Category: Ages 8–11 (page 1 of 29)

The Little White Horse

Over the years here, I’ve reviewed so, so many books. And sometimes in the summer I like to pull past reviews back to the top of the pile, because this both:

a) lightens my summer schedule up a bit (thereby freeing me up to do things like rummage in tidepools and nap in hammocks and drive my girls all over the county to attend Fun Things) and

b) gives me an excuse to share some of my very favorite books with you (again), books that might otherwise have languished in the archives of the blog forever because they were originally published waaaaay back in, say, 2018.

So! This marks our first summer re-run, my friends, and where better to begin than with the beloved book we’re currently re-running (that is, re-reading) around the lunch table at our house? (Good news—it’s still glorious.) I hope your summer is off to a sunshiney start, and that you find moments to read on your own and with your people.

Now, without further ado—a post that originally appeared on Story Warren, back in May of 2018.

“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.
—J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

The Little White Horse starts the way so many classics do: Maria Merryweather, newly orphaned, is delivered by carriage to an unknown relative. She is to live at Moonacre Manor with her cousin Sir Benjamin, and to her that prospect sounds simply awful.

But when she arrives she finds Moonacre Manor and the valley around it infused with the unexpected, for the country life Maria dreaded is not dull at all but rich in mystery and delight. She finds clothes laid out in her room each morning, embroidered with someone else’s name. She discovers a room in the manor where every object has some secret shut up in it. And she roves the countryside with a freedom she never had in London, exploring and building unlikely friendships.

Yet there is one blot upon this otherwise unmarred place—the wicked men of the pine wood. In her determination to learn who the men are and how they came to the valley, Maria learns something unexpected—and thoroughly unpleasant—about her own ancestors.

Like an old fairy tale, The Little White Horse assures us from the start that all shall be well and, by the book’s end, all is well—all bows are tied up neatly, all difficulties resolved. But Elizabeth Goudge keeps the route from beginning to end unpredictable: we never know what is coming around the next bend, only that it will be wonderful. And it is wonderful. This book I bought on a whim has become one of the most beloved books in our family library.

I Think I Think A Lot

Bedtime at our house involves a fair amount of bustling, some snuggling, some tooth-brushing, and a lot of talking—so much talking. I like to joke that I’m a part-time counselor these days, now that all four girls are fluent conversationalists facing challenges that grow right along with them. Often the things they worry about step politely to the side during the day, when there is so much else going on. But at bedtime these worries stride down to the footlights and demand to be heard, and so one daughter or another will drift downstairs and sidle up to one of us, hoping we’ll ask them what’s wrong.

Often, the problem is as big and as broad as this: “I don’t know how to turn my brain off!” To which I can relate.

And so I, with my houseful of overthinkers, am grateful for Jessica Whipple’s sweet book, I Think I Think A Lot, in which the main character wrestles with the fact that she just seems to think and worry so much more than her peers do. The result is a series of insights about her friends that contrast the way she thinks about the world with the way they think about it. The story serves as a fun introduction to the different ways we all think about the world around us and invites readers to recognize themselves in one or other of the characters. And to know that, wherever they land, these differences are good and interesting.

Whipple writes from her own experience with OCD, which provides a helpful backdrop for the book. And she writes broadly enough that I Think I Think a Lot can help kids from all sorts of backgrounds begin to find words for the way they see the world—and to understand better how their friends and siblings might see it differently.

At our house, I think we all think a lot. And you know what? We can glorify God in that, too.

I Think I Think a Lot
Jessica Whipple; Josée Bisaillon (2023)

Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary.

Something Better Coming

I have written recently, in a few different places, about the loss of a very good friend and about her legacy. My daughters didn’t get to meet her, but they love her because she loved them—Leslie always asked about them, and even sent the occasional birthday gift their way, so she was a sweet presence to my girls even though she lived on the other side of the country.

The other day, my daughter asked about Leslie’s birthday. “We have to celebrate it,” she said. But when I opened my contacts to double-check the date of Leslie’s birthday, my daughter grew suddenly still. “You mean,” she said quietly, “you used to text her, but now—you can’t anymore?”

And then she slipped her arms around my waist and squeezed hard.

My friend has been gone for almost a year, but somehow that was the thing that made her death real—and suddenly, acutely wrong—for my daughter. That realization that, though my friend lives still, in a newer, better way, no message I can send her now will reach her.

“Oh death, where is your sting?” Scripture proclaims (1 Cor. 15:55). And yet, we feel the sting of death around us all the time—as it claims those we love, or in any number of endings that are woven into our daily lives. Things aren’t what they should be, and even our children know it on a bone-deep level.

And so I’m grateful for the season of Lent, where we expose that undercurrent of dis-ease for a bit and put it in its proper place, by reminding ourselves and one another that it will not always be this way. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, death will truly—and forever—lose its sting.

Megan Saben’s book Something Better Coming shows beautifully the hope and anticipation we have, in Christ, as we lean toward Easter. By telling the stories of the resurrections Jesus performed, each one building upon the previous one and pointing toward the next one with the refrain “There’s something better coming,” she gives readers a sense of culmination and completion through the story of Jesus’s resurrection.

This is a glorious way to read the Easter story. We see, through the building tension, that his resurrection was not a single event, disconnected from Scripture, but one woven seamlessly into it—a grand disruption, yes, but one that was promised and foreshadowed through a series of smaller resurrections sewn all throughout the Bible and, specifically, the Gospels.

I am deeply grateful for the truth of the resurrection and for its assurance that, though death stings now, there’s something better coming. I’m glad for that truth when I squeeze my daughter back and assure her that it won’t always be this way—there’s something better coming.

Something Better Coming
Megan Saben; Ryan Flanders (2022)

Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!

The Mousehole Cat

My favorite kind of mail is Surprise Mail: the packages that I didn’t order, but that arrive on our porch unannounced and full of possibility.

The Mousehole Cat arrived in just such a package: a friend sent it as a surprise, but also, because the card ended up arriving separately a few days later, as a bit of a mystery. I saw her name on the package but I didn’t have context for the gift. Instead, we opened the book and wondered at it—the why? and the what for?—before we sat down to lunch and read it aloud.

And the book was wonderful. The Mousehole Cat is about a cat, Mowzer, who lives with a fisherman in a place called “The Mousehole” because the bay is almost completely closed off from the sea, but when a storm rolls in that prevents the townsfolk from fishing and famine looms over them, the fisherman makes a brave and sacrificial decision to save the town. And Mowzer sails out with him.

The illustrations in this book are detailed and gorgeous, so much so that it felt hard to read aloud (almost!) because my eyes kept straying toward the pictures even as I tried to read the words. Imagine: Nicola Bayley portrays the storm as the Great Storm-Cat, personifying it in a way that makes it fun for young readers to spot the Cat curled among the clouds and wind, batting playfully with the waves and pouncing through the sky. How could one not get a little lost in illustrations like that?

The only solution, I suppose, is to read it again—and again—making this a book worth savoring. Through both the story and the illustrations, The Mousehole Cat gives us a stunningly beautiful example of what it can look like to love not merely “in word or talk but in deed and truth” (1 John 3:18).

The Mousehole Cat, by Antonia Barber | Little Book, Big Story
Sometimes I have “helpers”

The Mousehole Cat
Antonia Barber; Nicola Bayley (1990)

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship

We live in a college town, where jobs are few and far between and the cost of living is high. So that major event so many kids face at least once—the best friend who moves away—has happened to each of my daughters many times. It is hard to stay here, so many friends they love have had to leave.

And each time, it is hard. Some of these friends have been good, true friends—those rare friends who speak your particular language, however quirky the dialect, and who seem utterly irreplaceable. The hope of “making a new friend” just doesn’t cut it when you lose a friend like that (for example) the summer before you start high school. Of course you don’t want a new friend—you want that friend. But that friend is halfway across the country now, and letters don’t sufficiently bridge that distance.

(In case you’re noticing the high school examples here and asking, “But I thought this was a picture book?”—yes. Under the guise of reading them to my younger daughters—and while everyone is busily eating lunch—I sure do still read picture books to my teenage daughters. I am staunchly of the opinion that one can never be too cool for picture books.)

So Jesus and the Gift of Friendship says beautifully what I’ve tried to say fumblingly to heart-broken daughters many times, when it’s been too long between letters or when they feel achingly alone in their class: Jesus is our true friend, and he will never leave. But also, pray for a new friend and be open to the idea that a new friend may not resemble your old friend in the slightest.

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship is a beautiful book, both in its message and in its artwork. The style of the illustrations reminds me a bit of Ezra Jack Keats, so while the book feels new and fresh, it still has a classic feel that fits this old, old story of Losing a Best Friend perfectly.

In this book, it is Zeke who moves away from his best friend, Sam, and he grieves that loss. But as his mom walks him through what friendship with Jesus looks like—both for Zeke today and for the followers who walked alongside Jesus during his earthly ministry—Zeke begins to pray each night for a new friend. When he does find one—after a long wait, by the way—she isn’t anything like Sam. But Zeke’s heart is no longer focused on replacing Sam, so he’s open to the idea that he can have an entirely new friend.

As a mom, I love books that help articulate some of these deep truths of childhood and that give us room to talk through tough things during the cozy safety of a read-aloud time. So I’m grateful for Jesus and the Gift of Friendship—I suspect we’ll return to it often.

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship
Trillia Newbell; Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell (2023)

Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!

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