Category: Ages 8–11 (page 1 of 29)

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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All About Bible Animals

Our nine-year-old is all about animals. I joke that she is our Gerald Durrell, not just because she loves the fuzzy, purring, cuddling animals, but the many-legged and wriggling ones, too. (She does make a pronounced and emphatic exception for bees. And honestly, bees, if you’d stop stinging her, I feel confident that she’d love you, too!) She’s the one who materializes next to me with a pet snail named Cucumber; the one to name the spider nesting in the end of our garden bed Rosie; the one busily rescuing earthworms from The Evil Garden Fork of Doom.

She is the reason I picked up a copy of this book.

All About Bible Animals, by Simona Piscioneri | Little Book, Big Story

All About Bible Animals is part nature reference book, part Bible story book. In it, author Simona Piscioneri introduces readers to the animals mentioned in Scripture, investigating both the animals themselves and the stories that feature them. This might seem like a sort of unnecessary thing to do—why focus on the animals in these passages? But I love it: Scripture is full of incredibly rich images, with meanings layered artfully over some of the smallest details. So I love the idea of exploring some of these subtle connections in Scripture with kids.

For example, in the page about bees, Piscioneri answers that question we all secretly ask: What does it mean for a land to be “flowing with milk and honey”? And why would that be a good thing? Or on the page about deer: What’s the deal with that thirsty deer in the psalms? By learning more about the animals, she gives readers a chance to sit with and examine some of the more interesting images in Scripture.

All About Bible Animals, by Simona Piscioneri | Little Book, Big Story

But she doesn’t stop there: this book is full of information not just about deer in general, but about the specific kinds of deer David might have seen back in his psalm-writing days. Or about the sheep Jesus might have seen on the hillsides of Israel. Or about locusts . . . and who else besides John the Baptist might still consider them a suitable lunch.

All About Bible Animals is the sort of book that brings the Bible to life for readers, and from an unexpected angle. And I’m always grateful for books that do that.


All About Bible Animals: Over 100 Amazing Facts About the Animals of the Bible
Simona Piscioneri (2023)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.

Like Me

It is 6:04 a.m. I am sitting at our kitchen table, fortifying myself with green tea as I prepare to write this post, surrounded by a stack of picture books, each waiting their turn to be reviewed. And yet: Like Me is conspicuously absent from that pile, because my daughter drifted downstairs a few minutes ago, sleepily proclaimed her love for that book, swiped it, and then drifted back upstairs to read Like Me in bed.

And that is the highest praise I can offer a book. Like Me is so beloved in our household that it’s taken me months to review it, because I keep having to fish it out of people’s bedsheets and backpacks and bookshelves. It is one thing for me, The Mom, to publish a 600-word review of a picture book to the internet. It is another entirely for a child to voluntarily spend her early morning curled up in bed reading it.

I think I know which one makes an author’s heart feel warmest and fuzziest.

Like Me, by Laura Wifler | Little Book, Big Story

But I get it: I get why my daughter chose this book out of the whole pile. Laura Wifler’s Like Me is a delightful invitation into the life of one family for one day, narrated by a boy whose youngest brother has disabilities. It is an ordinary day for his family—a day that will likely feel wonderfully recognizable to readers who have or live with someone who has disabilities. For those of us who aren’t currently sharing our daily lives with a loved one who has special needs, Like Me serves as a crystal-clear window into what can be like to have, or to love someone who has, disabilities.

And that is its strength: rather than introducing readers to ideas about disabilities (what they are, for example, or how to best love those who have them), Like Me offers us a story in which we see these big ideas lived out. Wifler tells this story in a way that feels honest and balanced, recognizing the challenges this family faces and dignifying them by revealing the parts of them that are shared. For example, the narrator loses his patience with his brother, a moment that highlights the frustrations one might feel when interacting with someone who sees the world so differently, even as it touches on a universal moment every reader can connect with (haven’t we all lost patience with someone we love?). Yet Wifler also emphasizes the narrator’s particular love for and enjoyment of his brother. And his affection is contagious: it invites readers to view his brother with compassion and to delight in the things the big brother loves about him. Wifler reminds us gently, through the mother’s words,

It’s a privilege to know another human being, no matter what they look like or how they act.

Like Me, by Laura Wifler | Little Book, Big Story

Skylar White’s illustrations, too, are worth noting. They are detailed and specific, giving readers a sense of visiting not just a house, but this house, inhabited by a particular family with a history and interests that extend beyond the pages of this book. (White’s work reminds me cozily of Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations for A Child’s Calendar.)

Like Me is enlightening in the best possible way: by switching on a light in this story, Wifler and White invite us see just a little more clearly how much God loves every one of his people—no matter what we look like or how we act.


Like Me: A Story About Disability and Discovering God’s Image in Every Person
Laura Wifler; Skylar White (2023)

God Cares For Me

Over the past two months, one of our daughters in particular has been assailed by a series of sicknesses. If we had a punch card for the urgent care clinic, we joke. If I had a dollar for every generic waiting room painting I’ve studied this year, I say. In the grand scheme of things, her ailments are small, but they’re persistent. And when you’re six, two solid months of illness uses up a significant portion of your life lived so far.

That can feel pretty discouraging.

So the other morning, when she was back at home again, missing not just a cool field trip but the do-over field trip we’d scheduled to make up for the missed one, I made her yet another bed on the living room couch, brought her yet another cup of tea, and read her this book.

God Cares for Me, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

I’d purchased Scott James’s God Cares for Me an embarrassingly long time ago, but for some reason I’d never read it aloud to the girls. It hadn’t been the right time? It disappeared into one of our many bookshelves before I could? I don’t remember why. But that morning was the morning: the exact right day to read it to her.

This tiny person who now knows her way around the doctor’s office—who has had her ears checked and her throat swabbed and her temperature taken and her belly x-rayed so many times since 2022—broke into a smile as I read God Cares for Me. When the main character, Lucas, voiced his nervousness at visiting the doctor, I could feel my daughter’s shoulders relax. When he went through a series of tests, she chimed in, “I did that, too!” Seeing her own experience mirrored in the pages of God Cares for Me was profoundly encouraging to her.

God Cares for Me, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

But the book serves as more than a mirror: throughout the book, Lucas’s parents and doctor explain to him what is happening and why, and they remind him that the God who made him cares deeply for him, even during sickness, when the brokenness of the world feels particularly sharp. For my daughter, this note resonated, too. Later that day I overheard her telling one of her stuffed animals “God cares for me!” with a touch of wonder in her voice.

I have read a lot of books to my girls over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a profound sense of reading just the right book to just the right child at just the right time. The timing was, in itself, a beautiful reminder to both of us that yes, God does care for her. How wonderful.


God Cares for Me: Helping Children Trust God When They’re Sick
Scott James; Trish Mahoney (2021)

The Enchanted Garden

So in the fall we caught Covid, and the day—the very day—that first test developed a second line, this package arrived. Now, any time a package arrives at our house and it’s nobody’s birthday and it’s not Christmas, the assumption is that the package is books. Ninety-nine percent of the time that assumption is correct, and this time was no exception.

In that package—on this day when fevers were climbing and sore throats were blooming and I was trying to get us the food we needed before I, too, succumbed—was The Enchanted Garden, a sweet, self-published parable from author Erin Greneaux. We began reading it that day over lunch and later, when I sick enough to sound like Tom Waits and wasn’t doing any extra-curricular talking, Sarah took over reading it at bedtime. You know how you can listen to some albums (say, Eight Arms to Hold You by Veruca Salt) and bam! you’re in your best friend’s car that summer between ninth and tenth grade, heading to the lake to swim? This story is like that: I picked it up for this review and I could smell rice pudding and hear Sarah’s voice reading to us while I tried not to fall asleep on the floor.

And the memory of all that is sweet to me.

The Enchanted Garden, by Erin Greneaux | Little Book, Big Story

Still, I hope your experience reading it isn’t colored by sickness—but if you do find yourself in need of a good sick-week read, I don’t think you could do better than The Enchanted Garden. Greneaux’s story follows two sisters who discover a hidden garden and, through their time working alongside the Gardener, learn some beautiful lessons about grace and forgiveness. It’s one of those rare chapter books that is perfect for beginners—heavily illustrated and shorter than average, but still a delight to read.

One of my favorite parts is that, in the back of the book, Greneaux invites readers to join an old-school fan club called The Gold Feather Gardeners. That sounds fun enough on its own, but when you join, which we did, you receive a gold feather necklace with a hand-written note telling girls that they are loved and that the necklace is a reminder to them that they are loved. This is brilliant and heart-warming, and some of my girls have worn their necklaces just about every day since receiving them.

The Enchanted Garden, by Erin Greneaux | Little Book, Big Story

So, for those with girls among you, just ready to graduate to chapter books (or perhaps older than that! We all enjoyed it): consider The Enchanted Garden. Sick day not required.


The Enchanted Garden
Erin Greneaux; Taisiia Kolisnyk (2022)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.