Tag: Older Children (page 1 of 13)

Great Joy | Kate DiCamillo

Let’s appreciate, for a moment, the behind-the-scenes people who make books possible. Editors, art directors, publishers, agents—I don’t know exactly what you all do, but books like Great Joy make me glad that you do it.

The pages, cover, and binding combine to make a book that makes our family feel like we’re unwrapping something precious as I read, which I suppose we are, in a way, because the story is precious and the illustrations are warm and welcoming. But the gold leaf on the cover and the cloth binding and the very feel of the pages make the gift a thing that’s not just heard or observed but warmly felt. Somebody chose that paper and decided to ornament the cover just so—thank you, whoever you are.

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy‘s quiet story doesn’t need bells and whistles—it would shine in a hand-drawn, xeroxed ‘zine, I’m sure, though it may not reach its intended audience that way—but the lovely quality of the book encouraged us to slow down and savor DiCamillo’s language and Bagram Ibatoulline’s illustrations.

Those illustrations are so gorgeous, by the way, that I’m tempted to heap adjectives on them willy-nilly. But I won’t burden you with that. Instead I’ll show you pictures:

Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story Great Joy, by Kate DiCamillo | Little Book, Big Story

Great Joy reaches my daughters at different levels: at eight, Lydia delights in the fact that Frances, the story’s protagonist, reads the same verses for the Christmas pageant that Lydia read for hers; Sarah, at six, asks the same questions Frances does about the organ-grinder; and Phoebe, at almost-three, delights in finding the monkey on every page (when she wants to read the book, she points at the shelf and shouts, “MONKEYS!” until someone hands her the book).

And I, as a mother, rejoice: this story is the sort of gift that I love to give my daughters, knowing that it points toward the one who is our greatest gift.


Great Joy
Kate DiCamillo, Bagram Ibatoulline (2010)

Redwall | Brian Jacques

Redwall. Now she knew why creatures talked of it with such reverence; it appeared to blend with the surrounding Mossflower country as a haven of rest and tranquility, in harmony with all nature, like some gentle giant of a mother, sheltering and protecting her children.

– Mariel of Redwall 

I encountered Redwall Abbey in my early twenties. I was wandering then, in need of a refuge, and I found one within the grounds of Redwall. Evil was clear-cut there, easy to see and to fight—unlike the sin that seeps and simmers in our adult lives. Reading about the peaceful creatures of Redwall battling the rat Cluny, and feasting on good things like woodland salad and maple cordial fortified me for my own battle.

A good story can do that.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

But when I handed my battered copy over to Lydia a few weeks ago, I didn’t expect her to love it. I even cautioned her that she may not love it yet, and that if she didn’t fall for it immediately she should withhold judgement and try again in a few years. Cluny is really scary, and I wasn’t sure she was ready to meet him.

She was ready to meet him. She came downstairs a few hours later, shining-eyed and wondering if there were more books in the series.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was in luck: Redwall is one of twenty-two books (meaty, full-length, well-written books) about the Abbey and its inhabitants. The inhabitants change from book to book, as the stories generally take place at different points along a timeline.

Think Chronicles of Narnia or Star Wars: you grow to love one batch of characters in a book, and then pick up the next book to find a batch of brand new characters to love, with, perhaps, a few cameos from old favorites in the new story. The mischievous Dibbun of one book may be the elderly Abbot of the next book. It’s great fun.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Lydia was so taken with these books that she’s begun working industriously around the house, doing chores and setting up lemonade stands in order to fund her growing collection of Redwall books. She has out-paced me in the series, so I’ve been taking recommendations from her on what to read next. She is the true Redwall authority in our home now, so I asked her to share her thoughts on the series with you. Here is why Lydia thinks your family will love these books:

I love these books! I can’t believe that the first time I read Redwall, I wasn’t sure I would like it. Girls will like it because there are beautiful girls who are very brave, too, and boys will like it because there are lots of battles. There are hilarious hungry hares, beautiful young maidens, old abbots and abbesses, brave young warriors (who are sometimes girls!), cute little Dibbuns, strong badger lords (and a badger lady), very bad vermin, big brave Skippers, odd-speaking moles, argumentative Guosim shrews and much more! Dive into the world between the covers of a Redwall book!

I think she summed up the series quite nicely! I can really only add a few grown-up thoughts to that.

On Villains

The evil in these books is shocking, and I think it’s meant to be.

The villains in these stories war amongst themselves, kill innocent creatures, and go to terrible ends to achieve their goals. They are brutal, but they are rarely funny and never glorified. When the story transitions from the villain’s stronghold, where he slays his friends out of vengeance, pride, or boredom, to the Abbey orchard, where strangers and friends feast together, the reader can’t help but love the lovelier scene.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

As my daughter and I have discussed these books, I’ve been struck by how well they help shape her affections. She has been quick to notice the way that the creatures of Redwall serve one another, while the villains serve only themselves, or to notice how the Redwall soldiers honor their fallen while their enemies simply leave their dead behind. And that contrast is, I think, the point: there is no moral ambiguity to this story, no anti-hero. The bad guys are very bad; the heroes aren’t perfect, but they are still very good.

Jacques was a child in England during WWII, and I wonder how his experiences shaped the portrayal of evil in these stories. If your child is a sensitive reader, I will give you two warnings: Be ready for graphic battle scenes and very bad bad guys, but don’t let those turn you away from the story. Jacques does a great job of making the stories feel safe, even when they’re at their scariest.

On Dialect

Jacques was fond of writing in dialect. In the case of the hares, who sound like characters from a P.G. Wodehouse novel, this is delightful. But in the case of the moles, who are meant to sound (I think) like operating drills, the dialogue can be a bit trickier to decipher. If you’re reading aloud, you might familiarize yourself with the dialogue before reading to your kids so you don’t get sucked into a whirlpool of zzzs and rrrs.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

On Feasts

The food. Oh, the food.

Jacques has said that his lavish descriptions of Redwall feasts sprung from his memory of rationing during the war, when he fantasized about the dishes in his mother’s cookbook. His descriptions of food are so mouth-watering that they have inspired a whole cookbook and have inspired us to throw our own Redwall feast. There are so many dishes in there that sound wonderful, even if I have no idea what they are: meadowcream trifle, buttercup cordial, mushroom and leek pasty with gravy. I want comfort food—and a lot of it—when I’m reading these books.

The Redwall Books, by Brian Jacques | Little Book, Big Story

Sarah, my photography assistant

In fact, that was the second caution I offered Lydia when I gave her the book: you might not like it yet, and it will probably make you hungry. I am so glad I was wrong about the first one, and so glad I was right about the second.


Redwall
Brian Jacques (1986-2011)

Ember Falls (Giveaway!) | SD Smith

Ember Falls landed on our porch in a box full of goodies from SD Smith’s Kickstarter campaign. Oh, I thought. Yay! Lydia will like this.

I admired the cover.

I flipped it open to read the dust jacket.

I came to twenty-four hours later, starry-eyed, having finished the book.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

In Ember Falls, S.D. Smith continues the story of Heather and Picket, who are no longer the young, lost rabbits of The Green Ember’s opening pages. Picket is a well-trained warrior; Heather is . . . well. I’ll let you read that part for yourself. But that development was one of many that I met with a satisfied, “Oh, yes. Of course.”

S.D. Smith has written a sequel that feels inevitable, as though the story developed itself. Nothing feels forced; nothing feels cheap. His characters work hard and suffer for their victories, and those victories are deeply satisfying.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

S.D. Smith’s vision of hope in this series is potent, reaching beyond the pages of his books and into our lives as we read: as the characters fix their eyes on the Mended Wood, so we fix our eyes on a Better City. When my eyes stray from that City to the brokenness of this world, when I am tempted to believe that the brokenness is all there is or ever will be, then I am grateful for the faithful rabbits who remind me that we must go on fighting.

We must hope.

We must bear the flame.

Every book in this series is better than the last, which makes Ember Falls the best yet. And Ember Falls brought my eldest daughter into the fold: finally ready for the series, she read all three books in a week and now wears her “Bear the Flame” necklace proudly. (Even Sarah, who hasn’t read the series yet, adores her necklace. “It’s like Heather’s!” she tells everyone—even strangers at the grocery store. Then, confidentially, “Heather is a bunny.”)

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (necklace) | Little Book, Big Story

Now, ordinarily, I would hustle you off the Story Warren shop with a link and nudge and a “What are you waiting for? Go read it!” But this week, I have a treat for you: S.D. Smith has graciously offered to send a set of all three books to one of you, plus your choice of either a “Bear the Flame” necklace or a set of stickers*.

Ember Falls, by SD Smith (giveaway prizes) | Little Book, Big Story

The books are a great prize. Definitely. But my favorite part of opening a package from a beloved author was watching my kids make the connection that S.D. Smith is, you know, a human. A human who sends mail. And writes books.

They both immediately declared their intent to become authors and took up residence at the kitchen table with stacks of paper, pencils and erasers (and for writers, those erasers are super important). They may be writing fan fiction about their favorite series at this point, but that’s just a few degrees away from writing the next classic, right?

Enter the Giveaway

To enter, fill in as many options as you like in the widget below. The giveaway closes on Tuesday, Sept. 27 (I’m going to get it right this time, I really am). After that, a winner will be randomly selected and notified by email.

Game on!

*The actual stickers to show up in the winner’s mailbox may not look just like the ones pictured.

The Quiltmaker’s Gift | Jeff Brumbeau

One doesn’t go looking for beautiful children’s books in a mortgage lender’s office, but that is where I found this one. We were there to get approved for our first homeowner’s loan, and while we waited for our appointment, I scanned the heap of outdated financial magazines for a copy of People (alas! I cannot resist the pull of People). I found, instead, The Quiltmaker’s Gift.

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

And so, as my husband second-guessed the wisdom of buying a home so old it once had an outhouse, I disappeared into a lovely fable about a quiltmaker who lived atop the blue misty mountains. She made quilts whose “blue seemed to come from the deepest parts of the ocean, the whites from the northernmost snows, the greens and purples from the abundant wildflowers, the reds, oranges, and pinks from the most wonderful sunsets.” She created her quilts not for profit or fame, but to give to the poor and homeless.

When the king demanded that she make a gift of one of her quilts to him, the quiltmaker told him that, to earn one of her quilts, he must give away everything he owned. “With each gift that you give,” she said,” I’ll sew in another piece. When at last all your things are gone, your quilt will be finished.”

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

In The Quiltmaker’s Gift, I saw the story of the rich young ruler the way I wish it had turned out (and still hope, in time, that it did turn out). Gail de Marken’s illustrations are vibrant and detailed, with another story tucked into the quilt’s patterns that give hints as to what happens next. Her style and those details suit the story of the king’s struggle and transformation beautifully.

The Quiltmaker's Gift, by Jeff Brumbeau | Little Book, Big Story

Finding this book that day in the bank was timely. Finding it on the shelf at our library this summer was timely too, as I was in the mood for something lovely to read on a blanket in the backyard. Perhaps I’ll even pull out an old quilt for the occasion.


The Quiltmaker’s Gift
Jeff Brumbeau, Gail de Marken (2001)

10 Chapter Books to Read Aloud With Your Son

It will come as no surprise to you that I have a blind spot when it comes to writing book reviews. Have you guessed it?

Right.

I don’t have any sons.

I have no problem finding beautiful books for girls because I have four daughters, two of which are eager to snap up any book I bring home. But because I don’t have a son, it’s a little more difficult for me to find books to recommend here for boys.

I do, however, have a number of friends with sons who let their families serve as a sort of test audience for me. Did you like it? I ask their sons after they finish a book, resisting the urge to take notes as they answer. Then here, I say, and hand them another book. Try this one.

Ten Chapter Books To Read Aloud To Your Son | Little Book, Big Story

Of course, I’m learning that boys’ tastes vary as widely as girls’ do: one family of all boys adored The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic; one wanted nothing to do with it (there was a girl on the cover). One family loved the entire Little House series; another could stomach only Farmer Boy.

But because I’ve already done a few book lists for the girls, I wanted to compile a list for those of you with sons who are wondering what to read next. I left off some of the classics that you’ve seen again and again on book lists for boys—Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, The Jungle Books and such—and the classics that we all love already—The Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit. You already know about those ones.

The books on this list have received rave reviews from my test readers (ages 2-11) and will, I hope, be new to some of you. Of course, these books don’t appeal exclusively to boys: I’ve read or intend to read all of these to my daughters at some point. But they’re heavy on adventure, light on pretty dresses and a whole lot of fun to read aloud.

And if you read them to your boys, well—I would love to hear what your boys think about them. (I may even take notes.)

THE WINGFEATHER SAGA, by Andrew Peterson

My new favorite series: The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Peterson (yes, that Andrew Peterson) has written one of the finest examples of Christian fiction out there. Period. (Read the full review.)

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, by Robin Lancelyn Green

The Adventures of Robin Hood | Little Book, Big Story

A classic tale of chivalry, complete with archery contests, weddings at arrow-point, and plenty of bashing of crowns. There are many versions of Robin Hood’s adventures out there, but Green’s telling is my favorite (mostly because Maid Marian is awesome in this one). (Read the full review.)

THE PRINCESS AND THE GOBLIN, by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald | Little Book, Big Story

If your sons are put off by the first half of this title, remind them gently of the second half: yes, this is a story about a princess. But it is also a story about goblins. And about a brave boy named Curdie, who wields his pickax to great effect. I’ve recommended this to at least three families of all boys and it’s gotten glowing reviews all around. (Read the full review.)

100 CUPBOARDS, by ND Wilson

100 Cupboards Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

ND Wilson’s delightfully creepy trilogy about Henry York and the wall full of cupboards he discovers in his attic bedroom is full of adventure and powerful imagery. And good news: if your kids like this series, then they’ve just tapped the rich vein of Wilson’s books. He has plenty of other really excellent books out there. (Read the full review.)

HALF MAGIC, by Edward Eager

Half Magic, by Edward Eager | Little Book, Big Story

Four siblings discover a magic charm that grants wishes but only grants half wishes. This story had us laughing, sometimes uncontrollably and often unattractively, from start to finish. The rest of the series is equally funny. (Read the full review.)

THE GREEN EMBER, by SD Smith

The Green Ember, by SD Smith | Little Book, Big Story

SD Smith’s first novel is about Heather and Picket, two rabbits cut loose from everything familiar and sent on an adventure. It’s pretty intense in the opening scenes, but tells a story of such beauty and hope that I simply cannot wait for the sequel‘s release. (Read the full review.)

See also: THE BLACK STAR OF KINGSTON, by SD Smith

 

THE RAILWAY CHILDREN, by E. Nesbit

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit | Little Book, Big Story

When their father is unexpectedly called away, Roberta, Peter and Phyllis move from London to the English countryside with their mother where they find adventure, daring rescues and quiet, sunny days. It may not sound like much, but this is one of my very favorite children’s books, for boys and girls alike. (Read the full review.)

LITTLE BRITCHES, by Ralph Moody

[Currently loaned out to a friend’s son and unavailable for a photo shoot. But good news: it’s getting great reviews!]

The author chronicles his youth working on his family’s ranch. A fun, lively story full of the sort of adventures that made me a little relieved that I have a house full of (so far) mild-mannered girls.

THE WILDERKING TRILOGYby Jonathan Rogers

The Wilderking Trilogy, by Jonathan Rogers | Little Book, Big Story

Rogers retells the story of King David’s early years, complete with guilded gators, crumbling canyons, and feechiefolk (did I mention that this is a fictionalized retelling?). (Read the full review.)

LITTLE PILGRIM’S PROGRESSby Helen L. Taylor

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Like Pilgrim’s Progress, but about children. That might sound horribly cheesy to you (it did to me), but trust me: it’s not. Taylor’s retelling of Christian and Christiana’s adventures reminds kids that they don’t ride on their parents’ shoulders to the Celestial City, but are lovingly led there by their King. (Read the full review.)


Add to the List! Which books did I miss?

Little Pilgrim’s Progress | Helen L. Taylor

Fun Fact: I am now on Instagram. If you’re on Instagram too, I’d love to connect with you! (@thearosenburg)


The idea of abridging or adapting classics for young readers used to make me squeamish. But when I began collecting books for our school library, I started to see the sense in it: if done well, an adaptation can capture a story in language so simple that the characters and plot twists of classic literature become visible without the obscuring mist of political asides and ornate descriptions.

A good adaptation whets the reader’s appetite for the classics. It renders David Copperfield, Edmond Dantès, and Elizabeth Bennett old friends, ready to be rediscovered at a new depth when the time is right.

A bad adaptation, of course, is still unpardonable.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Little Pilgrim’s Progress is definitely a good adaptation. Since it was first published in 1982, it has become a sort of classic in its own right: in it, Helen L. Taylor retells John Bunyan’s allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, in language clear enough for young readers. But she goes one step further and depicts the main characters as children, so that Christian and Christiana are not husband and wife but childhood friends. Had I known that she had taken that liberty, I might have overlooked the book entirely, thinking that Taylor had gone too far. But I didn’t know, and so I read the book without bias.

I am so glad I did.

Little Pilgrim's Progress, by Helen L. Taylor | Little Book, Big Story

Decreasing the stature of Christian and his acquaintances does more than make Pilgrim’s Progress feel accessible to children. By telling the story of characters who press on to meet their King face-to-face, no matter how young they are, Taylor makes the Christian faith itself feel more accessible to children. In her adaptation, Christian accepts help when offered and cries out for help from the King when he needs it, but he fights his own battles and answers for his own missteps. He doesn’t reach the Celestial City on the shoulders of an adult but on his own two feet.

Mitch has been reading this book to our older three daughters (with a sippy cup of milk and her stuffed lamb, Sir Lamb-a-Lot, even the two-year-old is willing to sit still long enough to listen), and I have loved eavesdropping on the story while I put the baby to bed. Without an adaptation, it would have been years before they were ready to read John Bunyan’s original work. And while I do still look forward to reading Pilgrim’s Progress to them when they’re older, I am thankful for a good adaption that opens the doors to the story for our daughters and makes Christian and Christiana already feel like old friends.


Little Pilgrim’s Progress
Helen L. Taylor, John Bunyan (1982)

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross | Carl Laferton

There are some trends I can’t get behind, like jeggings and cookie dough dip. But I do see a trend emerging that I can fully endorse: for a while, we’ve had some stellar story bibles that treat Scripture as one big story (The Jesus Storybook Bible; The Big Picture Story Bible), but lately, I’ve noticed more and more picture books that try to capture some aspect of Scripture’s big story. Some tackle the entire arc of Scripture (The Biggest Story); others focus on a few crucial books of the Bible (Miracle Man).

These have, so far, been beautifully illustrated. And so far, they’ve all been awesome.

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross is another stunning example of a book that distills the big story of Scripture down into a potent dozen or so pages, so kids can read through the main arc of Scripture’s story in one sitting. Carl Laferton uses the curtain that separated the Israelites from the Holy of Holies, the part of the temple where God lived, to illustrate the effect that the Fall had on our relationship with God. Throughout the book, a simple refrain crops up:

Because of your sin, you can’t come in

Aided by Catalina Echeverri’s colorful illustrations, Laferton explains how that separation happened (the garden), what it was like while it lasted (the curtain), and how it ended (the Cross).

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

On my first read-through, though, I must confess that I thought the story has been simplified a little too much. But when I reached the end and saw what Laferton had been building toward, I realized that, no, that simplicity was just right. And when I read it aloud to my daughters, the story came alive.

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

Because of your sin, you can’t come in

Like an unresolved chord, that refrain hangs unfinished throughout the story, until the last note—the note of Christ’s suffering on our behalf—joins in:

Because of your sin, you can’t come in,
but I died on the cross to take your sin . . .
So all my friends can now come in!

The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross, by Carl Laferton | Little Book, Big Story

The story resolves beautifully. Our story resolves beautifully. And we simply cannot hear that good news enough.


The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross
Carl Laferton, Catalina Echeverri (2016)