Category: All Ages (page 2 of 3)

Window on the World

Until now, I have proceeded as usual with my publishing schedule. I usually plan out blog posts a few months in advance, so while our family found our footing under a stay-at-home order in Washington state, I let that schedule hum along and publish books I’d chosen months before.

But it occurred to me the other day that, really, I want to shift focus a bit while many of us face some degree of quarantine. For the rest of the school year, I’d like to share books that, I hope, encourage and equip you all during this strange season. Books for kids dealing with difficult issues. Comforting read-alouds that remind us of the big picture. Educational resources that are both enjoyable and easy to use. Devotionals that draw our hearts back to God when we are ambushed by fear.

I hope that you all are finding some measure of peace and comfort during this season when so much is uncertain. I find the greatest source of hope and courage in the gospel, which is not dependent on our circumstances, but was written for us long before any of us lived. Let us mourn our losses and bring our sorrows to God, our true and steadfast hope. And let us also rejoice in him, for he is our true comfort, and he will never change. My prayer for you, dear friends, is this:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)


And now for today’s book!

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

At the start of the school year, after I’d spent the summer planning to homeschool and then, abruptly, preparing our girls to return to school, I got to choose one book from the massive reading list I’d assembled for our home-school-year-that-wasn’t—one out of dozens that the girls and I would read together, one Friday morning lunch at a time.

I passed over beautiful history books, thrilling science books, charming story books, and landed on this book: Window on the World. This, I thought, is the one thing I want to share with them this year.

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

Window on the World is a prayer resource for families filled with double-page spreads on different countries or ethnic groups around the world. Through stories and facts, authors Molly Wall and Jason Mandryk introduce readers to the culture, history, and Christian church of each country, while giving both an on-the-ground perspective of daily life and a flyover view of the country’s larger details, like population and geography.

We have worked our way through this one slowly, spreading each country’s reading over three or four days. And at the end of each reading, we pray—fumblingly, some of us very much with the training wheels on. We are new to praying as a family, and I’m grateful for the way this book has nudged us to think beyond the borders of our home, church, and city.

Window on the World, by Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk | Little Book, Big Story

Of course I had no idea how this year would progress—I didn’t know we’d be homeschooling again by the end of it, or that the world would seem so unsteady. It is probable that life in these countries will look like different by the time this particular storm passes, but even so, I am grateful for the chance to gather together with my girls over empty lunch plates and pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, knowing that our Father knows their needs just as surely as he knows ours. When so much seems uncertain, it is good to clasp hands with my daughters and remember that.


Window on the World: An Operation World Prayer Resource
Molly Wall & Jason Mandryk (2018)

Sing a Song of Seasons

Sometimes the way to a good book lies through a bad book—in this case, a picture book I chose for my daughter, beautifully illustrated and filled with poems that compared baby frogs to aborted childhood dreams and April showers to weeping.

Nope.

That was not the book we were looking for.

But I still wanted to give my daughter (new to reading and smitten with poetry) a beautifully illustrated book of nature poems. So I resumed the hunt and successfully brought down Sing a Song of Seasons.

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year | Little Book, Big Story

There’s a poem for every day in the year in here, gathered from old favorite poets and new favorite poets, and charmingly illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon. These are the poems I thought I’d given my daughter with the first book: delightful, filled with wonder, in no way gloomy or bitter.

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year | Little Book, Big Story

From Robert Frost to Walter de la Mare, from Christina Rosetti to John Foster, this is a collection that will grow with my daughter, one that will be a lifeline from adulthood back to the childlike joy of finding a bird’s nest or spotting the first daffodil or watching spiders spin. One of my favorite parts of the day is when she appears at my elbow with this giant book and asks brightly, “Mom, can we read our poem for today?”

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year | Little Book, Big Story

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each day of the Year
Fiona Waters; Frann Preston-Gannon (2018)

Miracle Man

I imagine reviewers for large publications opening white-covered galley copies of newly released books, their minds empty of expectation. I imagine—wrongly, I hope—that they read with a sort of professionalism, exploring major themes and images with an air of detachment, and I laugh. Because I enjoy being a highly-biased reviewer: I get to dive whole-heartedly into a book by a beloved author, announcing to myself as I do so, “I want to love this book.”

If I know nothing about the author, then it’s usually the illustrations that provoke this longing in me: a beautifully illustrated book makes me desperately want the story to do them justice.

Such was the case with Miracle Man.

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

I wanted so badly to love John Hendrix’s book—the cover alone was persuasive—and oh, dear reader, I do. I love it. I love Miracle Man so much that I bumped it up eight spots on my publishing schedule just so I could share it with you immediately.

Miracle Man follows the life of Jesus through his miracles, showing an interpretation of who he was as an incarnated man that fits well with Scripture but creatively reveals aspects of how his nature as the Son of God may have overflowed the bounds of humanity. Hendrix renders Jesus’ words as part of the illustrations, not part of the text, so everything Jesus says arrests your eyes and causes you dwell on every letter of every word. He made the deliberate choice to portray Jesus himself and infuses the illustrations with details that (I’m not ashamed to admit it) made me cry because they are so awe-inspiring.

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

My favorite example:

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

Jesus’ footsteps are filled with live, growing things, as though the sole of his foot is so infused with life that its imprint causes the earth to burst into flower out of season.

Yes, I wanted to love this book. I wanted to so badly that I would have overlooked some slightly lackluster prose for the sake of those stunning illustrations, but I didn’t have to. There was nothing lackluster to overlook.

Miracle Man, by John Hendrix | Little Book, Big Story

And now, I want desperately to love every other book Hendrix has written.


Miracle Man
John Hendrix (2016)

The Complete Brambly Hedge

Late pregnancy and winter. Those two forces lean heavily on both my shoulders, keeping me mostly content to nap and read my way through January, one volume of Sherlock Holmes stories at a time. But every now and then, a breeze sneaks in the door when I let the cat out and it smells like life, little and green. Sometimes, that smell inspires me to bundle little girls into winter coats and froggie boots and take a stroll through the neighborhood, where forsythia buds stud certain lucky branches and the puddles look blue in the morning light.

Sometimes, that happens. The rest of the time, there’s Sherlock Holmes, tea, and fleecy blankets.

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

Oh, and Brambly Hedge. A few months ago, I asked folks in the Read-Aloud Revival forum for their favorite book recommendations from past episodes of the podcast, and the response was amazing—like asking a room full of kindergartners their favorite color and receiving a response that includes every color known to man and a few not yet invented.

That forum thread cost me a lot of money in new books—really excellent new books that wound up in everyone’s stockings at Christmas (Sarah MacKenzie compiled the list of recommendations for a “Best of Read-Aloud Revival” post on her blog, so you can see for yourself how great some of these recommendations are!).

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

One of the clear favorites among readers at our house was Jill Barklem’s The Complete Brambly Hedge, a collection of stories about English mice living in a hedge near a stream and having all kinds of cozy and seasonally charming adventures, perfect for reading together with tea and fleecy blankets. Barklem illustrates the stories in Potter-esque watercolors, complete with cutaways that show the mices’ homes in detail: these were easily our favorite pages, and we took our time poring over them (and wishing that we were smaller and lived in tree stumps).

The Complete Brambly Hedge, by Jill Barklem | Little Book, Big Story

From the moment I opened this book I knew that my daughters would love it, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much they loved it: Lydia and Sarah now answer to Shell and Primrose and Phoebe (the poor third daughter who ends up being Olaf to their Anna and Elsa) is Shrimp. They have taken these mice into their hearts and adopted them as their own—the best seal of approval they can give.


Brambly Hedge
Jill Barklem (1980)

A Child’s Garden of Verses

I didn’t sit down and think, “A ha! I have it—the perfect edifying exercise!” It happened on its own one day at lunch, when I picked up A Child’s Garden of Verses and began reading poetry to the girls as they finished their quesadillas.

What happened next surprised me. They asked for another poem, and then another. And the next day at lunch, they wanted me to read to them again. And so it began: we assembled a small library of dinner-table books and began thumbing through one or two of them at each meal.

Mary Oliver. A. A. Milne. Billy Collins. Shel Silverstein. Valerie Worth. Some were written for adults, some for kids, but all of them are lovely, hilarious, sustaining poetry.

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t do this at every meal, or even every day, but when I do grab a book from the shelf, four little eyes light up as the girls wait to see which poem I’ll choose. And when it’s from A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of their very favorites, they often put their forks down and listen closely.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems have a peace to them and feel for all the world as though you’re sprawled in the grass of a Scottish lawn as you listen. He had a sharp memory for the joys of childhood and a knack for choosing the perfect words to describe it. Poems like “Keepsake Mill” move me, while the girls can’t get enough of “The Cow,” “The Lamplighter,” or “My Bed is Like a Boat.” I mean, the man wrote half a dozen poems about bedtime, and every one of them is enchanting!

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing that could improve it, really, are Joanna Isles’s illustrations. Detailed and gorgeous, they show children doing what children do best: playing, inventing, imagining, creating little worlds within their games.

There are a number of editions of this book available, all with different illustrators, but we are all so smitten with Isles’s interpretations that I firmly encourage you, if possible, to track down her edition. We found our copy at Goodwill, and my oldest daughter spent the next day tracking a small orange cat through every single picture in the book. That’s still a great game for us, one that my youngest now loves as well: “Where is the cat in this poem? Can you find him?”

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

A Child’s Garden of Verses is classic children’s poetry at its best, a charming book that would fit right into any library. (Plus, it’s perfect for reading together over peanut-butter sandwiches.)


A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, Joanna Isles (1885, repub. 1995)


This week’s summer rerun originally published on April 26, 2013 (my 30th birthday!).