Tag: nonfiction (page 1 of 6)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018

My reading life didn’t begin with a bang or even a spark last year. It was more like a puff of smoke, drifting in from the year before. Which is to say: at the start of 2018, I read plenty, but few of the books I read in those early months are worth mentioning on this list, and the ones that are worth mentioning have already been mentioned here on the blog.

The rest of my selections seemed to be mostly functional: I read a lot about homeschooling, and I pre-read a lot of middle grade books that went from my nightstand to my daughters’. I read about writing—picture books and poetry this year—but I also spent an embarrassing amount of time reading reviews of paint colors online. And researching light fixtures. And pinning pictures of subway tile.

(A tragic thought: maybe my best reading energy went to Pinterest this year.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

But then we moved out of our house, and I had to pack a single tote filled with everything I might want to read over the course of two nomadic months. It was hard to justify bringing functional books when I rightly suspected that I would need books to a source of both both rest and reinforcement. My portable library became a travelling source of truth, beauty, and goodness. And, excepting only the first one, all of the best books I read this year were in it.

(A thought worth considering: maybe I should read like books are a source of rest and reinforcement more often.)

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2018 | Little Book, Big Story

Writing Picture Booksby Ann Whitford Paul

Writing Picture Books, by Ann Whitford Paul | Little Book, Big Story

I asked a friend where I should start if I wanted to learn more about writing picture books and this is one of the many excellent resources she suggested. Writing Picture Books explores the different components of picture books and the mechanics of making them work, but discusses the music of language and gives some excellent practical advice for revising and tightening manuscripts. This was the class I wanted to take in college but couldn’t find.

Note: I read an older edition of this book but loved it so much I bought and photographed the new one, too, which I haven’t yet read.

Enjoying Godby Tim Chester

Enjoying God, by Tim Chester | Little Book, Big Story

In a year of utilitarian reading, I needed a book like Enjoying God. Tim Chester reminds readers that God doesn’t just intend for us to obey him and follow him but also to enjoy him. According to the Westminster Catechism, “to glorify God and enjoy him forever” is the chief end of man, so this is important stuff. Chester unpacks it well.

The Mistmantle Chronicles, by M.I. McAllister

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

Go put these on hold at the library! Or, if you find them used, buy them immediately. I’ll explain why soon, I promise.

The Stars: A New Way to See Themby H.A. Rey

The Stars: A New Way to See Them, by H.A. Rey | Little Book, Big Story

Last winter I became besotted by stars. We studied them together during school, and H.A. Rey’s The Stars introduced helped us amateur stargazers make a little more sense of the night sky. Rey (better known for Curious George) has a knack for translating the abstract into the concrete, and his quirky sense of humor and his illustrations serve the subject well here. (Find the Constellations, his picture book for younger readers, is excellent, too.)

You Are What You Loveby James K.A. Smith

You Are What You Love, by James K.A. Smith | Little Book, Big Story

Many of us consider ourselves thinking beings (we think, therefore we are, right?), but James K.A. Smith asks “What if we’re not thinking beings but loving ones?” You Are What You Love  explores the idea that what we love determines far more of our actions and decisions than what we think. Consider the success rate of New Years’ resolutions: if we think we’d better get in shape and come up with a plan for getting up early, etc., but we love comfort and are willing to do pretty much anything to obtain it . . . how long will our plan hold out?

Smith’s thoughts on how liturgy and church life trains our affections was an especially rich part of the book for me as we found ourselves looking, rather abruptly and for the first time in thirteen years, for a church to call home. This book gave me much to ponder and is definitely a re-reader.

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix

The Faithful Spy, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

John Hendrix brought his A-game to this one. The Faithful Spy is somewhere in between a graphic novel and a young adult biography, and I can only spottily imagine the amount of work he must have put into researching, writing, lettering and illustrating this fabulous biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The book deserves (and shall have!) its own full-length review.

Botany For Gardenersby Brian Capon

Botany for Gardners, by Brian Capon | Little Book, Big Story

If Mr. Penderwick wrote a botany book for layfolk, it would be this one. I borrowed Botany for Gardeners from the library while researching a writing project and fell for it hard. Capon’s language as he describes cell growth or the emergence of a root tip from a seed is winsome: his delight in plant life is contagious and had me thinking happy thoughts of apical buds and meristems. Though decidedly a science layperson, I bought my own copy of this book and read it lingeringly.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

A few years ago, I read a biography of Lilias Trotter and finished longing to study some of her artwork closely. A Blossom in the Desert is a compilation of both Trotter’s devotional writings and her paintings. I read this while we moved from home to home, and it was a great comfort. Trotter’s words have a way of reorienting one’s heart, as she draws lessons from both Scripture and creation, and connects the two into beautiful parables.

A Blossom in the Desert, by Lilias Trotter | Little Book, Big Story

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler

An Everlasting Meal, by Tamar Adler | Little Book, Big Story

Tamar Adler does for the egg what Robert Farrar Capon does for the onion: revels in it, writes about it with such delight that I had to poach one myself as soon as possible. An Everlasting Meal is Adler’s collection of food writing, based on M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf and with a nod to Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb. I’m reading this one slowly, not wanting it to end, and carrying it with me whenever I go to the kitchen.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs | Little Book, Big Story

This is a simmering book, one I am still reading. When in a season of unrest, when so many things are changing at once, and so many needs seem pressing, it is good to be reminded rather firmly that God is unchanging and in him we have everything we need. This book is a beauty.


What about you? What are the best books you read this year?

ESV Story of Redemption Bible

This full-length study Bible aimed toward adults may not seem like my usual fare. But I’d like to argue that, actually, it is. This is a children’s book (as well as a book for the mostly-grown, the fully-grown and the elderly), and it is certainly one that emphasizes the Big Story. What makes it seem like an unlikely subject for review, however, is the fact that I don’t really intend for you to read it to your kids.

Here is what I mean:

The older my children get, the more I realize that I can’t teach them anything I don’t know. And I can’t expect them to follow me in anything I don’t live. I can tell them, Yes, we must eat our salad. Here are three excellent reasons why salad is beneficial. But if they hear me say this and then watch me take the tiniest helping of salad and push it around on my own plate without taking a bite, they won’t be fooled.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

Likewise, if, in my attempts to encourage them to love Scripture, it becomes clear that everything I know about it comes second-hand from Marty Machowski (excellent though his work is), they won’t be fooled by that either. What I need, in those heated parenting moments, is not a flow chart from a parenting book or an applicable devotional (though those are both helpful), but a deep love for the gospel and its Author. I need to know the Big Story of Scripture and how my kids (and I) fit into it. And I need to be fluent enough in it to remind them of it when called upon, in a heated moment, to do so.

This is brought home to me again and again.

I make no assumptions about you other than that you are, like me, in need of the gospel, and you clearly love good books (or you wouldn’t be here). So I offer for you the best book, in a format that makes that Big Story—the gospel—shine like a diamond just rubbed free of grit.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

The Story of Redemption Bible is something between a study Bible and a reader’s Bible: it’s beautifully formatted in a single column so it reads like a thick, pretty book, but woven through it is commentary by Greg Gilbert. Every interjection is meant to point back to that single narrative that arcs through all 66 books of the Bible. See how this connects here? he asks, pointing from some obscure prophecy in Malachi to the moment Jesus fulfilled the prophecy in the Gospels.

Making these connections always enlivens my understanding of Scripture. It helps to put those strange passages of Scripture in context. Understanding where the sacrifices began and why they were necessary makes Jesus’ coming—and his abolition of the sacrificial system—all the more beautiful. I love the Author of this story; I love that we are a part of it.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

And the gorgeous design of The Story of Redemption Bible reminds me, when I read, that the Bible is no ordinary book. Peter Voth’s illustrations illuminate the text. Elegant maps and timelines don’t gather idly in the back of the Bible, waiting for an invitation to dance, but stand proudly where they’re most needed: right where they’re mentioned in the text.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

The Story of Redemption Bible also offers two reading plans: one that will take you through the whole Bible in a year, from cover to cover, and one that will take you through the Bible in chronological order, interweaving the prophets with the narrative books about their lives, or interspersing Paul’s letters throughout readings from Acts. And a fold-out timeline of God’s redemptive story tucks into the back of the book, ready to be explored.

ESV Story of Redemption Bible | Little Book, Big Story

So this one, dear parents, is for you. Let us love our God more every day and draw freely upon his wisdom and grace when we need it. Let us remember that we’re not yet at the end of his story, but that that ending, when it comes, will be glorious.


ESV Story of Redemption Bible
Crossway (2018)

Three Questions to Ask Before You Take My Advice | Deeply Rooted Blog

Ah! I meant to go silent, but then this came up: a little something extra to share with you.

When I was small, my dad kept a running joke about something he called The Book of Dad. “I’ll have to look that up in The Book of Dad,” he’d say, or, when I put him in parenting quandary, “I don’t remember anything about this in The Book of Dad.” To me, he seemed to know everything, a fact that I credited to that book (which I never saw but still believed in).

But now, as the mother of three small daughters, I appreciate the joke in a whole new light: there is no Book of Mom, though I desperately wish on certain days that there were. My children look to me for answers, and I feel like I really ought to have them, as though centuries of parents might have had the decency to compile them for me.  .  .  .

Deeply Rooted recently republished an article of mine—an old one, from Issue 8. This is a lengthy article, written for the print magazine rather than the blog, but it’s on a topic that’s especially dear to me: how do we filter out the nonsense we hear daily and decide which authors, speakers, or friends are giving legit parenting advice?

Every writer (myself included) sees the world in a particular way. They have certain beliefs about children—that children are basically good or innately sinful; that raising them should be our primary focus or a peripheral one—and about our role, as humans, in the universe. Though it might seem strange to leap from an article touting “Five Ways to Improve Your Child’s Attitude” to the question of whether we humans are generated by random chance to pursue our own good or by a loving God to pursue him, it’s an important leap to make: the worldview of each author will directly influence the way she approaches her children, as well as the way that she, in choosing the five bullet points of her article, encourages us to approach our own children.

As Christians, we need to at least be aware of that. We are confronted daily with information that has been neither fact-checked nor edited, and we need to approach that heap of advice with a wary eye, feeling for soft spots in an article’s logic or digging beneath an author’s assertion to find the source of her worldview. We should be quick to recognize any parts of an author’s philosophy that conflict with Christian doctrine. . . .

More than anything else I’ve written, this article is, I think, a glimpse at how I strive to approach motherhood, and I’m so grateful to Deeply Rooted for running it again.

You can read the full article here.

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-ups)

I wrote a post about great (sometimes pop-up) church history books for Deeply Rooted. It boasts a few books that you know well and a few you haven’t met yet, and I think you’ll really like like them. (I know I really like the photos, which were taken by my neighbor Felicia*, who has a knack for that sort of thing.)

My father used to read to me from The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. He read it in answer to some question about my homework, some question that probably did not involve the Romans, and he read it at length. I know now that that was an awesome thing to do—take my homework question and place it in context by linking it to the historical moment that preceded it—but as a sophomore eager to finish that assignment so I could get back to living life (i.e. watching MTV while I waited for my hair color to set), I did not appreciate my father’s approach. 

I appreciate it now. Just as we can’t pull Leviticus out of context and expect to understand its laws and commands, we can’t pull our point in history out of context and expect to understand how we got here, where we are headed, or what we must do to change. . . .

You can read the full post here.

5 Books on Church History for Kids (and Grown-Ups) | Little Book, Big Story


*The photos in this post were also taken by Felicia. See what I mean?

Best Books of 2017

This was a year of learning. Good portions of it were given to reading curriculum samples, blog posts, and books about homeschooling. But I also learned to tend flowers, to keep a nature journal, and I took to writing fiction.

Here is what you should know about me and writing fiction: in college, I played it safe and studied poetry and creative nonfiction*. I am glad I did, because creative nonfiction is what I do these days, both for this blog and for Deeply Rooted. Nonfiction seemed civilized: one could draw on one’s own life, one’s own actual experiences. Fiction seemed too much like the Wild West to me: people went there and died of starvation, or in a bar fight. There was too little structure, I thought, too few rules. No civilized folk to protest, “But it didn’t happen like that!” No sheriff.

But my last quarter of college, I needed to pad my schedule with a few extra classes, so along with Martial Arts 101, I took a fiction writing class. It was wild and a little terrifying at times. But I loved it. The air was clear and invigorating, the grueling travel to a story’s end worth the work.

And then I graduated.

Of all the books I read in 2017, I liked these 10 the best (book list) | Little Book, Big Story

Fifteen years later, I am trying out fiction again. I thought, maybe there’s no sheriff, but there are certainly good, established neighbors around who can teach me a thing or two about survival. I met a few of them this year through some essays on writing, and I read some stunning novels, truly beautiful books. I am now at work drafting some of those mediocre stories you have to write before you get to (here’s hoping) the good ones.

What I am getting at here is: I read a lot of fiction this year and a lot of books about writing it. I read a lot about the other things I’m learning to do, too. And in doing so I found some incredible books, at least fifty-percent of which I’ll read again (at least once). What a year!

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2017 | Little Book, Big Story

* I’m sure some could argue that there’s nothing particularly safe about either poetry or creative nonfiction, or that writing about your own life is infinitely more alarming that inventing lives to write about, but at nineteen, I preferred the known to the unknown. I knew my own life tolerably well, and I had written a lot of middling poetry and song lyrics. And so those genres seemed safest to me.

 

Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Middlemarch, by George Eliot | Little Book, Big Story

I started this book when Josie was small. I wanted a big novel, so I got a big novel, and I began to read. But—alas!—I grew painfully bored after a few chapters and, being sleep-deprived, found myself dozing off during passages that were probably important. I shelved Middlemarch with a sigh and thought, Not right now. But this summer I picked it up again, grew bored in the early chapters, dozed off during some important passages, and found myself wanting to quit around the same spot where I had dropped off before, but I pressed on, and I am so glad.

This book is beautiful, stunning, breathtaking—any number of adjectives apply to its slow development of character, perfect pacing, and fitting conclusion. A few chapters from the end I began to realize that Middlemarch would join the ranks of my favorite novels. By the end I wondered if it hadn’t topped the list.

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson

Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl, by ND Wilson | Little Book, Big Story

I took Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl with me on vacation last summer and proceeded to underline and dog ear it heavily—every other passage, it seems, is brilliant and brightly written. Wilson’s thoughts on this world, the wildness of it, were just right for reading on a cabin’s front porch overlooking a lake.

The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey

 The Hidden Machinery, by Margot Livesey | Little Book, Big Story

We had a neighbor who kept the best-curated Little Free Library around. After a summer of supplying me with Wendell Berry, Flannery O’Connor and more (and I, in turn, kept it stocked PG Wodehouse, EB White and more), they moved and I mourned. Now it houses the usual department store crime novels and cast-off magazines (alas!).

But before they moved, I found this gem: I knew nothing about the author, only that it was about writing novels, and so I grabbed it. Margot Livesey looks at how writers learn from great writers by reading their stories; she discusses Shakespeare and Flaubert in glorious detail. This is one of my best free library finds to date.

No Little women, by Aimee Byrd

No Little Women, by Aimee Byrd | Little Book, Big Story

Aimee Byrd’s vision of women in the church is a challenging and uncomfortably convicting one. She both points church leaders to Scripture passages that press us to revisit some of the habits we’ve settled into within the church, and she encourages women to be knowledgeable about Scripture and quick to spot false doctrine.

One of my favorite features of the book was a chapter in which Byrd quotes passages from well-known books marketed toward Christian women and trains readers to ask pointed questions of the text. I’m sure she’ll offend every reader at least once, but in a good way, a way that means she’s prodding at something that needs examination. It is worth noting, though, that she doesn’t do this just to rile people up: her arguments are firmly rooted in Scripture, and her concern is loving, if direct. This book gave me much to ponder.

The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge

 The Scent of Water, by Elizabeth Goudge | Little Book, Big Story

I read and adored Goudge’s Eliot Family Trilogy last year, but this book was even better. Imagine an LM Montgomery novel set in the English countryside, with an protagonist not in the dawn of life but in its twilight, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what’s to love about The Scent of Water. I already look forward to rereading it.

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson

Humble Roots, by Hannah Anderson | Little Book, Big Story

In this graceful little book about humility, Hannah Anderson explores why it matters that we know our place as branches to Christ’s vine. She draws on stories from her community in rural Appalachia, and writes of plants and the rhythm of the garden in a way that reminds me of Lilias Trotter’s Parables from the Cross. I loved the way she framed the wisdom of this book within stories and linked it to the outside world.

The Laws Guide to Nature Journaling and Drawing, by John Muir Laws

The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling, by John Muir Laws | Little Book, Big Story

When I realized that I wanted to teach the girls to keep nature journals, I also realized that I needed to keep one myself—the habit wouldn’t take if I didn’t. So I made myself a little bag of supplies, dug a tiny sketchbook out of my desk, and checked this book out from the library. In it, John Muir Laws explains the concepts behind keeping a nature journal, but he also discusses drawing and painting techniques, explores a number of different mediums, and quietly cracks jokes as he goes.

This quickly became a favorite book, not just because I was new to nature journaling and it was helpful, but because Laws describes  certain concepts so clearly that my art skills leveled up more in the few months I spent with this book than they had in the previous ten years. He’s a master at explaining complex techniques in a few short sentences, and the step-by-step drawings throughout this book are worth their weight in gold.

Mystery & Manners, by Flannery O’Connor

Mystery & Manners, Essays by Flannery O'Connor | Little Book, Big Story

Flannery O’Connor is adept at describing her own work and the work of a writer in a way that cuts to the heart of things. This won’t surprise you, if you’re familiar with her stories. She does cut right to the heart of things. But for a writer trying to write stories that aren’t entirely aimless or bland, O’Connor is a sharp-tongued, discerning, articulate teacher. I am still reading these essays and have been reading them slowly for months, but I feel confident ranking them here because I’ve yet to find one that didn’t send me to my notebook with some new thought to ponder.

Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier

Du Maurier’s eerie novel about a young wife haunted by her husband’s deceased first wife is perfect from start to finish. Du Maurier’s eye for detail brings a scene to life with the mention of one fallen moth, one forgotten corkscrew. And the twists and turns of the plot! Egad! This book, too, has joined my list of frequently revisited favorites. (I wasn’t able to photograph this one because I promptly pressed it upon a friend.)

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein

Cut Flower Garden, by Erin Benzakein | Little Book, Big Story

This book is the reason we skipped squash this summer and planted row upon row of flowers. Benzakein runs Floret Farm, a small flower farm not far from where we live, where she grows and arranges gorgeous blooms. In this book, she gives tips on planting, tending, and harvesting her favorites, as well as some ideas for arranging the harvested flowers. Cut Flower Garden was a glorious spring read.

What about you? Which books did you discover this year?

Deeply Rooted Magazine | Issue 12: The Calling

Deeply Rooted, Issue 12: The Calling is out! This issue is every bit as beautiful as its predecessors and features a wealth of rich theological articles, as well as beautifully written, practical pieces. Hunter Beless writes about inductive Bible study; Ann Swindell writes about balancing motherhood and creativity. My friend Jennifer Harris shares a biographical piece about Lilias Trotter, accompanied by gorgeous reproductions of Trotter’s work.

Deeply Rooted, Issue 12: Calling | Little Book, Big Story

I contributed a piece titled “Our Children Are Immortal,” about why we parent differently when we remember that our work doesn’t end when the last child moves out of the house, but when we enter our eternal home together. This piece took a long time to write and the subject is dear to me, not least because I share the story of how we ended up having not three children, but four:

When our third child was a still a baby, my husband and I thought we mightjust maybebe through having kids. Three daughters made a nice set, we decided. They fit comfortably around our kitchen table, comfortably in our 900 square foot house. Everyone had a place when we read aloud—one under each arm and one on my lap.

We began to think fond thoughts of leaving our baby-raising years behind. . . .

As always, the magazine is beautiful, rich, and challenging. Where else can you find a recipe for a fruit galette in the same volume as an article on election?


Issue 12: Calling
Deeply Rooted Magazine

Wise Up | Marty Machowski

In Wise Up, Marty Machowski (whose books The Ology and The Gospel Story Bible have become standards in our home), takes families through the book of Proverbs in ten-minute jaunts. He asks probing questions about selected passages, all with the aim of teaching our kids to value and pursue wisdom.

Machowski pulls passages from all over the Bible into the discussion as well, showing that the pursuit of wisdom is not a topic limited to the book of Proverbs, but one that is prevalent and highly-prized throughout the whole of Scripture. This is a quest that matters—to God and, therefore, to us—and Machowski is careful to emphasize that while not leaning toward a moralistic interpretation of Proverbs. The gospel is everywhere in this book, and that is beautiful.

But here is where I need to make a confession.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

When I flipped through this book just now, I found our bookmark, placed there months and months ago, holding our place at the reading for “Day 4.” I have written before about our inconsistency with family devotions, but I was sure we’d made it at least a week into this one before shelving it. So, I need you to know that: we haven’t read through this full book as a family. We didn’t try any of the projects (though I love the idea of them), and I don’t think we sang any of the hymns (though we love singing hymns). But I wanted to share this book anyway, because it is a great study and I want you to know about it.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

I also want to ask for your help: for those of you who make family devotions a part of your day, what does that look like? We read together before bed—sometimes from the Bible itself, sometimes from a story bible—and I just embarked on a study with the girls as part of our school day that I hope to share here a little later.

But I’m learning that when presented with pre-written questions, the five of us old enough to know what’s happening seem to wilt and conversation dries up. If we read a story Bible and follow the girls’ questions wherever they lead, a rich and rewarding discussion sometimes ensues (or sometimes, people flop on the floor and pretend to sleep). It’s harder to measure our progress when we have discussions that way, but I’m starting to make peace with that.

Wise Up, by Marty Machowski | Little Book, Big Story

What about you? How does your family read Scripture and hold devotions together? I’m on a quest for ideas here and, through that, I hope to win some wisdom.

update (5/22/18)

We did it! We picked this book up again and are currently reading it as part of our morning school routine, and it is going swimmingly. I loved the idea of this book before, but now I love the execution: these daily discussions of wisdom and foolishness have given some much-needed direction to the rest of our conversation throughout the day, as we’re able to look at a character’s ( . . . or a child’s) choices and ask, “Did they choose the way of wisdom there? Or of folly?” And the hymns weren’t hymns at all, but songs from a CD Sovereign Grace made to accompany the book. And one of my daughters will hold this book like a hymnal, reading along as she sings to the album. Hearing a child sing, “Make Me Wise,” at top volume is sure one of the pleasures of parenthood.


Wise Up: 10-Minute Family Devotions in Proverbs
Marty Machowski (2016)