Tag: classic (page 1 of 4)

Little Pilgrim’s Progress | Helen L. Taylor

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The idea of abridging or adapting classics for young readers used to make me squeamish. But when I began collecting books for our school library, I started to see the sense in it: if done well, an adaptation can capture a story in language so simple that the characters and plot twists of classic literature become visible without the obscuring mist of political asides and ornate descriptions.

A good adaptation whets the reader’s appetite for the classics. It renders David Copperfield, Edmond Dantès, and Elizabeth Bennett old friends, ready to be rediscovered at a new depth when the time is right.

A bad adaptation, of course, is still unpardonable.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Little Pilgrim’s Progress is definitely a good adaptation. Since it was first published in 1982, it has become a sort of classic in its own right: in it, Helen L. Taylor retells John Bunyan’s allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, in language clear enough for young readers. But she goes one step further and depicts the main characters as children, so that Christian and Christiana are not husband and wife but childhood friends. Had I known that she had taken that liberty, I might have overlooked the book entirely, thinking that Taylor had gone too far. But I didn’t know, and so I read the book without bias.

I am so glad I did.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Decreasing the stature of Christian and his acquaintances does more than make Pilgrim’s Progress feel accessible to children. By telling the story of characters who press on to meet their King face-to-face, no matter how young they are, Taylor makes the Christian faith itself feel more accessible to children. In her adaptation, Christian accepts help when offered and cries out for help from the King when he needs it, but he fights his own battles and answers for his own missteps. He doesn’t reach the Celestial City on the shoulders of an adult but on his own two feet.

Mitch has been reading this book to our older three daughters (with a sippy cup of milk and her stuffed lamb, Sir Lamb-a-Lot, even the two-year-old is willing to sit still long enough to listen), and I have loved eavesdropping on the story while I put the baby to bed. Without an adaptation, it would have been years before they were ready to read John Bunyan’s original work. And while I do still look forward to reading Pilgrim’s Progress to them when they’re older, I am thankful for a good adaption that opens the doors to the story for our daughters and makes Christian and Christiana already feel like old friends.


Little Pilgrim’s Progress
Helen L. Taylor, John Bunyan (1982)

Little Women | Louisa May Alcott

In that last month of pregnancy, strangers asked me the same questions on repeat: When was I due? How was I feeling? Did I know what I was having? I didn’t mind this. What I did mind was the track that conversation sometimes veered onto after I answered that last question with, “A girl!” Sometimes, people gave answers that warmed my overworked heart: “Oh, four girls! How sweet!” or “I’m one of four sisters! It is so much fun.” But sometimes the answers were less heart-warming:

“Just wait until they’re teenagers.”

“Oh well—keep trying for that boy!”

“Your poor husband!”

A much smaller, fully rested me would laugh those comments off. But at nine months pregnant, there were hormones involved; I couldn’t even pretend that the comments were funny. I knew we were excited about life with four daughters and that we weren’t “trying for a boy,” but I was too tired to explain that again and again to strangers in the bulk food aisle.

Little Women | Little Book, Big Story

So I came up with a parry that redirected that conversation into safer, more joyful, more literary waters. Here’s how it worked:

Well-meaning stranger in the check-out line: “Do you know what you’re having?”

Me: “A girl!”

Stranger peers over my shoulder, obviously counting the daughters trailing behind me like ducklings, and raises her eyebrows. But before she can comment, I finish, ” . . . and we’re reading Little Women to celebrate!”

Her eyebrows drop and the stranger smiles. “I loved that book when I was a little girl!” And just like that, we’ve left off discussing monthly cycles and man caves, and started discussing, instead, our favorite March sisters.

Little Women | Little Book, Big Story

Set during the Civil War, the story of the March family recounts the adventures of four sisters—sweet Meg, unconventional Jo, gentle Beth, and precocious Amy—as they help their mother hold down the fort while their father is away fighting in the Union army. The Marches are one of the literary families who seem to belong to the reader: their home began to feel like home as we read, their struggles began to feel like our struggles.  This book is filled with so many memorable scenes that it was a joy to watch them weave into the shared memories of our own family.

I wasn’t sure if Little Women was too far about the heads of my 5 and 7-year-old, but they were warmly wrapped up in the story after the first few chapters. They each called out their favorite sisters and laughed aloud over the antics of Jo or Beth’s kittens. We read only the first part of the book (we’ll save the second, with its weddings—and funerals—for when they’re older), but already Little Women is a favorite in our home—not least because we now have our very own Josephine:

Josephine | Little Book, Big Story


Little Women
Louisa May Alcott (1868)

A Child’s Garden of Verses | Robert Louis Stevenson

This week’s summer rerun originally published on April 26, 2013 (my 30th birthday!).


I didn’t sit down and think, “A ha! I have it—the perfect edifying exercise!” It happened on its own one day at lunch, when I picked up A Child’s Garden of Verses and began reading poetry to the girls as they finished their quesadillas.

What happened next surprised me. They asked for another poem, and then another. And the next day at lunch, they wanted me to read to them again. And so it began: we assembled a small library of dinner-table books and began thumbing through one or two of them at each meal.

Mary Oliver. A.A. Milne. Billy Collins. Shel Silverstein. Valerie Worth. Some were written for adults, some for kids, but all of them are lovely, hilarious, sustaining poetry.

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t do this at every meal, or even every day, but when I do grab a book from the shelf, four little eyes light up as the girls wait to see which poem I’ll choose. And when it’s from A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of their very favorites, they often put their forks down and listen closely.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems have a peace to them and feel for all the world as though you’re sprawled in the grass of a Scottish lawn as you listen. He had a sharp memory for the joys of childhood and a knack for choosing the perfect words to describe it. Poems like “Keepsake Mill” move me, while the girls can’t get enough of “The Cow,” “The Lamplighter,” or “My Bed is Like a Boat.” I mean, the man wrote half a dozen poems about bedtime, and every one of them is enchanting!

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing that could improve it, really, are Joanna Isles’s illustrations. Detailed and gorgeous, they show children doing what children do best: playing, inventing, imagining, creating little worlds within their games.

There are a number of editions of this book available, all with different illustrators, but we are all so smitten with Isles’s interpretations that I firmly encourage you, if possible, to track down her edition. We found our copy at Goodwill, and my oldest daughter spent the next day tracking a small orange cat through every single picture in the book. That’s still a great game for us, one that my youngest now loves as well: “Where is the cat in this poem? Can you find him?”

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

A Child’s Garden of Verses is classic children’s poetry at its best, a charming book that would fit right into any library. (Plus, it’s perfect for reading together over peanut-butter sandwiches.)


A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, Joanna Isles (1885, repub. 1995)

The Giving Tree | Shel Silverstein

Once, a friend sat on the couch with Lydia, reading The Tale of Benjamin Bunny. Like many of Beatrix Potter’s books, Benjamin Bunny is a meandering story, so while he read and Lydia listened, I went back to making dinner and chatting with his wife. But then, something from the next room caught my ear: it was Lydia, saying, “If my mom was reading this, she would be crying right now.”

I stopped, mid-chop, and burst out laughing. She is mostly correct: I have never cried during Benjamin Bunny, but I do cry, freely and unattractively, during most of the books that we read. Our daughters have learned to wait patiently until I’m ready to go on (this can take a while in books like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or The Railway Children), even patting my arm in a comforting way or asking, “Are these happy tears? Or sad ones?”

The Giving Tree | Little Book, Big Story

Usually a book elicits one response or the other. But occasionally, we read a story that hits the space right between happy and sad and draws enough of each emotion into my tears that I don’t know how to answer that question. I’m happy because the story is beautiful and because something about it rings true, but I am sad because there’s a bitterness to its truth. It feels like the coming of fall.

The Giving Tree is one of those books. You’ve almost certainly read it or had it read to you as a child; maybe you’ve tried to keep your own voice from trembling as you read it aloud to your children. The Giving Tree is a beautiful story of sacrificial love, one that demonstrates for us what it looks like to give until you have nothing left to give—and then to give away even that nothing.

The Giving Tree | Little Book, Big Story

I had read this book as a child; I had enjoyed it as a child. But rediscovering it as a parent was like peeling back a fresh layer of an onion: the story was sharper than I remembered, sweeter, and, yes, it made my eyes water.


The Giving Tree
Shel Silverstein (1964)

Half Magic | Edward Eager

Four children find a coin that grants wishes, but it only grants wishes by halves. Adventure and hilarity ensue.

The plot of Half Magic might strike you, as it did me, as the sort of thing that E. Nesbit might write, and that is no accident. In the book’s opening chapter, Edward Eager gives E. Nesbit’s books a cheerful salute, then goes on to tell a story that borrows from the best parts of her work while introducing its own original charm.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Eager’s characters are as warm, quirky, and fallible as Nesbit’s Bastable or railway children, but they feel less like carbon copies than like well-crafted, energetic homages to her characters. The narrator’s voice and the enchanting plot also tip their hats toward Nesbit, and upon finishing the book, I found myself with two very compatible desires: I wanted to read more Nesbit, and I wanted more Eager as well.

I love all of that about Half Magic. But the best part is this: while reading Half Magic, I found it hard to get through more than a few pages at a time because I could not stop laughing out loud. The last book to affect me this way was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (also affectionately mentioned in Half Magic), but Eager’s book featured more comedy in a shorter span of time, so I was left holding my breath through certain passages, in the hope that I might make it just a little further before my eyes watered so much as to make the text illegible. Then I collapsed, caught my breath, and began again.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

I do not want to wait to share this book with my family. But I will. I’ll save it for a few years: I think the girls will laugh a little harder at the jokes then, but the wait may kill me. We’ll see.


Half Magic
Edward Eager (1954)

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Roger Lancelyn Green

Our two oldest daughters do not like movies. The call, “Let’s watch a movie!” is enough to make one of them flee, no matter how much popcorn we throw in to sweeten the deal. The other maintains an interested distance, watching wide-eyed from the doorway as we settle onto the couch.

I understand this. I, too, prefer the slower, less stimulating pace of a good book to the exhausting speed of cinema, and for a variety of reasons. But their father would like to watch Star Wars with them one day, and he’d like to do it without one of them buried in his armpit, trembling, while the other one cowers in the next room. And so we began a campaign. We call it “The Get the Girls to Like Movies Campaign.”

Our strategy is simple: Watch a movie or two a month until we find one that they actually like. Find more movies like that one. And so on.

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

We struck out a few times (having forgotten how terrifying Pixar movies can be), but this month, at last, we succeeded! We won them over with a movie  pulled from the murky depths of our own childhoods—one whose success with our daughters surprised even us: Disney’s 1973 movie, Robin Hood. We hoped they would at least tolerate it, but a few minutes into the film it became apparent that they had already moved to a deeper level of affection: they loved it.

They now both answer to Maid Marian, have both announced their intentions to have Robin Hood-themed birthday parties and have taken a renewed interest in the bows they received for Christmas. When I told them that Robin Hood is also a book—and not only that, but a book that we have right here in our house—they looked at me like I had just announced that we shall, henceforth, eat only ice cream for breakfast.

Maid Marian in Training | Little Book, Big Story

Obviously, we started reading the book together.

Have you read The Adventures of Robin Hood? I had. And I have to admit, I had read it since starting this blog and decided, on the first read through, not to include it here. I so badly wanted the book to end after Chapter 21 (“King Richard came back and they got married! The End”), but the story goes on for two more heartbreaking chapters while everything that I loved about the book until that point slowly bled out of the story by the last page.

Maid Marian in Training | Little Book, Big Story

After reading through it again, though, I loved those first twenty-one chapters so much that I decided to include it here with a simple warning: if you do not want to end the story with a deflated whump, stop at the end of Chapter 21. It pains me a little to recommend that, because I am usually the sort to read not only the entire book, whether I liked it or not—I have been won over by many books with slow openings that way—but also the acknowledgements, notes, and author interview at the back (if available). I am thorough and a little obsessive about this.

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

But enough about that. Now I will tell you why I love (the first twenty-one chapters of) The Adventures of Robin Hood:

Robin Hood. Robin gives up everything he has—lands, title, marriage, wealth—in order to fight for his absent king and care for his down-trodden neighbors, but he is not self-righteous or obnoxiously perfect. He is likable, bold, and gentleman enough to laugh when fairly beaten. (I like that in a hero.)

Maid Marian. You may remember her as the good-natured, long-lashed fox from the cartoon, but that, my friends, is just one paltry interpretation of her character. In Green’s book, she is “tall and beautiful, but strong and fearless also, a very fitting wife for such a man [as Robin].” This lovely lady is an expert archer and wields a sword with as much mastery as Robin himself, but she is also a gracious hostess, virtuous maiden, and loving but strong-willed daughter. I adore pretty much everything about her and prefer her, hands down, to King Arthur‘s Guinevere any day.

The Adventures! The whole notion of living in the nooks and crannies of Sherwood Forest while fighting for the sake of the rightful king is deeply appealing to me as well as to my daughters. How we love reading about Little John, Friar Tuck, the despicable Prince John! How we long for those moments when Robin Hood throws off his disguise and saves the day!

These stories have been told again and again by poets, authors and filmmakers, but I do love the elegance and excitement that Roger Lancelyn Green weaves into his version. As I said earlier, this book is not perfect—ending aside, it is a little uneven in places—but Green captures the energy and humor of the stories in a beautiful way, and while the language is fairly advanced, I have been surprised at how much both of our girls, at six and four, pick up and enjoy from each story. (I have taken to retelling Robin’s adventures as bedtime stories, though, just to be sure.)


The Adventures of Robin Hood
Roger Lancelyn Green (1956)

Of all the books I read in 2014, I liked these 10 the best

Phoebe was a few hours old when the nurse came by on her rounds and found me feeding the baby with a book propped up on my meal tray. She stopped and said, taken aback, “Are you . . . reading? While you nurse?” I don’t think she realized that Phoebe was our third baby—not right then, at least. And she couldn’t have known that our second child never learned the ASL sign for “milk” but instead took to bringing me a book when she was hungry.

Literary Highlights 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

So, maybe it was the nursing baby, or the school library, or the copious amounts of preparation I’ve put into learning to copy edit and teach art to kids this year, but I read a lot of books in 2014—so many, in fact, that for the first time ever I took to keeping a list of the ones I finished.

Reading List | Little Book, Big Story

I read so-so books, and I read too-painful-to-finish books. I read books whose appeal I did not understand (Brideshead Revisited, this means you). But I also read books that took me outside myself—books that shook up my thoughts like so much confetti. I read books that weren’t satisfied with being read silently, but that compelled me to nudge my husband and say, “Listen to this.” Books that made me gasp aloud, or laugh belly laughs in an empty room.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite children’s books from the past year have, of course, been appearing all along on this blog. But I thought I’d share some of my other finds with you, as a way of bidding farewell to 2014, bookworm-style.

Best of 2014 | Little Book, Big Story

Anne of Green Gables (the series)by L.M. Montgomery

I find myself wishing that I hadn’t read the Anne of Green Gables books yet, so I could read them again for the first time. Instead, I look longingly at the shelf that houses them and wonder, every few months, if it is still too soon to reread them. (Read my full review here.)

On Writing Wellby William Zinsser

On Writing Well | Little Book, Big Story

This book has, quite possibly, displaced Bird by Bird as my favorite book on writing. Zinsser says things like, “Few people realize how badly they write” and “Clutter is the disease of American writing,” but he says it in the sort of tone that makes you want to laugh at yourself, pick up a red pen, and start slashing passages from your essays without remorse. (Side note: I think all bloggers everywhere should read this book.)

North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell

Don’t let the sappy cover fool you: there is grit in this story, and politics. Elizabeth Gaskell is one of my new favorite authors, as she can turn a love story into something bigger than itself without manipulating her characters to suit her story’s needs (I went on at length about this on the Deeply Rooted blog).

In a rare turn of events, I saw the mini-series adaptation before I read this book and loved both of them in their own right. (Have you seen it? You should. You’ll never look at Thorin Oakenshield the same way again.)

Slouching Towards Bethlehemby Joan Didion

Slouching Toward Bethlehem | Little Book, Big Story

In a college course on creative nonfiction, we dissected this book. We pulled apart sentences, turned verbs this way and that, and examined each well-placed comma. We studied Didion’s essays so thoroughly that by the end of the quarter I hated them and didn’t pick up this book for a full decade after graduation.

But at William Zinsser’s request (see above), I skimmed the opening paragraph of  one essay and hardly glanced up until I had finished the book. Didion is a master of nonfiction, as it turns out. My professor wasn’t just making that up.

 A Loving Lifeby Paul Miller

A Loving Life | Little Book, Big Story

This skinny study of the book of Ruth was one of the few books of Christian nonfiction that I read this past year (how did that happen?). But it is by the author of one of my all-time favorite books, A Praying Life, and so I dove into it happily and was not disappointed: Miller’s writing is open, vulnerable and engaging, and the insights he offers into his own life with a severely autistic daughter give him a humbling perspective on the subject of loving those who may or may not love us back.

The Once and Future Kingby T.H. White

The Once and Future King | Little Book, Big Story

This book features one of my favorite jousting scenes ever. There’s not a lot of competition in that category, actually, but those of you who have read The Once and Future King are nodding to yourselves right now and chuckling, because you know which scene I’m talking about. Also, White’s interpretation of Merlyn is clearly the granddaddy of Albus Dumbledore (I am not making this up), so you have to love the story just for that.

Money, Possessions and Eternity, by Randy Alcorn

Money, Possessions and Eternity | Little Book, Big Story

Despite the clumsy title and the fact that this book looks like a college textbook (which it is), Alcorn is such a lively author that he makes passages on inheritance, insurance, and investment read well—so well that I found myself drawing this book out like I do with the best sort of fiction, not wanting it to end.

For a lady who was in the habit of doing battle with our budget every three months or so, this book was a blessing and it’s one I’ll revisit regularly. To say that it shaped the way I view money and possessions would be, perhaps, an understatement. To say that it shaped the way I view eternity would be closer to the truth.

Pantone: The 20th Century in Colorby Leatrice Eiseman & Keith Recker

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I got all kinds of nerdy about it. The authors move through the whole century decade by decade using color palettes to note each trend. It’s history, art, social commentary and more—all in one huge and beautiful book!

Pantone: The 20th Century in Color | Little Book, Big Story

Women of the Wordby Jen Wilkin

There are Bible teachers who crush the grandeur and grief of a story like Noah’s into a dry, tasteless pulp, and then there are teachers who see the grandeur and grief and go deeper, drawing another layer of significance from the overlooked details of the story—the meaning of a name, for example, or the measurements of a room. Jen Wilkin is one of the latter.

I know this because I have followed her for years, by podcast and by blog, so I was quick to pre-order her book and dive into it the minute that brown paper package hit my front porch. As it turns out, she is not only an engaging speaker but a skilled writer, and she makes a well-reasoned case for why we ladies should not be satisfied with knowing the Bible secondhand but should know it well ourselves. I hope that this is the first of many books for Jen Wilkin (though I’m not sure how patiently I can wait for the next one).

The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexadre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps including this book is a little premature, as I am still reading it—but just barely. I’m mere hours from finishing the book and am reading it with the endorsement of a number of friends and loved ones (my husband foremost among them) who love this book and know me and assure me that I will also love this book.

And besides, I am enjoying the process of reading this ginormous but wholly absorbing, emotionally wrenching, masterfully woven tale of revenge and redemption, so even if it all falls apart at the end, I think I would still include it on this list just because the experience of reading it was so delightful. But all signs point to “It doesn’t fall apart at the end.” (Update: it doesn’t fall apart at the end!)