Category: Young Adult (Ages 11+) (page 2 of 8)

Redwall | Brian Jacques

Redwall. Now she knew why creatures talked of it with such reverence; it appeared to blend with the surrounding Mossflower country as a haven of rest and tranquility, in harmony with all nature, like some gentle giant of a mother, sheltering and protecting her children.

– Mariel of Redwall 

I encountered Redwall Abbey in my early twenties. I was wandering then, in need of a refuge, and I found one within the grounds of Redwall. Evil was clear-cut there, easy to see and to fight—unlike the sin that seeps and simmers in our adult lives. Reading about the peaceful creatures of Redwall battling the rat Cluny, and feasting on good things like woodland salad and maple cordial fortified me for my own battle.

A good story can do that.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

But when I handed my battered copy over to Lydia a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to love it. I even cautioned her that she may not love it yet, and that if she didn’t fall for it immediately she should withhold judgement and try again in a few years. Cluny is really scary, and I wasn’t sure she was ready to meet him.

She was ready to meet him. She came downstairs a few hours later, shining-eyed and wondering if there were more books in the series.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was in luck: Redwall is one of twenty-two books (meaty, full-length, well-written books) about the Abbey and its inhabitants. The inhabitants change from book to book, as the stories generally take place at different points along a timeline.

Think Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars: you grow to love one batch of characters in a book, and then pick up the next book to find a batch of brand new characters to love, with, perhaps, a few cameos from old favorites in the new story. The mischievous Dibbun of one book may be the elderly Abbot of the next book. It’s great fun.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was so taken with these books that she’s begun working industriously around the house, doing chores and setting up lemonade stands in order to fund her growing collection of Redwall books. She has out-paced me in the series, so I’ve been taking recommendations from her on what to read next. She is the true Redwall authority in our home now, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the series with you. Here is why Lydia thinks your family will love these books:

I love these books! I can’t believe that the first time I read Redwall, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Girls will like it because there are beautiful girls who are very brave, too, and boys will like it because there are lots of battles. There are hilarious hungry hares, beautiful young maidens, old abbots and abbesses, brave young warriors (who are sometimes girls!), cute little Dibbuns, strong badger lords (and a badger lady), very bad vermin, big brave Skippers, odd-speaking moles, argumentative Guosim shrews and much more! Dive into the world between the covers of a Redwall book!

I think she summed up the series quite nicely! I can really only add a few grown-up thoughts to that.

On Villains

The evil in these books is shocking, and I think it’s meant to be.

The villains in these stories war amongst themselves, kill innocent creatures, and go to terrible ends to achieve their goals. They are brutal, but they are rarely funny and never glorified. When the story transitions from the villain’s stronghold, where he slays his friends out of vengeance, pride, or boredom, to the Abbey orchard, where strangers and friends feast together, the reader can’t help but love the lovelier scene.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

As my daughter and I have discussed these books, I’ve been struck by how well they help shape her affections. She has been quick to notice the way that the creatures of Redwall serve one another, while the villains serve only themselves, or to notice how the Redwall soldiers honor their fallen while their enemies simply leave their dead behind. And that contrast is, I think, the point: there is no moral ambiguity to this story, no anti-hero. The bad guys are very bad; the heroes aren’t perfect, but they are still very good.

Jacques was a child in England during WWII, and I wonder how his experiences shaped the portrayal of evil in these stories. If your child is a sensitive reader, I will give you two warnings: Be ready for graphic battle scenes and very bad bad guys, but don’t let those turn you away from the story. Jacques does a great job of making the stories feel safe, even when they’re at their scariest.

On Dialect

Jacques was fond of writing in dialect. In the case of the hares, who sound like characters from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, this is delightful. But in the case of the moles, who are meant to sound (I think) like operating drills, the dialogue can be a bit trickier to decipher. If you’re reading aloud, you might familiarize yourself with the dialogue before reading to your kids so you don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of zzzs and rrrs.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

On Feasts

The food. Oh, the food.

Jacques has said that his lavish descriptions of Redwall feasts sprung from his memory of rationing during the war, when he fantasized about the dishes in his mother’s cookbook. His descriptions of food are so mouth-watering that they have inspired a whole cookbook and have inspired us to throw our own Redwall feast. There are so many dishes in there that sound wonderful, even if I have no idea what they are: meadowcream trifle, buttercup cordial, mushroom and leek pasty with gravy. I want comfort food—and a lot of it—when I’m reading these books.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah, my photography assistant

In fact, that was the second caution I offered Lydia when I gave her the book: you might not like it yet, and it will probably make you hungry. I am so glad I was wrong about the first one, and so glad I was right about the second.


Redwall
Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

The Bronze Bow | Elizabeth George Speare

My edition of The Bronze Bow told me delightfully little about the book—what it was called, who wrote it, what else the author is known for and that the book won a Newbery Award, but nothing at all about the story. I bought the book because of that award, and because I had a dim memory that somebody I respected had once said something about The Bronze Bow. But the book sat on my shelf, unread, until a few months ago when I finally took it down and plunged into the story.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

The story itself was a pleasant surprise: set in Galilee during the first century, The Bronze Bow follows Daniel, a young man orphaned by the Romans and exiled from his village. Daniel longs to see Israel freed from the rule of the Roman Empire and dedicates all he has to fighting in an underground rebellion. But when his circumstances change and Daniel is drawn back into the life of his village, he is forced to reconsider what sort of victory God is working toward and how Daniel can best help bring it about.

I loved the historical detail in this book, but one of my favorite aspects of it is the way the story runs alongside that of the gospels, bumping up against the story of Jesus every so often. Jesus is a character in this book, so if that makes you squeamish, you’ve been warned. But the way Speare portrays him is beautiful and respectful and, as far as I can see, consistent with Scripture, though of course she portrays him creatively, supplying details outside those mentioned in the gospels. I found her descriptions so compelling, and I loved the way the other characters had to reckon with Jesus, the way his words and very presence kept shaping their decisions and responses in ways they could not explain.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

Because of the age of the main characters (18 or so) and because Jesus appears in a fictional setting, I’d recommend saving this one until our child is old enough to separate this story from that of the gospels and to view it with discernment. Of course, you know your child better than I do, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt.

But The Bronze Bow is a beautiful example of historical fiction that brings history to life for the reader. And now, I’m off to read Speare’s other books—she’s fully won my trust as an author.


The Bronze Bow
Elizabeth George Speare (1997)

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Son

It will come as no surprise to you that I have a blind spot when it comes to writing book reviews. Have you guessed it?

Right.

I don’t have any sons.

I have no problem finding beautiful books for girls because I have four daughters, two of which are eager to snap up any book I bring home. But because I don’t have a son, it’s a little more difficult for me to find books to recommend here for boys.

I do, however, have a number of friends with sons who let their families serve as a sort of test audience for me. Did you like it? I ask their sons after they finish a book, resisting the urge to take notes as they answer. Then here, I say, and hand them another book. Try this one.

Ten Chapter Books To Read Aloud To Your Son | Little Book, Big Story

Of course, I’m learning that boys’ tastes vary as widely as girls’ do: one family of all boys adored The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic; one wanted nothing to do with it (there was a girl on the cover). One family loved the entire Little House series; another could stomach only Farmer Boy.

But because I’ve already done a few book lists for the girls, I wanted to compile a list for those of you with sons who are wondering what to read next. I left off some of the classics that you’ve seen again and again on book lists for boys—Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Books and such—and the classics that we all love already—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. You already know about those ones.

The books on this list have received rave reviews from my test readers (ages 2-11) and will, I hope, be new to some of you. Of course, these books don’t appeal exclusively to boys: I’ve read or intend to read all of these to my daughters at some point. But they’re heavy on adventure, light on pretty dresses and a whole lot of fun to read aloud.

And if you read them to your boys, well—I would love to hear what your boys think about them. (I may even take notes.)

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson (yes, that Andrew Peterson) has written one of the finest examples of Christian fiction out there. Period. (Read the full review.)

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Robin Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

A classic tale of chivalry, complete with archery contests, weddings at arrow-point, and plenty of bashing of crowns. There are many versions of Robin Hood’s adventures out there, but Green’s telling is my favorite (mostly because Maid Marian is awesome in this one). (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

If your sons are put off by the first half of this title, remind them gently of the second half: yes, this is a story about a princess. But it is also a story about goblins. And about a brave boy named Curdie, who wields his pickax to great effect. I’ve recommended this to at least three families of all boys and it’s gotten glowing reviews all around. (Read the full review.)

100 CUPBOARDS, by ND Wilson

100 Cupboards Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

ND Wilson’s delightfully creepy trilogy about Henry York and the wall full of cupboards he discovers in his attic bedroom is full of adventure and powerful imagery. And good news: if your kids like this series, then they’ve just tapped the rich vein of Wilson’s books. He has plenty of other really excellent books out there. (Read the full review.)

HALF MAGIC, by Edward Eager

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Four siblings discover a magic charm that grants wishes but only grants half wishes. This story had us laughing, sometimes uncontrollably and often unattractively, from start to finish. The rest of the series is equally funny. (Read the full review.)

THE GREEN EMBER, by SD Smith

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

SD Smith’s first novel is about Heather and Picket, two rabbits cut loose from everything familiar and sent on an adventure. It’s pretty intense in the opening scenes, but tells a story of such beauty and hope that I simply cannot wait for the sequel‘s release. (Read the full review.)

See also: THE BLACK STAR OF KINGSTON, by SD Smith

 

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

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

When their father is unexpectedly called away, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis move from London to the English countryside with their mother where they find adventure, daring rescues and quiet, sunny days. It may not sound like much, but this is one of my very favorite children’s books, for boys and girls alike. (Read the full review.)

LITTLE BRITCHES, by Ralph Moody

[Currently loaned out to a friend’s son and unavailable for a photo shoot. But good news: it’s getting great reviews!]

The author chronicles his youth working on his family’s ranch. A fun, lively story full of the sort of adventures that made me a little relieved that I have a house full of (so far) mild-mannered girls.

THE WILDERKING TRILOGYby Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Rogers retells the story of King David’s early years, complete with guilded gators, crumbling canyons, and feechiefolk (did I mention that this is a fictionalized retelling?). (Read the full review.)

LITTLE PILGRIM’S PROGRESSby Helen L. Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Like Pilgrim’s Progress, but about children. That might sound horribly cheesy to you (it did to me), but trust me: it’s not. Taylor’s retelling of Christian and Christiana’s adventures reminds kids that they don’t ride on their parents’ shoulders to the Celestial City, but are lovingly led there by their King. (Read the full review.)


Add to the List! Which books did I miss?

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs

I grew up on good music.

My mom favored folk singers; my dad introduced me to everyone from Louis Armstrong to Michael Jackson to Nirvana. By the time I held my first guitar, I had a wealth of influences to draw on and didn’t have to wonder what made a good song good—I knew what to listen for. That I would write my own songs seemed inevitable.

I want to give my own daughters that same sort of creative foundation, but with one alteration: I want them to know the classics, but I want to introduce them, first, to artists who tuck the gospel into their music, who inscribe on their lyrics and compositions Bach’s inscription, “Soli Deo Gloria.” Glory to God alone.

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs | Little Book, Big Story

At home we listen to everything from Billie Holiday to the Black Keys, but in our minivan I have a captive audience, and so I curate our travelling collection in the same way I curate our home library: the songs we hear while buckled up together are the ones whose lyrics will take root in our daughters’ young hearts, the ones that become part of our family’s collective memory. I want them to be good songs, creative songs that nourish our souls. I put a lot of thought into which albums make it into the van, and while not all of the artists in our collection are exclusively (or overtly) Christian, most of them are.

We listen to Liz Vice (her music is one of my favorite discoveries of the past year) and Josh Garrels. We listen to JJ Heller, of course, and 16 Horsepower, an old favorite from before we married. The Gray Havens captured the girls’ imaginations with their story-songs, and the music of Ordinary Time has been with us through all manner of seasons. (It goes without saying that Slugs & Bugs and Songs for Saplings are in heavy rotation, too!)

Looking for the Gospel in Good Songs | Little Book, Big Story

Not every song on this list has made it into the van yet—some are still waiting on my Amazon wishlist for their moment to come. But they are all good songs, by artists who use their gifts to tell again the story of who God is and what he has done, and to tell it in fresh and creative ways.

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. —Johann Sebastian Bach

The Hobbit | JRR Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Reading that sentence is, for me, like stepping onto the welcome mat of a beloved but infrequently-visited friend. Good company is sure to follow, and good food (or, in this case, descriptions of food).

But that sentence did not always affect me this way, nor does it affect everyone that way. When my mom first handed me the book, I was in high school and hardly made it past the opening paragraphs before I dropped it in favor of something with more drama, something probably written by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not encounter it again until a few years later, when the man I was smitten with recommended it (and love, as I’m sure you know, makes one willing to plunge into the lamest of books on the recommendation of one’s beloved). This time, The Hobbit took: I was irrevocably drawn into the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and, a few weeks later, into those of Frodo.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

It’s fair to say that my taste in literature changed dramatically from that summer on.

(My life changed from that year on, actually, as I married that man the following winter. How much of his suit’s success can be attributed to The Hobbit? It’s hard to say. But introducing me to Tolkien certainly didn’t hurt his chances.)

I’m not sure how much I need to tell you about The Hobbit, really. If you’ve read it, you know all about it; if you haven’t read it, then you should. And if you’ve ever started to read it but lost interest within the first few chapters, try again. That’s the abridged review.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the slightly longer one:

Part of the appeal of reading The Hobbit is, to me, the joy of reading something that was the first of its kind: we’ve most likely grown up hearing references from Tolkien’s books, and we’ve probably seen some (or all) of Peter Jackson’s movies. Tolkien has influenced so many authors that in their work, we’ve encountered themes and images that build upon his foundation. But I wish, sometimes, that I could have read his books when they first came out, when that sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” introduced a story the likes of which no one had heard before (I feel this way about the Sherlock Holmes stories, too).

The next best thing, though, is reading The Hobbit to our kids. My husband has called dibs on reading this one aloud, but I can’t wait to sit on the floor with my sketchbook and listen as our daughters meet Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin & Co. for the very first time. These stories are well-worn and familiar to us—we both reread the series every few years—but to our daughters, they will be a new sort of adventure, one that takes them the first part of the way into Middle Earth and introduces them to characters that will, we hope, become friends that we’ll all have in common.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

And maybe, I hope, The Hobbit might have a hand in shaping the way they view literature from that season on. Maybe.


The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien (1937)

Beyond the Ballgown: 9 Unusual Books About Princesses

When a friend asked for advice about raising daughters (he and his wife were expecting their first), all I came up with was, “Expect to find baby dolls in strange places. And there will be glitter all over your house, but you won’t know where it came from.” In retrospect, I’d like to add: “People will buy you princess things—so many princess things. Even when they know that you don’t want princess things in your house.”

Also, I’d probably say something about daughters being a gift from the Lord, and it being such a joy to raise them. And so on.

I’ve written before about our family’s approach to princesses, and have meant, for a good long time, to revisit that topic with a list of the books that our girls have fallen in love with—books that do a little, at least, to combat the pull of the Disney franchise by portraying princesses and queens in a courageous, wise, and truly beautiful (not weirdly-animated beautiful) light.

9 Unusual Books About Princesses | Little Book, Big Story

Some of these leading ladies aren’t technically princesses, but you’ll find queens in the mix and ladies and little girls who display beautifully what true princess-ness means. Here are some unusual books about princesses:

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis | Little Book, Big Story

Every good book list ought to open with these books, I think. And any list of books about strong leading ladies who are loving, empathetic and brave ought to open with Lucy Pevensie. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

This book is old and wonderful: the story of Princess Irene, the miner Curdie, and Irene’s great-great-grandmother gives a great illustration of what it looks like to be a princess during the good times and the bad, in safety and in danger. (Read the full review.)

THE ORDINARY PRINCESS, by M.M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

When a cantankerous fairy bestows not the gift of grace, beauty or charm on the infant princess Amethyst, but instead gives her the gift of ordinariness, the story of Princess Amy, thoroughly ordinary in every way, begins. This book takes a good look at what makes us truly beautiful and how to recognize those that appreciate those qualities. (Read the full review.)

THE STORY OF ESTHER, by Eric Kimmel

The Story of Esther | Little Book, Big Story

What better picture of royal courage can we pull from Scripture than that of Esther? Though married to King Artaxerxes against her will, Queen Esther serves the Lord where she is placed and through her obedience, saves his people. She’s beautiful, faithful, and brave! (Read the full review.)

I’D BE YOUR PRINCESS, by Kathryn O’Brien

I'd Be Your Princess | Little Book, Big Story

This sweet picture book follows the conversation between a father and a daughter as she imagines what it would be like if he was a king and she was a princess. Her father ties her vision gently back to Scripture and encourages his daughter to cultivate the qualities that Scripture emphasizes. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Though not a literal princess, Sara Crewe lives like one: pampered by her beloved papa and treated as royalty by the headmistress of her boarding school, she enjoys life’s luxuries—until a plot twist takes them all (every last one) away. But she determines to go on living like a princess in all the right ways all the same. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE KISSby Jennie Bishop

The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop | Little Book, Big Story

Jennie Bishop’s fable about a princess who is given a gift at birth meant only for the man she marries gives a lovely picture for young girls of marriage and purity—even answering gently, at one point, the question, “What if he isn’t out there for me?” This is a book that I appreciate for the way it helps shape our daughters’ views on marriage and sexuality while telling a story about a royal family who knows what to truly value.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, Maid Marian isn’t technically a princess, but she does rub elbows with royalty, wear lovely gowns (sometimes, at least), and marry her true love at the (almost) end of the story. But she’s also fearless and loyal, willing to stand her ground against injustice and to fight for good alongside her fiance. There are many retellings of Robin Hood’s adventures, but Maid Marian’s character in this one makes it my favorite. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

Katherine Paterson, author of The Bridge to Terebithia and many, many other books, puts a beautiful twist on those stories that marry off princesses as prizes for killing dragons and so on. When the king dies, he leaves his kingdom to his proud and quite unlikeable son on the stipulation that he finds a wife that is truly his equal. The search for such a woman leads to lovely and unexpected results—and no one is more surprised by them than the prince. (Read the full review.)

What are your favorite books about princesses?

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic | Jennifer Trafton

I have a confession to make: I read this book over a year ago, but even though it was lovely and completely worthy of a spot on this blog, I didn’t rush out and review it for you. I should have. The reasons I didn’t review it right away are hard to pin down, but they have something to do with the fact that it’s taken me over a year to realize that I just don’t know how to describe The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. The story is delightful, charming, and unlike anything else I’ve read, but I still don’t know how to describe it. I’m writing about it now because I can’t keep it from you any longer: you need to know about this book.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

I’ll start with a summary, and perhaps that will get me warmed up: Persimmony Smudge (whose name is perfect, by the way) discovers a secret about the island where she lives and sets out to save her fellow islanders from certain doom. But Persimmony’s biggest obstacle isn’t a super villain with a diabolical scheme to take down the island government—it’s the islanders’ persistent refusal to believe that they are in any danger at all.

Persimmony stands up for the truth again and again, and I love that about her. She is ridiculed for believing something seemingly ludicrous by kings, peasants, loved ones, and strangers, but she is a determined heroine who does hard things no matter what it costs her. And the world she inhabits is quirky and worth saving, the sort of place that has new surprises tucked away in every cave and tunnel.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

There! Now that I’ve taken a stab at describing the story, I feel a bit better, and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. There’s still that undefinable magic to Jennifer Trafton’s story that I can’t pin down, but I do hope I’ve shared enough to inspire you to add this one to the top of your reading list. If you’re still on the fence, though, there’s this: the book is illustrated by Brett Helquist, one of my very favorite artists and illustrator of many extraordinary stories, the most notable of which is Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. You’re sold now, aren’t you?


The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic
Jennifer Trafton (2011)