Category: Elementary (Ages 5-8) (page 1 of 22)

The Railway Children | E. Nesbit

This summer re-run first appeared on my blog in January 2014. It features one of my favorite books. I hope you enjoy it (and your summer break!), too.


Was there ever a better narrator than E. Nesbit? The way she banters with the reader in charming asides and includes her own voice as a part of the story makes reading her work an act of listening, as though a favorite aunt has drawn little you onto her lap as she tells you a story about some children that she once knew. Her voice is comfortable, familiar; she exists within the story in a delightful way.

C.S. Lewis also had a knack for establishing this intimacy between author and reader. I used to think that I recognized his voice in Nesbit’s work until I learned that she was one of his favorite authors as a child, and that really, I was hearing her voice in his work. This just made me love her more than ever, and I love her best of all in her book, The Railway Children.

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

After their father is mysteriously called away from home, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis leave their comfortable life in London and move to the countryside with their mother, where they are materially poor but find a wealth of excitement in the railway that cuts through the hills near their new home. Adventures of a noble sort ensue, all told in Nesbit’s endearing (but never, ever sappy) tone.

The small fry in our home are so smitten with The Railway Children that, for a time, they answered only to Roberta and Phyllis, and we found ourselves hosting an imaginary brother named Peter for months (we currently host an imaginary brother and sister named Curdie and Irene—from The Princess and the Goblinas well as a sister named Applesauce, and an imaginary cow named Charlotte. Our house is cozy, but never dull).

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

One closing note: you’ll notice that I never give age recommendations on my blog. The reasoning behind that is simple: all children are different, and the book one child cracks open at four, another child may not properly enjoy until eight. You know better than I do where your child falls on the spectrum, so I leave it up to you to decide if your child is ready for this book. Read it yourself and see. I’m quite certain that you will enjoy it.


The Railway Children
E. Nesbit (1906)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Amy L. Sullivan

In ninth grade, I decided that I wasn’t a science person. Most of the other decisions I made that year—”dog chains are a great way to hold your wallet in place,” for example, or “Shirley Manson is everything I want to be when I grow up”—I eventually discarded.

But the science one stuck. We spent a lot of time listening to lectures that year. We watched the teacher diagram things on the board and peeked through microscopes a few times. We dissected frogs. But for the most part, we explored the world around us and the way it worked by sitting in our desks, being told about it.

I left class, my wallet firmly in place and my hair crimson, and thought, “Nope. Not my thing.”

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, while learning how to teach my own daughters to study and explore the world around us, it became my thing. The moth under our porch light with its lace-like wings, the frills and whorls of a snapdragon, the snail’s polka-dotted track—we notice these things now, so much so that our need to stop and study and touch what we see has made us all a bit like toddlers.

But of all the things we studied this year, my favorite was the stars. Learning the basic alphabet of astronomy opened my eyes to what has always been plainly written in the sky: God’s handiwork is vast, intricate, beautiful. We are but one beloved part of it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

Dr. Jennifer Wiseman has known for years what I am just learning now: all of creation sings God’s praises; evidence of his attention and provision is everywhere. As an astronomer for NASA, she works with the Hubble Space Telescope, exploring the galaxy far beyond what we can see with our naked eyes. But in this newest volume of Amy Sullivan’s Gutsy Girls series, Sullivan depicts Wiseman first as a child who loved exploring the creatures in her backyard, marveling at the Creator of the turtle’s shell and the water strider’s legs. These small discoveries led to bigger ones, including a comet now named for Dr. Wiseman and a colleague.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

While the rest of the Gutsy Girls series focuses on well-known women from church history (Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, and Fanny Crosby), this newest volume is different in a few respects: Dr. Wiseman is not a figure from church history (yet), but a living woman. Her work as an astrophysicist isn’t what most would consider missions work, yet she works among many who consider science and faith incompatible and  argues graciously that they are, in fact, deeply compatible. What we learn from scientific study isn’t meant to refute or prove God’s existence but to teach us more about Him.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

In that light, we are all science people. We are meant to learn more about our Creator wherever we are, whatever bit of creation is before us. Creation speaks eloquently of His nature. We have but to listen.


Gutsy Girls, Book Four: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman
Amy H. Sullivan, Beverly Ann Wines (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.

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

Tell Me a Story | eeBoo

It’s summer break!

Huzzah! We’re taking some time off from most subjects here, though math and, of course, reading, continue on. But here on the blog, I’m going to try a new summer schedule. Every other week, I’ll share a post from the depths of the blog archive—one I love, but that is hidden somewhere back in the blog’s beginnings and rarely receives company. On the opposite weeks, I’ll continue sharing new reviews. I hope that hits the sweet spot between last year’s every-other-week posts and the previous summers’ “month of re-runs.” We shall see!

May your summer be sweet, sunny, and popsicle-sticky. And may it be filled with great books.


Today’s post was originally published in August, 2013.

Our minivan smells like potato chips, sweaty shoes and chlorine. We find crumbs where there shouldn’t be crumbs, and little lost toys secreted in nooks and crannies. We know all of the songs on a handful of albums by heart; when we sleep we see the road unroll behind our tired eyes.

But, my friends, we are finally home.

Tell Me Story (Story Cards) | Little Book, Big Story

For the last twelve days, we’ve been off and on I-90, driving from our corner of Washington state to Mount Rushmore, where we spent four lovely days with extended family before piling back in the van and retracing our route. My husband has driven for hours, and I have heard the word, “Mom?” countless times, while perfecting the dexterity needed to fish toys out from beneath seats without turning around. We have loved (almost) every minute of it.

But it really is nice to be home.

We didn’t have a lot of time for reading on our trip, so today’s post is going to be a little different: we’re not talking about a bound book, but a deck of cards meant to inspire our own stories—a portable item, perfect for restaurants, quiet evenings in hotels and, yes, car seats.

Each set of Tell Me a Story cards features 36 beautifully illustrated, surprisingly durable cards. Each card features an illustration (but no words). From card to card, recurring characters appear: here, the bear holds a button. There, he chats with a pig. It’s up to you and your child to tell the story that brings him from one scene to the next.

Tell Me Story (Story Cards) | Little Book, Big Story

A set of game ideas is included with the set, and most of them look like they’d be fun. But we’ve enjoyed free-styling with ours: shuffling them up or spreading them out and telling a story card by card. My two-year-old loves to rifle through them, just looking. (So I keep them in my purse, just in case.)

What is your favorite approach to storytelling in your family?


Tell Me a Story: Creative Story Cards
eeBoo

Dangerous Journey | Oliver Hunkin

I love it when I’m wrong about books.

Years ago, a friend showed me this one and I considered how excellent a children’s rendition of A Pilgrim’s Progress would be. I read a few sample pages and loved the tone of the story. But the illustrations—they were so intense. So many pointy teeth and warty giants! Egad. I thought that maybe some day my daughters might appreciate it—maybe. But at that point, we were still having nightmares about VeggieTales, so that day seemed a long way off.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, some wise educator included Dangerous Journey in our history curriculum, so we gave it a read, even though I was still pretty sure at least one of the girls was way too small for it and another would listen to the story while giving every bodily clue that she hated it.

But I was wrong: Dangerous Journey became our favorite read aloud, the one that got applause when the girls saw it in the stack. “It’s Dangerous Journey day!” became something they said with the same enthusiasm they show for the ice cream truck in the summer. (Note: I am not exaggerating for effect.)

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

I’m so glad I was wrong about that, because reacquainting the girls with the story of Pilgrim’s Progress (we read Little Pilgrim’s Progress a few years ago) gave us a beautiful shared analogy for the Christian life that we’ve come back to often since our Dangerous Journey days ended. When someone descends into the depth of a terrible mood, I can draw them back gently with, “Remember when Christian left the path? Do you remember where he ended?” Or we can spur each other on in good works by remembering the Celestial City. Through Dangerous Journey, Pilgrim’s Progress has become part of our family’s shared language.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story


a quick comparison

For a moment, though, let’s consider what makes this version different from Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Dangerous Journey is told in picture book format (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is a chapter book), but even so, it’s language is a little more advanced. In it, Christian is an adult (he is a child in Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a perspective that obviously has its own benefits). Dangerous Journey’s illustrations are dark and a bit dated, but something about them really did connect with my girls (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is minimally illustrated), and I think the visuals helped them understand better what was happening in the story.

Both books are excellent, and both have found deserving spaces on our shelves, though they each approach the story of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City differently. And neither gave our girls nightmares. That’s a definite plus.


Thank you all!

Thank you so much to all of you who entered the Slugs & Bugs giveaway, and congrats to Emily and Jen, our winners! Since I can’t send you all home with an album, I’ll do the next best thing and play you out with a song. Here is the video for the song “The Ten Commandments.” Enjoy!


Dangerous Journey
Oliver Hunkin (1985)

Slugs and Bugs Giveaway

Last week, I raved about the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible, Vol. 3. This week, I get to give two copies of it to two of you! What do you need to do to win one of these beauties? I’m so glad you asked.

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, May 29. After that, two winners will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

Audrey Bunny | Angie Smith

Five years ago, when I started this blog, Phoebe was a tiny person still riding in my belly. I knew of a handful of beautiful children’s books, and I wanted others to know about them. (And my friends were most likely tired of hearing about them.)

Back then, looking for good books felt like mining for gold. I’d dig and dig and dig—at the library, on book blogs, or on Amazon—and every now and then I’d strike a shimming vein: a new author, a new blog, or an excellent publisher. I’d find a handful of new favorites to share, and then I’d go back to digging. There were stretches where I felt dangerously close to running out of books to review, because it wasn’t easy to find great books for kids that were beautiful, well-made, and rich in the gospel.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

But now, there are times when it feels as though I’m standing beneath a faucet turned on full. So many good books have come out in the last few years—great books on church history, Bible stories that link a single story to the Big Story of Scripture, books that tell that Big Story from start to finish, biographies of believers from different ages and backgrounds. My blog schedule is typically filled for 2-3 months. It’s glorious.

But there is one category that I’m hungry for, one that still makes me feel like a miner striking it rich when I find one: beautifully written stories that aren’t about the gospel but that are saturated with it. These are stories that are rich in grace and goodness, that are written by authors with a Christian worldview, but that may not be specifically Christian in theme.

Audrey Bunny is one of these.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Audrey is a stuffed bunny who lived in the barrel at the toy store until the day a young girl came and claimed her. But Audrey has a defect, and she dreads the day the little girl discovers it. But when that day comes, the girl doesn’t respond at all the way Audrey feared she would. This is a book about God’s grace and love, but it doesn’t say so in the story. We simply see what that loves looks like as we watch this little girl love her bunny, imperfections and all.

Angie Smith and Breezy Brookshire also worked together on one of my favorite books, For Such a Time as This. In both books, the words and the illustrations are gorgeous. In the back of Audrey Bunny, there is a guide for parent discussion, so we have the means to link the story to a deeper discussion on God’s unconditional love, but as we read, we’re free to enjoy the story itself without feeling tugged toward a neat moral at the end.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

And I appreciate this freedom. There is certainly a place for stories that do link, within the story itself, to the deeper truths of Scripture and that clearly explain  that connection. But I also value these stories that allow for open-ended discussions with kids or that simply make for beautiful reading—books that store away, in our children’s memories, one image of the kind of love God has for us.


coming soon!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

I have brand new copies of Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible Vol. 3 for you! Huzzah! I’ll publish details on how to enter the giveaway next week, so prepare yourself.


One last note (I promise)

Today, the toddler I read those beautiful books to turns ten.

I couldn’t find a recent picture of her (a situation I’ll remedy later by photographing her having an epic birthday adventure), but this photo, taken on the day we spent hours in the rain, throwing rocks into the bay, will do nicely. She counts that rainy afternoon among her favorite memories, and I remember why: the satisfying plunk of stones hitting the water, the promise of hot chocolate after, the birds diving for snacks as we watched them.

Rainy Day | Little Book, Big Story

It’s one of my favorite memories, too.


Audrey Bunny
Angie Smith; Breezy Brookshire (2013)