Tag: biography (page 1 of 3)

John Ronald’s Dragons | Caroline McAlister

Announcement!

The hyper-observant among you (I am decidedly not one of these, my husband will assure you) may have noticed that the “Bookshop” link is no longer available in the menu up there. Alas! Amazon no longer supports the store feature, so I had to retire it. The Book List is still there, though, so if you want a flyover view of my favorite titles, that’s the place to look.

That is all.


There are those who like to know the story behind their favorite stories, and there are those who don’t. Lydia is one of the latter. Biographies of her favorite authors, interviews or seminars—when offered, she turns them down with a polite “No, thank you.” She maintains that she likes the stories the way they are, without bothering with the shadows and scaffolds behind them.

But I am one of the former. I watched all of the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. I read interviews with favorite authors, as well as prefaces, introductions, afterwords, and author’s notes. Those “in progress” videos my favorite illustrators post to Instagram are among my life’s simple pleasures.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And so books like John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, which tell the life of a beloved author in words and pictures, are just my cup of tea. But this one, with its well-told story and endearing illustrations, suited Lydia, too. McAlister follows JRR Tolkien from childhood until the creation of The Hobbit, using Tolkien’s lifelong love of dragons to shape a story that deals gently but honestly with childhood, loss, war, and love.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations, meanwhile, are beautiful. I know there’s a better adjective out there to describe them, something that conveys a sense of coziness, of light and dark, of delight, but I haven’t found it. Her surprising use of perspective and the way she works biographical and historical detail into each painting (and documents them in, yes, the Illustrator’s Note) adds another layer of meaning to the story, allowing us to read, in the margins, more about the inventive Tolkien and the major events of his life.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

John Ronald’s Dragons gives us an enchanting look into the story behind one of our favorite stories, and it’s one I know our family will return to again and again. It also motivated me to look for the story behind that story, and in my sleuthing I found a fascinating post about Eliza Wheeler’s research trip to Oxford, as well as this trailer for John Ronald’s Dragons. I also found her on Instagram.


John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of JRR Tolkien
Caroline McAlister, Eliza Wheeler (2017)

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)

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)

10 Living Books About Church History

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question I had about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length.

I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a teenager eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life, i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set, I didn’t appreciate what my father was trying to do.

I appreciate it now: just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, what we must do to change, where we are headed—any of it.

History is our broader context: from the decisions our parents made that shape our lives now, to the decisions some emperor made hundreds of years ago that shape the structure of our cities, we need to have at least a passing familiarity with them in order to understand our own roles and responsibilities now. When we isolate our particular moment in time, it seems absurd—at times even insane (and yes, I’m thinking of the election as I write)—because we do not see the series of events large and small that brought us to this point.

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

Despite my father’s best efforts, I didn’t even begin to appreciate this fact until a few years ago, when I dipped my toes into the vast and lovely sea of historical narratives. I began to discover many interesting things about our world and about the God who made it, and my way in to each new subject came, in most cases, in the form of a children’s book.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite books about church history here, and while they’re technically recommendations for your children, I hope you will enjoy them too. And if you find that after reading them, you’re hungry for further study, I have included, wherever possible, 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?

Lily, The Girl Who Could See | Sally Oxley

I did not grow up on a steady diet of missionary biographies. A steady diet of Goosebumps: yes. But the missionaries that have been childhood friends for many of you are new acquaintances to me. I met Corrie ten Boom, Elisabeth Elliot, Amy Carmichael and more only after reaching adulthood, but in the few years since I first read their works, their stories have challenged me and shaped my faith. And of all the stories I’ve read, either on my own or while curating a collection of biographies for my daughters, few stand out as brightly to me as the story of Lilias Trotter.

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

Trotter left home and family behind to follow the Lord wherever he sent her, but she sacrificed something else as well: Lilias Trotter was an unusually gifted painter, a woman able to “see” what made a flower a flower or a face a face and capture that essence with her brush. She trained under a renowned instructor who saw in her the makings of a great artist. But when her dedication to art seemed to come in conflict with her work among London’s poor, Lilias Trotter sought the Lord’s counsel and strove to bring everything—her service, her love for him, and her gifts—under his authority. The result was a life lived beautifully, a work of art in its own right.

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

This is a subject dear to me because I talk to many mothers who are worried that, in laying down a gift that God has given them in order to raise children, they are, perhaps, giving up too much. But I have seen in my own life the way that the Lord often asks us to give up the very gifts that seem to come from him, only to give them back to us later, transformed by his touch. For me, this was music (I wrote at length about this for Deeply Rooted Magazine, Issue 7: Legacy). For some, it is teaching. Or accounting. Or even serving within the church.

The story of Lilias Trotter beautifully captures the struggle of a Christian who is torn between two good gifts, but who chooses instead to serve the Lord who gives the gifts—whatever the cost. The book’s language is simple; Tim Ladwig’s watercolors, gorgeous (he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite illustrators). This picture book is a lovely introduction to the life of Lilias Trotter, and one that gives a powerful example of a Christian laying down their life in the service of the Lord and yet receiving back, in this life, what they lost one hundredfold.

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


If you would like to learn more about Lilias Trotter, you can find her story in Noel Piper’s excellent book, Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God (that’s where I first met her). And I just started reading the biography that Lily, The Girl Who Could See is based on: A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness. So far, it’s lovely.

Which missionary should I meet next?

Lily: The Girl Who Could See
Sally Oxley, Tim Ladwig (2015)

The History Lives Series | Mindy and Brandon Withrow

I learned long ago that one of the best ways to tackle a new topic is to read a children’s book about it. Books written for adults are, of course, more comprehensive, but a good children’s book will stick to the point, keep the story lively, and will allow the exciting parts of the story to be exciting. So when my husband expressed an interest in church history, I started with these books: true, living stories about key figures in church history, all underpinned by a chronological sense of history as a story with many chapters.

Peril and Peace, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The History Lives series walks through church history in five volumes, chronicling the Ancient (Peril and Peace), Medieval (Monks and Mystics), Reformation (Courage and Conviction), Awakening (Hearts and Hands) and Modern church (Rescue and Redeem). Most chapters depict small scenes in the life of a significant figure in church history, immersing the reader in the details of the figure’s life at one particular time and place in a compelling and vivid way. They read more like stories than like biographies, which makes them fun to read aloud.

Brandon and Mindy Withrow obviously chose their subjects carefully: there are figures in here that we all know, but there are many that are more obscure and whose stories I’m grateful to them for recovering. Tucked between the stories are a few topical chapters that flesh out what was happening in the church at the time and why it was significant.

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

The Withrows bring a balanced perspective to complex issues like the Crusades, resisting the urge to distill the lives of these very real, sinful people down into cautionary tales or glorified epic adventures. Of the medieval church, they write,

“It is often hard for modern Christians to remember that the people who developed these ideas were studying the Bible in the medieval world—a world very different from today. . . . Like Christians of all eras, they made both positive and negative contributions to the church.”

I appreciated this perspective.

I was less impressed, though, by the way the writers updated the dialogue of the characters to make it feel not consistent with their own time but consistent with ours. Perhaps this makes them appear more relevant or readable, but the moments when the characters quoted their own works within conversation felt refreshing, as though they’d been allowed to breath through the story rather than have to keep in step with the writer’s tone. Those, for me, were the moments when history truly lived as I read.

Heart and Hands, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

But that’s a small complaint, and on the whole, I loved these books. They provide a great flyover view of church history from its early days to the present, and are easy to read start-to-finish or in tandem with a more detailed history curriculum (we’re currently reading Monks & Mystics with the Veritas Press history cards, if you’re interested). In fact, they remind me more than a little of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series, but with an emphasis on church (rather than world) history. They whetted my appetite for history as well as my husband’s, and will, I hope, open up the world of church history for our daughters.

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


The History Lives Series
Brandon and Mindy Withrow (2012)

The Light Keepers Series | Irene Howat

I did not grow up reading missionary biographies. I have no old favorites to pull out for my daughters, no women who inspired me to do great things for God—only books I’d rather they never read. Christopher Pike. That sort of thing.

So I’m thankful for collections like Light Keepers that curate biographies for me, bundling them ten at a time under compelling titles like Ten Girls Who Made History or Ten Boys Who Changed the World. Each chapter in Irene Howat’s series tells a short story about one of ten figures in Christian history. She writes in a simple, narrative style, usually focusing on the subject’s youth (hence the title Ten Girls not Ten Women) and following the story with a brief collection of thoughts on the person’s historical context or on their major contributions to history.

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

These books are not meant to be a comprehensive biography of any one person, but serve as a sort of sampler platter that will, I hope, whet my daughters’ appetites for stories of women who were great not by the standards of this world but by the standards of the next. I hope that having met Corrie ten Boom as a child, they will recognize her name when, as women, they come across The Hiding Place. Or that having learned about Elisabeth Elliot as a child in these books, they will go on to read even a few of her many, wonderful books.

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

While the world around us tells my daughters to emulate Elsa or some rich, pretty actress, I want to lean heavily on the other side of the scales and fill their childhood with stories of women who loved even when that love came at a great cost, who gave more than they thought they had to give, and who trusted in the One who made them to supply their strength when they felt it failing.

At seven, a princess in a gorgeous dress will probably always have more appeal than a nurse tending the wounded on a battlefield—I don’t expect Florence Nightingale to win out over Elsa now. But I am sowing seeds: when they grow old enough to consider what sort of life they want to live, what they hope their own contributions toward history will be, I hope my daughters look toward Edith Schaeffer, Susannah Spurgeon, or Amy Carmichael. And I hope they have these books handy when they do.

Ten Girls Who Changed the World, by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story


Ten Girls Who Made History
Irene Howat (2003)

Ten Girls Who Changed the World
Irene Howat (2004)

Ten Boys Who Made a Difference
Irene Howat (2004)