Tag: biography (page 1 of 5)

Empowered | Catherine Parks

Our kids keep getting bigger. It’s the weirdest thing. I remember the ladies who gazed at Lydia asleep in my arms and cooed, “Oh, it just goes by so fast!” I knew they weren’t talking about my child, who was all of two weeks old, but about their own children, whose babies played sax in the jazz band and goalie for the JV soccer team. And I thought, the way we do, that it would be different for me. I wouldn’t let the passage of time catch me by surprise. Time has only been marching forward since, well, time first began.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

And yet. Lydia is almost as tall as I am and is occasionally, from a distance and by people who don’t know us well, mistaken for me. There are times when I hear her speaking in the living room and think, “Whoa! Is another adult here?” before I realize that it’s my daughter talking. Sarah just turned nine, which means that she’s halfway to eighteen, which means that I suddenly need to sit down.

And then there’s Phoebe, who just started kindergarten and is so okay with it. She told me over her snack, “Mom? Today a girl in my class cried ’cause she wanted her mom,” like it was this bizarre thing she’d never considered that someone might, you know, miss their mom on their third day of kindergarten*. And Josie, the baby who is not a baby anymore except sometimes I forget and just need to smell her hair.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

It turns out that those old ladies knew their stuff—life really does go by quickly, even when you’re paying attention. But if I miss the things we’ve passed by, I also love the things happening now. One of my favorite aspects of having these new older kids (besides carrying a diaper-free purse and having enough people to make card games legitimately fun) is the level of conversation we get to have on a daily basis.

Many of these conversations stem from—wait for it—books, and lately, specifically, from biographies. Even though the girls are back in school, we still do one day of studying at home, and I’ve commandeered a good portion of that day for read-alouds. A good portion of that time, I’ve dedicated to reading biographies. So I am always keeping an eye out for good biographies, and Empowered is one of my favorite finds yet.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

Empowered is an anthology of biographies—each one readable in a long sitting or two or three shorter ones—of Christian women from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances. Catherine Parks shows how each woman’s story displays God’s glory and power, emphasizing that the things the women accomplished were not the product of mere grit, but of God’s strength made manifest through them. He is a God who equips us to do far more than we could do alone, and each of these stories demonstrates that.

The anthology format allows Parks to share that good news not just once, but eleven times through the lives of eleven very different women. Though we read about women from all over the world living at different points throughout history, Parks makes it clear who the story is really about: God’s hand in each woman’s life becomes the unifying thread that holds story to story.

Empowered, by Catherine Parks | Little Book, Big Story

I would be remiss if I failed to mention Breezy Brookshire’s illustrations—they were the reason I purchased the book. Her beautiful pencil and ink drawings make each women seem like someone you’d like to know, someone who is glad to see you.

We read about Joni Erickson Tada first, and that led naturally to looking at her paintings and listening to one of her talks (because you can take the mom out the homeschool, but . . . ). And this led naturally to more of those fabulous big kid conversations: deep reflections from the eleven-year-old, questions about quadriplegia from the nine-year-old, and, from the five-year-old: “Mom? Why don’t skeletons have ears?” Josie had wandered off somewhere, probably looking for the cat.

* The novelty of new colored pencils and cozy reading rugs has worn off, and now Phoebe fully understands how someone might miss her mom while at school.


Footnote

Catherine Parks has also written a companion book for boys, titled Strong. I own it but haven’t read it yet, though my hopes for it are high.


Empowered: How God Shaped 11 Women’s Lives
Catherine Parks; Breezy Brookshire (2019)

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?

Everyone a Child Should Know | Clare Heath-Whyte

The older my kids get, the more Christian biographies I try to squeeze into our bookshelves. Of course I pray that God surrounds our daughters with godly examples—believers who can walk alongside and encourage them, whose steadfastness through trials bolsters their own fledgling faith, and whose love of Scripture is infuses their lives. There is something beautiful about watching the body of the church tend to and cultivate its youngest members.

Everyone a Child Should Know, by Clare Heath-Whyte | Little Book, Big Story

But there is something powerful, too, about listening to the voices that carry from way back in history—voices that proclaimed God’s excellencies then and, through biographies, still speak to us now. Rachel Yankovic writes about it this way:

When I read about [God’s] tender love and care of His children, I learn more about Him. When I read how He used His children from all over the world for His purposes . . . then I see how our Father loves all His children with such attention and faithfulness. He provides for their every need, answers their prayers when they didn’t believe it was possible, introduces them to each other when they could not have found each other by any other means. When I rejoice in His love for them, I rejoice in His love for me. When I love those He loved, I learn more about who He is.

You Who?

I want to fill our shelves with these stories and fill our family language with the names of our spiritual ancestors. Everyone a Child Should Know is a beautiful introduction to this sort of story.

Everyone a Child Should Know, by Clare Heath-Whyte | Little Book, Big Story

Clare Heath-Whyte tells of fifty-two Christians from all across church history, some of their names familiar, some surprising. She touches on the main points of their story, sharing their lives in a way that connects with young readers and fits many stories into a short book. From Augustine to Corrie Ten Book; from Gladys Aylward to Rosa Parks; from Brother Lawrence to William Wilberforce—this is a little book spanning centuries and brimming with the love of God.

Everyone a Child Should Know, by Clare Heath-Whyte | Little Book, Big Story

(Everyone a Child Should Know is part of the series that also includes Everything a Child Should Know About God and What Every Child Should Know About Prayer. We have loved the whole series so far!)


Everyone a Child Should Know
Clare Heath-Whyte; Jenny Brake (2017)

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)