Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 10)

Noah Green: Junior Zookeeper | Carolyn Leiloglou

When Noah finds a strange pet curled up in a hat at a garage sale, she finds her first pet. Cappy comes home with her through a loop hole in her parents’ “no pet” policy, but quickly becomes larger (and odder) than Noah or her parents anticipated. What guinea pig likes to swim? What dog eats vegetables?

What is Cappy?

This is the question at the heart of Carolyn Leiloglou’s sweet first novel, a skinny book kickstarting a series for new readers. Now is when I should mention that Carolyn is a friend of mine—a wonderful friend and fellow book blogger who is a wealth of writing advice, encouragement, and fabulous book reviews. It’s rare to find a friend who shares your weird hobby (in this case, reading and reviewing kids’ books), but if anything puts two people with the same weird hobby in the same room, it’s the internet.

Yay, the internet.

Noah Green: Junior Zookeeper, by Carolyn Leiloglou | Little Book, Big Story

But I digress. Carolyn’s first book introduces Noah and Cappy and, after some endearing adventures, brings Noah to the point of making a Very Hard Decision. This is the part of the book I loved the best, because it was an ending that felt just right, as though it really couldn’t have ended any other way, and that is the best sort of ending.

I am—affection for the author aside—excited to see what Noah does next. And I am—affection for the author back at center stage—excited to encourage and support an author whose work is worth supporting.


Noah Green: Junior Zookeeper and the Garage Sale Pet
Carolyn Leiloglou (2019)


Disclosure: I did receive copy of this book 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 Good Master | Kate Seredy

It has been a while since I reviewed a classic children’s chapter book. And that’s not because I don’t love them—I do. Profusely. But keeping two voracious readers supplied with quality books means I have to pick and choose what I pre-read for them, and I have my methods of pre-reading triage: if a classic book turns up on a trustworthy reading list, I’m pretty comfortable handing it over to the girls without pre-reading it myself, especially if I’m already familiar with the author’s work.

But a new book, no matter which list it turns up on, generally gets a pre-read, because there are lots of things in those new books that need discussing. (There are, of course, lots of things in those old books that need discussing, too, but those tend to be discussions we already have regularly. The topics in new books sometimes catch me off guard. Which is a whole other post, I suppose.)

That all is a preface to this post, which is for a classic book that I pre-read and adored.

The Good Master, by Kate Seredy | Little Book, Big Story

The Good Master is set in Hungary and tells the story of Jancsi and his wild cousin Kate, whose father sends her from the city to live with Jancsi’s family. Kate is untamed, wild with a sort of energy that wears me out as I read, but Jancsi’s father slowly, patiently gentles her.

Kate Seredy (Kate the author, not the cousin) shows the progression of their relationship, from unstable to steady and flourishing, abounding with trust, and it is that progression that made me love The Good Master. But she also depicts life in a small, pre-war Hungarian village so beautifully, perhaps because she herself was born in Hungary before immigrating to the United States.

The Good Master and The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy | Little Book, Big Story

(Additional interesting facts: Kate Seredy wrote her books in English, her second language. She also illustrated them herself, so there’s a depth and richness to her work that is hard to place but might have something to do with that.)

Footnote

The sequel to The Good Master, The Singing Tree, follows Jancsi’s family and village through WWI. I loved sharing this one with Lydia, because while everything else we read about the World Wars was told from the Allied perspective, The Singing Tree shared the perspective of one small village caught up on the Axis side of this global conflict.

The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy | Little Book, Big Story

If The Good Master depicts ordinary hospitality—as Jancsi’s family invites Kate into both the blessings and boundaries of their home—The Singing Tree depicts hospitality under duress. Jancsi’s family expands in a beautiful way throughout the course of a terrible war.


The Good Master
Kate Seredy (1935)

The Rwendigo Tales | J.A. Myhre

I love finding a book that seems impossible to describe. Reviewing it is a challenge—not a “cleaning the girls’ bedroom after we’ve all put it off for far too long” sort of challenge (I hate those; I did that yesterday), but the fun kind. The kind that requires one to have her wits about herself. Like baking elaborate cakes* or breaking boards with one’s bare hands, the challenge of reviewing impossible-to-peg books ends either in defeat or in a adrenaline- or sugar-fueled rush.

But best of all, finding one of these books means I’ve found an author who is either doing something new or doing something old in a new way. In the case of the Rwendigo Tales, author J.A. Myhre sets her magical-realism stories in Africa, where she and her husband serve as missionary doctors and raise their four children, and she infuses the whole thing with the gospel.

The Rwendigo Tales, by J. A. Myhre | Little Book, Big Story

These are beautiful books, and they are unlike anything I’ve read. Myhre writes complex scenes; she deals with hard topics, like rebel attacks, kidnapping, disease outbreaks, and death. Her characters are called upon to make some brutally hard choices, and they do not always choose well. But grace and forgiveness abound—in believable, costly ways.

The Rwendigo Tales, by J. A. Myhre | Little Book, Big Story

If I were, for simplicity’s sake, to try and compare these stories to other stories, I’d have to say that the Rwendigo tales are a bit like A Long Walk to Water, The Wingfeather Saga, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, and Treasures of the Snow combined, with maybe a dash of Narnian animals thrown in. And as unlikely a combination as that sounds, it works. It works beautifully. The Rwendigo Tales now live on the Bookshelf of Honor, between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wingfeather Saga. I can bestow no higher honor upon a book.


*A few months ago, my brother sent me a cookbook and challenged me to a baking duel. We are both devotees of The Great British Baking Show, so I accepted the oven mitt he slapped on the counter. We have since baked a dozen or more treats from that cookbook, texting back and forth as we do, or occasionally sharing a kitchen when he comes to visit.

This is a ridiculous amount of fun; I recommend it to any grown siblings who share a love of pastry, a quirky sense of humor, and bad British accents. Also, today is my birthday, so a footnote about cake seemed appropriate.


The Rwendigo Tales
J.A. Myhre (2015-2018)

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)

The Mistmantle Chronicles | M.I. McAllister

Some might consider what I’m about to do cruel.

First, I’m going to rave about The Mistmantle Chronicles. I’m going to tell you that they are everything I look for in a book. They are:

a) a delight to read

b) beautifully written

c) shaped by a deep and rich Christian worldview

And then I’m going to tell you that they’re difficult to find. Not so difficult that you can’t find some of them, but elusive enough that you may search for months for a copy of the last book. You may scour eBay and ThriftBooks and every used bookstore in your area, just in case someone didn’t realize what they had and let it go. You may briefly contemplate spending $120 on Amazon for a paperback copy*. You may request that your library purchase a copy. You may even email the author directly with a plea for help.

You may search and search. And you still may not find it.

I haven’t.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

I wondered if it was fair to introduce you to something so delightful and gripping and then announce that you might not be able finish the series. But I decided to introduce you anyway, because these books are among the best we’ve read, and also because I have this slim hope that maybe somebody someday will have the good sense to reprint them. And if we’re all out there requesting it at libraries and talking it up online and perhaps emailing the publisher, maybe that will help? Let’s start a Mistmantle Movement, people!

Here is the premise of the story: Urchin, an unusually pale squirrel, is discovered in the shallows off Mistmantle Island just after his birth. No one knows where he came from or what happened to his mother, but he was found on a night of riding stars, when portentous things are said to happen. The books follow Urchin as he grows and faces challenges of different sorts, but while they primarily center around him, McAllister also deftly weaves the stories of other animals, both good and evil, into Urchin’s story.

The Mistmantle Chronicles meld the gospel-rich worldview of (Scripture, of course, but also) The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wingfeather Saga with the warmth and coziness of RedwallM.I. McAllister’s characters are far from formulaic: they exhibit the unexpected quirks and details that make them inflate from two dimensions to three. They live; we believe in them. And though the challenges the characters face are deep and hard, they often resolve them by looking to the Heart (the God of their world) for strength and guidance.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

These books do have some dark themes—the first book deals with the subject of “culling,” a sinister plot to kill any babies who are weak or deformed in any way—but McAllister handles these gracefully, and always with an eye on what is right and good. These are stories that will bend our affections toward the good and lovely, and they are worth searching out, however long our quest.

*Those of you who read ebooks won’t suffer this hardship: the digital version is available for $6.99. If our library can’t track a copy down for us, I may go that route out of desperation.


Update

Our local library tracked down a copy of the fifth Mistmantle book, Urchin and the Rage Tide, in a library across the state. And so we are at last reading it! And it does not disappoint. McAllister wraps up the series with one of the—oh, cruel again! I’m so sorry!—most lovely and suitable ends I’ve ever read. This is a book that makes you want to be braver and love others better. (It also makes you want to weep in the waiting room during ballet class.)

I want my own copy to keep.


The Mistmantle Chronicles
M.I. McAllister (2005-2012)

The Railway Children | E. Nesbit

This summer re-run first appeared on my blog in January 2014. It features one of my favorite books. I hope you enjoy it (and your summer break!), too.


Was there ever a better narrator than E. Nesbit? The way she banters with the reader in charming asides and includes her own voice as a part of the story makes reading her work an act of listening, as though a favorite aunt has drawn little you onto her lap as she tells you a story about some children that she once knew. Her voice is comfortable, familiar; she exists within the story in a delightful way.

C.S. Lewis also had a knack for establishing this intimacy between author and reader. I used to think that I recognized his voice in Nesbit’s work until I learned that she was one of his favorite authors as a child, and that really, I was hearing her voice in his work. This just made me love her more than ever, and I love her best of all in her book, The Railway Children.

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

After their father is mysteriously called away from home, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis leave their comfortable life in London and move to the countryside with their mother, where they are materially poor but find a wealth of excitement in the railway that cuts through the hills near their new home. Adventures of a noble sort ensue, all told in Nesbit’s endearing (but never, ever sappy) tone.

The small fry in our home are so smitten with The Railway Children that, for a time, they answered only to Roberta and Phyllis, and we found ourselves hosting an imaginary brother named Peter for months (we currently host an imaginary brother and sister named Curdie and Irene—from The Princess and the Goblinas well as a sister named Applesauce, and an imaginary cow named Charlotte. Our house is cozy, but never dull).

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

The Railway Children
E. Nesbit (1906)

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)