Category: Book Lists (page 1 of 5)

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?

14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul

A quick note before we get started: you can still enter the Slugs and Bugs giveaway! I have two copies of Sing the Bible, Vol. 3 to give to two of you. You can enter to win one of them here.

That is all.


Good fantasy stories have always felt to me like feasts worth savoring. Those are the stories I reread every few years, the ones that make sense of our world by introducing me to worlds utterly different from ours. I was never able to pinpoint exactly why that should be, though, until I encountered this passage in GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. . . . These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

There is something about the delightful aspects of other worlds that makes our own seem more miraculous. We live in a world made from words, and it is filled with lemon-yellow tanagers, intricate columbine, and bugs that, when nudged, roll into armored balls. Is that less amazing that a world where the housework is finished with a wand? On the days when we’re folding laundry by hand, not magic, it seems so. But the best stories remind us of those moments when we first saw snow fall from the sky, and it seemed that anything could happen.

14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul | Little Book, Big Story

I must point out, of course, that not all fantasy stories are good or beautiful. But there are so many that point toward the beauty of our world, toward the beauty of order (sometimes by contrasting it with chaos), in a way that makes young readers hungry for the good and beautiful. This list features many of my favorites—the stories I reread every few years and share eagerly with my daughters. I hope you find a few new favorites here, too.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis | Little Book, Big Story

What better place to start a list of adventures than with The Chronicles of Narnia? This series has children all over the world tapping at the back of closets, hoping—just hoping—to reach Narnia. C.S. Lewis was adept at writing in a half dozen different literary genres, but he shines when writing for children. (Read the full review.)

The Peter Nimble Series, by Jonathan Auxier

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This series begins with the story of Peter Nimble, a boy blinded as a baby when ravens pecked out his eyes. It continues with the story of Sophie Quire, a bookmender mending books in a city that burns nonsense. But this is not dark, heavy reading. There is exuberance here, and light and bravery and courage! There’s an enchanted horse-cat-knight and a vanished kingdom and a professor named Cake. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

It is not a coincidence that one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite books landed on our shelves and became one of our favorites, too. In it, Maria Merryweather finds herself in the wonderful (and mysterious) valley surrounding Moonacre Manor. Adventure of the loveliest sort ensues. (Read the full review.)

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

This classic is the granddaddy of the fantasy genre. Bilbo Baggins—not merely “a” hobbit, but The Hobbit, the first hobbit—steps out his front door without a handkerchief and finds the world of Middle Earth far bigger than he expected. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien

The 100 Cupboards Series, by ND Wilson

The 100 Cupboards series, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Henry York discovers ninety-nine cupboards of varying sizes and shapes hidden under the plaster of his bedroom wall. Each door leads to a different place, including (but not limited to) Endor, Byzanthamum, Arizona. The first book in this trilogy is fun (and delightfully creepy); the second and third books are unforgettable. (Read the full review.)

See also: Anything else ND Wilson has ever written.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Quirky and charming, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic introduces us to Persimmony Smudge, the perfectly named heroine of Trafton’s adventure. When she learns that her island is in danger, she sets out to warn the other islanders, but they don’t believe her. (Can you blame them?) This is wonderful read-aloud for all ages. (Read the full review.)

See also: Henry and the Chalk Dragonby Jennifer Trafton

The Redwall Series, by Brian Jacques

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah is currently at work on an “about me” book: you know, “I was born,” “I started school,” and so on. It may not surprise you to learn that “Lydia discovers Redwall” is one of the milestones she saw fit to include, as well as “I finished the Redwall series.” That’s a snapshot of our family’s affection for these books. (Read the full review.)

The Green Ember Series, by SD Smith

In a few short pages, Heather and Picket (both young bunnies) lose everything and find themselves adrift in a wood corrupted by war. Where will they go next? What will become of them? S.D. Smith tells a story that reads like a modern novel, but is, at its heart, an old-fashioned tale of honor, courage, and hope. There are five books in the series now (not pictured: The Last Archer and Ember Rising), but I’m behind on my reviews! Egad! (Read the full review.)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Trilogy, by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy), by Grace Lin | Little Book, Big Story

Grace Lin’s trilogy is a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create story infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. These books are beautiful from the first page of the first book to the last page of the last one. (Read the full review.)

A Wrinkle in Time Quartet, by Madeliene L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I have reread A Wrinkle in Time every few years since I was in college, and there is a good reason for that. It’s a beautiful book, and the three subsequent books don’t disappoint. (The remaining four books do disappoint a bit, though. Alas.) (Read the full review.)

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Rogers retells the story of King David, but in a swampy, fantastic setting, and he gets it just right. (It’s worth reading this trilogy just to meet Feechies.) These books also make a great introduction to fantasy for kids who are a bit sensitive, because they aren’t as intense as many other fantasy stories can be. And they are excellent. (Read the full review.)

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

If The Hobbit is one of the grand-daddies of the fantasy genre, then Harry Potter is the father of the genre as we know it today. J.K. Rowling’s series displays beautifully the contrast between a character who cultivates a mighty gift for good and one who exploits his gift for his own ends. And it does make one hungry for trifle. (Read the full review.)

Breadcrumbsby Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Anne Ursu retells the story of the Snow Queen here, but in an inventive way. Her world is a dreamy, almost-creepy fairy-tale land that merges with the recognizable world in surprising ways. She also deals quietly with issues of divorce and cross-cultural adoption in this book. How one book manages to be all those things, I don’t know, but this one does and it’s beautiful. (Read the full review.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

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

This series is one of my favorites. I cannot speak glowingly enough about it. Go forth and read all four books (and don’t forget to finish the feast with Wingfeather Tales!). (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any of your favorites? Which fantasy books do you love and return to?

More Great Resources for Family Devotions

Two years have passed since my last post on family devotionals, and in that time I’ve learned that there’s more to Orion than his belt, and that hot sauce is actually, in moderation, most of the time, pretty good. I have also learned that we’re not great at following through with real devotionals, but there are so many good ones out there that I keep finding them and trying them and reviewing them for you. I have reviewed so many since that last post that it’s time for another compilation, one that features two of our favorites—two that we have successfully read from cover-to-cover and, in one case, even read a second time.

6 More Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

This list features books that span a wide range of ages and that will appeal to different families at different times. Some are rooted in Scripture, some around a catechism, and some are systematic theologies for kids. But they all strive to communicate the gospel clearly and beautifully to families, and they all offer excellent jumping-off points for discussion, either in the form of questions or in content that begs for further conversation.

The Ology, by Marty Machowski

A systematic theology for children? Yes, please! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

I’ll begin with one of our favorites. Marty Machowski’s The Ology is a systematic theology for kids that covers everything from the nature of God to the calling of the church to the end times, and he does it in a way that our four-year-old will sit through and our older girls engage with and love. The Ology is even structured so that can be used with still older readers, middle- and high-school readers, with additional questions and study ideas, as well as verses in each reading to research. We’re almost done reading this one for a second time, and it’s still excellent. (Read the full review.)

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor (Review) | Little Book, Big Story

This book is also a systematic theology, but it’s written for young readers. (At four, Phoebe adores it.) The readings are short and simple (but not overly simplified), and they end with questions that tie the big concepts to the illustrations, so little ones have something visual to refer to while they listen. If you’ve finished The Jesus Storybook Bible with your little ones and want to know what to read next, try this! (Read the full review.)

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan & Richie Hunt

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan and Richie Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

These readings, drawn from the psalms, focus on the life of one family as they explore the psalms together and put what they learn into practice. I worried at first that these readings might feel too cheesy, but no! The girls loved them, and they gave momentum to some deep discussions. These readings are practical, which can be helpful for kids who hear often how they ought to behave but struggle to know what that looks like, but they’re not moralistic: grace weaves through each one, reminding us all that we are forgiven and loved even when we fail. (Read the full review.)

Wise-Up, by Marty Machowski

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

These ten-minute devotions from Proverbs are—as every Marty Machowski book I’ve read is—excellent. They’re short, but give ample fodder for deeper discussion, and they bring families back each night to Scripture itself. We didn’t finish this one, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book itself. This might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his other books, Long Story Short and Old Story New. Or it might be a great thing to read if you’ve finished those and want something shorter and focused on one book of the Bible. (Read the full review.)

New City Catechism

The New City Catechism | Little Book, Big Story

Our older girls memorized parts of this at school, and we’re getting ready to start it here at home. It’s a rich catechism, written beautifully, and with so many partnering resources to help families memorize it together. The answers are two-part—one for children, one for adults—with print editions available for both children and adults. There is also a book of devotions, as well as recorded songs for the questions and answers, and an app. (If you’re just starting, you probably want either the black book or the app.) This is a resource I’m excited to explore together as we grow in our knowledge of God and help equip our kids to follow him. (Read more about why the New City Catechism was written and what the authors believe.)

Exploring the Bible, by David Murray

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

Exploring the Bible is our current read, and we continue to love it. This is not really a devotional but a Bible reading plan for kids, with a short Scripture reading (about five verses) designated for each day, followed by a simple question.

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

Mitch, Lydia, Sarah and I all read ours individually in the morning and then reread it together in the evening, with Phoebe. Some nights, the conversation branches off into deeper things, or we find ourselves tying some event to the reading as we interact throughout the day. Murray’s goal is to introduce kids to the whole story of Scripture through this year-long, fly-over view. And so far, our family loves it. (Read the full review.)


What about you? Have you found any great devotional resources or Routines lately?

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent

We have one window in our living room—one window highly sought after by the cats, who get their best bird views there—and it’s in that window sill that I heap the books I’m currently reading. This is a terrible place for books—they fall when you bump them or when you put the blinds down (or when you lunge at a bird), and they block a small portion of coveted daylight. But it’s close to the armchair where I like to read, and so that is where the books stay.

And with Lent upon us, a handful of the books in that sill are Easter-related, which made me think of other Easter-related books you might like, which made me think that a post about Easter reading for you, dear grown-up reading this blog, might be well received. This list is a short one, but I’m sure you have other books worthy of joining its ranks. I would love to hear about them in the comments.

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent | Little Book, Big Story

So, here it is: a list of  devotionals for Lent! The first two are the ones I’m reading this year, followed by ones I’ve read (and loved) in the past.

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick | Little Book, Big Story

This devotional isn’t marketed for Lent and I didn’t plan to read it for Lent, but I did start reading it and it struck me that it is, in fact, perfectly Lent-worthy. Each reading describes some new aspect the gospel—the beauty of it, how it transforms our lives—in Fitzpatrick’s warm, grace-filled voice. Familiarity may tempt us to grow deaf to the melody of the gospel, but Fitzpatrick reminds us that the Lord plays endless variations upon it in our lives, and that that melody will never grow repetitive to those who pay attention. Comforts From the Cross highlights some of those variations, and the result is stunning.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett | LIttle Book, Big Story

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions written by a plethora of authors whose names occasionally end with “Spurgeon,” “Edwards,” or “Bunyan.” You can see by the condition of the cover that this is an oft-frequented book at our house (or at least one that got knocked off my nightstand and lost under the bed for a while), and I’m reading it this Lent with Joe Thorn’s guide for praying through The Valley of Vision.

I’m two weeks in and I love it already: these little breaks for prayer reorient my heart every few hours, and I need that. (It’s true that I pray on the stairwell, often with one or two daughters in my lap, poking my face and asking me what I’m doing, but praying in the midst of that is perfect training for praying through the greater storms of life. Right?)

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

You thought there was just the one reason, didn’t you? Nope. In fifty short chapters, John Piper lays out fifty illuminating reasons why Jesus suffered and died for us. What this is, really, is fifty reasons to praise God for his redemption!

Note: Piper’s book The Passion of Christ is actually the same material repackaged under a new title. How do I know? Because I own them both and planned to review them each separately here—until I read the table of contents. But hey, now we know they’re both good books!

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Ed. by Nancy Guthrie

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book during Lent last year, and it was beautiful. Nancy Guthrie has curated a collection of twenty-five readings from authors that span church history. You’ll find Augustine here alongside J.I. Packer, John Calvin next to Francis Schaeffer. This isn’t technically a devotional but an anthology, one that’s easy to pick up and read any time of the day. (Guthrie’s Advent anthology Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is lovely, too.)

King’s Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller

King's Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller | Little Book, Big Story

This is one of my favorite books, and again, it’s not one specifically written for Lent. But Timothy Keller’s study of Jesus’s life through the book of Mark places Jesus’ life within the greater framework of God’s redemptive story. This is not a difficult read, but it’s a deep one that will give you much to ponder.

Note: This book has been republished under the title Jesus the King, so don’t let that throw you off the scent. Even if you don’t read it during Lent, it’s excellent reading any time of the year.


What about you? What are you reading for Lent?

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-ups)

I wrote a post about great (sometimes pop-up) church history books for Deeply Rooted. It boasts a few books that you know well and a few you haven’t met yet, and I think you’ll really like like them. (I know I really like the photos, which were taken by my neighbor Felicia*, who has a knack for that sort of thing.)

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length. I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a sophomore eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life (i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set), I did not appreciate my father’s approach. 

I appreciate it now. Just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, where we are headed, or what we must do to change. . . .

You can read the full post here.

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-Ups) | Little Book, Big Story


*The photos in this post were also taken by Felicia. See what I mean?

7 Books That Tell the Big Story of Easter

If we spent last Lent reading books with a fresh take on the Easter story, this year, I want to focus on stories that tell not just what happened during Holy Week but why it mattered. Why did Jesus die? Why do we celebrate Good Friday with somber songs and Easter Sunday with joyous ones? I set out to find Easter books that fit the Resurrection into context, that showed it beginning and ending with the gospel.

But I couldn’t find them. Not in the Easter section, anyway. All the Easter books we had and all the ones I borrowed from the library told (beautifully, most of them) what happened, but none of them gave us the gospel.

So I went looking elsewhere. I dug out books from our everyday shelves that tell the story of Jesus’ life in full, that tell God’s redemptive story from beginning to end, that show God’s tenderness toward his people, that invite us to the view the gospel through allegory.

7 Books That Tell the Big Story of Easter | Little Book, Big Story

This is a list of books to read during Lent, but they aren’t specifically Easter books. I hope you enjoy them.

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

This book tells the story of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation. Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection are covered here, but they’re fit within their broader context, and Laferton explains perfectly why they matter in a way that even the youngest readers can follow. (Read the full review.)

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson | Little Book, Big Story

Newbery-winning author Katerine Paterson tells the story of Jesus’ life here on earth in a way that reminds us that Jesus was God, but he was also a warm, approachable man. His gentleness and strength are both evident here. (Read the full review.)

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

This book was a new find, one that made me deeply happy. The World Jesus Knew provides a different sort of context for Jesus’ story: Marc Olson has written a fascinating reference book for kids that, with the help of Jem Maybank’s illustrations, brings the first century to life to kids. What did Jesus eat? What was the temple like when he lived? What the heck is a centurion? Olson answers all those things (and more!) in this, my new favorite picture book.

The Prince’s Poison Cup, by RC Sproul

The Prince's Poison Cup (Review) | Little Book, Big Story

RC Sproul had a knack for sharing the gospel through allegory, and The Prince’s Poison Cup is one of his best. Through the story of a prince whose people have strayed, Sproul illustrates grace in a fresh and powerful way. (Read the full review.)

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Found, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Psalm 23 gets a sweet retelling in this board book. The picture of a shepherd—shown both in Lloyd-Jones’ poetry and Jago’s illustrations—searching for his lost sheep is beautiful, and it’s perfect for sharing the story of Easter with little readers. (Read the full review.)

The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

In this not-quite-story-Bible, Kevin DeYoung traces the Big Story of Scripture from beginning to end. This is like The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, but for older readers. This would be a great book to read throughout Lent. For younger readers, The Biggest Story ABC is beautiful, too. (Read the full review.)

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course: Miracle Man. John Hendrix’s book on the life of Jesus is perfect, and ends with a breath-catching moment of anticipation. (Read the full review.)


Have you found the books I’m looking for? What are your favorite Easter books?

Best Books of 2017

This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.

Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.

But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.

And then I graduated.

Of all the books I read in 2017, I liked these 10 the best (book list) | Little Book, Big Story

Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.

What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.

 

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by George Eliot | Little Book, Big Story

I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.

This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.

The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey

 The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey | Little Book, Big Story

We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked PG Wodehouse, EB White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).

But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.

No Little women, by Aimee Byrd

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd | Little Book, Big Story

Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.

One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

 The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an LM Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.

The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, by John Muir Laws

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws | Little Book, Big Story

When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.

This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes  certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.

Mystery & Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery & Manners, Essays by Flannery O'Connor | Little Book, Big Story

Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein | Little Book, Big Story

This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.

What about you? Which books did you discover this year?