he made them well—even winter in the Pacific Northwest, where the sun just tips its hat at us in passing. Even that is good. Even that is his.


All Things Bright and Beautiful
Cecil Frances Alexander; Bruce Whatley (2001)

Early Sunday Morning | Denene Millner

Some books tell about adventure. Some books tell about growth—the emotional kind or sometimes just the regular kind that happens in the garden (or sometimes both). And some books are about ordinary moments. There are no dragons; the tension is slight, just the recognizable tension we feel every day. These are stories that could maybe happen to us, but they don’t—at least, not in just the way they happen to the characters—and that difference makes these ordinary stories potent.

I may have four daughters, but they are not the Penderwicks.

My daughters may lose their front teeth, but they won’t do it in just the way Sal does on that one morning in Maine.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

Early Sunday Morning is one of these stories. June is an African American girl, nervous about singing her first solo in the church choir. We get to walk with her through the weekend before it as her family tries, in their various ways, to encourage her and smooth her nerves.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

It’s a beautiful, simple story that invites our family into the lives of another family and allows us to see how they speak to one another, what their church is like, how they spend their mornings. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add vibrant colors and texture to the story, enriching for us the glimpse of one loving family on one Sunday morning.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite moment comes at the end—I won’t spoil it for you. It could happen, with slight differences, to another family, but the way it happens to June’s family draws us closer to them. And perhaps it helps us appreciate our own a bit more. Perhaps it helps us to love other families a bit better.


Early Sunday Morning
Denene Miller; Vanessa Brantley Newton (2017)

Gone-Away Lake | Elizabeth Enright

Every year it’s hard to narrow my list of “best books” down from fifty to ten, but this year was exceptionally hard. I wanted to tell you about Jewel, another novel I’ll reread years from now; I wanted to at least mention The Stars, by HA Rey; A Charlotte Mason Companion nearly made the cut. But no book came closer to being the eleventh title on my list of ten than this one. Only the realization that I could justify writing an entire post about it saved us all from a rapidly expanding list (because if I added an eleventh, why not a twelfth? Why not a twentieth? Who’s to stop me—but me?).

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

And so, here is a book that rightly belongs among the best books I read last year. I found Gone-Away Lake on one of the Ambleside Online lists (more on those lists here); I reserved it from the library. When we picked it up, I skimmed the blurb on the back of the book, was immediately fascinated by the story’s premise—two kids find a ghost town among the marshes behind their house? Rad!—and asked Lydia to give me a turn with it when she finished.

She read it in an afternoon and assured me that I would love it, too, as she handed it over. She was right.

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

Gone-Away Lake follows the story of Portia and her cousin Julian, who discover a ghost town, complete with two people who know the town’s story. As I read this book I realized that the only thing better than mysterious, abandoned houses is mysterious, abandoned houses—and the stories behind them. Gone-Away  Lake is warm and friendly and fun to read, and—oh joy!—it has a sequel that is equally lovely.


Gone-Away Lake
Elizabeth Enright (1957)

Exploring the Bible | David Murray

Within one week of starting this reading plan with the girls, I wanted to review it for you. “Look!” I wanted to cry. “We found it! The One!” Our relationship with family devotionals has been tumultuous, and after my recent revelation that we had only made it four days into our last attempt, I had the sort of clarity one has when, while trying to eat raw onions on a sandwich, one realizes that one is an adult who neither likes nor has to eat raw onions.

Family devotionals aren’t working for us, I realized. And they don’t have to. We want to study God’s Word with our daughters; we want them to love it, to see the beauty and the brutality and the bottomlessness of it, and we want to them to love the One who wrote it. We need to find another way, I prayed. What does this look like for us?

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

And then, behold! I ordered Exploring the Bible as a Christmas gift for Lydia, thinking it would be nice for her. But when I received it and flipped through its pages and began to see what it was about, I paused. I considered. I ordered two more copies. Lydia, Sarah, and I started working through it together and discussing it as part of our morning routine (while Phoebe colored Slugs & Bugs coloring pages and pondered the meaning of “atonement”).

A week later, Mitch asked me to get him a copy, too, and now we’re all studying through the Bible together, and it is glorious. I was ready to review it right then but I refrained, thinking it would be better if we were farther in, had given it time to stick, and could be sure that Exploring the Bible was as awesome months later as it was at the start.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Months later: it is still awesome.

Here is what Exploring the Bible is:

It is a reading plan for kids. In one year, it takes readers through the entire story of the Bible by hopscotching from key passage to key passage. The point is not to read the entire Bible in a year, but to follow God’s Big Story through it in a series of short but central passages.

Here is how it works:

David Murray arranged the readings in a series of week-long expeditions: one week we spend with Noah, reviewing the big picture of his story within the context of the rest of Scripture, then the next week we spend with Abraham. Murray helps us find a focus for the week but is otherwise pretty hands-off. No guided discussions here, no personal application. I’m glad for that.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Here is how it works for us:

Each day, our reading is about five verses long. Lydia, Mitch, and I do ours independently in the morning; Sarah does hers during our discussion. Later in the morning, the girls and I read the passage, then I ask one of the girls to narrate it back to me. Together we answer the one simple question in the workbook, and then we either stop there or we let discussion blossom however it likes. I love the questions in this book, because they point us back to the text: Murray doesn’t ask us to extrapolate on the text or draw out morals, but asks us instead to look back at a key verse and see what really happened.

“What did God say to Abraham?”

“How does Moses describe God?”

“Where was the sacrifice to be placed?”

They direct us back to the text itself, not to our own thoughts on it, and I love that. Our own thoughts bubble up naturally as we discuss the passage, but I am glad the questions anchor our discussion in what Scripture really said, not just in how we respond to it.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

So, most days offer those simple questions with the readings. Sometimes, there is a “Snapshot Verse” that Murray encourages us to copy out in the book and to memorize. The Sunday readings contain one of my favorite features: rather than doing an individual reading, we do what Murray calls “Exploring with Others.” First, we pause for a moment and look back on what we read that week; we answer a simple question about it. Then we have space for sermon notes that we all four work on during our pastor’s sermon. (This has been both enlightening and highly entertaining.)

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Also: Scotty Reifsnyder’s illustrations have this great retro feel that has spurred interesting discussion as well. And the book itself—both its design and its actual composition—is a pleasure to use. It feels so nice to hold it and turn the pages.

In Conclusion

Taking a year to trace the big story of Scripture through Old Testament and New has already begun to bear fruit in us as well as in the girls. We can pick out the main themes of each book more clearly; we have already spotted connections from one story to the next that we might have missed if we’d spent weeks on each story rather than days.

Do our kids still fidget and complain when it’s time to read Scripture? Yes. But Exploring the Bible is like a set of training wheels for the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading, and watching our girls gain their balance and become more confident as they read the Bible has been delightful. I am already a little sad that Exploring the Bible won’t go on forever, but I am also excited to see what we learn from this experience and how that shapes our future family reading.


Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids
David Murray; Scotty Reifsnyder (2017)