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From the Good Mountain | James Rumford

As you know, we are embarking on our first year of full-time home school, and for me, that means lots and lots of reading. Reading about schedules and curriculum. Reading about God, and how big he is and how faithful. Reading about educational philosophies. And about people’s experiences with and opinions on educational philosophies.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

One of the philosophies I came across again and again was that of Charlotte Mason. I have always pulled in some elements from her work into our family life here and there, but I spent time this spring reading about her work more closely. And I was smitten all over again with the idea of “living books.” I’ve mentioned them previously on this blog, because that is, really, what I try to review: books by authors who aren’t writing to sell, but are genuinely passionate about their story or subject and able to write about it knowledgeably, truthfully, and well. I hope that every book on this blog qualifies for that definition.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

But I found today’s book when I was doing some heavy Charlotte Mason reading, and it struck me within the first few sentences that From the Good Mountain was just the sort of book Mason must have meant when she defined living books. This is a biography of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, written playfully in riddles and illustrated in a way that allows us to see what those first books looked like. James Rumford writes and illustrates this book, but he is also a bookbinder, so the entire process of binding books is laid out by someone who knows the work firsthand and clearly loves it.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

Rumford also includes, at the end, a note on the history of books both past and present. Through his words and images he contemplates the future of books and ebooks, but not in a gloomy “Alas! The end of paper is near” tone. He sounds almost excited about what the future holds, which reminded me that, though we love books, it is words that make up their life, and those words can exist in many forms.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

So, this book is a story about the making of Gutenberg’s printing press. But it is about much, much more, and the enthusiasm that bubbles out in asides about the books’ materials and beauty is what makes this book more than ink and paper. That enthusiasm is what makes it live, and what gives it a place on our family’s shelves. May it find room on your shelves, too.


From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World
James Rumford (2012)

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Lift-the-Flap Bible | Sally Lloyd-Jones

Flaps are big at our house. We love lifting them, sliding them, peeking under them when we think no one is looking. (One of us also enjoys tearing them—alas!) We have a rather impressive stash of books with flaps (or books formerly with flaps), and we add to it whenever we can.

Lift-the-Flap Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

But Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Lift-the-Flap Bible is one of my favorite recent additions to the collection, and not just because it has flaps and we love them. Every time we read one of Lloyd-Jones’ books for toddlers, I am in awe of her ability to articulate the love and justice of our God in a few artful sentences. It is a feat that seems simple because the end product looks small, but every word in this sturdy Bible is hand-picked—not one is superfluous.

Lift-the-Flap Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Tracey Moroney, too, illustrates these short stories with vibrant colors, and those flaps make her paintings interactive: the volcano erupts; the whale breaches; the waters part. This book is perfect for exploring with all five senses (because you know the little ones will try and taste it, too, and new books smell so good) and for sowing that first planting of the gospel in the hearts of the smallest readers.


Lift-the-Flap Bible
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Tracey Moroney (2011)

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy) | Grace Lin

Lydia marched downstairs, her copy of Cricket open to the page titled “Cricket Readers Recommend.”

“I want to do this,” she said, holding it out for me to read. And lo! “Cricket Readers Recommend” is a page dedicated to kid-written book reviews. My daughter was telling me she wanted to write and submit a book review for general consumption.

My cheeks pinked; my eyes watered. I sniffled (just a little). “Of course,” I said, assuming she’d write about one of her well-worn Redwall novels.

But: “I want to write about my new favorite book,” she said, and the smile she gave me was full not of courageous mousemaids, but of undersea avenues lit by pearls, of magistrates turned to tigers, of sorrow sealed into a stone. “When the Sea Turned to Silver. You’d like it, Mom—it’s beautiful.”

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

She was right. I started it later that day, and it was beautiful.

When the Sea Turns to Silver is the third in a trilogy of books by Grace Lin—the only one I hadn’t yet read. The other two (Starry River of the Sky and Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) had been sitting on my list of books to review for over a year, suffering the same fate as The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic: I loved them. I wanted to share them with you. But how could I possibly describe those books?

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

Grace Lin creates, in this trilogy, a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create a new sort of story set in a world infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. Even the illustrations (also done by Lin) and the book design have an ever-changing aspect that suits each story.

But Lydia’s review sums the book up nicely (and I think her last few sentences apply perfectly to the whole trilogy):

Pinmei, a shy little girl, has always lived on the Endless Mountain with her grandmother, Amah. But when the emperor takes Amah, Pinmei and her best friend Yishan go on a quest to save her. The story is a mixture of fantasy and reality with stories that come true and characters that were thought not to be real. The twists and turns are mysterious and secretive. You should really read it!

We have read many (perhaps most?) of Grace Lin’s books, and we’ve yet to meet one we didn’t love. But this trilogy is our favorite. I can’t wait to share it with my younger daughters and, with Lydia’s nudging, I couldn’t wait any longer to share it with you.

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


Starry River of the Sky (2014)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2011)
When the Sea Turns to Silver (2016)
Grace Lin

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For Such a Time as This | Angie Smith

After reading a picture book that praised Eve for her courage in defying God, I almost quit my search. But the stories of so many women are sown quietly throughout Scripture, and I loved the idea of drawing those stories out. I loved the idea of reminding our daughters, in a time when Paul is derided as a misogynist and the question of women’s roles in church is hotly debated, that they have a treasured place in God’s Great Story.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Moses went on to guide the Israelites out of Egypt, but his mother, sister, and midwife shielded the infant Moses from Pharoah’s wrath. Israel fell into fragments, yet one Moabite woman became the thread God used to sew redemption into Israel’s tapestry. Surely some author has told the stories of those women in an honest, yet beautiful way? Right? One that steers clear of the “bad girls of the Bible” motif?

Yes. Dear friends, the answer is yes. Angie Smith did it, and she did it well.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is an anthology of stories about the women of Scripture, and there are more stories in it that I thought possible: Mary and Sarah and Esther are in here. Ruth, of course. But Gomer is in here, and Delilah and Jezebel and Sapphira, too. Smith did not shy away from the less savory characters of Scripture, but even in their stories found the beauty of the gospel pricking through the soot and grime. She approaches them all from a gracious angle, not asking “What does this tell me about me?” but “What does it say about God that he would graft this figure into his family tree, that he would use this figure to do mighty things despite her brokenness?”

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations get the tension of that question just right: her fluid, glowing watercolors are punctuated by understated pencil drawings. By mixing those two, she captures the tension of our sin and God’s grace in a luminous way.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

For Such a Time as This is, I suppose, a selective story Bible. It’s obviously not comprehensive, but focuses on the women of Scripture specifically. But it is also a devotional, as each story ends with a section for young girls to read alone or with parents, and for a prayer that families can pray together for their daughters. If your daughter has a birthday this summer and you invite us to her party, be warned: we’ll probably buy her this book.

For Such a Time as This, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Update (Sept. 2017)

We are currently reading this aloud as a family and I love it more after each reading. We’ve read about Abigail and Bathsheba, Hagar and the Queen of Sheba, and Angie Smith does a beautiful job of connecting each story to the Big Story of Scripture, while drawing in details that bring their stories to life. My daughters are enthralled with all these women they had never met before, and I am a little obsessed with the illustrations.

I just wanted you to know that. I loved this book when I wrote about it, but we love it now, all of us. The girls each take sections from the devotional readings, I read the prayer, and even Phoebe repeats our “Word of the Day” and memory verse after me. This book is one of our favorites now.


For Such a Time as This
Angie Smith, Breezy Brookshire (2014)

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Reformation ABCs | Stephen J. Nichols

Thank you all so much for your encouraging words after my last post! You all are good people, and it was such a joy to hear from you. And I know I said that I was going to post every other week, but when I sat down to my calendar this morning and started scheduling posts two weeks apart, I hated it. I’ll stick to my word for a while, but I may not last long publishing at half speed—we’ll see. But here, today, is a new post about a new favorite book:


One of the books that inspired me to start this blog was Stephen J. Nichols’ Church History ABCs. From the illustrations to the topic to the fun Nichols clearly has with language, I had to share it with friends, family, the school, and our whole church body. A book blog seemed the best and most expedient way to do that. So I started one.

But now Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard have a new book out. And it’s even—gasp!—better than the first one.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

While Church History ABCs highlights figures from various points of church history, Reformation ABCs focuses on figures within a single time period. That narrowed focus makes this book a little easier to pair with history curriculum or Reformation Day celebrations, but by viewing stories through a smaller historical window, it also yields a host of fascinating biographies on people whose lives overlapped either in friendship or influence (or both).

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

The book itself has a smaller format than Church History ABCs, and because these books are written for the late elementary crowd, I like that. These are picture books for kids who might think they’re too old for picture books (as if there is such a thing!), and I think the smaller format on this book allows it to sneak in there, right between the picture books and the chapter books. Ned Bustards illustrations are still striking and I love them; Stephen Nichols’ language is still quirky and engaging, and I love that.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

In short, Reformation ABCs took a bunch of things I loved about Church History ABCs, added some other stuff to it that I also love, and made a beautiful new book that I couldn’t wait to share with you.


Reformation ABCs
Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard (2017)

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Getting Out of the Boat: An update on blogging and life

For the last four years, we’ve been homeschooling part time with the support of an amazing Classical school. Our daughters attended class three days a week and studied at home with me on the remaining two. All decisions about curriculum were made; I taught art classes and watched my daughters flourish alongside their classmates. Attending this school was our plan for the foreseeable future.

Back to School 2013 | Little Book, Big Story

Kindergarten (2013)

But then the future took a sharp turn around a corner, and I can no longer see where it leads (Anne of Green Gables reference intended). A few months ago, we learned that a change to the school’s schedule meant that it would no longer be the perfect fit it had been for our family.

When I learned this, I stood watching my husband wash dishes, the scrub brush going around and around the inner lid of a pot, and I said, Well, I guess we could homeschool.

Queasiness. That was what I initially felt. But within an hour, the fear had given way to another sensation, one the bubbled up from some buried recess in my heart and surprised us both: excitement. The prospect of homeschooling our daughters full-time excited me.

Back to School 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

1st Grade (2014)

The re-enrollment deadline went by, and we did not turn in our application. I taught my last classes, cleaned out the art cupboard, held my daughters’ hands as we said goodbye to the friends we’ve made over the last four years, to the teachers we have loved, and to the school that has served us so well.

In her beautiful book Teaching From Rest, Sarah MacKenzie writes:

You are Peter. You, mother of that little flock of children you have there. Motherhood is a mad and swirling sea. It is wind beating on waves, storm on the horizon, tumult on the waters. It’s bigger than you can ever hope to be. You are clinging to your boat, quite a distance from the land now, and the storm is rougher than you imagined it would be.

And then God calls you to homeschool—to step out on the water. “Come.” Homeschool? Must I take on this too? “Take heart; it is I. Have no fear.”

And so you do. You step out of the boat.

Crossing the parking lot that last day felt very much like stepping out of a boat onto the waters.

Back to School 2015 | Little Book, Big Story

2nd Grade & Kindergarten (2015)

So, that is the update on life: big and exciting stuff for our family. The update on blogging may not strike you the same way, but you are a gracious bunch, and I feel comfortable assuming that you will receive it well. I will say first, though, that I am not retiring this blog. So that’s out now.

What I am doing is reducing my blogging schedule a bit. Since starting this blog four years ago, I have posted a book review every single week, with only a few exceptions. But between taking on some additional writing assignments and beginning that unsteady trek across the sea of home education (I have a lot of reading and learning things the hard way ahead of me!), I’m going to move toward posting reviews every other week on the blog. I love writing for you all, and I hope the existence of the book list helps soften the blow here. That and the assurance that I have some really great books on the calendar to review this summer.

Back to School 2016 | Little Book, Big Story

3rd Grade & 1st Grade (2016)

Thank you all for reading this blog and, better yet, for reading the books I review here for you! I love hearing about the ones you have loved, so just for fun (and because this is a bittersweet post that I’d like to end on a sweet note), would you share in the comments your favorite books that you’ve found through this site? I would love to know which ones resonated most deeply with you. Survival tips on homeschooling are most welcome, too!

Love,
Théa

2017 | Little Book, Big Story

Before the last end-of-year program (2017)

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Henry and the Chalk Dragon | Jennifer Trafton

The plight of the quirky, artistic kid is not unknown to me. I was the child who preferred drawing indoors to recess, and who, in seventh grade, curried favor with the popular girls by drawing them pictures of horses. (In high school, I designed their tattoos.)

To this day, it’s rare to find me without a pen (or a collection of pens, to my daughters’ delight), and if required to sit still for any length of time—say, for a sermon or in a waiting room—I’ll be the one covertly doodling in any margin I can find. So I should clarify: the plight of the quirky artistic kid is not unknown to me, nor is the plight of the awkwardly doodling adult. (This TED Talk  made me feel a lot better about that last one, though.)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

So I recognized in Jennifer Trafton’s new hero, Henry Penwhistle, a kindred spirit. The premise of this book is simple: Henry draws a dragon on the back of his bedroom door and the dragon comes to life, slipping off the door and into the world, where he runs amok. For Henry, this is akin to learning that one’s diary has been stolen and is now a New York Times bestseller. His art is out there for all to see, and the results so far aren’t pretty.

But Henry’s heroic quest to vanquish the dragon (with the help of his wonderful friends) is both hilarious and sweet, in just the right doses. Jennifer Trafton’s books are a delight to read aloud, and Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations suit the story beautifully.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Her encouragement to quirky, artistic kids everywhere (we have a few in our house) is invaluable:

Once you make something . . . a picture, or a story, or a song, or an invention, or even a delicious meal, it isn’t yours anymore. It has a life. It could spend its life lying on your paper, staring up at you and saying, ‘Thank you for drawing me. Aren’t I wonderful?’ Or it could fill the stomach of a queen or give strength to a poor man in the street. It could wrap itself around a city and make the people in it cry an ocean, or it could wiggle into the ears of a baby and make her burst into giggles. . . . All you can do is make the best thing you can, and love it as hard as you can, and let it go loose in the world, and watch what happens.

This is a beautiful book, both for the kids who feel on the outside of things, and for the ones who seem warmly at the center of things but would benefit from an interlude on the outskirts. This a book for the artists and for the ones who have forgotten that they, too, are capable of making beautiful things. Henry and the Chalk Dragon is for children who like to laugh and for ones who don’t but need to, and it’s for grown-ups, who can always use a reminder about the power of chivalry and poetry and art.

That is: this is a book for all of us. And I suggest you go read it with your family now.


Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Jennifer Trafton, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

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