Tag: irene howat

10 Living Books About Church History

Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in October 2016.


We sit at the table so long that my tea grows cold. With my left hand I sprinkle Josie’s tray with smashed popcorn, one salty shard at a time; with my right hand I hold a book open, one of the stack piled in front of me. The older girls shell pistachios or poke each other or stare dreamily into middle distance as I read.

We call this time “elevensies”—we eat like hobbits while it happens—and it is a part of our home school routine. By the time we sit down, everyone who is of age has practiced piano; everyone has bumped fists with math and Latin. That stack of books at my seat holds everything from a biography of Tchaikovsky to a picture book about constellations to a systematic theology for kids.

But the core of our reading has two main threads: Scripture and history. I want my daughters to understand their context, to know that the world was an interesting place before they were born and that they have a particular role to play in this part of it. I want them to be able to trace the thread of God’s redemption through Scripture and to recognize where he is still working in the world. Sitting down at the table each morning is an act of trust in the Lord who knows what my daughters will question, what will touch their memories and dissolve, and what they will retain.

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

The aspect of history I find most fascinating is the history of the church. I have compiled for you a list of my favorite church history books here. They’re written for children, but if you find that they just whet your appetite, never fear! I’ve also included some 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?

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories | Irene Howat

I did not grow up knowing Jesus, but I have many friends who did. And I love to ask those friends what they enjoyed reading as a child. While I read Goosebumps, I wonder aloud, what did you read? Some shrug (they can’t remember), some say they read Goosebumps, too, but most read missionary biographies.

This surprised me. I definitely wasn’t into, say, presidential biographies as a kid. I dabbled in classics. I scarfed down The Babysitters’ Club. But what kid sits around and reads biographies for fun? This perplexed me—until I started reading missionary biographies. Then suddenly I understood.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

A well-written biography gives us a window into someone else’s life, with a perspective we don’t see when we live alongside a person. Through a biography, we see how that person’s childhood influenced their adult life and how their work transformed over decades. We get to look back from our vantage point in history and see how their life has altered the world or blessed others. We understand things they couldn’t have known while they lived. And if the subject of the biography is a Christian, missionary or otherwise, we get to see how God proved faithful to them again and again.

We get to see a life of faith lived out in a few hundred pages.

Irene Howat has written dozens of missionary biographies (I have reviewed some of her collections before), and I make a habit of adding one or two to my cart every time I need to bump a ThriftBooks order over $10. I love reading these, both because the subjects of the stories lived fascinating lives, but also because they show me what it looks like to serve God in every time, place, and circumstance.

Patricia St. John (biography), by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story

Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories tells the story of the beloved author of Treasures of the Snow (one of my favorite stories*) and many other books. St. John served as a nurse, missionary, and caregiver, and wrote several books over the course of her lifetime. Her stories display the gospel so clearly and vividly in a way few books do, and her eye for detail (Howat describes her as “a noticing person”) makes her characters live. Reading about the life behind those beautiful stories was a delight.

There is something undeniably appealing about biographies of other Christians. Our family read a bunch of books for history this year, but I couldn’t have predicted that the one our girls loved and asked for most would be a biography of George Mueller. Perhaps one day when they’re grown and someone asks them which books they loved most as a kid, their answers will surprise me.


*I love Treasures of the Snow so much that I reviewed it for the winter issue of Wildflowers magazine (available any minute in their online store!). Was the timing of this post some sort of publicity stunt to promote that issue? No, it was not. I read this biography last week and loved it so much I knew I needed to a) cram it into our history schedule, and b) share it with you ASAP. 

Wildflowers Magazine, Winter Issue | Little Book, Big Story

So here it is, beautifully but accidentally coordinated with the newest issue of Wildflowers. Both are worth reading immediately.


Patricia St. John: The Story Behind the Stories
Irene Howat (2008)

The Light Keepers Series | Irene Howat

I did not grow up reading missionary biographies. I have no old favorites to pull out for my daughters, no women who inspired me to do great things for God—only books I’d rather they never read. Christopher Pike. That sort of thing.

So I’m thankful for collections like Light Keepers that curate biographies for me, bundling them ten at a time under compelling titles like Ten Girls Who Made History or Ten Boys Who Changed the World. Each chapter in Irene Howat’s series tells a short story about one of ten figures in Christian history. She writes in a simple, narrative style, usually focusing on the subject’s youth (hence the title Ten Girls not Ten Women) and following the story with a brief collection of thoughts on the person’s historical context or on their major contributions to history.

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

These books are not meant to be a comprehensive biography of any one person, but serve as a sort of sampler platter that will, I hope, whet my daughters’ appetites for stories of women who were great not by the standards of this world but by the standards of the next. I hope that having met Corrie ten Boom as a child, they will recognize her name when, as women, they come across The Hiding Place. Or that having learned about Elisabeth Elliot as a child in these books, they will go on to read even a few of her many, wonderful books.

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

While the world around us tells my daughters to emulate Elsa or some rich, pretty actress, I want to lean heavily on the other side of the scales and fill their childhood with stories of women who loved even when that love came at a great cost, who gave more than they thought they had to give, and who trusted in the One who made them to supply their strength when they felt it failing.

At seven, a princess in a gorgeous dress will probably always have more appeal than a nurse tending the wounded on a battlefield—I don’t expect Florence Nightingale to win out over Elsa now. But I am sowing seeds: when they grow old enough to consider what sort of life they want to live, what they hope their own contributions toward history will be, I hope my daughters look toward Edith Schaeffer, Susannah Spurgeon, or Amy Carmichael. And I hope they have these books handy when they do.

Ten Girls Who Changed the World, by Irene Howat | Little Book, Big Story


Ten Girls Who Made History
Irene Howat (2003)

Ten Girls Who Changed the World
Irene Howat (2004)

Ten Boys Who Made a Difference
Irene Howat (2004)