Tag: nonfiction (page 2 of 10)

“Grave 8-A”

I park the van at the top of Section C, and my daughter and I get out into the rain. The spongy ground slopes away from us to the road below, speckled with headstones that are, in turn, speckled with lichen. Already my daughter bends over one, wipes the drizzling rain off its surface, and reads a name aloud.

About this cemetery hangs a pleasant sense of disorder. Stones shaped like benches, pillars, or pensive children kneel in the grass, half-sunken where the ground beneath them has settled; moss laps at their edges. Certain monuments here are notorious, like the massive stone angel who has, with her attendant urban legends, nearly eclipsed the family she was meant to memorialize. Broken stones lean in pieces against cottonwood trees whose burly roots slowly shoulder the soil away.

Unlike another local cemetery, which styles itself as a “memorial park” and offers natural burial as well as farewell tributes, death is still a presence here, not an unpleasant thought to be sponged away with rebranding. I feel comfortable saying “tombstone” here, or “grave.” As in, “Look at this grave!”—which I call to my daughter when I find one carved to resemble a scroll draped over a log and slicked with real moisture, real moss. She is at my side in a moment and together we puzzle out the inscription.

It is beautiful, but it is not his.

Grave 8-a

Since I was a kid, our local cemetery has been one of my favorite places—eerie and beautiful, sodden with history and urban legends. I used to walk through it on my way to college; the girls and I go often to explore; I gravitate toward the cemetery when I want to be alone. It was the first place we met my mom for a walk during quarantine, and it was there, one snowy evening twenty years ago, that Mitch and I confessed that we had, you know, feelings for each other.

Yet one of my most bewitching trips came about a few years ago, when my eldest daughter and I went the cemetery on a quest for knowledge. I wrote an essay about that trip, and The Rabbit Room (hooray!) kindly published that essay today.

“Josie Contemplates the Urban-Legend Angel,” or “2020 in a Nutshell”

This essay took over two years (off and on) to write, partly because it took me about that long to figure out what I was trying to say, and partly because I just had so much fun researching it. I learned about churchyard lichens, and about a spree of vandalism in our cemetery years ago. I spooked myself—pretty thoroughly and deliciously—researching the origins of those urban legends I grew up hearing. I know now about “grave wax” (don’t google it!) and about how long it takes a human body to decompose—in short, I learned far more about death and our cemetery than I actually needed to put into the essay, and yet I think every bit of that knowledge (except maybe the bit about grave wax) helped the story get where it was going.

And where it was going is here. (Thank you for reading!)

Note: The cemetery featured in the photo at the top of this post is actually not our local cemetery, but my other favorite cemetery: Sleepy Hollow in Concord, Massachusetts. I would have shown you our beloved local haunt (pun intended!) but . . . I ran into issues with the photo quality. I hope you’ll forgive the substitution.

It Couldn’t Just Happen

As much as I enjoyed this book, I debated about whether or not to share it here. Though I do occasionally review books I know will be controversial, I tend to pass over titles on topics that might widen already wide schisms between Christians. I find plenty of excellent, gospel-focused books to share here without reviewing books on baptism, or educational philosophies, or particular denominations.

My own opinions on those things sometimes show through as I write, I know, and I don’t mind that—I want you to get to know me and where I’m coming from so you can factor that in as you read my reviews. But I don’t choose books because they support my stance, just books I found interesting and helpful and that I think you’ll find helpful, too.

It Couldn't Just Happen, by Lawrence O. Richards | Little Book, Big Story

All of which is to say: I wasn’t sure at first if I’d share this one, because I’m confident that we hold a variety of views on this subject. But you know what? I think that’s a good thing. That’s a discussion worth having. And I think Lawrence O. Richards addresses those differences of opinion well in this book by laying out multiple views on things like the old earth vs. young earth debate, or macroevolution and microevolution.

I ultimately decided to share this book because the author took such care to present the material in a respectful way (though those committed to evolution may disagree). Also, I looked so hard for one like it and was so happy when I found it that I figured at least one of you out there is going to sigh with relief and say, “Finally!” because this is the book you’ve been looking for. For that one of you, here you go.

It Couldn't Just Happen, by Lawrence O. Richards | Little Book, Big Story

It Couldn’t Just Happen is, essentially, an introduction to a Christian perspective on science and the theory of evolution. Lawrence O. Richards lays out both sides (or, in cases where there are more than two perspectives, all sides) of the debate, holding them up to scrutiny and showing readers how to ask good questions of the things they read. But he also spends a wonderful amount of time reveling in and discussing the wonders of our world, exploring everything from termites’ towering houses to the specialized tongue of the woodpecker. (I still think about the section on bees when I work in our garden.)

This is not a book that tells the reader what to think but how to think. By encouraging readers to look behind a headline to the assumptions a writer begins with, Richards strives to equip readers with tools that will benefit them as they study a variety of subjects, not just evolution.


It Couldn’t Just Happen: Knowing the Truth About God’s Awesome Creation
Lawrence O. Richards (Reprinted 2011)

The Faithful Spy

My seventh grade teacher collected ugly ties. On the first day of class—my very first day of junior high—he thumped a stubborn projector hard on one side. The light switched on, but the glass across the top spider-webbed with fissures.

“Well,” he said. “The library’s not going to be happy with me.

That was the year I learned about the Holocaust. We probably read books about it; I’m sure we held discussions or listened to lectures, or something. But what I remember most—what I remember vividly to this day—was watching the film Escape From Sobibor. That was my introduction to the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the murder of babies, those images of discarded, emaciated bodies.

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

Was I ready for it? No. Emphatically not. But as upsetting as that movie was, I can appreciate now what my teacher was doing. He knew, I think, that we didn’t need to hear about it—we needed to see it. We needed to move the Holocaust away from the white board and into our imaginations, horrifying as that process was.

John Hendrix’s biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a similar leap from the theoretical to the visual. In The Faithful Spy, he doesn’t simply tell us about Bonhoeffer but, through his striking illustrations and hand-lettered text, he shows us Bonhoeffer’s life during the rise of the Third Reich. Bonhoeffer is a complex figure—a Christian who risked his life for others, but who also worked as a spy for a German resistance group and was eventually martyred for his role in a plot to kill Hitler.

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

But The Faithful Spy also tells the story of the German Resistance. In his introduction, Hendrix writes:

“Desperate for leadership, the German people were led like rats to the edge of the cliff by a diabolical Pied Piper. But not all fell for the seduction. Dietrich was but one man among many hundreds of patriotic Germans (including prominent preachers, military generals, and politicians) who saw the Nazis for what they truly were and fought back. They fought with words at first, but eventually they fought with actions.”

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

Through the story of Bonhoeffer, Hendrix introduces us to a greater story of the faithful Germans who recognized the dangers of “the Nazi war machine” and, in far too many cases, gave their lives to fight it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is perhaps the best-known of them all, but I appreciated Hendrix’s reminder that Bonhoeffer was part of a network, part of a full-fledged resistance.

Though far less disturbing than Escape From Sobibor, John Hendrix’s The Faithful Spy uses words and images to move a story of the war from the whiteboard to the imagination. Through Hendrix’s art and storytelling, Bonhoeffer’s story takes on an unforgettable dimension, and we see him not as a black-and-white photograph surrounded by text, but as a living man with doubts and fears and faith in a God who slays giants.


Does John Hendrix’s name sound familiar? It should! He also wrote and illustrated one of my all-time favorite picture books, Miracle Man, as well as many other excellent books.


The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler
John Hendrix (2018)

Window on the World

Until now, I have proceeded as usual with my publishing schedule. I usually plan out blog posts a few months in advance, so while our family found our footing under a stay-at-home order in Washington state, I let that schedule hum along and publish books I’d chosen months before.

But it occurred to me the other day that, really, I want to shift focus a bit while many of us face some degree of quarantine. For the rest of the school year, I’d like to share books that, I hope, encourage and equip you all during this strange season. Books for kids dealing with difficult issues. Comforting read-alouds that remind us of the big picture. Educational resources that are both enjoyable and easy to use. Devotionals that draw our hearts back to God when we are ambushed by fear.

I hope that you all are finding some measure of peace and comfort during this season when so much is uncertain. I find the greatest source of hope and courage in the gospel, which is not dependent on our circumstances, but was written for us long before any of us lived. Let us mourn our losses and bring our sorrows to God, our true and steadfast hope. And let us also rejoice in him, for he is our true comfort, and he will never change. My prayer for you, dear friends, is this:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)


And now for today’s book!

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

At the start of the school year, after I’d spent the summer planning to homeschool and then, abruptly, preparing our girls to return to school, I got to choose one book from the massive reading list I’d assembled for our home-school-year-that-wasn’t—one out of dozens that the girls and I would read together, one Friday morning lunch at a time.

I passed over beautiful history books, thrilling science books, charming story books, and landed on this book: Window on the World. This, I thought, is the one thing I want to share with them this year.

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

Window on the World is a prayer resource for families filled with double-page spreads on different countries or ethnic groups around the world. Through stories and facts, authors Molly Wall and Jason Mandryk introduce readers to the culture, history, and Christian church of each country, while giving both an on-the-ground perspective of daily life and a flyover view of the country’s larger details, like population and geography.

We have worked our way through this one slowly, spreading each country’s reading over three or four days. And at the end of each reading, we pray—fumblingly, some of us very much with the training wheels on. We are new to praying as a family, and I’m grateful for the way this book has nudged us to think beyond the borders of our home, church, and city.

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

Of course I had no idea how this year would progress—I didn’t know we’d be homeschooling again by the end of it, or that the world would seem so unsteady. It is probable that life in these countries will look like different by the time this particular storm passes, but even so, I am grateful for the chance to gather together with my girls over empty lunch plates and pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, knowing that our Father knows their needs just as surely as he knows ours. When so much seems uncertain, it is good to clasp hands with my daughters and remember that.


Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource
Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk (2018)

My Book House (Series)

Our shelves are full of books I believe in. We own adventure stories, where after a few battles and close calls, good triumphs over evil. We own fairy tales, picture books, poetry collections, and a whole lot of Sandra Boynton board books. And books are everywhere in our home: in fact, the only room in our home that doesn’t have a single book in it is our laundry room. Everywhere else has a cache of books tucked into some corner or other.

I tell you this not because I’m in a mood to state the obvious, but because I want to paint a picture of a family who loves books, who reads them often, and who trades favorites on a regular basis. We read a lot—but we’re not very structured about it. I trust that by filling our shelves with great titles, our kids will get a well-rounded literary education.

But, of course, I am the weak link there: they will get a well-rounded education in books that I am familiar with. Books that like.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

So when I heard about My Book House, I was intrigued: In 1920, Olive Beaupre Miller, the series editor, chose character-building stories from classic literature, mythology, fairy tales and more, and arranged them in multiple volumes, each one progressively more challenging than the last. The idea was that a family could read straight through the series and provide their children with a rich literary foundation, from nursery rhymes to great historical speeches.

That’s pretty awesome. The series includes things I wouldn’t normally gravitate toward—fables, folk tales, and nursery rhymes, to name a few, as well as things familiar and well-loved. It’s delightful to be drawn outside our box.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story

But while I was immediately smitten with the idea behind My Book House, it wasn’t until I saw pictures of the books themselves that I decided to take the plunge and order a set. The books are beautiful, and there’s something satisfying about seeing that many good stories huddled together in matching jackets on our shelves.

To clarify: Yes. I bought the books because they’re pretty.

Buying these books is a hefty investment, and I hesitated about whether or not to post them here because I hate to talk you into adding $100 worth of books (however beautiful) to your wishlists unless I’m positive you’ll like them. But the thought that you might see a set at a garage sale and pass it by because you’d never heard of them finally convinced me that I have a duty to share these books with you. So, check thrift stores, garage sales, and eBay (that’s where I found mine)—perhaps you’ll get lucky!

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story
How We Use Our Set

These books have become a part of our home school routine. I read them aloud to the girls, but I also encourage my newly fluent first grader to practice her reading on some of the early volumes.

We have been studying geography this year, so it’s been fun to read some of the stories from other countries. (I will warn you, though, that these books are a little dated in places. Some of the perspectives on race and culture might bring up some interesting discussions with your kids.)

I love digging into them around holidays: my set has a giant index at the end of the last volume, so when a holiday rolls around, it’s fun to rummage through that index and find the stories and poems that relate to each holiday and incorporate those into our reading for the week.

Plus, my girls love them so much that they often pull a volume down and curl up on the couch with it. That’s a hearty endorsement from the intended audience right there.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story
A Note on Editions

I understand that there are different editions out there and that some of the older ones are a bit better than my 1971 set (read more about that at the link below), but I didn’t know that until after I purchased mine. And I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because the 1971 set is so darn pretty.

My Book House | Little Book, Big Story
One Last Thing

If you would like to know more about either the history of My Book House or how you might use it in your home, Pam Barnhill has an excellent article all about the series on her blog, Ed Snapshots. Read it here.


Today’s summer re-run originally appeared in November of 2016.


My Book House
Olive Beaupre Miller (1920)