Category: Holiday (page 1 of 7)

The Easter Story | Brian Wildsmith

I love celebrating Holy Week. I love it in the same way I love the anticipation of Advent, and the long meditation of Lent. I love living, day by day, the story of our Savior’s last week as a mortal man.

On Sunday, the triumphal procession. On Thursday, the Last Supper, Passover, the washing of feet. On Good Friday—oh, Good Friday—the Crucifixion, that startling ending and the piercing sorrow of it. The stunned silence of Holy Saturday.

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

And then: that first Easter morning, when the women gathered at Jesus’ tomb, come to minister to him only to find the tomb empty and angels waiting to bless them with the best news, the news that Jesus lives!

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

At our church on Easter morning, our pastor calls out to us at the start of the service, “He is risen!” And we, sleepy congregants who may have woken before dawn to come to the sunrise service before this one, call back, “He is risen indeed!” Our pastor doesn’t chide us for a lack of enthusiasm, but calls again, louder this time, “He is risen!” And we, still attending to fidgety children and crumpled bulletins, call back, “He is risen indeed!”

And again, still louder, “HE IS RISEN! Finally, we get it. Our hearts are warm, the tears gathering in some of our eyes as the joy in our pastor’s voice reaches us. The noise of it, the delight in our voices as we respond is palpable, the room filled with the good news as we call back, louder this time, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!”

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

At home, we have spent the week walking through Holy Week in Scripture and in our favorite picture books. We have read books that recount Jesus’ last week plainly, in gorgeous language straight from the Bible, and we have read books that come at the story from a fresh angle—from Peter’s perspective, from Petook’s, or in the case of The Donkey Who Carried a King or this book, Brian Wildsmith’s The Easter Story, through the eyes of the donkey both blessed and humbled by the honor of carrying the King of Kings into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The Easter Story, by Brian Wildsmith | Little Book, Big Story

Brian Wildsmith’s version is beautiful, the illustrations intricate and illuminated with gold accents that cry happily, “This story is something special! Attend to it!” We have had this one in our collection for years, and the joy evident in its creation and contagious in its reading makes it a fitting selection for this week, this Holy Week that is almost at its end.

May you all have a jubilant Easter, filled with delight and song and celebratory chocolate, for he is risen indeed!


The Easter Story
Brian Wildsmith (1993)

Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury

I made it my mission this year to find unusual Easter books, books that play variations of Easter’s main themes rather than hammer out the melody over and over. That is, I went looking for books that don’t recount the events of Holy Week in the usual way.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

We have a number of books that do that and I love them, but reading them repeatedly for the forty days of Lent can deaden the power and beauty of the resurrection story a bit by Easter, so this year, we tried something different: in Lent’s early weeks, we’ve been reading from books like At Jerusalem’s Gate and this one, Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury.  We’ve been savoring variations upon that main theme, whetting our appetite for the rich feast of books to come.

This book is similar in style to The Children’s Book of Virtues (also illustrated by Michael Hague). It contains accounts of the Easter story, but they’re tucked into a well-chosen collection of fairy tales, folk tales, poems, hymns and stories that all touch on Easter in some fashion. The stories we’ve read so far have been beautiful—”The Maid of Emmaeus,” especially, and “The Selfish Giant.” We’ve savored them slowly as a part of our homeschool mornings, and they’ve already become a valuable part of our Easter library.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

And Easter is coming! Soon we’ll pull out the old favorites and set this new favorite aside, but right now, this treasury is just right.


Easter Treasury
Michael Hague (1999)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)

In the Beginning | Deeply Rooted

When we tell the Christmas story, we often begin like this: “Once, there was a girl named Mary.” Or “Once upon a time in a manger.” Even the gospels open with things that happened here on earth—the birth of John, the words of Isaiah, or the genealogy of Jesus’ family. Only the gospel of John backs all the way up and starts the Christmas story right at the very beginning:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)

My newest piece, “In the Beginning,” went up on the Deeply Rooted blog this morning! In it, I got to look at how the Christmas Story fits into God’s larger story of redemption. You can read the full post here.

May you all have a Christmas that is restful in the deepest sense—a celebration centered on Christ, who tucked himself into a finite human body because he loves us. May that be your refrain as you travel, bake, and wipe noses: Because he loves us. Because he loves us. Because he loves us.

Merry Christmas.

The Christmas Promise | Alison Mitchell

When I pulled our Christmas books out of the attic this year, I couldn’t help but notice a theme: our collection is heavy on stories about the first Christmas and noticeably light on stories about any Christmas that came after.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

We have some notable exceptions (Great Joy; Saint Nicholas; An Early American Christmas), as well as the classics: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Snow Man, and Good King WenceslasWe even have the token Fancy Nancy Christmas book.

But every other book is set in a stable in Bethlehem.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

I don’t think this is a short-coming, not really, because what impresses me is how many ways that one story can be told. Some books tell it from the perspective of the animals in the stable (Who is Coming to Our House?, The Friendly Beasts); some books tell the story just the way it’s told in Scripture (The First Christmas).

Some tell it through the eyes of  Mary (Mary’s First Christmas; My Son, My Savior), or through the perspective of an imagined character (The Little Drummer Boy).

Others are by Sally Lloyd-Jones and are, therefore, wonderful (Little One, We Knew You’d Come; Song of the Stars).

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

But The Christmas Promise begins not with the good news that Jesus has come, but with the news that he is coming: Alison Mitchell (beloved author of two of my favorite picture books) begins with God’s promise of a coming king—”a new king, a rescuing king, a forever king!”—and then goes on to show, through the telling of the nativity story, how Jesus is all of those things.

That big picture approach is one that we did not yet have in our collection, and it’s one that has endeared Mitchell’s other books me. The fact that it’s illustrated by Catalina Echeverri, illustrator of three of my favorite picture books, is a thick, delicious swirl of frosting on the cake.

The Christmas Promise, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

One more thing this book has going for it: The Christmas Promise falls under the heading of “Books I Will Read Any Time, For Any Reason, No Matter What Else Is Going On.” It’s short. It’s charming. It’s hard not to read with gusto. And I am reminded every time I read it of the ties connecting this season to the rest of Scripture, to our strange times now, and to the wonderful times that are coming.


The Christmas Promise
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2014)

Great Joy | Kate DiCamillo

Let’s appreciate, for a moment, the behind-the-scenes people who make books possible. Editors, art directors, publishers, agents—I don’t know exactly what you all do, but books like Great Joy make me glad that you do it.

The pages, cover, and binding combine to make a book that makes our family feel like we’re unwrapping something precious as I read, which I suppose we are, in a way, because the story is precious and the illustrations are warm and welcoming. But the gold leaf on the cover and the cloth binding and the very feel of the pages make the gift a thing that’s not just heard or observed but warmly felt. Somebody chose that paper and decided to ornament the cover just so—thank you, whoever you are.

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy‘s quiet story doesn’t need bells and whistles—it would shine in a hand-drawn, xeroxed ‘zine, I’m sure, though it may not reach its intended audience that way—but the lovely quality of the book encouraged us to slow down and savor DiCamillo’s language and Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations.

Those illustrations are so gorgeous, by the way, that I’m tempted to heap adjectives on them willy-nilly. But I won’t burden you with that. Instead I’ll show you pictures:

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy reaches my daughters at different levels: at eight, Lydia delights in the fact that Frances, the story’s protagonist, reads the same verses for the Christmas pageant that Lydia read for hers; Sarah, at six, asks the same questions Frances does about the organ-grinder; and Phoebe, at almost-three, delights in finding the monkey on every page (when she wants to read the book, she points at the shelf and shouts, “MONKEYS!” until someone hands her the book).

And I, as a mother, rejoice: this story is the sort of gift that I love to give my daughters, knowing that it points toward the one who is our greatest gift.


Great Joy
Kate DiCamillo, Bagram Ibatoulline (2010)

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It

Over tea, a friend recently told me that she had never heard of Advent until last year, when she and her husband showed up to church one day and found blue and violet clothes draped behind the cross at our church and candles everywhere. She covertly googled “what is advent” as our pastor began his sermon.

She told me this story and both of us laughed, but I find myself coming back to that conversation, because I, too, showed up for church one Sunday in December years ago and found that Advent—whoever that was—had arrived. I am well-acquainted with Advent now, but it was humbling to realize that I have grown so well-acquainted with it that I don’t think to slow down and introduce others to the season as well.

I know you are all from a variety of backgrounds. Some of you grew up celebrating Advent; some of you, like me, grew up celebrating presents. So I want to assume nothing today and tell you all a bit about what Advent is and how we celebrate it as a family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

Advent is the season preceding Christmas, when we prepare ourselves for the entrance of our Creator God into his disordered creation. The season officially begins four Sundays before Christmas (that is, last Sunday the 27th), though most of our Advent readings begin on December 1. The important part is that, whether it’s four weeks even or more-or-less four weeks long, we spend that time meditating on the Incarnation of Jesus, both independently and as a family.

There are so, so many ways to do this, both at church and in our homes, but here are a few of our favorites:

We use a Jesse Tree to remind us daily of where Jesus fits in his long lineage of ancestors (and of how surprising it is that God used the people he did to shape that tree). I have written a few posts about that for this blog. If you’re interested, you can learn about what a Jesse tree is and how we use it here. You can learn how to make ornaments for it here.

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

We use an Advent calendar in tandem with our Jesse Tree. You can learn more about how we use it and how I made ours here.

DIY Jesse Tree Ornaments | Little Book, Big Story

We light candles each Sunday to mark our progress toward Christmas. Many people use Advent wreaths for this; we use a cheap tea light holder from Ikea that conveniently has four wells for candles. It gets the job done and it’s pretty.

I try to do some devotional reading on my own. Last year, I spent the season studying for and co-writing the Advent series at the Deeply Rooted blog (you can read my posts from that series here, here and here. If you want to know more about why I love Advent so much, they’re a great place to start!). This year, I plan to read through John Piper’s book, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy and Jen Wilkin’s None Like Him. But on the years when I’m feeling less structured, I at least try to read through one of the gospels on my own.

So You Want to Celebrate Advent | Little Book, Big Story

We try to do some sort of service as a family. The older girls usually visit a nursing home with their school and sing carols. I like to serve in the worship team at our church during Advent, though that doesn’t happen every year. But finding some way to use our gifts to bless others, even if it’s just bringing something sweet to the neighbors (sometimes that, honestly, is the extent of our service) is a goal we aim for each year.

Advent Books | Little Book, Big Story

And, of course, we read a lot of beautiful books. I pull out an old favorite from the attic every few days, but I also like to purchase one or two new Christmas books each year to build our library. By the time Christmas rolls around, we’re swimming in beautiful stories about Jesus. If you’re looking for some of our favorites, you can read this list, or you can peruse the “Christmas” section of this blog. The Read-Aloud Revival podcast also has a lovely episode all about Christmas books that aired last year, full of great ideas for how and when to read with your family.

Advent: What It Is & Why We Love It | Little Book, Big Story

There. That’s a flyover view of how our family celebrates Advent. I’ll be back next week with more beautiful Advent books and resources for you.

Does your family celebrate Advent? Do you have any favorite traditions to share?