Tag: holiday (page 1 of 2)

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas

The first time we listened to A Slugs and Bugs Christmas, we were on our way to the pharmacy for flu vaccines. To give you an adult-to-child ratio, that was me to three small children, all destined to get shots in the next hour. We needed something light-hearted and peppy to boost morale.

The girls were immediately smitten with Slugs and Bugs—Randall Goodgame was speaking their language! I enjoyed the songs, I think, but was inwardly crafting my strategy for the pharmacy: three girls. Me. Narrow aisles; shelves of small things. Shots.

I don’t think I heard much of the album at all.

On our way home, though, I was in a state of elation: we’d done it! We survived! Nobody cried (much), not even me, though I felt like eating a whole pint of ice cream to celebrate and/or de-stress afterward. Instead, we did something better: we listened to “The Camel Song.”

And I fell head-over-heels for Slugs and Bugs.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

To tell you that “The Camel Song” was just the things for girls whose arms still smarted was one thing, but to tell you that it had me laughing out loud is another. The next morning, I kept listening to the albumwhen it was just Phoebe and me in the van and I could have listened to whatever I wanted. I reached “The Camel Song Conversation” at the end of the album and really lost it, laughing so hard my eyes watered while I sat in the parking lot of the grocery store, waiting for the song to end so I could get out of the car and behave like an adult.

What could be a better endorsement for a children’s album than that? I listened to it on my own, just because I wanted to. And it made me laugh.

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

A Slugs and Bugs Christmas somehow hits all the markers for a good Christmas album for kidsthere are silly and nostalgic songs at the start, and the end of the album is full of beautifully arranged Christmas carols old and new. A six-year-old friend put it this way: “It’s funny, because there are Santa songs and then God songs and then some songs that are just silly!”

Randall Goodgame, Andrew Peterson and others made an album that is a joy to listen to (and to have stuck in your head throughout the day). But when I read about their vision for children’s music, I loved them even more:

We believe songs are one of God’s powerful tools for building strong relationships. When songs inspire laughter or deep spiritual thought, they can transform a routine car ride into a sweet family experience. Over time, that influence can profoundly impact the culture of the home. . . . Our small hope is that the joyful creativity of Slugs & Bugs music will delight your whole family.  Our grand hope is that Slugs & Bugs kids would find it natural to remember Jesus in their homework, in their friendships, and one day, in the parenting of our grandchildren.

That paragraph makes me glad that I have their other album Under Where? ready to tuck into someone’s stocking on Christmas Eve.


A Slugs and Bugs Christmas
Slugs and Bugs

God Gave Us Easter | Lisa Tawn Bergren

I expected to like this series less than I do. The books are cute, after all, with talking polar bears and pastel palettes, and so I expected the content to be cute, too. But I have finally—after reading at least three of these books–realized that the content is more commendable than cute, more challenging than cuddly.

Before we go further, let me be clear: I don’t have anything against pastels or talking bears. I have nothing against Laura J. Bryant’s illustrations—in fact, I think they’re lovely. Her perspectives are unusual, her details vibrant, her use of patterns just right. But for some reason, when I first saw them I didn’t expect depth from the story: I expected sweetness. And so the depth, when I met it, was surprising.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

Lisa Tawn Bergren uses the comforting structure of a child’s conversation with a parent to unearth deep truths—like where babies come from (in God Gave Us You) or what love is (in God Gave Us Love).

In God Gave Us Easter, her characters discuss Easter, yes, but they also discuss the gospel. And death. And prayer. The conversation dives into those deeper subjects while still meandering in the way that conversations with small children do. Somehow, Bergren hits those two notes—theology and simplicity—just right.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

God Gave Us Easter was a welcome addition to our family’s collection of Easter books—it balances out our many retellings of the events Holy Week by delving into not the “what,” but the “why” and “how” of Easter, and it does that by zooming in on what the Resurrection means for one family, one child.

God Gave Us Easter, by Lisa Tawn Bergen | Little Book, Big Story

One cautionary note: this book does present the gospel from the perspective of polar bears in such a way that it might be tempting to think that the author intended, in some literal sense, to imply that Christ’s atoning death applies to polar bears, too. Because the bears also talk and dye Easter eggs and behave in other un-bearlike ways, I didn’t take it that way, and I don’t think my children did, either. If it comes up, I figure it makes for an interesting conversation with the kids, that’s all. But it is a point worth mentioning.


God Gave Us Easter
Lisa Tawn Bergen, Laura J. Bryant (2013)

Song of the Stars | Sally Lloyd-Jones

We take cake pretty seriously around here. And we take any excuse to bake cakes, especially when we find an excuse that looks like this:

Little Book, Big Story

This weekend, we’ll celebrate Phoebe’s first birthday with pancakes and snuggles and a gift bag full of tissue paper (what more could a baby ask for?). We’ll celebrate St. Lucia’s Day, too, and our twelfth anniversary. So you see, we could make as many as three cakes if we wanted to. But I think we’ll stick with just one:

Birthday Cake | Little Book, Big Story

And we’ll keep rolling along with Advent, and I will keep pulling books down from the attic every so often so we can read them anew. This week, I’ll unveil one of my very favorites: Song of the Starsby Sally Lloyd-Jones (a regularly featured author here at Little Book, Big Story).

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

I bought this book based on Lloyd-Jones’s name alone, and if I’m perfectly honest, I’ll admit that my first response went a little like this:

Opening pages: Is that snow? (Aren’t we in Israel?) Do I see deciduous trees?

Mid-book: Are those . . . whales? And stallions? (Where are the camels?)

Closing pages: Tears. Sniffles.

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

At first, I didn’t get it. In her illustrations, Alison Jay departs from the standard Christmas-book livestock of ox and ass and camel and takes readers around the world, showing how Christ’s coming wasn’t only a local event for Israelite animals but something that the whole world—every nook and cranny of creation—was preparing for. Somehow that wide-ranging perspective made for a striking contrast to the fact that all of this deep anticipation, felt by birds and beasts alike, was met in the coming of a baby—a seemingly ordinary baby who was overlooked by most of the people he had come to redeem.

Hence the tears and sniffles. The beauty of this book runs deep, so it will appeal—I’d hazard a guess—to all members of your family, regardless of age (and possible predisposition to cry over picture books). And if you’re anything like me, it will be one that you look forward to each season with, perhaps, an enthusiasm much like the one you feel for cake.


Song of the Stars
Sally Lloyd-Jones, Allison Jay (2011)

An Origami Advent Calendar

Years ago, I went on an origami binge. I think the flu may have been partly responsible for the stretch of time that I spent on the couch, watching Arrested Development and folding boxes, but I can’t be sure. What I do know is that for years afterward, a good portion of our closet storage was dedicated to what boxes were left over after I used at least two dozen of them to package the chocolate truffles that were that year’s Christmas gifts.

Did you catch that? I had tons of boxes left over after I used about two dozen of them to package Christmas gifts. And that only accounts for the boxes: there were origami ornaments, too, stars and cubes and some awkward cranes, plus paper quilts made from folded squares. I am not one for moderation when it comes to meditative folded-paper arts, apparently.

So there the boxes were, tumbling out of corners of our closet when we tried to find dress shoes and fallen scarves, tucked away with remnants of other, past binges: the jewelry binge. The hand-illustrated card binge. (The great knitting binge of 2008-2012 was still on the horizon, as was the present day watercolor-painting binge.) I began to despair of ever finding uses for all of those boxes, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away—they were too lovely.

But then, inspiration struck rather forcefully one morning in late November, about six years ago. Mitch found me digging through the closet at 5 am, pulling out not only the boxes, but also the library-style date stamp (left over from making our wedding album), scraps of origami paper, plain white labels, and the backing for a picture frame that had long since lost its glass. He grumbled something and went back to sleep; I took myself off to the living room where I worked until he and Lydia woke up. I tackled the project again during every spare moment until the evening of the next day, when I had this to show for my hard work:

Our origami Advent calendar has been with us for almost seven years now and has aged with surprising grace, though it is looking well-loved (sorry, DEC 24!). It seems that every year, someone asks about it—how I made it, how others might make one, too—and because of that, I once posted a tutorial on my old blog, Two Blue Buttons. But that blog is now retired and that post went with it into retirement. And so, because some of you have also asked about our calendar, and because I am enjoying branching out this Advent from book reviews into some Advent-themed DIY projects, I decided to write about our calendar for you, too.

I realize that the odds are against you having all the same miscellaneous stuff in your closet that I did, so rather than give you a full tutorial here, I’ll give you some simple guidelines for making a similar calendar, with some helpful links below in the “Resources” section.

DIY Origami Advent Calendar | Little Book, Big Story

The most important pieces, obviously, are the boxes. Once you’ve folded twenty-five of them (as mentioned, I find that episodes of Arrested Development pair nicely with this sort of project), all you really need to do is label them and then glue them to a base of your choice, be it painted board, a canvas, some sort of fabric-wrapped thing—I painted a large piece of drawing paper and wrapped it around the remnants of the picture frame.

Finally, fill them with stuff. In the past, we’ve done scraps of paper with service ideas or small squares of chocolate, but then I hit on the idea of filling the boxes with the ornaments for our Jesse tree, which felt delightfully like solving two problems with the same answer.

If you decide to make one of your own, I would love to see pictures!

REsources

Origami instruction sheets can be terrifying, but there is a lovely tutorial (with photos) for folding origami boxes on Creativebug. (The paper I used wasn’t as big as theirs—mine measured something like 6×6″.)

You can find some of my favorite origami paper on Amazon. (As you can see, I used quite a few different kinds for my boxes, but this link is for the stuff with the pretty gold details.)

Those library stamps aren’t hard to come by either.

Beautiful Books for Advent

I like to get an early start on reviewing Christmas books around here, because I figure that at least some of you are, like me, whatever we call the opposite of a procrastinator. We were the ones who read through most of the course material weeks before our college professor presented it in class (but only in courses that we were excited about). If we have anything resembling a deadline in our near future, it’s a safe bet that we started working on the item due weeks, if not months, beforehand. And we start thinking about Christmas some time in late summer.

So it’s nice to know which books we’d like to add to the family library well before the need for them arises. Here, for you opposite-of-procrastinators, is a list of our family’s favorite books for Advent (and yes, this post was written three weeks before publication):

Beautiful Books for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

1. The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, by Rhonda Growler Greene

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

A gorgeous rhymed poem paired with rich yet cozy illustrations tell the story of Christ’s birth with beauty and grace. Also, there are kittens. A great book for toddlers and preschoolers. (Read the full review.)

2. The Advent Jesse Treeby Dean Meador

If you’d like to try celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree this year, I highly recommend this little book. It’s filled with daily family devotions that will take you from Genesis to Revelation during the month of December, and it will help you lay a great biblical foundation for your kids as they prepare for Christmas. (Read the full review.)

3. The Friendly Beasts, by Tomie dePaola

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola’s charming rendition of an old Christmas carol will appeal to readers big and little (but especially little). (Read the full review.)

4. Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

Lloyd-Jones, author of the much-beloved, Jesus Storybook Bible, tells a beautiful story of the whole world preparing for the coming birth of Christ. She branches out from the usual fare of camels and barnyard animals and includes wild horses, whales and bears in the litany of wildlife preparing to worship the Lord—but she doesn’t stop there. This book is great for toddlers, preschoolers, and early school-aged kids. (Read the full review.)

5. Saint Nicholas, by Julie Stiegemeyer

Saint Nicholas | Little Book, Big Story

Whether you’d like to add a biographical note to family’s celebration of Santa or prefer not to celebrate Santa at all but want to share a bit of history with your kids, this book is a great resource for you. (Read the full review.)

6. Who is Coming to Our House?, by Joseph Slate

Who is Coming to Our House? | Little Book, Big Story

The animals in the manger prepare for special guests in a story that is simple and sweet and, for some reason, moves me to tears every time we read it. This one is perfectly suited to the smallest of readers.

7. An Early American Christmas, by Tomie dePaola

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola tells the story of an immigrant family who brings their Christmas celebration with them to America. He tells us this Little House-style, and includes details about how they prepared each piece of their celebration—candles, sweets, ornaments, and more—that proved positively enchanting to our pioneer-loving daughters. Those details don’t overwhelm the point of the story, though, and the book closes on a gorgeous note. (Read the full review.)

8. One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham

As a new believer, I was seventeen, wore combat boots to church, and approached the Bible as I would any other book: I opened it, flipped past the table of contents, and started to read. I treated the Bible as a single story, at times confusing and downright unlikable, because I didn't know any better. . . (from Little Book, Big Story)

Ruth Bell Graham tells the Christmas story by placing it in its context: this is a full-size, beautifully illustrated book, but it’s told in chapters, so she can start the story at the very beginning and see it through to the Resurrection. This is a great book to read as a family during Advent. (Read the full review.)

One Wintry Night | Ruth Bell Graham

As a new believer, I was seventeen, wore combat boots to church, and approached the Bible as I would any other book: I opened it, flipped past the table of contents, and started to read. I treated the Bible as a single story, at times confusing and downright unlikable, because I didn’t know any better.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

I know now that many Christians advise new believers to begin with something easier to read and saturated with the Gospel, something like John or Galatians—I have, on occasion, done the same myself—and as a result, many Christians go for decades before meeting the bit players of the Bible or confronting the fine points of the Mosaic Law.

But when we approach Scripture like that, it becomes easy to see the Bible as a collection of story fragments that may or may not fit together to form a cohesive whole, and so I am thankful that I came to books like John or Galatians only after wrestling through the Old Testament with its laws, prophets, and poetry. After months spent reading the genealogies, detailed descriptions of things measured in cubits, and all that stuff in Ezekiel about the “likeness of living creatures” and the “likeness of a throne,” I was hungry for good news.

I didn’t know to put it this way then, but what I longed for was the Messiah.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

And then, I reached the New Testament. I sat in an armchair in a cabin by one of Minnesota’s thousand lakes with the door open, the screen door closed, while the smell of breakfast drifted through it from my aunt and uncle’s cabin, and I turned the page from Malachi, to the title page—THE NEW TESTAMENT—to this: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ . . . “ (Matt. 1:1). Now that was a genealogy I could appreciate. The morning light perked up; the song of the birds crescendoed. I held my breath and read on.

One Wintry Night | Little Book, Big Story

Ruth Bell Graham takes a similar approach to the story of Christ’s birth in her book, One Wintry Night: she doesn’t treat it as a story separate from the rest of the Bible, but as part of a larger story (the big story). The premise of the book is this: a boy named Zeb gets caught outside in a snowstorm. He finds sanctuary with a neighbor, an old woman who tends to his sprained ankle and tells him the Christmas story to help pass the time until the storm dies down.

The story is told in chapters and so makes a good devotional for Advent, beginning with the story of Creation and ending with the Resurrection. Graham writes clearly and well, and that clearness of tone pairs well with Richard Jesse Watson’s illustrations. The dust jacket says that he spent four years preparing the illustrations for this book, and it shows: they are highly intricate, delicate and lifelike, so much so that it is hard to flip past the beautiful double spreads to continue the story without pausing to study them closely.

Advent is a season meant for looking not just at the Christmas story itself, but at the way it fits in with the whole of Scripture, and books like One Wintry Night know this. In the opening pages, the old woman says:

“The first Christmas happened almost 2,000 years ago,” she began. “That’s when the angel appeared to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. But the story doesn’t begin there. It couldn’t have because the angel called Jesus a ‘savior,’ or a rescuer. Someone must have been in trouble.”

The story as we know it begins at the very beginning of the Bible.


One Wintry Night
Ruth Bell Graham, Richard Jesse Watson (1997)

The Stable Where Jesus was Born | Rhonda Growler Greene

In all the holiday brouhaha, it’s sometimes tempting to skip over the season’s simple, obvious joys. The Stable Where Jesus Was Born is one of those obvious joys. Beautifully illustrated by Susan Gaber, it tells the story of Jesus’s birth in rhymed couplets: “This is the stable where Jesus was born . . . “.

Each couplet zooms out from an intimate scene in the stable until finally, the heavens are involved and the whole earth, and then the arc begins to fall back to that stable, where two new parents hold the earth’s greatest joy, surrounded by humble animals.

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

I love the illustrations; I love the language. But more than anything, I love that shifting perspective. (And my daughters love the animals, so this is a great story of the Nativity to share with the littlest readers.)

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

On a related note

Advent, that season of expectant joy, is the perfect time to be nine months pregnant. Not because our schedule is clear or our house is clean, but because our hearts are awaiting God’s great gift to all of mankind while also awaiting that little, tangible gift given to our family in particular. We don’t know her name or her birthday, but she’s due to join us any time.

That said, I wanted to give you a peek at my plans for this blog’s future: I’m hoping to take a few weeks to a month off and then work my way back up to weekly posts over the next few months. God and the baby may disagree with me, but those, my friends, are my plans. I promise to share a post with you when the baby is born, and in the meantime, your prayers for our family are greatly appreciated. I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and I look forward to sharing more books with you after the New Year!


The Stable Where Jesus Was Born
Rhonda Growler Greene, Susan Gaber (2002)