Tag: irene howat

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)