Tag: biography (page 1 of 6)

Saint Patrick the Forgiver

Firstly, wow. Email me, I said. I don’t know what I expected after that last post—a high five gif from a friend maybe, and one or two emails saying, “Yes, we’ve been here this whole time”? I did not expect a swell of emails, all of them thoughtful and kind and so sweetly specific. You gave me glimpses into your lives and let me see how God has used all these good books in them and, honestly, you just kind of blew my mind.

Because this is what this blog looks like from my end: I sit here at our kitchen table at 5:47 a.m. and I write these posts and then they kind of disappear. I mean, I know they’re there—but does anybody else? Your emails told me most emphatically that yes, you know they’re there. I felt like I put a seed in the dirt and went back inside, thinking, Well, I hope that works out, and God just brought me back outside and showed me a dazzling patch of sunflowers. It was moving. You guys: I needed tissues.

Thank you.

And now, enough about me. Let’s talk about Ned.

Ten years ago, I discovered Church History ABCs. I bought it on a whim—no one had recommended it to me; I’d never seen it reviewed. I just happened across it on Amazon and thought, That looks awesome. And while I loved everything about that book—the historical depth, the wordplay, the way it made my daughters belly-laugh—the illustrations were what really stuck with me. They were arrestingly different from the cartoons or soft watercolors I’d encountered in other Christian picture books. There was nothing soft about them: they were all crisp edges, bright colors, clean lines. They were playful and witty and I remember thinking as I studied them, Christian art can look like this? I made note of Ned Bustard then and have devotedly followed his work ever since.*

You may recognize his art from the Every Moment Holy books, or maybe you (lucky you!) have one of his linocuts hanging in your home. Maybe you know him from the Rabbit Room or The O in Hope or you own an album or two with his work on the cover. (If his name is new to you, seek him out. You won’t regret it.) But for me, it all goes back to that book—the one I wanted to share with all my friends so badly that I started a blog to get the word out.

And so it feels fitting to celebrate this blog’s tenth anniversary with Ned Bustard’s newest book, Saint Patrick the Forgiver.

Saint Patrick the Forgiver, by Ned Bustard | Little Book, Big Story

Like Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, this book introduces readers to the saint behind a holiday and tells that saint’s full story (the facts and the legends, too). This book is short and a lot of fun to read aloud, but don’t let that fool you: it deals in some deep themes. The first half of the book, for example, is a complete story: Patrick is kidnapped by pirates, saved by God, and then restored to his family (huzzah!). God could have stopped there and still given us a satisfying story about how he works out his good plan even on pirate ships or in muddy pastures. But no! The story doesn’t end there, so Bustard’s telling doesn’t either. Patrick says,

And to this day I’d still be home,
but for another vision . . .

This story isn’t simply about God’s provision during difficulty (though that’s certainly in there), but about God’s call upon Patrick to forgive his captors and return to the very place he’d just escaped. So Patrick returns to Ireland and ministers to the people there. But Bustard makes it clear that this is not the product of Patrick’s general awesomeness and budding saintliness—it is the fruit of God’s work in Patrick:

They stole me from my parents!
How could that be forgiven?
The only way I could return
was by the strength of heaven.

Bustard places God at the center of this story, just as he does in Saint Nicholas. Patrick’s faithfulness is wonderful and inspiring, but as he narrates his story, Patrick makes it clear again and again that it was God’s work in him that enabled him to return to Ireland. And so, when we reach the stories of miracles and legends, we know that this was a man acting in obedience to God and serving by God’s strength alone.

Saint Patrick the Forgiver, by Ned Bustard | Little Book, Big Story

And then there are those illustrations: I suspect that there is a whole visual language at work in Bustard’s illustrations—every detail seems to carry some added meaning, from the Celtic knots to the animals to the composition of each page. The art combines with the story to give us a full, exciting picture of Patrick’s life, but I suspect that the illustrations, if you were to dig deeper into them, tell a whole story unto themselves.

In short, Saint Patrick the Forgiver is exactly the sort of book that got me writing book reviews in the first place: one excellent in every aspect, that points readers from a good story to the Greatest Story, and that reminds readers that God is at work always, in every time and place.

*Very closely, in fact, as I now work for him through Square Halo Books (huzzah!).

Saint Patrick the Forgiver
Ned Bustard (2023)

Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.

Courageous World Changers

“I love stories like this,” my ten-year-old said, holding up a biography she found at the library. “The ones where they have to overcome something.”

And it seemed to me that most of history could fall into that category.

Courageous World Changers, by Shirley Raye Redmond | Little Book, Big Story

Shirley Raye Redmond’s Courageous World Changers is an anthology of short biographies of “daring women of God”: women who had to overcome different challenges in their lives, whether persecution, illness, suffering, or opposition. Yet this book differs from other popular anthologies about bold women or rebel girls in that the women introduced here conquer not for their own sake or even to “make a better world” but because they love and obey God, the Maker of all things, and strive to glorify him with their lives.

Courageous World Changers, by Shirley Raye Redmond | Little Book, Big Story

So, my daughter loved these stories of women facing challenges and, through God’s grace, being transformed. I loved them because reading through this book is like getting a flyover view of church history, up to and including today. Many of the women mentioned in this book are still living, which is a bold move on the author’s part—these women’s earthly stories aren’t finished yet. But by the end of the book, I came to love that aspect of it: Courageous World Changers shows church history as something that is still happening, something that our daughters are actually a part of. Redmond introduces the usual beloved cast of missionaries, mothers, hymnwriters, and wives, but she also includes athletes, professors, musicians, novelists, and more. She paints a full picture of how we as women can glorify God in whatever work he gives us to do, in any season of our lives.

Courageous World Changers, by Shirley Raye Redmond | Little Book, Big Story

I did question the decision to include a couple of women who seemed to qualify mainly because they grew up in Christian homes though, even in the biographies mentioned here, nothing mentioned about their adult lives seems to give evidence that they continued in the Christian faith. But even those entries led to some fruitful conversation with my daughters: Why do you think the author included them? What is it that makes someone a Christian? What kind of fruit would you look for? And so on. All in all, this is a great addition to the old home library—one that will elicit a lot of discussion and that will encourage readers (us as well!) to love God faithfully, wherever he sends us.

PS: Redmond has also written a book like this for boys titled Brave Heroes and Bold Defenders!

Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God
Shirley Raye Redmond; Katya Longhi (2020)

Finding Narnia

When I began this blog, one of the things that mattered most to me was consistency: I committed (seven years ago! Goodness gracious) to writing weekly posts, because the blogs I liked best were consistent, reliable. I knew I could check every Tuesday for a new post, and, by gum, every Tuesday there’d be a new post to read. I looked forward to those posts. I have occasionally varied my schedule here to account for new babies or homeschool schedules, but for the most part I’ve kept my Weekly Post Commitment.

But every now and then a writing deadline or family illness comes along and sinks my well-intentioned ship. So, to that handful of you that might look forward to my Friday morning posts the way I look forward to my favorite blogs’ updates and who noticed my absence over the past two weeks: my apologies! I hope to compensate you for the missed posts by talking about C. S. Lewis. I find that C. S. Lewis typically makes everything better.

Finding Narnia, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Caroline McAlister (author of John Ronald’s Dragons) has written a lovely picture book biography of C. S. Lewis—but! Her book is not only about C. S. Lewis. Finding Narnia is the story of Lewis and his brother, Warnie, and the way that they, together, brought the books into being.

From the brothers’ childhood games and stories, to the years when they were apart, to the moment when Lewis found himself thinking again, “What if . . . ?”, McAlister shows the way the seed of Narnia was planted, took root, and eventually flowered. She shows the work behind it, the patience, the love. When I was a kid, books seemed like mystical things to me—I thought ideas were something you waited for, not something you tended. So I love the way that Finding Narnia refutes that and shows readers another, far more common, way of writing a story.

Finding Narnia, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And then, of course, there are the illustrations. Jessica Lanan’s watercolors are striking—so much so that three of my daughters commented on how pretty they are. She shows the imagined worlds of the brothers alongside their physical world in a way that feels organic and just right. That is as it should be, for this is not a story of how Narnia, in a bolt of inspiration, found Jack and Warnie, but how they, as children and then as grown men, found Narnia.

Finding Narnia: The Story of C. S. Lewis and His Brother
Caroline McAlister; Jessica Lanan (2019)

The Faithful Spy

My seventh grade teacher collected ugly ties. On the first day of class—my very first day of junior high—he thumped a stubborn projector hard on one side. The light switched on, but the glass across the top spider-webbed with fissures.

“Well,” he said. “The library’s not going to be happy with me.

That was the year I learned about the Holocaust. We probably read books about it; I’m sure we held discussions or listened to lectures, or something. But what I remember most—what I remember vividly to this day—was watching the film Escape From Sobibor. That was my introduction to the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the murder of babies, those images of discarded, emaciated bodies.

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

Was I ready for it? No. Emphatically not. But as upsetting as that movie was, I can appreciate now what my teacher was doing. He knew, I think, that we didn’t need to hear about it—we needed to see it. We needed to move the Holocaust away from the white board and into our imaginations, horrifying as that process was.

John Hendrix’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a similar leap from the theoretical to the visual. In The Faithful Spy, he doesn’t simply tell us about Bonhoeffer but, through his striking illustrations and hand-lettered text, he shows us Bonhoeffer’s life during the rise of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer is a complex figure—a Christian who risked his life for others, but who also worked as a spy for a German resistance group and was eventually martyred for his role in a plot to kill Hitler.

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

But The Faithful Spy also tells the story of the German Resistance. In his introduction, Hendrix writes:

“Desperate for leadership, the German people were led like rats to the edge of the cliff by a diabolical Pied Piper. But not all fell for the seduction. Dietrich was but one man among many hundreds of patriotic Germans (including prominent preachers, military generals, and politicians) who saw the Nazis for what they truly were and fought back. They fought with words at first, but eventually they fought with actions.”

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

Through the story of Bonhoeffer, Hendrix introduces us to a greater story of the faithful Germans who recognized the dangers of “the Nazi war machine” and, in far too many cases, gave their lives to fight it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is perhaps the best-known of them all, but I appreciated Hendrix’s reminder that Bonhoeffer was part of a network, part of a full-fledged resistance.

Though far less disturbing than Escape From Sobibor, John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy uses words and images to move a story of the war from the whiteboard to the imagination. Through Hendrix’s art and storytelling, Bonhoeffer’s story takes on an unforgettable dimension, and we see him not as a black-and-white photograph surrounded by text, but as a living man with doubts and fears and faith in a God who slays giants.

Does John Hendrix’s name sound familiar? It should! He also wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite picture books, Miracle Man, as well as many other excellent books.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
John Hendrix (2018)

Freedom’s Pen

One day while out on a trip with her father, a young African girl is kidnapped by slave traders. In the months that follow, she makes the horrifying passage from Africa to America in the hold of a slave ship, separated from her family and surrounded by suffering. She arrives on the shores of America not as an immigrant or even as a refugee, but as cargo, bartered over and sold to a white family from Boston.

Freedom's Pen: A Story About Phillis Wheatley | Little Book, Big Story

There is nothing simplified or smoothed-over about the way Wendy Lawton tells this story about the first published African-American poet Phillis Wheatley. While keeping the age of her audience in mind, she writes honestly about the grief and horror Phillis faced and reminds readers that even in this “best-case scenario,” under wealthy masters who are, for the most part, kind, understanding, and willing to teach Phillis to read and write, Phillis is still a slave. God’s mercy is evident everywhere in her story, and yet he works in spite of slavery—not in favor of it.

I have written about Lawton’s Daughters of the Faith series before, and think it worth mentioning again, because each time I read a volume, I find myself respecting more the way Wendy Lawton writes to her readers. I suspect that I may not always agree with her theological leanings, but she writes in a way that invites discussion and asks great questions of the young girls (and parents) reading her books. In this one, she shows how God brings something beautiful out of the deepest suffering, without ever glossing over or minimizing the suffering itself. Hers is an approach both honest and respectful of the story she tells.

Freedom's Pen: A Story About Phillis Wheatley | Little Book, Big Story

One Last Note

I suspect that by this point in the review this is obvious, but I’ll say it extra clearly: please pre-read this one before handing it to your daughter. This is one worth reading and discussing together, but it does contain some disturbing images that might be hard for a young reader to process alone.

Freedom’s Pen: A Story Based on the Life of Freed Slave and Author Phillis Wheatley
Wendy Lawton (2009)