Category: Ages 11+ (page 2 of 13)

Dead-Eye Dan & the Cimarron Kid

If you’ve read Glenn McCarty’s The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, you’ve heard about US Marshall Dead-Eye Dan. And if you’ve read McCarty’s Junction Tales, you’ve met Dan face-to-face. (For the record, I highly recommend that you do both of those things.) But Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid dives deeper into the world of Tumbleweed and tells the sort of tale Eugene might have read and savored—one that might have inspired him to seek his own adventures. For this is a tale of Dan himself.

The book opens upon a mysterious man who has no recollection of his own name, how he injured his head, or why he’s stranded on the banks of the Cimarron River. Before long, his story intersects with that of a widow and her young son, and as he helps them tend to their peach orchard and fend off the local thugs, he begins to gather in pieces of his memories. He starts to remember, bit by bit, who he is and how he wound up in the wilderness.

Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid, by Glenn McCarty | Little Book, Big Story

This kind of story—the kind centered around amnesia—is painfully easy to get wrong. But Glenn McCarty gets it right, and he makes it a whole lot of fun for readers to keep half-a-step ahead of “the man” as his life comes slowly into focus. As our hero struggles to piece together who he was before his injury, the story explores a big question: “What makes us who we are?” The things that come back first belong to his body—he’s a crack shot with a rifle; an adept swimmer; he’s accustomed to life outdoors. He recovers physical skills before he gains access to his memories or even his own name. And this makes his recovery compelling.

In Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid (in all his books, really), McCarty gets the trifecta of a great read-aloud just right: the story is a whole lot of fun to listen to (there were belly laughs all around the table as I read); it’s delightful to read aloud, especially in a gritty, gravelly, US Marshall voice (which I’m sure sounded awful, but I couldn’t help myself—the words wanted to be read that way!). And it’s built on a solid foundation: the story asks big questions and gives the characters room to work out the answers.

Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid is a fun side adventure in the world of Tumbleweed Thompson that shows precisely why Glenn McCarty is now one of our family’s favorite authors, beloved by everyone in our house, ages five to forty-two. If you’re new to the series, you could begin with The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson—I wouldn’t discourage you. Or you could jump right in here, with Dead-Eye Dan, and work your way backward through the stories. However you approach the works of Glenn McCarty, you’ll be richly rewarded.


This post is part of my “Hooray! We’re launching a book!” blog series, celebrating the upcoming release of Wild Things & Castles in the Skya book I both contributed to and, alongside Leslie & Carey Bustard, helped edit. Today’s post features an author whose books are warmly recommended in Wild Things.


Dead-Eye Dan and the Cimarron Kid
Glenn McCarty; Aedan Peterson (2021)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

A Christmas Carol

I always feel awkward when I review a book I’m pretty sure you’ve already read. Each time I do it I wonder: why spend time reviewing The Chronicles of Narnia or Anne of Green Gables when you likely read both as a child? This is when my goal for this blog and the work needed to carry it out seem to be at odds with each other. Because my hope is that this blog will be a wealth of book resources—one you can rummage through at your leisure and in which you will find piles of books full of grace and truth. And what pile of grace-and-truth-filled books would be complete without A Wrinkle in Time, for example, or A Christmas Carol?

This tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s thawing heart is a classic of classics, the granddaddy of Christmas literature. It doesn’t tell the Christmas story—as I recall, it doesn’t mention Jesus at all—but A Christmas Carol illustrates beautifully the effect of grace and goodness on a hard heart. But of course you already know that, because this story is such a part of our Christmas culture that the word “scrooge” has gathered its own meaning over the years. So what I’m here to do today, I suppose, is encourage you to read the full story (just in case you haven’t yet) and to read, specifically, this lavishly illustrated edition of A Christmas Carol.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

This edition is part of Tyndale House’s “Engaging Visual Journey” series. I have already read, adored, and reviewed their edition of Hannah Hurnard’s allegory, Hinds’ Feet on High Places, which was enriched not only with gorgeous illustrations but also by the addition a biographical essay that invites readers to know Hurnard in her own, first-person words. A Christmas Carol: An Engaging Visual Journey benefits from a similar treatment. Rich with illustrations by three very different illustrators, this edition also features illustrations from earlier printings of the story, Victorian Christmas recipes for dishes like “Chestnut Sauce—for Fowl or Turkey,” a biography of Dickens, and a short anthology of other classic Christmas stories like O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle.”

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I have seen books like this go wrong by trying to make a classic feel more “relatable” or “modern,” but this one does the opposite: every addition serves to place readers in Dickens’s time period rather than trying to translate his story into ours. And by including these beautifully layered illustrations and large-format pages, this edition simultaneously opens A Christmas Carol up to younger readers without abridging or modifying the text. And it invites those of us already familiar with the story to sit down with it one more time and meet Ebenezer Scrooge anew.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

A Christmas Carol and Other Stories: An Engaging Visual Journey
Charles Dickens; Jill De Haan, Millie Liu, Carlo Molinari (2021; orig. publ. 1843)

The Adventure of Christmas

This week we had a big discussion about when exactly Advent begins, and I was certain that it started next weekend. I had looked at the schedule for Advent readings at our church—I knew what was up. I was sure.

Are you sure?” my daughter asked.

“Yes,” I answered. I was sure.

But at church the poinsettias were out, and the first candle was lit. As we sang the opening verse of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” I looked down the row at my daughter and sheepishly mouthed, Oops.

The Adventure of Christmas, by Ed Drew | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t start our family readings until December 1, though, so I had a few days of grace to break out the calendars and books. This year, we’re reading through Ed Drew’s new Advent book, The Adventure of Christmas. In our family, we have daughters on both sides of that curious divide between child and teen, so it’s hard to find devotionals that resonate with all four girls. But last Lent we read Drew’s Easter devotional, Meals With Jesus, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked for both age groups: he offered questions written for each age level from preschooler to teen and provided enough material with each reading to allow families to customize the conversation for wherever their kids are at.

The Adventure of Christmas follows a similar format. After a short Scripture reading come questions, from which parents can pick and choose, as well as “Optional Extras” likes crafts, deeper discussion topics for older kids, and resources for parents’ own Advent studies. It’s like a buffet with a little something for everyone! I love that about this book. And I hate to admit it, but I also love how short and to-the-point the readings are—perfect for discussing over dinner on a December weeknight and unlikely to make anybody groan.

One of the things I find most intriguing about The Adventure of Christmas is the fact that we won’t encounter Jesus’ birth on Christmas Day, but somewhere in the middle of the month—which leaves room for the stories of Simeon and Anna, and allows readers to look forward to who Jesus would when he grew up. Drew doesn’t present Jesus’ birth as the climax of the Christmas story, but as an event pointing toward a still bigger event; that is, I think, what truly sets this book apart from the many, many Advent resources our family has encountered over the years. (This is evident on the Advent calendar as well, which places the manger in the center of the timeline, not at the end.)

The Adventure of Christmas, by Ed Drew | Little Book, Big Story

And, mercifully, the readings begin on December 1—but the schedule is flexible. You’re not required to read all twenty-five throughout Advent, so if you also missed the first Sunday, never fear! You, like me, still have time to catch up.


The Adventure of Christmas: A Journey Through Advent for the Whole Family
Ed Drew; Alex Webb-Peploe (2021)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson

Summer is sometimes a pleasant unraveling: our schedule frays a bit by mid-June; by July the ends are loose and fuzzy; by August, what routine we have left is shapeless, a heap of thread unpicked by swim lessons, late picnics at the park, and impromptu evening walks. During the summer, it is hard to want to do anything at the same time every day, so I always give a lot of thought (some may say too much thought) to each summer’s read-aloud.

It has to be good enough to be worth gathering for. It must be: engaging (for all of us). Funny. Fun to read aloud. Exciting enough that the girls ask for it even when they’re so tired they sort of slide down the couch as we read.

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, by Glenn McCarty | Little Book, Big Story

Last summer we read The Wilderking Trilogy; the summer before it, The Penderwicks. Previous summers, we’ve read Harry Potter, and The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic. And this summer is, for us, The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson.

This is historical fiction at it’s finest: Eugene Appleton lives a predictable life in a town on the Coloradan frontier. He’s the local pastor’s kid who longs for a life of antics like that of his dime-store novel hero, Dead-Eye Dan. And he gets his wish when Tumbleweed Thompson, son of a traveling snake-oil man, drifts through town one summer, trailing outlaws and adventure behind him. Glenn McCarty has fun with the language and tells a story worth sharing.

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, by Glenn McCarty | Little Book, Big Story

I can’t count the number of times I’ve closed this book and heard one daughter or another sigh, “I love this book.” That’s the best endorsement I can give it, really. It’s fun to read aloud, and all four daughters adore it. Joe Sutphin’s illustrations (The Wingfeather Saga) are nothing to sneeze at either: they’re reminiscent of Robert McCloskey’s Homer Price, but with a style all their own. I know it’s late in the game to recommend a perfect summer read-aloud, but there you have it: bookmark this one for next summer, or start it now and keep a bit of summer close when the cold months start closing in. It’s your call.


The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson
Glenn McCarty; Joe Sutphin (2019)

Great Expectations

“I couldn’t put it down.”

“You won’t be able to put it down.”

“It’s unputdownable!”

I recently read our local bookstore’s monthly magazine, and the reviews were littered with phrases like this. This seems to be the highest praise we can give a book now: it was so good it made you forget you were reading!

But I want to take a moment and consider the books that are so good we have to put them down. I don’t mean books we put down and lose interest in. No. I mean books so beautiful we must linger over them, savor them, pause from time to time to reflect on a beautiful passage or perhaps write it down somewhere. These are the books we read more and more slowly toward the end, because we do not want to finish the last page and be left outside the world of the story. We do not want these books to end.

These “putdownable” books do not end each chapter with a cliffhanger or punch you in the face with a plot twist; they draw you firmly in, because the author trusts you to keep reading without his hand at the back of your neck, insisting that you turn the page.

Great Expectations is one of these books.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

I am—let’s say this first—a huge fan of Dickens. I could go on at length (and have, in many odd contexts) about how much I love every book I’ve ever read by Charles Dickens, especially some of his less popular books like Bleak House and Little Dorrit. In reviewing only one book here, I am practicing great deal of self-restraint.

But Great Expectations is a great place for those new to Dickens to begin (it is where my eldest daughter began), not least because it is well under the 1,000-page threshold. And the Radio Read Along version—with its full reading of the book and the discussions sprinkled throughout—is a fabulous way to read Great Expectations for the first time.

The story is gripping, the characters unforgettable—and I am not wielding cliche here. If you remember one thing, decades later, about this book, it’ll be Miss Havisham. Pip is (like so many Dickensian protagonists) an orphan, raised by his ungentle sister and her gentle and wonderful husband, Joe. When he is presented with a strange opportunity to “come play” at the mansion of the reclusive, mysterious Miss Havisham, his fortunes turn irrevocably from the path that once led to a future spent working as Joe’s apprentice blacksmith. But is that turn a good thing? Or, what’s so great about Pip’s great expectations?

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens | Little Book, Big Story

And so I offer this praise of Dickens’s classic work: you will be able to put it down. You’ll want to. You’ll want to read that description of Joe scuttling Pip behind the door to the person nearest you, whether you know them or not. You’ll want to read back over that scene between Mr. Wemmick and Miss Skiffins because it’s too delightful to read just once. You’ll want to soak in that first description of Miss Havisham’s place with equal parts horror and wonder. And when you encounter moments of abundant, undeserved grace in this story, you’ll need days to mull them over.

This, friends, is a thoroughly put-downable book. And I mean that in the best possible way.


Also worth noting: James Witmer, author of A Year in the Big, Old Garden, just launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a companion book about the big, old garden! You can learn more about his campaign here.


Great Expectations
Charles Dickens (1861)