Category: Young Adult (Ages 11+) (page 2 of 9)

Harry Potter | JK Rowling

I read the first five books when we were newly married. We lived in a studio apartment where the shag carpet smelt of hashbrowns, and our mattress doubled as both sofa and bed. While drunk college kids tossed bottles into the street outside and the glass shattered with a sound like waves on pavement, I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the first page and read, “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

We read that line to our two oldest daughters a few months ago and ushered them into the world of Hogwarts with us, where we trod shifting staircases, spoke with portraits, and savored chocolate frogs. Adding things like “rogue bludger” and “Alas, earwax” to our family lexicon brought all four of us a great deal of joy.

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

But I understand that many Christians have raised objections to Harry Potter. My point here is not to persuade you that you must read these books to your kids (though I will link later to someone who will try): I understand that our consciences prick us, sometimes, at different points, and it is not my desire to deaden your sensitivity to that. And I know, too, that a number of you love fairy tales or share with me a fondness for The Wingfeather Saga. You folks are probably familiar with the armchairs of the Gryffindor common room and don’t need me to recommend books that you have read several times already.

Why, then, am I reviewing Harry Potter?

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

Because what I really want to talk about is magic. Magic is a one of many threads in the Harry Potter books, but because it is viewed askance by many Christians, it tends to be the one skeptical reviewers highlight. Yes, the characters cast spells; they attend a school called a “the school of witchcraft and wizardry.” And yes, seizing some form of power to achieve one’s own ends is evil, both in our world and in the worlds of fairy tale and fantasy. JK Rowling does not celebrate that sort of magic—sorcery, really—but draws a clear line between the Dark Arts and the kind of magic most of the characters in Harry Potter employ.

That magic is a gift they have been given, one that they are sent to Hogwarts to cultivate.

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

One of the central themes of the series, one that is much more potent than the mere fact of casting spells, is the contrast between Harry, who rejects the Dark Arts despite moments of temptation, and Voldemort, who manipulates the Dark Arts to achieve his own horrible ends. Both are considered great wizards, but Harry uses his power to protect those he loves and those who come after him. Voldemort uses his to do “terrible things.”

JK Rowling’s story does not glorify the practice of sorcery. She does not send us away from the books with a desire to be brutal like Voldemort, or treacherous or cowardly, as many of Voldemort’s Death Eaters are. Instead, we close the pages wanting to be brave like Harry and his friends, or to be the sort of person, Muggle or magical, who is willing to lay our lives down for one another in love.

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

We read only the first two books to our girls this year—the rest will wait a few years more until they’re ready for deeper discussions. But when I found Lydia and Sarah on the neighbor’s trampoline, giggling and shouting “Wingardium leviosa!” at one another just before a really big jump, I did not fear for their souls: the sort of magic they practice is the magic of childhood, the sort that allows them to leap and for a moment, believe that they are flying. That is a magic rooted firmly in this world, and it’s one our children are born with, Muggle though they may be.


Want to read more about HArry?

Haley Stewart, at Carrots for Michaelmas, makes a compelling argument for “Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter.”

Andrew Peterson (author of The Wingfeather Saga) wrote a piece about Potter that is just beautiful.

ND Wilson’s thoughts on magic largely informed my view of it. You can read an article he wrote on about this for Desiring God, or you can listen to his episode, “Magic and Fear in Children’s Books,” of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast (that episode is, for the record, my all-time favorite so far).

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

A note on illustrations

We love the new, large-format versions of these books, illustrated by Jim Kay, but I should warn you: the illustrations are much darker than the originals by Mary GrandPré. I personally preferred reading the original editions of the books, but Jim Kay’s illustrations are eerie and striking, and we just kept returning to them (you can get a glimpse of Kay’s work in this charming video). Mitch and the girls loved both editions, so we ended up toggling back and forth between the two as we read. I have linked to both below.


The Complete Harry Potter Series
JK Rowling (1997-2007)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (pre-order)
JK Rowling, Jim Kay (2015-2017)

The Door Before | ND Wilson

Is there a better moment for a bookworm than the one when a favorite author announces that his newest book will be a reentry into the world of one of his most beloved series? I doubt it. But is there a more depressing moment than the one that comes when a reader realizes, halfway through the new book, that the original series was better without the late entry? No. After a few experiences of that sort, I’ve come to regard announcements like this one with an immediate rush of joy (a return ticket to a beloved world!) followed by apprehension (But what if it’s like Clariel?).

But when ND Wilson announced The Door Before, a prequel to his 100 Cupboards trilogy, the apprehension didn’t flood over me, but only lapped quietly at my toes. If anyone could do it, I thought, ND Wilson could.

And he did. He did it right.

The Door Before, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

The Door Before introduces us to new aspects of Wilson’s ever-expanding world, and masterfully links  (so I hear) this series to his Ashtown Burials series. Because I haven’t yet read that other series (I have been saving it, so I’ll never not have an ND Wilson series to look forward to), I can’t comment much on how delightful that is, except in theory. But I can tell you that the story of The Door Before is a powerful force, and I was swept into it immediately.

The Door Before answers old questions and raises new ones, and makes the world(s) of 100 Cupboards seem both bigger and more well-ordered than before. Old characters appear throughout this book, and I wanted to cheer when I met them, the way we do when an old friend saunters onscreen during a new Star Wars movie. But I couldn’t, because Mitch hasn’t read the book yet. I cheered inwardly, ate some chocolate, and kept reading.

The 100 Cupboards series, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Every book I read by ND Wilson cements his place at the top of my list of favorite authors—the way he views our world and his created world, the way he gives his characters room to move and make gut-wrenching decisions, enables him to craft stories that are intense and sometimes gruesome but always strangely beautiful, too.

 The Door Before is a welcome addition to the 100 Cupboards collection—one I can’t wait to reread alongside the original trilogy and the Ashtown Burials series in a giant ND Wilson binge.


The Door Before
ND Wilson (2017)


also

My dear friend Jennifer Harris interviewed me on her blog Every Morning, New Mercies! You can read the interview here  and learn more about why I started this blog, how I know I’ve found a book worth reviewing, and when I fell in love with classics. But you should stick around and read her posts, too! “The Hospitality of Frog and Toad” is one of my favorites, as is her piece (featured in “The Warren & the World”) about Charlotte’s WebAnd her post on the myth of balance is just lovely.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard | Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes won me over quietly—I almost didn’t see it happening. Jonathan Auxier’s story of an orphaned thief who eyes were (eep!) pecked out by ravens has a wit and charm and enough unexpected quirks to make it unlike any other books I’ve read. I liked it. I passed it on to Lydia, who loved it. But for some reason (maybe it was the thieving? Or the crows?), I didn’t immediately review it for this blog.

But then I read Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

There was nothing subtle about the way this book won me over: affection for it roared over me like a semi truck, overtaking me so abruptly that, at one point, I thumped the cover at Mitch while I read and announced, “Oh my word, I love this book!” before diving back into the story. It was the sort of book I adored so much, so immediately, that I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed for the rest of the book in the hope that the ending wouldn’t fizzle.

It didn’t.

This book is glorious from start to finish.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

Sophie Quire is a sequel to Peter Nimble, in that it happens after Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Peter Nimble is in it, and it was written by the same author. But it might be more accurate to call it a companion book, I don’t know, because the main character here is Sophie Quire, a young bookmender in the city of Bustleburgh, which is currently banishing nonsense in all its forms. When she meets a certain blind thief and takes on an unlikely commission, everything in Sophie’s life changes.

Jonathan Auxier’s writing is as exhilarating in this book as it is in The Night Gardener and Peter Nimble. His characters are bizarre and loveable, and through their adventures, Auxier explores (among other things) the importance of stories and nonsense. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is a beautiful book, one that has a deeper layer of truth underneath the story, waiting for those willing to look for it.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
Jonathan Auxier (2012)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Jonathan Auxier (2017)

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)

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?