Category: Holiday (page 1 of 9)

A Jesus Christmas | Barbara Reaoch

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Jesus Christmas
Barbara Reaoch (2018)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey | Susan Wojciechowski

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A Very Noisy Christmas | Tim Thornborough

A funny thing happened when we started packing: our books, that fill shelves throughout our house and are already quite a presence, seemed to multiply. One shelf’s worth filled three boxes, yet there were dozens of shelves to go. We understood, early on, that the bulk of our packable possessions are books.

It also became clear, while we were moving about from place to place, that the bulk of our portable possessions are also books. Lydia packed her entire collection of Redwall books, because she feels at home wherever they are. Josie needed her Sandra Boynton library; I filled a plastic tote with books I intended to read (Enjoying God), books I hoped to read (A Girl of the Limberlost), and books I might feel the sudden urge to re-read (The Lord of the Rings)And none of that includes our school books, of which there are also many.

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

But here is where this works out well: I spent the summer posting re-runs here and the fall posting nothing. But all summer and fall, our family was buying and borrowing and reading and falling in love with new books. Which means I have an abundance of wonderful books to share with you. I am, frankly, finding it very hard to wait to share some of them.

But I will start with this one, because it is so much fun to read and so seasonally appropriate:

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

When you have a toddler or a preschooler (or, like me, one of each for the past eight years or so), the volume in your home fluctuates quite a bit. There’s the high setting: squealing, giggling, ricocheting off furniture, weeping, and so on. And there’s the low setting: sleeping, snuggling, drawing on the wall with mom’s best lipstick.

A Very Noisy Christmas turns that knob up and down as you read the Christmas story, with prompts that encourage kids to whisper and bellow along with a telling on Jesus’ birth. It begins in a whisper, with the shepherds sleeping, and turns to a yell when the angels burst on the scene. Tim Thornborough’s text is fun to read aloud, and Jennifer Davison’s illustrations are full of energy, movement, and color (a great combo for energetic, ever-active, and certainly colorful kids).

A Very Noisy Christmas, by Tim Thornborough | Little Book, Big Story

This book would be great in a Sunday School class, or with a group of kids. Or with a toddler on one knee and a preschooler on the other. Or, really, just any time with any little kid.


A Very Noisy Christmas
Tim Thornborough; Jennifer Davison (2018)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

On That Easter Morning | Mary Joslin

“Christians are strange people,” our pastor announced on Sunday.

So true, I laughed. We really are.

“Christians gather to celebrate the death of their leader. We rejoice in it!”

We’re totally weird.

But that is the backward logic of the gospel: The path to freedom runs through sacrifice. The way to strength lies through weakness.

And the path of life begins with death. Jesus died so we could set foot on that path—he is our way in. But we also die as we walk that path, both spiritually (as God prunes from us our old desires, clearing space for new growth) and physically (the only way to resurrection is through death).

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That is all backward, opposite what we want and what our broken world praises. We crave strength and success, and he calls for surrender. We demand rights and recognition, and he models humility. The Jewish people, anticipating the Messiah, longed for a King, a Leader who would drive the Romans out of Israel and restore the kingdom—but God sent a baby. A carpenter’s son, who grew into a man gentle and tender to those hurting, and fiery toward the prideful, the hypocrites.

This man was poised to claim his throne, wasn’t he? He rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecies, welcomed by the praises of his people. Freedom was close; strength stood in their midst. When would he strike, some of his followers wondered. When would he claim what was his?

But instead, Christ was betrayed, arrested, tried and convicted. Crucified.

What devastation.

Yet that is what we celebrate today (that, and Josie’s second birthday—more on that later). We are a strange people. Jesus failed to take Jerusalem, failed to rescue his people from the Roman regime, failed to lead them boldly into a new, victorious era as free citizens.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But his goal was not only the salvation of the Israelites. He did not die and remain buried; he did not decay, dissolving back into the earth, leaving only stories behind. His aim was the salvation of all who come to him: Israelites and Gentiles, as well as the generations upon generations who have been born and died since that first century. His death was not unexpected. It was not an aberration in the plan. It was the plan.

He did not fail.

We—we strange Christians—observe Good Friday today. We celebrate the death of our King, and we remember our role in it—the sins that pinned him to the Cross, and the ways we have cried out against him, desiring his death rather than recognizing our own guilt.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But on Sunday, we’ll wake early. We’ll open the oven and feast on Resurrection cookies; we will share new books (like today’s book, which I’ll mention soon, I promise). We will sing “Who Will Roll Away the Stone?” at home and at church, we will sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” which such momentum, such volume, such joy.

But not today. Today we sing “Were You There?” We sing “What Have We Done?” We remember and we mourn.

We are strange people.


On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

On That Easter Morning is beautiful! The palette is all sunrise colors and delicate, transparent watercolors, with shimmering details. Mary Joslin’s text, drawn from different translations of the Bible and faithful to the story, is lovely. It is also (alas! I just realized this!) out of print, so a personal copy may be hard to come by. But our library carries it—perhaps yours does, too? Or maybe you’ll find it in thrift stores or on Thrift Books. If so, it is a beautiful book worth sharing early on Easter morning.


Also, Josie’s birthday! She’s two today, and chatty and quirky and hilarious. And we love her like crazy.

Family Photo | Little Book, Big Story

Our Good Friday is going to be all joy as we descend upon the children’s museum, eat biscuits and gravy and smoothies for dinner (her favorites) and cupcakes for dessert, and then go to the church after the party, all somber. It’s a day as eclectic and disjointed as this post.


On That Easter Morning
Mary Joslin; Helen Cann (2006)

The Easter Story | Katherine Sully

When people ask about having four kids and I hear that panicked pitch to their voice—that “how do you do it?” pitch—they mean “How do you keep track of them all without leaving someone at the grocery store” or “How do you live with the noise and four kids’ worth of pink laundry?” But those really aren’t the issue for me. Yes, I sometimes panic, thinking I’ve left someone back by the banana display, and I have quit—I can use “literal” here in the literal sense—I have literally quit folding laundry. (We all just sort it and stuff it in drawers.)

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis, as a mom to kids aged 1-9 is the whiplash that comes from helping a thoughtful nine-year-old think through her problem and talk about it and maybe cry a little, and then wrestling a toddler into tights because she won’t leave her socks on. I emerge from that battle sweaty and victorious to find the four-year-old launching onto the bed belly first, but before I can remind her that belly flops are forbidden and suggest that perhaps her energy might be better spent outdoors, the seven-year-old comes to me sorrowful because her favorite character in her book has just died.

Whiplash.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Meeting the needs of different daughters, remembering that the seven-year-old won’t see things the way the nine-year-old does and that there is no reasoning with a toddler—that is my challenge. This makes family reading a tricky affair, too, because I love the idea of us all cozied up around the same book, but it’s hard to choose a book that will satisfy everyone. Our school books and family read-alouds tend to favor the older girls, so lucky Phoebe gets folded up into whatever we’re reading with Lydia and Sarah. This is true for Easter books, too.

And that is good. When it comes to choosing read-alouds, I like to round up. But lately, I’ve been trying to find books that are just right for Phoebe. (Sandra Boynton’s books are always just right for Josie, so that doesn’t take much thought yet.) That is why we’ve begun reading Brambly Hedge together, and why I take a minute in the morning, with the towel still on my hair, to read Everything a Child Should Know About God to Phoebe.  I want her to hear, sometimes, things read just for her.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

And that brings me, at last, to Katherine Sully’s book The Easter Story. The story of Easter doesn’t lend itself to cute, cuddly picture books. It can be done—it has been done beautifully—but the story centers around crucifixion and violence, done not to the bad guy but to the hero, and that is hard to explain to young readers. But Sully recounts the story’s events simply and faithfully, as the lines of Simona Sanfilippo’s watercolor illustrations sweep across the pages—the figures seem to be in constant motion. Sully doesn’t offer much commentary, but just tells the story like it’s one worth listening to—like it’s one worth knowing well.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

The Easter Story is a simple, but not too simple, retelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection that draws young readers in, gives them much to ponder, and much to point to. For the few moments I spend reading this with Phoebe, I suffer no whiplash, but sit still with her. We are right where we need to be.


The Easter Story
Katherine Sully; Simona Sanfilippo (2014)

The World Jesus Knew | Marc Olson

Years ago, a friend invited us to Passover seder, a cozy one hosted by friends of his. This was early in our marriage, before kids, and we squeezed into this small apartment with our friend and a half-dozen strangers. We passed plates and glasses of wine and lounged, ancient Israelite-style, around the table on cushions.

The couple hosting led us through the Haggadah, and while the Hebrew was a mystery to me, lovely and impenetrable, the symbolism of each dish on the seder plate wasn’t: one by one, the readings illuminated them, showed us both how they remembered the Exodus and how they anticipated the Messiah who would come and fulfill each prophecy. And, they explained, he had come. He had fulfilled them all.

I had one of those moments, in my corner around the table, as I dipped parsley in salted water and touched it to my tongue, when the window was open and the tree outside stirred in the darkness and I thought, The Jewish people have observed this for centuries, remembering the Exodus. They have waited this long for the Messiah. And I thought, too, The Last Supper looked like this. As we broke bread and served wine, communion changed irrevocably for me as I realized that Jesus wasn’t instituting something new as he passed the cup to his disciples, but fulfilling something ancient—a promise made centuries before.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

History became, in that moment, three-dimensional for me. I saw Jesus in this new context and understood that everything he did and said, the stories he told, carried particular meaning to the shepherds, priests, and prostitutes around him—meaning that is occasionally lost on me, given my unfamiliarity with sheep, mustard seeds, and the grape harvest. And yet: those words still carry enough fire to spark transformation in the heart of a new wife standing in a stairwell, watching friends open the door for the coming Elijah and rejoicing that he has already come.

This seems like a big lesson for kids to take in, but Marc Olson has written a book that takes some awfully long steps in that direction. The World Jesus Knew is a picture book filled with details about first century Jerusalem—what the Israelites and Romans wore, what they ate, how they interacted. A book like this could be dry or overwhelming, but this one isn’t: Jem Maybank’s illustrations arrange that information well, making it easy to follow and fun to explore, and Marc Olson describes these things with energy and wit.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

I know I can’t fabricate those moments of realization for my kids, the ones that open history wide for them so they see that other people, other fascinating people, really lived in this world, though in very different ways than we do now. But I can do my best to give them opportunities to see it. Books like this help a great deal.


The World Jesus Knew
Marc Olson; Jem Maybank (2017)

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent

We have one window in our living room—one window highly sought after by the cats, who get their best bird views there—and it’s in that window sill that I heap the books I’m currently reading. This is a terrible place for books—they fall when you bump them or when you put the blinds down (or when you lunge at a bird), and they block a small portion of coveted daylight. But it’s close to the armchair where I like to read, and so that is where the books stay.

And with Lent upon us, a handful of the books in that sill are Easter-related, which made me think of other Easter-related books you might like, which made me think that a post about Easter reading for you, dear grown-up reading this blog, might be well received. This list is a short one, but I’m sure you have other books worthy of joining its ranks. I would love to hear about them in the comments.

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent | Little Book, Big Story

So, here it is: a list of  devotionals for Lent! The first two are the ones I’m reading this year, followed by ones I’ve read (and loved) in the past.

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick | Little Book, Big Story

This devotional isn’t marketed for Lent and I didn’t plan to read it for Lent, but I did start reading it and it struck me that it is, in fact, perfectly Lent-worthy. Each reading describes some new aspect the gospel—the beauty of it, how it transforms our lives—in Fitzpatrick’s warm, grace-filled voice. Familiarity may tempt us to grow deaf to the melody of the gospel, but Fitzpatrick reminds us that the Lord plays endless variations upon it in our lives, and that that melody will never grow repetitive to those who pay attention. Comforts From the Cross highlights some of those variations, and the result is stunning.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett | LIttle Book, Big Story

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions written by a plethora of authors whose names occasionally end with “Spurgeon,” “Edwards,” or “Bunyan.” You can see by the condition of the cover that this is an oft-frequented book at our house (or at least one that got knocked off my nightstand and lost under the bed for a while), and I’m reading it this Lent with Joe Thorn’s guide for praying through The Valley of Vision.

I’m two weeks in and I love it already: these little breaks for prayer reorient my heart every few hours, and I need that. (It’s true that I pray on the stairwell, often with one or two daughters in my lap, poking my face and asking me what I’m doing, but praying in the midst of that is perfect training for praying through the greater storms of life. Right?)

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

You thought there was just the one reason, didn’t you? Nope. In fifty short chapters, John Piper lays out fifty illuminating reasons why Jesus suffered and died for us. What this is, really, is fifty reasons to praise God for his redemption!

Note: Piper’s book The Passion of Christ is actually the same material repackaged under a new title. How do I know? Because I own them both and planned to review them each separately here—until I read the table of contents. But hey, now we know they’re both good books!

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Ed. by Nancy Guthrie

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book during Lent last year, and it was beautiful. Nancy Guthrie has curated a collection of twenty-five readings from authors that span church history. You’ll find Augustine here alongside J.I. Packer, John Calvin next to Francis Schaeffer. This isn’t technically a devotional but an anthology, one that’s easy to pick up and read any time of the day. (Guthrie’s Advent anthology Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is lovely, too.)

King’s Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller

King's Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller | Little Book, Big Story

This is one of my favorite books, and again, it’s not one specifically written for Lent. But Timothy Keller’s study of Jesus’s life through the book of Mark places Jesus’ life within the greater framework of God’s redemptive story. This is not a difficult read, but it’s a deep one that will give you much to ponder.

Note: This book has been republished under the title Jesus the King, so don’t let that throw you off the scent. Even if you don’t read it during Lent, it’s excellent reading any time of the year.


What about you? What are you reading for Lent?