Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 9)

The Mysterious Benedict Society | Trenton Lee Stewart

I occasionally meet a book that doesn’t want me to to tell you a thing about it. Part of the appeal of these books is letting the story lead the me where it wants to go, rather than expecting it to stick to the itinerary mapped out on the back of the book. I know nothing about it when I start but the title, the author’s name, and the name of the reliable friend who brought it to my attention, and that is a pleasure.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I want you, if possible, to have this pleasure with The Mysterious Benedict Society. After a few pages, Lydia announced that this book is, indeed, mysterious, and though I’d read it once before, I agreed. Trenton Lee Stewart invites us into a world that is colorful and quirky, that is like ours and yet not like it (for an example of what I mean, consider Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), but he introduces us to it slowly, giving us only what we need to keep reading. That is all I will tell you about the plot: it is mysterious, quirky, and fascinating.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I will tell you a few things more about the book itself, though:

  1. The quirkiness of the story does not undermine its seriousness. The characters face real danger and tough moral conflicts. They sometimes make the wrong choices; sometimes, they make questionable choices for the right reasons. Stewart deals skillfully with those moments, acknowledging that sometimes our choices are made in murky circumstances, and the outcomes are beyond our control. He gives his characters room to wrestle with doubt, too, and that lead to some great conversations on our couch. But there is, under all of this, a clear theme of sacrifice. It’s beautiful.
  2. The Mysterious Benedict Society is illustrated by Carson Ellis, one of my favorite illustrators ever. That may be the reason I picked this book up in the first place.
  3. This is the first of four books, and the only one I’ve read (perhaps because it’s the only one illustrated by Carson Ellis?). But Lydia has moved on to the second book and assures me that it’s just as good as the first.

The Mysterious Benedict Society (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Now, that is all I’ll give you. That and the hearty exhortation to go forth and read this book!


The Mysterious Benedict Society
Trenton Lee Stewart, Carson Ellis (2008)

Harry Potter | JK Rowling

I read the first five books when we were newly married. We lived in a studio apartment where the shag carpet smelt of hashbrowns, and our mattress doubled as both sofa and bed. While drunk college kids tossed bottles into the street outside and the glass shattered with a sound like waves on pavement, I opened Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the first page and read, “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

We read that line to our two oldest daughters a few months ago and ushered them into the world of Hogwarts with us, where we trod shifting staircases, spoke with portraits, and savored chocolate frogs. Adding things like “rogue bludger” and “Alas, earwax” to our family lexicon brought all four of us a great deal of joy.

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

But I understand that many Christians have raised objections to Harry Potter. My point here is not to persuade you that you must read these books to your kids (though I will link later to someone who will try): I understand that our consciences prick us, sometimes, at different points, and it is not my desire to deaden your sensitivity to that. And I know, too, that a number of you love fairy tales or share with me a fondness for The Wingfeather Saga. You folks are probably familiar with the armchairs of the Gryffindor common room and don’t need me to recommend books that you have read several times already.

Why, then, am I reviewing Harry Potter?

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

Because what I really want to talk about is magic. Magic is a one of many threads in the Harry Potter books, but because it is viewed askance by many Christians, it tends to be the one skeptical reviewers highlight. Yes, the characters cast spells; they attend a school called a “the school of witchcraft and wizardry.” And yes, seizing some form of power to achieve one’s own ends is evil, both in our world and in the worlds of fairy tale and fantasy. JK Rowling does not celebrate that sort of magic—sorcery, really—but draws a clear line between the Dark Arts and the kind of magic most of the characters in Harry Potter employ.

That magic is a gift they have been given, one that they are sent to Hogwarts to cultivate.

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

One of the central themes of the series, one that is much more potent than the mere fact of casting spells, is the contrast between Harry, who rejects the Dark Arts despite moments of temptation, and Voldemort, who manipulates the Dark Arts to achieve his own horrible ends. Both are considered great wizards, but Harry uses his power to protect those he loves and those who come after him. Voldemort uses his to do “terrible things.”

JK Rowling’s story does not glorify the practice of sorcery. She does not send us away from the books with a desire to be brutal like Voldemort, or treacherous or cowardly, as many of Voldemort’s Death Eaters are. Instead, we close the pages wanting to be brave like Harry and his friends, or to be the sort of person, Muggle or magical, who is willing to lay our lives down for one another in love.

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

We read only the first two books to our girls this year—the rest will wait a few years more until they’re ready for deeper discussions. But when I found Lydia and Sarah on the neighbor’s trampoline, giggling and shouting “Wingardium leviosa!” at one another just before a really big jump, I did not fear for their souls: the sort of magic they practice is the magic of childhood, the sort that allows them to leap and for a moment, believe that they are flying. That is a magic rooted firmly in this world, and it’s one our children are born with, Muggle though they may be.


Want to read more about HArry?

Haley Stewart, at Carrots for Michaelmas, makes a compelling argument for “Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter.”

Andrew Peterson (author of The Wingfeather Saga) wrote a piece about Potter that is just beautiful.

ND Wilson’s thoughts on magic largely informed my view of it. You can read an article he wrote on about this for Desiring God, or you can listen to his episode, “Magic and Fear in Children’s Books,” of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast (that episode is, for the record, my all-time favorite so far).

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

A note on illustrations

We love the new, large-format versions of these books, illustrated by Jim Kay, but I should warn you: the illustrations are much darker than the originals by Mary GrandPré. I personally preferred reading the original editions of the books, but Jim Kay’s illustrations are eerie and striking, and we just kept returning to them (you can get a glimpse of Kay’s work in this charming video). Mitch and the girls loved both editions, so we ended up toggling back and forth between the two as we read. I have linked to both below.


The Complete Harry Potter Series
JK Rowling (1997-2007)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (pre-order)
JK Rowling, Jim Kay (2015-2017)

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.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (Trilogy) | Grace Lin

Lydia marched downstairs, her copy of Cricket open to the page titled “Cricket Readers Recommend.”

“I want to do this,” she said, holding it out for me to read. And lo! “Cricket Readers Recommend” is a page dedicated to kid-written book reviews. My daughter was telling me she wanted to write and submit a book review for general consumption.

My cheeks pinked; my eyes watered. I sniffled (just a little). “Of course,” I said, assuming she’d write about one of her well-worn Redwall novels.

But: “I want to write about my new favorite book,” she said, and the smile she gave me was full not of courageous mousemaids, but of undersea avenues lit by pearls, of magistrates turned to tigers, of sorrow sealed into a stone. “When the Sea Turned to Silver. You’d like it, Mom—it’s beautiful.”

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

She was right. I started it later that day, and it was beautiful.

When the Sea Turns to Silver is the third in a trilogy of books by Grace Lin—the only one I hadn’t yet read. The other two (Starry River of the Sky and Newbery Honor book Where the Mountain Meets the Moon) had been sitting on my list of books to review for over a year, suffering the same fate as The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic: I loved them. I wanted to share them with you. But how could I possibly describe those books?

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

Grace Lin creates, in this trilogy, a mixed media collage: fantasy, fairy tale, and historical fiction all overlap to create a new sort of story set in a world infused with the colors, flavors, and textures of Lin’s Chinese and Taiiwanese heritage. Even the illustrations (also done by Lin) and the book design have an ever-changing aspect that suits each story.

But Lydia’s review sums the book up nicely (and I think her last few sentences apply perfectly to the whole trilogy):

Pinmei, a shy little girl, has always lived on the Endless Mountain with her grandmother, Amah. But when the emperor takes Amah, Pinmei and her best friend Yishan go on a quest to save her. The story is a mixture of fantasy and reality with stories that come true and characters that were thought not to be real. The twists and turns are mysterious and secretive. You should really read it!

We have read many (perhaps most?) of Grace Lin’s books, and we’ve yet to meet one we didn’t love. But this trilogy is our favorite. I can’t wait to share it with my younger daughters and, with Lydia’s nudging, I couldn’t wait any longer to share it with you.

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


Starry River of the Sky (2014)
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (2011)
When the Sea Turns to Silver (2016)
Grace Lin

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)