Category: Young Adult (Ages 11+) (page 1 of 9)

Sweep | Jonathan Auxier

And now, let’s discuss child labor laws and the plight of Victorian chimney sweeps.

Did you know that during the Victorian era children were the preferred “instruments” for cleaning chimneys because they were small and were considered—given the abundance of orphans on the streets—expendable? Or that they were “indentured” to masters who fed them little and worked them mercilessly? Or that they were not protected under law but often died of fire, hunger, exposure, or illness?

Sweep,. by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This is not a world many authors would invite children into, but Jonathan Auxier opens the door to it through the character of Nan, a young girl serving under a harsh master, who is good at her work and has learned to shut herself off from her fellow sweeps. But one part of her, though she tries to seal it away, continues to seep out: memories or dreams of Before, when she traveled with the Sweep.

The Sweep had a way with stories, a magic about him that she still remembers, even after he abruptly leaves her alone, with nothing but a bit of char in her pocket that never seems to grow cool. But that char offers Nan much more than a bit of warmth—as a gift from Sweep, it comforts and protects her in an unexpected way.

Jonathan Auxier infuses Sweep with magic and hope through the character of Charlie and his friendship with Nan, and turns what could be a dismal, depressing subject into a glowing story of love and sacrifice.

Sweep,. by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

A note

If you’ve read Auxier’s other books, you know that his stories can be intense for some readers. (Wonderful, but intense.) I think this one sits somewhere between Peter Nimble and The Night Gardenerand the historical aspect of it (as in, much of this happened to real kids) could be upsetting for some. I encourage you to read it yourself before giving it to your kids, for their sake but also for yours: I think you’ll love it.


Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster
Jonathan Auxier (2018)

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)

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

The Railway Children
E. Nesbit (1906)

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

The Outlaws of Time Series | ND Wilson

Not long ago, Mitch and I spent eight days on an island. The girls packed up the essentials—clothes, pajamas, pillows, dolls, complete dolls’ wardrobe, journals, schoolwork, beloved books, and a half dozen stuffed animals—and spent the week with their grandparents, savoring what became fondly known as “The Big Sleepover.”

We, meanwhile, boarded a plane bound for Kaua’i. (It is a big moment, taking off into the air knowing that one’s children are still below, hidden in one of those tiny dots of light.)

One elbow of the Na Pali coast | Little Book, Big Story

We spent the week exploring—riding rented bikes to beaches, befriending wild roosters, and hiking, in one morning, both the muddiest trail I’ve ever seen and the most beautiful. We ate out for every meal (glorious!); we considered the wisdom of smuggling home shave ice in our suitcase for the girls. We spent hours browsing the island’s one, noteworthy bookstore and managed to leave with only eight new books.

And we read. Without interruption.

But we did not read just any books. For a trip like this—a “we haven’t been away this long since our honeymoon fifteen years ago” trip—one cannot read just any books. And so we packed the Outlaws of Time books by N.D. Wilson.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Mitch read them first, then re-read the second one while I re-read the first, then read something else but looked longingly over at my book while I read the second one for the first time. The third book released not long after we got home, and we passed that one back and forth and, when finished, debated the wisdom of immediately re-reading the entire series all over again.

That explains, pretty well, our relationship with these books: Outlaws of Time is a brilliant series, and that is one reason to read and reread it. But these books are also intricate, well-tuned. The plot features time travel, and it is a bit of work to keep straight who is where when and what iteration of themselves is currently in action. But “confusing” is the wrong word. “Dizzying” might be better. The books are satisfying, though they leave one’s ears ringing by the end.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the book’s premise: Sam Miracle can’t bend his arms. His joints are fused together by some forgotten trauma that makes motion stiff and painful, and his memory is pockmarked with holes, confused by daydreams that end with his own death. He is broken and cast off in a youth home in the desert—until a terrifying visitor from the past he can’t remember arrives.

(If that story sounds like a fever-fed dream to you, there’s a good reason for that.)

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

And so, I recommend reading Outlaws of Time when you have time to reread them immediately, just in case you’re inclined to. You’ll find more in them each time, I promise, and things that didn’t make perfect sense the first time through will feel fitting—inevitable even—the second time you read them.

I will make one more recommendation: pre-read these for your kids. I love so many things about these stories, but they are dark—maybe even darker than 100 Cupboardsso I recommend reading them through for yourself before handing them over to your kids.  You know best what your kids ready for.


The Outlaws of Time Series
N.D. Wilson (2017-2018)


One last Note

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of Wildflowers magazine! You can do that here.

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!

More Great Resources for Family Devotions

Two years have passed since my last post on family devotionals, and in that time I’ve learned that there’s more to Orion than his belt, and that hot sauce is actually, in moderation, most of the time, pretty good. I have also learned that we’re not great at following through with real devotionals, but there are so many good ones out there that I keep finding them and trying them and reviewing them for you. I have reviewed so many since that last post that it’s time for another compilation, one that features two of our favorites—two that we have successfully read from cover-to-cover and, in one case, even read a second time.

6 More Resources for Family Devotions | Little Book, Big Story

This list features books that span a wide range of ages and that will appeal to different families at different times. Some are rooted in Scripture, some around a catechism, and some are systematic theologies for kids. But they all strive to communicate the gospel clearly and beautifully to families, and they all offer excellent jumping-off points for discussion, either in the form of questions or in content that begs for further conversation.

The Ology, by Marty Machowski

A systematic theology for children? Yes, please! Introducing The Ology, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

I’ll begin with one of our favorites. Marty Machowski’s The Ology is a systematic theology for kids that covers everything from the nature of God to the calling of the church to the end times, and he does it in a way that our four-year-old will sit through and our older girls engage with and love. The Ology is even structured so that can be used with still older readers, middle- and high-school readers, with additional questions and study ideas, as well as verses in each reading to research. We’re almost done reading this one for a second time, and it’s still excellent. (Read the full review.)

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor (Review) | Little Book, Big Story

This book is also a systematic theology, but it’s written for young readers. (At four, Phoebe adores it.) The readings are short and simple (but not overly simplified), and they end with questions that tie the big concepts to the illustrations, so little ones have something visual to refer to while they listen. If you’ve finished The Jesus Storybook Bible with your little ones and want to know what to read next, try this! (Read the full review.)

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan & Richie Hunt

My ABC Bible Verses from the Psalms, by Susan and Richie Hunt | Little Book, Big Story

These readings, drawn from the psalms, focus on the life of one family as they explore the psalms together and put what they learn into practice. I worried at first that these readings might feel too cheesy, but no! The girls loved them, and they gave momentum to some deep discussions. These readings are practical, which can be helpful for kids who hear often how they ought to behave but struggle to know what that looks like, but they’re not moralistic: grace weaves through each one, reminding us all that we are forgiven and loved even when we fail. (Read the full review.)

Wise-Up, by Marty Machowski

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

These ten-minute devotions from Proverbs are—as every Marty Machowski book I’ve read is—excellent. They’re short, but give ample fodder for deeper discussion, and they bring families back each night to Scripture itself. We didn’t finish this one, but that doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for the book itself. This might be a good place to start if you’re interested in his other books, Long Story Short and Old Story New. Or it might be a great thing to read if you’ve finished those and want something shorter and focused on one book of the Bible. (Read the full review.)

New City Catechism

The New City Catechism | Little Book, Big Story

Our older girls memorized parts of this at school, and we’re getting ready to start it here at home. It’s a rich catechism, written beautifully, and with so many partnering resources to help families memorize it together. The answers are two-part—one for children, one for adults—with print editions available for both children and adults. There is also a book of devotions, as well as recorded songs for the questions and answers, and an app. (If you’re just starting, you probably want either the black book or the app.) This is a resource I’m excited to explore together as we grow in our knowledge of God and help equip our kids to follow him. (Read more about why the New City Catechism was written and what the authors believe.)

Exploring the Bible, by David Murray

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

Exploring the Bible is our current read, and we continue to love it. This is not really a devotional but a Bible reading plan for kids, with a short Scripture reading (about five verses) designated for each day, followed by a simple question.

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

Mitch, Lydia, Sarah and I all read ours individually in the morning and then reread it together in the evening, with Phoebe. Some nights, the conversation branches off into deeper things, or we find ourselves tying some event to the reading as we interact throughout the day. Murray’s goal is to introduce kids to the whole story of Scripture through this year-long, fly-over view. And so far, our family loves it. (Read the full review.)


What about you? Have you found any great devotional resources or Routines lately?