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Best Books of 2017

This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.

Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.

But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.

And then I graduated.

Of all the books I read in 2017, I liked these 10 the best (book list) | Little Book, Big Story

Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.

What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.

 

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by George Eliot | Little Book, Big Story

I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.

This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.

The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey

 The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey | Little Book, Big Story

We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked PG Wodehouse, EB White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).

But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.

No Little women, by Aimee Byrd

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd | Little Book, Big Story

Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.

One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

 The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an LM Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.

The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, by John Muir Laws

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws | Little Book, Big Story

When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.

This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes  certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.

Mystery & Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery & Manners, Essays by Flannery O'Connor | Little Book, Big Story

Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein | Little Book, Big Story

This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.

What about you? Which books did you discover this year?

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

My reading life didn’t begin with a bang or even a spark last year. It was more like a puff of smoke, drifting in from the year before. Which is to say: at the start of 2018, I read plenty, but few of the books I read in those early months are worth mentioning on this list, and the ones that are worth mentioning have already been mentioned here on the blog.

The rest of my selections seemed to be mostly functional: I read a lot about homeschooling, and I pre-read a lot of middle grade books that went from my nightstand to my daughters’. I read about writing—picture books and poetry this year—but I also spent an embarrassing amount of time reading reviews of paint colors online. And researching light fixtures. And pinning pictures of subway tile.

(A tragic thought: maybe my best reading energy went to Pinterest this year.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

But then we moved out of our house, and I had to pack a single tote filled with everything I might want to read over the course of two nomadic months. It was hard to justify bringing functional books when I rightly suspected that I would need books to a source of both both rest and reinforcement. My portable library became a travelling source of truth, beauty, and goodness. And, excepting only the first one, all of the best books I read this year were in it.

(A thought worth considering: maybe I should read like books are a source of rest and reinforcement more often.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

Writing Picture Booksby Ann Whitford Paul

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul | Little Book, Big Story

I asked a friend where I should start if I wanted to learn more about writing picture books and this is one of the many excellent resources she suggested. Writing Picture Books explores the different components of picture books and the mechanics of making them work, but discusses the music of language and gives some excellent practical advice for revising and tightening manuscripts. This was the class I wanted to take in college but couldn’t find.

Note: I read an older edition of this book but loved it so much I bought and photographed the new one, too, which I haven’t yet read.

Enjoying Godby Tim Chester

Enjoying God, by Tim Chester | Little Book, Big Story

In a year of utilitarian reading, I needed a book like Enjoying God. Tim Chester reminds readers that God doesn’t just intend for us to obey him and follow him but also to enjoy him. According to the Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is the chief end of man, so this is important stuff. Chester unpacks it well.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

Go put these on hold at the library! Or, if you find them used, buy them immediately. I’ll explain why soon, I promise.

The Stars: A New Way to See Themby H.A. Rey

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey | Little Book, Big Story

Last winter I became besotted by stars. We studied them together during school, and H.A. Rey’s The Stars introduced helped us amateur stargazers make a little more sense of the night sky. Rey (better known for Curious George) has a knack for translating the abstract into the concrete, and his quirky sense of humor and his illustrations serve the subject well here. (Find the Constellations, his picture book for younger readers, is excellent, too.)

You Are What You Loveby James K.A. Smith

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Many of us consider ourselves thinking beings (we think, therefore we are, right?), but James K.A. Smith asks “What if we’re not thinking beings but loving ones?” You Are What You Love  explores the idea that what we love determines far more of our actions and decisions than what we think. Consider the success rate of New Years’ resolutions: if we think we’d better get in shape and come up with a plan for getting up early, etc., but we love comfort and are willing to do pretty much anything to obtain it . . . how long will our plan hold out?

Smith’s thoughts on how liturgy and church life trains our affections was an especially rich part of the book for me as we found ourselves looking, rather abruptly and for the first time in thirteen years, for a church to call home. This book gave me much to ponder and is definitely a re-reader.

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

John Hendrix brought his A-game to this one. The Faithful Spy is somewhere in between a graphic novel and a young adult biography, and I can only spottily imagine the amount of work he must have put into researching, writing, lettering and illustrating this fabulous biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book deserves (and shall have!) its own full-length review.

Botany For Gardenersby Brian Capon

Botany for Gardners, by Brian Capon | Little Book, Big Story

If Mr. Penderwick wrote a botany book for layfolk, it would be this one. I borrowed Botany for Gardeners from the library while researching a writing project and fell for it hard. Capon’s language as he describes cell growth or the emergence of a root tip from a seed is winsome: his delight in plant life is contagious and had me thinking happy thoughts of apical buds and meristems. Though decidedly a science layperson, I bought my own copy of this book and read it lingeringly.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

A few years ago, I read a biography of Lilias Trotter and finished longing to study some of her artwork closely. A Blossom in the Desert is a compilation of both Trotter’s devotional writings and her paintings. I read this while we moved from home to home, and it was a great comfort. Trotter’s words have a way of reorienting one’s heart, as she draws lessons from both Scripture and creation, and connects the two into beautiful parables.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler | Little Book, Big Story

Tamar Adler does for the egg what Robert Farrar Capon does for the onion: revels in it, writes about it with such delight that I had to poach one myself as soon as possible. An Everlasting Meal is Adler’s collection of food writing, based on M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf and with a nod to Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb. I’m reading this one slowly, not wanting it to end, and carrying it with me whenever I go to the kitchen.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs | Little Book, Big Story

This is a simmering book, one I am still reading. When in a season of unrest, when so many things are changing at once, and so many needs seem pressing, it is good to be reminded rather firmly that God is unchanging and in him we have everything we need. This book is a beauty.


What about you? What are the best books you read this year?

The Best Books I Read in 2016

When I spend time with my favorite moms, we ask a lot of questions of each other. Mine tend to focus around housekeeping, a subject that has perplexed me well into adulthood: “But when do you clean? Why are your floors so shiny?”

Very few people ask me for tips about housework, which is probably wise. They do, however, ask me a lot about reading: what am I reading, what should they read, and, most often, when do I read. My answer to that last one is simple: whenever I can. I read in the pick-up line, the bathtub, in bed, while nursing, while waiting for the pasta to cook (this may answer the housekeeping questions, actually). I read during naptime and in those rare moments when everyone is playing contentedly outside and no one is looking at me or needing me for anything. I am always armed with a book, even if it’s just a pocket-sized book of poetry.
Of all the books I read in 2016, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

This year was a year of reading everywhere. Many of these books were finished in bits and pieces in unlikely places, because that is what life is like with two school-aged children, one toddler, and a baby: bits and pieces. I read nonfiction, deep and rich, and started keeping a commonplace book for the first time. I read a lot of great kids’ books, too, and many of my favorites from this year have already appeared on the blog.

But here are ten books that I haven’t shared yet, ten that I thought you, dear parents, might like for yourselves:

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon | Little Book, Big Story

I’m hard pressed to know what to call The Supper of the Lamb: part cookbook (with recipes), part meditation on the beauty of creation, part opinionated treatise on cooking techniques, part endearing glimpse into the life of an Episcopalian priest in the 1960s, this book made me laugh aloud, spring for new wooden spoons, and stare with wonder at an ordinary onion.

Teaching From Rest, by Sarah Mackenzie

This book on homeschooling, by the beloved host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, plunges beneath the technical details of how to do it and into the depths of why we do it. Her heart for connection with her kids is contagious, and I love her big-picture perspective on education and where we, as moms and educators, place our priorities. This is a short book, but it’s a rich one, and it’s worth reading whether you’ve been homeschooling for years or are just starting to wonder if it might be for you. (I loaned this one out, so alas! I could not photograph it for you.)

Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge

Pilgrim's Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

This is the second book in The Eliot Family Trilogy, and all three of the books are worth reading. But in Caught Up in a Story, Sarah Clarkson singles out this book for her recommendation, and I can see why: by telling the story of a post-WWII family who buys and restores an old pilgrim inn, Elizabeth Goudge paints a beautiful picture of what a home is and how a good one transforms us.

(Also: resist the urge to judge this book by its cover. That’s a strong urge, I know. But fight it! The book is lovely inside.)

Letters & Life, by Bret Lott

Letters and Life, by Bret Lott | Little Book, Big Story

Confession: I am still reading this one. But when Lott opened his book on writing with the Apostle’s Creed, anchoring his view of art in the solid ground of theology, he endeared himself to me immediately. His tone throughout the book is warm and wonderful, as he explores who artists are within our culture and as created beings. He quotes Francis Schaeffer at length, while calling him, “that old Hobbit-like fellow in the knickers and sporting the funky little white beard” and shares stories from his life that made me giggle and read them aloud to Mitch. I’m reading this one slowly on purpose, and I can already tell that it’s joined the canon of Books I Re-Read Every Few Years.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Speaking of hobbits and books I re-read every few years, I re-read these books this year. Good news! They’re still amazing.

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman | Little Book, Big Story

By reminding us of God’s ultimate plan for our salvation and of the grand story he’s woven throughout Scripture, Gloria Furman argues that no woman is just a mom. We are all called to work that has eternal significance, even though it seems tethered (rather tightly, at times) to the quotidian work of wiping noses, settling disputes, and fishing Duplos out of the baby’s crib again.

This is another gospel-saturated book from Furman, worth reading and re-reading and heavily underlining. (If you want to know more about Gloria Furman, you can read my interview with her here.)

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness | Little Book, Big Story

The story of Lilias Trotter, a woman who followed God’s call to Algeria though it meant laying down her work as an artist to serve as a missionary, is one that’s dear to my heart. Though God calls many of us to surrender our gifts to him so he can cultivate and use them in his own way, that surrender is completely contrary to our culture’s cries to “Dream Big” and forge our own success. I found it encouraging to read about God’s faithfulness in Lilias’s life, and to see how her surrender gave God room to use her gifts in ways she couldn’t have foreseen. (I have written about Lilias Trotter here on the blog before. Twice.)

A Whole Lot of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures, The Memoirs) | Little Book, Big Story

We re-watched all the seasons of Sherlock this year, and that drove me back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Some of these I had read already; some I encountered for the first time. All of them are masterful pieces of fiction, perfect for reading with tea, under fleecey blankets, while the wind rattles the bare branches outside.

The Life-Giving Home, by Sarah and Sally Clarkson

The Life-Giving Home, by Sally and Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

This book, by mother and daughter team Sally and Sarah Clarkson, reminds us why traditions and little bits of beauty in the home matter so much to our souls. Every chapter takes readers through one month of the year, touching on seasons and holidays and providing a library’s worth of ways we can show love to those in our home. Some are practical, some are lavish, but none are required: this books gives us a feast to pick and choose from without burdening us with guilt over what we cannot do. This book reads like an updated version of Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking (one of my favorites).

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot | Little Book, Big Story

Anything by Elisabeth Elliot is, of course, deep and beautiful and dripping wisdom. I picked this up in the later stages of Advent and decided that I should probably read it every December: as a collection of excerpts from Elliot’s newsletters, this reads almost like a devotional, almost like an anthology of brief essays, and exactly like a precursor to blog posts.


What About you? What beautiful books did you discover this year?

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best

For a while there, our house felt like my favorite bookstore. The shelves lining our living room and small hallway were full; the tops of the shelves were full; the floor to either side of them were full of books. I like that atmosphere in a used bookstore, but in a home I’m tasked with keeping clean, it’s less charming: stacks of books on the floor turn into trails of paperbacks throughout the house, ending wherever the two-year-old was seen last.

And so my husband and a good friend built a set of bookshelves to house our wayward paperbacks. They hang above the couch and give our house a different sort of feel, a well-organized library vs. used bookstore sort of feel, and I love it. It’s a treat to look at one shelf and see (almost) all of our books cozied up together. (And it’s a treat, only picking picture books up off the floor at the end of the day.)

Bookshelves | Little Book, Big Story

Complete with toddler-blur!

This year was a year for savoring books. Compared to my list of favorite finds from last year, these books are longer, deeper, and called for more underlining. I read more during nap time, less while nursing, and took the time to read (or reread) a few of those books I’d been meaning to tackle for a while. I read fiction, yes, and nonfiction, too. I read books that called for deep thoughts and others that kept me laughing. With the exception of the books that have been appearing on this blog all year long, here are my ten favorites from 2015:

Of all the books I read in 2015, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER, by Sigrid Undset (Reread)

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

I was deeply smitten with this book the first time I read it. And when I combed our shelves for a book to take with us on an overnight trip (without kids!), I found myself wanting to read it again, this time with the ending in mind. Undset’s masterpiece of historical fiction is beautifully written, rich with details about life in medieval Norway and characters that still make my heart ache when I remember them, but when people ask me what it’s about, I find that a single word comes to mind: sin.

Kristin’s story would be a hugely popular love story if it ended with her wedding (young girl defies parents and society’s expectations and marries her lover! The end), but Undset follows Kristin for the rest of her life, chronicling the effects her sin on her marriage, her children, her years as an old woman. That may sound depressing, but it isn’t: this is a gorgeous and redemptive book, worth reading and rereading despite its length.

Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset | Little Book, Big Story

Note: Not all translations of this book are created equal! If you’re not completely submerged in the story and deeply in love with Undset’s language, then you’re probably not reading Tiina Nunnally’s translation (pictured). You should fix that. Hers is the best.

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

You’ve heard about this one already. But it has joined the ranks of my very favorite books, so a list of the best books I read this year just wouldn’t be complete without a tip of the hat to The Wingfeather Saga.

DESIRING GODby John Piper

Desiring God, by John Piper | Little Book, Big Story

I tried reading this book years ago but lost steam in the first chapters. When I picked it up this time, it was like sitting down to a feast: Piper packs so much material into each page that I cannot read it without a pen handy for underlining, and every chapter gives me much to consider. This wasn’t a case of me not liking the book, as I originally thought, but of my reading it at the wrong time. This was the right time in my life for Desiring God. I’m savoring it slowly, still reading it paragraph by paragraph.

THE FAMILY COOKS, by Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt

The Family Cooks (Cookbook), by Laurie David | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed David and Uhrenholdt’s first book, The Family Dinner, for the blog this year, and when researching that post discovered that they had a new book out, which I promptly purchased. David is even more fiercely opinionated about food in this book, it’s true, but I love the recipes in The Family Cooks. Their strength is in their simplicity: through them, I’ve finally come to appreciate salad, have reincorporated vegetables into our diet (they had slipped out of it somehow), and have learned at last how to roast a simple, flavorful chicken breast. My daughters love helping me cook from this book, too, so it’s taken up semi-permanent residence on my cookbook stand.

OPENNESS UNHINDERED, by Rosaria Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is a timely writer: before coming to Christ, she was a lesbian and queer theory professor, and her perspective on some of the most controversial topics facing Christians today is not divisive, but saturated with grace. Though this books tackles issues like homosexuality and sexual identity, I found that the most compelling chapters covered struggles faced by all Christians, regardless of the particular shape of our temptations: How should we confront sin? How do we accept grace? How can we truly love our neighbors?

Butterfield writes like a woman who knows how to read a text and how to articulate her thoughts (like a professor, I suppose), and those gifts served her well in writing this book. This is one that I’ll return to over the years, I’m sure, and it’s one that I bullied a few friends into buying because it is just that good. In fact, my copy is currently loaned out, so I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post.

PEACE LIKE A RIVER, by Leif Enger

Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a beautiful blend of fiction and theology, recommended to me by many friends who said, “You like Gilead and Hannah Coulter? [I most certainly do.] Then you’ll love Peace Like a River.” They were right, my friends. So right.

THE THINGS OF EARTH, by Joe Rigney

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney | Little Book, Big Story

I loved everything about this book. I loved Rigney’s examination of how we can glorify God through enjoying his gifts, and I loved his writing style. I found myself wishing that more authors wrote about theology with the obvious joy and delight of Joe Rigney and was sorry to see this book end.

CAUGHT UP IN A STORY, by Sarah Clarkson

Caught Up in a Story, by Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah Clarkson looks at childhood as a story, with an exposition, rising action, crisis, falling action and denouement.  This is a skinny book, but it gave me much to think about—and many books to buy. Each chapter closes with a list of books suited to that particular stage of childhood, so I can thank Clarkson for introducing me to some lovely new books and to renewing my interest in Hannah Coulter and The Wind in the Willows.

OUR MUTUAL FRIENDby Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up, only that it was by Dickens and I was in the mood for Dickens. But oh, my goodness! The twists in this plot, the subtle shades of the characters, the way Dickens gives us only the details we need when we need them—the man was such a master that even his lesser known books are incredible feats of storytelling. I won’t tell you more: I don’t want to rob you of the pleasure of discovering the story for yourself. But I will warn you not to watch the mini-series or even glance at its summary until you have finished Our Mutual Friend. There are some aspects of the plot that cannot be translated onto the screen.

WALKING ON WATER, by Madeleine L’Engle (Reread)

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I reread Walking on Water every few years. L’Engle’s “Reflections on Faith and Art” are lovely—loosely organized and sure to reignite certain fires in me that need periodic feeding. Her words on children’s literature and on her life as a writer have shaped the way I view the call and craft of writing. This is a beautiful book, and because I read it when I was young, I sit here now, writing passionately for you about children’s books.

What about you? What wonderful books did you discover this year?

Of all the books I read in 2014, I liked these 10 the best

Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby—not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.

Literary Highlights 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014—so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.

Reading List | Little Book, Big Story

I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself—books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (the series)by L.M. Montgomery

I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)

On Writing Wellby William Zinsser

On Writing Well | Little Book, Big Story

This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zinsser says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)

North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell

Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs (I went on at length about this on the Deeply Rooted blog).

In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)

Slouching Towards Bethlehemby Joan Didion

Slouching Toward Bethlehem | Little Book, Big Story

In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.

But at William Zinsser’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of  one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.

 A Loving Lifeby Paul Miller

A Loving Life | Little Book, Big Story

This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.

The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White

The Once and Future King | Little Book, Big Story

This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.

Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn

Money, Possessions and Eternity | Little Book, Big Story

Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is such a lively author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well—so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.

For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Colorby Leatrice Eiseman & Keith Recker

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more—all in one huge and beautiful book!

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin

There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story—the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.

I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexadre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it—but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.

And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (Update: it doesn’t fall apart at the end!)

Little Me, Big God Books | Steph Williams

I am well into eleven years of reading board books and can tell you that the few we still read—the ones that have been repurchased when their covers, loosened by soggy gums, finally fell off—are all by Sandra Boynton. Our daughters can still chant the full text of Moo Ba La La. I once recited—with friends at a dinner party—But Not the Hippopotamus from memory, as a spoken word poem, possibly read by William Shatner.

Little Me, Big God Series, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

I tell you this not because I’m reviewing a Boynton book today, but because I want you to remember, before we begin, how hard it is for an author to win over both toddler and parent at once.

And then I want to tell you that Steph Williams gets it right. Her Little Me, Big God books are ones I happily re-read any time Josie slings one into my lap. And she slings them into my lap often.

The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

Each one tells a story about Jesus in a few short pages, and tells it in a way that neither condescends to the young reader or soars over their head. Williams researched the stories thoroughly and tells them simply. She also includes the stories’ full text in the back of each book.

The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet, by Steph Williams | Little Book, Big Story

The Best Thing To Do tells the story of Martha and Mary; Never Too Little tells of the children coming to Jesus; The Man Who Would Not Be Quiet tells the story of Bartimaeus. All of them are short and small and deep, as they point both toddler and parent toward the One they need most.


Little Me, Big God Series
Steph Williams (2019)


Disclosure: I did receive copies of these books 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.

10 Living Books About Church History

Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in October 2016.


We sit at the table so long that my tea grows cold. With my left hand I sprinkle Josie’s tray with smashed popcorn, one salty shard at a time; with my right hand I hold a book open, one of the stack piled in front of me. The older girls shell pistachios or poke each other or stare dreamily into middle distance as I read.

We call this time “elevensies”—we eat like hobbits while it happens—and it is a part of our home school routine. By the time we sit down, everyone who is of age has practiced piano; everyone has bumped fists with math and Latin. That stack of books at my seat holds everything from a biography of Tchaikovsky to a picture book about constellations to a systematic theology for kids.

But the core of our reading has two main threads: Scripture and history. I want my daughters to understand their context, to know that the world was an interesting place before they were born and that they have a particular role to play in this part of it. I want them to be able to trace the thread of God’s redemption through Scripture and to recognize where he is still working in the world. Sitting down at the table each morning is an act of trust in the Lord who knows what my daughters will question, what will touch their memories and dissolve, and what they will retain.

10 Living Books About Church History | Little Book, Big Story

The aspect of history I find most fascinating is the history of the church. I have compiled for you a list of my favorite church history books here. They’re written for children, but if you find that they just whet your appetite, never fear! I’ve also included some recommendations for you.

The Church History ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols

The Church History ABCs | Little Book, Big Story

What better way to learn the alphabet than by using key figures of church history to illustrate each letter? No, I’m kidding. This isn’t an alphabet primer, but a biography sampler: A is for Augustine, Z for Ulrich Zwingli. This is, and probably always will be, my favorite picture book about church history. (Read the full review.)

The History Lives Series, by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

This series offers a great introduction to church history for kids or adults (confession: my husband and I both read these. For ourselves, not for the kids). Spread over five volumes, History Lives tells the story of the church from the first century to today, by introducing a new key figure each chapter and telling a slightly fictionalized story about some moment in their life. I use these in conjunction with our history curriculum and my daughter loves them. They’re a bit like Story of the World, but about church history rather than world history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Church History in Plain Languageby Bruce Shelley

Lily, The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley

Lily: The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

This simple, lovely biography of missionary Lilias Trotter is a keeper: a great fly-over view of a woman who loved and served God, no matter what the cost. And while many missionaries are wonderful to read about but hard to relate to, Lilias’s story resonates with me. Not many of us here are called to be martyrs, but we’re all called to lay down our lives and desires to serve the Lord whole-heartedly. Lilias Trotter, who set aside an opportunity to become “the greatest artist of her generation” in order to place her gifts in the service of the Lord,  is a beautiful example for child and parent alike. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

This collection introduces readers to a handful of saints from the early days of the church. Joyce Denhem’s beautiful language pairs nicely with the illustrations, which suggest stained glass windows, but the most beautiful part of the stories is the way they glorify not the saints themselves but the God they served. (Read the full review.)

The Tinker’s Daughter, by Wendy Lawton

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

Lawton’s exploration of the life of Mary Bunyan, John’s daughter, is lovely. This is historical fiction at its best, and it’s one of a series of books about young Christian girls throughout history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Pilgrim’s Progressby John Bunyan

MOSESby Carole Boston Weatherford

Moses, by Carole Weatherford | Little Book, Big Story

Through an imagined conversation between Harriet Tubman and the Lord, Carole Boston Weatherford paints a portrait of a woman who relied upon the Lord for every step of that first journey from slavery to freedom. The illustrations are moving, depicting Tubman’s travel in a way that captures both the beauty and the hardship of that first flight. Knowing how difficult that first trip was makes the knowledge that she went back (many times) to rescue others from bondage even more amazing.

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

This series is like a sampler platter of Christian biographies. There’s a set of biographies about men, and a set about women, with five volumes apiece. I’d be willing to bet that your favorite historical figure is in here somewhere. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper

MARTIN LUTHERby Paul L. Maier

Martin Luther, by Paul L. Maier | Little Book, Big Story

This is a powerful, detailed biography of Martin Luther. It is a picture book (and a beautifully illustrated one), but the text is weighty and rich: more suited for independent reading than for reading aloud.  Maier writes about not just who Luther was, but about why his work still matters today.

For Grown-Ups

Luther on the Christian Life, by Carl R. Trueman

What is the Church?, by Mandy Groce and Bill Bell

What is the Church? | Little Book, Big Story

Through a sweet rhyme and simple illustrations, the authors explain not just what the church is, but who. This book is great for young readers, but it’s also a nice, succinct look at the church itself for older kids and even adults. (Read the full review.)

Saint Valentine, by Robert Sabuda

Saint Valentine | Little Book, Big Story

This beautifully illustrated, moving story about Saint Valentine is my favorite Valentine’s Day read. Yes, we eat chocolate hearts while we read it, but Valentine’s story reminds us why we give each other notes and gifts on the holiday while painting a picture of sacrificial love given at a great cost. (Read the full review.)


Which books about church history would you add to the list?