Tag: biography (page 1 of 4)

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories | Irene Howat

I did not grow up knowing Jesus, but I have many friends who did. And I love to ask those friends what they enjoyed reading as a child. While I read Goosebumps, I wonder aloud, what did you read? Some shrug (they can’t remember), some say they read Goosebumps, too, but most read missionary biographies.

This surprised me. I definitely wasn’t into, say, presidential biographies as a kid. I dabbled in classics. I scarfed down The Babysitters’ Club. But what kid sits around and reads biographies for fun? This perplexed me—until I started reading missionary biographies. Then suddenly I understood.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

A well-written biography gives us a window into someone else’s life, with a perspective we don’t see when we live alongside a person. Through a biography, we see how that person’s childhood influenced their adult life and how their work transformed over decades. We get to look back from our vantage point in history and see how their life has altered the world or blessed others. We understand things they couldn’t have known while they lived. And if the subject of the biography is a Christian, missionary or otherwise, we get to see how God proved faithful to them again and again.

We get to see a life of faith lived out in a few hundred pages.

Irene Howat has written dozens of missionary biographies (I have reviewed some of her collections before), and I make a habit of adding one or two to my cart every time I need to bump a ThriftBooks order over $10. I love reading these, both because the subjects of the stories lived fascinating lives, but also because they show me what it looks like to serve God in every time, place, and circumstance.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories tells the story of the beloved author of Treasures of the Snow (one of my favorite stories*) and many other books. St. John served as a nurse, missionary, and caregiver, and wrote several books over the course of her lifetime. Her stories display the gospel so clearly and vividly in a way few books do, and her eye for detail (Howat describes her as “a noticing person”) makes her characters live. Reading about the life behind those beautiful stories was a delight.

There is something undeniably appealing about biographies of other Christians. Our family read a bunch of books for history this year, but I couldn’t have predicted that the one our girls loved and asked for most would be a biography of George Mueller. Perhaps one day when they’re grown and someone asks them which books they loved most as a kid, their answers will surprise me.


*I love Treasures of the Snow so much that I reviewed it for the winter issue of Wildflowers magazine (available any minute in their online store!). Was the timing of this post some sort of publicity stunt to promote that issue? No, it was not. I read this biography last week and loved it so much I knew I needed to a) cram it into our history schedule, and b) share it with you ASAP. 

Wildflowers Magazine, Winter Issue | Little Book, Big Story

So here it is, beautifully but accidentally coordinated with the newest issue of Wildflowers. Both are worth reading immediately.


Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories
Irene Howat (2008)

God’s Timeline | Linda Finlayson

One of the bits of planning I struggled with most this school year was history: What will we study this year? (Modern history.) Which books will we read? (So many good ones.) How can I prepare for the hard conversations that will inevitably follow our readings on the World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

I didn’t expect history planning to be emotionally draining—but oh, it was. Modern history isn’t a light read.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

But I found comfort both in zooming in and reading biographies of people who lived through those devastating wars and in zooming out to look at the whole scope of history and where those wars fit in context. Zooming in, because though the statistics are staggering, the perspective of one child in one city gives, in some way, a manageable picture of what it might have been like to live through a world war. And zooming out, because though there have been wars throughout history (and none like the world wars), the people who suffered through them have all been under God’s sovereign care. Not one of them lived or died without purpose.

I love zooming out.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

Linda Finlayson does exactly that with her book God’s Timeline. It is a survey of church history, laid out in a way that will make visual learners squeal with joy. From a fold-out timeline to biographical sketches of key figures to overviews of particular times in church history, Finlayson gives us a big picture view of God’s work through the history of the church.

God’s Timeline is the sort of book you could read for family devotions, in Sunday school, or in a solitary fashion under an apple tree. You could use it as a spine for history studies and tie it to lengthier biographies and such; you could use it (and I have) in your community group, to help explain to grownups when the Bible we know came to be. Or to refresh your memory about when the Great Awakening began.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

This is a versatile, beautiful book. It zooms out and takes in the whole of church history in one shot, and from that perspective reminds us that God has cared for his church throughout her whole history, even as he cares for her today.


God’s Timeline: A Big Book of Church History
Linda Finlayson (2018)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Amy L. Sullivan

In ninth grade, I decided that I wasn’t a science person. Most of the other decisions I made that year—”dog chains are a great way to hold your wallet in place,” for example, or “Shirley Manson is everything I want to be when I grow up”—I eventually discarded.

But the science one stuck. We spent a lot of time listening to lectures that year. We watched the teacher diagram things on the board and peeked through microscopes a few times. We dissected frogs. But for the most part, we explored the world around us and the way it worked by sitting in our desks, being told about it.

I left class, my wallet firmly in place and my hair crimson, and thought, “Nope. Not my thing.”

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, while learning how to teach my own daughters to study and explore the world around us, it became my thing. The moth under our porch light with its lace-like wings, the frills and whorls of a snapdragon, the snail’s polka-dotted track—we notice these things now, so much so that our need to stop and study and touch what we see has made us all a bit like toddlers.

But of all the things we studied this year, my favorite was the stars. Learning the basic alphabet of astronomy opened my eyes to what has always been plainly written in the sky: God’s handiwork is vast, intricate, beautiful. We are but one beloved part of it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1)

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

Dr. Jennifer Wiseman has known for years what I am just learning now: all of creation sings God’s praises; evidence of his attention and provision is everywhere. As an astronomer for NASA, she works with the Hubble Space Telescope, exploring the galaxy far beyond what we can see with our naked eyes. But in this newest volume of Amy Sullivan’s Gutsy Girls series, Sullivan depicts Wiseman first as a child who loved exploring the creatures in her backyard, marveling at the Creator of the turtle’s shell and the water strider’s legs. These small discoveries led to bigger ones, including a comet now named for Dr. Wiseman and a colleague.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

While the rest of the Gutsy Girls series focuses on well-known women from church history (Gladys Aylward, Corrie ten Boom, and Fanny Crosby), this newest volume is different in a few respects: Dr. Wiseman is not a figure from church history (yet), but a living woman. Her work as an astrophysicist isn’t what most would consider missions work, yet she works among many who consider science and faith incompatible and  argues graciously that they are, in fact, deeply compatible. What we learn from scientific study isn’t meant to refute or prove God’s existence but to teach us more about Him.

Gutsy Girls: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman | Little Book, Big Story

In that light, we are all science people. We are meant to learn more about our Creator wherever we are, whatever bit of creation is before us. Creation speaks eloquently of His nature. We have but to listen.


Gutsy Girls, Book Four: Dr. Jennifer Wiseman
Amy H. Sullivan, Beverly Ann Wines (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.

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

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

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

The Life of Martin Luther | Agostino Traini

We’ve been on a bit of a Luther binge here. Maybe it was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that kicked it off last year, or a comment in our community group that lead us to study some key figures of the Reformation. I can’t remember. It could have been, too, that I spent six months reading a book on Luther, marinating in his thoughts and theology. Or it could be the book I’m reading now that has, on the surface, nothing to do with him, but still spends a chapter discussing why many believe that Martin Luther was insane.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

At any rate, we have read and talked a lot about Martin Luther since last September, and I’m grateful for the perspective this has given us on the Protestant Church today, both because we know more than we did about it this time last year, and because I now want to know more. (It’s funny how reading often has that effect: by opening one door for you, it draws your attention to the unopened doors on either side of it.)

But of all the books we’ve read on Luther lately, this one is the most fun, and for one simple reason:

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Pop-ups.

Agostino Traini’s The Life of Martin Luther is a simple introduction to Luther, with a distilled storyline and three-dimensional illustrations. This is a very basic biography (you won’t find commentary on his less savory qualities here), but it strikes the main points clearly. This is the book you read with your little ones before they graduate to The Reformation ABCsthe one that gives a nice outline of his life. This is a book that, hopefully, sends you away wanting to know more about the man who called the church of Rome to reformation.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story


Bonus list!

Just in case you want to start your own Martin Luther binge, here are the books we’ve enjoyed lately:

For grown-ups

The Reformation, by Stephen J. Nichols
Pages From Church History, by Stephen J. Nichols
Luther On the Christian Life, by Carl Trueman
The Holiness of Godby R.C. Sproul

for kids

The Reformation ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Church History ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Katie Luther: The Graphic Novel, by Susan K. Leigh
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World, by Paul L. Maier


The Life of Martin Luther
Augustino Traini (2017)

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.

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-ups)

I wrote a post about great (sometimes pop-up) church history books for Deeply Rooted. It boasts a few books that you know well and a few you haven’t met yet, and I think you’ll really like like them. (I know I really like the photos, which were taken by my neighbor Felicia*, who has a knack for that sort of thing.)

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question 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 sophomore 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 did not appreciate my father’s approach. 

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, where we are headed, or what we must do to change. . . .

You can read the full post here.

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-Ups) | Little Book, Big Story


*The photos in this post were also taken by Felicia. See what I mean?