Tag: book review (page 1 of 2)

14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul

A quick note before we get started: you can still enter the Slugs and Bugs giveaway! I have two copies of Sing the Bible, Vol. 3 to give to two of you. You can enter to win one of them here.

That is all.


Good fantasy stories have always felt to me like feasts worth savoring. Those are the stories I reread every few years, the ones that make sense of our world by introducing me to worlds utterly different from ours. I was never able to pinpoint exactly why that should be, though, until I encountered this passage in GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

When we are very young children we do not need fairy tales: we only need tales. Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. . . . These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.

There is something about the delightful aspects of other worlds that makes our own seem more miraculous. We live in a world made from words, and it is filled with lemon-yellow tanagers, intricate columbine, and bugs that, when nudged, roll into armored balls. Is that less amazing that a world where the housework is finished with a wand? On the days when we’re folding laundry by hand, not magic, it seems so. But the best stories remind us of those moments when we first saw snow fall from the sky, and it seemed that anything could happen.

14 Fantasy Stories That Nourish the Soul | Little Book, Big Story

I must point out, of course, that not all fantasy stories are good or beautiful. But there are so many that point toward the beauty of our world, toward the beauty of order (sometimes by contrasting it with chaos), in a way that makes young readers hungry for the good and beautiful. This list features many of my favorites—the stories I reread every few years and share eagerly with my daughters. I hope you find a few new favorites here, too.

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis | Little Book, Big Story

What better place to start a list of adventures than with The Chronicles of Narnia? This series has children all over the world tapping at the back of closets, hoping—just hoping—to reach Narnia. C.S. Lewis was adept at writing in a half dozen different literary genres, but he shines when writing for children. (Read the full review.)

The Peter Nimble Series, by Jonathan Auxier

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This series begins with the story of Peter Nimble, a boy blinded as a baby when ravens pecked out his eyes. It continues with the story of Sophie Quire, a bookmender mending books in a city that burns nonsense. But this is not dark, heavy reading. There is exuberance here, and light and bravery and courage! There’s an enchanted horse-cat-knight and a vanished kingdom and a professor named Cake. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

It is not a coincidence that one of J.K. Rowling’s favorite books landed on our shelves and became one of our favorites, too. In it, Maria Merryweather finds herself in the wonderful (and mysterious) valley surrounding Moonacre Manor. Adventure of the loveliest sort ensues. (Read the full review.)

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

This classic is the granddaddy of the fantasy genre. Bilbo Baggins—not merely “a” hobbit, but The Hobbit, the first hobbit—steps out his front door without a handkerchief and finds the world of Middle Earth far bigger than he expected. (Read the full review.)

See also: The Lord of the Ringsby JRR Tolkien

The 100 Cupboards Series, by ND Wilson

The 100 Cupboards series, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Henry York discovers ninety-nine cupboards of varying sizes and shapes hidden under the plaster of his bedroom wall. Each door leads to a different place, including (but not limited to) Endor, Byzanthamum, Arizona. The first book in this trilogy is fun (and delightfully creepy); the second and third books are unforgettable. (Read the full review.)

See also: Anything else ND Wilson has ever written.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Quirky and charming, The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic introduces us to Persimmony Smudge, the perfectly named heroine of Trafton’s adventure. When she learns that her island is in danger, she sets out to warn the other islanders, but they don’t believe her. (Can you blame them?) This is wonderful read-aloud for all ages. (Read the full review.)

See also: Henry and the Chalk Dragonby Jennifer Trafton

The Redwall Series, by Brian Jacques

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah is currently at work on an “about me” book: you know, “I was born,” “I started school,” and so on. It may not surprise you to learn that “Lydia discovers Redwall” is one of the milestones she saw fit to include, as well as “I finished the Redwall series.” That’s a snapshot of our family’s affection for these books. (Read the full review.)

The Green Ember Series, by SD Smith

In a few short pages, Heather and Picket (both young bunnies) lose everything and find themselves adrift in a wood corrupted by war. Where will they go next? What will become of them? S.D. Smith tells a story that reads like a modern novel, but is, at its heart, an old-fashioned tale of honor, courage, and hope. There are five books in the series now (not pictured: The Last Archer and Ember Rising), but I’m behind on my reviews! Egad! (Read the full review.)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Trilogy, by Grace Lin

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy), by Grace Lin | Little Book, Big Story

Grace Lin’s trilogy is a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create story infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. These books are beautiful from the first page of the first book to the last page of the last one. (Read the full review.)

A Wrinkle in Time Quartet, by Madeliene L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I have reread A Wrinkle in Time every few years since I was in college, and there is a good reason for that. It’s a beautiful book, and the three subsequent books don’t disappoint. (The remaining four books do disappoint a bit, though. Alas.) (Read the full review.)

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Jonathan Rogers retells the story of King David, but in a swampy, fantastic setting, and he gets it just right. (It’s worth reading this trilogy just to meet Feechies.) These books also make a great introduction to fantasy for kids who are a bit sensitive, because they aren’t as intense as many other fantasy stories can be. And they are excellent. (Read the full review.)

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling

The Harry Potter Series, by JK Rowling | Little Book, Big Story

If The Hobbit is one of the grand-daddies of the fantasy genre, then Harry Potter is the father of the genre as we know it today. J.K. Rowling’s series displays beautifully the contrast between a character who cultivates a mighty gift for good and one who exploits his gift for his own ends. And it does make one hungry for trifle. (Read the full review.)

Breadcrumbsby Anne Ursu

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Anne Ursu retells the story of the Snow Queen here, but in an inventive way. Her world is a dreamy, almost-creepy fairy-tale land that merges with the recognizable world in surprising ways. She also deals quietly with issues of divorce and cross-cultural adoption in this book. How one book manages to be all those things, I don’t know, but this one does and it’s beautiful. (Read the full review.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson

The Wingfeather Saga & Wingfeather Tales | Little Book, Big Story

This series is one of my favorites. I cannot speak glowingly enough about it. Go forth and read all four books (and don’t forget to finish the feast with Wingfeather Tales!). (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any of your favorites? Which fantasy books do you love and return to?

Little One, We Knew You’d Come | Sally Lloyd-Jones

We bought this book years ago, when Lydia was in the tornado stage—flinging books off the shelves at random, emptying baskets of toys on the floor—and The Jesus Storybook Bible was not an old friend, broken in by years, but a new acquaintance we couldn’t get enough of. I ordered Little One, We Knew You’d Come because it, too, was by Sally Lloyd-Jones.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But (I’m embarrassed to admit this) I didn’t immediately love it.

The illustrations are of a style that, though beautiful, didn’t appeal to me at first. And the text, though beautifully written, never mentioned Jesus’ name. I remember thinking, Wait. This could be about any longed-for baby. It doesn’t have to be about the coming of Christ. I had that uncomfortable sense that I was missing something.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Years passed and three more of our babies reached the book-flinging stage (Josie is firmly entrenched in it now). We have read this book to every child every year, and it has borne those repeated readings with grace. The gentle and quiet illustrations have grown on me; Lloyd-Jones’ poetic words have, too. And I have grown to love the way it doesn’t mention Jesus’ name, because while so many Christmas books illustrate his coming through the eyes of creation awaiting a Savior or Israel waiting on a king, this one lets us see his coming through the eyes of Mary and Joseph, who await not just God’s Son, but their son. He is their Redeemer, and he is the baby they have waited nine months to meet.

Little One, We Knew You'd Come, by Sally Lloyd-Jones (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I get it now. And it is lovely.

Also

Merry Christmas! I am so thankful for you all and pray that this season is filled with that deep-seated wonder—the one that comes not from the “childhood magic” of Santa, but from the true magic of a God who took on humble, helpless infancy for our sake. He is the One who took the shadow of the Law and gave it substance, the One who ripped the curtain so that God might, when all is ready, dwell among us. May the joy of this carry you through many long evenings in the kitchen, many unanticipated needs, and many overtired toddler meltdowns. May he sustain you and give you strength, and may he give you peace.


Little One, We Knew You’d Come
Sally Lloyd-Jones; Jackie Morris (2006)

The Door Before | ND Wilson

Is there a better moment for a bookworm than the one when a favorite author announces that his newest book will be a reentry into the world of one of his most beloved series? I doubt it. But is there a more depressing moment than the one that comes when a reader realizes, halfway through the new book, that the original series was better without the late entry? No. After a few experiences of that sort, I’ve come to regard announcements like this one with an immediate rush of joy (a return ticket to a beloved world!) followed by apprehension (But what if it’s like Clariel?).

But when ND Wilson announced The Door Before, a prequel to his 100 Cupboards trilogy, the apprehension didn’t flood over me, but only lapped quietly at my toes. If anyone could do it, I thought, ND Wilson could.

And he did. He did it right.

The Door Before, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

The Door Before introduces us to new aspects of Wilson’s ever-expanding world, and masterfully links  (so I hear) this series to his Ashtown Burials series. Because I haven’t yet read that other series (I have been saving it, so I’ll never not have an ND Wilson series to look forward to), I can’t comment much on how delightful that is, except in theory. But I can tell you that the story of The Door Before is a powerful force, and I was swept into it immediately.

The Door Before answers old questions and raises new ones, and makes the world(s) of 100 Cupboards seem both bigger and more well-ordered than before. Old characters appear throughout this book, and I wanted to cheer when I met them, the way we do when an old friend saunters onscreen during a new Star Wars movie. But I couldn’t, because Mitch hasn’t read the book yet. I cheered inwardly, ate some chocolate, and kept reading.

The 100 Cupboards series, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Every book I read by ND Wilson cements his place at the top of my list of favorite authors—the way he views our world and his created world, the way he gives his characters room to move and make gut-wrenching decisions, enables him to craft stories that are intense and sometimes gruesome but always strangely beautiful, too.

 The Door Before is a welcome addition to the 100 Cupboards collection—one I can’t wait to reread alongside the original trilogy and the Ashtown Burials series in a giant ND Wilson binge.


The Door Before
ND Wilson (2017)


also

My dear friend Jennifer Harris interviewed me on her blog Every Morning, New Mercies! You can read the interview here  and learn more about why I started this blog, how I know I’ve found a book worth reviewing, and when I fell in love with classics. But you should stick around and read her posts, too! “The Hospitality of Frog and Toad” is one of my favorites, as is her piece (featured in “The Warren & the World”) about Charlotte’s WebAnd her post on the myth of balance is just lovely.

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)

Getting Out of the Boat: An update on blogging and life

For the last four years, we’ve been homeschooling part time with the support of an amazing Classical school. Our daughters attended class three days a week and studied at home with me on the remaining two. All decisions about curriculum were made; I taught art classes and watched my daughters flourish alongside their classmates. Attending this school was our plan for the foreseeable future.

Back to School 2013 | Little Book, Big Story

Kindergarten (2013)

But then the future took a sharp turn around a corner, and I can no longer see where it leads (Anne of Green Gables reference intended). A few months ago, we learned that a change to the school’s schedule meant that it would no longer be the perfect fit it had been for our family.

When I learned this, I stood watching my husband wash dishes, the scrub brush going around and around the inner lid of a pot, and I said, Well, I guess we could homeschool.

Queasiness. That was what I initially felt. But within an hour, the fear had given way to another sensation, one the bubbled up from some buried recess in my heart and surprised us both: excitement. The prospect of homeschooling our daughters full-time excited me.

Back to School 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

1st Grade (2014)

The re-enrollment deadline went by, and we did not turn in our application. I taught my last classes, cleaned out the art cupboard, held my daughters’ hands as we said goodbye to the friends we’ve made over the last four years, to the teachers we have loved, and to the school that has served us so well.

In her beautiful book Teaching From Rest, Sarah MacKenzie writes:

You are Peter. You, mother of that little flock of children you have there. Motherhood is a mad and swirling sea. It is wind beating on waves, storm on the horizon, tumult on the waters. It’s bigger than you can ever hope to be. You are clinging to your boat, quite a distance from the land now, and the storm is rougher than you imagined it would be.

And then God calls you to homeschool—to step out on the water. “Come.” Homeschool? Must I take on this too? “Take heart; it is I. Have no fear.”

And so you do. You step out of the boat.

Crossing the parking lot that last day felt very much like stepping out of a boat onto the waters.

Back to School 2015 | Little Book, Big Story

2nd Grade & Kindergarten (2015)

So, that is the update on life: big and exciting stuff for our family. The update on blogging may not strike you the same way, but you are a gracious bunch, and I feel comfortable assuming that you will receive it well. I will say first, though, that I am not retiring this blog. So that’s out now.

What I am doing is reducing my blogging schedule a bit. Since starting this blog four years ago, I have posted a book review every single week, with only a few exceptions. But between taking on some additional writing assignments and beginning that unsteady trek across the sea of home education (I have a lot of reading and learning things the hard way ahead of me!), I’m going to move toward posting reviews every other week on the blog. I love writing for you all, and I hope the existence of the book list helps soften the blow here. That and the assurance that I have some really great books on the calendar to review this summer.

Back to School 2016 | Little Book, Big Story

3rd Grade & 1st Grade (2016)

Thank you all for reading this blog and, better yet, for reading the books I review here for you! I love hearing about the ones you have loved, so just for fun (and because this is a bittersweet post that I’d like to end on a sweet note), would you share in the comments your favorite books that you’ve found through this site? I would love to know which ones resonated most deeply with you. Survival tips on homeschooling are most welcome, too!

Love,
Théa

2017 | Little Book, Big Story

Before the last end-of-year program (2017)

Love is Patient, Love is Kind | Naoko Stoop

And just like that, she turned one.

Josephine, who yesterday was swaddled like a fleece burrito and cuddled into the crook of my arm, who chuckled in her sleep and spent her days with me in the corner of our bedroom, where we’d tucked the glider and a stash of books and chocolate—she turned one.

Josephine | Little Book, Big Story

I used to think that at some point, my children’s birthdays would grow less shocking. But they haven’t. Every one catches me off guard: I look at the baby who is clearly a one-year-old now and I do the math and I know that a year has passed. She army crawls around the room, adores her sisters, and hasn’t spent a day napping in my arms in months, but I’m still bewildered. I make plans for her birthday and still I wonder: When did that happen?

(I anticipate a similar sense of befuddlement in May, when Lydia turns nine. Nine. The single digits! Where are they going!)

Love is Patient, Love is Kind, by Naoko Stoop (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I think, though, that that confusion is part of what I love about celebrating my daughters’ birthdays. For a moment, I am brought up sharp and reminded that time is passing, and what seems like an repeated loop of breakfast, lunch, dinner, sleep is a loop that rolls us steadily forward. This is a season to be savored because it will not last, and because we move through it closer to the day when Jesus returns.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind, by Naoko Stoop (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Another thing I love about their birthdays: buying them books. My quest for a book that suits them right now, at this particular birthday, but that will also grow with them over the course of the coming year, is one I delight in. I start months before their birthday, checking books out potential candidates from the library, reading Amazon reviews, weighing the pros and cons of this board book over that one, before I land on what seems like the perfect birthday book.

Love is Patient, Love is Kind, by Naoko Stoop (review) | Little Book, Big Story

For Josie, that perfect birthday book is Love is Patient, Love is Kind, a sweet rendering of that passage in 1 Corinthians 13—you know the one. We so often hear it quoted at weddings, but it’s a beautiful picture of life in the body of the church that translates readily to life in the heart of a family, as the youngest of four sisters. Naoko Stoop’s illustrations are charming, and the board book format makes it a just-right first birthday book for our littlest daughter.

Josephine | Little Book, Big Story

Because, really: One? When did that happen?


Love is Patient, Love is Kind
Naoko Stoop (2017)

The Storm That Stopped | Alison Mitchell

Dear reader, this book brings me such joy. I can’t pinpoint the moment when I fell for it—was it the illustration of the disciples pulling their boat out into the sea?

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Their expressions during the storm?

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Or was it only at the end, when Mitchell brought the story to its beautiful conclusion, that I knew I’d fallen whole-heartedly in love with The Storm That Stopped?

I can’t say. But the book became one of my favorites to read aloud almost immediately.

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

What Scripture presents as a fairly simple narrative, Alison Mitchell shares with the energy of a good bedtime story. She tells not only what happened but why it was important: When Jesus calmed the storm with just a few words, what did it mean? What did that tell the disciples about who Jesus is? After reading the book, my husband said, “It’s a little like a sermon,” meaning that Mitchell doesn’t stop at telling the story, but goes one step further and tells us what the story is about.

Catalina Echeverri’s illustrations add yet another layer to the story and, if I’m perfectly honest, are what really got to me. You’ve seen her work already in The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, but she is at her best when illustrating the disciples: she shows how genuinely frightening it must have been to face the storm, but she does it in a way that is funny and endearing. My daughters and I giggled quite a bit over the disciples’ response to the storm, but a few short pages later, I found myself tearing up again—this time not from laughter but from wonder.

The Storm That Stopped, by Alison Mitchell | Little Book, Big Story

Mitchell and Echeverri make a marvelous team and I am glad, because this isn’t their only book together. I’m already itching to read the others!


The Storm That Stopped
Alison Mitchell, Catalina Echeverri (2016)