Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 19)

The Little White Horse

Over the years here, I’ve reviewed so, so many books. And sometimes in the summer I like to pull past reviews back to the top of the pile, because this both:

a) lightens my summer schedule up a bit (thereby freeing me up to do things like rummage in tidepools and nap in hammocks and drive my girls all over the county to attend Fun Things) and

b) gives me an excuse to share some of my very favorite books with you (again), books that might otherwise have languished in the archives of the blog forever because they were originally published waaaaay back in, say, 2018.

So! This marks our first summer re-run, my friends, and where better to begin than with the beloved book we’re currently re-running (that is, re-reading) around the lunch table at our house? (Good news—it’s still glorious.) I hope your summer is off to a sunshiney start, and that you find moments to read on your own and with your people.

Now, without further ado—a post that originally appeared on Story Warren, back in May of 2018.


“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.
—J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

The Little White Horse starts the way so many classics do: Maria Merryweather, newly orphaned, is delivered by carriage to an unknown relative. She is to live at Moonacre Manor with her cousin Sir Benjamin, and to her that prospect sounds simply awful.

But when she arrives she finds Moonacre Manor and the valley around it infused with the unexpected, for the country life Maria dreaded is not dull at all but rich in mystery and delight. She finds clothes laid out in her room each morning, embroidered with someone else’s name. She discovers a room in the manor where every object has some secret shut up in it. And she roves the countryside with a freedom she never had in London, exploring and building unlikely friendships.

Yet there is one blot upon this otherwise unmarred place—the wicked men of the pine wood. In her determination to learn who the men are and how they came to the valley, Maria learns something unexpected—and thoroughly unpleasant—about her own ancestors.

Like an old fairy tale, The Little White Horse assures us from the start that all shall be well and, by the book’s end, all is well—all bows are tied up neatly, all difficulties resolved. But Elizabeth Goudge keeps the route from beginning to end unpredictable: we never know what is coming around the next bend, only that it will be wonderful. And it is wonderful. This book I bought on a whim has become one of the most beloved books in our family library.

The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Occasionally, I find myself suffering from what I call “brave princess fatigue,” a condition caused by reading book after book about princesses who are not in need of some sort of rescue—heaven forbid!—but are, rather, hardy warriors themselves. I weary of these stories not because I object to brave princesses (in truth, I quite like them when they’re written well). What I’m grumbling about here is the princess whose moment of growth comes when she realizes that she’d always had the strength she needed—surprise!—within her the whole time.

But The Two Princesses of Bamarre came well before our current Brave Princesses. Written in 2001 by Gail Carson Levine (of Ella Enchanted fame), this book offers a nuanced look at what is—and isn’t—true courage, as shown through the lives of princesses Meryl, who is bold and fearless and anything but a damsel in distress, and Addie, who is timid and shy and relies on her sister for protection. Meryl intends to set out on a quest to discover a cure for the Gray Death that (if you’ll pardon the pun) plagues the kingdom of Bamarre, but when Meryl herself falls sick with the Gray Death, Addie is left to figure out what to do.

Addie’s path forward isn’t a straight one. It rises and falls and is punctuated with obstacles that force her to confront her own fears and insecurities again and again. She doesn’t discover, in a lightbulb moment, that she’s had the strength she needed within herself all along—instead, it grows in her as she suffers and struggles to save her sister. She also receives unexpected help from those around her and, in her moments of utter weakness, from a mysterious, un-seeable stranger. Addie is refined through her quest to save her sister, becoming both courageous as well as vulnerable (because aren’t we all vulnerable when we love others?). And while things end beautifully, they do not end predictably.

Had this story been about Meryl, already strong and courageous, setting out to save a kingdom, I think it could have been yet another Brave Princess story. But because Levine dug deeper, she gave us a richer, more beautiful book about a princess who knows she isn’t brave and who battles her fear the whole way, showing us that sometimes courage isn’t about who rides out boldly but about who rides out in humility, aware of her weakness, on behalf of those she loves.


The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Gail Carson Levine (2001)

The Sin Eater

This book, in addition to being written by the incomparable Gary Schmidt, contains three of the things I love most in a story: a very old house, some cloudy family history, and a cemetery. No—two cemeteries, one of which is hidden away and overgrown. Which is my favorite kind of cemetery.

So regardless of what my daughters think about the book, I’m here to tell you that I loved it. Gary Schmidt has a reputation for tackling Hard Topics, and this book is no exception: after losing his mother to cancer, Cole watches as his dad disappears into his grief like it’s an attic he can lock himself inside. But they’re living with Cole’s grandparents in the house where his mother grew up, and it is layered with family stories—joyful and sad—that provide a sort of counterweight to his father’s depression. And his grandparents fill it with laughter, good food, and meaningful work.

The tension between these two parts of Cole’s life—his father’s despair and his grandparents’ comfort—becomes a force at the heart of the story as the light strives to overcome the darkness. That tension propels the story forward. But in the community Cole finds in Albion, New Hampshire, Schmidt has created something that is substantive, memorable, real. The setting itself seems to support Cole as his grief over his mother’s death and his father’s absence ebbs and flows.

This is a moving book, a beautiful one. I’ve read many of Schmidt’s novels, and he’s a master at what he does. But something about this older title especially got to me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(And yes, my daughter loved it, too.)


The Sin Eater
Gary D. Schmidt (1996)


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Beautiful Novels for Teens

This year, fifty percent of our offspring will be over the age of thirteen. Half our children will no longer answer to the word “children.” They’ll be inching toward driver’s licenses and trigonometry and, egad, adulthood. And I am thrilled by this—I love it! Of course I have my qualms about leaving the days of slept-in braids and tutus and what will I do with myself when no one roller skates through the kitchen dressed like a dragon? But when it comes to teen daughters, I’m a big fan.

Sure, the emotions are real, and the slopes drop toward them real quick. And yes, the stakes feel higher the older they get—we only have so much time left to teach them Everything They Need to Know Before They Leave Home! But one of my favorite parts of this season is watching my daughters’ friendship deepen and grow as they get older: when they get home from some event, they often curl up on the couch together and talk it over, just the two of them. They have inside jokes and favorite songs and sometimes I feel, just a little and in the right way, on the outside of things with them. They write duets on the piano and pass books back and forth and occasionally lose patience with each other and then patch things up without me—their friendship is a beautiful thing to watch bloom.

And so, to celebrate this shift in our home, I thought I’d party the way I usually do and share some of our favorite books from this season so far.

Beautiful Books for Teens | Little Book, Big Story

The Sinking City, by Christine Cohen

The Sinking City, by Christine Cohen | Little Book, Big Story

The Sinking City is a beautifully written story that weaves fantastic elements into the solid structures of a real city. Venice seems like a plausible place in which to find magicians and wrathful sea monsters, and Liona surprises herself as well as readers as she navigates the city, trying to save it, her own life, and that of her family. The story is enjoyable and unpredictable, and Christine Cohen’s ability to craft complex, believable characters is stunning. (Read the full review.)


The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dracht

The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt | Little Book, Big Story

While in the middle of the vigil required of all incoming knights, Tiuri hears a voice outside the church. He is forbidden to speak or to leave the church during the vigil, but the voice cries for help. What should a knight-to-be do: obey his king and remain seated, meditating upon his impending knighthood, or answer the cry for help? That conflict kicks off a good, old-fashioned quest, knight and all. (Read the full review.)


Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins

Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

When Katina and Robin embark on a missions trip to India, they each bring their own issues: Katina is recovering from an attempted assault at school, while Robin is hoping to find answers to some big questions from his past. Mitali Perkins weaves their stories together and explores some powerful questions. (Read the full review.)


The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad, by Jennifer Trafton, A.S. Peterson & more

Editors Jennifer Trafton and A.S. Peterson have assembled a collection of tales for those who have long loved Arthurian stories, as well as those (like me) who are only loosely familiar with them. Presented as a collection of rediscovered documents, The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad are liberally sprinkled with pseudo-scholarly footnotes. Some of these stories are clever and funny; some are beautiful and heart-rending; most are seasoned with a little bit of all those things. The book itself is gorgeously designed and illustrated by Ned Bustard.


The Shiloh Series, by Helena Sorenson

The Shiloh Series, by Helena Sorenson | Little Book, Big Story

The story of Shiloh begins in the dark, and it is a heavy tale, one that is honest about the damage of sin and the havoc it wreaks in our hearts. The characters go on grueling journeys through the darkness of Shiloh, but, as the back of the book promises, the story is ultimately one of courage and hope: Helena Sorenson brings the trilogy to a glorious conclusion. (Read the full review.)


Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

This gorgeous historical novel weaves the biography of C.S. Lewis into the sweet story of Oxford student Megs and her invalid brother, George. I say “novel,” because that’s what the book itself wants me to call it, but this is also a book of ideas: what is a story? Why do stories move us so much? Callahan explores these rich concepts even as she tells us a beautiful story, one my teen connected with deeply.


Rosefire, by Carolyn Clare Givens

Rosefire, by Carolyn Clare Givens | Little Book, Big Story

Rosefire begins with one small action: Karan, daughter of one of the leading families of Asael, welcomes a girl with no memory of her past into her father’s home against his wishes. But this act establishes both Karan’s place and the place of the girl, Anya, in a story far greater than either of them—one that will shape and redeem their fragmented land. (Read the full review.)


Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace | Little Book, Big Story

Emily of Deep Valley follows Emily Webster, who has just graduated high school but feels like an outsider among her friends, who are all heading off to college while Emily stays home to care for her grandfather. This is a story rich in themes of sacrifice and love, one that challenges readers to stop looking over the fence at the next green field and start cultivating the soil they’re standing in. Emily keenly feels the boundaries placed about her, and yet she learns to flourish there. (Read the full review.)


Which books did your teens love?

Emily of Deep Valley

Firstly: you may have noticed the blog looking spiffier, perhaps? For some reason, the week after Christmas consistently inspires me to give this site a makeover. It always seems so fun at first, like a project I’ll start and finish between rounds of Nertz with my girls, but then I end up deep in the weeds, reformatting the titles for every single post I’ve written over the past almost-decade, and I invariably think to myself, around page 67 of 96, I’ve made a huge mistake.

But when I’m done, I’m always glad I did it: with every redesign of this site, I try to make it tidier, easier for you to use, and (of course) prettier. This time, I’ve actually resurrected and updated an old design—one whose simplicity and clean white margins made it one of my favorites. If you find any broken links or if there was something from the previous design you miss, please let me know! You are ultimately the reason I tinker with this site at all—I want it to be a pleasure to comb through as you look for good books. So please do reach out in the comments or via email and let me if there’s anything I can do to make it so.

And now . . . today’s book! A beauty!


When I finally picked up Mitali Perkins’s lauded Steeped in Stories, I was delighted to find that six of the seven children’s books she lists as her favorites were my favorites, too. But best of all, the seventh—Emily of Deep Valley—was a book so brand new to me that I’d never even heard of it. I’d read the first few Betsy-Tacy books when my girls were very small, but apart from that, I knew nothing about Maud Hart Lovelace’s work. And I’d certainly never read Emily of Deep Valley.

That, my friends, has been remedied—and swiftly!

Perhaps it’s too simplistic to refer to Maud Hart Lovelace as a “Minnesotan L.M. Montgomery,” but that’s the most concise way I can think of to send all you Anne of Green Gables fans out in search of this book immediately. I’ll start there: if you love L.M. Montgomery’s books, look up Maud Hart Lovelace post haste!

Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace | Little Book, Big Story

She’s best known for her Betsy-Tacy books, but what I didn’t realize is that the Betsy-Tacy series, much like Montgomery’s Anne series, follows its characters into adulthood. Emily of Deep Valley is the stand-alone story of Emily Webster, a girl just graduating high school a few years after Betsy and Tacy. She feels on the outside of her friends, who are all heading off to college while Emily stays home to care for her grandfather.

This is a story rich in themes of sacrifice and love, one that challenges readers to stop looking over the fence at the next green field and start cultivating the soil they’re standing in. Emily keenly feels the boundaries placed about her, and yet she learns to flourish there—ultimately getting to know and care for a community of Syrian refugees that many in her town have overlooked.

Emily of Deep Valley is a sweet story, yes, but its roots go deep: Lovelace asks meaningful questions about race and relationships (Emily’s first love interest is most emphatically Not a Keeper) and true friendship. And it’s one that will send readers—in our house, at least—into the rest of Lovelace’s books, eager to read them all.


Emily of Deep Valley
Maud Hart Lovelace (1950)