Tag: middle grade (page 1 of 5)

A Child’s First Book About Marriage | Jani Ortlund

As a child, I found marriage confusing. I lived with each of my parents half of the time and saw them happily married to step-parents I loved. But my life had been revised by divorce, and I wondered, Why do people get married at all?

By sixteen, I vowed that, rather than risk a split, I’d skip marriage.

By twenty, I was a wife.

What changed? The Lord tenderly showed me that my life was not my own—not a thing I was meant to fumble with, trying this and that in the desperate hope that something might span the chasm at my feet.

Instead, he built a bridge himself and carried me across, and for once I saw the world as a place of beauty and order—a place where marriage wasn’t intended to make us happy (though it often does). No, marriage is a part of God’s old, old plan for us, born in the moment when God, three persons in one, looked at solitary Adam among the animals and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

Marriage was not our idea.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

Jani Ortlund picks up this thought and carries it through A Child’s First Book About Marriage. 

Ever since that first wedding, people have been getting married. Just like everything that comes from the heart of God, marriage is beautiful and good.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

Much of the book centers around this idea that God created marriage, and though it isn’t always easy, it is good and beautiful. She touches gently on topics like sex and attraction, and the beauty of friendship within marriage. She pares away the whorls of doctrine and says simply,

Marriage is about love, but it’s about more than love. Marriage is a vow, a sacred promise. When a man and a woman get married, they promise God that—no matter what—the man will stay with the woman and the woman with the man as long as they both live. A bride and groom make these promises because sometimes it is hard to love each other. Marriage vows help keep a couple together even when they don’t feel like loving each other.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

She knows that marriage doesn’t always look beautiful and good, and I appreciate the gentleness with which she discusses divorce and conflict within marriage. And the love with which she discusses differing views about marriage. She doesn’t pick up the harsh language that seems to characterize many of these discussions, but speaks kindly to readers, exhorting us to love those who see things differently than we do and to trust God’s plan even when we don’t understand it. And she doesn’t idolize marriage either, or treat it as anything greater than a good gift from our Creator. She explains,

A biblical marriage shows the world a tiny picture for all to see of the Big Romance—the one between Christ and His Church in love together. When you love Jesus, then you are a part of that Church and nothing and no one will ever be able to separate you from God’s love for you.

I bought this book on impulse because it was the only book I had ever seen for on marriage for children. But I love how balanced it is, how wise and clear Ortlund’s perspective is. I love Angelo Ruta’s watercolor illustrations, which show families in different configurations, from different backgrounds, and subtly use color and composition to deepen Ortlund’s text.

A Child's First Book of Marriage, by Jani Ortlund | Little Book, Big Story

I realize that much our own daughters’ understanding will come from watching us, their parents, live out our marriage before them. We will fumble our way through this, too, but God is here with us, giving us the grace we need to apologize, to forgive, to go on setting the other’s good before our own. But I am grateful to Jani Ortlund for writing a book that equips us to lift our daughters’ eyes above that one, living example, and see the big picture of marriage: what it is, what it isn’t, Who made it, and why.


A Child’s First Book About Marriage
Jani Ortlund; Angelo Ruta (2018)

The Mistmantle Chronicles | M.I. McAllister

Some might consider what I’m about to do cruel.

First, I’m going to rave about The Mistmantle Chronicles. I’m going to tell you that they are everything I look for in a book. They are:

a) a delight to read

b) beautifully written

c) shaped by a deep and rich Christian worldview

And then I’m going to tell you that they’re difficult to find. Not so difficult that you can’t find some of them, but elusive enough that you may search for months for a copy of the last book. You may scour eBay and ThriftBooks and every used bookstore in your area, just in case someone didn’t realize what they had and let it go. You may briefly contemplate spending $120 on Amazon for a paperback copy*. You may request that your library purchase a copy. You may even email the author directly with a plea for help.

You may search and search. And you still may not find it.

I haven’t.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

I wondered if it was fair to introduce you to something so delightful and gripping and then announce that you might not be able finish the series. But I decided to introduce you anyway, because these books are among the best we’ve read, and also because I have this slim hope that maybe somebody someday will have the good sense to reprint them. And if we’re all out there requesting it at libraries and talking it up online and perhaps emailing the publisher, maybe that will help? Let’s start a Mistmantle Movement, people!

Here is the premise of the story: Urchin, an unusually pale squirrel, is discovered in the shallows off Mistmantle Island just after his birth. No one knows where he came from or what happened to his mother, but he was found on a night of riding stars, when portentous things are said to happen. The books follow Urchin as he grows and faces challenges of different sorts, but while they primarily center around him, McAllister also deftly weaves the stories of other animals, both good and evil, into Urchin’s story.

The Mistmantle Chronicles meld the gospel-rich worldview of (Scripture, of course, but also) The Chronicles of Narnia and The Wingfeather Saga with the warmth and coziness of RedwallM.I. McAllister’s characters are far from formulaic: they exhibit the unexpected quirks and details that make them inflate from two dimensions to three. They live; we believe in them. And though the challenges the characters face are deep and hard, they often resolve them by looking to the Heart (the God of their world) for strength and guidance.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister | Little Book, Big Story

These books do have some dark themes—the first book deals with the subject of “culling,” a sinister plot to kill any babies who are weak or deformed in any way—but McAllister handles these gracefully, and always with an eye on what is right and good. These are stories that will bend our affections toward the good and lovely, and they are worth searching out, however long our quest.

*Those of you who read ebooks won’t suffer this hardship: the digital version is available for $6.99. If our library can’t track a copy down for us, I may go that route out of desperation.


The Mistmantle Chronicles
M.I. McAllister (2005-2012)

God’s Timeline | Linda Finlayson

One of the bits of planning I struggled with most this school year was history: What will we study this year? (Modern history.) Which books will we read? (So many good ones.) How can I prepare for the hard conversations that will inevitably follow our readings on the World Wars, the Holocaust, Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

I didn’t expect history planning to be emotionally draining—but oh, it was. Modern history isn’t a light read.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

But I found comfort both in zooming in and reading biographies of people who lived through those devastating wars and in zooming out to look at the whole scope of history and where those wars fit in context. Zooming in, because though the statistics are staggering, the perspective of one child in one city gives, in some way, a manageable picture of what it might have been like to live through a world war. And zooming out, because though there have been wars throughout history (and none like the world wars), the people who suffered through them have all been under God’s sovereign care. Not one of them lived or died without purpose.

I love zooming out.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

Linda Finlayson does exactly that with her book God’s Timeline. It is a survey of church history, laid out in a way that will make visual learners squeal with joy. From a fold-out timeline to biographical sketches of key figures to overviews of particular times in church history, Finlayson gives us a big picture view of God’s work through the history of the church.

God’s Timeline is the sort of book you could read for family devotions, in Sunday school, or in a solitary fashion under an apple tree. You could use it as a spine for history studies and tie it to lengthier biographies and such; you could use it (and I have) in your community group, to help explain to grownups when the Bible we know came to be. Or to refresh your memory about when the Great Awakening began.

God's Timeline: A Big Book of Church History, by Linda Finlayson | Little Book, Big Story

This is a versatile, beautiful book. It zooms out and takes in the whole of church history in one shot, and from that perspective reminds us that God has cared for his church throughout her whole history, even as he cares for her today.


God’s Timeline: A Big Book of Church History
Linda Finlayson (2018)

A Jesus Christmas | Barbara Reaoch

I am not one to feel warm and fuzzy about evergreen swag or potted poinsettias, so I decorate, rather chaotically, with Christmas picture books. We prop them up on shelves, gather them into baskets, and scatter them about the floor—anything, just so they’re  read and savored. Through them we hear the glorious refrain of Jesus’ coming again and again and again throughout Advent.

A Jesus Christmas, by Barbara Reaoch | Little Book, Big Story

This morning’s book is a new addition to our library, and one that takes a creative, more Exploring the Bible approach than most. A Jesus Christmas is formatted in a journal style and allows kids to read Scripture directly throughout Advent and respond to what they’ve read through words and art. Each reading contains a few questions, presented in a way that allows families flexibility in how they want to discuss them, as well as a short reading that expands upon the day’s passage.

There are several ways a family could use this. You could buy a copy for each of your readers, do the readings independently, and come together to discuss them. Or you could use a single copy as a family devotional, perhaps allowing different kids to be the “family recorder” for the day. With younger kids, you could do the reading, discuss it briefly, and turn it over to them for the drawing part. A Jesus Christmas is adaptable, and I like that.

A Jesus Christmas, by Barbara Reaoch | Little Book, Big Story

(And I wish I could have reviewed this earlier for you, but alas! It’s been That Sort of Year. But A Jesus Christmas is a resource worth bookmarking for next Advent.)


A Jesus Christmas
Barbara Reaoch (2018)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Secret Keepers | Trenton Lee Stewart

This book made me nervous. I was three-quarters of the way in before I felt it—this niggling sense that maybe the main character was maybe about to make some terrible choices. Whether he does or not I won’t tell you, but I will point to the fact that I am reviewing it here. The Secret Keepers is worth reading—I will tell you that.

Trenton Lee Stewart, author of The Mysterious Benedict Society, tackles tricky questions. His characters face conflicts that feel real and terrifying, and they face choices that are not black or white: Do you cheat if it will help you defeat the villain? Or do you refuse to cheat knowing that if you do, your mission will probably fail? That sort of thing.

Those choices could take the story down a murky path, where the end justifies the means and all is well. But in Stewart’s books, they don’t. The characters wrestle with these decisions; they are conflicted before, during, and after they make their choice, and still wonder sometimes if they made the right call.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

At no point does Stewart gloss over these questions as though it’s necessary to toss one’s moral compass out the window in order to save the day. Good is good, and evil is evil. But he is willing to admit that sometimes in life, the two are hard to tell apart. Or, at least, evil works pretty hard to look like good, and it can be quite convincing. As his characters work through these questions, striving to pick the good out of the gray, they grow, and it is this undercurrent of character growth that really draws me into his stories. And it’s the feeling that a character could lean either way that makes me nervous.

But, okay, here’s what else you should know about this story: Reuben Penderly lives in New Umbra, a city ruled by the shadowy leader The Smoke. One day, he finds something unusual, something that grants him unexpected power and drives this otherwise solitary boy into unlikely friendships and enmity. That’s all very vague, I know. I wish I could be more specific than that. But the story’s hairpin turns are so fascinating that I don’t want to make them feel any less perilous by revealing what lies around the corner.

The Secret Keepers, by Trenton Lee Stewart | Little Book, Big Story

I will say, though, that this one is probably best for older readers, or as a read-aloud with a side of discussion. In our case, Lydia read it first, I read it second, we both enjoyed it immensely, and afterward we discussed it. Or you could just read it on your own. It’s worth it.


The Slugs & Bugs Giveaway is still open!

Sing the Bible, Vol. 3, by Randall Goodgame and Slugs & Bugs | Little Book, Big Story

You can still enter to win a copy of the new Slugs & Bugs album, Sing the Bible Vol. 3—huzzah! This post has all the details.


The Secret Keepers
Trenton Lee Stewart (2017)

The Little White Horse | Elizabeth Goudge

“I absolutely adored The Little White Horse.” —J.K. Rowling

That sentence alone persuaded me to purchase The Little White Horse, a book I knew nothing else about by an author I’d never heard of. If this story fed the imagination of young J.K. Rowling, I wanted to save our family a seat at the feast.

I have read The Little White Horse at least four times—more times than I have read many other excellent books—and yet, I’ve never reviewed it for this blog. Perhaps I put it off because the story is so difficult to describe. Or because I wanted to do things like hold it to my chest and smile dreamily at clouds rather than attempt to pinpoint its magic, its mystery, its loveliness. Like The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic and The Wingfeather Saga, this book left me brimming with joy and fumbling with words: “You have to read it; you’ll love it” was all I could think to say.

The Little White Horse, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

But Story Warren gave me an opportunity to review The Little White Horse, and I leapt at it. It took a few days of dreamy re-reading and a few weeks of fumbling with words, but I finally finished, and the post is up on the Story Warren site today. I hope you enjoy it, but better still, I hope you read The Little White Horse. You have to. You’ll love it.

Read the review here.


The Little White Horse
Elizabeth Goudge (1946)

Interview with Author Taylor Everett Brown

Taylor Everett Brown’s book Rootless is an adventure story set in the fictional (and fantastic!) realm of Pateramor. He kindly answered some questions for us so we can learn more about the story behind Rootless and about him, the author behind the story.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sure, I’m a giant nerd who aspires to great adventures, fantastic romance, and saintly holiness. And, every once in a while, I come close to reaching those aspirations.

For example, I once managed to pluck a diamond out of the glittering, salty sea-spray of the Texas coast. Realizing the miraculous nature of what had taken place, I dropped to a knee and proposed to my (now) wife, stunning her just long enough to secure a “yes” and sweep her off her feet!

Since then we have set about the serious(ly fun) business of building a home and filling it with amazing children.

And on a related note, I am certain that I am called to the vocation of fatherhood because I have been telling dad-jokes my entire life.

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

What inspired you to write Rootless?

I’ve always enjoyed faerie tale stories, whether they came in books, video games, or songs. And, as faerie tales tend to do, they inspired my own musings on the origins of magical worlds, fantastical beasts, and wonderful peoples.

I started capturing those ideas and writing them down while I was in college and, after more than a decade, they had grown into a living breathing world. I knew it was special and I wanted to do something with it. I just lacked the resolve and the focus. Then my son, Everett, came along and provided the spark I needed to write my first story in the world of Pateramor.

I thought it would be so much fun to write a little bedtime story, starring my son, that I could read to him throughout his childhood. Well, the bedtime story turned into a series of bedtime stories and, finally, into the full novel, Rootless. I was so happy with it, I decided to publish it.

An Interview with Author Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

Photo Courtesy of Taylor Everett Brown

I loved reading about the different forests of Pateramor. Which part of Pateramor would you most like to visit?

It makes me so happy to hear you say you loved reading about the forests. I wanted the forests to be like characters in the book, each with their own personality, feel, and quirks. I really enjoyed writing about them.

Rootless takes place in the Kingdom of Windfall, which is only one small part of the world of Pateramor. But even just in Windfall, there are so many places I would like to visit. From the serenity and solitude of the Singing Mountains to the hand-made grandeur of Fortuna to the other-worldly beauty of the glowing forest. It’s hard to choose!

But, for me, I think the dragon forest edges out the rest of the destinations. I just love dragonapple trees. Everything about them, from their warmth, to their giant fruit, to the ecosystem they create is intriguing.

And, between you and me, I will admit that I designed the dragonapples to really appeal to someone with my taste buds. That mixture of sweet and spicy is something that I relish. I would love to try one.

Of course, what really seals the deal is the dragons. Who doesn’t want to see dragons? Especially dragons as exhilarating and as beautiful as phytodrakes?

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

What are some of your favorite books? Which ones particularly fuel your writing?

I recently read Augustine’s Confessions and it is incredible! It reads as easily as a modern novel and the troubles he deals with in his life are so easy to relate to . . . and yet it was written 1600 years ago!

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s thrilling and inspiring from beginning to end, which is saying something given how much story it packs between its covers.

I also really enjoy reading anything by C.S. Lewis. One gem of his that not many talk about is Perelandra from his sci-fi trilogy. C.S. Lewis is so good at speaking about evil and there’s a scene in the second book where he explores what it was like when Eve was tempted in Eden. It is deliciously terrifying!

But in the end, J.R.R. Tolkien is still my favorite. When I need to get inspired to write I reach for him. The completeness of his world, the beauty of his language, and the sheer size of his story, you just can’t beat it. I can re-read his books over and over and I am always in awe.

Can we look forward to any new books from you?

You know, I do have a second son now, Augustine Michael Brown. And it would be a shame for him to grow up hearing and reading about his brother going on faerie tale journeys and not have any himself.

Yes! I am thrilled to announce that I have begun writing a second story in the world of Pateramor! I’m aiming to complete it before the end of the year. So stay tuned!

Rootless, by Taylor Everett Brown | Little Book, Big Story

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

Always! If you want to know more about the me, the books, or the world of Pateramor, I encourage you to go and explore Pateramor.com. I’m slowly building up a treasure trove of information on that website to fill in the blanks between the books.

For example, right now there’s a great article on the race of little inventors called the Munchkins (to which readers were introduced in Rootless). And I hope to soon publish an article on their “superior” brand of technology called “munchkintech”.

Check it out and let me know what you think!