Tag: historical fiction

Shooting at the Stars | John Hendrix

Over the years, I have written about some beautiful Nativity stories. But as I drew up my list of books to review this Advent, I noticed an unlikely thread: only one of them takes place in a manger. The rest are stories set at Christmas time (though one of them isn’t even that), in threadbare apartments and in trenches.

This is the one set in the trenches.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

In Shooting at the Stars, John Hendrix tells the story of the Christmas Truce of World War I. Have you heard this story? It’s a famous one and one I have loved for years. On Christmas Day, 1914, a group British and German soldiers reached an impromptu truce and spent Christmas Day giving one another gifts, singing together, taking photos, and laying to rest the dead spread over the no man’s land between the trenches. In the book’s afterword, Hendrix explains that, though we’d like to think this truce brought both sides closer to the end of the war, it actually happened fairly early in the war and its significance was unappreciated by military leaders. In fact, they took deliberate measures to avoid its happening again the next Christmas.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But even so, Hendrix presents this story as a glimpse of hope, a moment when peace stalled a world war and brought opposing sides together, if only for a few hours. I love, too, the way this story puts faces to the enemy and makes them human: “Fritz,” the German army, becomes a band of young men as hungry and muddy and afraid as the British, and for one evening both British and German soldiers are allowed to see one another not as targets but as men with names and histories.

Hendrix’s illustrations are, as always, rich in detail, and each detail seems deliberately chosen to add some surprising depth to the story. In the corner of one spread, a German soldier and a British one lift the body of a fallen British solider into a newly dug grave. In another, the soldiers play football with a biscuit tin, British boots running alongside German ones, but the field they play on is studded with broken tree trunks, the ground an ashy gray. Hendrix uses every opportunity to tell his story—including the foreword (on what the war was and how it got started) and afterword—and he does it beautifully.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

Advent may not seem like the time to introduce your children to trench warfare, I know, but Shooting at the Stars awakens that hunger for peace and restoration that is at the heart of our Advent waiting. We read of the misery of life in the trenches, and we long for the day death and brutality will be done away with for good. We see those illustrations of a barren battlefield and long for a time when the earth itself will be renewed by the coming of our King.

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story


Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914
John Hendrix (2014)

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)

The Bronze Bow | Elizabeth George Speare

My edition of The Bronze Bow told me delightfully little about the book—what it was called, who wrote it, what else the author is known for and that the book won a Newbery Award, but nothing at all about the story. I bought the book because of that award, and because I had a dim memory that somebody I respected had once said something about The Bronze Bow. But the book sat on my shelf, unread, until a few months ago when I finally took it down and plunged into the story.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

The story itself was a pleasant surprise: set in Galilee during the first century, The Bronze Bow follows Daniel, a young man orphaned by the Romans and exiled from his village. Daniel longs to see Israel freed from the rule of the Roman Empire and dedicates all he has to fighting in an underground rebellion. But when his circumstances change and Daniel is drawn back into the life of his village, he is forced to reconsider what sort of victory God is working toward and how Daniel can best help bring it about.

I loved the historical detail in this book, but one of my favorite aspects of it is the way the story runs alongside that of the gospels, bumping up against the story of Jesus every so often. Jesus is a character in this book, so if that makes you squeamish, you’ve been warned. But the way Speare portrays him is beautiful and respectful and, as far as I can see, consistent with Scripture, though of course she portrays him creatively, supplying details outside those mentioned in the gospels. I found her descriptions so compelling, and I loved the way the other characters had to reckon with Jesus, the way his words and very presence kept shaping their decisions and responses in ways they could not explain.

The Bronze Bow, by Elizabeth George Speare | Little Book, Big Story

Because of the age of the main characters (18 or so) and because Jesus appears in a fictional setting, I’d recommend saving this one until our child is old enough to separate this story from that of the gospels and to view it with discernment. Of course, you know your child better than I do, so take that recommendation with a grain of salt.

But The Bronze Bow is a beautiful example of historical fiction that brings history to life for the reader. And now, I’m off to read Speare’s other books—she’s fully won my trust as an author.


The Bronze Bow
Elizabeth George Speare (1997)

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Daughter

When we read a good book to our children, we delegate: we enlist the help of gifted authors to demonstrate for them (and for us, too) what life is like in other places, other times, other bodies. This is what it looks like, a good book says, to ask for forgiveness even when the asking is hard, to love the unloved, to find joy in the common graces of life.

A good book takes us outside our own experience, outside a particular moment where Papa reads aloud to the rest of us, who were drawing a moment before but now sit—sniffling, pens suspended—as we listen to Prince Rilian’s farewell to his father. This is grief. This is joy.

This is, in a sense, one aspect of what the Bible does for us: it shows us what it looks like to fight against God, to persevere when we don’t want to, to look forward to the life yet to come. We study the movements of the Lord’s hand through each story and find comfort in the fact that his hand moves in our stories, too. We watch other lives lived out in its pages and recognize ourselves in them; that recognition then shapes the way we respond to trouble when it comes. This is where rebellion leads; this is redemption.

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

And so we fill the corners of our hearts with Scripture and the corners of our home with good books. We surround our daughters with characters that they can connect with, characters who are foolish and funny, warm and wise, prone to mischief or perhaps a little too perfect. We introduce them to AnneJo, Heidi, Lucy, and Laura, of course. And then we move on to Bobbie, Phyllis and Irene, Emily and Rose—heroines of the lesser-known works of great authors or of the books picked up on a whim that are, perhaps, unassuming on the outside but radiant within.

Here, for your pleasure, is a list of our favorites. These stories don’t appeal exclusively to girls, by the way. Quite a few of them feature male characters that share the spotlight with the female lead or simply steal it outright, but they’re boys (and men) of good quality that I want my girls to know and love. I suspect that those of you with sons might find that your boys scoot their Legos a little closer to the couch whenever you pull these books out to read with your daughter. (I’ve marked those books with an asterisk.)

*THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly (and mysteriously) called away from home, three children move to the English countryside with their mother. Adventures large and small ensue, all told in the charming style of E. Nesbit. This book is one of my very favorites. (Read the full review.)

*THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

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

An old fairy tale of the best sort, written by an author who came to my attention because C.S. Lewis gave him a hearty endorsement. This is, I think, the best of his books for children, and features the princess Irene and her unlikely friend, Curdie. There is also a magical great-great-great-great-grandmother and a whole passel of ornery goblins. (Read the full review.)

WHAT KATY DID, by Susan Coolidge

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge | Little Book, Big Story

Circumstances change abruptly, both in life and in plot lines. What Katy Did demonstrates both aspects of this, and through the story of Katy Carr, shows how the road of suffering often leads to the most glorious destinations. (Read the full review.)

THE TINKER’S DAUGHTER, by Wendy Lawton

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

Here is a marriage of history and fiction. Wendy Lawton tells the story of Mary Bunyan, the sightless daughter of John Bunyan, as she navigates life during her father’s imprisonment. This is a beautifully told story and shows the progress of Mary’s fledgling faith alongside the robust, proven faith of her father. (Read the full review.)

*THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Roger Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

There is a good deal of “bashing of crowns” and “striking one another with blows” in this book, it’s true. But this unlikely candidate merits a spot on this list for three reasons: 1) Maid Marian is no nameless damsel in distress here but a woman bold, courageous, and virtuous. 2) The men in this book know how to treat the ladies. 3) My daughters loved it. (Read the full review.)

EMILY OF NEW MOON, by L.M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon, by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

You already know about Anne. Emily of New Moon is the slightly darker tale—a deep violet to Anne’s brassy red, twilight to Anne’s fresh morning—of Emily Starr, poetess, orphan, and bewitching lead lady. My affection for this book is deep, my friends. So deep. (Read the full review.)

*TREASURES OF THE SNOW, by Patricia St. John

Treasures of the Snow, by Patricia St. John | Little Book, Big Story

Have you heard of this book? I hadn’t either until a friend recommended it at a wedding reception dinner. But Treasures of the Snow is a beauty worth seeking out: in it, you’ll find the gospel faithfully represented in a fictional setting, as a feud rises up between two families that needs the wisdom of a grandmother and the power of the gospel to resolve. (Read the full review.)

THE KING’S EQUAL, by Katherine Paterson

The King's Equal | Little Book, Big Story

The author of Bridge to Terebithia tells an old-fashioned tale of an arrogant prince who cannot assume the kingship until he finds a wife who is “his equal.” (He thinks himself so wonderful that this must be all but impossible.) The King’s Equal is available as either a very short chapter book or a rather long picture book. In either format, it’s a joy to read. (Read the full review.)

A LITTLE PRINCESS, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

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

Okay, so you probably have heard of this one. It isn’t as famous than its celebrated cousin, The Secret Garden, but if I’m perfectly honest, I liked it better. Sara Crewe—wealthy and petted, but gentle and kind—suffers a fall of fortunes and determines to be a true princess throughout her trial. Unlikely friendships, unexpected blessings, and a satisfying conclusion spring from this decision. (Read the full review.)

*EIGHT COUSINS, Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins, by Louisa May Alcott | Little Book, Big Story

Sheltered and newly orphaned Rose meets her uncle and eight boy cousins for the first time, finds them bewilderingly active but ultimately endearing and goes on to forge the best sort of friendship with them. This book is funny, charming, and beautiful all at once, and sparkles with the same delight in story and language that fuels Alcott’s Little Women. (Read the full review.)


Have I missed any? What are your favorite little-known chapter books for girls?

Twenty and Ten | Claire Huchet Bishop

It makes sense that I would be an unofficial librarian at my daughter’s school. I grew up among books, you know—the business of words has always appealed to me. I put my enthusiasm for books on a slow simmer for a time as I pursued other things, but now, between my roles as a blogger, copy editor and librarian, it’s back at a roaring boil: I think in paragraphs—in complete, crafted sentences—and hear my life and the things I look at narrated back to me in what I wish was a lilting British accent like Jim Dale’s but is, in fact, my own voice. But, oh well. We were talking about me being a librarian.

The good news (but isn’t it all good news?) is that I have a book budget and a license to hunt out quality books for our growing Classical school. I now haunt bookstores and thrift shops with a new purpose and vigor, and our house looks as though books have multiplied all over it—the tops of the shelves and the floor in front of them are filled with stacks of books, organized by their relationship to the library catalog.

I am tasked with pre-reading a lot of donated chapter books, which is, as you can imagine, no hardship, except that some of them are pretty lame, and so I don’t finish those. But the good ones are really good, and I never would have found out about them otherwise.

Twenty and Ten | Little Book, Big Story

Twenty and Ten came to me in just such a box of books. It was skinny, with awkward cover art, something with a foreshortened Nazi and some kids sort of floating in the grass behind him in what looked like a puddle but was, it turns out, meant to be a cave. But the warped perspective is pardonable, for the book within the cover is graceful and concise. The author is an experienced storyteller—a verbal storyteller, that is—so the story rolls along in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you are sitting down to tea with the narrator, twenty or fifty years after the events of the story occurred.

What the book is about is twenty French schoolchildren who were evacuated to the countryside during World War II, and the ten Jewish children hidden in their midst. The story ends happily and on a note of hope, but it is suspenseful and the stakes are high. This is a book for children, but it’s about WWII, and children were called upon to make some terrible decisions in WWII; because of that, I’d only recommend this book to older children—and to you, of course. It’s so slender, you’d finish it in an afternoon.

Twenty and Ten | Little Book, Big Story


Twenty and Ten
Claire Huchet Bishop (1978)

The Little House Books | Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Bennetts. The Marches. The de Luces. The Rosenburgs.

What do these families have in common? All have been blessed with a wealth of daughters!

A few weeks ago, we learned that we’re expecting our third daughter, so I thought I’d celebrate by writing about one of our very favorite, all-daughter families and, more specifically, our favorite father of daughters: Pa Ingalls.

The Ingalls family has reached such stature in our home that, for a time, Lydia answered only to Laura, called us Ma and Pa (we loved that), and so thoroughly convinced Sarah that her name was Carrie that Sarah would argue with anyone who said otherwise.

The Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder | Little Book, Big Story

You probably remember the Little House books from your own childhood: the homesteading adventures of the Ingalls family, who lived in a new state for each of the first five books, built their homes by hand, lived in the wildest places (often miles from their nearest neighbors), and grew up with a freedom that few of us know today.

In sharing her childhood with generations of readers, Laura Ingalls Wilder both captured a significant time period in American history and wrapped us in the details of her own family life. Who can read about the Ingalls and not long to be a part of a family like that?

This is another series that is cheapened by reading it in pieces, as it follows Laura’s life from childhood to motherhood with a surprising depth of detail. For those of you who think these books are too idyllic, I especially recommend reading through the entire series: as Laura starts a home of her own (in The First Four Years) one learns, along with Laura, how very hard her parents had worked for her all through her childhood. It is a credit to her parents that Laura carried such honest, beautiful memories with her to the page when she wrote.

The Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder | Little Book, Big Story

And so, to the Ingalls family, I tip my hat. To Pa, whom we Rosenburgs have come to love dearly, I give an especially hearty nod. It can’t have been easy, raising girls in the wilderness, but from his booming laugh to his singing fiddle, you’d never know if it were otherwise.

And lastly, to my husband, who is every bit as deeply loved by the womenfolk in his life, I give a deep and dignified curtsy. Here’s to raising our daughters together!

If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes on the subject, from Greg Brown’s song, “Daughters”:

I’m a man who’s rich in daughters

and if by some wild chance, I get rich in money—

like another two thou a year,

or even one thou a year—

I’m gonna look into having some more daughters.


Little House Series
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams (1932-1971)

The Story of Esther | Eric A. Kimmel

Genocide. Execution. Arranged marriage. With themes like these, I can understand why there are few children’s version of the story of Esther on the market. And yet, it features a girl rich in courage and true beauty, a man whose life is a perfect illustration of the proverb “Pride comes before a fall,” and a God who, though unnamed in the story, orchestrates his people’s salvation in a lovely, symmetrical way. By dodging the darker themes, we sometimes miss the pulsing light running right through the heart of the story.

The Story of Esther | Little Book, Big Story

Eric Kimmel’s telling handles both aspects of the story gracefully. He manages to provide a thorough version that is (in the most important parts) faithful to the Bible, without burdening the story with unnecessary detail. There is a sense of motion to the narrative, perhaps due to Jill Weber’s illustrations: the characters are so expressive and animated that the story whisks along at the clip maintained by the Biblical book.

The characters are among my favorite in the Bible: Esther, the reluctant queen; Mordecai, a man faithful and full of integrity; Artaxerxes, a volatile king often portrayed as foolish, and perhaps rightfully so; and Haman, the perfect villain with a fitting end. I am so drawn to this story that I read any version I can get my hands on, and I can safely say that Kimmel’s is my favorite.

The Story of Esther | Little Book, Big Story


The Story of Esther: A Purim Tale
Eric A. Kimmel, Jill Weber (2011)