Tag: jrr tolkien

John Ronald’s Dragons | Caroline McAlister

Announcement!

The hyper-observant among you (I am decidedly not one of these, my husband will assure you) may have noticed that the “Bookshop” link is no longer available in the menu up there. Alas! Amazon no longer supports the store feature, so I had to retire it. The Book List is still there, though, so if you want a flyover view of my favorite titles, that’s the place to look.

That is all.


There are those who like to know the story behind their favorite stories, and there are those who don’t. Lydia is one of the latter. Biographies of her favorite authors, interviews or seminars—when offered, she turns them down with a polite “No, thank you.” She maintains that she likes the stories the way they are, without bothering with the shadows and scaffolds behind them.

But I am one of the former. I watched all of the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVDs. I read interviews with favorite authors, as well as prefaces, introductions, afterwords, and author’s notes. Those “in progress” videos my favorite illustrators post to Instagram are among my life’s simple pleasures.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

And so books like John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien, which tell the life of a beloved author in words and pictures, are just my cup of tea. But this one, with its well-told story and endearing illustrations, suited Lydia, too. McAlister follows JRR Tolkien from childhood until the creation of The Hobbit, using Tolkien’s lifelong love of dragons to shape a story that deals gently but honestly with childhood, loss, war, and love.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations, meanwhile, are beautiful. I know there’s a better adjective out there to describe them, something that conveys a sense of coziness, of light and dark, of delight, but I haven’t found it. Her surprising use of perspective and the way she works biographical and historical detail into each painting (and documents them in, yes, the Illustrator’s Note) adds another layer of meaning to the story, allowing us to read, in the margins, more about the inventive Tolkien and the major events of his life.

John Ronald's Dragons, by Caroline McAlister | Little Book, Big Story

John Ronald’s Dragons gives us an enchanting look into the story behind one of our favorite stories, and it’s one I know our family will return to again and again. It also motivated me to look for the story behind that story, and in my sleuthing I found a fascinating post about Eliza Wheeler’s research trip to Oxford, as well as this trailer for John Ronald’s Dragons. I also found her on Instagram.


John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of JRR Tolkien
Caroline McAlister, Eliza Wheeler (2017)

The Best Books I Read in 2016

When I spend time with my favorite moms, we ask a lot of questions of each other. Mine tend to focus around housekeeping, a subject that has perplexed me well into adulthood: “But when do you clean? Why are your floors so shiny?”

Very few people ask me for tips about housework, which is probably wise. They do, however, ask me a lot about reading: what am I reading, what should they read, and, most often, when do I read. My answer to that last one is simple: whenever I can. I read in the pick-up line, the bathtub, in bed, while nursing, while waiting for the pasta to cook (this may answer the housekeeping questions, actually). I read during naptime and in those rare moments when everyone is playing contentedly outside and no one is looking at me or needing me for anything. I am always armed with a book, even if it’s just a pocket-sized book of poetry.
Of all the books I read in 2016, I liked these 10 the best | Little Book, Big Story

This year was a year of reading everywhere. Many of these books were finished in bits and pieces in unlikely places, because that is what life is like with two school-aged children, one toddler, and a baby: bits and pieces. I read nonfiction, deep and rich, and started keeping a commonplace book for the first time. I read a lot of great kids’ books, too, and many of my favorites from this year have already appeared on the blog.

But here are ten books that I haven’t shared yet, ten that I thought you, dear parents, might like for yourselves:

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon

The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon | Little Book, Big Story

I’m hard pressed to know what to call The Supper of the Lamb: part cookbook (with recipes), part meditation on the beauty of creation, part opinionated treatise on cooking techniques, part endearing glimpse into the life of an Episcopalian priest in the 1960s, this book made me laugh aloud, spring for new wooden spoons, and stare with wonder at an ordinary onion.

Teaching From Rest, by Sarah Mackenzie

This book on homeschooling, by the beloved host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, plunges beneath the technical details of how to do it and into the depths of why we do it. Her heart for connection with her kids is contagious, and I love her big-picture perspective on education and where we, as moms and educators, place our priorities. This is a short book, but it’s a rich one, and it’s worth reading whether you’ve been homeschooling for years or are just starting to wonder if it might be for you. (I loaned this one out, so alas! I could not photograph it for you.)

Pilgrim’s Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge

Pilgrim's Inn, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

This is the second book in The Eliot Family Trilogy, and all three of the books are worth reading. But in Caught Up in a Story, Sarah Clarkson singles out this book for her recommendation, and I can see why: by telling the story of a post-WWII family who buys and restores an old pilgrim inn, Elizabeth Goudge paints a beautiful picture of what a home is and how a good one transforms us.

(Also: resist the urge to judge this book by its cover. That’s a strong urge, I know. But fight it! The book is lovely inside.)

Letters & Life, by Bret Lott

Letters and Life, by Bret Lott | Little Book, Big Story

Confession: I am still reading this one. But when Lott opened his book on writing with the Apostle’s Creed, anchoring his view of art in the solid ground of theology, he endeared himself to me immediately. His tone throughout the book is warm and wonderful, as he explores who artists are within our culture and as created beings. He quotes Francis Schaeffer at length, while calling him, “that old Hobbit-like fellow in the knickers and sporting the funky little white beard” and shares stories from his life that made me giggle and read them aloud to Mitch. I’m reading this one slowly on purpose, and I can already tell that it’s joined the canon of Books I Re-Read Every Few Years.

The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Speaking of hobbits and books I re-read every few years, I re-read these books this year. Good news! They’re still amazing.

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman

Missional Motherhood, by Gloria Furman | Little Book, Big Story

By reminding us of God’s ultimate plan for our salvation and of the grand story he’s woven throughout Scripture, Gloria Furman argues that no woman is just a mom. We are all called to work that has eternal significance, even though it seems tethered (rather tightly, at times) to the quotidian work of wiping noses, settling disputes, and fishing Duplos out of the baby’s crib again.

This is another gospel-saturated book from Furman, worth reading and re-reading and heavily underlining. (If you want to know more about Gloria Furman, you can read my interview with her here.)

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness

A Passion for the Impossible, by Miriam Huffman Rockness | Little Book, Big Story

The story of Lilias Trotter, a woman who followed God’s call to Algeria though it meant laying down her work as an artist to serve as a missionary, is one that’s dear to my heart. Though God calls many of us to surrender our gifts to him so he can cultivate and use them in his own way, that surrender is completely contrary to our culture’s cries to “Dream Big” and forge our own success. I found it encouraging to read about God’s faithfulness in Lilias’s life, and to see how her surrender gave God room to use her gifts in ways she couldn’t have foreseen. (I have written about Lilias Trotter here on the blog before. Twice.)

A Whole Lot of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures, The Memoirs) | Little Book, Big Story

We re-watched all the seasons of Sherlock this year, and that drove me back to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Some of these I had read already; some I encountered for the first time. All of them are masterful pieces of fiction, perfect for reading with tea, under fleecey blankets, while the wind rattles the bare branches outside.

The Life-Giving Home, by Sarah and Sally Clarkson

The Life-Giving Home, by Sally and Sarah Clarkson | Little Book, Big Story

This book, by mother and daughter team Sally and Sarah Clarkson, reminds us why traditions and little bits of beauty in the home matter so much to our souls. Every chapter takes readers through one month of the year, touching on seasons and holidays and providing a library’s worth of ways we can show love to those in our home. Some are practical, some are lavish, but none are required: this books gives us a feast to pick and choose from without burdening us with guilt over what we cannot do. This book reads like an updated version of Edith Schaeffer’s The Hidden Art of Homemaking (one of my favorites).

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot

Keep a Quiet Heart, by Elisabeth Elliot | Little Book, Big Story

Anything by Elisabeth Elliot is, of course, deep and beautiful and dripping wisdom. I picked this up in the later stages of Advent and decided that I should probably read it every December: as a collection of excerpts from Elliot’s newsletters, this reads almost like a devotional, almost like an anthology of brief essays, and exactly like a precursor to blog posts.


What About you? What beautiful books did you discover this year?

The Hobbit | JRR Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

Reading that sentence is, for me, like stepping onto the welcome mat of a beloved but infrequently-visited friend. Good company is sure to follow, and good food (or, in this case, descriptions of food).

But that sentence did not always affect me this way, nor does it affect everyone that way. When my mom first handed me the book, I was in high school and hardly made it past the opening paragraphs before I dropped it in favor of something with more drama, something probably written by Joyce Carol Oates. I did not encounter it again until a few years later, when the man I was smitten with recommended it (and love, as I’m sure you know, makes one willing to plunge into the lamest of books on the recommendation of one’s beloved). This time, The Hobbit took: I was irrevocably drawn into the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and, a few weeks later, into those of Frodo.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

It’s fair to say that my taste in literature changed dramatically from that summer on.

(My life changed from that year on, actually, as I married that man the following winter. How much of his suit’s success can be attributed to The Hobbit? It’s hard to say. But introducing me to Tolkien certainly didn’t hurt his chances.)

I’m not sure how much I need to tell you about The Hobbit, really. If you’ve read it, you know all about it; if you haven’t read it, then you should. And if you’ve ever started to read it but lost interest within the first few chapters, try again. That’s the abridged review.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

Here is the slightly longer one:

Part of the appeal of reading The Hobbit is, to me, the joy of reading something that was the first of its kind: we’ve most likely grown up hearing references from Tolkien’s books, and we’ve probably seen some (or all) of Peter Jackson’s movies. Tolkien has influenced so many authors that in their work, we’ve encountered themes and images that build upon his foundation. But I wish, sometimes, that I could have read his books when they first came out, when that sentence “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” introduced a story the likes of which no one had heard before (I feel this way about the Sherlock Holmes stories, too).

The next best thing, though, is reading The Hobbit to our kids. My husband has called dibs on reading this one aloud, but I can’t wait to sit on the floor with my sketchbook and listen as our daughters meet Bilbo and Gandalf and Thorin & Co. for the very first time. These stories are well-worn and familiar to us—we both reread the series every few years—but to our daughters, they will be a new sort of adventure, one that takes them the first part of the way into Middle Earth and introduces them to characters that will, we hope, become friends that we’ll all have in common.

The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien | Little Book, Big Story

And maybe, I hope, The Hobbit might have a hand in shaping the way they view literature from that season on. Maybe.


The Hobbit
JRR Tolkien (1937)