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14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul

A quick note before we get started: you can still enter the Slugs and Bugs giveaway! I have two copies of Sing the Bible, Vol. 3 to give to two of you. You can enter to win one of them here.

That is all.


Good fantasy stories have always felt to me like feasts worth savoring. Those are the stories I reread every few years, the ones that make sense of our world by introducing me to worlds utterly different from ours. I was never able to pinpoint exactly why that should be, though, until I encountered this passage in GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. . . . These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

There is something about the delightful aspects of other worlds that makes our own seem more miraculous. We live in a world made from words, and it is filled with lemon-yellow tanagers, intricate columbine, and bugs that, when nudged, roll into armored balls. Is that less amazing that a world where the housework is finished with a wand? On the days when we’re folding laundry by hand, not magic, it seems so. But the best stories remind us of those moments when we first saw snow fall from the sky, and it seemed that anything could happen.

14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul | Little Book, Big Story

I must point out, of course, that not all fantasy stories are good or beautiful. But there are so many that point toward the beauty of our world, toward the beauty of order (sometimes by contrasting it with chaos), in a way that makes young readers hungry for the good and beautiful. This list features many of my favorites—the stories I reread every few years and share eagerly with my daughters. I hope you find a few new favorites here, too.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis

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

What better place to start a list of adventures than with The Chronicles of Narnia? This series has children all over the world tapping at the back of closets, hoping—just hoping—to reach Narnia. C.S. Lewis was adept at writing in a half dozen different literary genres, but he shines when writing for children. (Read the full review.)

The Peter Nimble Series, by Jonathan Auxier

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

This series begins with the story of Peter Nimble, a boy blinded as a baby when ravens pecked out his eyes. It continues with the story of Sophie Quire, a bookmender mending books in a city that burns nonsense. But this is not dark, heavy reading. There is exuberance here, and light and bravery and courage! There’s an enchanted horse-cat-knight and a vanished kingdom and a professor named Cake. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

It is not a coincidence that one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite books landed on our shelves and became one of our favorites, too. In it, Maria Merryweather finds herself in the wonderful (and mysterious) valley surrounding Moonacre Manor. Adventure of the loveliest sort ensues. (Read the full review.)

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

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

This classic is the granddaddy of the fantasy genre. Bilbo Baggins—not merely “a” hobbit, but The Hobbit, the first hobbit—steps out his front door without a handkerchief and finds the world of Middle Earth far bigger than he expected. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien

The 100 Cupboards Series, by ND Wilson

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

Henry York discovers ninety-nine cupboards of varying sizes and shapes hidden under the plaster of his bedroom wall. Each door leads to a different place, including (but not limited to) Endor, Byzanthamum, Arizona. The first book in this trilogy is fun (and delightfully creepy); the second and third books are unforgettable. (Read the full review.)

See also: Anything else ND Wilson has ever written.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton

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

Quirky and charming, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic introduces us to Persimmony Smudge, the perfectly named heroine of Trafton’s adventure. When she learns that her island is in danger, she sets out to warn the other islanders, but they don’t believe her. (Can you blame them?) This is wonderful read-aloud for all ages. (Read the full review.)

See also: Henry and the Chalk Dragonby Jennifer Trafton

The Redwall Series, by Brian Jacques

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

Sarah is currently at work on an “about me” book: you know, “I was born,” “I started school,” and so on. It may not surprise you to learn that “Lydia discovers Redwall” is one of the milestones she saw fit to include, as well as “I finished the Redwall series.” That’s a snapshot of our family’s affection for these books. (Read the full review.)

The Green Ember Series, by SD Smith

In a few short pages, Heather and Picket (both young bunnies) lose everything and find themselves adrift in a wood corrupted by war. Where will they go next? What will become of them? S.D. Smith tells a story that reads like a modern novel, but is, at its heart, an old-fashioned tale of honor, courage, and hope. There are five books in the series now (not pictured: The Last Archer and Ember Rising), but I’m behind on my reviews! Egad! (Read the full review.)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Trilogy, by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy), by Grace Lin | Little Book, Big Story

Grace Lin’s trilogy is a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create story infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. These books are beautiful from the first page of the first book to the last page of the last one. (Read the full review.)

A Wrinkle in Time Quartet, by Madeliene L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I have reread A Wrinkle in Time every few years since I was in college, and there is a good reason for that. It’s a beautiful book, and the three subsequent books don’t disappoint. (The remaining four books do disappoint a bit, though. Alas.) (Read the full review.)

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers

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

Jonathan Rogers retells the story of King David, but in a swampy, fantastic setting, and he gets it just right. (It’s worth reading this trilogy just to meet Feechies.) These books also make a great introduction to fantasy for kids who are a bit sensitive, because they aren’t as intense as many other fantasy stories can be. And they are excellent. (Read the full review.)

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling

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

If The Hobbit is one of the grand-daddies of the fantasy genre, then Harry Potter is the father of the genre as we know it today. J.K. Rowling’s series displays beautifully the contrast between a character who cultivates a mighty gift for good and one who exploits his gift for his own ends. And it does make one hungry for trifle. (Read the full review.)

Breadcrumbsby Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Anne Ursu retells the story of the Snow Queen here, but in an inventive way. Her world is a dreamy, almost-creepy fairy-tale land that merges with the recognizable world in surprising ways. She also deals quietly with issues of divorce and cross-cultural adoption in this book. How one book manages to be all those things, I don’t know, but this one does and it’s beautiful. (Read the full review.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

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

This series is one of my favorites. I cannot speak glowingly enough about it. Go forth and read all four books (and don’t forget to finish the feast with Wingfeather Tales!). (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any of your favorites? Which fantasy books do you love and return to?

The Secret Keepers | Trenton Lee Stewart

This book made me nervous. I was three-quarters of the way in before I felt it—this niggling sense that maybe the main character was maybe about to make some terrible choices. Whether he does or not I won’t tell you, but I will point to the fact that I am reviewing it here. The Secret Keepers is worth reading—I will tell you that.

Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, tackles tricky questions. His characters face conflicts that feel real and terrifying, and they face choices that are not black or white: Do you cheat if it will help you defeat the villain? Or do you refuse to cheat knowing that if you do, your mission will probably fail? That sort of thing.

Those choices could take the story down a murky path, where the end justifies the means and all is well. But in Stewart’s books, they don’t. The characters wrestle with these decisions; they are conflicted before, during, and after they make their choice, and still wonder sometimes if they made the right call.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

At no point does Stewart gloss over these questions as though it’s necessary to toss one’s moral compass out the window in order to save the day. Good is good, and evil is evil. But he is willing to admit that sometimes in life, the two are hard to tell apart. Or, at least, evil works pretty hard to look like good, and it can be quite convincing. As his characters work through these questions, striving to pick the good out of the gray, they grow, and it is this undercurrent of character growth that really draws me into his stories. And it’s the feeling that a character could lean either way that makes me nervous.

But, okay, here’s what else you should know about this story: Reuben Penderly lives in New Umbra, a city ruled by the shadowy leader The Smoke. One day, he finds something unusual, something that grants him unexpected power and drives this otherwise solitary boy into unlikely friendships and enmity. That’s all very vague, I know. I wish I could be more specific than that. But the story’s hairpin turns are so fascinating that I don’t want to make them feel any less perilous by revealing what lies around the corner.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

I will say, though, that this one is probably best for older readers, or as a read-aloud with a side of discussion. In our case, Lydia read it first, I read it second, we both enjoyed it immensely, and afterward we discussed it. Or you could just read it on your own. It’s worth it.


The Slugs & Bugs Giveaway is still open!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

You can still enter to win a copy of the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible Vol. 3—huzzah! This post has all the details.


The Secret Keepers
Trenton Lee Stewart (2017)

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!

Audrey Bunny | Angie Smith

Five years ago, when I started this blog, Phoebe was a tiny person still riding in my belly. I knew of a handful of beautiful children’s books, and I wanted others to know about them. (And my friends were most likely tired of hearing about them.)

Back then, looking for good books felt like mining for gold. I’d dig and dig and dig—at the library, on book blogs, or on Amazon—and every now and then I’d strike a shimming vein: a new author, a new blog, or an excellent publisher. I’d find a handful of new favorites to share, and then I’d go back to digging. There were stretches where I felt dangerously close to running out of books to review, because it wasn’t easy to find great books for kids that were beautiful, well-made, and rich in the gospel.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

But now, there are times when it feels as though I’m standing beneath a faucet turned on full. So many good books have come out in the last few years—great books on church history, Bible stories that link a single story to the Big Story of Scripture, books that tell that Big Story from start to finish, biographies of believers from different ages and backgrounds. My blog schedule is typically filled for 2-3 months. It’s glorious.

But there is one category that I’m hungry for, one that still makes me feel like a miner striking it rich when I find one: beautifully written stories that aren’t about the gospel but that are saturated with it. These are stories that are rich in grace and goodness, that are written by authors with a Christian worldview, but that may not be specifically Christian in theme.

Audrey Bunny is one of these.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Audrey is a stuffed bunny who lived in the barrel at the toy store until the day a young girl came and claimed her. But Audrey has a defect, and she dreads the day the little girl discovers it. But when that day comes, the girl doesn’t respond at all the way Audrey feared she would. This is a book about God’s grace and love, but it doesn’t say so in the story. We simply see what that loves looks like as we watch this little girl love her bunny, imperfections and all.

Angie Smith and Breezy Brookshire also worked together on one of my favorite books, For Such a Time as This. In both books, the words and the illustrations are gorgeous. In the back of Audrey Bunny, there is a guide for parent discussion, so we have the means to link the story to a deeper discussion on God’s unconditional love, but as we read, we’re free to enjoy the story itself without feeling tugged toward a neat moral at the end.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

And I appreciate this freedom. There is certainly a place for stories that do link, within the story itself, to the deeper truths of Scripture and that clearly explain  that connection. But I also value these stories that allow for open-ended discussions with kids or that simply make for beautiful reading—books that store away, in our children’s memories, one image of the kind of love God has for us.


coming soon!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

I have brand new copies of Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible Vol. 3 for you! Huzzah! I’ll publish details on how to enter the giveaway next week, so prepare yourself.


One last note (I promise)

Today, the toddler I read those beautiful books to turns ten.

I couldn’t find a recent picture of her (a situation I’ll remedy later by photographing her having an epic birthday adventure), but this photo, taken on the day we spent hours in the rain, throwing rocks into the bay, will do nicely. She counts that rainy afternoon among her favorite memories, and I remember why: the satisfying plunk of stones hitting the water, the promise of hot chocolate after, the birds diving for snacks as we watched them.

Rainy Day | Little Book, Big Story

It’s one of my favorite memories, too.


Audrey Bunny
Angie Smith; Breezy Brookshire (2013)

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.” —J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3 | Slugs & Bugs

My goals in life are simple: to live a life of obedience and peace in Christ; to faithfully raise our children and see them love Jesus; and to spontaneously sing “Not By Bread Alone” in perfect harmony with my kids.

I’ve been driven by this hope since the morning one daughter started chanting “cheese dip, cheese dip” during breakfast and the rest of us joined in, drawn by an irresistible urge, until we had sung the whole of “Mexican Rhapsody” (with parts! And harmonies!). That could explain why we listen to Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible, Volume 3 on repeat in the minivan—we’re rehearsing. We’re preparing for that glorious moment when one of us leads off with “Man shall not live by bread alone . . . ” and sets off a Rosenburg family flash mob.

One can hope.

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

But even if nothing comes of this ambition, it is no hardship to listen to Sing the Bible, Vol. 3 over and over and over again: Sally Lloyd-Jones and Andrew Peterson return on this album (huzzah!), alongside the new (to Slugs & Bugs, anyway) voices of Sara Groves, Propaganda (our new favorite!) and more. Scripture, beauty, raccoons, and hilarity ensues as Randall Goodgame offers, once again, a beautiful blend of deep and delightful songs.

There are entire passages our family cannot read without singing now, and I think that is as it should be. There is something about parts of Scripture that want to be sung—they reach us deeply, and they sometimes demand a response deeper than silent reading. Listen to “Our Struggle” a few dozen times, sing along, and then try to read Ephesians 6:12-18 without bursting into song. (You might keep your mouth closed, but you and I both know you’re singing along on the inside.)

Goodgame’s songs have a way of storing not only the words of Scripture but the energy of it in our memories. We may not be ready to debut our “Not By Bread Alone” yet, but we can certainly sing whole passages of Scripture together at the slightest provocation.  And I am content with that.


Sing the Bible, Volume 3
Randall Goodgame; Slugs & Bugs (2017)

The Life of Martin Luther | Agostino Traini

We’ve been on a bit of a Luther binge here. Maybe it was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that kicked it off last year, or a comment in our community group that lead us to study some key figures of the Reformation. I can’t remember. It could have been, too, that I spent six months reading a book on Luther, marinating in his thoughts and theology. Or it could be the book I’m reading now that has, on the surface, nothing to do with him, but still spends a chapter discussing why many believe that Martin Luther was insane.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

At any rate, we have read and talked a lot about Martin Luther since last September, and I’m grateful for the perspective this has given us on the Protestant Church today, both because we know more than we did about it this time last year, and because I now want to know more. (It’s funny how reading often has that effect: by opening one door for you, it draws your attention to the unopened doors on either side of it.)

But of all the books we’ve read on Luther lately, this one is the most fun, and for one simple reason:

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Pop-ups.

Agostino Traini’s The Life of Martin Luther is a simple introduction to Luther, with a distilled storyline and three-dimensional illustrations. This is a very basic biography (you won’t find commentary on his less savory qualities here), but it strikes the main points clearly. This is the book you read with your little ones before they graduate to The Reformation ABCsthe one that gives a nice outline of his life. This is a book that, hopefully, sends you away wanting to know more about the man who called the church of Rome to reformation.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story


Bonus list!

Just in case you want to start your own Martin Luther binge, here are the books we’ve enjoyed lately:

For grown-ups

The Reformation, by Stephen J. Nichols
Pages From Church History, by Stephen J. Nichols
Luther On the Christian Life, by Carl Trueman
The Holiness of Godby R.C. Sproul

for kids

The Reformation ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Church History ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Katie Luther: The Graphic Novel, by Susan K. Leigh
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World, by Paul L. Maier


The Life of Martin Luther
Augustino Traini (2017)