Tag: middle grade (page 1 of 2)

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog | Douglas Kaine McKelvey

It’s serious work, choosing a book for vacation. I overthink it every time. A book cannot be too absorbing (see: family reunion, Estes Park CO—the year Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince came out, and I read in the midst of a beauteous landscape, ignoring family and nature alike). And it cannot be so meaty that I don’t want to pull it out in those moments when the coffee is hot and the cabin’s front porch calls.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

A book for vacation needs to be just right—every paragraph satisfying, so that even ten minutes in its company sends me back into a cabin full of children feeling recharged—and I have elevated the choosing of a vacation book to an art form (or an obsession, depending on your view). But this time, the artistry (or obsession) was solved for me when a package from the Rabbit Room arrived on our porch the day before we left for a weekend on San Juan Island. In it I found the slender new edition of Douglas Kaine McKelvey’s story, The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog.

I’ve mentioned McKelvey before on this blog, albeit indirectly. In my review of Wingfeather Tales, his was the “novella so devastating.” I have been waiting ever since to get a copy of this story, hoping it might be as lovely as that novella.

The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey | Little Book, Big Story

I read The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog in full during a single naptime, in a log cabin overlooking a lake. And it was lovely, a book so sweet and true that it’s hard to describe because I am afraid that if I pull pieces of it apart to show you, I might damage the well-woven fabric of the book . I will say this: the new edition from Rabbit Room Press is illustrated by Zach Franzen, of The Green Ember, so it is beautiful in both word and image. And it is worth reading immediately—especially if you have a vacation coming up.


The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog
Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Zach Franzen (2017 – republication)

Brave Girls: Beautiful You | Jennifer Gerelds

Nine. My eldest daughter just turned nine.

I thought this was momentous because it was her last single digit year, but no: a friend mentioned yesterday that she was halfway there, and the park around us got suddenly swimmy. It took me a minute to realize what my tear ducts understood instantly: “halfway there” meant halfway to adulthood, and the park looked swimmy because I was crying.

Yikes.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

But this birthday called for a little something different, as birthday books go, and so I explored the “devotional Christian girl” shelves of Amazon. I found a cheap book, one that looked promising, and ordered it.

Brave  Girls: Beautiful You was (whew!) not a theological mess in pink and floral print. It is a collection of devotions that encourage girls with a growing awareness of their appearance and identity to measure these things by God’s metric and to weigh their beauty on his scales. As I flipped through it, I was impressed by the depth of the devotions and the simple way they illustrated, through the imagery of “putting off” our old selves and “putting on” Christ, how a young girl can best glorify God in whatever situation comes her way.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

There are quizzes in here, too, which initially made me nervous, but again and again I saw that they were intended as an expedition through a girl’s heart and not as a measurement of her value or success.

So, this is a new sort of book for this blog, because we are in a new sort of season. Brave Girls: Beautiful You is sweet, yes. But it is also rich, and, I hope, it is the sort of fuel my young daughter needs as she begins to set her sights on becoming a young woman.

Brave Girls: Beautiful You (A 90-Day Devotional for Girls) | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

I was not able to read this book from cover-to-cover before I needed to wrap it up, so though I recommend it, I can’t promise that there isn’t some murky spot in there somewhere. But every page I landed on was good and true.


Brave Girls: Beautiful You
Jennifer Gerelds (2016)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard | Jonathan Auxier

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes won me over quietly—I almost didn’t see it happening. Jonathan Auxier’s story of an orphaned thief who eyes were (eep!) pecked out by ravens has a wit and charm and enough unexpected quirks to make it unlike any other books I’ve read. I liked it. I passed it on to Lydia, who loved it. But for some reason (maybe it was the thieving? Or the crows?), I didn’t immediately review it for this blog.

But then I read Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

There was nothing subtle about the way this book won me over: affection for it roared over me like a semi truck, overtaking me so abruptly that, at one point, I thumped the cover at Mitch while I read and announced, “Oh my word, I love this book!” before diving back into the story. It was the sort of book I adored so much, so immediately, that I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed for the rest of the book in the hope that the ending wouldn’t fizzle.

It didn’t.

This book is glorious from start to finish.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

Sophie Quire is a sequel to Peter Nimble, in that it happens after Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, Peter Nimble is in it, and it was written by the same author. But it might be more accurate to call it a companion book, I don’t know, because the main character here is Sophie Quire, a young bookmender in the city of Bustleburgh, which is currently banishing nonsense in all its forms. When she meets a certain blind thief and takes on an unlikely commission, everything in Sophie’s life changes.

Jonathan Auxier’s writing is as exhilarating in this book as it is in The Night Gardener and Peter Nimble. His characters are bizarre and loveable, and through their adventures, Auxier explores (among other things) the importance of stories and nonsense. Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard is a beautiful book, one that has a deeper layer of truth underneath the story, waiting for those willing to look for it.

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story


Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes
Jonathan Auxier (2012)

Sophie Quire and the Last Storyguard
Jonathan Auxier (2017)

At Jerusalem’s Gate | Nikki Grimes

I finally figured out how to use our public library.

It’s been there for years—I frequented it myself as a child—and I have taken my daughters there semi-regularly since Lydia was a baby. But my approach to checking out books was haphazard at best: throw books that looked interesting in our book bag and sift through them when we got home. Return them a few months overdue, pay fines, and sheepishly avoid the library for a while. Every so often I would reserve a book, forget to pick it up, and sheepishly dodge the library again.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Something changed a few months ago, though, when I sat down to the online catalog and reserved every book I had ever bookmarked on Instagram. Every few days after that, I got an email announcing that some new book was in, waiting for me. These were the best books, the ones usually not on the shelves because their hold lists were so long they just moved from drop-box to hold shelf to somebody’s home and so on.

We found The Princess in Black this way. We discovered Mustache Baby. We checked out every available John Hendrix book this way (sorry, Whatcom County John Hendrix fans! We’ll bring them back soon, I promise).  We learned that our library cards max out at seventy-five books, and that our county actually has a pretty respectable Easter selection.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

You already know how to use your library, I’m sure. I am extremely late to this particular party. But I love this party: we go to the library weekly now, collect our box full of books and go home happy, not having entered the children’s department once. In this baby-and-toddler season of life, that’s a welcome development.

But about those Easter books.

At Jerusalem’s Gate was one of my favorite library finds this Lent, a title I remember from long ago on Aslan’s Library. In a genre where every other book seems to be titled either The Easter Story or What is Easter?, Nikki Grimes gives us something unexpected: a collection of poems that branches off from the familiar story of Easter.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Grimes walks the line between Scripture and speculation gracefully: each poem explores some aspect of the story that has caught her attention—the meaning of Judas’ name, the story of Pilate’s wife, Mary’s response to the Crucifixion—while making it clear in each poem’s introduction that these are the author’s thoughts, not canon. She invites the reader into her own musings and expands the world around the well-trod path of the Gospel accounts, reminding us that actual people lived the events of Holy Week—people who wept and wondered and lived the story’s beginning, middle and end.

This book is, obviously, available at our local library, but we loved it so much that I purchased our own copy (sadly, Jerusalem’s Gate is out of print, but you can sometimes find affordable copies on Amazon). It has been a beautiful part of our family’s reading for Lent, and it’s one I’ll look forward to reviving every spring.

At Jerusalem's Gate, by Nikki Grimes | Little Book, Big Story

Footnote

If you aren’t entirely smitten with this book yet, I highly recommend reading Sarah’s review on Aslan’s Library. It’s beautiful and gives a detailed look at some of the poems. You know what? You should read that review anyway, even if you’ve already put the book on hold at your library.


At Jerusalem’s Gate: Poems for Easter
Nikki Grimes, David Frampton (2005)

The Night Gardener | Jonathan Auxier

There was a time when I did not love scary stories. By “scary stories,” I mean the books I stumbled into in my youth—some of them age-appropriate fluff and some truly terrifying, books that were well beyond me both in content and complexity. Some of them haunt me still, and not in a pleasant “Oh, that gave me chills!” kind of way.

So, I did not love scary stories. And I applied the term “scary stories” not only to books written to send readers to bed with flashlights and cold sweats, but also to books with ruthless and unsettling villains, books that had scary parts in them.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

But then three things happened:

  1. I read ND Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy and discovered a kind of scary that was also redemptive and, really, quite fun.
  2. My eldest daughter turned eight and woke up one day a much less sensitive reader. Books that might have upset her six months earlier she read without a hint of squeamishness. Indeed, she even seemed to enjoy them. A new vista of reading expanded before us!
  3. I came across ND Wilson’s article for The Atlantic on why he writes scary stories for children. In that article, ND Wilson writes:

There is absolutely a time and a place for The Pokey Little Puppy and Barnyard Dance, just like there’s a time and a place for footie pajamas. But as children grow, fear and danger and terror grow with them, courtesy of the world in which we live and the very real existence of shadows. The stories on which their imaginations feed should empower a courage and bravery stronger than whatever they are facing. And if what they are facing is truly and horribly awful (as is the case for too many kids), then fearless sacrificial friends walking their own fantastical (or realistic) dark roads to victory can be a very real inspiration and help.

And just like that, my mind changed.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

It was this new attitude that gave me room to try The Night Gardener, a book I may not have bothered with pre-“ND Wilson on scary stories.” But I bothered with it and I’m so glad, because The Night Gardener totally creeped me out, but it also gave me a new appreciation for what a scary story can be.

The Night Gardener follows Molly and Kip, two Irish children who are separated from their parents while crossing the sea to England. When they take a position serving the Windsor family at an eerie manor in the sourwoods, they find themselves in the thick of a mystery. A haunting, don’t-read-this-before-bed mystery.

It’s clear that Jonathan Auxier set out to write a scary story, and I love the way he approached it: Molly and Kip are wonderful, warm-hearted heroes, who are stretched and challenged throughout the story and who grow in some gratifying ways as they face the terrors of the Windsor estate. I love, too, the way Auxier explores what happens when we try to take by force the things we were never meant to have, and his quiet commentary on the difference between stories and lies.

The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier | Little Book, Big Story

This was a book I wanted to stay up late with but didn’t, because I wanted to sleep and sleep is a rare, fleeting thing here, and so I did not read it before bed. But I did spend an entire naptime on the couch with it, reading, eating chocolate, and refusing to feel guilty about using a pile of unfolded laundry as a backrest. That is a sign of good book.

Also

Have you heard Jonathan Auxier on the Read-Aloud Revival podcast? You really should. I had read none of his books when I listened. I have since read and loved all three (stay tuned for reviews of the other two). This episode definitely made my list of favorites—maybe even top five. It’s a good one.


The Night Gardener
Jonathan Auxier (2015)

Breadcrumbs | Anne Ursu

Some authors play with language in a showy way, a way that draws the reader’s eye away from the story and onto their clever wordplay, but not Anne Ursu. She shapes each scene with obvious enjoyment, but it’s the scene we see, not her masterful shaping of it. She plays with words in the quietest way, panning out suddenly from a scene until pieces we hadn’t noticed yet become vivid and living, or giving a word some unexpected tilt that brings a new facet of meaning to light.

The delight behind her writing drew me into Breadcrumbs—a thrift store findimmediately. But the story itself held me there.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

Breadcrumbs travels over familiar ground: it is a coming-of-age tale, and a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” It could feel tired, too familiar. But it doesn’t.

The world Ursu constructs to house both the recognizable lives of her main characters and the cold enchantments of The Snow Queen is bewitching. The way she moves us from one to the other seems just right. When the main character, Hazel, sets out to rescue her best friend Jack from an enchantment she doesn’t fully understand, she finds that the world around her becomes less and less clearit grows harder to tell who is trustworthy and who is not. Through Hazel’s adventure, Ursu depicts the realistic confusion of coming-of-age without blurring the lines between good and evil.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu | Little Book, Big Story

One other thing I loved about Breadcrumbs, though, was Hazel. She’s inventive, brave, and the right kind of quirky. She’s loyal, kind, and bold. She is Indian, adopted at birth by American parents. Her struggle to place herself in her surroundings, to understand where she fitsas an adopted child, a child of recently divorced parents, a child who doesn’t look like those around heris a part of the story, but it isn’t what the story is about. The story is about a rescue, and the rescuer, in this case, is Hazel.

I loved Breadcrumbs. It is a beautiful book. But one of the things I loved best about it was that it introduced me not just to a new favorite story, but to a new favorite author. I can’t wait to see what else Anne Ursu has written.


Breadcrumbs
Anne Ursu (2013)

Meanwhile, on the official Wingfeather Saga blog . . .

I have some exciting news for you: this week, the illustrious and ever-present Madame Sidler graciously shared my review of Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga on the official Wingfeather Saga blog! If you haven’t explored the blog yet, please do—it’s a great (and greatly entertaining) resource for all things Wingfeather. You can read that post here.

And if you’re visiting here for the first time from the Wingfeather blog: Welcome! If you love the saga enough to frequent the Wingfeather blog, then we must be kindred spirits. I hope you enjoy your stay!