Tag: series (page 1 of 2)

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)

The Wingfeather Saga | Andrew Peterson

The trouble with reviewing only books that I like is that I have to find one hundred clever ways to say, “I liked this book.” I try to throw out the adjectives—beautiful! amazing! wonderful!—and do my best to explain what I liked about a book and why you might like it, too.

But I couldn’t do that here. My first thought when I sat down to write was THESE BOOKS ARE AMAZING!

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

For three drafts, I couldn’t get past it. Every time I opened this post, that sentence—These books are amazing—beat the rest of the English language out of my head. Andrew Peterson has written exactly the sort of story I was longing for when I wrote about the difficulty of crafting Christian characters, and he has done it in a way that reminds me fondly of Lemony Snicket, Harry Potter, and Narnia all at once.

Peterson’s sense of timing is just right, his use of language is a beautiful thing to behold, and his jokes are spot on. I liked Andrew Peterson immediately for having the sense to throw in that extra “dark” in the title of the first book, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness. Without it, the title would be bland. With it, it was perfect. (The title of the second book—North! Or Be Eaten—is even better.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

Peterson’s world of Aerwiar is full of wonders—new hollows, and deeps and cities to discover with each story—but I can’t tell you much about the adventures Janner, Tink, and Leeli Igiby have in it without spoiling major plot points. But oh, how I want to! I wanted badly to discuss these books with someone as I read, but I could think of only one other person I knew who had read them—he is ten and was out of town—so I was left to laugh, cry, and rejoice alone.

(Mitch is reading them now, so that shall soon be remedied.)

The Wingfeather Saga, by Andrew Peterson | Little Book, Big Story

These books are exactly what I think art by Christians ought to be: beautiful and complex, joyful but brutally sad at times, and so well-crafted that they faithfully reflect the work of our Creator. They are not safe or neatly allegorical. They do not close with a sterile moral. But while Andrew Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga tells a story framed in a Christian worldview, that story is not told only to Christians. It is a great story by any standards that points, in the right places, toward the Gospel.

In the words of Oskar Reteep (quoting Shank Po), I exhort you: “Get thee busy.” You have books to read.


The Wingfeather Saga
Andrew Peterson (2008-2014)

Half Magic | Edward Eager

Four children find a coin that grants wishes, but it only grants wishes by halves. Adventure and hilarity ensue.

The plot of Half Magic might strike you, as it did me, as the sort of thing that E. Nesbit might write, and that is no accident. In the book’s opening chapter, Edward Eager gives E. Nesbit’s books a cheerful salute, then goes on to tell a story that borrows from the best parts of her work while introducing its own original charm.

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

Eager’s characters are as warm, quirky, and fallible as Nesbit’s Bastable or railway children, but they feel less like carbon copies than like well-crafted, energetic homages to her characters. The narrator’s voice and the enchanting plot also tip their hats toward Nesbit, and upon finishing the book, I found myself with two very compatible desires: I wanted to read more Nesbit, and I wanted more Eager as well.

I love all of that about Half Magic. But the best part is this: while reading Half Magic, I found it hard to get through more than a few pages at a time because I could not stop laughing out loud. The last book to affect me this way was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King (also affectionately mentioned in Half Magic), but Eager’s book featured more comedy in a shorter span of time, so I was left holding my breath through certain passages, in the hope that I might make it just a little further before my eyes watered so much as to make the text illegible. Then I collapsed, caught my breath, and began again.

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

I do not want to wait to share this book with my family. But I will. I’ll save it for a few years: I think the girls will laugh a little harder at the jokes then, but the wait may kill me. We’ll see.


Half Magic
Edward Eager (1954)

100 Cupboards | ND Wilson

I am a black belt in Taekwondo. By “am,” I mean “was,” as in “I earned my black belt in eighth grade.” And by “black belt,” I mean “zero degree black belt,” which is the lowest possible black belt a person can earn. But I like to toss that sentence—”I am a black belt in Taekwondo”—into conversations with boys of the ten-and-under set, just to see what happens.

I don’t have a lot of currency with boys, after all. As a mother of three daughters, I can throw a mean tea party, tell stories about sweet, talking animals and no bad guys, and please everyone in my house just  by putting on a nice dress and some lipstick. I am not adept at talking about football, playing ninjas, or understanding the appeal of wrestling. But I do know how to hold a nunchuck properly and I can still do a pretty decent side kick, so I like to think I’m not a complete dead zone where the boys are concerned.

100 Cupboards | Little Book, Big Story

Likewise, I’m not that great at finding good books for boys to review on this blog, simply because there isn’t much of a demand for them at our house. When I do find a book that I think boys might like I get really excited—and then I second guess myself. I start asking friends if their sons read the book and if so, did they like it? Do boys even like that sort of thing?

But I didn’t even have to ask about this one. I read 100 Cupboards in about two days, got more than a little creeped out, loved it, and knew I’d found a winning book that didn’t center around an unlikely heroine in Victorian dress, a book that would doubtless appeal to boys, their sisters, and their parents.

100 Cupboards Trilogy | Little Book, Big Story

The premise of 100 Cupboards is straightforward and awesome: while staying with his aunt and uncle after his parents’ mysterious disappearance, Henry discovers a bunch of cupboards hidden beneath the plaster of his bedroom wall, each one leading to a different place including (but not limited to) Endor, Byzanthamum, and Arizona. Adventure ensues.

This is the first of three books, and though I have not read the other two, I am definitely looking forward to reading them. The worlds that N.D. Wilson uncovers are enthralling—I can’t wait to see what else he has hidden away in those cupboards. A word of warning, though: parts of this book are unsettling to say the least, so this may be a bit much for younger kids (or for squeamish older kids). I’d compare the creepiness factor to that of Coraline, if that helps.

100 Cupboards | Little Book, Big Story

But it is an awful lot of fun to read.


Update (6/2015): This is the rare trilogy that gets better with each book! I finished the third book yesterday, and actually yipped—my husband will vouch for this—”Woo hoo!” at the story’s climax.  I may revise my post to reflect this at some point, but for now, know that I recommend not only One Hundred Cupboards but also its sequels, Dandelion Fire and The Chestnut King.


The 100 Cupboards Series
ND Wilson (2008-2011)

The Boxcar Children | Gertrude Chandler Warner

My brother was whoever I told him to be when we played “Boxcar Children” under the great, drooping tree beside our house (I was usually Jessie, but sometimes Violet). I read the whole series ravenously as a child, but was reluctant to pick them up again as an adult, in part because the books in the series have cheesy covers, but mostly because there are, frankly, so many of them. (Always be suspicious of very long series: its rare that an author can tell a good story over the course of thirty or more books that all have the word “mystery” in the title.) I suppose I worried that the books just wouldn’t be as wonderful as I remembered.

In a way, I was right. The later books are watered down, having been handed over to ghost writers (note the “Created By” on the cover) after the nineteenth book. Those writers also inexplicably removed the characters from their original time period—in the 1920s or ’30s—and plunked them into the 1990s (scrunchies and all), an unpardonable offense.

The Boxcar Children | Little Book, Big Story

However (and that is an emphatic “however”), the very first book, the original Boxcar Children, is lovely. I gave it another try after seeing it listed on an excellent reading list featured on The Gospel Coalition, and the sweetness of the book enchanted me all over again. After the iconic opening sentences, “One warm night four children stood in front of a bakery. No one knew them. No one knew where they had come from,” the story of four children, aged five to fourteen, learning to take care of themselves after the death of their parents, unfolds gently as the children set up a new home in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. They eat berries and cook stew over an open fire and take care of one another in a way that is enchanting to children and beautiful to parents.

The Boxcar Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner | Little Book, Big Story

Perhaps this is an example of a story that should have been left alone to be its own story, rather than turned into a series that is still, to this day, going strong. But I suppose that part of the appeal of The Boxcar Children as a series is it works well for a variety of age levels: after Lydia and I read the original story, she set her sights on the subsequent books in the series (which I skim through on my own, but let her read for herself), while Sarah and I curl up on the couch together and read aloud from The Boxcar Children. Lydia announced recently that she has changed her name from Mary to Jessie. Sarah is still Anna from Frozen, but her dolls are now Henry and Violet. In the end, this was a childhood favorite well worth revisiting.


The Boxcar Children
Gertrude Chandler Warner (1924)

Featured Author: LM Montgomery

When I choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just skip to the part where you read any book they have ever written.”

Today’s author is a new acquaintance (for me) and one whose presence in this post won’t exactly surprise you. My friends, I give you: L.M. Montgomery.


Montgomery - LMMy affection for L.M. Montgomery is quite personal: you see, her stories gave me back the key to my imagination in a season when I sorely needed it—after the birth of my third child, when the Great Juggling Act of life with a newborn had begun again and the Regular Juggling Act of life with two older children continued without pause. I read a dozen or so of her books then, in those midnight moments, while nursing Phoebe; in back rooms at family gatherings, while nursing Phoebe; during the girls’ nap time, while nursing Phoebe.

LM Montgomery’s characters reminded me that, though I am a woman who needs to chop an onion, nurse a baby and help a three year old find her shoe—all in the next fifteen minutes—I am also a woman can sit for a minute on the front steps and watch the stars come out (while the children put their pajamas on), or listen to the hushed voices of the bamboo outside our kitchen window (when the chirruping voices of our home’s smaller occupants are stilled for a moment). She reminded me to look up from the budget and out the window, where the setting sun ignites the clouds and turns the sky a gorgeous, golden rose. She reminded me to find the stories in those things, to wonder at the world around me.

Anne of Green Gables (series), by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

Yes, Montgomery can lay out a lush landscape. She can, in a few words, put her finger so precisely on the pulse of a character that the character springs, fully formed, into your mind’s eye. She can weave a story out of  the stuff of ordinary life but with the colors of those things heightened, until you see them not as ordinary but as unforgettable and enchanting. But she has a way of giving us back to ourselves, reminding us adult readers of those childlike qualities that we had—perhaps accidentally—forsworn as we entered adulthood, as we forgot the bigness of  the world inside a single flower and got caught up instead in the Things That Must Be Done Before Dinner. Her words are—to quote my friend, Angie, who kept me supplied me with Montgomery’s books during that first month after Phoebe’s birth—”life-giving.”

Montgomery wrote for serial publication, so, like any really prolific author, some of her works are markedly better than others. But any of them are worth dipping into, especially once you develop an unquenchable thirst for her language, lands and the inhabitants thereof. These are some of my favorites (in a particular order):

– Anne of Green Gables (yes, the entire series, including the extra volumes, Chronicles of Avonlea and Akin to Anne*)

Anne of Green Gables | Little Book, Big Story

– Emily of New Moon (I was slightly less smitten with the rest of the trilogy, but the other two books are worth reading)

Emily of New Moon, by LM Montgomery | Little Book, Big Story

A Tangled Web

– Magic for Marigold

Jane of Lantern Hill

The Blue Castle

Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat

*Akin to Anne is a collection of short stories about orphans who find, through unlikely means, their place among folks who love them—a common theme in Montgomery’s work. These stories are fun to read aloud with children who might be, as yet, too young to appreciate a full-length novel but who would, like Lydia, be enchanted by the characters, the scenery and, of course, the happy endings.


If you’re inspired to read more about LM Montgomery (and I hope you are), I highly recommend Jennifer Trafton’s piece “Smelling Flowers in the Dark” and Lanier Iveston’s four-part biography of LM Montgomery, both published on The Rabbit Room.

Featured Author: Madeleine L’Engle

In response to the question, “What is today?”, please select one of the following:

a) your birthday

b) Daylight Savings

c) the first anniversary of Little Book, Big Story

If you selected a), happy birthday! I owe you a cupcake. If you selected b), yikes. Rough week, then?

But if you selected c), well done! Let the lights flash and  the bells ring and the announcer crow, “We have a winner!”

For one whole year, I’ve been writing book reviews, and to celebrate, I thought I’d do something a little special and introduce a new category to the blog. (I know. Wild times.) Today, we move off the beaten path of weekly reviews and into the fresh green grass of featured authors.

You see, as I very thoughtfully choose books to review on this blog, I find that there are some authors who have won my heart so thoroughly that I can’t decide which of their books to review first. These are the authors that I love for themselves, not for any single book, and whose name on the spine of an otherwise unknown volume is enough insurance for me to buy a copy without even peeking at the blurb on the back of the book. Introducing you to them is my way of saying, “Yes, we’ll get to the specific titles. But for now, just go get one of their books and start reading.”

To kick things off, we can’t start with just anyone. We’ll begin with the one author who almost had a Rosenburg daughter named in her honor (yes, I love this author that much): Madeleine L’Engle.


L'Engle - PortraitI love our house. It is quirky and dated, with a bright yellow kitchen in which people congregate and a laundry room door that opens with a skeleton key. When we bought it, we talked about how well the house would suit us when we grew old and we have visions of planting fruit trees and watching them grow from saplings to established, consistent companions.

Despite my love for this place, though, there is another house in my heart—a farmhouse with drafty attic bedrooms and a vine-covered wraparound porch. That house has a bright yellow kitchen in which people congregate, but that kitchen looks out over a wooded hillside and perhaps a mountain peak or two. Old-fashioned lamps sit in the windows of that house and cast pools of light on the slumbering kitchen garden and fruit trees too old for us (or our grandparents) to have known them as saplings.

I have loved that house for years. The house and the lands around it seemed so settled in my imagination that it was with a start that I realized, upon rereading A Wrinkle in Time, that the house was basically the Murrays’ house, forever endeared to me by that opening scene, where Meg, her mother and Charles Wallace gather in the kitchen for a midnight cup of cocoa. As I read on in Madeleine L’Engle’s works, I realized that it was also partly Crosswicks, the old farmhouse in rural Connecticut that she and her family shared, which just goes to show how vividly L’Engle’s books are imprinted on my memory.

Though best known for A Wrinkle in Time and the four subsequent books about the Murray family, L’Engle has written over sixty books of nonfiction, poetry and fiction (for children and adults). I have read and reread over twenty of her books and, of those I have read, I have loved nearly every one.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

Her fiction for children is bright and original, full of characters that you can’t help loving by the end of the book. She tries her hand at many things and usually succeeds: the Time quartet deals with everything from tesseracts to mitochondria, while Meet the Austins paints a beautiful picture of family life. Her essays are quiet and slow-moving, but unforgettable, with Walking on Water taking the cake as my favorite volume of L’Engle’s nonfiction. All four of The Crosswicks Journals follow close behind.

L’Engle is a Christian author, so her works delve into issues like love and Creation in a deep, lasting way. Theologically, I don’t agree with her point for point, but on the central stuff, she’s reliable, and I generally put her books down with the idea that I’ve arrived at a new understanding of how the world fits together. I also tend to play the piano more when I read Madeleine L’Engle (she could describe a sonata beautifully), and wish I understood higher mathematics (she was also incredibly smart).

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

I cannot attest to the goodness of every single Madeleine L’Engle book out there—and I’m honestly not that sold on her fiction for adults—but I will leave you with a list of my favorite works for children and grown-ups.

Children

– A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, A Wind in the DoorA Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters

– The Austin Family Chronicles, with particular emphasis on Meet the Austins and A Ring of Endless Light, but with the possible exception of The Young Unicorns (I wasn’t crazy about that one, either, and I don’t think you’d miss much if you skipped it)

The Austins | Little Book, Big Story

Adults

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L'Engle | Little Book, Big Story

– The Crosswicks Journals (A Circle of Quiet, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, The Irrational Season, and A Two-Part Invention)