Tag: chapter book (page 1 of 19)

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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Beautiful Novels for Teens

This year, fifty percent of our offspring will be over the age of thirteen. Half our children will no longer answer to the word “children.” They’ll be inching toward driver’s licenses and trigonometry and, egad, adulthood. And I am thrilled by this—I love it! Of course I have my qualms about leaving the days of slept-in braids and tutus and what will I do with myself when no one roller skates through the kitchen dressed like a dragon? But when it comes to teen daughters, I’m a big fan.

Sure, the emotions are real, and the slopes drop toward them real quick. And yes, the stakes feel higher the older they get—we only have so much time left to teach them Everything They Need to Know Before They Leave Home! But one of my favorite parts of this season is watching my daughters’ friendship deepen and grow as they get older: when they get home from some event, they often curl up on the couch together and talk it over, just the two of them. They have inside jokes and favorite songs and sometimes I feel, just a little and in the right way, on the outside of things with them. They write duets on the piano and pass books back and forth and occasionally lose patience with each other and then patch things up without me—their friendship is a beautiful thing to watch bloom.

And so, to celebrate this shift in our home, I thought I’d party the way I usually do and share some of our favorite books from this season so far.

Beautiful Books for Teens | Little Book, Big Story

The Sinking City, by Christine Cohen

The Sinking City, by Christine Cohen | Little Book, Big Story

The Sinking City is a beautifully written story that weaves fantastic elements into the solid structures of a real city. Venice seems like a plausible place in which to find magicians and wrathful sea monsters, and Liona surprises herself as well as readers as she navigates the city, trying to save it, her own life, and that of her family. The story is enjoyable and unpredictable, and Christine Cohen’s ability to craft complex, believable characters is stunning. (Read the full review.)


The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dracht

The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt | Little Book, Big Story

While in the middle of the vigil required of all incoming knights, Tiuri hears a voice outside the church. He is forbidden to speak or to leave the church during the vigil, but the voice cries for help. What should a knight-to-be do: obey his king and remain seated, meditating upon his impending knighthood, or answer the cry for help? That conflict kicks off a good, old-fashioned quest, knight and all. (Read the full review.)


Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins

Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

When Katina and Robin embark on a missions trip to India, they each bring their own issues: Katina is recovering from an attempted assault at school, while Robin is hoping to find answers to some big questions from his past. Mitali Perkins weaves their stories together and explores some powerful questions. (Read the full review.)


The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad, by Jennifer Trafton, A.S. Peterson & more

Editors Jennifer Trafton and A.S. Peterson have assembled a collection of tales for those who have long loved Arthurian stories, as well as those (like me) who are only loosely familiar with them. Presented as a collection of rediscovered documents, The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad are liberally sprinkled with pseudo-scholarly footnotes. Some of these stories are clever and funny; some are beautiful and heart-rending; most are seasoned with a little bit of all those things. The book itself is gorgeously designed and illustrated by Ned Bustard.


The Shiloh Series, by Helena Sorenson

The Shiloh Series, by Helena Sorenson | Little Book, Big Story

The story of Shiloh begins in the dark, and it is a heavy tale, one that is honest about the damage of sin and the havoc it wreaks in our hearts. The characters go on grueling journeys through the darkness of Shiloh, but, as the back of the book promises, the story is ultimately one of courage and hope: Helena Sorenson brings the trilogy to a glorious conclusion. (Read the full review.)


Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan

This gorgeous historical novel weaves the biography of C.S. Lewis into the sweet story of Oxford student Megs and her invalid brother, George. I say “novel,” because that’s what the book itself wants me to call it, but this is also a book of ideas: what is a story? Why do stories move us so much? Callahan explores these rich concepts even as she tells us a beautiful story, one my teen connected with deeply.


Rosefire, by Carolyn Clare Givens

Rosefire, by Carolyn Clare Givens | Little Book, Big Story

Rosefire begins with one small action: Karan, daughter of one of the leading families of Asael, welcomes a girl with no memory of her past into her father’s home against his wishes. But this act establishes both Karan’s place and the place of the girl, Anya, in a story far greater than either of them—one that will shape and redeem their fragmented land. (Read the full review.)


Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace | Little Book, Big Story

Emily of Deep Valley follows Emily Webster, who has just graduated high school but feels like an outsider among her friends, who are all heading off to college while Emily stays home to care for her grandfather. This is a story rich in themes of sacrifice and love, one that challenges readers to stop looking over the fence at the next green field and start cultivating the soil they’re standing in. Emily keenly feels the boundaries placed about her, and yet she learns to flourish there. (Read the full review.)


Which books did your teens love?

Emily of Deep Valley

Firstly: you may have noticed the blog looking spiffier, perhaps? For some reason, the week after Christmas consistently inspires me to give this site a makeover. It always seems so fun at first, like a project I’ll start and finish between rounds of Nertz with my girls, but then I end up deep in the weeds, reformatting the titles for every single post I’ve written over the past almost-decade, and I invariably think to myself, around page 67 of 96, I’ve made a huge mistake.

But when I’m done, I’m always glad I did it: with every redesign of this site, I try to make it tidier, easier for you to use, and (of course) prettier. This time, I’ve actually resurrected and updated an old design—one whose simplicity and clean white margins made it one of my favorites. If you find any broken links or if there was something from the previous design you miss, please let me know! You are ultimately the reason I tinker with this site at all—I want it to be a pleasure to comb through as you look for good books. So please do reach out in the comments or via email and let me if there’s anything I can do to make it so.

And now . . . today’s book! A beauty!


When I finally picked up Mitali Perkins’s lauded Steeped in Stories, I was delighted to find that six of the seven children’s books she lists as her favorites were my favorites, too. But best of all, the seventh—Emily of Deep Valley—was a book so brand new to me that I’d never even heard of it. I’d read the first few Betsy-Tacy books when my girls were very small, but apart from that, I knew nothing about Maud Hart Lovelace’s work. And I’d certainly never read Emily of Deep Valley.

That, my friends, has been remedied—and swiftly!

Perhaps it’s too simplistic to refer to Maud Hart Lovelace as a “Minnesotan L.M. Montgomery,” but that’s the most concise way I can think of to send all you Anne of Green Gables fans out in search of this book immediately. I’ll start there: if you love L.M. Montgomery’s books, look up Maud Hart Lovelace post haste!

Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace | Little Book, Big Story

She’s best known for her Betsy-Tacy books, but what I didn’t realize is that the Betsy-Tacy series, much like Montgomery’s Anne series, follows its characters into adulthood. Emily of Deep Valley is the stand-alone story of Emily Webster, a girl just graduating high school a few years after Betsy and Tacy. She feels on the outside of her friends, who are all heading off to college while Emily stays home to care for her grandfather.

This is a story rich in themes of sacrifice and love, one that challenges readers to stop looking over the fence at the next green field and start cultivating the soil they’re standing in. Emily keenly feels the boundaries placed about her, and yet she learns to flourish there—ultimately getting to know and care for a community of Syrian refugees that many in her town have overlooked.

Emily of Deep Valley is a sweet story, yes, but its roots go deep: Lovelace asks meaningful questions about race and relationships (Emily’s first love interest is most emphatically Not a Keeper) and true friendship. And it’s one that will send readers—in our house, at least—into the rest of Lovelace’s books, eager to read them all.


Emily of Deep Valley
Maud Hart Lovelace (1950)

The Elk King

When I was studying creative writing in college, there was this sort of pall over the subject of publication. “It probably won’t happen to you,” our professors cautioned. If you’re lucky, they said, you may land a story or two in a literary journal—probably a small journal, don’t get your hopes up. They pushed us to write well, and then to write better than that, but when I graduated I still felt a little vague on what was supposed to happen after we’d polished a story until there was no grit to rub off. Should we frame it? Fold it into a paper airplane and hope our aim carried it toward an interested reader?

But now, nearly twenty years later, we live in a world full of online publications, small presses, rogue print magazines, and self-publishing—all of which combine with mainstream publishers to give authors a spectrum of ways to share their stories with readers. I love this. I love that I get to have anything to do with any of it.*

Because this means that authors like Jenn Discher get to tell their stories the way they want to. In the case of The Elk King, Discher’s first book in her Tales of Animalia series, this is an excellent thing. The Elk King follows the story of Prince Draven and his family, as they live through an uncertain time: rumors of treachery and of a mysterious illness affecting the Elk surface, and it begins to seem possible that Draven may inherit the throne earlier than he’d like.

The Elk King, by Jenn Discher | Little Book, Big Story

Discher has published this book with a lot of thoughtfulness and care, which gives the book a hand-crafted, carefully-tended feel to it that I love. And her land of Animalia is a gorgeous place, filled with beautiful landscapes and an assortment of talking animals, each with their own distinctive culture (her footnotes on some of these cultural details are delightful!). Jessica Linn Evans’s illustrations suit the mood of the story so well and help bring the characters to life.

For readers who already love Redwall, The Green Ember, or The Mistmantle Chronicles, reading The Elk King will feel like traveling to a beloved but wholly new place, full of characters well worth your affection. And because this book is the first in a promising series, you can read it with the hope that there is more of Animalia to explore and more to discover about Draven and company.


The Elk King
Jenn Discher (2022)


* In this case, I got to serve as copy editor for The Elk King, which I maintain makes me an extra-qualified reviewer. If I can read a book through three times and come away loving it better, that’s a sure sign it’s a book worth reading and re-reading!

Forward Me Back to You

After a disturbing encounter with a classmate fractures Katina’s sense of safety and peace, her mother sends Katina across the country to stay with a woman neither of them has never met—the great-aunt of her mother’s best friend—and try to recover.

Robin has been raised by his loving adoptive parents, but as he grows older he feels rootless. Everyone else wants to know where he’ll go for college, what he’ll do after high school. But he wants to know: who left him in the orphanage in India? How is he supposed to face his future when he doesn’t know his past?

Mitali Perkins weaves the stories of these two characters together beautifully, bringing them into fellowship with one another—through the wonderful medium of Viola Jones—where they challenge each other and help each other heal.

Forward Me Back to You, by Mitali Perkins | Little Book, Big Story

I had never read Mitali Perkins before reading this book, and I’m eager to read more—this was easily one of the best books I read last year. Forward Me Back to You deals with difficult content, but Perkins handles subjects like abuse and human trafficking honestly: nothing about this story is formulaic or predictable. Instead, Perkins allows Robin, Katina, and the other characters work through these challenges in ways that feel true and honest: they respond the way actual people might—with complex emotions, motivated by things they don’t understand in the moment and may not understand for years.

But Perkins writes with hope and with an eye on beauty and goodness, as well as truth. She brings her characters to a point of peace, but resists pushing past that to wrap up everything with a tidy bow. She gives them a way forward, and allows us to imagine what the path looks like from there.


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 who graced us with a powerful interview for Wild Things.


Forward Me Back to You
Mitali Perkins (2020)