Category: Middle Grade (Ages 8-11) (page 1 of 18)

The Mistmantle Chronicles | M.I. McAllister

Some might consider what I’m about to do cruel.

First, I’m going to rave about The Mistmantle Chronicles. I’m going to tell you that they are everything I look for in a book. They are:

a) a delight to read

b) beautifully written

c) shaped by a deep and rich Christian worldview

And then I’m going to tell you that they’re difficult to find. Not so difficult that you can’t find some of them, but elusive enough that you may search for months for a copy of the last book. You may scour eBay and ThriftBooks and every used bookstore in your area, just in case someone didn’t realize what they had and let it go. You may briefly contemplate spending $120 on Amazon for a paperback copy*. You may request that your library purchase a copy. You may even email the author directly with a plea for help.

You may search and search. And you still may not find it.

I haven’t.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

I wondered if it was fair to introduce you to something so delightful and gripping and then announce that you might not be able finish the series. But I decided to introduce you anyway, because these books are among the best we’ve read, and also because I have this slim hope that maybe somebody someday will have the good sense to reprint them. And if we’re all out there requesting it at libraries and talking it up online and perhaps emailing the publisher, maybe that will help? Let’s start a Mistmantle Movement, people!

Here is the premise of the story: Urchin, an unusually pale squirrel, is discovered in the shallows off Mistmantle Island just after his birth. No one knows where he came from or what happened to his mother, but he was found on a night of riding stars, when portentous things are said to happen. The books follow Urchin as he grows and faces challenges of different sorts, but while they primarily center around him, McAllister also deftly weaves the stories of other animals, both good and evil, into Urchin’s story.

The Mistmantle Chronicles meld the gospel-rich worldview of (Scripture, of course, but also) The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wingfeather Saga with the warmth and coziness of RedwallM.I. McAllister’s characters are far from formulaic: they exhibit the unexpected quirks and details that make them inflate from two dimensions to three. They live; we believe in them. And though the challenges the characters face are deep and hard, they often resolve them by looking to the Heart (the God of their world) for strength and guidance.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

These books do have some dark themes—the first book deals with the subject of “culling,” a sinister plot to kill any babies who are weak or deformed in any way—but McAllister handles these gracefully, and always with an eye on what is right and good. These are stories that will bend our affections toward the good and lovely, and they are worth searching out, however long our quest.

*Those of you who read ebooks won’t suffer this hardship: the digital version is available for $6.99. If our library can’t track a copy down for us, I may go that route out of desperation.


The Mistmantle Chronicles
M.I. McAllister (2005-2012)

God’s Timeline | Linda Finlayson

One of the bits of planning I struggled with most this school year was history: What will we study this year? (Modern history.) Which books will we read? (So many good ones.) How can I prepare for the hard conversations that will inevitably follow our readings on the World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

I didn’t expect history planning to be emotionally draining—but oh, it was. Modern history isn’t a light read.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

But I found comfort both in zooming in and reading biographies of people who lived through those devastating wars and in zooming out to look at the whole scope of history and where those wars fit in context. Zooming in, because though the statistics are staggering, the perspective of one child in one city gives, in some way, a manageable picture of what it might have been like to live through a world war. And zooming out, because though there have been wars throughout history (and none like the world wars), the people who suffered through them have all been under God’s sovereign care. Not one of them lived or died without purpose.

I love zooming out.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

Linda Finlayson does exactly that with her book God’s Timeline. It is a survey of church history, laid out in a way that will make visual learners squeal with joy. From a fold-out timeline to biographical sketches of key figures to overviews of particular times in church history, Finlayson gives us a big picture view of God’s work through the history of the church.

God’s Timeline is the sort of book you could read for family devotions, in Sunday school, or in a solitary fashion under an apple tree. You could use it as a spine for history studies and tie it to lengthier biographies and such; you could use it (and I have) in your community group, to help explain to grownups when the Bible we know came to be. Or to refresh your memory about when the Great Awakening began.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

This is a versatile, beautiful book. It zooms out and takes in the whole of church history in one shot, and from that perspective reminds us that God has cared for his church throughout her whole history, even as he cares for her today.


God’s Timeline: A Big Book of Church History
Linda Finlayson (2018)

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)

What’s in the Bible? (Videos) | JellyTelly

Vischer

The weather isn’t cool, but it will be soon. And when it is, we plan to watch this series for the third (or possibly fourth?) time. This post originally appeared on this blog in October 2014, and we still love this show as much as we did then.

We have discovered some new favorites on JellyTelly since I first shared this post (The Nature of God, Stevie’s Trek to the Holy Land, Friends & Heroes—to name a few), but What’s in the Bible? remains one of our family’s All-Time Favorite Shows. I hope you love it, too!


Way back in this blog’s beginning posts, I wrote a bit about What’s in the Bible? I told you that it was awesome and that you should watch it, but that was over a year ago and now it’s a cozy sort of season when movies and fleece blankets are in high demand, so I thought I’d give the series its very own post—even though it’s not a book, but a show about the book.

What’s in the Bible? is a series of 26 episodes that works its way through the entire Bible, but probably not in the way you’re thinking. Yes, it tells the creation story and shares a stellar retelling of the Book of Ruth, but the overall focus of the series is less on the celebrated stories of the Bible and more on the great, overarching story of the Bible. What is actually in the Bible? Why does it matter to us? What’s in the Bible? strives to answer those questions with creativity and sincerity (a great combination when dealing with anyone, little or big). The mind behind it all belongs to Phil Vischer, of JellyTelly (and formerly of VeggieTales). He briefly explains the vision of What’s in the Bible? here:

As you may remember from my post about his book, Sidney and Norman, I think very, very highly of Mr. Vischer. He appears on the show as a sort of anchor for an eclectic cast of puppets (which features, among other things, a Sunday school teacher, a news anchor, and a pirate), where he doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, but speaks to kids as though they can and should understand what the Bible says about tricky topics like sin, salvation, and theological doctrine. Take the show’s explanation of the Trinity, for example:

 

Our daughters love these videos. My husband and I love them, too, and through the show’s vivid illustrations we have both learned a lot about key aspects of the Bible. The episodes that touched on Paul’s back story or the silence between the Testaments switched lights on for both of us, and now our daughters tend to do things like, oh, list the books of the Bible in order just for fun. The show is full of catchy songs (a song about the Pentateuch—sung on a riverboat!) and great topical segments (A Pirate’s Guide to Church History!) that go far beyond the traditional fare of Christian children’s programming.

Take this song about the book of Judges (yes, Judges):

Oh, okay, and our favorite song about Leviticus (yes, Leviticus):

 Now, where you can you find this excellent series? If you live in our area, you can request copies of the DVDs at the public library, but by far the easiest way to watch them is to subscribe to JellyTelly. The monthly fee is cheap and grants you access to all 26 episodes of What’s in the Bible? as well as a variety of other shows and games that our family has yet to explore. (Do I sound like an infomerical? Don’t worry, this is not a sponsored post—none of my posts are—so it’s simply my enthusiasm for this show that you hear taking on a cheesy radio-announcer persona.)

JellyTelly’s mission is “be a tool to help raise the next generation of Christians so they know what they believe and know how to live it and to help launch the next generation of Christian storytellers.” I love that vision and see it succeeding marvelously through What’s in the Bible? 


What’s in the Bible? (DVD series)
Jelly Telly

Wildflowers Magazine: Issue 02 (Summer)

The summer issue of Wildflowers is here has been here for a while but I’m just now getting to reviewing it because things are crazy here (more on that soon!).

Wildflowers Magazine, Issue 02: Summer | Little Book, Big Story

But it is here, and it’s beautiful, and I get to give one of you an issue! Huzzah! If you missed my earlier post on Wildflowers magazine, here’s what you need to know: this is the second issue of a brand new magazine for girls. Wildflowers puts out a new issue each season (plus a bonus Christmas issue!) full of craft tutorials, art projects, photography, poetry, short fiction, coloring pages, book reviews (that’s where I come in), and more. I love being a part of something so beautiful and that blesses young women so much.

Wildflowers Magazine, Issue 02: Summer | Little Book, Big Story

You can enter to win a copy below, or you can skip all the hoping and waiting and crossing fingers and buy a copy right here. And stay tuned for the fall issue! It’ll be here before we know it.

Wildflowers Magazine, Issue 02: Summer | Little Book, Big Story

ENTER TO WIN A FREE COPY OF WILDFLOWERS!

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Friday, August 31. After that, the winner will be randomly selected and notified by email. Good luck!

 
 
 

The Railway Children | E. Nesbit

This summer re-run first appeared on my blog in January 2014. It features one of my favorite books. I hope you enjoy it (and your summer break!), too.


Was there ever a better narrator than E. Nesbit? The way she banters with the reader in charming asides and includes her own voice as a part of the story makes reading her work an act of listening, as though a favorite aunt has drawn little you onto her lap as she tells you a story about some children that she once knew. Her voice is comfortable, familiar; she exists within the story in a delightful way.

C.S. Lewis also had a knack for establishing this intimacy between author and reader. I used to think that I recognized his voice in Nesbit’s work until I learned that she was one of his favorite authors as a child, and that really, I was hearing her voice in his work. This just made me love her more than ever, and I love her best of all in her book, The Railway Children.

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

After their father is mysteriously called away from home, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis leave their comfortable life in London and move to the countryside with their mother, where they are materially poor but find a wealth of excitement in the railway that cuts through the hills near their new home. Adventures of a noble sort ensue, all told in Nesbit’s endearing (but never, ever sappy) tone.

The small fry in our home are so smitten with The Railway Children that, for a time, they answered only to Roberta and Phyllis, and we found ourselves hosting an imaginary brother named Peter for months (we currently host an imaginary brother and sister named Curdie and Irene—from The Princess and the Goblinas well as a sister named Applesauce, and an imaginary cow named Charlotte. Our house is cozy, but never dull).

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

One closing note: you’ll notice that I never give age recommendations on my blog. The reasoning behind that is simple: all children are different, and the book one child cracks open at four, another child may not properly enjoy until eight. You know better than I do where your child falls on the spectrum, so I leave it up to you to decide if your child is ready for this book. Read it yourself and see. I’m quite certain that you will enjoy it.


The Railway Children
E. Nesbit (1906)