Tag: elementary (page 1 of 4)

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)

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)

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.” —J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

The Life of Martin Luther | Agostino Traini

We’ve been on a bit of a Luther binge here. Maybe it was the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that kicked it off last year, or a comment in our community group that lead us to study some key figures of the Reformation. I can’t remember. It could have been, too, that I spent six months reading a book on Luther, marinating in his thoughts and theology. Or it could be the book I’m reading now that has, on the surface, nothing to do with him, but still spends a chapter discussing why many believe that Martin Luther was insane.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

At any rate, we have read and talked a lot about Martin Luther since last September, and I’m grateful for the perspective this has given us on the Protestant Church today, both because we know more than we did about it this time last year, and because I now want to know more. (It’s funny how reading often has that effect: by opening one door for you, it draws your attention to the unopened doors on either side of it.)

But of all the books we’ve read on Luther lately, this one is the most fun, and for one simple reason:

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story

Pop-ups.

Agostino Traini’s The Life of Martin Luther is a simple introduction to Luther, with a distilled storyline and three-dimensional illustrations. This is a very basic biography (you won’t find commentary on his less savory qualities here), but it strikes the main points clearly. This is the book you read with your little ones before they graduate to The Reformation ABCsthe one that gives a nice outline of his life. This is a book that, hopefully, sends you away wanting to know more about the man who called the church of Rome to reformation.

The Life of Martin Luther, by Agostino Traini (review) | Little Book, Big Story


Bonus list!

Just in case you want to start your own Martin Luther binge, here are the books we’ve enjoyed lately:

For grown-ups

The Reformation, by Stephen J. Nichols
Pages From Church History, by Stephen J. Nichols
Luther On the Christian Life, by Carl Trueman
The Holiness of Godby R.C. Sproul

for kids

The Reformation ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Church History ABCsby Stephen J. Nichols
Katie Luther: The Graphic Novel, by Susan K. Leigh
Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World, by Paul L. Maier


The Life of Martin Luther
Augustino Traini (2017)

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)