Tag: elementary

At Night | Jonathan Bean

First, Two (and a half) Things:

1) We started school last week, and while I know that, eventually, the books will stop smelling new–the pens will run down; enthusiasm will wane–I took an informal poll on Friday, and the results are in: we love homeschooling. Thank you all for your encouragement during this summer of planning (that is, guessing) and research! You are a lovely lot, and it’s a privilege to write for you.

Back to School 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

Back to School (Pre-K, 2nd & 4th Grade)

That leads me to my second thing:

1.5) Though we are now officially homeschooling our daughters, it has always been important to me that this blog appeal to parents, regardless of how we all educate or raise our kids. My goal is to not turn this, even accidentally, into a blog about homeschooling.

I will continue to flavor my reviews with glimpses into our family’s life together, because it has always been an important part of my plan to let you get to know me, at least a little, so that you can decide whether or not you trust my reviews or feel you need to take them with a grain of salt. These peeks will probably now include an occasional mention of our educational endeavors at home, because that is what we are doing. But it is not what I think you should be doing. Please remember that. And please know that as I write, I am thinking of you, however you educate your kids, and my hope is–as it always has been–to introduce you to titles that your family will love, whether you read them after a full day of traditional schooling, as a part of your school day at home, or something in between those two.

Back to School 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

(Why Josie was not in the photo)

In short, this is not a homeschooling blog now. It is a blog about books, for parents who love Jesus and who long for their children to love him, too. It is also a blog with some big news:

2) I tried writing every other week, and while it won me some time to read curriculum, I found that I really, really missed writing here. I actually wrote less overall (and, without my own weekly deadlines, spent more time aimlessly roaming the internet), and that was sad. But I love this blog, I love writing about books, and sharing only one book every other week just didn’t satisfy. So I’m back. I shall henceforth see you every week! Huzzah!


At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

We love the books of Jonathan Bean. We first learned about them when we read, at Sarah MacKenzie‘s urgent recommendation, This is My Home, This is My School. We loved that book. We studied the illustrations and searched for every hidden detail.

Then my Sarah noticed, on the back of the book, that Jonathan Bean had published several other books. “Mom!” she said. “I want to read them!”

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

How could I say no to that? I reserved them all at the library and they trickled into our library basket, a few at at time. We loved Big Snow and Building Our House. But my favorite by far was this humble book, At Night.

Set in the city, At Night follows one small girl who cannot sleep. The text is brief and poetic; the illustrations beautiful. If you only know Bean’s other books, this one comes as a surprise: the illustrations are not quite as energetic as some of his others, and that’s perfect for a story about a sticky summer’s night.

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story

Though this book is set in the city rather than the countryside featured in Building Our House and This is My Home, This is My School, it still points beautifully to the world beyond the city. And it contains one of the sweetest examples of . . . well, I don’t want to tell you, because the quiet surprise of it is part of what makes this book so lovely. But At Night is a book worth reading during these last weeks of summer, just before the evenings cool down.

At Night, by Jonathan Bean | Little Book, Big Story


At Night
Jonathan Bean (2007)

From the Good Mountain | James Rumford

As you know, we are embarking on our first year of full-time home school, and for me, that means lots and lots of reading. Reading about schedules and curriculum. Reading about God, and how big he is and how faithful. Reading about educational philosophies. And about people’s experiences with and opinions on educational philosophies.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

One of the philosophies I came across again and again was that of Charlotte Mason. I have always pulled in some elements from her work into our family life here and there, but I spent time this spring reading about her work more closely. And I was smitten all over again with the idea of “living books.” I’ve mentioned them previously on this blog, because that is, really, what I try to review: books by authors who aren’t writing to sell, but are genuinely passionate about their story or subject and able to write about it knowledgeably, truthfully, and well. I hope that every book on this blog qualifies for that definition.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

But I found today’s book when I was doing some heavy Charlotte Mason reading, and it struck me within the first few sentences that From the Good Mountain was just the sort of book Mason must have meant when she defined living books. This is a biography of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of the printing press, written playfully in riddles and illustrated in a way that allows us to see what those first books looked like. James Rumford writes and illustrates this book, but he is also a bookbinder, so the entire process of binding books is laid out by someone who knows the work firsthand and clearly loves it.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

Rumford also includes, at the end, a note on the history of books both past and present. Through his words and images he contemplates the future of books and ebooks, but not in a gloomy “Alas! The end of paper is near” tone. He sounds almost excited about what the future holds, which reminded me that, though we love books, it is words that make up their life, and those words can exist in many forms.

From the Good Mountain, by James Rumford | Little Book, Big Story

So, this book is a story about the making of Gutenberg’s printing press. But it is about much, much more, and the enthusiasm that bubbles out in asides about the books’ materials and beauty is what makes this book more than ink and paper. That enthusiasm is what makes it live, and what gives it a place on our family’s shelves. May it find room on your shelves, too.


From the Good Mountain: How Gutenberg Changed the World
James Rumford (2012)

Reformation ABCs | Stephen J. Nichols

Thank you all so much for your encouraging words after my last post! You all are good people, and it was such a joy to hear from you. And I know I said that I was going to post every other week, but when I sat down to my calendar this morning and started scheduling posts two weeks apart, I hated it. I’ll stick to my word for a while, but I may not last long publishing at half speed—we’ll see. But here, today, is a new post about a new favorite book:


One of the books that inspired me to start this blog was Stephen J. Nichols’ Church History ABCs. From the illustrations to the topic to the fun Nichols clearly has with language, I had to share it with friends, family, the school, and our whole church body. A book blog seemed the best and most expedient way to do that. So I started one.

But now Nichols and illustrator Ned Bustard have a new book out. And it’s even—gasp!—better than the first one.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

While Church History ABCs highlights figures from various points of church history, Reformation ABCs focuses on figures within a single time period. That narrowed focus makes this book a little easier to pair with history curriculum or Reformation Day celebrations, but by viewing stories through a smaller historical window, it also yields a host of fascinating biographies on people whose lives overlapped either in friendship or influence (or both).

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

The book itself has a smaller format than Church History ABCs, and because these books are written for the late elementary crowd, I like that. These are picture books for kids who might think they’re too old for picture books (as if there is such a thing!), and I think the smaller format on this book allows it to sneak in there, right between the picture books and the chapter books. Ned Bustards illustrations are still striking and I love them; Stephen Nichols’ language is still quirky and engaging, and I love that.

Reformation ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols | Little Book, Big Story

In short, Reformation ABCs took a bunch of things I loved about Church History ABCs, added some other stuff to it that I also love, and made a beautiful new book that I couldn’t wait to share with you.


Reformation ABCs
Stephen J. Nichols, Ned Bustard (2017)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon | Jennifer Trafton

The plight of the quirky, artistic kid is not unknown to me. I was the child who preferred drawing indoors to recess, and who, in seventh grade, curried favor with the popular girls by drawing them pictures of horses. (In high school, I designed their tattoos.)

To this day, it’s rare to find me without a pen (or a collection of pens, to my daughters’ delight), and if required to sit still for any length of time—say, for a sermon or in a waiting room—I’ll be the one covertly doodling in any margin I can find. So I should clarify: the plight of the quirky artistic kid is not unknown to me, nor is the plight of the awkwardly doodling adult. (This TED Talk  made me feel a lot better about that last one, though.)

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

So I recognized in Jennifer Trafton’s new hero, Henry Penwhistle, a kindred spirit. The premise of this book is simple: Henry draws a dragon on the back of his bedroom door and the dragon comes to life, slipping off the door and into the world, where he runs amok. For Henry, this is akin to learning that one’s diary has been stolen and is now a New York Times bestseller. His art is out there for all to see, and the results so far aren’t pretty.

But Henry’s heroic quest to vanquish the dragon (with the help of his wonderful friends) is both hilarious and sweet, in just the right doses. Jennifer Trafton’s books are a delight to read aloud, and Benjamin Schipper’s illustrations suit the story beautifully.

Henry and the Chalk Dragon, by Jennifer Trafton | Little Book, Big Story

Her encouragement to quirky, artistic kids everywhere (we have a few in our house) is invaluable:

Once you make something . . . a picture, or a story, or a song, or an invention, or even a delicious meal, it isn’t yours anymore. It has a life. It could spend its life lying on your paper, staring up at you and saying, ‘Thank you for drawing me. Aren’t I wonderful?’ Or it could fill the stomach of a queen or give strength to a poor man in the street. It could wrap itself around a city and make the people in it cry an ocean, or it could wiggle into the ears of a baby and make her burst into giggles. . . . All you can do is make the best thing you can, and love it as hard as you can, and let it go loose in the world, and watch what happens.

This is a beautiful book, both for the kids who feel on the outside of things, and for the ones who seem warmly at the center of things but would benefit from an interlude on the outskirts. This a book for the artists and for the ones who have forgotten that they, too, are capable of making beautiful things. Henry and the Chalk Dragon is for children who like to laugh and for ones who don’t but need to, and it’s for grown-ups, who can always use a reminder about the power of chivalry and poetry and art.

That is: this is a book for all of us. And I suggest you go read it with your family now.


Henry and the Chalk Dragon
Jennifer Trafton, Benjamin Schipper (2017)

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

It’s serious work, choosing a book for vacation. I overthink it every time. A book cannot be too absorbing (see: family reunion, Estes Park CO—the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, and I read in the midst of a beauteous landscape, ignoring family and nature alike). And it cannot be so meaty that I don’t want to pull it out in those moments when the coffee is hot and the cabin’s front porch calls.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

A book for vacation needs to be just right—every paragraph satisfying, so that even ten minutes in its company sends me back into a cabin full of children feeling recharged—and I have elevated the choosing of a vacation book to an art form (or an obsession, depending on your view). But this time, the artistry (or obsession) was solved for me when a package from the Rabbit Room arrived on our porch the day before we left for a weekend on San Juan Island. In it I found the slender new edition of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s story, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

I’ve mentioned McKelvey before on this blog, albeit indirectly. In my review of Wingfeather Tales, his was the “novella so devastating.” I have been waiting ever since to get a copy of this story, hoping it might be as lovely as that novella.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

I read The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog in full during a single naptime, in a log cabin overlooking a lake. And it was lovely, a book so sweet and true that it’s hard to describe because I am afraid that if I pull pieces of it apart to show you, I might damage the well-woven fabric of the book . I will say this: the new edition from Rabbit Room Press is illustrated by Zach Franzen, of The Green Ember, so it is beautiful in both word and image. And it is worth reading immediately—especially if you have a vacation coming up.


The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Zach Franzen (2017 – republication)

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands | Kadir Nelson

A few weeks ago I stopped by the garden section of a favorite grocery store to visit with the plants. They flaunted spring finery and iambic names—columbine, stonecrop, a fluffy young thing called asparagus fern. Overhead played that ubiquitous shopping music, something by JLo maybe. I wouldn’t have noticed the music at all if two things hadn’t happened at once:

1. A song came on with a tolerable dance beat.

2. An old woman paused as she shuffled past me with her grocery cart. She got a good grip on the cart’s handle. And then she began to dance.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

She swayed happily back and forth the way my baby does when she hears a catchy tune, bobbing her head and closing her eyes in a moment of complete contentment. When the song ended and the old woman caught me beaming at her, she grinned and shrugged. “If they don’t want us to dance, then they shouldn’t play music with such a nice beat,” she said.

Amen.

That story has nothing to do with today’s review, nothing at all. But it was too lovely not to share.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

Today’s review has to do with a book whose text is simple—the lyrics from the old spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The illustrations seem simple—light-soaked paintings that follow one boy as he explores what each line means for his life, his family. But that pairing of a traditional hymn born within the horrific fist of slavery with the wonder one child turns upon the world around him makes He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands a rich and beautiful book.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story

I would not, of course, expect every kid to make the connection between the old and new here. But even without an underlying knowledge of the song’s roots, this is a book worth sharing, as it takes a familiar song and makes it a visible story, one rooted in hope and joy. Nelson’s paintings invite us warmly into the life of the main character. He introduces us to his family, shows us his interests, allows us to tag along as he visits the beach and studies the stars. He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands manages to be both weighty and feather-light; both broad and sweetly specific.

And it’s hard to read without singing.

He's Got the Whole World in His Hands, by Kadir Nelson | Little Book, Big Story


He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands
Kadir Nelson (2005)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)