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Maybe God is Like That, Too | Jennifer Grant

An unseen God can be hard to explain to children, but not, I think, because they find him hard to believe in. They are better at that than we are. When my daughters and I discuss him, I am the one who fumbles for words to describe him without a picture to point to and say, “There he is! That’s him.” Creation itself is one of the best teachers, and that is where I tend to point. We see God’s exuberance in flowers, whose geometric designs tempt us to think that they are carbon copies of one another, but they are not: each bud on each stem has its own personality—a fragment, in some way, of him.

Trees speak of his patience in low, quiet voices.

Spiders speak (in whispers that make us shiver) of his precision, his delight in making beautiful webs from eight-legged, unsettling beings.

Music sings of his joy.

Math (I remind my girls morning after morning) demonstrates his steadfastness, his consistency: the way 7 x 7 will always be 49, he will always be good. He will always love them.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

In Maybe God is Like That, Too, Jennifer Grant narrows the scope from all of creation to us, his people, and through a conversation between a young boy and his grandmother, illustrates the way we can study God through the actions of others. At first, this sounds a bit pantheistic, as though God is in all things, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that Gal. 5:22-23—the fruit of the Spirit—is guiding their discussion. When the young boy asks his grandmother what God is like, she points him outward, toward the world around him, and says that when we see those things, we see God, too. We see, through the rest of his day, how watches for these things and finds examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control in the people around him.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That conversation is one reason we loved this book. But another reason we loved it was Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations: he gave this family of grandmother and grandson such personality through the way he depicted their apartment, their surroundings, their affection for each other. We have been talking lately about the different shapes families can take, and so it was neat to see this grandmother caring for her grandson in a way that wasn’t a part of the story itself, but a foundation for it. Her tenderness and sacrifice, regardless of the reason she is his guardian, sets the stage beautifully for their conversation on the fruit of the Spirit, for in raising him, she displays all of these things herself.


Speaking of Benjamin Schipper: if you recognize his style from Jennifer Trafton’s book Henry and the Chalk Dragon, there’s a very good chance you already know and love his work!


Maybe God is Like That, Too
Jennifer Grant, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

On That Easter Morning | Mary Joslin

“Christians are strange people,” our pastor announced on Sunday.

So true, I laughed. We really are.

“Christians gather to celebrate the death of their leader. We rejoice in it!”

We’re totally weird.

But that is the backward logic of the gospel: The path to freedom runs through sacrifice. The way to strength lies through weakness.

And the path of life begins with death. Jesus died so we could set foot on that path—he is our way in. But we also die as we walk that path, both spiritually (as God prunes from us our old desires, clearing space for new growth) and physically (the only way to resurrection is through death).

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That is all backward, opposite what we want and what our broken world praises. We crave strength and success, and he calls for surrender. We demand rights and recognition, and he models humility. The Jewish people, anticipating the Messiah, longed for a King, a Leader who would drive the Romans out of Israel and restore the kingdom—but God sent a baby. A carpenter’s son, who grew into a man gentle and tender to those hurting, and fiery toward the prideful, the hypocrites.

This man was poised to claim his throne, wasn’t he? He rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecies, welcomed by the praises of his people. Freedom was close; strength stood in their midst. When would he strike, some of his followers wondered. When would he claim what was his?

But instead, Christ was betrayed, arrested, tried and convicted. Crucified.

What devastation.

Yet that is what we celebrate today (that, and Josie’s second birthday—more on that later). We are a strange people. Jesus failed to take Jerusalem, failed to rescue his people from the Roman regime, failed to lead them boldly into a new, victorious era as free citizens.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But his goal was not only the salvation of the Israelites. He did not die and remain buried; he did not decay, dissolving back into the earth, leaving only stories behind. His aim was the salvation of all who come to him: Israelites and Gentiles, as well as the generations upon generations who have been born and died since that first century. His death was not unexpected. It was not an aberration in the plan. It was the plan.

He did not fail.

We—we strange Christians—observe Good Friday today. We celebrate the death of our King, and we remember our role in it—the sins that pinned him to the Cross, and the ways we have cried out against him, desiring his death rather than recognizing our own guilt.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But on Sunday, we’ll wake early. We’ll open the oven and feast on Resurrection cookies; we will share new books (like today’s book, which I’ll mention soon, I promise). We will sing “Who Will Roll Away the Stone?” at home and at church, we will sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” which such momentum, such volume, such joy.

But not today. Today we sing “Were You There?” We sing “What Have We Done?” We remember and we mourn.

We are strange people.


On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

On That Easter Morning is beautiful! The palette is all sunrise colors and delicate, transparent watercolors, with shimmering details. Mary Joslin’s text, drawn from different translations of the Bible and faithful to the story, is lovely. It is also (alas! I just realized this!) out of print, so a personal copy may be hard to come by. But our library carries it—perhaps yours does, too? Or maybe you’ll find it in thrift stores or on Thrift Books. If so, it is a beautiful book worth sharing early on Easter morning.


Also, Josie’s birthday! She’s two today, and chatty and quirky and hilarious. And we love her like crazy.

Family Photo | Little Book, Big Story

Our Good Friday is going to be all joy as we descend upon the children’s museum, eat biscuits and gravy and smoothies for dinner (her favorites) and cupcakes for dessert, and then go to the church after the party, all somber. It’s a day as eclectic and disjointed as this post.


On That Easter Morning
Mary Joslin; Helen Cann (2006)

The Easter Story | Katherine Sully

When people ask about having four kids and I hear that panicked pitch to their voice—that “how do you do it?” pitch—they mean “How do you keep track of them all without leaving someone at the grocery store” or “How do you live with the noise and four kids’ worth of pink laundry?” But those really aren’t the issue for me. Yes, I sometimes panic, thinking I’ve left someone back by the banana display, and I have quit—I can use “literal” here in the literal sense—I have literally quit folding laundry. (We all just sort it and stuff it in drawers.)

The biggest challenge I face on a daily basis, as a mom to kids aged 1-9 is the whiplash that comes from helping a thoughtful nine-year-old think through her problem and talk about it and maybe cry a little, and then wrestling a toddler into tights because she won’t leave her socks on. I emerge from that battle sweaty and victorious to find the four-year-old launching onto the bed belly first, but before I can remind her that belly flops are forbidden and suggest that perhaps her energy might be better spent outdoors, the seven-year-old comes to me sorrowful because her favorite character in her book has just died.

Whiplash.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Meeting the needs of different daughters, remembering that the seven-year-old won’t see things the way the nine-year-old does and that there is no reasoning with a toddler—that is my challenge. This makes family reading a tricky affair, too, because I love the idea of us all cozied up around the same book, but it’s hard to choose a book that will satisfy everyone. Our school books and family read-alouds tend to favor the older girls, so lucky Phoebe gets folded up into whatever we’re reading with Lydia and Sarah. This is true for Easter books, too.

And that is good. When it comes to choosing read-alouds, I like to round up. But lately, I’ve been trying to find books that are just right for Phoebe. (Sandra Boynton’s books are always just right for Josie, so that doesn’t take much thought yet.) That is why we’ve begun reading Brambly Hedge together, and why I take a minute in the morning, with the towel still on my hair, to read Everything a Child Should Know About God to Phoebe.  I want her to hear, sometimes, things read just for her.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

And that brings me, at last, to Katherine Sully’s book The Easter Story. The story of Easter doesn’t lend itself to cute, cuddly picture books. It can be done—it has been done beautifully—but the story centers around crucifixion and violence, done not to the bad guy but to the hero, and that is hard to explain to young readers. But Sully recounts the story’s events simply and faithfully, as the lines of Simona Sanfilippo’s watercolor illustrations sweep across the pages—the figures seem to be in constant motion. Sully doesn’t offer much commentary, but just tells the story like it’s one worth listening to—like it’s one worth knowing well.

The Easter Story, by Katherine Sully (review) | Little Book, Big Story

The Easter Story is a simple, but not too simple, retelling of Jesus’s death and resurrection that draws young readers in, gives them much to ponder, and much to point to. For the few moments I spend reading this with Phoebe, I suffer no whiplash, but sit still with her. We are right where we need to be.


The Easter Story
Katherine Sully; Simona Sanfilippo (2014)

Everything a Child Should Know About God | Kenneth Taylor

I must begin with a confession: You know Facebook-stalking? How people haunt the Facebook pages of people they only sort of know? I did that with this book. I frequented its Amazon listing and read reviews; I saw it ranked as a staff pick in the Westminster Bookstore and I read their reviews; I read a few sample pages.

And I didn’t get it—in either sense of the phrase. I didn’t understand what the book was getting at, and so I didn’t buy it.

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor (Review) | Little Book, Big Story

But a few weeks ago, I was at a friend’s house, rummaging through her shelves on a quest for a perfect book to take with me on vacation (this is an art, as you know), when I came across her copy. Sure, she said. I could borrow it.

So I brought it home, and Phoebe promptly fell in love with Everything a Child Should Know About God.

The very things that I was skeptical about—the super short readings, the simple illustrations, the very basic questions—sparked Phoebe’s curiosity. She carried it around with her everywhere; she called it her “Bible.” And so I sat down and scanned the table of contents.

I got it. I got it in both senses of that phrase, because when my friend heard how much Phoebe loved the book, she gave it to us, and because I finally understood what the book is.

Everything a Child Should Know About God, by Kenneth N. Taylor (Review) | Little Book, Big Story

Everything a Child Should Know About God is a systematic theology for toddlers. Like The Ology, the book we’re currently reading through as a family, Everything a Child Should Know About God explores what the Bible is, who God is, what he’s done, and why we love him. But it scales these things back to their simplest, clearest forms. The questions point to the illustrations, which give young readers something clear to visualize as we talk about these vast concepts. They are little pegs these readers can hang bigger truths on as they grow in size and understanding.

Phoebe and I now sit down together each morning and read through one page of this book together. It takes five minutes, and we both love that. But I love the way this book gives me a doorway into discussion with her, one that reaches her right where she is, right now, at four.

I finally get what this book is about.


Everything a Child Should Know About God
Kenneth N. Taylor; Jenny Brake (2014)

The World Jesus Knew | Marc Olson

Years ago, a friend invited us to Passover seder, a cozy one hosted by friends of his. This was early in our marriage, before kids, and we squeezed into this small apartment with our friend and a half-dozen strangers. We passed plates and glasses of wine and lounged, ancient Israelite-style, around the table on cushions.

The couple hosting led us through the Haggadah, and while the Hebrew was a mystery to me, lovely and impenetrable, the symbolism of each dish on the seder plate wasn’t: one by one, the readings illuminated them, showed us both how they remembered the Exodus and how they anticipated the Messiah who would come and fulfill each prophecy. And, they explained, he had come. He had fulfilled them all.

I had one of those moments, in my corner around the table, as I dipped parsley in salted water and touched it to my tongue, when the window was open and the tree outside stirred in the darkness and I thought, The Jewish people have observed this for centuries, remembering the Exodus. They have waited this long for the Messiah. And I thought, too, The Last Supper looked like this. As we broke bread and served wine, communion changed irrevocably for me as I realized that Jesus wasn’t instituting something new as he passed the cup to his disciples, but fulfilling something ancient—a promise made centuries before.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

History became, in that moment, three-dimensional for me. I saw Jesus in this new context and understood that everything he did and said, the stories he told, carried particular meaning to the shepherds, priests, and prostitutes around him—meaning that is occasionally lost on me, given my unfamiliarity with sheep, mustard seeds, and the grape harvest. And yet: those words still carry enough fire to spark transformation in the heart of a new wife standing in a stairwell, watching friends open the door for the coming Elijah and rejoicing that he has already come.

This seems like a big lesson for kids to take in, but Marc Olson has written a book that takes some awfully long steps in that direction. The World Jesus Knew is a picture book filled with details about first century Jerusalem—what the Israelites and Romans wore, what they ate, how they interacted. A book like this could be dry or overwhelming, but this one isn’t: Jem Maybank’s illustrations arrange that information well, making it easy to follow and fun to explore, and Marc Olson describes these things with energy and wit.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

I know I can’t fabricate those moments of realization for my kids, the ones that open history wide for them so they see that other people, other fascinating people, really lived in this world, though in very different ways than we do now. But I can do my best to give them opportunities to see it. Books like this help a great deal.


The World Jesus Knew
Marc Olson; Jem Maybank (2017)

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent

We have one window in our living room—one window highly sought after by the cats, who get their best bird views there—and it’s in that window sill that I heap the books I’m currently reading. This is a terrible place for books—they fall when you bump them or when you put the blinds down (or when you lunge at a bird), and they block a small portion of coveted daylight. But it’s close to the armchair where I like to read, and so that is where the books stay.

And with Lent upon us, a handful of the books in that sill are Easter-related, which made me think of other Easter-related books you might like, which made me think that a post about Easter reading for you, dear grown-up reading this blog, might be well received. This list is a short one, but I’m sure you have other books worthy of joining its ranks. I would love to hear about them in the comments.

5 Beautiful Devotionals for Lent | Little Book, Big Story

So, here it is: a list of  devotionals for Lent! The first two are the ones I’m reading this year, followed by ones I’ve read (and loved) in the past.

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Comforts From the Cross, by Elyse Fitzpatrick | Little Book, Big Story

This devotional isn’t marketed for Lent and I didn’t plan to read it for Lent, but I did start reading it and it struck me that it is, in fact, perfectly Lent-worthy. Each reading describes some new aspect the gospel—the beauty of it, how it transforms our lives—in Fitzpatrick’s warm, grace-filled voice. Familiarity may tempt us to grow deaf to the melody of the gospel, but Fitzpatrick reminds us that the Lord plays endless variations upon it in our lives, and that that melody will never grow repetitive to those who pay attention. Comforts From the Cross highlights some of those variations, and the result is stunning.

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett

The Valley of Vision, ed. Arthur Bennett | LIttle Book, Big Story

The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions written by a plethora of authors whose names occasionally end with “Spurgeon,” “Edwards,” or “Bunyan.” You can see by the condition of the cover that this is an oft-frequented book at our house (or at least one that got knocked off my nightstand and lost under the bed for a while), and I’m reading it this Lent with Joe Thorn’s guide for praying through The Valley of Vision.

I’m two weeks in and I love it already: these little breaks for prayer reorient my heart every few hours, and I need that. (It’s true that I pray on the stairwell, often with one or two daughters in my lap, poking my face and asking me what I’m doing, but praying in the midst of that is perfect training for praying through the greater storms of life. Right?)

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper

Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

You thought there was just the one reason, didn’t you? Nope. In fifty short chapters, John Piper lays out fifty illuminating reasons why Jesus suffered and died for us. What this is, really, is fifty reasons to praise God for his redemption!

Note: Piper’s book The Passion of Christ is actually the same material repackaged under a new title. How do I know? Because I own them both and planned to review them each separately here—until I read the table of contents. But hey, now we know they’re both good books!

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, Ed. by Nancy Guthrie

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. Nancy Guthrie | Little Book, Big Story

I read this book during Lent last year, and it was beautiful. Nancy Guthrie has curated a collection of twenty-five readings from authors that span church history. You’ll find Augustine here alongside J.I. Packer, John Calvin next to Francis Schaeffer. This isn’t technically a devotional but an anthology, one that’s easy to pick up and read any time of the day. (Guthrie’s Advent anthology Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus is lovely, too.)

King’s Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller

King's Cross (Jesus the King), by Timothy Keller | Little Book, Big Story

This is one of my favorite books, and again, it’s not one specifically written for Lent. But Timothy Keller’s study of Jesus’s life through the book of Mark places Jesus’ life within the greater framework of God’s redemptive story. This is not a difficult read, but it’s a deep one that will give you much to ponder.

Note: This book has been republished under the title Jesus the King, so don’t let that throw you off the scent. Even if you don’t read it during Lent, it’s excellent reading any time of the year.


What about you? What are you reading for Lent?

Jeanne D’Albret | Rebekah Dan

Lately my reading has begun to branch off our school studies, as I find that a picture book about Martin Luther whets an appetite for his full story, which sparks an interest in the life of his wife, which sends me on a quest to learn everything I can about the Reformation.

I love that about history: we cannot reach the bottom of it.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

One of my favorite recent discoveries is the story of Jeanne D’Albret, Queen of Navarre. Rebekah Dan has worked hard to reclaim her story from near obscurity, for though D’Albret was a contemporary of John Calvin and some of the other Reformers, and though her role in furthering the Reformation in her kingdom was costly and critical, she is not so nearly well remembered. I am glad that Dan has written a book that draws her name back up to history’s surface.

As the princess of Navarre (and eventual queen) during the Reformation, Jeanne had a powerful impact on her region’s response to the changes the Reformation ignited within and against the church. Her commitment to the gospel and the cause of the Reformation cost her the peace of her once-happy marriage and repeatedly put her life in danger. But D’Albret remained steadfast to the Lord, despite threats and unpopularity, and though Navarre would eventually revert back to a Catholic state, her faithfulness gave the Reformation a foothold in her country that was not easily lost.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

Rebekah Dan tells this story in a way that appeals to young readers, introducing Jeanne as a determined child, then young woman who, when married against her will, had to be forcibly dragged down the aisle when she refused to walk (this marriage was later annulled, and when she married again, it was to a man she loved). Dan captures moments like this one in vibrant colored pencil illustrations.

The only caution I have with this book is that it describes the causes of the Reformation in a simplified way that I felt needed more discussion with my daughters. But even so, this book is a lovely introduction to a nearly-forgotten woman whose life and sacrifices helped further the gospel among the people of Navarre. It was a delight to read with my daughters—and it sent me on a quest to learn all I could about Jeanne D’Albret.


Jeanne D’Albret: Princess of the Reformation
Rebekah Dan (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.