Tag: fiction (page 2 of 19)

Christmas Tapestry

When Jonathan’s father takes a job pastoring a church outside Detroit, his whole family is uprooted—transported from Memphis, Tennessee, where Jonathan had just made the soccer team, where things their church was new and beautiful, and Jonathan knew where he fit. But his family’s new church is nothing like their gleaming Memphis church: attendance is small and the building feeble and rickety.

Jonathan’s parents assure him, though, that their Memphis church looked just that humble when they’d moved there, and that his father had been hired not just to shepherd the congregation but to repair and rebuild their Detroit church as he had their church in Memphis. And so the family sets to work restoring the old church in the hope that it will be ready for their Christmas services.

And everything goes swimmingly—they’re going to make it! Until a snow storm damages the churches and sets a chain of surprising events in motion.

The Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco | Little Book, Big Story

This is a classic Christmas miracle story, and it’s one that touches on something we’ve talked a lot about in our house this year. When things don’t go the way we expect them to, it’s tempting to look at the circumstances and protest, like Jonathan, “But how? How can God use this for good?” Even as an adult who has seen firsthand how God’s goodness to us often comes through suffering, it still sometimes sounds trite to my ears to hear that God is working all things for good when I can’t see with my eyes how he’s doing it.

But this story is a beautiful reminder that the goodness God works is often disproportionate to our suffering: Jonathan’s family labored over their church, and the damage done to it is costly, difficult to fix, and bitterly disappointing. These are real losses, and Jonathan feels them acutely. And yet the blessing God works through those very hardships is abundant and overflowing—the sort of goodness that makes the heart squeeze a bit and that makes the quick-to-cry among us lose our composure as we struggle to read it aloud. Like the gospel itself, this story sounds almost too good to be true. (And maybe this one is: it is based upon stories author and illustrator Patricia Polacco had heard told, so though she has reimagined it, there is likely some kernel of truth in this story.)

The Christmas Tapestry, by Patricia Polacco | Little Book, Big Story

And that is part of what makes this book, like many of Patricia Polacco’s books, so beautiful: it rings true. God does work in this way—he uses the run-down and overlooked to remind us that he is always working, drawing us together and to him.

One thing to note: this book does mention the Holocaust. It is not graphic or detailed, but you may wish to read this one first and determine if it’s a good fit for your younger readers.

The Christmas Tapestry
Patricia Polacco (2002)


When I was in high school, I was hungry: I wanted a substantial meal. I wanted something true and lasting, and I looked for it everywhere. But all the books I read told me that this was it—the world around me, with its petty conflicts and scalding pain, was all there was. These books told me I’d better get used to it.

But when I was seventeen, the light found me. This isn’t it, he said. I am. He lit my way out of that dark room and seated me at a feast. I began to read the Bible and, within a few years, discovered Narnia and Middle-earth—expansive lands that rolled greenly in every direction, promising some new discovery just beyond each hill.

But as my daughters grow older, I find that so many of the books marketed to them continue to chant that old refrain: This is it. There is nothing outside this. Settle in and do the best you can with what you have. And so I look hard for books like Rosefire—books that stand as outposts of light amidst the young adult stories that celebrate darkness and would urge my daughters to submit to it.

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

In Rosefire, Carolyn Clare Givens tells a story that 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.

Rosefire is a powerful picture of what it might look like to live out a prophecy—to know that one’s days are foreordained, but to see that the fulfillment of those days is unlike anything those living inside the story can imagine. Givens admits the presence of darkness in the world, but she shows light flickering at its edges and reminds readers that, whatever the other young adult novels say, the darkness has borders. Beyond it spreads an endless country, radiant and worth reaching, whatever the cost.

Carolyn Clare Givens (2021)

The Letter for the King

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?

This dilemma lies at the heart of The Letter for the King. How does one choose the right path when the path is unclear? When the cost is high? When it is a choice between two good things? How does one honor the heart of the law when doing so seems to conflict with the law’s letter?

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

Tonke Dragt tells a winning story, one that rushes forward with a sense of urgency. When so many of today’s stories urge readers to follow their dreams, to be their best selves, Dragt gives us a character who puts his own life and reputation at risk for a task he half-understands—a character who exemplifies bravery and honor, even as he wrestles with himself to discern what is right. She gives us not an anti-hero, but a good, old-fashioned hero.

I needed that. My daughter, who read this book with me, needed it too.

We needed, also, to know Dragt’s story: during World War II, Dragt was interned in a Japanese prisoner’s camp with her mother and sister. She was thirteen. She and a friend coped with life in the camp by writing stories together—on loose sheets of paper and toilet rolls—before Dragt was liberated and returned to the Netherlands with her family. As a child she must have seen both courage and cowardice, honor and cruelty, in measures few of us have seen even as adults. I don’t know, of course, how her own experience colors Tiuri’s story. But Dragt’s simple, straightforward prose thrums with the sort of hope that might inspire one to tell stories amidst the darkness.

The Letter for the King
Tonke Dragt; translated from the Dutch by Laura Watkinson (1962)

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)