The Two Princesses of Bamarre

Occasionally, I find myself suffering from what I call “brave princess fatigue,” a condition caused by reading book after book about princesses who are not in need of some sort of rescue—heaven forbid!—but are, rather, hardy warriors themselves. I weary of these stories not because I object to brave princesses (in truth, I quite like them when they’re written well). What I’m grumbling about here is the princess whose moment of growth comes when she realizes that she’d always had the strength she needed—surprise!—within her the whole time.

But The Two Princesses of Bamarre came well before our current Brave Princesses. Written in 2001 by Gail Carson Levine (of Ella Enchanted fame), this book offers a nuanced look at what is—and isn’t—true courage, as shown through the lives of princesses Meryl, who is bold and fearless and anything but a damsel in distress, and Addie, who is timid and shy and relies on her sister for protection. Meryl intends to set out on a quest to discover a cure for the Gray Death that (if you’ll pardon the pun) plagues the kingdom of Bamarre, but when Meryl herself falls sick with the Gray Death, Addie is left to figure out what to do.

Addie’s path forward isn’t a straight one. It rises and falls and is punctuated with obstacles that force her to confront her own fears and insecurities again and again. She doesn’t discover, in a lightbulb moment, that she’s had the strength she needed within herself all along—instead, it grows in her as she suffers and struggles to save her sister. She also receives unexpected help from those around her and, in her moments of utter weakness, from a mysterious, un-seeable stranger. Addie is refined through her quest to save her sister, becoming both courageous as well as vulnerable (because aren’t we all vulnerable when we love others?). And while things end beautifully, they do not end predictably.

Had this story been about Meryl, already strong and courageous, setting out to save a kingdom, I think it could have been yet another Brave Princess story. But because Levine dug deeper, she gave us a richer, more beautiful book about a princess who knows she isn’t brave and who battles her fear the whole way, showing us that sometimes courage isn’t about who rides out boldly but about who rides out in humility, aware of her weakness, on behalf of those she loves.


The Two Princesses of Bamarre
Gail Carson Levine (2001)

A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible

Just as I don’t know what I think until I write it down or say it out loud, I often don’t truly grasp an idea until I see it spread out in front of me. And so I love resources, like Tim Challies’s A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible, that deepen our family’s understanding of Scripture by allowing us to explore the themes and structure of Scripture in a visual way.

This book is meant as an introduction to the big picture of the Bible—how all 66 books fit together, for example, or how the Old Testament relates with the new, and so much more. The book isn’t all graphics, but it does contain a lot of graphics, and each one explores some aspect of Scripture in a way that helps readers envision key elements of our faith. Some, like the intricate image interweaving Old Testament prophecies with the stories of Jesus fulfilling each one, are so beautiful they elicit a sense of awe. Others are clean and simple, and illustrate the truths of the faith with the foam skimmed off so we can see into its depths more clearly.

Though this book isn’t specifically intended for families, my teen daughters read and enjoyed it, and I could see it serving as a great devotional resource for families with older children (or homeschooling families! This would be a great spine for a Bible curriculum). Or read A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible for yourself and allow it to deepen your own understanding of the Bible’s beauty, complexity, and simplicity.


A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible: Seeing and Knowing God’s Word
Tim Challies; Josh Byers (2019)

What Are Ears For?

Reading can be such an interior journey, with the things we imagine all tucked away inside our minds—we sit back; we receive; if we’re being read to, we listen. But I love a hardy lift-the-flap book that invites readers to get their hands involved in the story. Back when my girls were little, those flaps were a fabulous way to encourage them to sit and listen to a whole book (one whole book!) before trying to fit a page into their mouths. These days, my girls are too old to need the flaps, but my younger daughters still enjoy opening them as though they’re doors to a secret compartment that might contain, oh, anything.

In the case of What Ears Are For?, the flaps often conceal the answer to questions just asked in the text, so those flaps give you a beat to discuss the question before revealing the answer. This series of sweet teaching books invites readers to explore why God gave us eyes, or hands, or—in this case—ears. By walking readers through some ways we can and should use our ears (and some ways we shouldn’t but often do use them), Abbey Wedgeworth gives parents and children time to discuss the beauty of God’s design for us.

But better yet, she shows us how Jesus used his ears, how we can do the same, and what we can do when we don’t quite get it right. This series doesn’t just tell readers what not to do: it engages those busy little hands while giving us a vision for what we can do, what we are made to, and what Jesus has done for us.


What Are Ears For?
Abbey Wedgeworth; Emma Randall (2024)


Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary.

The Sin Eater

This book, in addition to being written by the incomparable Gary Schmidt, contains three of the things I love most in a story: a very old house, some cloudy family history, and a cemetery. No—two cemeteries, one of which is hidden away and overgrown. Which is my favorite kind of cemetery.

So regardless of what my daughters think about the book, I’m here to tell you that I loved it. Gary Schmidt has a reputation for tackling Hard Topics, and this book is no exception: after losing his mother to cancer, Cole watches as his dad disappears into his grief like it’s an attic he can lock himself inside. But they’re living with Cole’s grandparents in the house where his mother grew up, and it is layered with family stories—joyful and sad—that provide a sort of counterweight to his father’s depression. And his grandparents fill it with laughter, good food, and meaningful work.

The tension between these two parts of Cole’s life—his father’s despair and his grandparents’ comfort—becomes a force at the heart of the story as the light strives to overcome the darkness. That tension propels the story forward. But in the community Cole finds in Albion, New Hampshire, Schmidt has created something that is substantive, memorable, real. The setting itself seems to support Cole as his grief over his mother’s death and his father’s absence ebbs and flows.

This is a moving book, a beautiful one. I’ve read many of Schmidt’s novels, and he’s a master at what he does. But something about this older title especially got to me. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

(And yes, my daughter loved it, too.)


The Sin Eater
Gary D. Schmidt (1996)


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Something Better Coming

I have written recently, in a few different places, about the loss of a very good friend and about her legacy. My daughters didn’t get to meet her, but they love her because she loved them—Leslie always asked about them, and even sent the occasional birthday gift their way, so she was a sweet presence to my girls even though she lived on the other side of the country.

The other day, my daughter asked about Leslie’s birthday. “We have to celebrate it,” she said. But when I opened my contacts to double-check the date of Leslie’s birthday, my daughter grew suddenly still. “You mean,” she said quietly, “you used to text her, but now—you can’t anymore?”

And then she slipped her arms around my waist and squeezed hard.

My friend has been gone for almost a year, but somehow that was the thing that made her death real—and suddenly, acutely wrong—for my daughter. That realization that, though my friend lives still, in a newer, better way, no message I can send her now will reach her.

“Oh death, where is your sting?” Scripture proclaims (1 Cor. 15:55). And yet, we feel the sting of death around us all the time—as it claims those we love, or in any number of endings that are woven into our daily lives. Things aren’t what they should be, and even our children know it on a bone-deep level.

And so I’m grateful for the season of Lent, where we expose that undercurrent of dis-ease for a bit and put it in its proper place, by reminding ourselves and one another that it will not always be this way. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, death will truly—and forever—lose its sting.

Megan Saben’s book Something Better Coming shows beautifully the hope and anticipation we have, in Christ, as we lean toward Easter. By telling the stories of the resurrections Jesus performed, each one building upon the previous one and pointing toward the next one with the refrain “There’s something better coming,” she gives readers a sense of culmination and completion through the story of Jesus’s resurrection.

This is a glorious way to read the Easter story. We see, through the building tension, that his resurrection was not a single event, disconnected from Scripture, but one woven seamlessly into it—a grand disruption, yes, but one that was promised and foreshadowed through a series of smaller resurrections sewn all throughout the Bible and, specifically, the Gospels.

I am deeply grateful for the truth of the resurrection and for its assurance that, though death stings now, there’s something better coming. I’m glad for that truth when I squeeze my daughter back and assure her that it won’t always be this way—there’s something better coming.


Something Better Coming
Megan Saben; Ryan Flanders (2022)


Though I did receive a free copy of this book for review, I am not being paid to promote it. My enthusiasm for this book is abundant and purely voluntary!