Tag: history (page 1 of 2)

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)

John Brown | John Hendrix

I knew two things about this book when I grabbed it off the library shelf:

  1. John Brown was a controversial guy whose legacy had something to do with a militia, maybe.
  2. No such controversy surrounds John Hendrix, whose book Miracle Man is one of my favorites, and whose hand-lettered “Hendrix” on this book’s spine compelled me to tuck it in my book bag.

I learned a lot more about both Johns when I got home. John Brown was controversial—I was right about that. As a white man living when the tide was turning, yet hadn’t fully turned, against slavery, John Brown took up arms and fought to bring slavery to an end. He loved the Lord and saw violence as a way to bring a great grief to an end. His raid on a federal armory in the town of Harper’s Ferry was distastrous and led to his capture and execution.

He is not an obvious hero.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

But John Hendrix treats his story well, neither glorifying Brown’s call to violence, nor underplaying Brown’s passion and love for those enslaved. Here was a man who saw injustice and said not, “Somebody should do something about that,” but “Something must be done”—and then did something about it.

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

I try to keep my daughters’ shelves stocked with stories of heroes—people who trusted the Lord through difficult circumstances, yes, but also figures from history whose stories are worth telling and retelling. John Brown fits almost into both of those categories, but his story is not a clear success and that is, I think, one of its merits. We have to think about this story: Was he right to wage an actual war against slavery? Did he, in the end, accomplish what he set out to do? How was he changed by the events at Harper’s Ferry?

John Brown: His Fight For Freedom, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

There is no setting this book down and thinking, Well, that was nice. John Hendrix’s words as well as his illustrations push the reader into deeper study, and his author’s note at the end of the book gives an interesting glimpse into what drew him to write about John Brown:

John was a devout believer in Christianity. He used the Bible’s words—that men are loved and valuable to God—as a holy plumb line. When he held this truth up against the crooked world, he knew things should be different. I was astonished to read about John’s belief that black people should not just be free but equal, which was an idea far outside mainstream abolitionism in the antebellum United States. His passion for freedom was undisputed. Frederick Douglass said of John Brown: ‘His zeal in the cause of my race was greater than mine. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.’

Those are powerful words about a man who, in the end, did just that: he loved and laid down his for his neighbors. And John Hendrix tells that story well, both in his words and illustrations.


John Brown: His Fight For Freedom
John Hendrix (2009)

10 Living Books About Church History

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question I had about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length.

I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a teenager eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life, i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set, I didn’t appreciate what my father was trying to do.

I appreciate it now: just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, what we must do to change, where we are headed—any of it.

History is our broader context: from the decisions our parents made that shape our lives now, to the decisions some emperor made hundreds of years ago that shape the structure of our cities, we need to have at least a passing familiarity with them in order to understand our own roles and responsibilities now. When we isolate our particular moment in time, it seems absurd—at times even insane (and yes, I’m thinking of the election as I write)—because we do not see the series of events large and small that brought us to this point.

10 Living Books About Church History | Little Book, Big Story

Despite my father’s best efforts, I didn’t even begin to appreciate this fact until a few years ago, when I dipped my toes into the vast and lovely sea of historical narratives. I began to discover many interesting things about our world and about the God who made it, and my way in to each new subject came, in most cases, in the form of a children’s book.

I have compiled a list of some of my favorite books about church history here, and while they’re technically recommendations for your children, I hope you will enjoy them too. And if you find that after reading them, you’re hungry for further study, I have included, wherever possible, recommendations for you.

The Church History ABCs, by Stephen J. Nichols

The Church History ABCs | Little Book, Big Story

What better way to learn the alphabet than by using key figures of church history to illustrate each letter? No, I’m kidding. This isn’t an alphabet primer, but a biography sampler: A is for Augustine, Z for Ulrich Zwingli. This is, and probably always will be, my favorite picture book about church history. (Read the full review.)

The History Lives Series, by Mindy and Brandon Withrow

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

This series offers a great introduction to church history for kids or adults (confession: my husband and I both read these. For ourselves, not for the kids). Spread over five volumes, History Lives tells the story of the church from the first century to today, by introducing a new key figure each chapter and telling a slightly fictionalized story about some moment in their life. I use these in conjunction with our history curriculum and my daughter loves them. They’re a bit like Story of the World, but about church history rather than world history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Church History in Plain Languageby Bruce Shelley

 

Lily, The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley

Lily: The Girl Who Could See, by Sally Oxley | Little Book, Big Story

This simple, lovely biography of missionary Lilias Trotter is a keeper: a great fly-over view of a woman who loved and served God, no matter what the cost. And while many missionaries are wonderful to read about but hard to relate to, Lilias’s story resonates with me. Not many of us here are called to be martyrs, but we’re all called to lay down our lives and desires to serve the Lord whole-heartedly. Lilias Trotter, who set aside an opportunity to become “the greatest artist of her generation” in order to place her gifts in the service of the Lord,  is a beautiful example for child and parent alike. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness

 

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

This collection introduces readers to a handful of saints from the early days of the church. Joyce Denhem’s beautiful language pairs nicely with the illustrations, which suggest stained glass windows, but the most beautiful part of the stories is the way they glorify not the saints themselves but the God they served. (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

Lawton’s exploration of the life of Mary Bunyan, John’s daughter, is lovely. This is historical fiction at its best, and it’s one of a series of books about young Christian girls throughout history. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Pilgrim’s Progressby John Bunyan

 

MOSESby Carole Boston Weatherford

Moses, by Carole Weatherford | Little Book, Big Story

Through an imagined conversation between Harriet Tubman and the Lord, Carole Boston Weatherford paints a portrait of a woman who relied upon the Lord for every step of that first journey from slavery to freedom. The illustrations are moving, depicting Tubman’s travel in a way that captures both the beauty and the hardship of that first flight. Knowing how difficult that first trip was makes the knowledge that she went back (many times) to rescue others from bondage even more amazing.

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat

The Light Keepers Series, by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

This series is like a sampler platter of Christian biographies. There’s a set of biographies about men, and a set about women, with five volumes apiece. I’d be willing to bet that your favorite historical figure is in here somewhere. (Read the full review.)

For Grown-Ups

Faithful Women and Their Extraordinary God, by Noel Piper

 

MARTIN LUTHERby Paul L. Maier

Martin Luther, by Paul L. Maier | Little Book, Big Story

This is a powerful, detailed biography of Martin Luther. It is a picture book (and a beautifully illustrated one), but the text is weighty and rich: more suited for independent reading than for reading aloud.  Maier writes about not just who Luther was, but about why his work still matters today.

For Grown-Ups

Luther on the Christian Life, by Carl R. Trueman

 

What is the Church?, by Mandy Groce and Bill Bell

What is the Church? | Little Book, Big Story

Through a sweet rhyme and simple illustrations, the authors explain not just what the church is, but who. This book is great for young readers, but it’s also a nice, succinct look at the church itself for older kids and even adults. (Read the full review.)

Saint Valentine, by Robert Sabuda

Saint Valentine | Little Book, Big Story

This beautifully illustrated, moving story about Saint Valentine is my favorite Valentine’s Day read. Yes, we eat chocolate hearts while we read it, but Valentine’s story reminds us why we give each other notes and gifts on the holiday while painting a picture of sacrificial love given at a great cost. (Read the full review.)


Which books about church history would you add to the list?

The History Lives Series | Mindy and Brandon Withrow

I learned long ago that one of the best ways to tackle a new topic is to read a children’s book about it. Books written for adults are, of course, more comprehensive, but a good children’s book will stick to the point, keep the story lively, and will allow the exciting parts of the story to be exciting. So when my husband expressed an interest in church history, I started with these books: true, living stories about key figures in church history, all underpinned by a chronological sense of history as a story with many chapters.

Peril and Peace, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The History Lives series walks through church history in five volumes, chronicling the Ancient (Peril and Peace), Medieval (Monks and Mystics), Reformation (Courage and Conviction), Awakening (Hearts and Hands) and Modern church (Rescue and Redeem). Most chapters depict small scenes in the life of a significant figure in church history, immersing the reader in the details of the figure’s life at one particular time and place in a compelling and vivid way. They read more like stories than like biographies, which makes them fun to read aloud.

Brandon and Mindy Withrow obviously chose their subjects carefully: there are figures in here that we all know, but there are many that are more obscure and whose stories I’m grateful to them for recovering. Tucked between the stories are a few topical chapters that flesh out what was happening in the church at the time and why it was significant.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

The Withrows bring a balanced perspective to complex issues like the Crusades, resisting the urge to distill the lives of these very real, sinful people down into cautionary tales or glorified epic adventures. Of the medieval church, they write,

“It is often hard for modern Christians to remember that the people who developed these ideas were studying the Bible in the medieval world—a world very different from today. . . . Like Christians of all eras, they made both positive and negative contributions to the church.”

I appreciated this perspective.

I was less impressed, though, by the way the writers updated the dialogue of the characters to make it feel not consistent with their own time but consistent with ours. Perhaps this makes them appear more relevant or readable, but the moments when the characters quoted their own works within conversation felt refreshing, as though they’d been allowed to breath through the story rather than have to keep in step with the writer’s tone. Those, for me, were the moments when history truly lived as I read.

Heart and Hands, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story

But that’s a small complaint, and on the whole, I loved these books. They provide a great flyover view of church history from its early days to the present, and are easy to read start-to-finish or in tandem with a more detailed history curriculum (we’re currently reading Monks & Mystics with the Veritas Press history cards, if you’re interested). In fact, they remind me more than a little of Susan Wise Bauer’s Story of the World series, but with an emphasis on church (rather than world) history. They whetted my appetite for history as well as my husband’s, and will, I hope, open up the world of church history for our daughters.

History Lives Series, by Brandon and Mindy Withrow | Little Book, Big Story


The History Lives Series
Brandon and Mindy Withrow (2012)

Stories of the Saints | Joyce Denham

I grew up with a piecemeal view of history, with some knowledge about Vikings and some about American pioneers and some about the major players in WWII, but without an overarching sense of history’s continuing narrative to pin those pieces into place.

I want our daughters to know that narrative, so they have a strong sense of where they fit in the story of our world and find comfort in the fact that our time is not an island around which the past and future flow but a part of a whole that is shaped by the past and is now shaping the future. That desire has largely informed our decision to educate our kids the way we do, and it influences our decision to bring home books like Stories of the Saints.

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Stories of the Saints is a collection of short stories about figures in church history who lived and died for God’s glory. Joyce Denham does not glorify the saints themselves or dwell on what were probably gruesome deaths, but instead points their stories back toward the Lord they served despite opposition. She writes beautifully, presenting imaginative scenes that focus on the history of the saints’ lives rather than on miracles and legends, and Judy Stevens’s illustrations cloak each story in a visible, reverent joy. (I love them.)

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Books like this help place our own time within its context and remind us that others came before us and withstood trials, persecution, and hardship, and God wrought something beautiful out of their obedience. I think it will be increasingly important to help our children understand this, for we do not want our children to be surprised by hardship when it comes (and it is coming, for us as much as for Christians all over the world); we do not want them to feel alone in it, either, as though something strange were happening to them (1 Pet. 4:12)

And so we hold up the lives of the saints for them to study and know, and hope that they take away this when they close the book: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13).

Stories of the Saints, by Joyce Denham | Little Book, Big Story

Christ’s glory will be revealed; he will return. And we long for them to recognize him when he does.


Stories of the Saints
Joyce Denham, Judy Stevens (2007)

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

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 don’t think 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)

An Early American Christmas | Tomie dePaola

Before we get to today’s scheduled post, I have to say something a little awkward: I no longer recommend Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This is due in large part to Voskamp’s writing style, which seemed passable when I read through the book alone but that fell apart when read aloud with our family, as it rendered each story so frustratingly abstract that even my husband and I had a hard time following her train of thought. We also began to suspect that there were some doctrinal soft spots lurking in the devotions, but because of the author’s writing style (about which I really am trying to be gracious), we found them hard to identify and therefore hard to discuss with our children.

I wanted so badly to love this book (did I mention the illustrations?), but we were only able to make it through four readings before reaching a unanimous decision to return the book and investigate our other options.

And now I find myself in the prickly position of having to retract a recommendation that I made—not once, but twice—here on the blog. I know now that it’s not enough to read through family devotionals on my own, especially if I find myself swayed by beautiful illustrations, but that they need to be read with my family before I so much as draft a post to share with you. If any of you bought the book on my recommendation and had an experience with it similar to mine, I’m so sorry!

Now, back to today’s post about a book that I have read dozens of times over the course of many years with my family and therefore can stand fully behind:


I don’t know what afternoons are like where you live, but up here in the Northwestern corner of the continental US, they are dark. Sometimes, they are cozy dark—”stay in and make hot chocolate” dark. But the rest of the time, they’re just drippy, dreary, dismal, ready-for-bed-at-5 o’clock dark. I have lived here my whole life and despite the fact that it happens this way every single year, I still cannot get used to parting ways with the sun at four in the afternoon.

But one side effect that I’m discovering for the first time this year is that it’s difficult to photograph one’s books on the front porch when the light outside is effectively that of dusk by 2 pm. The colors are weird, the shadows are weird, and the cat is cold enough to interrupt everything I do in the hopes that I might—just might—sit down so she can nest in my lap.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola turns that early darkness into something lovely in this passage from An Early American Christmas: “As the days grew shorter, the winds blew colder. Then the snow began to fly and December was here. Soon, soon it would be Christmas.” See? This only lasts until December 22—that is what I tell myself. And then: Christmas! And after that: more daylight!

An Early American Christmas introduces us to a small village in New Hampshire where celebrating Christmas is not a thing that is done, and to a family from Germany who moved to that village and brought their Christmas traditions with them.

“The Christmas family” celebrated the holiday with the sort of joy that simmered over the course of months as they prepared their home for the coming festivities: shaping bayberry candles, whittling nativity scenes, choosing their tree and baking sweets, as the year moved them closer and closer to Christmas. Tomie dePaola is the right sort of illustrator for a story like this, as he excels at depicting sequences: the grandmother and mother making candles moves from the top left of one page to the bottom right of the other, beginning with them picking bayberries and ending with the finished candles hanging to dry.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

He details the thoughtful creation of each piece of their family’s celebration in a way that stands in stark contrast to our highly marketed, factory-made gifts and decorations, and creates a sort of nostalgia (in me, at least) for a time when there was no option to purchase tacky decorations or token gifts: if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself. And if you wanted to give something to somebody else, you had to make it yourself.

(But whenever I start feeling this nostalgia for “the old times”—Lydia’s phrase—I remind myself of the state of medical care back then, with its leeches and blood letting and lack of anesthetic and bam! Contentment with my own point in history returns.)

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

This is a slow-moving story filled with the anticipation and preparation before Christmas, and it captures beautifully how one family lived quietly among their neighbors and yet changed the ways of their village, until “one by one every household in the village became a Christmas family.”

I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it is available on Amazon for pretty reasonable prices. Also, for you local folks, there is a copy in our public library (that’s where I found this book in the first place).


An Early American Christmas
Tomie dePaola (1987)