Abigail and the Big Start Over – Bethany McIlrath and Katie Saunders

Abigail and the Big Start Over by Bethany McIlrath, Katie Saunders
Series: Abigail #1
Published by Good Book Company on June 1, 2024
Genres: Children's
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Fun, wholesome story that kids can relate to, which helps them to explore what faith looks like in everyday situations.

New house. New school. New problems!

Like many kids, adventurous and creative 9-year-old Abigail experiences lots of ups and downs when it comes to school life, making friends, and getting along with parents and siblings. Through both the humorous and serious challenges that arise, Abigail finds herself in one new mess after another. But as she learns all about how Jesus forgave Peter when he messed up again and again, she sees how Jesus can forgive her too.

Readers will explore the Bible alongside Abigail and learn that God’s love for us and his grace to us never run out. So we can start over again and again!

This fun, exciting novel for kids aged 7+ features short chapters with illustrations that really bring the story to life. It explains grace in a kid-friendly way that is relevant to their lives, and it provides a great way for kids to engage with the Bible.

This is the first book in a fictional series for readers aged 7 and up that follows the adventures of 9-year-old Abigail as she figures out what faith means for her everyday life. Young readers are inspired to read the Bible, talk to God, and apply what they believe to their own lives.

Includes book club kit with questions for discussion, with other worksheet downloads also available. Ideal for homeschool groups or book clubs.

This book is the first installment in a new chapter book series for elementary-aged kids. The main character, Abigail, is a nine-year-old who has just moved to a new house with her family and is starting a new school. The story follows her experiences trying to make friends at school, dealing with family stress about their life transition, and learning about God at a children’s program at church. Bethany McIlrath wrote this whole story from Abigail’s point of view, and even though I can only assess this as an adult reader and writer, I felt that she represented a child’s perspective and reactions to things in a convincing way. The story is cute and upbeat, while also dealing with realistic life challenges, and there is lots of humor throughout. The art from Katie Saunders also enriches the story, since there are lots of expressive illustrations throughout the book.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, since Christian children’s novels can be really preachy, but this was great! The author incorporates Abigail’s church experiences and thoughts about God into the story in a very natural way, and through this, she represents the lives of her readers. I also appreciate how realistic this book is, with the different family and friendship issues that come up. For example, parents in middle-grade novels are usually paragons of virtue, or they are totally problematic for plot reasons. McIlrath avoids these common pitfalls, and represents Abigail’s parents as realistic, relatable people. I laughed at the parts where Abigail’s mother rushes through their homework from church, worrying that they won’t going to get through the material in time. Parents who read this with their kids will enjoy this kind of relatable humor.

The lesson about grace also feels convincing because you have seen different characters’ imperfections and poor choices throughout the book. Abigail learns about grace at home and at church, as they study the story of Jesus’s friendship with Peter, and even though she has a lot of questions and some confused ideas about this at first, she comes to understand this Bible story and learns how to apply it to her life. She recognizes her need to receive grace for some bad choices she has made, she accepts her mother’s apology for being so distracted and rushed, and she works through some conflict with classmates in a realistic way.

Abigail and the Big Start Over is ideal for Christian families who are looking for cute, engaging chapter books aimed towards elementary-aged girls. The story and characters are wholesome and fun, and the book teaches an important life lesson without getting too preachy. I would recommend this for kids to read independently, and for parents to read aloud to their kids. However, this will definitely appeal primarily to girls, not only because of the feminine cover design and female main character, but also because the boy characters in the story appear in a mostly negative light. Since Abigail resolves conflict with a boy from school before the end, I hope that he will become a recurring character and add some appeal for boy readers. Overall, I enjoyed this book, and I look forward to future books in the series.