Tag: classic (page 1 of 4)

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)

Little Pilgrim’s Progress | Helen L. Taylor

Fun Fact: I am now on Instagram. If you’re on Instagram too, I’d love to connect with you! (@thearosenburg)


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)