Category Archives: children’s literature

What History Is Made Of

We all make history every day, whether we are the fundamental elements that make up the swift-flowing stream or the droplets that leap out and sparkle in the sunlight. In reflecting on what the women below possessed in common, one answer that turned up was, Not much. Many (but not all) worked hard to develop an exceptional gift in art, science, or sports. Others pursued a consuming interest. Several campaigned for a vision they believed in. For a few, birth and family situation positioned them for leadership. Early observers of others, by contrast, may have tagged them as unlikely to succeed. At least one of the women here simply rose to meet the need of the moment.

All of these women experienced many ordinary days. Maria Toorpakai spent three years hitting a squash ball against the walls of her bedroom. Lilias Trotter rode camels across the North African desert for days at a time (and relished the quiet).

We may not all be champion athletes or talented artists. Our lives may be full of mundanity. But we can all make a difference. I hope these history makers will challenge us and our daughters and sons to take stock of our gifts and circumstances. How might we be positioned to make a difference in our current situation? And what can we work toward for the future?

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Fantastic Fantasists

In some previous stage of my theological thinking, I conceived of the spiritual realm as an arena essentially separate from the materiality of daily life. More recently, influenced by the writings of N.T. Wright among others, I have come to realize the significance of the existing Creation as part of God’s eternal grand design.

The new creation, Wright stresses, is not something that is “up there” or “out there.” It commenced here on Earth with Christ’s resurrection and will be fulfilled, here on Earth, at his return. The kingdom of heaven is not so much “other” as “more”—an unseen that includes and extends beyond observable reality.

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Books for Black History Month, pt. 2

You can read Part I of this series on the Story Warren website or the BirdsBooks blog.


Stories of those who have suffered injustice and resolved to reverse it inspire awe and admiration. Likewise worthy of respect are those who create profound art from sorrow and loss. In his treatise Art and Faith, painter Makoto Fujimura references artists who draw upon their own suffering to create works of deep significance.

Some of the historical individuals below were literal artists—painters, potters, musicians. Others created by shaping society, moving us toward a more just world. Still others left behind words from which authors and artists have crafted their own works of beauty and significance.

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Harriett Tubman’s Beautiful Mind

Moses: When Harriett Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weartherford, ill. Kadir Nelson (Hyperion, 2006, 48pp, ages 4-8)

Weatherford’s picture book bio ranks alongside So Tall Within (Gary D. Schmidt, ill. Daniel Mintner, Roaring Brook, 2018) as one of my favorites for Black History Month. It might even be an all-time pick for outstanding children’s biography.

Weatherford pays tribute not just to the indomitable Tubman (c.1822-1913) but to her unquenchable faith. Tubman’s ongoing dialogue with God punctuates and often provides the vehicle for the narrative. Nelson’s paintings, rich with color and form, pair perfectly with spare poetic text, uniting action and emotion.

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Architects: Creating Natural Space

Cities, generally characterized by massive buildings and busy streets, are often conceived of as the antithesis of nature. But when I first began reading about architects and their work, I was struck by how frequently the theme of harmony with nature arose. Many if not all of the titles below describe how the featured architects drew inspiration from the natural world and sought to emulate it in their designs.

On reflection, it makes sense that artists whose work is built on the natural laws of physics would be firmly grounded in the study of nature. The Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) avowed, “Man does not create … he discovers.” He went on to say that creators “collaborate” with the Creator—the one who originated the laws of nature.

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Windows on Korea: Nature, City, Myth

In recent years, classmates, family friends, and now an international student living with our family have put Korea increasingly on our radar. Friends have introduced us to K-pop rock, K-pop opera, and serialized TV K-dramas. The books below offer another window on recent history and contemporary life in Korea. 

When Spring Comes to the DMZ 
Written and illustrated by: Uk-Bae Lee
Translated from Korean by: Chungyon Won and Aileen Won
Published by: Plough Publishing House, 2019
Target Age: 5–8 years

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More Gifts for Kids: a new Pilgrim’s Progress and a Christmas picture book

First an acknowledgement: Rousseaux Brasseur, the author of these books, was the much-loved children’s ministry lead at our church when our daughter was in elementary school. Last summer he served for a week as pastor at Camp Harlow, where our daughter volunteers as a teen counselor. Needless to say, I am hardly an unbiased reviewer. But I can attest to the character of the author as a clever, quirky, open-hearted individual with a deep love for Jesus and young people.

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Fantasy in the Heartland: Lepunia, Kingdom of the Gallopers, by Kevin T. Ford

Lepunia will catch you up, carry you away, and set you down—right back in Kansas. But conveyed from a rabbit’s-eye view, it might as well be Oz. It was with some surprise that I realized, on reflection, that no magic takes place in these pages. None but that conjured by Ford’s lyrical descriptions. One part Narnia and one part Little House on the Prairie, Lepunia offers up an enchanted middle America peopled with rabbits, squirrels, coyotes, owls, prairie dogs, ferrets, and more. Cottonwoods, hills, lakes, and burrows become ancestral palaces and legendary landmarks, skillfully rendered in Michael Genova’s lavish sketches and eye-catching cover art.

In this first book of a planned trilogy, the curtain rises on the eve of Founding Day in the township of Lepunia (from the Latin lepus—hare). The festival marks not only the anniversary of the settlement but graduation from the academy for jackrabbit friends Lily, Fluff, and Jackson. Lily hopes to be admitted to the artists’ guild. Fluff expects to follow his father’s profession of baker. And the dearest desire of fleet-footed Jackson is induction into the Gallopers, an elite guard of jackrabbits tasked with defending the kingdom and conveying messages to its farthest reaches.

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Love and Assassins: The Many Assassinations of Samir, the Seller of Dreams, by Daniel Nayeri

This is a love story. Or so claims Omar, the teller of this tale. Notwithstanding the mention of dreams, one might object to invoking assassination and commerce in the title of a romance. The Many Assassinations of Samir the Seller of Dreams is, nevertheless, a love story of sorts. Not in the way one might expect. But much about Daniel Nayeri’s difficult-to-class novel betrayed my expectations.

Prompted by the title, I anticipated a picaresque tale á la The Music Man; as narrator, an eleventh-century Harold Hill peddling a medieval brand of positive thinking along the Silk Road. Instead, the story opens with the orphan Omar’s description of “the first time [I] was stoned to death.” He goes on to describe how the eponymous Samir buys and thus rescues him from a mob of outraged monks.

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Beneath the Swirling Sky, by Carolyn Leiloglou

WaterBrook, September 2023, 304 pp. ages 8-12

Carolyn Leiloglou’s debut work for middle grade readers incorporates art history and principles of painting into an engaging narrative. Beneath the Swirling Sky isn’t the first book in which characters travel through paintings or engage with art history. Also familiar are tropes of belonging to an endangered ancestral line, questing to save an abducted sibling, and hunting down art thieves.

Such perennial devices nevertheless retain their appeal. What adolescent wouldn’t want to discover inherited gifts that enable them to profoundly change the world? Possibly those chary enough to recognize the probable weight of accompanying responsibility. But who has time to worry about that?

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