Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 10)

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

One closing note: you’ll notice that I never give age recommendations on my blog. The reasoning behind that is simple: all children are different, and the book one child cracks open at four, another child may not properly enjoy until eight. You know better than I do where your child falls on the spectrum, so I leave it up to you to decide if your child is ready for this book. Read it yourself and see. I’m quite certain that you will enjoy it.


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)

The Outlaws of Time Series | ND Wilson

Not long ago, Mitch and I spent eight days on an island. The girls packed up the essentials—clothes, pajamas, pillows, dolls, complete dolls’ wardrobe, journals, schoolwork, beloved books, and a half dozen stuffed animals—and spent the week with their grandparents, savoring what became fondly known as “The Big Sleepover.”

We, meanwhile, boarded a plane bound for Kaua’i. (It is a big moment, taking off into the air knowing that one’s children are still below, hidden in one of those tiny dots of light.)

One elbow of the Na Pali coast | Little Book, Big Story

We spent the week exploring—riding rented bikes to beaches, befriending wild roosters, and hiking, in one morning, both the muddiest trail I’ve ever seen and the most beautiful. We ate out for every meal (glorious!); we considered the wisdom of smuggling home shave ice in our suitcase for the girls. We spent hours browsing the island’s one, noteworthy bookstore and managed to leave with only eight new books.

And we read. Without interruption.

But we did not read just any books. For a trip like this—a “we haven’t been away this long since our honeymoon fifteen years ago” trip—one cannot read just any books. And so we packed the Outlaws of Time books by N.D. Wilson.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Mitch read them first, then re-read the second one while I re-read the first, then read something else but looked longingly over at my book while I read the second one for the first time. The third book released not long after we got home, and we passed that one back and forth and, when finished, debated the wisdom of immediately re-reading the entire series all over again.

That explains, pretty well, our relationship with these books: Outlaws of Time is a brilliant series, and that is one reason to read and reread it. But these books are also intricate, well-tuned. The plot features time travel, and it is a bit of work to keep straight who is where when and what iteration of themselves is currently in action. But “confusing” is the wrong word. “Dizzying” might be better. The books are satisfying, though they leave one’s ears ringing by the end.

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the book’s premise: Sam Miracle can’t bend his arms. His joints are fused together by some forgotten trauma that makes motion stiff and painful, and his memory is pockmarked with holes, confused by daydreams that end with his own death. He is broken and cast off in a youth home in the desert—until a terrifying visitor from the past he can’t remember arrives.

(If that story sounds like a fever-fed dream to you, there’s a good reason for that.)

The Outlaws of Time (series), by N.D. Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

And so, I recommend reading Outlaws of Time when you have time to reread them immediately, just in case you’re inclined to. You’ll find more in them each time, I promise, and things that didn’t make perfect sense the first time through will feel fitting—inevitable even—the second time you read them.

I will make one more recommendation: pre-read these for your kids. I love so many things about these stories, but they are dark—maybe even darker than 100 Cupboardsso I recommend reading them through for yourself before handing them over to your kids.  You know best what your kids ready for.


The Outlaws of Time Series
N.D. Wilson (2017-2018)


One last Note

Wildflowers Magazine (GIVEAWAY!) | Little Book, Big Story

Today is the last day to enter to win a copy of Wildflowers magazine! You can do that here.

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?

The Secret Keepers | Trenton Lee Stewart

This book made me nervous. I was three-quarters of the way in before I felt it—this niggling sense that maybe the main character was maybe about to make some terrible choices. Whether he does or not I won’t tell you, but I will point to the fact that I am reviewing it here. The Secret Keepers is worth reading—I will tell you that.

Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, tackles tricky questions. His characters face conflicts that feel real and terrifying, and they face choices that are not black or white: Do you cheat if it will help you defeat the villain? Or do you refuse to cheat knowing that if you do, your mission will probably fail? That sort of thing.

Those choices could take the story down a murky path, where the end justifies the means and all is well. But in Stewart’s books, they don’t. The characters wrestle with these decisions; they are conflicted before, during, and after they make their choice, and still wonder sometimes if they made the right call.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

At no point does Stewart gloss over these questions as though it’s necessary to toss one’s moral compass out the window in order to save the day. Good is good, and evil is evil. But he is willing to admit that sometimes in life, the two are hard to tell apart. Or, at least, evil works pretty hard to look like good, and it can be quite convincing. As his characters work through these questions, striving to pick the good out of the gray, they grow, and it is this undercurrent of character growth that really draws me into his stories. And it’s the feeling that a character could lean either way that makes me nervous.

But, okay, here’s what else you should know about this story: Reuben Penderly lives in New Umbra, a city ruled by the shadowy leader The Smoke. One day, he finds something unusual, something that grants him unexpected power and drives this otherwise solitary boy into unlikely friendships and enmity. That’s all very vague, I know. I wish I could be more specific than that. But the story’s hairpin turns are so fascinating that I don’t want to make them feel any less perilous by revealing what lies around the corner.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

I will say, though, that this one is probably best for older readers, or as a read-aloud with a side of discussion. In our case, Lydia read it first, I read it second, we both enjoyed it immensely, and afterward we discussed it. Or you could just read it on your own. It’s worth it.


The Slugs & Bugs Giveaway is still open!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

You can still enter to win a copy of the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible Vol. 3—huzzah! This post has all the details.


The Secret Keepers
Trenton Lee Stewart (2017)

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“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.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

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

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

Rootless | Taylor Everett Brown

Not long ago, I was the proving ground for our family’s books. But now Lydia has reached an age where I can trust her to discern tricky themes and talk with me about them—and she reads much, much faster than I do. I can’t keep her waiting for every single book.

So when Taylor Everett Brown explained, in an email, how his passion as a Christian, parent, and writer converged as he wrote this book, I had no qualms about handing his book to Lydia first, with the stipulation that she tell me, in detail, how she liked it. The only question—and it was one that made me nervous—was whether this book was any good.

By way of an answer, Lydia read it through twice. She urged me to read it. With her endorsement, I read it and found that Taylor Everett Brown is not only a kindred spirit—he is also a promising storyteller.

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

Rootless follows the journey of Everett and his friend Rrrwin, an Ent-like creature who suffers from a terminal root defect, as they travel through the country of Pateramor, on a quest to see all seven of the land’s forests before Rrrwin’s death. I will be perfectly honest and let you know that this book is self-published by a brand-new author, and there are areas where I am excited to see Taylor Brown grow as a writer. But I want to see him grow as a writer: the story itself is fascinating; his characters struggle with some genuine doubts and conflicts; and the forests, when they reach them, are incredibly inventive. Lydia and I both finished the book with the desire to read more about Pateramor, for surely, there is much, much more than forests to explore there.

Stay tuned!

I had the opportunity to interview Taylor Everett Brown and learn more about why he wrote Rootless and what it was like, and what we can expect from him in the future. Tune back in next week to read it.


Rootless: Adventures in the Seven Forests of Windfall
Taylor Everett Brown (2016)


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.