Tag: elementary (page 1 of 3)

Maybe God is Like That, Too | Jennifer Grant

An unseen God can be hard to explain to children, but not, I think, because they find him hard to believe in. They are better at that than we are. When my daughters and I discuss him, I am the one who fumbles for words to describe him without a picture to point to and say, “There he is! That’s him.” Creation itself is one of the best teachers, and that is where I tend to point. We see God’s exuberance in flowers, whose geometric designs tempt us to think that they are carbon copies of one another, but they are not: each bud on each stem has its own personality—a fragment, in some way, of him.

Trees speak of his patience in low, quiet voices.

Spiders speak (in whispers that make us shiver) of his precision, his delight in making beautiful webs from eight-legged, unsettling beings.

Music sings of his joy.

Math (I remind my girls morning after morning) demonstrates his steadfastness, his consistency: the way 7 x 7 will always be 49, he will always be good. He will always love them.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

In Maybe God is Like That, Too, Jennifer Grant narrows the scope from all of creation to us, his people, and through a conversation between a young boy and his grandmother, illustrates the way we can study God through the actions of others. At first, this sounds a bit pantheistic, as though God is in all things, but as the book goes on it becomes clear that Gal. 5:22-23—the fruit of the Spirit—is guiding their discussion. When the young boy asks his grandmother what God is like, she points him outward, toward the world around him, and says that when we see those things, we see God, too. We see, through the rest of his day, how watches for these things and finds examples of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control in the people around him.

Maybe God is Like That, Too, by Jennifer Grant (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That conversation is one reason we loved this book. But another reason we loved it was Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations: he gave this family of grandmother and grandson such personality through the way he depicted their apartment, their surroundings, their affection for each other. We have been talking lately about the different shapes families can take, and so it was neat to see this grandmother caring for her grandson in a way that wasn’t a part of the story itself, but a foundation for it. Her tenderness and sacrifice, regardless of the reason she is his guardian, sets the stage beautifully for their conversation on the fruit of the Spirit, for in raising him, she displays all of these things herself.


Speaking of Benjamin Schipper: if you recognize his style from Jennifer Trafton’s book Henry and the Chalk Dragon, there’s a very good chance you already know and love his work!


Maybe God is Like That, Too
Jennifer Grant, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

On That Easter Morning | Mary Joslin

“Christians are strange people,” our pastor announced on Sunday.

So true, I laughed. We really are.

“Christians gather to celebrate the death of their leader. We rejoice in it!”

We’re totally weird.

But that is the backward logic of the gospel: The path to freedom runs through sacrifice. The way to strength lies through weakness.

And the path of life begins with death. Jesus died so we could set foot on that path—he is our way in. But we also die as we walk that path, both spiritually (as God prunes from us our old desires, clearing space for new growth) and physically (the only way to resurrection is through death).

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

That is all backward, opposite what we want and what our broken world praises. We crave strength and success, and he calls for surrender. We demand rights and recognition, and he models humility. The Jewish people, anticipating the Messiah, longed for a King, a Leader who would drive the Romans out of Israel and restore the kingdom—but God sent a baby. A carpenter’s son, who grew into a man gentle and tender to those hurting, and fiery toward the prideful, the hypocrites.

This man was poised to claim his throne, wasn’t he? He rode into Jerusalem, fulfilling prophecies, welcomed by the praises of his people. Freedom was close; strength stood in their midst. When would he strike, some of his followers wondered. When would he claim what was his?

But instead, Christ was betrayed, arrested, tried and convicted. Crucified.

What devastation.

Yet that is what we celebrate today (that, and Josie’s second birthday—more on that later). We are a strange people. Jesus failed to take Jerusalem, failed to rescue his people from the Roman regime, failed to lead them boldly into a new, victorious era as free citizens.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But his goal was not only the salvation of the Israelites. He did not die and remain buried; he did not decay, dissolving back into the earth, leaving only stories behind. His aim was the salvation of all who come to him: Israelites and Gentiles, as well as the generations upon generations who have been born and died since that first century. His death was not unexpected. It was not an aberration in the plan. It was the plan.

He did not fail.

We—we strange Christians—observe Good Friday today. We celebrate the death of our King, and we remember our role in it—the sins that pinned him to the Cross, and the ways we have cried out against him, desiring his death rather than recognizing our own guilt.

On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

But on Sunday, we’ll wake early. We’ll open the oven and feast on Resurrection cookies; we will share new books (like today’s book, which I’ll mention soon, I promise). We will sing “Who Will Roll Away the Stone?” at home and at church, we will sing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” which such momentum, such volume, such joy.

But not today. Today we sing “Were You There?” We sing “What Have We Done?” We remember and we mourn.

We are strange people.


On That Easter Morning, by Mary Joslin (review) | Little Book, Big Story

On That Easter Morning is beautiful! The palette is all sunrise colors and delicate, transparent watercolors, with shimmering details. Mary Joslin’s text, drawn from different translations of the Bible and faithful to the story, is lovely. It is also (alas! I just realized this!) out of print, so a personal copy may be hard to come by. But our library carries it—perhaps yours does, too? Or maybe you’ll find it in thrift stores or on Thrift Books. If so, it is a beautiful book worth sharing early on Easter morning.


Also, Josie’s birthday! She’s two today, and chatty and quirky and hilarious. And we love her like crazy.

Family Photo | Little Book, Big Story

Our Good Friday is going to be all joy as we descend upon the children’s museum, eat biscuits and gravy and smoothies for dinner (her favorites) and cupcakes for dessert, and then go to the church after the party, all somber. It’s a day as eclectic and disjointed as this post.


On That Easter Morning
Mary Joslin; Helen Cann (2006)

The World Jesus Knew | Marc Olson

Years ago, a friend invited us to Passover seder, a cozy one hosted by friends of his. This was early in our marriage, before kids, and we squeezed into this small apartment with our friend and a half-dozen strangers. We passed plates and glasses of wine and lounged, ancient Israelite-style, around the table on cushions.

The couple hosting led us through the Haggadah, and while the Hebrew was a mystery to me, lovely and impenetrable, the symbolism of each dish on the seder plate wasn’t: one by one, the readings illuminated them, showed us both how they remembered the Exodus and how they anticipated the Messiah who would come and fulfill each prophecy. And, they explained, he had come. He had fulfilled them all.

I had one of those moments, in my corner around the table, as I dipped parsley in salted water and touched it to my tongue, when the window was open and the tree outside stirred in the darkness and I thought, The Jewish people have observed this for centuries, remembering the Exodus. They have waited this long for the Messiah. And I thought, too, The Last Supper looked like this. As we broke bread and served wine, communion changed irrevocably for me as I realized that Jesus wasn’t instituting something new as he passed the cup to his disciples, but fulfilling something ancient—a promise made centuries before.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

History became, in that moment, three-dimensional for me. I saw Jesus in this new context and understood that everything he did and said, the stories he told, carried particular meaning to the shepherds, priests, and prostitutes around him—meaning that is occasionally lost on me, given my unfamiliarity with sheep, mustard seeds, and the grape harvest. And yet: those words still carry enough fire to spark transformation in the heart of a new wife standing in a stairwell, watching friends open the door for the coming Elijah and rejoicing that he has already come.

This seems like a big lesson for kids to take in, but Marc Olson has written a book that takes some awfully long steps in that direction. The World Jesus Knew is a picture book filled with details about first century Jerusalem—what the Israelites and Romans wore, what they ate, how they interacted. A book like this could be dry or overwhelming, but this one isn’t: Jem Maybank’s illustrations arrange that information well, making it easy to follow and fun to explore, and Marc Olson describes these things with energy and wit.

The World Jesus Knew, by Marc Olson | Little Book, Big Story

I know I can’t fabricate those moments of realization for my kids, the ones that open history wide for them so they see that other people, other fascinating people, really lived in this world, though in very different ways than we do now. But I can do my best to give them opportunities to see it. Books like this help a great deal.


The World Jesus Knew
Marc Olson; Jem Maybank (2017)

Jeanne D’Albret | Rebekah Dan

Lately my reading has begun to branch off our school studies, as I find that a picture book about Martin Luther whets an appetite for his full story, which sparks an interest in the life of his wife, which sends me on a quest to learn everything I can about the Reformation.

I love that about history: we cannot reach the bottom of it.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

One of my favorite recent discoveries is the story of Jeanne D’Albret, Queen of Navarre. Rebekah Dan has worked hard to reclaim her story from near obscurity, for though D’Albret was a contemporary of John Calvin and some of the other Reformers, and though her role in furthering the Reformation in her kingdom was costly and critical, she is not so nearly well remembered. I am glad that Dan has written a book that draws her name back up to history’s surface.

As the princess of Navarre (and eventual queen) during the Reformation, Jeanne had a powerful impact on her region’s response to the changes the Reformation ignited within and against the church. Her commitment to the gospel and the cause of the Reformation cost her the peace of her once-happy marriage and repeatedly put her life in danger. But D’Albret remained steadfast to the Lord, despite threats and unpopularity, and though Navarre would eventually revert back to a Catholic state, her faithfulness gave the Reformation a foothold in her country that was not easily lost.

Jeanne D'Albret: Princess of the Reformation, by Rebekah Dan | Little Book, Big Story

Rebekah Dan tells this story in a way that appeals to young readers, introducing Jeanne as a determined child, then young woman who, when married against her will, had to be forcibly dragged down the aisle when she refused to walk (this marriage was later annulled, and when she married again, it was to a man she loved). Dan captures moments like this one in vibrant colored pencil illustrations.

The only caution I have with this book is that it describes the causes of the Reformation in a simplified way that I felt needed more discussion with my daughters. But even so, this book is a lovely introduction to a nearly-forgotten woman whose life and sacrifices helped further the gospel among the people of Navarre. It was a delight to read with my daughters—and it sent me on a quest to learn all I could about Jeanne D’Albret.


Jeanne D’Albret: Princess of the Reformation
Rebekah Dan (2017)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby | Amy Sullivan

“Brave is the new pretty,” I know. And there is a part of me that says, “Yes! Brave is great! We should raise brave daughters, not meek ones!” But there is more than one sort of bravery. Some bravery stems from the desire to help others, and some from a ferocious drive to define life and success for oneself. I think it is popularly used to mean that a person does what they think is right or what they believe will make them happy without regard for anyone else’s objections. They climb that mountain, they invent that machine, they face up to that injury—they don’t back down. They’re fearless.

But Scripture calls for a different sort of courage altogether. The results might look similar—Jesus, for one, did not seem particularly concerned with the Pharisees’ objections—but this courage is rooted in obedience and trust in the God who made that mountain, created the need for the machine, orchestrated the injury that refines us. It makes no sense, according to popular bravery, that Paul, imprisoned for refusing to back down, should rejoice rather than fight. Or that Mary should surrender her body and bear a Savior. Or that the women at the foot of the Cross should risk their lives simply to weep at Jesus’ feet as he died.

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby, by Amy L. Sullivan | Little Book, Big Story

Brave Christian women throughout history may look as though they didn’t care what others thought—Lilias Trotter entered the mission field though no organization would back her; Queen Jeanne D’Albret rode to war with her armies, though her own husband opposed her cause—but in truth they cared very much what one Person thought. That is why they labored so hard and risked so much—not to solve a problem or to prove themselves, but because they loved the One who set the task before them.

Fanny Crosby’s life is one of these stories. Though blind from a young age, Crosby flourished not in spite of her limitations, but because of them. She said, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

Gutsy Girls: Fanny Crosby, by Amy L. Sullivan | Little Book, Big Story

Amy Sullivan’s biography of Fanny Crosby, whose hymns are still sung today, is beautiful. In it, she tells the story of a young girl who was loved the Lord and did not fear blindness but learned to serve him through it. We sing a few of them at our church, and her affection for her Lord is evident in their cadences. You’ve probably heard several, too: “Fairest Lord Jesus,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “Blessed Assurance.” But she wrote hundreds more.

Amy Sullivan featured Fanny’s story as part of her Gutsy Girls series, which (so far) also features Gladys Aylward, and Corrie and Betsy ten Boom. These are stories I’m grateful for—women whose lives remind my daughters that bravery isn’t driven by defiance but by love.


Gutsy Girls, Book Three: Fanny Crosby
Amy H. Sullivan, Beverly Ann Wines (2016)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

All Things Bright and Beautiful | Bruce Whatley

These days are dreary.

Candles take the edge off the darkness, but just barely. Twinkle lights stuffed into jam jars help, but only a little. We wake in darkness, live in twilight, and part with the sun around 3:30, when it is so low in the sky that it scarcely trickles into our living room.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

The days are getting longer, but slowly. While we wait, we listen to Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday. We drink pot after pot of tea and dance to The Black Keys. We knit and eat and jump on the counch, and we nap (a lot). We read books about spring and light and hope and remind one another that it’s coming—spring is coming! The days won’t always be this dark.

This book is one of my favorites right now, because it is all of those things: a beautifully illustrated depiction of hope and light, set in the outdoors at a time when people can go outside in short sleeves and smell the budding trees. It’s coming.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

I reviewed another book on this hymn years ago, and I do still love that one. But, if I had to play favorites, I think I’d choose this one: Bruce Whatley illustrates one small girl wandering about her own home, exploring the things God has made. Ashley Bryan’s book has more of a “whole world” perspective that is wonderful, too, but I like the coziness of seeing one square of the world’s beauty through one child’s eyes. As this girl, accompanied by her dog, visits favorite spots around her home, we get to delight in her childlike wonder over just what the Lord has made and what that creation means to her.

All Things Bright and Beautiful, by Cecil Frances Alexander & Bruce Whatley (review) | Little Book, Big Story

All Things Bright and Beautiful stirs us to worship. It reminds us that the Lord God made all things and he made them well—even winter in the Pacific Northwest, where the sun just tips its hat at us in passing. Even that is good. Even that is his.


All Things Bright and Beautiful
Cecil Frances Alexander; Bruce Whatley (2001)

Early Sunday Morning | Denene Millner

Some books tell about adventure. Some books tell about growth—the emotional kind or sometimes just the regular kind that happens in the garden (or sometimes both). And some books are about ordinary moments. There are no dragons; the tension is slight, just the recognizable tension we feel every day. These are stories that could maybe happen to us, but they don’t—at least, not in just the way they happen to the characters—and that difference makes these ordinary stories potent.

I may have four daughters, but they are not the Penderwicks.

My daughters may lose their front teeth, but they won’t do it in just the way Sal does on that one morning in Maine.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

Early Sunday Morning is one of these stories. June is an African American girl, nervous about singing her first solo in the church choir. We get to walk with her through the weekend before it as her family tries, in their various ways, to encourage her and smooth her nerves.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

It’s a beautiful, simple story that invites our family into the lives of another family and allows us to see how they speak to one another, what their church is like, how they spend their mornings. Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s illustrations add vibrant colors and texture to the story, enriching for us the glimpse of one loving family on one Sunday morning.

Early Sunday Morning, by Denene Millner | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite moment comes at the end—I won’t spoil it for you. It could happen, with slight differences, to another family, but the way it happens to June’s family draws us closer to them. And perhaps it helps us appreciate our own a bit more. Perhaps it helps us to love other families a bit better.


Early Sunday Morning
Denene Miller; Vanessa Brantley Newton (2017)