Tag: classic (page 1 of 7)

Emily of Deep Valley

Firstly: you may have noticed the blog looking spiffier, perhaps? For some reason, the week after Christmas consistently inspires me to give this site a makeover. It always seems so fun at first, like a project I’ll start and finish between rounds of Nertz with my girls, but then I end up deep in the weeds, reformatting the titles for every single post I’ve written over the past almost-decade, and I invariably think to myself, around page 67 of 96, I’ve made a huge mistake.

But when I’m done, I’m always glad I did it: with every redesign of this site, I try to make it tidier, easier for you to use, and (of course) prettier. This time, I’ve actually resurrected and updated an old design—one whose simplicity and clean white margins made it one of my favorites. If you find any broken links or if there was something from the previous design you miss, please let me know! You are ultimately the reason I tinker with this site at all—I want it to be a pleasure to comb through as you look for good books. So please do reach out in the comments or via email and let me if there’s anything I can do to make it so.

And now . . . today’s book! A beauty!

When I finally picked up Mitali Perkins’s lauded Steeped in Stories, I was delighted to find that six of the seven children’s books she lists as her favorites were my favorites, too. But best of all, the seventh—Emily of Deep Valley—was a book so brand new to me that I’d never even heard of it. I’d read the first few Betsy-Tacy books when my girls were very small, but apart from that, I knew nothing about Maud Hart Lovelace’s work. And I’d certainly never read Emily of Deep Valley.

That, my friends, has been remedied—and swiftly!

Perhaps it’s too simplistic to refer to Maud Hart Lovelace as a “Minnesotan L.M. Montgomery,” but that’s the most concise way I can think of to send all you Anne of Green Gables fans out in search of this book immediately. I’ll start there: if you love L.M. Montgomery’s books, look up Maud Hart Lovelace post haste!

Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace | Little Book, Big Story

She’s best known for her Betsy-Tacy books, but what I didn’t realize is that the Betsy-Tacy series, much like Montgomery’s Anne series, follows its characters into adulthood. Emily of Deep Valley is the stand-alone story of Emily Webster, a girl just graduating high school a few years after Betsy and Tacy. She feels on the outside of her friends, who are all heading off to college while Emily stays home to care for her grandfather.

This is a story rich in themes of sacrifice and love, one that challenges readers to stop looking over the fence at the next green field and start cultivating the soil they’re standing in. Emily keenly feels the boundaries placed about her, and yet she learns to flourish there—ultimately getting to know and care for a community of Syrian refugees that many in her town have overlooked.

Emily of Deep Valley is a sweet story, yes, but its roots go deep: Lovelace asks meaningful questions about race and relationships (Emily’s first love interest is most emphatically Not a Keeper) and true friendship. And it’s one that will send readers—in our house, at least—into the rest of Lovelace’s books, eager to read them all.

Emily of Deep Valley
Maud Hart Lovelace (1950)

A Christmas Carol

I always feel awkward when I review a book I’m pretty sure you’ve already read. Each time I do it I wonder: why spend time reviewing The Chronicles of Narnia or Anne of Green Gables when you likely read both as a child? This is when my goal for this blog and the work needed to carry it out seem to be at odds with each other. Because my hope is that this blog will be a wealth of book resources—one you can rummage through at your leisure and in which you will find piles of books full of grace and truth. And what pile of grace-and-truth-filled books would be complete without A Wrinkle in Time, for example, or A Christmas Carol?

This tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s thawing heart is a classic of classics, the granddaddy of Christmas literature. It doesn’t tell the Christmas story—as I recall, it doesn’t mention Jesus at all—but A Christmas Carol illustrates beautifully the effect of grace and goodness on a hard heart. But of course you already know that, because this story is such a part of our Christmas culture that the word “scrooge” has gathered its own meaning over the years. So what I’m here to do today, I suppose, is encourage you to read the full story (just in case you haven’t yet) and to read, specifically, this lavishly illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

This edition is part of Tyndale House’s “Engaging Visual Journey” series. I have already read, adored, and reviewed their edition of Hannah Hurnard’s allegory, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, which was enriched not only with gorgeous illustrations but also by the addition a biographical essay that invites readers to know Hurnard in her own, first-person words. A Christmas Carol: An Engaging Visual Journey benefits from a similar treatment. Rich with illustrations by three very different illustrators, this edition also features illustrations from earlier printings of the story, Victorian Christmas recipes for dishes like “Chestnut Sauce—for Fowl or Turkey,” a biography of Dickens, and a short anthology of other classic Christmas stories like O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I have seen books like this go wrong by trying to make a classic feel more “relatable” or “modern,” but this one does the opposite: every addition serves to place readers in Dickens’s time period rather than trying to translate his story into ours. And by including these beautifully layered illustrations and large-format pages, this edition simultaneously opens A Christmas Carol up to younger readers without abridging or modifying the text. And it invites those of us already familiar with the story to sit down with it one more time and meet Ebenezer Scrooge anew.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories: An Engaging Visual Journey
Charles Dickens; Jill De Haan, Millie Liu, Carlo Molinari (2021; orig. publ. 1843)

(New!) Little Pilgrim’s Progress

I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced such a profound sense of holding a classic, hot-of-the-press, as I did when I first opened this edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress. True, the text of this book is already a classic—based upon that granddaddy of classics, Pilgrim’s Progress—but this new edition illustrated by Joe Sutphin is one I can already imagine my grandchildren reading to their children. It is richly illustrated—delightfully so.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen Taylor & Joe Sutphin | Little Book, Big Story

Where Helen Taylor adapted Bunyan’s work so that the main characters were all children, making their way to the King’s Celestial City through perils and danger, Joe Sutphin depicts the characters as woodland animals. This is a brilliant move, as it adds warmth to the story without being cute, and it makes the characters accessible. He adds, too, some wordless illustrations at the beginning, middle, and end of the book that round the story out and give it more weight. (The opening illustrations affected me the way that montage at the beginning of Up does—I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry a little as we turned the pages.)

We are big fans of Sutphin’s art here at our house—from The Wingfeather Saga to Tumbleweed Thompson to A Year in the Big Old Garden, the books bearing his illustrations are a) some of our favorites, and b) richer because of his involvement. His characters are expressive, and his illustrations don’t do our imaginative work for us but they add to the text in ways that help us imagine the stories’ worlds better.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen Taylor & Joe Sutphin | Little Book, Big Story

When many new adaptations of older works are often colored, to their detriment, by our modern sensibilities, this edition of Little Pilgrim’s Progress retains the spirit of Taylor’s original work (which in turn retains the spirit of Bunyan’s original work). Through Joe Sutphin’s illustrations it also invites readers—especially younger readers—into the story in a new way.

Little Pilgrim’s Progress
Helen L. Taylor; Joe Sutphin (2021)

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm

That first week of September, I dropped all four of my children off at school and drove home in an empty minivan. Ordinarily, an empty minivan is a treat: a chance to put on a podcast or some music I want to listen to, or to stop for coffee and not share with anyone. But that day, I paused at a four-way stop and thought, Oh. This is normal now. This is every school morning. I didn’t put on a podcast.

What I did was spend that morning at the beach. I spread a picnic blanket on a boulder right at the water’s edge, set out my notebook, Bible, and cup of coffee, and spent the whole morning watching the water, the clouds, the sea birds. Since my eldest daughter was born, thirteen years ago, I’ve always had a small daughter with me during the day. We homeschooled for a time, and they were all there, all the time; during quarantine, we were all together, all the time. And now, during the school days, I am on my own.

I figured I’d be ambivalent about this—both very sad and also, as a staunch introvert who has never minded spending time alone, very excited. And as I sat on that boulder until my coffee was gone, reading and watching the gulls, I felt both of those things: a deep sense of grief over the season behind us (oh, but it was sweet), and a thrumming excitement for the one before us.

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice & Martin Provensen | Little Book, Big Story

That afternoon, I picked up all four girls from school—the littlest looking disheveled, as only a brand-new kindergartner can—and back at home we ate blackberry almond muffins as they told me everything. All at once. They got a day’s worth of conversation into a slim forty-five minutes, and I soaked it all in. The eighth grader had homework (“Already!” she groaned); the fifth grader, also an introvert, had quiet things to tend to in her room. But I grabbed the littlest girls and Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, and the three of us squeezed into the hammock in the backyard for a good, long read-aloud.

Let me tell you: if you need to build a happy memory with your kids, I’m not sure you can do better than Our Animal Friends. It has everything! Copious illustrations of animals—all shapes and kinds—with their personalities distilled brilliantly into a few short words; humor (“Willow is not interested in umbrella plants”); and even, by the end, a moment of poignant sadness for “the animals that were.” Alice and Martin Provensen have created a book that is hospitable, and through it, they welcomed us into Maple Hill Farm and gave us a connection to the lives lived there. Their illustrations are warm and fun and so . . . pleasant is the word I want, I think. There is something comfortable about them.

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice & Martin Provensen | Little Book, Big Story

Later I found each of the older girls curled up with this book in turn. They are now in the season of algebra and orthodontia, but their reviews were glowing, which gives me hope: even as the currents of our days begin to distinguish themselves into separate threads, we can still share this. We can still laugh at the antics of Big Shot the Rooster and admire Willow’s placid beauty. This picture book reminds us that haven’t outgrown picture books yet.

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm
Alice and Martin Provensen (1974)

Great Expectations

“I couldn’t put it down.”

“You won’t be able to put it down.”

“It’s unputdownable!”

I recently read our local bookstore’s monthly magazine, and the reviews were littered with phrases like this. This seems to be the highest praise we can give a book now: it was so good it made you forget you were reading!

But I want to take a moment and consider the books that are so good we have to put them down. I don’t mean books we put down and lose interest in. No. I mean books so beautiful we must linger over them, savor them, pause from time to time to reflect on a beautiful passage or perhaps write it down somewhere. These are the books we read more and more slowly toward the end, because we do not want to finish the last page and be left outside the world of the story. We do not want these books to end.

These “putdownable” books do not end each chapter with a cliffhanger or punch you in the face with a plot twist; they draw you firmly in, because the author trusts you to keep reading without his hand at the back of your neck, insisting that you turn the page.

Great Expectations is one of these books.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I am—let’s say this first—a huge fan of Dickens. I could go on at length (and have, in many odd contexts) about how much I love every book I’ve ever read by Charles Dickens, especially some of his less popular books like Bleak House and Little Dorrit. In reviewing only one book here, I am practicing great deal of self-restraint.

But Great Expectations is a great place for those new to Dickens to begin (it is where my eldest daughter began), not least because it is well under the 1,000-page threshold. And the Radio Read Along version—with its full reading of the book and the discussions sprinkled throughout—is a fabulous way to read Great Expectations for the first time.

The story is gripping, the characters unforgettable—and I am not wielding cliche here. If you remember one thing, decades later, about this book, it’ll be Miss Havisham. Pip is (like so many Dickensian protagonists) an orphan, raised by his ungentle sister and her gentle and wonderful husband, Joe. When he is presented with a strange opportunity to “come play” at the mansion of the reclusive, mysterious Miss Havisham, his fortunes turn irrevocably from the path that once led to a future spent working as Joe’s apprentice blacksmith. But is that turn a good thing? Or, what’s so great about Pip’s great expectations?

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

And so I offer this praise of Dickens’s classic work: you will be able to put it down. You’ll want to. You’ll want to read that description of Joe scuttling Pip behind the door to the person nearest you, whether you know them or not. You’ll want to read back over that scene between Mr. Wemmick and Miss Skiffins because it’s too delightful to read just once. You’ll want to soak in that first description of Miss Havisham’s place with equal parts horror and wonder. And when you encounter moments of abundant, undeserved grace in this story, you’ll need days to mull them over.

This, friends, is a thoroughly put-downable book. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Also worth noting: James Witmer, author of A Year in the Big, Old Garden, just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a companion book about the big, old garden! You can learn more about his campaign here.

Great Expectations
Charles Dickens (1861)