Tag: nonfiction (page 1 of 10)

A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible

Just as I don’t know what I think until I write it down or say it out loud, I often don’t truly grasp an idea until I see it spread out in front of me. And so I love resources, like Tim Challies’s A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible, that deepen our family’s understanding of Scripture by allowing us to explore the themes and structure of Scripture in a visual way.

This book is meant as an introduction to the big picture of the Bible—how all 66 books fit together, for example, or how the Old Testament relates with the new, and so much more. The book isn’t all graphics, but it does contain a lot of graphics, and each one explores some aspect of Scripture in a way that helps readers envision key elements of our faith. Some, like the intricate image interweaving Old Testament prophecies with the stories of Jesus fulfilling each one, are so beautiful they elicit a sense of awe. Others are clean and simple, and illustrate the truths of the faith with the foam skimmed off so we can see into its depths more clearly.

Though this book isn’t specifically intended for families, my teen daughters read and enjoyed it, and I could see it serving as a great devotional resource for families with older children (or homeschooling families! This would be a great spine for a Bible curriculum). Or read A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible for yourself and allow it to deepen your own understanding of the Bible’s beauty, complexity, and simplicity.


A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible: Seeing and Knowing God’s Word
Tim Challies; Josh Byers (2019)

All About Bible Animals

Our nine-year-old is all about animals. I joke that she is our Gerald Durrell, not just because she loves the fuzzy, purring, cuddling animals, but the many-legged and wriggling ones, too. (She does make a pronounced and emphatic exception for bees. And honestly, bees, if you’d stop stinging her, I feel confident that she’d love you, too!) She’s the one who materializes next to me with a pet snail named Cucumber; the one to name the spider nesting in the end of our garden bed Rosie; the one busily rescuing earthworms from The Evil Garden Fork of Doom.

She is the reason I picked up a copy of this book.

All About Bible Animals, by Simona Piscioneri | Little Book, Big Story

All About Bible Animals is part nature reference book, part Bible story book. In it, author Simona Piscioneri introduces readers to the animals mentioned in Scripture, investigating both the animals themselves and the stories that feature them. This might seem like a sort of unnecessary thing to do—why focus on the animals in these passages? But I love it: Scripture is full of incredibly rich images, with meanings layered artfully over some of the smallest details. So I love the idea of exploring some of these subtle connections in Scripture with kids.

For example, in the page about bees, Piscioneri answers that question we all secretly ask: What does it mean for a land to be “flowing with milk and honey”? And why would that be a good thing? Or on the page about deer: What’s the deal with that thirsty deer in the psalms? By learning more about the animals, she gives readers a chance to sit with and examine some of the more interesting images in Scripture.

All About Bible Animals, by Simona Piscioneri | Little Book, Big Story

But she doesn’t stop there: this book is full of information not just about deer in general, but about the specific kinds of deer David might have seen back in his psalm-writing days. Or about the sheep Jesus might have seen on the hillsides of Israel. Or about locusts . . . and who else besides John the Baptist might still consider them a suitable lunch.

All About Bible Animals is the sort of book that brings the Bible to life for readers, and from an unexpected angle. And I’m always grateful for books that do that.


All About Bible Animals: Over 100 Amazing Facts About the Animals of the Bible
Simona Piscioneri (2023)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.

God Cares For Me

Over the past two months, one of our daughters in particular has been assailed by a series of sicknesses. If we had a punch card for the urgent care clinic, we joke. If I had a dollar for every generic waiting room painting I’ve studied this year, I say. In the grand scheme of things, her ailments are small, but they’re persistent. And when you’re six, two solid months of illness uses up a significant portion of your life lived so far.

That can feel pretty discouraging.

So the other morning, when she was back at home again, missing not just a cool field trip but the do-over field trip we’d scheduled to make up for the missed one, I made her yet another bed on the living room couch, brought her yet another cup of tea, and read her this book.

God Cares for Me, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

I’d purchased Scott James’s God Cares for Me an embarrassingly long time ago, but for some reason I’d never read it aloud to the girls. It hadn’t been the right time? It disappeared into one of our many bookshelves before I could? I don’t remember why. But that morning was the morning: the exact right day to read it to her.

This tiny person who now knows her way around the doctor’s office—who has had her ears checked and her throat swabbed and her temperature taken and her belly x-rayed so many times since 2022—broke into a smile as I read God Cares for Me. When the main character, Lucas, voiced his nervousness at visiting the doctor, I could feel my daughter’s shoulders relax. When he went through a series of tests, she chimed in, “I did that, too!” Seeing her own experience mirrored in the pages of God Cares for Me was profoundly encouraging to her.

God Cares for Me, by Scott James | Little Book, Big Story

But the book serves as more than a mirror: throughout the book, Lucas’s parents and doctor explain to him what is happening and why, and they remind him that the God who made him cares deeply for him, even during sickness, when the brokenness of the world feels particularly sharp. For my daughter, this note resonated, too. Later that day I overheard her telling one of her stuffed animals “God cares for me!” with a touch of wonder in her voice.

I have read a lot of books to my girls over the years, but I don’t think I’ve ever had such a profound sense of reading just the right book to just the right child at just the right time. The timing was, in itself, a beautiful reminder to both of us that yes, God does care for her. How wonderful.


God Cares for Me: Helping Children Trust God When They’re Sick
Scott James; Trish Mahoney (2021)

Carved in Ebony

At some point, I turned into a full-fledged history nerd. It started with that project my eldest daughter and I did a few years ago, researching the history of our home, but I never really stopped. For a while when people asked me what I’d do once all the girls were in school, I joked “Spend all my time at the museum photo archives.” And while that’s not exactly how it’s turned out—I’ve only made it there once since our youngest started kindergarten—I have definitely disappeared down a rabbit hole of weird, smelly library books and city directories from 1910.

I justify this in part because I’ve been writing some historical fiction, but I’m pretty sure I’d sit around watching YouTube videos about old buildings in our town whether I had a “project” to “research” or not. Because here is what keeps me coming back: the little stories, the nearly-forgotten ones, the stories that remind you that, one hundred years ago, people were still living one life at a time and didn’t know what was coming next. Beneath the oft-retold narratives of our town’s celebrated founders are smaller memoirs and newspaper articles about people who don’t have schools, roads, or mansions named after them—and those are my favorite stories. The ones about people quietly doing their work—raising children, opening businesses, teaching students, baking bread, hosting sewing circles, selling houses, all of it.

Carved in Ebony, by Jasmine L. Holmes | Little Book, Big Story

And so I was delighted to find, in Jasmine Holmes’s Carved in Ebony, stories about Black women often overlooked in the historical accounts. In choosing women to profile in this book, Holmes made a point of steering clear of familiar names and introducing readers to women on the fringes of the historical record. And in doing so, she creates a small but powerful volume featuring ten Black women who were faithful to God where he placed them and who reminded those around them—many of whom were arguing vehemently otherwise—that they, too, were created in God’s image. Holmes writes that she tells these stories

to combat the opposing narrative, yes, but [also] to point to the inherent dignity and worth of women, whom God created in his image and for his glory.

These are stories we may not think to look for and may not (I confess, this was my case) realize that we need. But Holmes’s writings are rooted in the Bible—thoroughly and soundly. She isn’t writing solely to inflame or provoke—not to tear down, but to build up. Not to belittle America or the Church, but to help them repair and grow. “What if,” she writes,

instead of putting Uncle Sam in a cape and Lady Liberty on a pedestal, we told the story of America as the story of God’s faithfulness—and not our own? What if we took a note from the people of Israel, and every time we stood on the precipice of a defining cultural moment, we reminded ourselves of God’s providential hand protecting us in spite of our waywardness?

Holmes’s passion for unearthing the names of women new to most readers is what drew me to her in the first place. But her message in this book extends far beyond that. As she tells these stories, she continually turns back to Scripture, weaving a multi-dimensional tapestry for readers that illuminates so much we might be missing in our conversations about race and our country’s history.

It is hard to know what the big issues will be facing our children when they’re grown, but I’m struck again and again by this truth: the way to understand the things we’re facing now is often to look behind us—at history and at the Bible. Jasmine Holmes does both these things faithfully here, and readers will be richer for it.


Carved in Ebony: Lessons From the Black Women Who Shape Us
Jasmine L. Holmes (2021)


Carved in Ebony has been released in two editions: the regular one for teens and adults, and the young reader’s edition for middle school students. I’ve been quoting and writing about the regular edition so far, but the young reader’s edition covers much of the same material, though it’s been simplified (Holmes’s personal stories, for example, have been removed) and formatted a little differently so it’s accessible to middle-grade kids. Both editions are wonderfully illuminating, though, and I recommend both heartily.

Big Questions (Series)

Today at lunch, my seven-year-old summed it up neatly. “Is the virus going to last forever?” she asked.

I took a few meditative bites of my cold leftovers before I answered. “No,” I said. “It won’t. I don’t know how long it will last, but it won’t last forever.” Meaning: eventually Jesus will come back. The pandemic will definitely be over by then.

But this has been a grueling year for parenting, hasn’t it? Aspects of it have been pleasant: I’ve loved (most of) the increased time together and the new ways we’ve found to spend it—making killer calzones, for example. Or training our puppy not to bite us. I’ve even appreciated the chance to walk through something difficult with my daughters and to show them that our faith has a strong and sure foundation.

But at times, I am tired. So often, I don’t have answers. The longer this pandemic goes on, the more weary I feel, and the more acutely I feel my inadequacy. I am their mother, one of the first two people they come to with questions. But I know better now that I am not the Keeper of Answers or the Fixer of All Things. I am just a woman who is also their mom—a fallen being in need of grace, too.

So.

What to do when the news looks bleak yet again and we all groan, How long? Or when our kids come to us with weighty, legitimate questions, hoping that we will give them honest answers? In those moments, I like to take a cue from Chris Morphew, an author and school chaplain who doesn’t just answer those questions but who writes whole books about them.

Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen?, by Chris Morphew | Little Book, Big Story

Each of the short chapter books in his Big Questions series tackles a tough topic: a really tough topic. How Do We Know Christianity is True?, for example. Or Why Does God Let Bad Things Happen? And he doesn’t condescend to kids as he writes. His examples of “bad things” aren’t “I didn’t make the soccer team” laments that any kid going through a pandemic could sneeze at. No, he admits what many of us don’t like to: hard things happen, and they often happen to kids.

But he doesn’t stop there, and that’s key. He reminds kids, too, that God sees them and he does have a plan, even though it often sprawls far beyond our comfort zone and asks way more of us than we think we can give. He reminds readers that Christianity gives us satisfying answers to some of life’s hardest questions, and it also gives us the freedom when we need it to say humbly, “I don’t know.” It gives us the consolation that, hey, Somebody knows. And he doesn’t make mistakes.

All three of these books have been great conversation starters at our house, as well as a balm for my occasional fatigue—a reminder, I guess, that these questions do have answers, even though I don’t always have the answers handy. And that, at any age, it’s okay to ask big questions.


Big Questions (series)
Chris Morphew; Emma Randall (2021)


Disclosure: I did receive copies of these book for review, but I was not obligated to review these books or compensated for my review in any way. I share these books with you because I love them, not because I was paid to do so.