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The Outlaws of Time Series | ND Wilson

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

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

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

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

And we read. Without interruption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


One last Note

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

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

Wildflowers: A Creative Magazine for Girls (GIVEAWAY!)

My friend Maegan made a magazine. It is a work of art, the way I remember her home being: warm and full of noise and beauty and smelling like fresh biscuits and gravy (not the magazine, I guess, but the home). Or maybe it reminds me of her daughters’ room more than the whole house, because no one roars in this magazine or brandishes swords or leaps from a high structure just because. But there are clever stories and poems and drawings of birds, and plenty of talk about books.

This is a magazine by my friend Maegan. It is a magazine for girls. You will love it.

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

This first issue, the spring issue, is the one I’m talking about today, and I’m tempted to describe it in lists: lists of the excellent people who contributed to it, lists of the lovely and varied content you’ll find inside. I had the joy of reviewing a book I haven’t featured on the blog, and both Lydia and Sarah contributed reviews of their favorite books.

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

But maybe I should tell you more about what (and why) Wildflowers is. Wildflowers is a quarterly magazine centered around truth, beauty, and goodness, written for girls aged 8-12ish (but I bet you’ll snuggle up with it sometime, and your little ones will want a turn admiring the little chicks and coloring pages). The articles range from biography to short story, with everything from poetry to hand-painted stationary to DIY projects sprinkled in between. (Future issues will have even more content, including nature projects and how-to lessons.) The illustrations are lovely and the layout so fun! And the price is oh-so-reasonable!

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

But one of you won’t have to worry about that price at all, because I get to give you a copy of the spring issue of Wildflowers for free (oh, joy!). You can all enter to win that one below, and you can head over here to pre-order a copy of summer issue.


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

Enter to win a free copy of wildflowers!

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Friday, June 29. After that, the winner will be randomly selected and notified by email. Good luck!

Just Because You’re Mine | Sally Lloyd-Jones

Of all the books I’ve bought just because they have Sally Lloyd-Jones‘ name on them, this one has grown on me slowest. But when I say “slowest,” I don’t mean that I ever didn’t like it. I have loved this book since we bought it years ago. But I didn’t immediately draft a review of it or buy copies to give as gifts. What I did instead was read and re-read it to my daughters and love it with them.

Just Because You're Mine, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Just Because You’re Mine is a quiet story featuring Little Red Squirrel and his father. As he explores the woods with his dad, Little Red Squirrel asks his dad why he loves his son so much.

“Is it because of my Super-Fast Running?” Little Red Squirrel asks. “Because of my High Climbing?”

The story follows this rhythm of question-and-answer, building gently as his father answers each question with: “You can climb high (and so on), but that’s not why I love you.”

Just Because You're Mine, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

By the end, when his father tells Little Red Squirrel why, precisely, he does love his son, the moment is deeply satisfying, as though the only response to his answer is, “Oh, of course.” It feels like the story couldn’t end any other way.

Just Because You’re Mine is a beautiful picture book, filled with Lloyd-Jones’ musical language and the warm and welcoming illustrations of Frank Endersby. This is a book not only for children, but for families: the story of Little Red Squirrel draws our eyes upward toward our own Father, who loves us not because of our Super-Great Housekeeping or our Extra-Strong Service, but just because we’re his.


Just Because You’re Mine
Sally Lloyd-Jones; Frank Endersby (2011)

A Week Off

We have serious work to do. Work like dressing up like fairies and watching the movie  A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Exploring epic tide pools with friends, and watching another friend’s python swallow a rat whole. Picking strawberries; filing papers; finishing book after book after book. And, of course, eating ice cream.

The end of the school year is serious business.

Tide Pools | LIttle Book, Big Story

And because we’re so absorbed in it, I’m giving myself the week off. I’ll be back next week with a full post, but this week, I’ll leave you with these photos, taken by Sarah (and thus, with an endearingly—ahem—short perspective). I am so often the photographer at our house that I rarely appear in photos, but Sarah took a turn and snapped some of my favorite pictures ever.

I may need to leave my camera out where she can find it more often.

Tide Pools | LIttle Book, Big Story Tide Pools | LIttle Book, Big StoryTide Pools | LIttle Book, Big Story Tide Pools | LIttle Book, Big Story

See you next week!

Dangerous Journey | Oliver Hunkin

I love it when I’m wrong about books.

Years ago, a friend showed me this one and I considered how excellent a children’s rendition of A Pilgrim’s Progress would be. I read a few sample pages and loved the tone of the story. But the illustrations—they were so intense. So many pointy teeth and warty giants! Egad. I thought that maybe some day my daughters might appreciate it—maybe. But at that point, we were still having nightmares about VeggieTales, so that day seemed a long way off.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, some wise educator included Dangerous Journey in our history curriculum, so we gave it a read, even though I was still pretty sure at least one of the girls was way too small for it and another would listen to the story while giving every bodily clue that she hated it.

But I was wrong: Dangerous Journey became our favorite read aloud, the one that got applause when the girls saw it in the stack. “It’s Dangerous Journey day!” became something they said with the same enthusiasm they show for the ice cream truck in the summer. (Note: I am not exaggerating for effect.)

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

I’m so glad I was wrong about that, because reacquainting the girls with the story of Pilgrim’s Progress (we read Little Pilgrim’s Progress a few years ago) gave us a beautiful shared analogy for the Christian life that we’ve come back to often since our Dangerous Journey days ended. When someone descends into the depth of a terrible mood, I can draw them back gently with, “Remember when Christian left the path? Do you remember where he ended?” Or we can spur each other on in good works by remembering the Celestial City. Through Dangerous Journey, Pilgrim’s Progress has become part of our family’s shared language.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story


a quick comparison

For a moment, though, let’s consider what makes this version different from Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Dangerous Journey is told in picture book format (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is a chapter book), but even so, it’s language is a little more advanced. In it, Christian is an adult (he is a child in Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a perspective that obviously has its own benefits). Dangerous Journey’s illustrations are dark and a bit dated, but something about them really did connect with my girls (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is minimally illustrated), and I think the visuals helped them understand better what was happening in the story.

Both books are excellent, and both have found deserving spaces on our shelves, though they each approach the story of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City differently. And neither gave our girls nightmares. That’s a definite plus.


Thank you all!

Thank you so much to all of you who entered the Slugs & Bugs giveaway, and congrats to Emily and Jen, our winners! Since I can’t send you all home with an album, I’ll do the next best thing and play you out with a song. Here is the video for the song “The Ten Commandments.” Enjoy!


Dangerous Journey
Oliver Hunkin (1985)

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)