Category: Middle Grade (Ages 8-11) (page 2 of 17)

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)

Exploring the Bible | David Murray

Within one week of starting this reading plan with the girls, I wanted to review it for you. “Look!” I wanted to cry. “We found it! The One!” Our relationship with family devotionals has been tumultuous, and after my recent revelation that we had only made it four days into our last attempt, I had the sort of clarity one has when, while trying to eat raw onions on a sandwich, one realizes that one is an adult who neither likes nor has to eat raw onions.

Family devotionals aren’t working for us, I realized. And they don’t have to. We want to study God’s Word with our daughters; we want them to love it, to see the beauty and the brutality and the bottomlessness of it, and we want to them to love the One who wrote it. We need to find another way, I prayed. What does this look like for us?

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

And then, behold! I ordered Exploring the Bible as a Christmas gift for Lydia, thinking it would be nice for her. But when I received it and flipped through its pages and began to see what it was about, I paused. I considered. I ordered two more copies. Lydia, Sarah, and I started working through it together and discussing it as part of our morning routine (while Phoebe colored Slugs & Bugs coloring pages and pondered the meaning of “atonement”).

A week later, Mitch asked me to get him a copy, too, and now we’re all studying through the Bible together, and it is glorious. I was ready to review it right then but I refrained, thinking it would be better if we were farther in, had given it time to stick, and could be sure that Exploring the Bible was as awesome months later as it was at the start.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Months later: it is still awesome.

Here is what Exploring the Bible is:

It is a reading plan for kids. In one year, it takes readers through the entire story of the Bible by hopscotching from key passage to key passage. The point is not to read the entire Bible in a year, but to follow God’s Big Story through it in a series of short but central passages.

Here is how it works:

David Murray arranged the readings in a series of week-long expeditions: one week we spend with Noah, reviewing the big picture of his story within the context of the rest of Scripture, then the next week we spend with Abraham. Murray helps us find a focus for the week but is otherwise pretty hands-off. No guided discussions here, no personal application. I’m glad for that.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Here is how it works for us:

Each day, our reading is about five verses long. Lydia, Mitch, and I do ours independently in the morning; Sarah does hers during our discussion. Later in the morning, the girls and I read the passage, then I ask one of the girls to narrate it back to me. Together we answer the one simple question in the workbook, and then we either stop there or we let discussion blossom however it likes. I love the questions in this book, because they point us back to the text: Murray doesn’t ask us to extrapolate on the text or draw out morals, but asks us instead to look back at a key verse and see what really happened.

“What did God say to Abraham?”

“How does Moses describe God?”

“Where was the sacrifice to be placed?”

They direct us back to the text itself, not to our own thoughts on it, and I love that. Our own thoughts bubble up naturally as we discuss the passage, but I am glad the questions anchor our discussion in what Scripture really said, not just in how we respond to it.

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

So, most days offer those simple questions with the readings. Sometimes, there is a “Snapshot Verse” that Murray encourages us to copy out in the book and to memorize. The Sunday readings contain one of my favorite features: rather than doing an individual reading, we do what Murray calls “Exploring with Others.” First, we pause for a moment and look back on what we read that week; we answer a simple question about it. Then we have space for sermon notes that we all four work on during our pastor’s sermon. (This has been both enlightening and highly entertaining.)

Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids, by David Murray (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Also: Scotty Reifsnyder’s illustrations have this great retro feel that has spurred interesting discussion as well. And the book itself—both its design and its actual composition—is a pleasure to use. It feels so nice to hold it and turn the pages.

In Conclusion

Taking a year to trace the big story of Scripture through Old Testament and New has already begun to bear fruit in us as well as in the girls. We can pick out the main themes of each book more clearly; we have already spotted connections from one story to the next that we might have missed if we’d spent weeks on each story rather than days.

Do our kids still fidget and complain when it’s time to read Scripture? Yes. But Exploring the Bible is like a set of training wheels for the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Scripture reading, and watching our girls gain their balance and become more confident as they read the Bible has been delightful. I am already a little sad that Exploring the Bible won’t go on forever, but I am also excited to see what we learn from this experience and how that shapes our future family reading.


Exploring the Bible: A Bible Reading Plan for Kids
David Murray; Scotty Reifsnyder (2017)

The Gift of the Magi | O. Henry

I had read this story before but reading it this time, on the spongy brown carpet of the piano teachers’ house, within sight of a woodstove and warm with both Phoebe and Josie in my lap, I still sniffled. You have probably heard this story, too. It is an old one, frequently adapted and retold, but that frequent use serves only to polish it to a shine.

The Gift of the Magi tells the story of young Jim and Della Dillingham Young, newlyweds who face Christmas together with their savings scraped bare. Della wonders how she can possibly afford a gift for Jim, decides that she must find a way, and does it. But the story doesn’t end there, and it’s the final pages that make O. Henry’s work endure.

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

Not all editions of this book are equal, though: the one I read while Lydia and Sarah took lessons was an adaptation. It was sweet in its own way, but when I ordered this copy, unabridged, I realized how much the other edition had left out and how dramatically Jim and Della’s story had been reduced in editing. This version contains the full text, complete with some grand words–mendicancy, parsimony, meretricious, to name a few–but PJ Lynch’s illustrations are so rich and nuanced that I found my girls were still able to keep up with the story (with perhaps a helpful nudge here and there).

The Gift of the Magi, by O. Henry | Little Book, Big Story

But though the language is beautiful and the illustrations, too, the prettiest piece of this story is Henry’s depiction of love. We talked for a while afterward of how nice it is to be loved the way that Della loves Jim and Jim loves Della, and how we would like to love others that way. For as often as I try to exhort my children to love one another sacrificially, it is beautiful to see loving sacrifice lived out in the lives of the Dillingham Youngs, though O. Henry does not moralize much about it. He tells us a great story with a bit of a twist, and lets us do the rest.


The Gift of the Magi
O. Henry, PJ Lynch
(Original story: 1905; Illustrated edition: 2008)

Sing the Bible: Family Christmas | Slugs & Bugs

Remember two weeks ago, when I told you we wouldn’t listen to Christmas music until the first day of Advent?

We made it until the day after Thanksgiving. Here is why:

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

My very favorite Christmas album is A Charlie Brown Christmas. No matter how many times I hear it played in my home, your home, my parents’ home, Starbucks, and the department store, I still love everything about it. If anything brings back warm, fuzzy Christmas memories for me, it’s that album. If any Christmas song consistently makes me weepy, it’s Vince Guaraldi’s rendition of “What Child is This?” If any CD calms me down when I have more to do than time to do it in, it’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. I play that album more or less on repeat for all of Advent.

My second favorite Christmas album is A Slugs & Bugs Christmas. It’s funny and touching and quirky at once and gets the blend of humor and wonder and just right. The affection for this one in our home is corporate—we all love it equally and, unlike A Charlie Brown Christmas, no one person is making everyone else listen to it all the time against their will.

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing better than those two albums would be one that somehow combined the cozy jazz piano of Vince Guaraldi with the clever energy of Slugs & Bugs. Seasoning the whole mix liberally with lyrics pulled straight from Scripture would take this hypothetical album from good to great.

That is exactly the album that Slugs & Bugs just released.

Slugs and Bugs: Family Christmas CD | Little Book, Big Story

Randall Goodgame is, it turns out, not just a stellar songwriter but also a stellar jazz pianist, and he anchors the whole album with piano pieces that elicit of the warmth and nostalgia of A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the songs are decidedly his, with songs ranging in tone from charming to beautiful. Within the first four songs, I had laughed helplessly once, cried twice, and said “I love this album so much” to Mitch more times than I can count.

“Mary’s Song,” sung by Goodgame’s daughter Livi, is stunning. “Joseph’s Dream” is wonderfully peppy (“I didn’t know he could sing that fast!” said Lydia from the backseat). The rest of the album is good, too, I’m sure, and I’ll have listened to it all before this post goes up*. But I knew within the first song that I wanted to share Sing the Bible: Family Christmas with you, and so here I am, having listened to only seven songs before writing a review.

I’ll send you off with a little foretaste of that first song:

May these songs fill your Advent with light and warmth and joy (and jazz).

Footnote

I have listened to the whole album now, many times. The entire thing (and especially the last song, but also many others) is a thing of beauty.


Sing the Bible: A Family Christmas
Slugs & Bugs; Randall Goodgame (2017)