Category: Grown-Ups (page 2 of 2)

4 Cookbooks That Feed Your Family In More Way Than One

Cookbooks aren’t the standard fare of this blog, I know. But these all have something extra, something that makes them fun to read and that feeds your family more than just food. They contain fuel for dinner table discussions, incentive to take time out with your spouse or to invite your kids into the kitchen as you cook.

4 Cookbooks That Feed Your Family In More Ways Than One | Little Book, Big Story

My copies of these four books are heavily annotated and dog-eared beyond the point of respectability. And, really, that is the best endorsement I can give any cookbook.

The Family Dinner, by Laurie David and Kristin Uhrenholdt

The Family Dinner, by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

Some books travel through circles of friends, like parenting books or North and South. I encountered The Family Dinner while standing at my friend Jessie’s kitchen island, flipping through it while she chopped peppers for dinner, and resolved to buy my own copy as soon as I got home. I have since passed my copy to friends as we chat over cutting boards and cold beer in my kitchen and have seen it spring up on their own shelves later.

Vietnamese Noodle Soup (from The Family Dinner) | Little Book, Big Story

This book is part cookbook, part treatise on the whys and hows of the family dinner. Laurie David is passionate about encouraging families to come back to the table and, to that end, includes everything from celebrity interviews on the importance of family dinner to tips on decorating a table, growing your own food, and cooking with kids. Two whole chapters at the back are filled with ideas for starting after-supper conversations and approaching meals with gratitude.

And then, there are Kristin Uhrenholdt’s recipes. I have come awfully close to cooking my way through this book multiple times, and I have yet to find a recipe that I didn’t like. There was one I made the night I felt queasy—I’m reluctant to revisit that one. But the recipes here get a lot of flavor from a few simple ingredients and run the spectrum from comfort food to fresh, inventive, healthy food. I miss beef when I cook from this book too regularly, but that’s an okay problem to have.

Peanutty Noodles (from The Family Dinner) | Little Book, Big Story

Favorite recipes:
Vietnamese Soup in a Teapot (p. 73)
Moroccan Chicken Tagine (p. 87)
Greek Meatballs (p. 98)
When You Need Chocolate Pudding Fast (p. 213)

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez | Little Book, Big Story

Ashley and I were, for a time, members of the same church. She had a baby, I did not (was there ever a time when I did not?), and I loved spending time with her in her sunny kitchen, learning to butter papery folds of phyllo while making covert mental notes on how to care for both phyllo and babies. I don’t remember just how it happened, but eventually I ended up working with her as a sort of apprentice/minion in her dessert catering business. From her learned how to make a pristine meringue, a sunny lemon curd, and a life-changing chocolate chip cookie. (I never mastered the lemon curd; I still make the cookies almost weekly.)

I also learned that a broken salted caramel macaroon is a good thing for the minion, because she gets to eat it.

Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies | Little Book, Big Story

I tell you this because you should know that I have a definite bias toward this book. But you shouldn’t let it color the way you read the rest of this sentence: this cookbook is one of my top two cookbooks (the other one is listed above). I bought the book because I know Ashley and I know Ashley’s food and I would gladly pay $20 to have a little more of either Ashley’s company or her food, but I love Date Night In because I have cooked my way through over half of the recipes and have yet to find a dud. I have found, instead, a pulled pork recipe that has taken precedence over all other pulled pork recipes. I have found the inspiration to make my own hamburger buns, my own pickled peppers, my own cream soda. I have found a recipe for brownies that I can only look at on days when I feel prepared to eat half a pan of them by myself.

Date Night In, by Ashley Rodriguez | Little Book, Big Story

The book is a collection of menus based on Ashley’s weekly at-home dates with her husband, Gabe. They feature drinks, appetizers, entrees, salads, and desserts, and while they’re a little fancier than our usual mid-week fare, they’re easily adapted to suit tighter schedules, smaller budgets, and larger families. In their full form, they’re perfect for special occasions—like dates with my husband.

So many of these recipes have become staples in our home that choosing between them was painful. But here is the shortest list of favorites I came up with (of course, every other recipe mentioned in this post qualifies, too). They may not sound fancy, but they taste fancy. And that is enough:

Favorite recipes:
Olive oil pizza dough (p. 14)
Rhubarb Sour (p. 27)
Creamy Shallot Vinaigrette (p. 28)
Our Perfect Burger with Special Sauce (p. 154)
Baked Beans (p. 224)
Chocolat Chaud (p. 274)

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

When you buy a new cookbook, you don’t expect your six-year-old to run off with it before you can read it and return the book two hours later, having read it from cover to cover. But that is what happened when I bought The Forest Feast, and given the beautiful illustrations and my daughter’s affection for food I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised.

The emphasis of The Forest Feast is on entertaining, so the recipes are quick to put together and simple—few have more than five ingredients. They’re vegetarian, but easy to corrupt with a little prosciutto or sausage, and they’re great fare for birthday parties, quick dinners, and potlucks.

But here is what I love best about this book: because of the beautiful format and simple instructions, this has become a favorite for Lydia and me to use together. When planning parties, I can hand it to her and say, “Pick out five things you’d like to make. They can’t be too expensive or too time-consuming to make, and we can’t use forks to eat them. Go!” It’s like a scavenger hunt, except she’s learning party-planning life lessons like “More than one kind of cheese makes a recipe expensive,” or “Mom will only cut so many leeks.” And we get to eat the reward.

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

After she’s chosen, more often than not, there’s at least one recipe that she can tackle alone, like dipped strawberries or apricot bites. And she often pushes me to try something just a little fancier than I might have otherwise, because her beautifully child-like lack of foresight is good for my tendency to overthink things.

And the book’s design? Beautiful. Stunning. So pretty it merits a few extra pictures.

The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson | Little Book, Big Story

Now you know why Lydia absconded with it.

Favorite recipes:
Gorgonzola grapes (p. 42)
Eggplant Brie “Tacos” (p. 158)
Quinoa Pecan Frittata Muffins (p. 178)
Rosemary shortbread (p. 202)

The Silver Spoon for Children

The Silver Spoon for Children (a cookbook) | Little Book, Big Story

We have a few cookbooks made just for kids. They’re fun and the recipes in them aren’t terrible, but they lack some quality that The Silver Spoon For Children has in spades. Besides the charmingly illustrated recipes, this book has a clear intent to teach kids to cook—to savor food, to prepare it well, and to know their way around a kitchen. None of the recipes here are intended to make food shaped like animals; not a single one calls for sprinkles. But there is a recipe for homemade pasta, and there is one for chicken breasts stuffed with mascarpone.

The Silver Spoon for Children (a cookbook) | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps I’ve made The Silver Spoon For Children sound like a serious tome meant to turn kids into somber creatures, dithering between this spice and that one. It’s not. The illustrations bring a bit of wit and playfulness to each recipe, and the visual layout makes it fun to work through with kids. Many of the recipes are still too advanced for my young chefs, but I love asking them to pick a recipe for the week’s menu (consequently, the book falls open at the recipe for macaroni and cheese) and call out the recipe’s steps while I make it.

The Silver Spoon for Children | Little Book, Big Story

Favorite recipes:
Polenta Gnocchi (p. 64)
Beans with Sausages (p. 68)
Chicken Stew with Olives (p. 74)
Fruits of the Forest Ice Cream (p. 98)

What about you? Which cookbooks do you rely on?

Of all the books I read in 2014, I liked these 10 the best

Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby—not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.

Literary Highlights 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014—so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.

Reading List | Little Book, Big Story

I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself—books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (the series)by L.M. Montgomery

I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)

On Writing Wellby William Zinsser

On Writing Well | Little Book, Big Story

This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zinsser says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)

North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell

Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs (I went on at length about this on the Deeply Rooted blog).

In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)

Slouching Towards Bethlehemby Joan Didion

Slouching Toward Bethlehem | Little Book, Big Story

In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.

But at William Zinsser’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of  one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.

 A Loving Lifeby Paul Miller

A Loving Life | Little Book, Big Story

This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.

The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White

The Once and Future King | Little Book, Big Story

This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.

Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn

Money, Possessions and Eternity | Little Book, Big Story

Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is such a lively author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well—so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.

For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Colorby Leatrice Eiseman & Keith Recker

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more—all in one huge and beautiful book!

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin

There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story—the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.

I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexadre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it—but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.

And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (Update: it doesn’t fall apart at the end!)

Featured Author: CS Lewis

When I choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just skip to the part where you read any book they have ever written.”

Today’s featured author is one who looms large in the recent history of Christian thought. He is one that you’ve doubtless encountered and may already love, but the thought that you may not have gone further into his work than The Chronicles of Narnia finally motivated me to put pen to paper and draft this post. Perhaps I’m reminding you of an old friend. Perhaps. But I hope that, for some of you, this post serves as a welcome introduction to a new author, one whose work will earn a well-dogeared place in your own library: CS Lewis.


To be perfectly honest, I labored through the first chapters of Mere Christianity when I first encountered it at 19. I made a few false starts before I pushed on through those introductory chapters and into the heart of the book, but once there I realized that I was in the hands of an author adept at explaining complex concepts, and I began to see that the very questions I wrestled with as a new Christian could not only be answered, but could be answered in a logical way. (I have read the whole book many times since.)

C.S. Lewis fought in one world war but lived through them both, and he was a writer that spoke specifically to his time. But his voice carries, and his answers to the big questions about God and Christianity still satisfy readers today, when we, like the British soldiers and civilians of his original audience, struggle to understand why we should bother with Christianity–or any religion–at all.

Yet while he reasoned clearly on complex issues, he was not above telling stories that still appeal to children as well as adults, Christians as well as non-Christians, bookworms and those who are only caught by a good, old-fashioned adventure. His works span every genre and range in level of difficulty from those written for children (The Chronicles of Narniato works for adults; they cover everything from the afterlife (The Great Divorce) to prayer (Letters to Malcolm) to the question of pain and suffering (The Problem of Pain), all from a layman’s perspective, but with a scholar’s depth and a pitch-perfect ear for language (and humor).

Mere Christianity | Little Book, Big Story

C.S. Lewis seemed always to have the perfect metaphor for the most abstract ideas, and that is, I suppose, why his illustrations turn up in sermon after sermon: if C.S. Lewis has written about the issue in question, then I doubt if anyone else has written about it better.

” . . . it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy has been offered to us. We are far too easily pleased, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.” (The Weight of Glory)

Fiction for Children

– The Chronicles of Narniathese are the books that earned Lewis a place on this blog, after all.

Fiction for Adults

– The Space Trilogythese are all worth reading, but I bet you’ll be particularly taken with the second book, Perelandra.

The Science Fiction Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

– The Screwtape Lettersletters from a senior devil to a junior devil, on how to tempt and enslave a man.

– The Great Divorcean exploration of the afterlife, in narrative form. Utterly unforgettable.

– Til We Have Facesa retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, told by Psyche’s older sister. Unique and absorbing.

Why Should You Read C.S. Lewis? | Little Book, Big Story

Nonfiction for Adults

– Mere Christianityan examination of what Christians believe and how they live in the light of those beliefs. A classic, and for good reason.

– The Weight of Glorya collection of talks and sermons given at various points in his career. One of my favorites, it contains a number of his best-known illustrations, and is a good introduction to his nonfiction.

– The Four LovesLewis writes about the four different types of love.

Why Should You Read C.S. Lewis? | Little Book, Big Story

– Surprised by JoyLewis’s “autobiography of faith,” in which he examines his own conversion from atheism to Christianity.

– Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayerone side of a correspondence about prayer.

– Reflections on the Psalmsa concise meditation on the psalms, from the perspective of Lewis as a layman. He answers some of the common issues in the Psalms (the vindictive violence, for example) in satisfying ways.

– Letters to Childrensweet and charming responses from Lewis to the children who wrote to him about his Narnia books. This book is lesser known, but it’s a treasure.

 

Featured Author: Madeleine L’Engle

In response to the question, “What is today?”, please select one of the following:

a) your birthday

b) Daylight Savings

c) the first anniversary of Little Book, Big Story

If you selected a), happy birthday! I owe you a cupcake. If you selected b), yikes. Rough week, then?

But if you selected c), well done! Let the lights flash and  the bells ring and the announcer crow, “We have a winner!”

For one whole year, I’ve been writing book reviews, and to celebrate, I thought I’d do something a little special and introduce a new category to the blog. (I know. Wild times.) Today, we move off the beaten path of weekly reviews and into the fresh green grass of featured authors.

You see, as I very thoughtfully choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just go get one of their books and start reading.”

To kick things off, we can’t start with just anyone. We’ll begin with the one author who almost had a Rosenburg daughter named in her honor (yes, I love this author that much): Madeleine L’Engle.


L'Engle - PortraitI love our house. It is quirky and dated, with a bright yellow kitchen in which people congregate and a laundry room door that opens with a skeleton key. When we bought it, we talked about how well the house would suit us when we grew old and we have visions of planting fruit trees and watching them grow from saplings to established, consistent companions.

Despite my love for this place, though, there is another house in my heart—a farmhouse with drafty attic bedrooms and a vine-covered wraparound porch. That house has a bright yellow kitchen in which people congregate, but that kitchen looks out over a wooded hillside and perhaps a mountain peak or two. Old-fashioned lamps sit in the windows of that house and cast pools of light on the slumbering kitchen garden and fruit trees too old for us (or our grandparents) to have known them as saplings.

I have loved that house for years. The house and the lands around it seemed so settled in my imagination that it was with a start that I realized, upon rereading A Wrinkle in Time, that the house was basically the Murrays’ house, forever endeared to me by that opening scene, where Meg, her mother and Charles Wallace gather in the kitchen for a midnight cup of cocoa. As I read on in Madeleine L’Engle’s works, I realized that it was also partly Crosswicks, the old farmhouse in rural Connecticut that she and her family shared, which just goes to show how vividly L’Engle’s books are imprinted on my memory.

Though best known for A Wrinkle in Time and the four subsequent books about the Murray family, L’Engle has written over sixty books of nonfiction, poetry and fiction (for children and adults). I have read and reread over twenty of her books and, of those I have read, I have loved nearly every one.

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

Her fiction for children is bright and original, full of characters that you can’t help loving by the end of the book. She tries her hand at many things and usually succeeds: the Time quartet deals with everything from tesseracts to mitochondria, while Meet the Austins paints a beautiful picture of family life. Her essays are quiet and slow-moving, but unforgettable, with Walking on Water taking the cake as my favorite volume of L’Engle’s nonfiction. All four of The Crosswicks Journals follow close behind.

L’Engle is a Christian author, so her works delve into issues like love and Creation in a deep, lasting way. Theologically, I don’t agree with her point for point, but on the central stuff, she’s reliable, and I generally put her books down with the idea that I’ve arrived at a new understanding of how the world fits together. I also tend to play the piano more when I read Madeleine L’Engle (she could describe a sonata beautifully), and wish I understood higher mathematics (she was also incredibly smart).

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

I cannot attest to the goodness of every single Madeleine L’Engle book out there—and I’m honestly not that sold on her fiction for adults—but I will leave you with a list of my favorite works for children and grown-ups.

Children

– A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, A Wind in the DoorA Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters

– The Austin Family Chronicles, with particular emphasis on Meet the Austins and A Ring of Endless Light, but with the possible exception of The Young Unicorns (I wasn’t crazy about that one, either, and I don’t think you’d miss much if you skipped it)

The Austins | Little Book, Big Story

Adults

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

– The Crosswicks Journals (A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The Irrational Season, and A Two-Part Invention)

The Anne of Green Gables Series | L.M. Montgomery

L.M. Montgomery’s books make me want to befriend some patch of land and explore it thoroughly until I know and have named every tree, every brook, every starry-eyed flower in its thickets. I want to wear clothes made from fabric with names that sound edible—chiffon, taffeta, voile—in colors like “dove gray,” “dusky rose” and “pale green.”

Oh, to eat preserves from quilted jelly jars and don hats festooned with silk flowers and curling ostrich feathers! (I also want to clean, because I harbor a strong suspicion that Marilla Cuthbert and Mrs. Rachel Lynde would not approve of my standards of housekeeping.)

Anne of Green Gables (series), by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

Montgomery’s writing transports me so completely to the Prince Edward Island of yesteryear that it is with a jolt that I come to at the close of the chapter to find myself camped out on the couch with a sleeping baby on my chest and a mean crick in my neck (a scene no less lovely, by the way—just slightly less romantic).

You have read Anne of Green Gables, of course. I had—twice—and had also acted in the play (some of you may recall that I married Gilbert Blythe), so I was more than familiar with Anne’s story. But in these early days of new motherhood, I decided to read on in the series and, in doing so, discovered a story of rare beauty.

Anne of Green Gables (series), by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (series), by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

Sometimes, when it is windy, I need a small assistant

Anne is an endlessly endearing, perfectly imperfect heroine, settled into a story of lush scenery and unforgettable characters. To walk with a character through childhood and into adulthood, to watch her friendships and marriage grow and change, is a delight. Montgomery’s ability to present Anne in the various stages of life without slackening the pace or vibrancy of the story, allowing the reader to watch Anne grow in wisdom as she becomes a mother, confronts loss and watches her own children mature without slackening, shows just how masterful an author she is.

Anne of Green Gables (series), by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

There is something singular about seeing a life spun out in story like that. I can’t help but hope that, in heaven, we’ll see our own lives in a similar way: we’ll step back from it a bit so we can see God’s delicate foreshadowing in our own stories and, knowing the end of things, we’ll see, in those moments when life seemed “a vale of tears,” the first glint of the glorious light up ahead.


Anne of Green Gables
L.M. Montgomery (1908)

The Advent Jesse Tree | Dean Lambert Smith

If it seems like I’m getting an absurdly early start on reviewing Christmas books, I apologize. Please consider it a kindness to you, because I love finding new Christmas books and traditions but loathe finding them on December 21 and having to try to remember them by November of the next year. I wanted to give you a head start.


I love Advent. The hymns and prayers of quiet expectation create a counterpoint to the holiday noise of stores, streets and schedules. The sense that the season isn’t now, not yet, but is on its way, lends our home a building suspense, one that is marked out daily by our favorite Advent celebration: the Jesse Tree.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the Jesse Tree in a nutshell: you start with twenty-five ornaments, each decorated with a particular symbol (I made mine with cheap ornaments from Michael’s and a gold paint pen). You gather a bunch of bare branches and stick them in a jar. Pinterest will tell you to spray paint your branches and nestle them into a twine-wrapped, be-ribboned jar, but ignore Pinterest. Pinterest is crazy. Bare branches in a Mason jar work fine.

Now, for every night of Advent, read a passage from The Advent Jesse Tree, and put the corresponding ornament on your makeshift tree. Got it? Those are the mechanics of the celebration.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

But the heart of it is in the readings, each of which draw a different story from the Bible to its final conclusion: Jesus. You begin in Genesis and read on to Jesus’s birth (with a peek forward into Revelation), stopping at the end of each story to remember who the story is really about. Abraham? Noah? Ruth? No. Jesus.

This book also includes hymns for each night, and questions for your children. There are readings for children and readings for adults, so you can customize this for your family. The hanging of ornaments is a simple routine (and a good one for the littlest hands), but it anchors our Advent in Scripture and reminds us that the heart of the holiday hubbub is not family, food or gifts, but the Giver of all of those good things.

Every night we are drawn back to the manger to rejoice in the work that God has done over centuries, thousands of years, in bringing his plan into effect: He came down as a child, made Himself—the Creator of everything—small, so that we could be magnified in him.

That is worth waiting for. That is worth remembering. That is worth celebrating.

Celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Read More About The Jesse Tree

For more ideas on how to make (or where to buy) Jesse tree ornaments, read my post, “A Quick Guide to Jesse Tree Ornaments.” You can also read more about our family’s Advent traditions in the post “Advent: What It Is and Why We Love It.”


The Advent Jesse Tree
Dean Lambert Smith (2011)

Reading the Bible as a Family

I have already reviewed a number of story Bibles and Bible stories here, but before we move much further down this road together, I’d like to pause and say something important: story Bibles are great. But the Bible itself is better.

Scripture is true and it is beautifully written (remember the image of Noah riding the waves over the tops of the submerged mountains?), but as adults we can grow a thick skin toward the language of the Bible. We begin to skim the stories that we know by heart, and as we do we lose sight of the shocking beauty of the story being told.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

But our children are hearing these things for the first time, and at some point they need to turn those onion-skin pages themselves and know that the words they’re hearing weren’t composed in a home office but in the heart of God himself. They were put to paper in prisons and deserts, written in grief and joy. Men died so we could hold them, leather bound and translated, in our own hands. This is a book unlike any other, and children need to know that from a young age.

Story Bibles are a wonderful aid when introducing kids to the whole of the Bible—especially when children are young and wiggly and love illustrations—but they are tools, meant to lead them on to the Word itself. If we stop at the paraphrase and consider our job done, we’ve merely fed them milk and failed to wean them onto solid food.

But that raises the question: how do you transition from reading story Bibles to reading the Bible itself with your children?

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

This is not a rhetorical question.

My children are young enough that we’re just beginning to move in this direction, so I am no authority. But I am a compulsive reader and an over-thinker of everything, so I have, of course, compiled a list of theoretical options. For those of you with experience reading the Bible with your children, please comment below and share any words of wisdom with the rest of us!

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

Sharing Scripture with Your Kids

– Gladys Hunt, in Honey For a Child’s Heart, shares what is probably my favorite approach: read a passage together after a meal. Then everyone, parents included, must ask a question about the passage and answer a question about the passage. Gladys Hunt writes:

This method requires that everyone think through what the passage is saying . . .We experience a great thing:  the joy of discovery. What is discovered for one’s self is always more meaningful than what is told to us by someone else.

– Marty Machowski’s excellent devotionals Long Story Short and Old Story New take families through the Old and New Testaments respectively, with chunks of reading straight from Scripture followed by solid questions. We’ve done Long Story Short off and on, and are continually surprised by what our girls pick up as we read.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

– I know of one family that has read through the classic devotional Daily Light on the Daily Path for years. This is an old book, recently released in the ESV translation, that offers carefully curated readings pulled straight from Scripture—the verses aren’t in their immediate context, but are fitted together into a bigger context that follows a larger theme for the day. It’s hard to explain, really, but the way the verses work together is lovely.

– The one thing I do actively implement is surprisingly simple: I share what I’m reading with my girls. I love M’Cheyne’s reading plan (though I may not finish every reading every day), and when the girls see me reading my Bible they often ask me to read to them—and so we’ve read Psalms together here and there, or passages from James. I read aloud until they wander off, and then go on reading to myself. It’s simple, but they seem to enjoy being drawn into my time with Scripture.

Reading the Bible as a family | Little Book, Big Story

So, those are my ideas. What about you? How do you read the Bible with your kids? If your kids are older, I’d especially love to hear any insights you might have from your vantage point.