Tag: christian (page 2 of 17)

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)

An Interview with N.D. Wilson

You know the question that goes, “If you could meet any author, living or dead, who would you choose?” It probably gets asked as a “getting to know you” question at book clubs, I guess, and it overwhelms me every time I hear it. Just one? Why not five? Or ten?

Twenty?

I don’t know what my list would look like or which names I’d have to whittle off to reach the single digits, but I am confident of this: N.D. Wilson‘s name would be on it.

Or would have been on it. Because I did  get to talk to him. And it was fantastic.

I had the privilege of (or, I should say, I super-professionally begged for the privilege of) interviewing him for Deeply Rooted about his gorgeous nature documentary The Riot and the Dance. He was as articulate and intriguing as one might expect and said things like this:

When you’re able to sit in awe of an ant war on the sidewalk in front of your own house, then the awe that you experience looking at God’s creation near you, where he has placed you, will lead you outward. It will give you a desire to see more of his work, to walk through the rest of his museum.

And this:

 If we’re the art appreciators—the ones who understand that there is an artist and this is his work, and we want to celebrate it—then we need to do everything we can to create a beautiful artifact ourselves and not just have talking heads explaining fairly bland cinematography. We wanted to use our words and our cameras and our lenses in a more effective imitation than that. We wanted to tell the truth, and beauty is part of the truth.

Normally, this sort of post—a “here’s something I published elsewhere” post—would be a midweek bonus affair, not something I would publish in place of a book review. But I think you’re going to love what N.D. Wilson had to say so much (I did, even after listening to the recording a half-dozen times as I transcribed it) that I decided to publish this instead of a book review this week. Go forth! Read and enjoy!

You can read the full interview here.

Just Because You’re Mine | Sally Lloyd-Jones

Of all the books I’ve bought just because they have Sally Lloyd-Jones‘ name on them, this one has grown on me slowest. But when I say “slowest,” I don’t mean that I ever didn’t like it. I have loved this book since we bought it years ago. But I didn’t immediately draft a review of it or buy copies to give as gifts. What I did instead was read and re-read it to my daughters and love it with them.

Just Because You're Mine, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

Just Because You’re Mine is a quiet story featuring Little Red Squirrel and his father. As he explores the woods with his dad, Little Red Squirrel asks his dad why he loves his son so much.

“Is it because of my Super-Fast Running?” Little Red Squirrel asks. “Because of my High Climbing?”

The story follows this rhythm of question-and-answer, building gently as his father answers each question with: “You can climb high (and so on), but that’s not why I love you.”

Just Because You're Mine, by Sally Lloyd-Jones | Little Book, Big Story

By the end, when his father tells Little Red Squirrel why, precisely, he does love his son, the moment is deeply satisfying, as though the only response to his answer is, “Oh, of course.” It feels like the story couldn’t end any other way.

Just Because You’re Mine is a beautiful picture book, filled with Lloyd-Jones’ musical language and the warm and welcoming illustrations of Frank Endersby. This is a book not only for children, but for families: the story of Little Red Squirrel draws our eyes upward toward our own Father, who loves us not because of our Super-Great Housekeeping or our Extra-Strong Service, but just because we’re his.


Just Because You’re Mine
Sally Lloyd-Jones; Frank Endersby (2011)

Dangerous Journey | Oliver Hunkin

I love it when I’m wrong about books.

Years ago, a friend showed me this one and I considered how excellent a children’s rendition of A Pilgrim’s Progress would be. I read a few sample pages and loved the tone of the story. But the illustrations—they were so intense. So many pointy teeth and warty giants! Egad. I thought that maybe some day my daughters might appreciate it—maybe. But at that point, we were still having nightmares about VeggieTales, so that day seemed a long way off.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, some wise educator included Dangerous Journey in our history curriculum, so we gave it a read, even though I was still pretty sure at least one of the girls was way too small for it and another would listen to the story while giving every bodily clue that she hated it.

But I was wrong: Dangerous Journey became our favorite read aloud, the one that got applause when the girls saw it in the stack. “It’s Dangerous Journey day!” became something they said with the same enthusiasm they show for the ice cream truck in the summer. (Note: I am not exaggerating for effect.)

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

I’m so glad I was wrong about that, because reacquainting the girls with the story of Pilgrim’s Progress (we read Little Pilgrim’s Progress a few years ago) gave us a beautiful shared analogy for the Christian life that we’ve come back to often since our Dangerous Journey days ended. When someone descends into the depth of a terrible mood, I can draw them back gently with, “Remember when Christian left the path? Do you remember where he ended?” Or we can spur each other on in good works by remembering the Celestial City. Through Dangerous Journey, Pilgrim’s Progress has become part of our family’s shared language.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story


a quick comparison

For a moment, though, let’s consider what makes this version different from Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Dangerous Journey is told in picture book format (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is a chapter book), but even so, it’s language is a little more advanced. In it, Christian is an adult (he is a child in Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a perspective that obviously has its own benefits). Dangerous Journey’s illustrations are dark and a bit dated, but something about them really did connect with my girls (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is minimally illustrated), and I think the visuals helped them understand better what was happening in the story.

Both books are excellent, and both have found deserving spaces on our shelves, though they each approach the story of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City differently. And neither gave our girls nightmares. That’s a definite plus.


Thank you all!

Thank you so much to all of you who entered the Slugs & Bugs giveaway, and congrats to Emily and Jen, our winners! Since I can’t send you all home with an album, I’ll do the next best thing and play you out with a song. Here is the video for the song “The Ten Commandments.” Enjoy!


Dangerous Journey
Oliver Hunkin (1985)

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?

Slugs and Bugs Giveaway

Last week, I raved about the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible, Vol. 3. This week, I get to give two copies of it to two of you! What do you need to do to win one of these beauties? I’m so glad you asked.

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

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, May 29. After that, two winners will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

Audrey Bunny | Angie Smith

Five years ago, when I started this blog, Phoebe was a tiny person still riding in my belly. I knew of a handful of beautiful children’s books, and I wanted others to know about them. (And my friends were most likely tired of hearing about them.)

Back then, looking for good books felt like mining for gold. I’d dig and dig and dig—at the library, on book blogs, or on Amazon—and every now and then I’d strike a shimming vein: a new author, a new blog, or an excellent publisher. I’d find a handful of new favorites to share, and then I’d go back to digging. There were stretches where I felt dangerously close to running out of books to review, because it wasn’t easy to find great books for kids that were beautiful, well-made, and rich in the gospel.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

But now, there are times when it feels as though I’m standing beneath a faucet turned on full. So many good books have come out in the last few years—great books on church history, Bible stories that link a single story to the Big Story of Scripture, books that tell that Big Story from start to finish, biographies of believers from different ages and backgrounds. My blog schedule is typically filled for 2-3 months. It’s glorious.

But there is one category that I’m hungry for, one that still makes me feel like a miner striking it rich when I find one: beautifully written stories that aren’t about the gospel but that are saturated with it. These are stories that are rich in grace and goodness, that are written by authors with a Christian worldview, but that may not be specifically Christian in theme.

Audrey Bunny is one of these.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Audrey is a stuffed bunny who lived in the barrel at the toy store until the day a young girl came and claimed her. But Audrey has a defect, and she dreads the day the little girl discovers it. But when that day comes, the girl doesn’t respond at all the way Audrey feared she would. This is a book about God’s grace and love, but it doesn’t say so in the story. We simply see what that loves looks like as we watch this little girl love her bunny, imperfections and all.

Angie Smith and Breezy Brookshire also worked together on one of my favorite books, For Such a Time as This. In both books, the words and the illustrations are gorgeous. In the back of Audrey Bunny, there is a guide for parent discussion, so we have the means to link the story to a deeper discussion on God’s unconditional love, but as we read, we’re free to enjoy the story itself without feeling tugged toward a neat moral at the end.

Audrey Bunny, by Angie Smith | Little Book, Big Story

And I appreciate this freedom. There is certainly a place for stories that do link, within the story itself, to the deeper truths of Scripture and that clearly explain  that connection. But I also value these stories that allow for open-ended discussions with kids or that simply make for beautiful reading—books that store away, in our children’s memories, one image of the kind of love God has for us.


coming soon!

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

I have brand new copies of Slugs & Bugs Sing the Bible Vol. 3 for you! Huzzah! I’ll publish details on how to enter the giveaway next week, so prepare yourself.


One last note (I promise)

Today, the toddler I read those beautiful books to turns ten.

I couldn’t find a recent picture of her (a situation I’ll remedy later by photographing her having an epic birthday adventure), but this photo, taken on the day we spent hours in the rain, throwing rocks into the bay, will do nicely. She counts that rainy afternoon among her favorite memories, and I remember why: the satisfying plunk of stones hitting the water, the promise of hot chocolate after, the birds diving for snacks as we watched them.

Rainy Day | Little Book, Big Story

It’s one of my favorite memories, too.


Audrey Bunny
Angie Smith; Breezy Brookshire (2013)