Category: Elementary (Ages 5-8) (page 1 of 24)

Goodbye to Goodbyes | Lauren Chandler

How do you talk to a child about death?

When my daughters want to know why they no longer see a dear friend at church anymore, or how come their great-granddad had to die before they met him, I am profoundly grateful for the Resurrection. You will meet him one day, I say. You will see her again.

This is not fluffy-winged, angel-studded wishful thinking, but a promise: Jesus has gone first, through death and into new life (1 Corinthians 15:20). He died and rose from the dead, and he has made a way for us to follow him. Clothed in resurrected bodies, we will sit at the table with him and feast; we will fill a city with song; we will see our heavenly Father face to face.

We do not know what will happen between now and that moment, and sometimes the not knowing is bitter. But, I tell them, God knows how our stories go, and he will help us bear our burdens. He will shepherd us through those gates.

Goodbye to Goodbyes, by Lauren Chandler | Little Book, Big Story

I am glad for that hope when they sigh heavily or fearfully connect the dot “she died” with “I could die, too.” In those moments, we can look back to Jesus, who died—and yet what beauty came through his death! And we can look back further still to Lazarus, whose story is both a beacon of what Jesus can do, as well as a foretelling of what he would do in himself.

Goodbye to Goodbyes, the newest installment of my absolutely favorite series Tales That Tell the Truth, shares the story of Lazarus and his sisters. Lauren Chandler’s telling is both gentle and honest—Jesus doesn’t swoop on the scene like a superhero and command Lazarus to live amid a cloud of applause and confetti. He takes his time coming to Lazarus, and Chandler lets that sink in: Mary and Martha called for him, and Jesus didn’t come right away. And while he dawdled, Lazarus died.

Goodbye to Goodbyes, by Lauren Chandler | Little Book, Big Story

But when at last Jesus does come, we see why he waited. And in the meantime, we see him grieving with Mary and Martha—Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations (again, among my favorites) capture their grief in a way that feels true to life and yet isn’t overwhelming for young readers. They weep and it’s messy, and the way Jesus holds them—I feel comforted just looking at it.

(In fact, those pictures of Jesus holding tight to them in their grief might be my favorite scenes in the whole book. We cannot see him now, but that reminder that he has arms for holding the hurting and that we will one day see and feel them wrapped around us—that is beautiful. I feel a little sniffly thinking about it.)

Goodbye to Goodbyes, by Lauren Chandler | Little Book, Big Story

I said in my post about The Friend Who Forgives that that one was my favorite of the Tales That Tell the Truth because it was the one I’d read most recently. Which means that this one must now be my favorite. And it is.

But I think it might really and truly be my favorite because of the story and the grace with which it’s handled. Giving children a book that addresses both the sorrow of grief and the hope of resurrection—that is beautiful and hard to do, and I am so grateful Lauren Chandler has done it.

Goodbye to Goodbyes, by Lauren Chandler | Little Book, Big Story

Goodbye to Goodbyes: A True Story About Lazarus and an Empty Tomb
Lauren Chandler; Catalina Echeverri (2019)

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories | Irene Howat

I did not grow up knowing Jesus, but I have many friends who did. And I love to ask those friends what they enjoyed reading as a child. While I read Goosebumps, I wonder aloud, what did you read? Some shrug (they can’t remember), some say they read Goosebumps, too, but most read missionary biographies.

This surprised me. I definitely wasn’t into, say, presidential biographies as a kid. I dabbled in classics. I scarfed down The Babysitters’ Club. But what kid sits around and reads biographies for fun? This perplexed me—until I started reading missionary biographies. Then suddenly I understood.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

A well-written biography gives us a window into someone else’s life, with a perspective we don’t see when we live alongside a person. Through a biography, we see how that person’s childhood influenced their adult life and how their work transformed over decades. We get to look back from our vantage point in history and see how their life has altered the world or blessed others. We understand things they couldn’t have known while they lived. And if the subject of the biography is a Christian, missionary or otherwise, we get to see how God proved faithful to them again and again.

We get to see a life of faith lived out in a few hundred pages.

Irene Howat has written dozens of missionary biographies (I have reviewed some of her collections before), and I make a habit of adding one or two to my cart every time I need to bump a ThriftBooks order over $10. I love reading these, both because the subjects of the stories lived fascinating lives, but also because they show me what it looks like to serve God in every time, place, and circumstance.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories tells the story of the beloved author of Treasures of the Snow (one of my favorite stories*) and many other books. St. John served as a nurse, missionary, and caregiver, and wrote several books over the course of her lifetime. Her stories display the gospel so clearly and vividly in a way few books do, and her eye for detail (Howat describes her as “a noticing person”) makes her characters live. Reading about the life behind those beautiful stories was a delight.

There is something undeniably appealing about biographies of other Christians. Our family read a bunch of books for history this year, but I couldn’t have predicted that the one our girls loved and asked for most would be a biography of George Mueller. Perhaps one day when they’re grown and someone asks them which books they loved most as a kid, their answers will surprise me.


*I love Treasures of the Snow so much that I reviewed it for the winter issue of Wildflowers magazine (available any minute in their online store!). Was the timing of this post some sort of publicity stunt to promote that issue? No, it was not. I read this biography last week and loved it so much I knew I needed to a) cram it into our history schedule, and b) share it with you ASAP. 

Wildflowers Magazine, Winter Issue | Little Book, Big Story

So here it is, beautifully but accidentally coordinated with the newest issue of Wildflowers. Both are worth reading immediately.


Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories
Irene Howat (2008)

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)

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.


Update

Our local library tracked down a copy of the fifth Mistmantle book, Urchin and the Rage Tide, in a library across the state. And so we are at last reading it! And it does not disappoint. McAllister wraps up the series with one of the—oh, cruel again! I’m so sorry!—most lovely and suitable ends I’ve ever read. This is a book that makes you want to be braver and love others better. (It also makes you want to weep in the waiting room during ballet class.)

I want my own copy to keep.


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

A Jesus Christmas | Barbara Reaoch

I am not one to feel warm and fuzzy about evergreen swag or potted poinsettias, so I decorate, rather chaotically, with Christmas picture books. We prop them up on shelves, gather them into baskets, and scatter them about the floor—anything, just so they’re  read and savored. Through them we hear the glorious refrain of Jesus’ coming again and again and again throughout Advent.

A Jesus Christmas, by Barbara Reaoch | Little Book, Big Story

This morning’s book is a new addition to our library, and one that takes a creative, more Exploring the Bible approach than most. A Jesus Christmas is formatted in a journal style and allows kids to read Scripture directly throughout Advent and respond to what they’ve read through words and art. Each reading contains a few questions, presented in a way that allows families flexibility in how they want to discuss them, as well as a short reading that expands upon the day’s passage.

There are several ways a family could use this. You could buy a copy for each of your readers, do the readings independently, and come together to discuss them. Or you could use a single copy as a family devotional, perhaps allowing different kids to be the “family recorder” for the day. With younger kids, you could do the reading, discuss it briefly, and turn it over to them for the drawing part. A Jesus Christmas is adaptable, and I like that.

A Jesus Christmas, by Barbara Reaoch | Little Book, Big Story

(And I wish I could have reviewed this earlier for you, but alas! It’s been That Sort of Year. But A Jesus Christmas is a resource worth bookmarking for next Advent.)


A Jesus Christmas
Barbara Reaoch (2018)


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.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Susan Wojciechowski

The other day I pulled a pile of Christmas books out of the shop and tried to covertly photograph them while the girls were distracted. But they were at my elbow in minutes, hailing old friends, eyeing new ones with suspicion (“I don’t remember that book”), and trying to sneak favorites off the pile while I wasn’t looking. The most adored, the most likely to be snatched from the pile and spirited away to a comfy chair was this one: The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Toomey is a woodcarver in a small village, known (and feared) for his gruff manner. But before the story itself truly begins, the author lets us in on a secret: Mr. Toomey wasn’t always this way. Once he was young and full of life, but he closed himself off after suffering terrible grief. Because Susan Wojciechowski introduces us to this side of Mr. Toomey first, watching his transformation throughout the story—as he meets the young widow McDowell and her son Thomas—is like watching someone open a gift we just know they’re going to love.

Here is the thing about the widow McDowell and Thomas: they show up at Mr. Toomey’s door with a request. They’ve lost their set of nativity figures and ask him to make them a new set. But Thomas also wants to watch Mr. Toomey work. His comments throughout the story and his true “little boyness” has us all giggling every time we read it, and yet this is a genuinely deep, sorrowful yet joy-filled book that also makes me cry every time I read it. That balance seems to me just right. (The illustrations are gorgeous, too. P.J. Lynch captures the characters’ expressions in such a living way that I feel as if I’ve walked in on the characters mid-conversation.)

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Little Book, Big Story

One of the things I love about this book is that, though it is called The Christmas Miracle, Etc., Jonathan Toomey’s transformation doesn’t come about through some nebulous holiday warm-fuzzery. It is nurtured by his interactions with the pieces of the nativity, as Thomas explains beautifully the purpose of each figure. It also nudged along by acts of gentle kindness, both to him and, eventually, by him, as he learns to give himself to others and to welcome them into his life again. And so it is one of the books the girls welcomed most eagerly into our lives this year. This book deserves such a welcome.


The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey
Susan Wojciechowski; P.J. Lynch (1948)