Category: Middle Grade (Ages 8-11) (page 1 of 17)

The Secret Keepers | Trenton Lee Stewart

This book made me nervous. I was three-quarters of the way in before I felt it—this niggling sense that maybe the main character was maybe about to make some terrible choices. Whether he does or not I won’t tell you, but I will point to the fact that I am reviewing it here. The Secret Keepers is worth reading—I will tell you that.

Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, tackles tricky questions. His characters face conflicts that feel real and terrifying, and they face choices that are not black or white: Do you cheat if it will help you defeat the villain? Or do you refuse to cheat knowing that if you do, your mission will probably fail? That sort of thing.

Those choices could take the story down a murky path, where the end justifies the means and all is well. But in Stewart’s books, they don’t. The characters wrestle with these decisions; they are conflicted before, during, and after they make their choice, and still wonder sometimes if they made the right call.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

At no point does Stewart gloss over these questions as though it’s necessary to toss one’s moral compass out the window in order to save the day. Good is good, and evil is evil. But he is willing to admit that sometimes in life, the two are hard to tell apart. Or, at least, evil works pretty hard to look like good, and it can be quite convincing. As his characters work through these questions, striving to pick the good out of the gray, they grow, and it is this undercurrent of character growth that really draws me into his stories. And it’s the feeling that a character could lean either way that makes me nervous.

But, okay, here’s what else you should know about this story: Reuben Penderly lives in New Umbra, a city ruled by the shadowy leader The Smoke. One day, he finds something unusual, something that grants him unexpected power and drives this otherwise solitary boy into unlikely friendships and enmity. That’s all very vague, I know. I wish I could be more specific than that. But the story’s hairpin turns are so fascinating that I don’t want to make them feel any less perilous by revealing what lies around the corner.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

I will say, though, that this one is probably best for older readers, or as a read-aloud with a side of discussion. In our case, Lydia read it first, I read it second, we both enjoyed it immensely, and afterward we discussed it. Or you could just read it on your own. It’s worth it.


The Slugs & Bugs Giveaway is still open!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

You can still enter to win a copy of the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible Vol. 3—huzzah! This post has all the details.


The Secret Keepers
Trenton Lee Stewart (2017)

Slugs and Bugs Giveaway

Last week, I raved about the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible, Vol. 3. This week, I get to give two copies of it to two of you! What do you need to do to win one of these beauties? I’m so glad you asked.

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, May 29. After that, two winners will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“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.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

Rootless | Taylor Everett Brown

Not long ago, I was the proving ground for our family’s books. But now Lydia has reached an age where I can trust her to discern tricky themes and talk with me about them—and she reads much, much faster than I do. I can’t keep her waiting for every single book.

So when Taylor Everett Brown explained, in an email, how his passion as a Christian, parent, and writer converged as he wrote this book, I had no qualms about handing his book to Lydia first, with the stipulation that she tell me, in detail, how she liked it. The only question—and it was one that made me nervous—was whether this book was any good.

By way of an answer, Lydia read it through twice. She urged me to read it. With her endorsement, I read it and found that Taylor Everett Brown is not only a kindred spirit—he is also a promising storyteller.

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

Rootless follows the journey of Everett and his friend Rrrwin, an Ent-like creature who suffers from a terminal root defect, as they travel through the country of Pateramor, on a quest to see all seven of the land’s forests before Rrrwin’s death. I will be perfectly honest and let you know that this book is self-published by a brand-new author, and there are areas where I am excited to see Taylor Brown grow as a writer. But I want to see him grow as a writer: the story itself is fascinating; his characters struggle with some genuine doubts and conflicts; and the forests, when they reach them, are incredibly inventive. Lydia and I both finished the book with the desire to read more about Pateramor, for surely, there is much, much more than forests to explore there.

Stay tuned!

I had the opportunity to interview Taylor Everett Brown and learn more about why he wrote Rootless and what it was like, and what we can expect from him in the future. Tune back in next week to read it.


Rootless: Adventures in the Seven Forests of Windfall
Taylor Everett Brown (2016)


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.

Maybe God is Like That, Too | Jennifer Grant

An unseen God can be hard to explain to children, but not, I think, because they find him hard to believe in. They are better at that than we are. When my daughters and I discuss him, I am the one who fumbles for words to describe him without a picture to point to and say, “There he is! That’s him.” Creation itself is one of the best teachers, and that is where I tend to point. We see God’s exuberance in flowers, whose geometric designs tempt us to think that they are carbon copies of one another, but they are not: each bud on each stem has its own personality—a fragment, in some way, of him.

Trees speak of his patience in low, quiet voices.

Spiders speak (in whispers that make us shiver) of his precision, his delight in making beautiful webs from eight-legged, unsettling beings.

Music sings of his joy.

Math (I remind my girls morning after morning) demonstrates his steadfastness, his consistency: the way 7 x 7 will always be 49, he will always be good. He will always love them.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

In Maybe God is Like That, Too, Jennifer Grant narrows the scope from all of creation to us, his people, and through a conversation between a young boy and his grandmother, illustrates the way we can study God through the actions of others. At first, this sounds a bit pantheistic, as though God is in all things, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that Gal. 5:22-23—the fruit of the Spirit—is guiding their discussion. When the young boy asks his grandmother what God is like, she points him outward, toward the world around him, and says that when we see those things, we see God, too. We see, through the rest of his day, how watches for these things and finds examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control in the people around him.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That conversation is one reason we loved this book. But another reason we loved it was Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations: he gave this family of grandmother and grandson such personality through the way he depicted their apartment, their surroundings, their affection for each other. We have been talking lately about the different shapes families can take, and so it was neat to see this grandmother caring for her grandson in a way that wasn’t a part of the story itself, but a foundation for it. Her tenderness and sacrifice, regardless of the reason she is his guardian, sets the stage beautifully for their conversation on the fruit of the Spirit, for in raising him, she displays all of these things herself.


Speaking of Benjamin Schipper: if you recognize his style from Jennifer Trafton’s book Henry and the Chalk Dragon, there’s a very good chance you already know and love his work!


Maybe God is Like That, Too
Jennifer Grant, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

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)

Gone-Away Lake | Elizabeth Enright

Every year it’s hard to narrow my list of “best books” down from fifty to ten, but this year was exceptionally hard. I wanted to tell you about Jewel, another novel I’ll reread years from now; I wanted to at least mention The Stars, by HA Rey; A Charlotte Mason Companion nearly made the cut. But no book came closer to being the eleventh title on my list of ten than this one. Only the realization that I could justify writing an entire post about it saved us all from a rapidly expanding list (because if I added an eleventh, why not a twelfth? Why not a twentieth? Who’s to stop me—but me?).

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

And so, here is a book that rightly belongs among the best books I read last year. I found Gone-Away Lake on one of the Ambleside Online lists (more on those lists here); I reserved it from the library. When we picked it up, I skimmed the blurb on the back of the book, was immediately fascinated by the story’s premise—two kids find a ghost town among the marshes behind their house? Rad!—and asked Lydia to give me a turn with it when she finished.

She read it in an afternoon and assured me that I would love it, too, as she handed it over. She was right.

Gone-Away Lake, by Elizabeth Enright | Little Book, Big Story

Gone-Away Lake follows the story of Portia and her cousin Julian, who discover a ghost town, complete with two people who know the town’s story. As I read this book I realized that the only thing better than mysterious, abandoned houses is mysterious, abandoned houses—and the stories behind them. Gone-Away  Lake is warm and friendly and fun to read, and—oh joy!—it has a sequel that is equally lovely.


Gone-Away Lake
Elizabeth Enright (1957)