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

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)

Wingfeather Tales | Andrew Peterson (Editor)

There’s a spot on our porch I check every time I come home—to the left of the door, on the girls’ stripey chair. If I’m going to get a package, that’s where it will be, and if there is a package there, then it is probably full of books. There have been a lot of packages there lately, because, as I write, it’s nearly Christmas and I loathe going to stores (I drank the online shopping Kool-Aid early and never looked back).

But a few weeks ago, I found a package on the stripey chair that said not “Amazon Fulfillment Center” on the return address but “The Rabbit Room,” and I knew that something very, very good was about to happen to me.

I was right. Stickers and posters and patches happened, as well as a signed paperback copy of The Warden and the Wolf King. Happy little girls with their hands full of stickers and posters and patches happened. But I dug into the package looking for one thing and one thing only: Wingfeather Tales.

Wingfeather Tales, ed. Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

When Andrew Peterson ran his most recent Kickstarter campaign, one of the stretch goals was this collection of short stories set in Anniera, but written by a handful of my favorite authors and illustrators (if you’ve read anything by them, then they’re probably your favorites, too): ND Wilson, Jennifer Trafton, John Hendrix, Justin Gerard, Jonathan Rogers, to name a few.

That, I thought, looking at the line-up, is going to be awesome. But even with “awesome” as my starting point, I still completely underestimated Wingfeather Tales.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

The stories the authors turned out differ wildly in tone and style: some are comic, some epic, one is a narrative poem, one is a novella so devastating that I still can’t think about it without feeling an uncomfortable tightness in my throat. At least two of the stories cleverly link Anniera up with the worlds of other beloved books; one tells a story we’ve all been wanting to hear. The authors clearly enjoyed being set loose in the world of the Wingfeather Saga.

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

I think I expected this book to be a fun sort of honorary member of the series, maybe a collection of extra material that would be pleasant to read, if not as good as the saga itself—sort of what Chronicles of Avonlea is to the Anne of Green Gables series. But Wingfeather Tales is its own beautiful contribution to the Wingfeather canon, so vivid and enjoyable that I can’t imagine rereading the full saga without re-reading the Tales, too. And that is beyond awesome.


Wingfeather Tales
Ed. Andrew Peterson (2016)

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?

The Radical Book for Kids | Champ Thornton

When our eldest daughter was a toddler, my mom dropped a heavy box off at our house. “Your books,” she said. “From when you were a kid.”

I had no idea what a wonderful thing she’d done until I took the lid off the box, and two dozen or more picture book spines looked back at me: books I’d forgotten completely were there, tucked alongside old favorites, and many bore handwritten notes from my mom, marking the birthdays and Christmases of my childhood.

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

Those books now live on our family shelves. The gift of those childhood books was so powerful that I have made it a tradition for every birthday, Easter and Christmas since to buy a new and beautiful theological book for each of our daughters and to inscribe them with a short note. I’m looking forward to the day when I can drop off a box of books with each of them and help establish their picture book libraries.

I ran into a hitch this year, though. Lydia was suddenly harder to shop for: the only Christian books I found at her reading level were missionary biographies, and while she has a few of those already, she doesn’t seem particularly enchanted with them yet. So I wanted to get her something different—but what?

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

Enter The Radical Book for Kids, by Champ Thornton. Part encyclopedia of the Christian faith, part Dangerous Book for Girls (or Boys), The Radical Book for Kids is full of so many wonderful things that I’m finding it hard to improve upon the publisher’s description of the book. So I’ll just quote it here:

This power-packed book is “radical” in more ways than you might think! It is “radical” in the sense of the original meaning of the word, “going to the root or origin.” The Radical Book for Kids will take children on a fascinating journey into the ancient roots of the Christian faith. But it’s also “radical” in the more modern sense of being revolutionary. Kids read about men and women who learned to trust Jesus and stand for him—displaying radical faith—even when everything seemed against them.

But The Radical Book for Kids is also “radical”—meaning fun or cool—in the eyes of a child. Kids read about ancient weapons (and how to make one), learn about jewels, create pottery, discover ancient languages, use secret codes, locate stars, tell time using the sun, play a board game that’s 3,000 years old—and more.

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story

This is the sort of book that I pull out after the kids go to bed and get lost in: the material in it is deep yet engaging, and every page is beautiful. I have a hunch that Lydia will disappear into it, too, and emerge full of interesting facts about ancient Hebrew, Lottie Moon, and handmade slings. And my hope is that, when she finds The Radical Book for Kids in a box of childhood favorites, years from now, her eyes will light up and she’ll say, “Oh, I loved this one!”

The Radical Book for Kids | Little Book, Big Story


The Radical Book for Kids
Champ Thornton,  (2016)

My Book House | Olive Beaupre Miller

Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.

I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.

But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that like.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.

That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.

To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.

Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

How We Use Our Set

These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.

We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)

I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.

Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

A Note on Editions

I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

One Last Thing

If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots. Read it here.


My Book House
Olive Beaupre Miller (1920)

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)