We live in a college town, where jobs are few and far between and the cost of living is high. So that major event so many kids face at least once—the best friend who moves away—has happened to each of my daughters many times. It is hard to stay here, so many friends they love have had to leave.
And each time, it is hard. Some of these friends have been good, true friends—those rare friends who speak your particular language, however quirky the dialect, and who seem utterly irreplaceable. The hope of “making a new friend” just doesn’t cut it when you lose a friend like that (for example) the summer before you start high school. Of course you don’t want a new friend—you want that friend. But that friend is halfway across the country now, and letters don’t sufficiently bridge that distance.
(In case you’re noticing the high school examples here and asking, “But I thought this was a picture book?”—yes. Under the guise of reading them to my younger daughters—and while everyone is busily eating lunch—I sure do still read picture books to my teenage daughters. I am staunchly of the opinion that one can never be too cool for picture books.)
So Jesus and the Gift of Friendship says beautifully what I’ve tried to say fumblingly to heart-broken daughters many times, when it’s been too long between letters or when they feel achingly alone in their class: Jesus is our true friend, and he will never leave. But also, pray for a new friend and be open to the idea that a new friend may not resemble your old friend in the slightest.
Jesus and the Gift of Friendship is a beautiful book, both in its message and in its artwork. The style of the illustrations reminds me a bit of Ezra Jack Keats, so while the book feels new and fresh, it still has a classic feel that fits this old, old story of Losing a Best Friend perfectly.
In this book, it is Zeke who moves away from his best friend, Sam, and he grieves that loss. But as his mom walks him through what friendship with Jesus looks like—both for Zeke today and for the followers who walked alongside Jesus during his earthly ministry—Zeke begins to pray each night for a new friend. When he does find one—after a long wait, by the way—she isn’t anything like Sam. But Zeke’s heart is no longer focused on replacing Sam, so he’s open to the idea that he can have an entirely new friend.
As a mom, I love books that help articulate some of these deep truths of childhood and that give us room to talk through tough things during the cozy safety of a read-aloud time. So I’m grateful for Jesus and the Gift of Friendship—I suspect we’ll return to it often.
Huzzah for the third book in Ned Bustard’s series of saint biographies!1 Like the first two, Saint Valentine is a charming, rhymed, gospel-rich biography for young readers.
This book tells the story of Saint Valentine’s life while pointing readers back to Christ again and again, glorifying the Giver of Gifts rather than elevating the saint himself. Ned Bustard’s art is, as always, rich in symbols and significance, and in this case it contains some fun meditations on the four loves (be sure to read the author note in the back of the book). These layers lend a depth to Valentine’s story and to our understanding of his holiday.
In short, Saint Valentine the Kindhearted is a worthy and welcome addition to a series that gives readers a perfect way to root our Valentine’s Day celebrations in the love of Christ.
Just a quick reminder: in the next few weeks, I’ll be closing down my current email newsletter, so if you’d still like to receive these book reviews in your inbox (plus some fun new writings as well!), please be sure to subscribe to my Substack, The Setting, right here. But don’t worry: I’ll continue to update this website with reviews. Thank you!
Above our dining room window hangs a set of four tiles, each one depicting a season. A little orange house sits in the center of each picture, half-buried in snow, then surrounded by spring blooms, fresh apples, and fallen leaves in turn. These tiles travelled with us from home to home growing up, but since my mom gave them to me a few years back, they’ve hung in our dining room, where they remind us of the shape of things: lush leaves will turn brittle and fall; bare branches will leaf out again come spring.
Over the years, we’ve also adopted the shape of the church calendar into our home and learned the patterns of Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas. We’ve found our way into this little by little, learning more where we could, but when I read the introduction to Sacred Seasons, I was struck by how much more there was to learn—and I was grateful to Danielle Hitchen for explaining it all so beautifully and graciously.
Sacred Seasons reads like a guidebook to the church year, with some flyover introductory chapters that invite readers into the idea and structure of the church calendar followed by chapters that give an array of options for how families might observe each season. These options feel like just the right kind of abundance: not so many that the choice feels overwhelming, but enough that there’s bound to be celebrations in here that will work for most families. Stephen Crotts’s illustrations, too, lend depth and beauty to this book—especially the wheel illustrating the different seasons within the church calendar.
It is good to be reminded through the church calendar that, in God’s story, life follows death just as spring follows winter. These little celebrations slow us down and remind us where we are in the scheme of things—and what we are looking toward.
In one of her talks, Elisabeth Elliot once quoted a woman she admired—an active and helpful woman, one who was quick to serve without ever seeming over-stretched. Elliot noticed that this woman said yes to the things she could do but didn’t let the sense that she should do things bully her into committing to everything. When Elliot asked her how she could tell which things were which, the woman said, “I ask myself, can somebody else do this?”1
That is, can somebody else be my husband’s wife? No. Or my children’s mother? Of course not. Can somebody else bring a meal to this family or make that child’s costume for Roman Day at school? Well, that depends. In this particular season, when my inbox is full of four daughters’-worth of SignUp Geniuses and the opportunities to serve in our church abound and every potential writing or editing project looks like good, important work that I can’t bear to pass up, I’ve found this filter invaluable.
Can somebody else do it?
Almost always, the answer is yes. I want to think I’m an indispensable part of every project I take on, but honestly, most of the time, yes, somebody else could do it. (And if we’re being truly honest, somebody else could probably do it better.) The fact that somebody else could do a particular job doesn’t always mean I’m off the hook, of course: anybody in our home can scoop the litter box, but sometimes it just needs to be me.
But the point is, I am sometimes so eager to say yes—and not always for the right reasons—that this question gives me a moment to pause and to ponder if the thing before me is something the Lord is actually calling me to, or if my desire to do it (or keep doing it) is crowding someone else out of a space where they could serve. So that is what I’ve been doing for the last six months: I’ve been prayerfully pondering the question Could somebody else do what I’m trying to do here through this blog?
Of course, the answer is yes: in fact, a lot of people are doing this. When I started Little Book, Big Story, I was stepping into a path roughly bushwhacked by the amazing ladies of Aslan’s Library. I loved what they were doing, and I didn’t see anybody else doing it, so I thought I’d pick up my basket of beloved children’s books and start passing them out on the internet.
Now, ten years later, there’s a sea of incredible resources out there, many of which are linked in the footer of this blog. Social media is filled with excellent accounts dedicated to sharing good books for families. And the delightful books about books! So, yes, somebody else can (and is) doing this.
About three months into my six-month sabbatical, I thought that was the answer I needed.
But then, through a series of small somethings, I felt one of those holy nudges back toward this thing that, yes, other writers and mothers and lovers of good books could do, but that I in particular have been given to do. It is good work, this reading and sharing of children’s books, and I love it.
And so I’m grateful that I get to say: I’m back!
I’m effectively branching Little Book, Big Story into two publications, which I realize sounds like more work. But once it’s all up and running, it’ll be streamlined and easy to use—for both of us! So, here is the difference between the two:
Little Book, Big Story
Little Book, Big Story will continue on here as it has for so long—all book reviews, all the time! So you can continue to browse the library of reviews here and read new reviews every other week.
The Setting will be over on Substack, and it will replace my current email newsletter. When you subscribe, you will receive the every-other-weekly book reviews, as well as two other posts each month. I have fun plans for these, and I think you’ll like them! Short essays, book lists, creative nonfiction pieces—I’m looking forward to sharing some other works with you through The Setting. You can subscribe to that right here. (There’s not much up over there yet, but there will be. Oh yes, there will be.)
Okay! If you have questions, please feel free to ask in the comments below! Thank you so much for your continued, enduring, long-suffering readership. I am deeply grateful for each one of you. And I’m so glad to be back.
Because I can’t remember which talk, I’m grossly paraphrasing here. What you’re reading is what I took away from a talk I listened to a few years ago on the Elisabeth Elliot podcast—hopefully the spirit of the message is correct, even if the exact wording is spotty. ↩︎
Yes, Substack does allow writers to offer paid subscriptions, but I’m not doing that. My writing is (and will continue to be) available for free! ↩︎
Well—I find myself at a cross-roads and, dear readers, I don’t know how I feel about it. The truth is, we have crossed this wonderful threshold as a family and now, behold! Every human in our family is a fluent reader. We still read aloud together now, but it’s become optional. No one really needs me to read to them (or pre-read for them) in the way they once did. And I’m left wondering: is this blog something I’ll continue in this stage of life? Or is there something else the Lord is calling me to?
Right now, I don’t know. But a rest seems wise, and some time to reflect. So here is my plan: I’m going to take a six-month sabbatical from posting here. My hope is that this step outside my weekly rhythms of publishing (ten years of them!) will allow me to prayerfully consider what’s next—and if “what’s next” is returning here, then huzzah! I’ll come back with renewed vigor and a whole heap of new books to share.
In the meantime, I plan to continue sharing occasional reviews at Story Warren, and I’ll pop back in to let you know when they’re up. I may also send out periodic updates on my newsletter, so if you haven’t subscribed but want to stay in touch, you can subscribe to that right here:
I cannot, however, bear to leave you without new reading material, so prepare yourself for over-compensation! I’ll finish this post with a giant list (and I mean giant) of all the books I’ve had piled up waiting to be shared. The ones I’ve been itching to tell you about. The ones I hope you’ll enjoy between now and next January.
Dear readers, thank you. You are such a joy to me, and the thought of changing what or how or if I write here makes me . . . oh, is there a word for it? The possibility of something new feels exciting! But also, the possibility of things changing here feels so, so sad. It’s been a long time, friends. I enjoy my work here immensely.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! Instead, let’s pray. I’ll be seeking wisdom and resting, and I’d appreciate any prayers for clarity you’d like to offer on my behalf. I am so grateful for you.
The Betsy-Tacy Series, by Maud Hart Lovelace — This series follows Betsy and Tacy through their school years, into the first years of their marriages. Delightful and lovely (even if Betsy gets awfully silly about boys for a few books there in the middle). If L.M. Montgomery had been raised in Minnesota, I imagine her books would read like Betsy-Tacy.
What Do I Do With Anger?, by Dr. Josh and Christi Straub — How can we think about anger biblically—in that moment when we’re mad things didn’t go our way? This book does a great job exploring that question in a practical, applicable way.
Working Boats, by Tom Crestodina — If your family loves cross-sections the way our family does, you’ll love this delightful nonfiction picture book (written and illustrated by our neighbor!).
Miriam at the River, by Jane Yolen — The story of Moses, through Miriam’s eyes. The illustrations are stunning!
The Forgotten King, by Kenneth Padgett — A powerful parable of the gospel, beautifully illustrated by Stephen Crotts.
Good Night Body, by Britney Winn Lee — Sometimes, going to sleep isn’t easy. This cozy picture book walks readers through the process of calming our bodies so we can fall asleep. When our youngest was in the throes of extended illness, this book became a nightly read and a lovely way to connect at the end of the day.
The O in Hope, by Luci Shaw — Luci Shaw’s poetry, made available for young readers! This book is a delight.
The Quill’s Secret, by Erin Greneaux — The second book in the Gold Feather Gardener series, this early chapter book invites readers on another adventure with Maya and Everly. And stay tuned for the third book! It’s coming!
God, Right Here, by Kara Lawler — What can the seasons tell us about God? This sweet picture book explores that question.
33, by Andrew Roycroft — Thirty-three poems meditating on the Gospel of John, each thirty-three words long and illustrated by Ned Bustard. We’ve been savoring this book one a poem at a time over lunch.
GraceFull, by Doreena Williamson — When Hope befriends a girl at church who is a refugee from Syria, she’s left with some big questions. This picture book explores these questions with tenderness and grace.
Count Yourself Calm, by Eliza Huie — Oh so good and practical, this one. This book teaches kids to calm themselves down when they’re upset, one breath at a time. Written from a Christian perspective.
Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat, by Andrew Wilson — When Sophie sins against her sister, she doesn’t know what to do to make things right. But then she meets the Heidelberg Cat, who walks her through the doctrines of grace.
Beneath the Swirling Sky, by Carolyn Leiloglou — Full disclosure: I haven’t read this one yet. Full, full disclosure: Carolyn Leiloglou is a friend of mine, so I am pre-disposed to like this book. But! I think you will too, so I wanted to put this middle-grade adventure on your radar well before its September release.
Also worth mentioning: you can find many, many more books listed in Wild Things and Castles in the Sky, that book about books I co-edited with Leslie Bustard and her delightful daughter Carey. If your bookshelves need refreshing, it’s a great place to start!
Thank you all so much for reading! Your willingness to read along with me is such a blessing. I’m so grateful for you all, and I’ll see you in January!
Disclosure: I did receive copies of some of these books for review, but I was not obligated to review them or compensated for my reviews in any way. I share them with you because I love them, not because I was paid to do so.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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