Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 8)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon | Jennifer Trafton

The plight of the quirky, artistic kid is not unknown to me. I was the child who preferred drawing indoors to recess, and who, in seventh grade, curried favor with the popular girls by drawing them pictures of horses. (In high school, I designed their tattoos.)

To this day, it’s rare to find me without a pen (or a collection of pens, to my daughters’ delight), and if required to sit still for any length of time—say, for a sermon or in a waiting room—I’ll be the one covertly doodling in any margin I can find. So I should clarify: the plight of the quirky artistic kid is not unknown to me, nor is the plight of the awkwardly doodling adult. (This TED Talk  made me feel a lot better about that last one, though.)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

So I recognized in Jennifer Trafton’s new hero, Henry Penwhistle, a kindred spirit. The premise of this book is simple: Henry draws a dragon on the back of his bedroom door and the dragon comes to life, slipping off the door and into the world, where he runs amok. For Henry, this is akin to learning that one’s diary has been stolen and is now a New York Times bestseller. His art is out there for all to see, and the results so far aren’t pretty.

But Henry’s heroic quest to vanquish the dragon (with the help of his wonderful friends) is both hilarious and sweet, in just the right doses. Jennifer Trafton’s books are a delight to read aloud, and Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations suit the story beautifully.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Her encouragement to quirky, artistic kids everywhere (we have a few in our house) is invaluable:

Once you make something . . . a picture, or a story, or a song, or an invention, or even a delicious meal, it isn’t yours anymore. It has a life. It could spend its life lying on your paper, staring up at you and saying, ‘Thank you for drawing me. Aren’t I wonderful?’ Or it could fill the stomach of a queen or give strength to a poor man in the street. It could wrap itself around a city and make the people in it cry an ocean, or it could wiggle into the ears of a baby and make her burst into giggles. . . . All you can do is make the best thing you can, and love it as hard as you can, and let it go loose in the world, and watch what happens.

This is a beautiful book, both for the kids who feel on the outside of things, and for the ones who seem warmly at the center of things but would benefit from an interlude on the outskirts. This a book for the artists and for the ones who have forgotten that they, too, are capable of making beautiful things. Henry and the Chalk Dragon is for children who like to laugh and for ones who don’t but need to, and it’s for grown-ups, who can always use a reminder about the power of chivalry and poetry and art.

That is: this is a book for all of us. And I suggest you go read it with your family now.


Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Jennifer Trafton, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

It’s serious work, choosing a book for vacation. I overthink it every time. A book cannot be too absorbing (see: family reunion, Estes Park CO—the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, and I read in the midst of a beauteous landscape, ignoring family and nature alike). And it cannot be so meaty that I don’t want to pull it out in those moments when the coffee is hot and the cabin’s front porch calls.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

A book for vacation needs to be just right—every paragraph satisfying, so that even ten minutes in its company sends me back into a cabin full of children feeling recharged—and I have elevated the choosing of a vacation book to an art form (or an obsession, depending on your view). But this time, the artistry (or obsession) was solved for me when a package from the Rabbit Room arrived on our porch the day before we left for a weekend on San Juan Island. In it I found the slender new edition of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s story, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

I’ve mentioned McKelvey before on this blog, albeit indirectly. In my review of Wingfeather Tales, his was the “novella so devastating.” I have been waiting ever since to get a copy of this story, hoping it might be as lovely as that novella.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

I read The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog in full during a single naptime, in a log cabin overlooking a lake. And it was lovely, a book so sweet and true that it’s hard to describe because I am afraid that if I pull pieces of it apart to show you, I might damage the well-woven fabric of the book . I will say this: the new edition from Rabbit Room Press is illustrated by Zach Franzen, of The Green Ember, so it is beautiful in both word and image. And it is worth reading immediately—especially if you have a vacation coming up.


The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Zach Franzen (2017 – republication)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard | Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes won me over quietly—I almost didn’t see it happening. Jonathan Auxier’s story of an orphaned thief who eyes were (eep!) pecked out by ravens has a wit and charm and enough unexpected quirks to make it unlike any other books I’ve read. I liked it. I passed it on to Lydia, who loved it. But for some reason (maybe it was the thieving? Or the crows?), I didn’t immediately review it for this blog.

But then I read Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.

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

There was nothing subtle about the way this book won me over: affection for it roared over me like a semi truck, overtaking me so abruptly that, at one point, I thumped the cover at Mitch while I read and announced, “Oh my word, I love this book!” before diving back into the story. It was the sort of book I adored so much, so immediately, that I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed for the rest of the book in the hope that the ending wouldn’t fizzle.

It didn’t.

This book is glorious from start to finish.

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

Sophie Quire is a sequel to Peter Nimble, in that it happens after Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Peter Nimble is in it, and it was written by the same author. But it might be more accurate to call it a companion book, I don’t know, because the main character here is Sophie Quire, a young bookmender in the city of Bustleburgh, which is currently banishing nonsense in all its forms. When she meets a certain blind thief and takes on an unlikely commission, everything in Sophie’s life changes.

Jonathan Auxier’s writing is as exhilarating in this book as it is in The Night Gardener and Peter Nimble. His characters are bizarre and loveable, and through their adventures, Auxier explores (among other things) the importance of stories and nonsense. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is a beautiful book, one that has a deeper layer of truth underneath the story, waiting for those willing to look for it.

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


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
Jonathan Auxier (2012)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Jonathan Auxier (2017)

The Night Gardener | Jonathan Auxier

There was a time when I did not love scary stories. By “scary stories,” I mean the books I stumbled into in my youth—some of them age-appropriate fluff and some truly terrifying, books that were well beyond me both in content and complexity. Some of them haunt me still, and not in a pleasant “Oh, that gave me chills!” kind of way.

So, I did not love scary stories. And I applied the term “scary stories” not only to books written to send readers to bed with flashlights and cold sweats, but also to books with ruthless and unsettling villains, books that had scary parts in them.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

But then three things happened:

  1. I read ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy and discovered a kind of scary that was also redemptive and, really, quite fun.
  2. My eldest daughter turned eight and woke up one day a much less sensitive reader. Books that might have upset her six months earlier she read without a hint of squeamishness. Indeed, she even seemed to enjoy them. A new vista of reading expanded before us!
  3. I came across ND Wilson’s article for The Atlantic on why he writes scary stories for children. In that article, ND Wilson writes:

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help.

And just like that, my mind changed.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

It was this new attitude that gave me room to try The Night Gardener, a book I may not have bothered with pre-“ND Wilson on scary stories.” But I bothered with it and I’m so glad, because The Night Gardener totally creeped me out, but it also gave me a new appreciation for what a scary story can be.

The Night Gardener follows Molly and Kip, two Irish children who are separated from their parents while crossing the sea to England. When they take a position serving the Windsor family at an eerie manor in the sourwoods, they find themselves in the thick of a mystery. A haunting, don’t-read-this-before-bed mystery.

It’s clear that Jonathan Auxier set out to write a scary story, and I love the way he approached it: Molly and Kip are wonderful, warm-hearted heroes, who are stretched and challenged throughout the story and who grow in some gratifying ways as they face the terrors of the Windsor estate. I love, too, the way Auxier explores what happens when we try to take by force the things we were never meant to have, and his quiet commentary on the difference between stories and lies.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This was a book I wanted to stay up late with but didn’t, because I wanted to sleep and sleep is a rare, fleeting thing here, and so I did not read it before bed. But I did spend an entire naptime on the couch with it, reading, eating chocolate, and refusing to feel guilty about using a pile of unfolded laundry as a backrest. That is a sign of good book.

Also

Have you heard Jonathan Auxier on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast? You really should. I had read none of his books when I listened. I have since read and loved all three (stay tuned for reviews of the other two). This episode definitely made my list of favorites—maybe even top five. It’s a good one.


The Night Gardener
Jonathan Auxier (2015)

Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

Redwall | Brian Jacques

Redwall. Now she knew why creatures talked of it with such reverence; it appeared to blend with the surrounding Mossflower country as a haven of rest and tranquility, in harmony with all nature, like some gentle giant of a mother, sheltering and protecting her children.

– Mariel of Redwall 

I encountered Redwall Abbey in my early twenties. I was wandering then, in need of a refuge, and I found one within the grounds of Redwall. Evil was clear-cut there, easy to see and to fight—unlike the sin that seeps and simmers in our adult lives. Reading about the peaceful creatures of Redwall battling the rat Cluny, and feasting on good things like woodland salad and maple cordial fortified me for my own battle.

A good story can do that.

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

But when I handed my battered copy over to Lydia a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to love it. I even cautioned her that she may not love it yet, and that if she didn’t fall for it immediately she should withhold judgement and try again in a few years. Cluny is really scary, and I wasn’t sure she was ready to meet him.

She was ready to meet him. She came downstairs a few hours later, shining-eyed and wondering if there were more books in the series.

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

Lydia was in luck: Redwall is one of twenty-two books (meaty, full-length, well-written books) about the Abbey and its inhabitants. The inhabitants change from book to book, as the stories generally take place at different points along a timeline.

Think Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars: you grow to love one batch of characters in a book, and then pick up the next book to find a batch of brand new characters to love, with, perhaps, a few cameos from old favorites in the new story. The mischievous Dibbun of one book may be the elderly Abbot of the next book. It’s great fun.

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

Lydia was so taken with these books that she’s begun working industriously around the house, doing chores and setting up lemonade stands in order to fund her growing collection of Redwall books. She has out-paced me in the series, so I’ve been taking recommendations from her on what to read next. She is the true Redwall authority in our home now, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the series with you. Here is why Lydia thinks your family will love these books:

I love these books! I can’t believe that the first time I read Redwall, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Girls will like it because there are beautiful girls who are very brave, too, and boys will like it because there are lots of battles. There are hilarious hungry hares, beautiful young maidens, old abbots and abbesses, brave young warriors (who are sometimes girls!), cute little Dibbuns, strong badger lords (and a badger lady), very bad vermin, big brave Skippers, odd-speaking moles, argumentative Guosim shrews and much more! Dive into the world between the covers of a Redwall book!

I think she summed up the series quite nicely! I can really only add a few grown-up thoughts to that.

On Villains

The evil in these books is shocking, and I think it’s meant to be.

The villains in these stories war amongst themselves, kill innocent creatures, and go to terrible ends to achieve their goals. They are brutal, but they are rarely funny and never glorified. When the story transitions from the villain’s stronghold, where he slays his friends out of vengeance, pride, or boredom, to the Abbey orchard, where strangers and friends feast together, the reader can’t help but love the lovelier scene.

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

As my daughter and I have discussed these books, I’ve been struck by how well they help shape her affections. She has been quick to notice the way that the creatures of Redwall serve one another, while the villains serve only themselves, or to notice how the Redwall soldiers honor their fallen while their enemies simply leave their dead behind. And that contrast is, I think, the point: there is no moral ambiguity to this story, no anti-hero. The bad guys are very bad; the heroes aren’t perfect, but they are still very good.

Jacques was a child in England during WWII, and I wonder how his experiences shaped the portrayal of evil in these stories. If your child is a sensitive reader, I will give you two warnings: Be ready for graphic battle scenes and very bad bad guys, but don’t let those turn you away from the story. Jacques does a great job of making the stories feel safe, even when they’re at their scariest.

On Dialect

Jacques was fond of writing in dialect. In the case of the hares, who sound like characters from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, this is delightful. But in the case of the moles, who are meant to sound (I think) like operating drills, the dialogue can be a bit trickier to decipher. If you’re reading aloud, you might familiarize yourself with the dialogue before reading to your kids so you don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of zzzs and rrrs.

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

On Feasts

The food. Oh, the food.

Jacques has said that his lavish descriptions of Redwall feasts sprung from his memory of rationing during the war, when he fantasized about the dishes in his mother’s cookbook. His descriptions of food are so mouth-watering that they have inspired a whole cookbook and have inspired us to throw our own Redwall feast. There are so many dishes in there that sound wonderful, even if I have no idea what they are: meadowcream trifle, buttercup cordial, mushroom and leek pasty with gravy. I want comfort food—and a lot of it—when I’m reading these books.

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

Sarah, my photography assistant

In fact, that was the second caution I offered Lydia when I gave her the book: you might not like it yet, and it will probably make you hungry. I am so glad I was wrong about the first one, and so glad I was right about the second.


Redwall
Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

Ember Falls (Giveaway!) | SD Smith

Ember Falls landed on our porch in a box full of goodies from SD Smith’s Kickstarter campaign. Oh, I thought. Yay! Lydia will like this.

I admired the cover.

I flipped it open to read the dust jacket.

I came to twenty-four hours later, starry-eyed, having finished the book.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

In Ember Falls, S.D. Smith continues the story of Heather and Picket, who are no longer the young, lost rabbits of The Green Ember’s opening pages. Picket is a well-trained warrior; Heather is . . . well. I’ll let you read that part for yourself. But that development was one of many that I met with a satisfied, “Oh, yes. Of course.”

S.D. Smith has written a sequel that feels inevitable, as though the story developed itself. Nothing feels forced; nothing feels cheap. His characters work hard and suffer for their victories, and those victories are deeply satisfying.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

S.D. Smith’s vision of hope in this series is potent, reaching beyond the pages of his books and into our lives as we read: as the characters fix their eyes on the Mended Wood, so we fix our eyes on a Better City. When my eyes stray from that City to the brokenness of this world, when I am tempted to believe that the brokenness is all there is or ever will be, then I am grateful for the faithful rabbits who remind me that we must go on fighting.

We must hope.

We must bear the flame.

Every book in this series is better than the last, which makes Ember Falls the best yet. And Ember Falls brought my eldest daughter into the fold: finally ready for the series, she read all three books in a week and now wears her “Bear the Flame” necklace proudly. (Even Sarah, who hasn’t read the series yet, adores her necklace. “It’s like Heather’s!” she tells everyone—even strangers at the grocery store. Then, confidentially, “Heather is a bunny.”)

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (necklace) | Little Book, Big Story

Now, ordinarily, I would hustle you off the Story Warren shop with a link and nudge and a “What are you waiting for? Go read it!” But this week, I have a treat for you: S.D. Smith has graciously offered to send a set of all three books to one of you, plus your choice of either a “Bear the Flame” necklace or a set of stickers*.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (giveaway prizes) | Little Book, Big Story

The books are a great prize. Definitely. But my favorite part of opening a package from a beloved author was watching my kids make the connection that S.D. Smith is, you know, a human. A human who sends mail. And writes books.

They both immediately declared their intent to become authors and took up residence at the kitchen table with stacks of paper, pencils and erasers (and for writers, those erasers are super important). They may be writing fan fiction about their favorite series at this point, but that’s just a few degrees away from writing the next classic, right?

Enter the Giveaway

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, Sept. 27 (I’m going to get it right this time, I really am). After that, a winner will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

*The actual stickers to show up in the winner’s mailbox may not look just like the ones pictured.