Tag: tomie depaola

Look and Be Grateful | Tomie dePaola

When you’re growing your first baby, people are quick to tell you how that baby will change your life. They know; you don’t. So they feel free to share. One of the things strangers were most eager to tell me, in a doom-and-gloom, beginning of the end sort of way, was that I would never sleep again. Never. Which I knew was an exaggeration, but still: I like sleep. My eight hours have always been there, more or less waiting for me, as long as I got in bed in a timely manner and claimed them.

But then I had my first baby and realized that, when the childbirth class teacher said that babies need to eat every two hours or so, she failed to mention (or I failed to hear) that I may or may not get fifteen to thirty minutes of sleep myself between feedings. “Never” was an overstatement, but when I was in those first days of my first baby’s life, it didn’t feel that way: as I snuggled the child whose dark curls struck me with awe even as she hauled me out of sleep again and again, I thought (as much as I could think anything then), “My word. They were right. I’ll never sleep again.”

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

When I was expecting my fourth baby, though, folks were not quite as quick with the ominous warnings. I think they assumed that I knew what I was getting myself into, which was fair, but here’s the funny thing: we seasoned parents, we parents of multiple children, who have done this many times before, are surprisingly quick to forget what having a baby is like when we don’t actually have one. As the babies become toddlers, we forget about waking every few hours to cuddle, rock, pat, and shush. We forget what it’s like having an infant.

And then we have one, and we remember.

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

Having a baby is glorious in so many ways. I’m one of those obnoxious people now who revels in it, who likes the smell of my baby’s neck and who gets all starry-eyed every single time she sneezes, and who turns to mush in the presence of a friend’s newborn. I never thought I’d see the day—me, the one who had never changed a diaper until I had my first child and who babysat only when my mother made me do it—but there it is. I love babies.

I even love teething babies, which is fortunate, because I have one of those now. Growing teeth is hard work, and hard work, when you’re a baby, calls for mom-snuggles in the wee hours. But because I usually like to sleep during the wee hours, I find myself sleeping now in the less-wee hours. And that is when I usually write.

So that’s why this post is mostly about sleeping and not sleeping. I’m trying to tell you about Tomie dePaola’s beautiful book Look and Be Grateful, but all that’s coming out is paragraph after paragraph of nonsense, all of which could be summed up in four words: “People, I am tired.”

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

It is fitting, then, that this week I’m reviewing a book on gratitude—a very short, simply worded book on gratitude. Of dePaola’s many books, this one reminds me most of Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise: the gentle illustrations, the carefully curated text, and the small format make this book, too, one that is clearly meant to be held and savored by the littlest readers.

Open your eyes,
and look.
Open your eyes,
and see,
and say thank you

This is a quiet meditation of a book that does my soul good, even as I read it to Phoebe before her nap, even as I fight to stay awake while I read it to Phoebe before her nap. It is a book that I love sharing with all of my daughters, big and small, because I want gratitude and wonder and thanksgiving to saturate our days as a family. I want to take that gratitude and wonder with me, too, into the wee hours, when I wake with the baby again, but can still marvel at her dimpled hands as she nurses, can still wonder at the weight of her and the way we were meant to fit together. I can remember:

Today is a day, and it is a gift.
So, be grateful.

Look and Be Grateful, by Tomie dePaola | Little Book, Big Story

On that note

I’m taking next week off. All that baby-snuggling means I’ve had little time to write and little brainpower with which to string words together and no time to take photos of anything (except the baby, of course), so I’m going to give myself a week of grace to catch up on sleep and blog posts. I have a bunch of good books to share with you, though, so I’m excited to get back to work!


Look and Be Grateful
Tomie dePaola (2015)

An Early American Christmas | Tomie dePaola

Before we get to today’s scheduled post, I have to say something a little awkward: I no longer recommend Ann Voskamp’s book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift. This is due in large part to Voskamp’s writing style, which seemed passable when I read through the book alone but that fell apart when read aloud with our family, as it rendered each story so frustratingly abstract that even my husband and I had a hard time following her train of thought. We also began to suspect that there were some doctrinal soft spots lurking in the devotions, but because of the author’s writing style (about which I really am trying to be gracious), we found them hard to identify and therefore hard to discuss with our children.

I wanted so badly to love this book (did I mention the illustrations?), but we were only able to make it through four readings before reaching a unanimous decision to return the book and investigate our other options.

And now I find myself in the prickly position of having to retract a recommendation that I made—not once, but twice—here on the blog. I know now that it’s not enough to read through family devotionals on my own, especially if I find myself swayed by beautiful illustrations, but that they need to be read with my family before I so much as draft a post to share with you. If any of you bought the book on my recommendation and had an experience with it similar to mine, I’m so sorry!

Now, back to today’s post about a book that I have read dozens of times over the course of many years with my family and therefore can stand fully behind:


I don’t know what afternoons are like where you live, but up here in the Northwestern corner of the continental US, they are dark. Sometimes, they are cozy dark—”stay in and make hot chocolate” dark. But the rest of the time, they’re just drippy, dreary, dismal, ready-for-bed-at-5 o’clock dark. I have lived here my whole life and despite the fact that it happens this way every single year, I still cannot get used to parting ways with the sun at four in the afternoon.

But one side effect that I’m discovering for the first time this year is that it’s difficult to photograph one’s books on the front porch when the light outside is effectively that of dusk by 2 pm. The colors are weird, the shadows are weird, and the cat is cold enough to interrupt everything I do in the hopes that I might—just might—sit down so she can nest in my lap.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola turns that early darkness into something lovely in this passage from An Early American Christmas: “As the days grew shorter, the winds blew colder. Then the snow began to fly and December was here. Soon, soon it would be Christmas.” See? This only lasts until December 22—that is what I tell myself. And then: Christmas! And after that: more daylight!

An Early American Christmas introduces us to a small village in New Hampshire where celebrating Christmas is not a thing that is done, and to a family from Germany who moved to that village and brought their Christmas traditions with them.

“The Christmas family” celebrated the holiday with the sort of joy that simmered over the course of months as they prepared their home for the coming festivities: shaping bayberry candles, whittling nativity scenes, choosing their tree and baking sweets, as the year moved them closer and closer to Christmas. Tomie dePaola is the right sort of illustrator for a story like this, as he excels at depicting sequences: the grandmother and mother making candles moves from the top left of one page to the bottom right of the other, beginning with them picking bayberries and ending with the finished candles hanging to dry.

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

He details the thoughtful creation of each piece of their family’s celebration in a way that stands in stark contrast to our highly marketed, factory-made gifts and decorations, and creates a sort of nostalgia (in me, at least) for a time when there was no option to purchase tacky decorations or token gifts: if you wanted something, you had to make it yourself. And if you wanted to give something to somebody else, you had to make it yourself.

(But whenever I start feeling this nostalgia for “the old times”—Lydia’s phrase—I remind myself of the state of medical care back then, with its leeches and blood letting and lack of anesthetic and bam! Contentment with my own point in history returns.)

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

This is a slow-moving story filled with the anticipation and preparation before Christmas, and it captures beautifully how one family lived quietly among their neighbors and yet changed the ways of their village, until “one by one every household in the village became a Christmas family.”

I don’t know if this book is still in print, but it is available on Amazon for pretty reasonable prices. Also, for you local folks, there is a copy in our public library (that’s where I found this book in the first place).


An Early American Christmas
Tomie dePaola (1987)

Beautiful Books for Advent

I like to get an early start on reviewing Christmas books around here, because I figure that at least some of you are, like me, whatever we call the opposite of a procrastinator. We were the ones who read through most of the course material weeks before our college professor presented it in class (but only in courses that we were excited about). If we have anything resembling a deadline in our near future, it’s a safe bet that we started working on the item due weeks, if not months, beforehand. And we start thinking about Christmas some time in late summer.

So it’s nice to know which books we’d like to add to the family library well before the need for them arises. Here, for you opposite-of-procrastinators, is a list of our family’s favorite books for Advent (and yes, this post was written three weeks before publication):

Beautiful Books for Advent | Little Book, Big Story

1. The Stable Where Jesus Was Born, by Rhonda Growler Greene

The Stable Where Jesus Was Born | Little Book, Big Story

A gorgeous rhymed poem paired with rich yet cozy illustrations tell the story of Christ’s birth with beauty and grace. Also, there are kittens. A great book for toddlers and preschoolers. (Read the full review.)

2. The Advent Jesse Treeby Dean Meador

If you’d like to try celebrating Advent with a Jesse Tree this year, I highly recommend this little book. It’s filled with daily family devotions that will take you from Genesis to Revelation during the month of December, and it will help you lay a great biblical foundation for your kids as they prepare for Christmas. (Read the full review.)

3. The Friendly Beasts, by Tomie dePaola

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola’s charming rendition of an old Christmas carol will appeal to readers big and little (but especially little). (Read the full review.)

4. Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Song of the Stars | Little Book, Big Story

Lloyd-Jones, author of the much-beloved, Jesus Storybook Bible, tells a beautiful story of the whole world preparing for the coming birth of Christ. She branches out from the usual fare of camels and barnyard animals and includes wild horses, whales and bears in the litany of wildlife preparing to worship the Lord—but she doesn’t stop there. This book is great for toddlers, preschoolers, and early school-aged kids. (Read the full review.)

5. Saint Nicholas, by Julie Stiegemeyer

Saint Nicholas | Little Book, Big Story

Whether you’d like to add a biographical note to family’s celebration of Santa or prefer not to celebrate Santa at all but want to share a bit of history with your kids, this book is a great resource for you. (Read the full review.)

6. Who is Coming to Our House?, by Joseph Slate

Who is Coming to Our House? | Little Book, Big Story

The animals in the manger prepare for special guests in a story that is simple and sweet and, for some reason, moves me to tears every time we read it. This one is perfectly suited to the smallest of readers.

7. An Early American Christmas, by Tomie dePaola

An Early American Christmas | Little Book, Big Story

Tomie dePaola tells the story of an immigrant family who brings their Christmas celebration with them to America. He tells us this Little House-style, and includes details about how they prepared each piece of their celebration—candles, sweets, ornaments, and more—that proved positively enchanting to our pioneer-loving daughters. Those details don’t overwhelm the point of the story, though, and the book closes on a gorgeous note. (Read the full review.)

8. One Wintry Night, by Ruth Bell Graham

As a new believer, I was seventeen, wore combat boots to church, and approached the Bible as I would any other book: I opened it, flipped past the table of contents, and started to read. I treated the Bible as a single story, at times confusing and downright unlikable, because I didn't know any better. . . (from Little Book, Big Story)

Ruth Bell Graham tells the Christmas story by placing it in its context: this is a full-size, beautifully illustrated book, but it’s told in chapters, so she can start the story at the very beginning and see it through to the Resurrection. This is a great book to read as a family during Advent. (Read the full review.)

Petook: An Easter Story | Caryll Houselander

I have good news for you, and I have bad news. I’m going to operate off the assumption that you, like me, would rather hear the worst first, so here’s the bad news: Petook: An Easter Story is out of print and going for something like $60 (minimum) on Amazon. The good news is that there are still copies out there available for less than that (I did not pay $60 for mine), and this book is worth the work of checking Amazon regularly or haunting book sales, garage sales, or Goodwill. Better yet, our library here in town has a copy, so, quick! Race to our library website and put a hold on it now! (Or read on to find out why I’m being so bossy about a book about a chicken.)

Petook | Little Book, Big Story

To say that Petook is a beautifully written book would be entirely true. But to say that without mentioning Tomie dePaola’s illustrations would be a critical omission: the best bits of this story are not written, but are embedded within the artwork, making Petook an incredibly moving book, unforgettable and lovely to look at.

To explain exactly how this works is a tricky business, because the bulk of the book’s beauty rests in the subtlety with which it tells the story of Easter, and subtlety is hard to pin down. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been more tempted to skip the summary of a story entirely and simply order you to go get a copy, but we’ve already discussed the difficulty of doing exactly that (see above), so I’ll have to take a stab at it.

Petook: An Easter Story | Little Book, Big Story

Petook is a story with a foreground and a background. In the foreground is Petook (a rooster), his mate, Martha, and their chicks. Petook doesn’t do anything terribly exciting, really, but Houselander’s telling of his story stands alone so beautifully that it’s tempting miss the drama unfolding behind the rooster, where dePaola draws out the events of Holy Week so quietly that they nearly slipped past me during my first reading of Petook.

As Petook passes an uneasy night or anticipates the hatching of his newest chicks, tiny figures in the background of the paintings show Jesus and his disciples in the Garden of Gethsamene, with a line of soldiers marching toward them, or depict the tomb, shut up and under guard. As Petook stretches his wings restlessly, there on the hilltop behind him stand three crosses in silhouette. Petook responds to these events with the rest of Creation, grieving when Jesus is crucified, rejoicing when he rises again. At points, his story touches that of Christ (you’ll know them when you see them).

Petook: An Easter Story | Little Book, Big Story

Petook is a modest tale at first glance, but it deepens with each reading, thanks to dePaola’s unusual approach. It has become one of our favorite Easter stories, and tends to be the first to emerge from the attic each year and the last one to retire. If you’re able to get your hands on a copy, do! If not, keep your eyes open; be patient. Petook is a book worth hunting for.


Petook: An Easter Story
Caryll Houselander, Tomie de Paola (1988)

The Friendly Beasts | Tomie dePaola

Sometimes, at Christmastime, you just want to sing. If you love farm animals, then you just want to sing “The Friendly Beasts.” And if you love singing and farm animals and you’re three years old, then you want to sing “The Friendly Beasts” over and over and over.

At least, that’s how it goes at our house.

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story

The Friendly Beasts is one of Sarah’s favorite songs and because of that, it’s become one of our favorites, too (it was either that, or let the pendulum swing the other direction. We didn’t want to let that happen). Tomie dePaola’s beautiful book walks through the song, verse by verse, with his oh-so-uniquely-beautiful illustrations, and closes with a page of sheet music so that you can pick the tune out on the piano for your kids. (If you don’t have a piano or don’t like the piano or find that sheet music bears an uncomfortable resemblance to Ancient Hebrew, you can also sing along to Sufjan Stevens’s version of the song.)

But if your little musician loves singing and animals and happens to be three, get ready: “The Friendly Beasts” season does not close at the first of the year. (But you may not mind that as much as you think.)

The Friendly Beasts | Little Book, Big Story


The Friendly Beasts
Tomie de Paola (1998)

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise | Tomie de Paola

I’ll just say it: it’s hard to find good theological books for toddlers.

There are some awesome board book standards out there (most of them written by Sandra Boynton), but when it comes to Christian books for the under three set, the selection is lamentably sparse and regrettably prone to sticky sweet rhyme schemes.

Perhaps I am too critical. But when looking for books about God for an 18-month-old with an attention span three heartbeats long, I want meat. I want to cut right to the chase. (And I want awesome illustrations.)

Is that too much to ask?

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise | Little Book, Big Story

Apparently, Tomie de Paola doesn’t think so. Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise is a beautiful book, short and to the point, based around verses culled from the book of Daniel and Psalm 148. There is a joy to the rhythm of the text, a passion to the illustrations, and a clear and perfect message for those busy little ones: “Hey, everybody! Praise God!”

If I have only three heartbeats in which to tell my child something, I want to tell her that: Praise God!

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise | Little Book, Big Story


Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise
Tomie de Paola (2011)

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland | Tomie dePaola

Pop quiz: in twenty words or less, why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

If your answer is full of elipses and mumbled words like “leprecans,” “Ireland” or “some dude named Patrick,” then you’re sitting in the same boat I was before I came across Patrick: the Patron Saint of Ireland.


A few months back, it occurred to me that a number of our holidays are based upon some fascinating figures in church history, figures with challenging and inspiring stories that have, for the most part, been overshadowed by frothy glasses of Guinness and conversation hearts. So when I gave some thought to how we would celebrate these holidays in our family, I found the answer right there on the calendar in front of me: St. Patrick. Who was that guy, anyway?

And that is where Tomie dePaola comes in.

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland | Little Book, Big Story

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland tells the story of Patrick’s life, neatly divided into biography—and one full of adventure, at that—and legend, as dePaola uses the latter pages of the book to detail the different legends surrounding the life of Patrick. It is, of course illustrated in dePaola’s unique style, and the pictures tell the story with as much punch and detail as the narrative.

This is a great book to read around St. Patrick’s Day, yes, but it makes for fascinating reading all year round, as it provides you with an opportunity to teach your little one about the saints that have gone before us.

Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland | Little Book, Big Story


Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland
Tomie de Paola (1994)