Category: Elementary (Ages 5-8) (page 2 of 20)

John Ronald’s Dragons | Caroline McAlister

Announcement!

The hyper-observant among you (I am decidedly not one of these, my husband will assure you) may have noticed that the “Bookshop” link is no longer available in the menu up there. Alas! Amazon no longer supports the store feature, so I had to retire it. The Book List is still there, though, so if you want a flyover view of my favorite titles, that’s the place to look.

That is all.


There are those who like to know the story behind their favorite stories, and there are those who don’t. Lydia is one of the latter. Biographies of her favorite authors, interviews or seminars—when offered, she turns them down with a polite “No, thank you.” She maintains that she likes the stories the way they are, without bothering with the shadows and scaffolds behind them.

But I am one of the former. I watched all of the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. I read interviews with favorite authors, as well as prefaces, introductions, afterwords, and author’s notes. Those “in progress” videos my favorite illustrators post to Instagram are among my life’s simple pleasures.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And so books like John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, which tell the life of a beloved author in words and pictures, are just my cup of tea. But this one, with its well-told story and endearing illustrations, suited Lydia, too. McAlister follows JRR Tolkien from childhood until the creation of The Hobbit, using Tolkien’s lifelong love of dragons to shape a story that deals gently but honestly with childhood, loss, war, and love.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations, meanwhile, are beautiful. I know there’s a better adjective out there to describe them, something that conveys a sense of coziness, of light and dark, of delight, but I haven’t found it. Her surprising use of perspective and the way she works biographical and historical detail into each painting (and documents them in, yes, the Illustrator’s Note) adds another layer of meaning to the story, allowing us to read, in the margins, more about the inventive Tolkien and the major events of his life.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

John Ronald’s Dragons gives us an enchanting look into the story behind one of our favorite stories, and it’s one I know our family will return to again and again. It also motivated me to look for the story behind that story, and in my sleuthing I found a fascinating post about Eliza Wheeler’s research trip to Oxford, as well as this trailer for John Ronald’s Dragons. I also found her on Instagram.


John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of JRR Tolkien
Caroline McAlister, Eliza Wheeler (2017)

At Night | Jonathan Bean

First, Two (and a half) Things:

1) We started school last week, and while I know that, eventually, the books will stop smelling new–the pens will run down; enthusiasm will wane–I took an informal poll on Friday, and the results are in: we love homeschooling. Thank you all for your encouragement during this summer of planning (that is, guessing) and research! You are a lovely lot, and it’s a privilege to write for you.

Back to School 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

Back to School (Pre-K, 2nd & 4th Grade)

That leads me to my second thing:

1.5) Though we are now officially homeschooling our daughters, it has always been important to me that this blog appeal to parents, regardless of how we all educate or raise our kids. My goal is to not turn this, even accidentally, into a blog about homeschooling.

I will continue to flavor my reviews with glimpses into our family’s life together, because it has always been an important part of my plan to let you get to know me, at least a little, so that you can decide whether or not you trust my reviews or feel you need to take them with a grain of salt. These peeks will probably now include an occasional mention of our educational endeavors at home, because that is what we are doing. But it is not what I think you should be doing. Please remember that. And please know that as I write, I am thinking of you, however you educate your kids, and my hope is–as it always has been–to introduce you to titles that your family will love, whether you read them after a full day of traditional schooling, as a part of your school day at home, or something in between those two.

Back to School 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

(Why Josie was not in the photo)

In short, this is not a homeschooling blog now. It is a blog about books, for parents who love Jesus and who long for their children to love him, too. It is also a blog with some big news:

2) I tried writing every other week, and while it won me some time to read curriculum, I found that I really, really missed writing here. I actually wrote less overall (and, without my own weekly deadlines, spent more time aimlessly roaming the internet), and that was sad. But I love this blog, I love writing about books, and sharing only one book every other week just didn’t satisfy. So I’m back. I shall henceforth see you every week! Huzzah!


At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

We love the books of Jonathan Bean. We first learned about them when we read, at Sarah MacKenzie‘s urgent recommendation, This is My Home, This is My School. We loved that book. We studied the illustrations and searched for every hidden detail.

Then my Sarah noticed, on the back of the book, that Jonathan Bean had published several other books. “Mom!” she said. “I want to read them!”

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

How could I say no to that? I reserved them all at the library and they trickled into our library basket, a few at at time. We loved Big Snow and Building Our House. But my favorite by far was this humble book, At Night.

Set in the city, At Night follows one small girl who cannot sleep. The text is brief and poetic; the illustrations beautiful. If you only know Bean’s other books, this one comes as a surprise: the illustrations are not quite as energetic as some of his others, and that’s perfect for a story about a sticky summer’s night.

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

Though this book is set in the city rather than the countryside featured in Building Our House and This is My Home, This is My School, it still points beautifully to the world beyond the city. And it contains one of the sweetest examples of . . . well, I don’t want to tell you, because the quiet surprise of it is part of what makes this book so lovely. But At Night is a book worth reading during these last weeks of summer, just before the evenings cool down.

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story


At Night
Jonathan Bean (2007)

From the Good Mountain | James Rumford

As you know, we are embarking on our first year of full-time home school, and for me, that means lots and lots of reading. Reading about schedules and curriculum. Reading about God, and how big he is and how faithful. Reading about educational philosophies. And about people’s experiences with and opinions on educational philosophies.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

One of the philosophies I came across again and again was that of Charlotte Mason. I have always pulled in some elements from her work into our family life here and there, but I spent time this spring reading about her work more closely. And I was smitten all over again with the idea of “living books.” I’ve mentioned them previously on this blog, because that is, really, what I try to review: books by authors who aren’t writing to sell, but are genuinely passionate about their story or subject and able to write about it knowledgeably, truthfully, and well. I hope that every book on this blog qualifies for that definition.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

But I found today’s book when I was doing some heavy Charlotte Mason reading, and it struck me within the first few sentences that From the Good Mountain was just the sort of book Mason must have meant when she defined living books. This is a biography of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, written playfully in riddles and illustrated in a way that allows us to see what those first books looked like. James Rumford writes and illustrates this book, but he is also a bookbinder, so the entire process of binding books is laid out by someone who knows the work firsthand and clearly loves it.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

Rumford also includes, at the end, a note on the history of books both past and present. Through his words and images he contemplates the future of books and ebooks, but not in a gloomy “Alas! The end of paper is near” tone. He sounds almost excited about what the future holds, which reminded me that, though we love books, it is words that make up their life, and those words can exist in many forms.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

So, this book is a story about the making of Gutenberg’s printing press. But it is about much, much more, and the enthusiasm that bubbles out in asides about the books’ materials and beauty is what makes this book more than ink and paper. That enthusiasm is what makes it live, and what gives it a place on our family’s shelves. May it find room on your shelves, too.


From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World
James Rumford (2012)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy) | Grace Lin

Lydia marched downstairs, her copy of Cricket open to the page titled “Cricket Readers Recommend.”

“I want to do this,” she said, holding it out for me to read. And lo! “Cricket Readers Recommend” is a page dedicated to kid-written book reviews. My daughter was telling me she wanted to write and submit a book review for general consumption.

My cheeks pinked; my eyes watered. I sniffled (just a little). “Of course,” I said, assuming she’d write about one of her well-worn Redwall novels.

But: “I want to write about my new favorite book,” she said, and the smile she gave me was full not of courageous mousemaids, but of undersea avenues lit by pearls, of magistrates turned to tigers, of sorrow sealed into a stone. “When the Sea Turned to Silver. You’d like it, Mom—it’s beautiful.”

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

She was right. I started it later that day, and it was beautiful.

When the Sea Turns to Silver is the third in a trilogy of books by Grace Lin—the only one I hadn’t yet read. The other two (Starry River of the Sky and Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) had been sitting on my list of books to review for over a year, suffering the same fate as The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic: I loved them. I wanted to share them with you. But how could I possibly describe those books?

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

Grace Lin creates, in this trilogy, a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create a new sort of story set in a world infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. Even the illustrations (also done by Lin) and the book design have an ever-changing aspect that suits each story.

But Lydia’s review sums the book up nicely (and I think her last few sentences apply perfectly to the whole trilogy):

Pinmei, a shy little girl, has always lived on the Endless Mountain with her grandmother, Amah. But when the emperor takes Amah, Pinmei and her best friend Yishan go on a quest to save her. The story is a mixture of fantasy and reality with stories that come true and characters that were thought not to be real. The twists and turns are mysterious and secretive. You should really read it!

We have read many (perhaps most?) of Grace Lin’s books, and we’ve yet to meet one we didn’t love. But this trilogy is our favorite. I can’t wait to share it with my younger daughters and, with Lydia’s nudging, I couldn’t wait any longer to share it with you.

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


Starry River of the Sky (2014)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2011)
When the Sea Turns to Silver (2016)
Grace Lin

For Such a Time as This | Angie Smith

After reading a picture book that praised Eve for her courage in defying God, I almost quit my search. But the stories of so many women are sown quietly throughout Scripture, and I loved the idea of drawing those stories out. I loved the idea of reminding our daughters, in a time when Paul is derided as a misogynist and the question of women’s roles in church is hotly debated, that they have a treasured place in God’s Great Story.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Moses went on to guide the Israelites out of Egypt, but his mother, sister, and midwife shielded the infant Moses from Pharoah’s wrath. Israel fell into fragments, yet one Moabite woman became the thread God used to sew redemption into Israel’s tapestry. Surely some author has told the stories of those women in an honest, yet beautiful way? Right? One that steers clear of the “bad girls of the Bible” motif?

Yes. Dear friends, the answer is yes. Angie Smith did it, and she did it well.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is an anthology of stories about the women of Scripture, and there are more stories in it that I thought possible: Mary and Sarah and Esther are in here. Ruth, of course. But Gomer is in here, and Delilah and Jezebel and Sapphira, too. Smith did not shy away from the less savory characters of Scripture, but even in their stories found the beauty of the gospel pricking through the soot and grime. She approaches them all from a gracious angle, not asking “What does this tell me about me?” but “What does it say about God that he would graft this figure into his family tree, that he would use this figure to do mighty things despite her brokenness?”

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations get the tension of that question just right: her fluid, glowing watercolors are punctuated by understated pencil drawings. By mixing those two, she captures the tension of our sin and God’s grace in a luminous way.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is, I suppose, a selective story Bible. It’s obviously not comprehensive, but focuses on the women of Scripture specifically. But it is also a devotional, as each story ends with a section for young girls to read alone or with parents, and for a prayer that families can pray together for their daughters. If your daughter has a birthday this summer and you invite us to her party, be warned: we’ll probably buy her this book.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Update (Sept. 2017)

We are currently reading this aloud as a family and I love it more after each reading. We’ve read about Abigail and Bathsheba, Hagar and the Queen of Sheba, and Angie Smith does a beautiful job of connecting each story to the Big Story of Scripture, while drawing in details that bring their stories to life. My daughters are enthralled with all these women they had never met before, and I am a little obsessed with the illustrations.

I just wanted you to know that. I loved this book when I wrote about it, but we love it now, all of us. The girls each take sections from the devotional readings, I read the prayer, and even Phoebe repeats our “Word of the Day” and memory verse after me. This book is one of our favorites now.


For Such a Time as This
Angie Smith, Breezy Brookshire (2014)

Reformation ABCs | Stephen J. Nichols

Thank you all so much for your encouraging words after my last post! You all are good people, and it was such a joy to hear from you. And I know I said that I was going to post every other week, but when I sat down to my calendar this morning and started scheduling posts two weeks apart, I hated it. I’ll stick to my word for a while, but I may not last long publishing at half speed—we’ll see. But here, today, is a new post about a new favorite book:


One of the books that inspired me to start this blog was Stephen J. Nichols’ Church History ABCs. From the illustrations to the topic to the fun Nichols clearly has with language, I had to share it with friends, family, the school, and our whole church body. A book blog seemed the best and most expedient way to do that. So I started one.

But now Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard have a new book out. And it’s even—gasp!—better than the first one.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

While Church History ABCs highlights figures from various points of church history, Reformation ABCs focuses on figures within a single time period. That narrowed focus makes this book a little easier to pair with history curriculum or Reformation Day celebrations, but by viewing stories through a smaller historical window, it also yields a host of fascinating biographies on people whose lives overlapped either in friendship or influence (or both).

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

The book itself has a smaller format than Church History ABCs, and because these books are written for the late elementary crowd, I like that. These are picture books for kids who might think they’re too old for picture books (as if there is such a thing!), and I think the smaller format on this book allows it to sneak in there, right between the picture books and the chapter books. Ned Bustards illustrations are still striking and I love them; Stephen Nichols’ language is still quirky and engaging, and I love that.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

In short, Reformation ABCs took a bunch of things I loved about Church History ABCs, added some other stuff to it that I also love, and made a beautiful new book that I couldn’t wait to share with you.


Reformation ABCs
Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard (2017)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon | Jennifer Trafton

The plight of the quirky, artistic kid is not unknown to me. I was the child who preferred drawing indoors to recess, and who, in seventh grade, curried favor with the popular girls by drawing them pictures of horses. (In high school, I designed their tattoos.)

To this day, it’s rare to find me without a pen (or a collection of pens, to my daughters’ delight), and if required to sit still for any length of time—say, for a sermon or in a waiting room—I’ll be the one covertly doodling in any margin I can find. So I should clarify: the plight of the quirky artistic kid is not unknown to me, nor is the plight of the awkwardly doodling adult. (This TED Talk  made me feel a lot better about that last one, though.)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

So I recognized in Jennifer Trafton’s new hero, Henry Penwhistle, a kindred spirit. The premise of this book is simple: Henry draws a dragon on the back of his bedroom door and the dragon comes to life, slipping off the door and into the world, where he runs amok. For Henry, this is akin to learning that one’s diary has been stolen and is now a New York Times bestseller. His art is out there for all to see, and the results so far aren’t pretty.

But Henry’s heroic quest to vanquish the dragon (with the help of his wonderful friends) is both hilarious and sweet, in just the right doses. Jennifer Trafton’s books are a delight to read aloud, and Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations suit the story beautifully.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Her encouragement to quirky, artistic kids everywhere (we have a few in our house) is invaluable:

Once you make something . . . a picture, or a story, or a song, or an invention, or even a delicious meal, it isn’t yours anymore. It has a life. It could spend its life lying on your paper, staring up at you and saying, ‘Thank you for drawing me. Aren’t I wonderful?’ Or it could fill the stomach of a queen or give strength to a poor man in the street. It could wrap itself around a city and make the people in it cry an ocean, or it could wiggle into the ears of a baby and make her burst into giggles. . . . All you can do is make the best thing you can, and love it as hard as you can, and let it go loose in the world, and watch what happens.

This is a beautiful book, both for the kids who feel on the outside of things, and for the ones who seem warmly at the center of things but would benefit from an interlude on the outskirts. This a book for the artists and for the ones who have forgotten that they, too, are capable of making beautiful things. Henry and the Chalk Dragon is for children who like to laugh and for ones who don’t but need to, and it’s for grown-ups, who can always use a reminder about the power of chivalry and poetry and art.

That is: this is a book for all of us. And I suggest you go read it with your family now.


Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Jennifer Trafton, Benjamin Schipper (2017)