Category: Middle Grade (Ages 8-11) (page 2 of 15)

Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury

I made it my mission this year to find unusual Easter books, books that play variations of Easter’s main themes rather than hammer out the melody over and over. That is, I went looking for books that don’t recount the events of Holy Week in the usual way.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

We have a number of books that do that and I love them, but reading them repeatedly for the forty days of Lent can deaden the power and beauty of the resurrection story a bit by Easter, so this year, we tried something different: in Lent’s early weeks, we’ve been reading from books like At Jerusalem’s Gate and this one, Michael Hague’s Family Easter Treasury.  We’ve been savoring variations upon that main theme, whetting our appetite for the rich feast of books to come.

This book is similar in style to The Children’s Book of Virtues (also illustrated by Michael Hague). It contains accounts of the Easter story, but they’re tucked into a well-chosen collection of fairy tales, folk tales, poems, hymns and stories that all touch on Easter in some fashion. The stories we’ve read so far have been beautiful—”The Maid of Emmaeus,” especially, and “The Selfish Giant.” We’ve savored them slowly as a part of our homeschool mornings, and they’ve already become a valuable part of our Easter library.

Michael Hague's Easter Treasury | Little Book, Big Story

And Easter is coming! Soon we’ll pull out the old favorites and set this new favorite aside, but right now, this treasury is just right.


Easter Treasury
Michael Hague (1999)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)

10 Books That Celebrate Spring

Some years February is mopey and melancholic. It mists the back of my neck with gray rain, and the clouds seem so low, so immovable that I’m tempted to reach up and try to touch them. But this year, I detected a decided tone of mockery in February’s weather: it snowed, and then the snow turned to gray slush and then it went away. The sun came out for a week or so then, warm enough for walking and wondering at crocuses and snowdrops and feeling hopeful about life in general.

And then the snow came back.

It was white and fluffy snow, the kind of snow we’re glad to see in November. But I caught myself shaking my fist at it and wanting to retreat into some inner part of me that remembered crocuses and snowdrops and the promising first shoots of daffodils. Instead, I dug out the picture books.

Normally, I like to fill the weeks of Lent with posts about beautiful Easter books. But this year I decided to start with a list of books about spring, when the whole earth (well, this hemisphere of it) resurrects, and new life buds and blooms in every corner.

10 Books That Celebrate Spring | Little Book, Big Story

You can find a list of my favorite traditional Easter stories here, and I’ll post more in the weeks to come. But today, we’re doing something a little different, something that looks at the new life promised in those crocuses and birds’ eggs.

These are books—many of them poetry—that make you want to go outside and wonder at the world contained within a droplet of water. They are books that till the soil within us so we are ready to consider the breaking up, sowing, and bursting forth that is Easter.

But Then it’s Spring, by Julie Fogliano

This sweet book echoes exactly my impatience right now. “First you have brown, all around you have brown . . . “. But Then It’s Spring reads like a poem—but a charming poem, not a chanty one. And Erin Stead illustrates it with all the warmth and beauty of A Sick Day for Amos McGee (one of our favorites).

Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature, by Nicola Davies

This “First Book of Nature” is full of poems that span the entire year, but we’ve been reading through the spring section for now, savoring Davies’ meditations on cherry blossoms and birds’ nests. The book is big, with gorgeous collage illustrations, bright colors, and text that celebrates the small beauties around us.

The Creation Story, by Norman Messenger

The Creation Story | Little Book, Big Story

It is good to remember where all those plants begin, and wonderful to consider that they all spring from the ones spoken into being by God. Norman Messenger’s illustrations are filled with detail and life and do this first story justice. (Read the full review.)

All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, by Valerie Worth

All the Small Poems, by Valerie Worth | Little Book, Big Story

These short poems are not only about spring, but they rest briefly on many spring-related topics, like flowers and small creatures and rain . Worth’s poems are a delight to read together, and remind us of the wonder tucked into some of the most ordinary aspects of our lives. (Read the full review.)

A Seed is Sleepyby Dianna Hutts Aston

A Seed is Sleepy, by Dianna Hutts Aston | Little Book, Big Story

A Seed is Sleepy is one of a series of books on interesting aspects of nature. Sylvia Long’s illustrations are richly detailed and show the beauty and variety of the seeds that house strange flowers and plants from all around the world. This book is a beautiful reminder that though they don’t seem to be doing much right now, there are sleepy seeds laboring all around us right now.

The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker

The Complete Book of Flower Fairies, by Cicely Mary Barker | Little Book, Big Story

These poems aren’t only about spring either—in fact, they go through a year’s worth of flowers—but spring means flowers and poetry to me, and these are the best flower poems I know. Cicely Mary Barker assigns each flower a corresponding fairy, then writes about that fairy’s quirks and temperament in a way that makes the poems easy to memorize and the flowers easy to recognize in the wild. Some of the newer collections of Flower Fairies add gimmicks like stories and crafts, but this one is just the poems, arranged by season, and Barker’s classic illustrations.

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia and I are reading this one together right now, and the image of those little green shoots peeping through the tangle of forgotten rose vines is enough to make my spring-hungry heart happy. A beautiful classic, and one that deserves its own post here on the blog.

A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike

A Child's Calendar, by John Updike | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so this book isn’t only about spring either, but it does fit spring within its context and I love that. John Updike wrote a poem for every month of the year, and Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations follow one family through all four seasons, poem by poem. It’s a wonderful book, and the poem “April” contains one of my favorite lines about spring anywhere: “The blushing, girlish world unfolds.” If that doesn’t describe spring, what does?

The Reason for a Flower, by Ruth Heller

Once at a Young Author’s Conference, I heard Ruth Heller speak about illustrating children’s books. I liked her then, but I love her now—her detailed drawings and unexpected rhymes are just what subjects like grammar and botany need.

Anything by LM Montgomery

LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

LM Montgomery’s books are worth reading at any time of the year. But there’s something about spring that makes me want to read and re-read her work, preferably on the front porch, where I can smell freshly tilled garden plots and see as many flowers as possible. (Read more about LM Montgomery.)

And A Bonus ONe, Just for You:

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes the Soul, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

Imagine that Animal, Vegetable, Miracle had been written by Elisabeth Elliot, and you’ll have some idea what to expect from this book. But even so Humble Roots will probably surprise you. Hannah Anderson mediates on the topic of humility, weaving in stories from her life in rural Virginia as well as a vignette about a different flower or plant for each chapter. This is already one of the best books I’ve read this year.


An Aside

Have you had a chance to check out the new Book List? You can find it here, or you can learn more about it in this post.


What about you? What Books do you love reading in the first days of spring?

John Brown | John Hendrix

I knew two things about this book when I grabbed it off the library shelf:

  1. John Brown was a controversial guy whose legacy had something to do with a militia, maybe.
  2. No such controversy surrounds John Hendrix, whose book Miracle Man is one of my favorites, and whose hand-lettered “Hendrix” on this book’s spine compelled me to tuck it in my book bag.

I learned a lot more about both Johns when I got home. John Brown was controversial—I was right about that. As a white man living when the tide was turning, yet hadn’t fully turned, against slavery, John Brown took up arms and fought to bring slavery to an end. He loved the Lord and saw violence as a way to bring a great grief to an end. His raid on a federal armory in the town of Harper’s Ferry was distastrous and led to his capture and execution.

He is not an obvious hero.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But John Hendrix treats his story well, neither glorifying Brown’s call to violence, nor underplaying Brown’s passion and love for those enslaved. Here was a man who saw injustice and said not, “Somebody should do something about that,” but “Something must be done”—and then did something about it.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

I try to keep my daughters’ shelves stocked with stories of heroes—people who trusted the Lord through difficult circumstances, yes, but also figures from history whose stories are worth telling and retelling. John Brown fits almost into both of those categories, but his story is not a clear success and that is, I think, one of its merits. We have to think about this story: Was he right to wage an actual war against slavery? Did he, in the end, accomplish what he set out to do? How was he changed by the events at Harper’s Ferry?

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

There is no setting this book down and thinking, Well, that was nice. John Hendrix’s words as well as his illustrations push the reader into deeper study, and his author’s note at the end of the book gives an interesting glimpse into what drew him to write about John Brown:

John was a devout believer in Christianity. He used the Bible’s words—that men are loved and valuable to God—as a holy plumb line. When he held this truth up against the crooked world, he knew things should be different. I was astonished to read about John’s belief that black people should not just be free but equal, which was an idea far outside mainstream abolitionism in the antebellum United States. His passion for freedom was undisputed. Frederick Douglass said of John Brown: ‘His zeal in the cause of my race was greater than mine. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.’

Those are powerful words about a man who, in the end, did just that: he loved and laid down his for his neighbors. And John Hendrix tells that story well, both in his words and illustrations.


John Brown: His Fight For Freedom
John Hendrix (2009)

The Night Gardener | Jonathan Auxier

There was a time when I did not love scary stories. By “scary stories,” I mean the books I stumbled into in my youth—some of them age-appropriate fluff and some truly terrifying, books that were well beyond me both in content and complexity. Some of them haunt me still, and not in a pleasant “Oh, that gave me chills!” kind of way.

So, I did not love scary stories. And I applied the term “scary stories” not only to books written to send readers to bed with flashlights and cold sweats, but also to books with ruthless and unsettling villains, books that had scary parts in them.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

But then three things happened:

  1. I read ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy and discovered a kind of scary that was also redemptive and, really, quite fun.
  2. My eldest daughter turned eight and woke up one day a much less sensitive reader. Books that might have upset her six months earlier she read without a hint of squeamishness. Indeed, she even seemed to enjoy them. A new vista of reading expanded before us!
  3. I came across ND Wilson’s article for The Atlantic on why he writes scary stories for children. In that article, ND Wilson writes:

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help.

And just like that, my mind changed.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

It was this new attitude that gave me room to try The Night Gardener, a book I may not have bothered with pre-“ND Wilson on scary stories.” But I bothered with it and I’m so glad, because The Night Gardener totally creeped me out, but it also gave me a new appreciation for what a scary story can be.

The Night Gardener follows Molly and Kip, two Irish children who are separated from their parents while crossing the sea to England. When they take a position serving the Windsor family at an eerie manor in the sourwoods, they find themselves in the thick of a mystery. A haunting, don’t-read-this-before-bed mystery.

It’s clear that Jonathan Auxier set out to write a scary story, and I love the way he approached it: Molly and Kip are wonderful, warm-hearted heroes, who are stretched and challenged throughout the story and who grow in some gratifying ways as they face the terrors of the Windsor estate. I love, too, the way Auxier explores what happens when we try to take by force the things we were never meant to have, and his quiet commentary on the difference between stories and lies.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This was a book I wanted to stay up late with but didn’t, because I wanted to sleep and sleep is a rare, fleeting thing here, and so I did not read it before bed. But I did spend an entire naptime on the couch with it, reading, eating chocolate, and refusing to feel guilty about using a pile of unfolded laundry as a backrest. That is a sign of good book.

Also

Have you heard Jonathan Auxier on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast? You really should. I had read none of his books when I listened. I have since read and loved all three (stay tuned for reviews of the other two). This episode definitely made my list of favorites—maybe even top five. It’s a good one.


The Night Gardener
Jonathan Auxier (2015)

Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

10 Beautiful Books About Jesus

This last week of Advent hits our house like a hurricane. We light candles and dress up our Jesse Tree, but we also skip naps, binge on sugar cookies, and attend at least three different family celebrations (not counting our own here at home). We have a lot of family very close by, and that is a blessing.

But right now, reminders of who we’re celebrating and why are crucial: when I’m tempted to hide under a fleecy blanket with a good book and recover from the crowds, I need to be reminded of Jesus, who went on pouring himself out for others, even when the crowds followed him to his quiet mountainside. He didn’t seem to worry much about boundaries or expectations or past hurts—he went on serving. He gave himself to others, and in doing so, gave us all the best gift imaginable.

10 Beautiful Books About Jesus | Little Book, Big Story

So this year I made a list of my favorite picture books about Jesus. These aren’t necessarily Christmas books, because you’re already reading your favorites for the year, aren’t you? These are beautiful, all-year-round books about Jesus, books that prepare us all, parent and child alike, to live the rest of the year like the Incarnation matters.

Because it does. Remembering that refreshes my soul more than the deepest of post-party naps. I hope it refreshes you, too.

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

When I make book lists, I usually arrange the books in “no particular order.” Not so this time. Miracle Man comes first for a reason. John Hendrix uses every medium at his disposal to capture the tenderness of Jesus as well as his intensity by following his miracles and the crowds’ reactions to them. Everything about this book—illustrations, story, layout, cover—is arresting. (Read the full review.)

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson

The Light of the World, by Katherine Paterson | Little Book, Big Story

The Light of the World  walks readers through the full life of Jesus, from birth to death and resurrection. Newbury-award winning author Katherine Paterson tells the story well; Francois Roca’s illustrations deepen it. This is a great book for any time of the year, but I do love bringing it out at Christmas and Easter because it puts both the Incarnation and the Resurrection within the context of the larger story of Jesus’ life. (Read the full review.)

The Garden, The Curtain and The Cross, by Carl Laferton

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

This is another “big picture” book, but it looks not only at Jesus’ life but at his role in God’s redemptive plan for mankind. Carl Laferton fits a lot of great theology (and history) into one slender, richly illustrated book. (Read the full review.)

The Biggest Story, by Kevin DeYoung

The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung and Don Clark | Little Book, Big Story

In ten chapters, Kevin DeYoung tells the story of Scripture with Jesus at the center. Full of beautiful truth and beautiful illustrations, The Biggest Story would be a great read for the last week of Advent or for Holy Week. (Read the full review.)

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Allison Mitchell’s book explores the question “Who is this Jesus?” by telling the story of that time Jesus calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations play beautifully on the humor in the story while still keeping things serious in just the right way. (Read the full review.)

The Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Song of the Stars, by Sally-Lloyd Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, so this is a Christmas book. In it, Sally Lloyd-Jones shows how the whole world anticipated the coming of Christ. This is my favorite book for Christmas Eve. (Read the full review.)

Ballad of Matthew’s Begats, by Andrew Peterson

The Ballad of Matthew's Begats, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson’s book reminds us of the long history behind Jesus’s coming by turning the geneaology of Jesus into a picture book and a catchy song. (Read the full review.)

The One O’Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell

The One O'Clock Miracle, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

What does it look like to trust Jesus? Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri get it right in The One O’Clock Miracle. (Read the full review.)

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski

Easter, by Jan Pienkowski | Little Book, Big Story

It is good to be reminded, as we celebrate the Incarnation, that Jesus came with a purpose. That purpose wasn’t pleasant, but it was good. Jan Pienkowski shows us why in this gorgeous book. (Read the full review.)

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

The Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Of course. (Read the full review.)

Which books about Jesus are your favorites?