Tag: girl (page 1 of 3)

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

Brave Girls: Beautiful You | Jennifer Gerelds

Nine. My eldest daughter just turned nine.

I thought this was momentous because it was her last single digit year, but no: a friend mentioned yesterday that she was halfway there, and the park around us got suddenly swimmy. It took me a minute to realize what my tear ducts understood instantly: “halfway there” meant halfway to adulthood, and the park looked swimmy because I was crying.

Yikes.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

But this birthday called for a little something different, as birthday books go, and so I explored the “devotional Christian girl” shelves of Amazon. I found a cheap book, one that looked promising, and ordered it.

Brave  Girls: Beautiful You was (whew!) not a theological mess in pink and floral print. It is a collection of devotions that encourage girls with a growing awareness of their appearance and identity to measure these things by God’s metric and to weigh their beauty on his scales. As I flipped through it, I was impressed by the depth of the devotions and the simple way they illustrated, through the imagery of “putting off” our old selves and “putting on” Christ, how a young girl can best glorify God in whatever situation comes her way.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

There are quizzes in here, too, which initially made me nervous, but again and again I saw that they were intended as an expedition through a girl’s heart and not as a measurement of her value or success.

So, this is a new sort of book for this blog, because we are in a new sort of season. Brave Girls: Beautiful You is sweet, yes. But it is also rich, and, I hope, it is the sort of fuel my young daughter needs as she begins to set her sights on becoming a young woman.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

I was not able to read this book from cover-to-cover before I needed to wrap it up, so though I recommend it, I can’t promise that there isn’t some murky spot in there somewhere. But every page I landed on was good and true.


Brave Girls: Beautiful You
Jennifer Gerelds (2016)

Beyond the Ballgown: 9 Unusual Books About Princesses

When a friend asked for advice about raising daughters (he and his wife were expecting their first), all I came up with was, “Expect to find baby dolls in strange places. And there will be glitter all over your house, but you won’t know where it came from.” In retrospect, I’d like to add: “People will buy you princess things—so many princess things. Even when they know that you don’t want princess things in your house.”

Also, I’d probably say something about daughters being a gift from the Lord, and it being such a joy to raise them. And so on.

I’ve written before about our family’s approach to princesses, and have meant, for a good long time, to revisit that topic with a list of the books that our girls have fallen in love with—books that do a little, at least, to combat the pull of the Disney franchise by portraying princesses and queens in a courageous, wise, and truly beautiful (not weirdly-animated beautiful) light.

9 Unusual Books About Princesses | Little Book, Big Story

Some of these leading ladies aren’t technically princesses, but you’ll find queens in the mix and ladies and little girls who display beautifully what true princess-ness means. Here are some unusual books about princesses:

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by CS Lewis | Little Book, Big Story

Every good book list ought to open with these books, I think. And any list of books about strong leading ladies who are loving, empathetic and brave ought to open with Lucy Pevensie. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

This book is old and wonderful: the story of Princess Irene, the miner Curdie, and Irene’s great-great-grandmother gives a great illustration of what it looks like to be a princess during the good times and the bad, in safety and in danger. (Read the full review.)

THE ORDINARY PRINCESS, by M.M. Kaye

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

When a cantankerous fairy bestows not the gift of grace, beauty or charm on the infant princess Amethyst, but instead gives her the gift of ordinariness, the story of Princess Amy, thoroughly ordinary in every way, begins. This book takes a good look at what makes us truly beautiful and how to recognize those that appreciate those qualities. (Read the full review.)

THE STORY OF ESTHER, by Eric Kimmel

The Story of Esther | Little Book, Big Story

What better picture of royal courage can we pull from Scripture than that of Esther? Though married to King Artaxerxes against her will, Queen Esther serves the Lord where she is placed and through her obedience, saves his people. She’s beautiful, faithful, and brave! (Read the full review.)

I’D BE YOUR PRINCESS, by Kathryn O’Brien

I'd Be Your Princess | Little Book, Big Story

This sweet picture book follows the conversation between a father and a daughter as she imagines what it would be like if he was a king and she was a princess. Her father ties her vision gently back to Scripture and encourages his daughter to cultivate the qualities that Scripture emphasizes. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett | Little Book, Big Story

Though not a literal princess, Sara Crewe lives like one: pampered by her beloved papa and treated as royalty by the headmistress of her boarding school, she enjoys life’s luxuries—until a plot twist takes them all (every last one) away. But she determines to go on living like a princess in all the right ways all the same. (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE KISSby Jennie Bishop

The Princess and the Kiss, by Jennie Bishop | Little Book, Big Story

Jennie Bishop’s fable about a princess who is given a gift at birth meant only for the man she marries gives a lovely picture for young girls of marriage and purity—even answering gently, at one point, the question, “What if he isn’t out there for me?” This is a book that I appreciate for the way it helps shape our daughters’ views on marriage and sexuality while telling a story about a royal family who knows what to truly value.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

Okay, Maid Marian isn’t technically a princess, but she does rub elbows with royalty, wear lovely gowns (sometimes, at least), and marry her true love at the (almost) end of the story. But she’s also fearless and loyal, willing to stand her ground against injustice and to fight for good alongside her fiance. There are many retellings of Robin Hood’s adventures, but Maid Marian’s character in this one makes it my favorite. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

Katherine Paterson, author of The Bridge to Terebithia and many, many other books, puts a beautiful twist on those stories that marry off princesses as prizes for killing dragons and so on. When the king dies, he leaves his kingdom to his proud and quite unlikeable son on the stipulation that he finds a wife that is truly his equal. The search for such a woman leads to lovely and unexpected results—and no one is more surprised by them than the prince. (Read the full review.)

What are your favorite books about princesses?

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)

The Ordinary Princess | MM Kaye

What if a princess was not golden-haired and willowy, with eyes like sapphire and so on, but was—in every way—perfectly ordinary?

This is the question that struck author MM Kaye after rereading her favorite fairy tales from childhood: what if an ordinary child was born into a fairy tale family? And so the story of the Ordinary Princess began. Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne—called Amy—was born the seventh daughter of a king and queen, and being the seventh, she was even more beautiful and serene than her sisters. She was, that is, until the Fairy Crustacea declared at her christening that she should be Ordinary.

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

And just like that, her golden ringlets turned mouse-brown; her serene, rosebud mouth screwed into a baby-like howl, and Amy became a baby like any other non-royal baby.

This is a slender chapter book, and it’s enchanting. I loved Kaye’s unusual approach to the usual stories, and was especially smitten Amy’s disposition: though her family considers her ordinariness a Great Problem, Amy hardly seems to notice it. She enjoys life at the palace as best she can, sneaking out into the woods to play with squirrels and peasant children, until her father comes up with a dramatic plan to fool an unsuspecting prince into marrying her. Then things take a turn.

The Ordinary Princess, by MM Kaye | Little Book, Big Story

I haven’t read this one to the girls yet, but it’s next on our list after we finish Twig. Of all the reinterpretations of fairy tales out there, The Ordinary Princess is quite possibly my favorite: the heroine is strong and humble and hard-working. She’s content with her lot and entirely likable. And she’s ordinary—quite a few of us with mouse-brown hair can relate to that.


The Ordinary Princess
MM Kaye (2002)

It’s a girl!!

When reviewing our ultrasound results yesterday, my doctor asked, “Do we know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”

“A fourth girl!” I said, beaming.

He smiled, thought for a moment, and asked, “Have you ever read The Penderwicks?”

A medical degree is important and everything, but what I really look for in a doctor is the willingness to discuss literature in the exam room.

A baby blanket in the making | Little Book, Big Story

I’ve compared our family before to the Marches and—best of all—the Ingalls, and now I can add the Penderwicks to the list (I do hope this daughter is just a little bit like Batty). One more, and we’ll be the Bennetts!

Sarah has changed her name vote from “Robin Hood” to “Maid Marian,” Lydia has already mentioned “Mary . . . or maybe Laura,” and Phoebe has taken to marching around with the ultrasound photo, chanting “Bebe! Bebe!” Mitch has been to the bank to see about expanding our wee little home, and I have cast on a handful of stitches for a lovely and feminine baby blanket.

To celebrate, I’ll dig up a favorite post: “Ten Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter.” That particular branch of our library is about to get stronger and richer:

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter | Little Book, Big Story

I’d Be Your Princess | Kathryn O’Brien

This week’s summer rerun originally appeared on June 21, 2013, was reposted and edited in 2015, and edited again in 2016.


After the birth of our first daughter, we felt that general terror of new parents: We can’t do this. Raise a child? Us? Two years later, when we learned that we were expecting our second daughter, I felt a new pressure: we were evidently specializing in raising daughters. Shouldn’t we get it right? (Ha! As if we could.)

During each pregnancy I tend to lie awake at 3 a.m. fretting over something. With that pregnancy, it was princesses.

Somehow, the subject of princesses became, for me, a quicksand of pink tulle and glitter that swallows preschool-aged little girls up whole and spits them out, looking not like the quirky, unique creations they are but like carbon copies of some advertiser’s vision of The American Little Girl. I obsessed over this a bit.

When they reached the right age, I wondered, would our daughters develop a Princess Fixation? Would they want only princess-themed underwear, snack foods and books? Would they insist on wearing tiaras to the store, or answer only to “Your Royal Highness”? Would they swoon over an imaginary Prince Charming?

Looking back, I think I can safely say that though our girls have worn their share of tutus to the store and have spent hours playing dress up in, yes, princess dresses, we seem to have dodged the Fixation. They enjoy playing “Little House” and “Narnia” far more than they enjoy being royalty. And we’re glad: we don’t want our daughters to settle for the brief pleasure of being treated “like a princess.” They are daughters of the King, and we want them to live like it. A life lived in his family calls for confidence and grace, sacrifice and courage—not fluffy gowns and flimsy love interests.

Our approach to the issue of princesses has been pretty simple, and my grip on the whole subject has loosened with age (my age and my daughters’). But we’re four daughters in now, and have found the following two things most helpful in keeping our daughters their quirky, unique selves through the princess-plagued years:

1) We rarely watch Disney princess movies

There were a number of reasons for this decision, but the initial one was almost purely practical: both of our older daughters are very sensitive to scary movies, and those movies all have at least one scene that terrified me as a child (which tells you whose sensitivity they inherited).

Another reason that we have elected not to watch these movies with our kids is more, well, moral. Many of the Disney movies, like The Little Mermaid, discard the moral lesson of the original fairy tale in favor of a “happily ever after” ending. The Little Mermaid of Hans Christian Andersen’s version abandons her family for a foolish love, sells her voice for legs, tries and fails to woo the Prince and ultimately sacrifices her life for his. Disney’s Little Mermaid makes the same series of selfish choices, but still gets everything she wanted in the end.

But I am not permanently and forever anti-Disney. Our daughters have seen Frozen, and will probably watch the some of the other princess movies at some point. My hope, though, is that they will know the original fairy tales well enough by then to recognize what has been changed and to wonder why the filmmakers made those changes. We will talk about the stories together. But we have decided not to incorporate them into the culture of our home as something that we accept without question.

2) We look for books that feature awesome princesses

You know, ladies who have better things to do than fall head over heels for some dude that they met once, who know the responsibility that comes with their high office and who are willing to set aside their own desires for the sake of others. Who am I talking about?

Princess Irene of The Princess of the Goblin. The Queens Susan and Lucy, of The Chronicles of Narnia. Queen Esther of Persia. Belle, of the original “Beauty and the Beast” (my favorite retelling is in William Bennett’s The Book of Virtues). (I compiled a list of our favorite princesses, and you can find it here.) Also, the little girl in this book, I’d Be Your Princess.

I'd Be Your Princess | Little Book, Big Story

This story is told simply, through the dialogue of a young girl and her father. “If you were a king, I’d be your princess,” she begins. And her father responds, using each comment to draw his daughter out and show her that what is required of a princess (or a little girl, for that matter) is not an outward beauty, but a beauty that begins deep within.

“If you were a king, I’d be your princess,” she says. “We would sit side by side on our royal thrones . . . “

“Yes,” said her father, “and whenever anyone asked an important question, I would want your opinion, because you know how to make good choices.”

At the foot of each page is a corresponding Bible verse. For this one, it’s Proverbs 2:6: “For the Lord gives wisdom.”

This is a simple story and a very moral one, so I wouldn’t blame folks who find it preachy. I did, at first, but I am thankful now for any arrow in my quiver that will help my daughters navigate the very mixed messages about femininity already encroaching upon their childhood. Wisdom matters; your dad values what you think. The Bible is the first place we look for instruction. Those are important lessons and ones that I’m glad to teach my daughters through this simple story about a girl and her dad and a shared daydream.

For those of you with little boys, O’Brien has a companion book to this one titled If I Were Your Hero, and it’s equally charming. In fact, I might pick up a copy for my girls (who love the story), because it’s important for girls to know what to expect from boys, right?

An important note

. . . and one that cannot be stressed enough: as parents we all draw the lines in different places. You might be comfortable with your kids watching Disney movies, and I’d like to say emphatically that this isn’t an issue of Good and Bad Parenting, with Disney movies serving as some hallmark of Bad Parenting.

For our family, this was an important issue and so I feel strongly about it. I might try to persuade you to look at your stance again, but I will not criticize you for choosing differently. This entire post has to do with our family and the places where our lines fall.

If you’d like to read more about princesses (on either side of the fence), I highly recommend Drew Dixon’s article “Disney Princesses: My Daughter Deserves Better” and, for balance, Mike Cosper’s pro-princess piece, “Are Fairy Tales Finished?


I’’d Be Your Princess
Kathryn O’Brien, Michael Garland (2004)