Tag: fiction (page 1 of 20)

Jesus and the Gift of Friendship

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.


Jesus and the Gift of Friendship
Trillia Newbell; Kristen & Kevin Howdeshell (2023)

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!


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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)

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)

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.