Friday, April 21, 2017

Wambu: The Chieftain's Son

by Piet Prins
182 pages / 1981

This is a book about cannibals – what more could any boy reader want?

Wambu is a young boy living in the deep jungles of New Guinea before the arrival of the white man. His tribe is a small one and hasn’t been able to eat any people for quite some time now so when Wambu and his father come across a strange girl wandering through their part of the forest their first inclination is to eat her. Fortunately they have second thoughts and instead adopt Sirja, the girl, into their family. The main thrust of the story starts here, since Sirja is a new Christian convert. Her Christianity is sharply contrasted with the village’s paganism.

Though Wambu likes listening to Sirja’s stories of Moses and Abraham and Jesus, he also likes going hunting with his father and learning about all the evil spirits in the forest. Sirja tell him that the white missionaries are wonderful, but the village’s witchdoctor insists that white men are evil spirits who have taken on flesh. Who is Wambu to believe?

When Wambu’s village is attacked by a rival headhunting tribe he escapes and goes for help…to the white man!

This is a fast paced book, with loads of interesting information about what it’s like to live in the jungle. Did you know that some people find caterpillars delicious? Or that they eat the insides of trees? Fascinating tidbits like this are thrown in throughout the book and make the story all the more compelling as we, the readers, are taken into the depths of a very foreign world.

The Chieftain’s Son’s only fault is that it doesn’t have a proper conclusion. It is the first of three books in the Wambu series and the story is incomplete without the other two books so when you buy the first you simply have to buy Wambu: In the Valley of Death, and Wambu: Journey to Manhood as well. (You’ll want to order them all at the same time, because once you start reading you won’t want to have to wait for the other books to arrive.) While I am going to try these with my girls in a few years, I would say they are most definitely "boy books." I'd suggest them for over ten, but add these are the type of books fathers would enjoy reading to their children – there is even enough action in them for Dad!

They are available from Inheritance Publications.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Praying Life

by Paul E. Miller
277 pages / 2009

I used to think I prayed a lot. I knew plenty of brothers and sisters in Christ who didn't pray nearly enough, and as an elder, I counseled many to begin and end each day with the Lord.

I no longer think I pray enough. (Probably no-one does, this side of Christ's coming, since "prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.")

Part of the reason that I realize (again) that I need to pray more is this book.

I have read other books on prayer that challenge us (in one way or another) to "name it and claim it," and heard many people warn against that approach by reminding us that God is sovereign, and that therefore we should simply seek to do God's will, and seek His strength to do it. Neither approach seemed to reflect the combination of confidence and submission with which Paul, the psalmists, and many other Biblical saints approached God.

What Miller urges us to remember is that we are coming to our Father, and that therefore our prayers, even our "bad" prayers, are precious to Him. This does not mean that we get to simply pour out our rebellion against God before His face, but it does mean that when we are frustrated, when we don't understand what God is up to, even when we want Him to change His plans... we tell Him.

And then, like dependent children, we listen; we wait; we let His word, His people's good counsel, His Spirit correct us, direct us, and tell us what we really need to ask for next. Miller gives many examples of specific, Biblically directed prayers that get more concrete than simply "Bring back those who are straying" or "Heal him if it is Your will." What I appreciated most was his honesty about the fact that, as other authors have also stressed, if we want God to answer our prayers for real change, the answer will almost certainly be harder on us than if we had just left everything alone.

Jesus Himself yielded to the will of His Father, and went through suffering to bring salvation, but He did pray first - over and over. We, too, may often find that prayer will make our lives more complicated, more difficult, and more painful - but also more joyful, more peaceful, and more adventurous - than going our own way. Prayer is literally often "asking for it" - suffering, perhaps in unexpected ways - so that God may bring us closer, not just to Him, but to those we are praying for.

As I read this book, I began to think about big decisions in my life - many good, some bad - that were not preceded by prayer. Miller challenges us to sow, wait for growth, and then reap - pray, listen and wait, and go to work - rather than, as we often do, reversing that order - praying only after our own ideas and actions have failed.

Finally, Miller reminds us that our skepticism and even cynicism about prayer is a reflection on our living in and too much like our North American culture, and that therefore prayer is worth more time and more planning than we often give it, because prayer is part of, not separate from, our real life. To that end, he gives some very specific ways to work with prayer, to pray intentionally.

If you believe that Paul Miller can help you bring your "real life" and "real prayer" together, here's where to find A Praying Life at Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Celebrating the Sabbath

by Bruce A. Ray
125 pages / 2000

In Celebrating the Sabbath pastor Bruce Ray warns there's a couple of ways we tend to get things wrong when it comes to Sunday observance:
Two equally great and destructive dangers that we must avoid when talking about the Sabbath are legalism and lawlessness.
In my churches we used to lean in the legalistic direction, turning this gift from God into a day of “don’ts.” Riding a bike, going to lake after church, or playing some basketball with friends were all things that “we niet doen op Zondag!” ("we don't do on Sunday!")

Forgotten commandment

But today the pressure is coming from the lawless side. It seems as if Christians in most other churches don’t have a problem with working on Sunday. Sure, many do take the day off (who doesn’t weekends off?), but if the boss wants them to come in, they won’t object. And when they get to go to church, they think nothing of going to brunch right afterwards and putting cooks, waitstaff and dishwashers to work on their behalf. The 4th Commandment has become a forgotten commandment.

It’s curious. It’s as if the Western Church believes there should now be just the Nine Commandments. I’ve heard it argued that the 4th Commandment was part of the Old Testament ceremonial law, and that like the rest of the ceremonial law it was fulfilled with Jesus’ coming.

Not fulfilled

But as Pastor Ray points out the Sabbath rest has a history that extends to long before God gave the Ten Commandments. It begins right in Genesis 1 and 2 with Creation.
…the Sabbath was ordained before the Fall, for all people of all time. It cannot be confined to the ceremonial law appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, but was intended to be a celebration of creation for Adam and all his posterity
So, no we are not down to just Nine Commandments….and that is a very good thing. God knows us, and in this command He gives us what we badly need. In Celebrating the Sabbath Bruce Ray includes a good quote from M. J. Dawn about how the 4th commandment is a blessing.
A major blessing of Sabbath keeping is that it forces us to rely on God for our future. On that day we do nothing to create our own way. We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish, from all the anxieties about how we can be successful in all that we have to do to get ahead. The result is that we can let God be God in our lives. 
Conclusion

There is a lot to love in this book. Ray address all the most commonly asked questions (like why the Sabbath is on Sunday now, rather than Saturday) but does so concisely. His clear writing, and clear Scriptural grounding make this my favorite reference on 4th commandment. It's slim size also means that it can be read in just three or four nights, making it well worth giving to any church member.

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here and at Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

by Rudyard Kipling
adapted by Jerry Pinkney
1997 / 48 pages

This is a lightly adapted, and wonderfully illustrated version of one of Rudyard Kipling's short stories, from The Jungle Book. It is about an orphaned mongoose, Rikki Tikki Tavi, who is adopted by (or does he adopt them?) a family of humans, living in India.

But upon his arrival he finds himself right in the middle of a battle. The family's garden is home to three snakes - two of them cobras! Now, for readers who didn't already know, Kipling informs us "that a mongoose's job is to fight and eat snakes."

So we've got quite the setting here! My daughters all enjoyed the book, but the middle one, all of five years old, had to cling to my arm as I read (I think I may have some bruises). Children's books are generally quite tame, but there is a place for some tension. Reading a storybook with wicked villains and big battles is a controlled means to teach children that yes, bad guys do exist, and evil is out there, and someone needs to fight it. Now this Kipling story doesn't mention God, but as parent we can connect the dots for our children: we can tell them that like Rikki Tikki Tavi, we are called to battle.

I'll add, I didn't use this one as a bedtime story. There is a time for tension, and right before bed isn't it.

You can find a original version of Kipling's story here, and while Jerry Pinkney does a good job of adapting the text – his light hand alters no more than 10%, keeping Kipling's rhythms intact - the reason you'd want to get this version is because of the pictures. They are gorgeous! My daughters had no idea what a mongoose looked like, and  haven't seen cobras all that often, so the pictures filled in the gaps they wouldn't have otherwise been able to imagine.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com here, or at Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Atonement Child

by Francine Rivers
374 pages / 1999

I don’t read “girl books” – if it makes you cry I’m not interested in it. But two friends forced this book on me. Any time I mentioned the “P” word, Pro-life, they would ask me if I’d read The Atonement Child yet. They brought it up repeatedly, and very enthusiastically. Finally I thought I would get it over with and actually read the thing.

Whoa!

This is hard hitting book, a powerful book. It tells the tale of Dynah Carey, a girl who has it all. She comes from a solid Christian family, is dating a sincere young man who’s training to be a pastor, and she’s attending a Christian college.

Then she’s raped, and becomes pregnant.

The rape, thankfully, is never described, and is done with by page 18 of this 374-page book. The real story is about how Dynah and the people close to her react to her pregnancy. The unthinkable choice of abortion becomes more and more of a consideration to Dynah as her pregnancy causes her perfect world to crumble. Dynah ends up questioning her faith and God. Why did God let this happen to her?

Though the logical argument against abortion is dealt with briefly, this is primarily an emotional appeal against abortion. It is also a very effective appeal – I think this book might well make some people pro-life.

The rape makes this an adult book, but parents might want to give it to older teens and discuss the issues involved. It is informative and well written, and I’m just glad I was forced to read it.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here and from Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Come Back, Barbara

by C. John Miller 
& Barbara Miller Juliani
182 pages / 1997

As with an earlier review, I should let you know that not all of the labels below are completely appropriate. For instance, although you can read this book in an evening or two (and you may well do so), don't stop there. Read it again, a chapter at a time, with the study questions at the end as a guide, and incorporate some of the Bible passages quoted in the questions into your own devotions.

The most important label for this book is "prodigal." It tells the true story of how Barbara, seemingly out of the blue, tells her parents that she is not going to church and doesn't want any part of the Christian life anymore. As her parents look back, they can see signs of her stubbornly self-justifying attitude much earlier, and they spend time trying to see what went wrong – more specifically, what they did wrong.

Of course, such a question is futile, and in seeking to place blame and guilt, especially on their wandering child, the Millers were, as they admit, approaching her with an attitude of shame instead of love. This story continues with her parents' journey, by God's grace, sometimes in very dramatic ways, toward recognizing that any straying child has been sinned against herself, including by her parents.

This movement toward humility, toward the acknowledgement of their own need for God's grace, leads toward other necessary changes – the willingness to seek their daughter's forgiveness, the ability to show unconditional love for an often self-centered child, the willingness to give up control over a child who is daily rejecting her parents' upbringing, and a life of persistent prayer.

That last trait is one that I want to look at more (and I will tell you about it in a review in the next couple months), but a life of prayer is certainly one of the greatest fruit of having a child wander from the truth.

What makes this story especially compelling is the fact that Barbara answers each chapter of her father's story with her perception of what her conflict with her parents looked like from her point of view. Too often, parents of prodigals can not understand what their outreach to their children looks like to them – how easy it is to for any child to see through our confident or indignant exterior to our need for control or our smug sense of superiority. At the same time, her responses also show just how great is the power of humble unconditional love.

If you want to find out more about how God brought Barbara back, you can find this book at Amazon.com here and at Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Billy and Blaze series

C.W. Anderson (1891-1971) was an author and an artist who loved horses. He created more than 30 children's books about in all, including an 11-book series about a boy names Billy and his horse Blaze.

It all begins with the horse-loving Billy getting his birthday wish: his very own pony. If your children like horses even a little bit they will love these books, because every second page is filled with another illustration of a horse in action. Anderson's sketches are big, and detailed, and beautiful. I don't know a child who hasn't loved to peer at them closely.

Now, I should note I'm not recommending Anderson because of his writing. His stories are very simple, they have next to no tension, and the writing is decidedly average.

But your kids are sure to love the pictures. My oldest daughter loved these books long before she ever knew how to read them, pouring over the pictures again and again.

Billy and Blaze heading out on an adventure.
There are a 11 Billy and Blaze books in all, and that bumps up the value of Anderson's books. What parent, when they find a book their child loves, doesn't wish there were many more in the series? And that's exactly what we have here!

The 11 books are:

Billy and Blaze (1936)
Blaze and the Gypsies (1937)
Blaze and the Forest Fire (1938)
Blaze Finds the Trail (1950)
Blaze and Thunderbolt (1955)
Blaze and the Mountain Lion (1959)
Blaze and the Indian Cave (1964)
Blaze and the Lost Quarry (1966)
Blaze and the Gray Spotted Pony (1968)
Blaze Shows the Way (1969)
Blaze Finds Forgotten Roads (1970)

Each is about 40 to 50 pages long, making it a pretty ideal bedtime story for my 4 and 6-year-old. We've enjoyed each one of these (although we've never read Blaze and the Indian Cave because that's the only one our local library doesn't have).

So, to repeat, these are not great literature, but they are wonderful as picture books. The only downside I can think to this series is that it is likely to feed the "pony-fever" of any horse-loving boy or girl you might have in your house. But...oh well.

If you want to buy any of these books, you can find a link to the 8-book pack at Amazon.com by clicking here. They don't seem to have a package deal in Canada, so here's a link to the first book, Billy and Blaze at Amazon.ca.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Disappearing Jewel of Madagascar

by Sigmund Brouwer
140 pages / 2002

This is a great book.

It has a great beginning with the “star” of the book, 12-year-old Ricky Kidd, getting the sort of haircut you would expect from a barber that can’t stop sneezing. And it has a great ending when Ricky’s friends are involved in a memorable worm-eating escapade.

In between the reader is introduced to the cast of characters: Lisa, a girl who can play sports with the best of the boys, even if the boys don’t want to admit that; Mike, the impish rascal who pulls gentle pranks on everyone; Ralphy, the computer genius who owns his very own iMac; and Joel, Ricky’s six-year-old brother, who seems to be able to disappear and appear at will.

As the title suggests a jewel plays a central role in this book. The Jewel of Madagascar is an impressive rock with a very strange curse placed on it: whoever touches it will have his friends turn into strangers, and have strangers turn into friends. As a Christian kid Ricky doesn’t think much of curses…until all his friends start avoiding him. Could the curse be real?

Well, no. But I’m not going to ruin the story by telling you anything more.

I liked the story in this book, and also liked the underlying Christian flavor. The author communicates a Christian message without beating his readers over the head with it. In fact there is only one page of explicitly Christian content in this book. When Ricky’s friends start avoiding him he gets a little depressed and worried. His dad notices and spends a few paragraphs talking to Ricky about how we don’t need to worry because we can always trust in God.

The only objection I can raise has nothing to do with this particular book. In another book, The Volcano of Doom, which is a part of the same “Accidental Detectives” series, a few paragraphs are included on how the Bible is not a “science manual” and how the Genesis creation account tells us why the universe was created, not how it was done. It is a not-all-that-subtle shot at Six-Day Creationism, though kids will likely miss it. Still, parents may want to avoid that book.

I do, however, highly recommend The Disappearing Jewels of Madagascar for anyone who has kids in the Grade 3 to Grade 7 range.

You can pick it up at Amazon.com by clicking here and Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Dark Dark Tale

by Ruth Brown
32 pages / 1981

Three of our school's librarians were busy at work when I popped my head in. I was looking for something that would stretch my girls, just a bit, and asked them for their recommendation: "Do you have a good scary book I could borrow?"

Now, that's not a question I would have asked quite that way at our local library. I might have ended up with a book about vampires, or demons, or werewolves, or vampire demon werewolves.

But here at our Christian school, what I ended up with was a book about a cat....with a surprise ending.

I was looking for a scary book because my daughters need to learn how to deal with a little tension in their reading. Fancy Nancy can be fine, but in her world everyone is quite nice, and the problems they face are quite trivial. In real adventure stories there are dragons to be slain, Nazis to be fought, and dangerous journeys to embark on. I want to start on some of those sorts of books, but before I do, I need to get my girls used to a little more drama in their bedtimes stories.

So that's a long way of introducing a very short story. There are just 119 words in this 32-page book, and I'm already past that in this review. And I haven't even told you about the book!

Since this is for children, I'm not going to feel bad about letting you parents know what it's all about, including the end. It all begins in a "dark, dark moor" and moves on to a "dark, dark wood" and a "dark, dark house" and etc. and etc., until we are finally in an upper room of the house, peering in a "dark, dark corner"of a "dark, dark cupboard" where "there was....A MOUSE!"

I had a cold when I read this, so my voice was particularly gravelly, which only added to the reading. Ruth Brown's pictures are moody and somber, and the "dark, dark" repetition sets up the unexpected joke ending, with the mouse all tucked in his bed in the corner of the cupboard - we were expecting some kind of scary monster, but instead end up with a cute mouse. That makes this the perfect balance of scary and yet not too scary.

(For a second reading, you can ask your children to spot the cat, which is on all but two of the page spreads).

Since this so very short, it is an ideal one to borrow rather than buy. It is also popular enough that your local library is sure to have it. However, if you do want to purchase it, you can get it from Amazon.com here, and Amazon.ca here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Operation Chowhound

by Stephen Dando-Collins
248 pages / 2015

This read was really good enough for me to recommend it to my brother, my high school English classes, and my father. Of course, it helps that Stephen Dando-Collins has caught some of our World War II heritage shortly before my grandparents, their families, and many of their countrymen emigrated from the Netherlands to Canada.

Dando-Collins' account starts with the marriage in the 1930s of a German member of the Nazi party to Princess Wilhemina of the Netherlands. While this book is not written from a Christian perspective, God's providence is clear in the way He uses this unusual ally of a conquered country. Despite his dubious German past, Prince Bernhard turns out to be a faithful friend of his new homeland as it goes through the notorious Hunger Winter brought on by wartime shortages, the cruelty of the German occupiers, and the initial failure of the Allies to liberate the Netherlands in 1944.

Despite Hitler's orders to basically leave the Netherlands underwater, Prince Bernhard negotiated a makeshift truce with the Nazis directly in charge of the occupation of the country to allow bombers from the United States and Britain to drop food for the beleaguered Dutch. To find out just how successful those "bombing" missions were; the risks the bomber crews ran (as some were fired on!); and the part in the saga of such soon-to-be famous people as Ian Fleming, Farley Mowat, and Audrey Hepburn - you will need to read Stephen Dando-Collins' fascinating account yourself.

If you want to learn some of the crucial details of the end of WWII in occupied Holland, you can get Operation Chowhound at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Others on the Dutch perspective of WWII


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The life of John Calvin

A modern translation of the classic
by Theodore Beza
144 pages / 1997

This biography has two strengths.

First, it is short. Because it was originally written as an introduction to Calvin’s last published work, his Commentary on Joshua, it weighs in at only 144 pages. That could also be considered a weakness – the small size means it doesn’t have the detail or scope of most other Calvin biographies – but the slim size makes it more inviting than its 400-to-500-page rivals. This is a biography that can be read in a few days, rather than a few weeks.

Second, this is an eyewitness account. Theodore Beza was a friend and disciple of Calvin and wrote his account as a tribute. That too could be considered a weakness; Beza’s admiration of Calvin made him incapable of seeing, or at least incapable of recording, any of his mentor’s faults. But this same admiration made Beza the best chronicler of Calvin’s gifts, the God-given talents that made the man a giant of the Reformation.

The Life of John Calvin is available in a number of different editions but, because the original is over 400 years old, some translations are dated and simply dreadful. Fortunately Evangelical Press (aka EP books) have done “a modern translation of the classic” that can be found on Amazon.com here and at Amazon.ca here.

We've reviewed a handful of other very good John Calvin biographies, and you can find those reviews here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Revolt: A Novel in Wycliffe's England

by Douglas Bond
269 pages /  2016

I was never a fan of Church history in school, but I've come to realize that this was really the textbook's fault. It was a series of dry and weary titles, with lots of dates and facts, but no story to them. So I owe a debt of thanks to Douglas Bond for reviving my interest in what is really a most important topic, and he has done so by telling great stories.

Sometimes, as he has in this novel, that story-telling involves weaving in fiction among the facts, so I can just imagine someone saying, "But then you're not really learning Church history, are you? Not if lots of it is made up!" Ah yes, but I know more Church history than I once did, and it was painless!

And what's more, Bond's fictionalized biographies – he's tackled Calvin, Knox, C.S. Lewis, and now Wycliffe – left me wanting to know more about these men. So after read a Bond book I've followed it up with reading non-fiction books about or by all of them. My old Church history textbook never inspired me to do that!

In The Revolt Bond tackles an early Reformer, John Wycliffe, who lived and died more than 100 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses. Like Luther, Wycliffe was a man very much on his own – he had followers, but not really colleagues. He was the trailblazer who decided that, contrary to what the Pope and Church has pronounced, the common people needed to hear the Bible in their own tongue. One thing he had going for himself is that he lived in a time when there was two popes at the same time, which made it easier to question the need for submission to the pope.

Wycliffe doesn't actually show up until page 62, so this is more a book about the England of his time than about him. The story begins with a young scholar on the battlefields of France, where the English army is surround by a much larger French force. The scholar has been assigned the task of recording the events, so while everyone else has a bow, or a battle axe, or something with some sort of sharp steel end, he is armed only with his quill. It's a great beginning, and from then on we follow along with this scholar who serves as the story's narrator. Through him we meet peasants, other scholars, and finally Wycliffe himself.

The Revolt is a novel most any adult would find an easy and enjoyable read. I'm not sure, though, that this would be a good book for a teenager who is only a casual reader. It is a very good story, but it's not the non-stop "thrill ride" that so many Young Adult books try to be these days. To put it another way, this is far from a heavy read, but it's also not a light read either.

However, for anyone with any interest in Church history, this is an ideal way to learn more. I sure hope Douglas Bond keeps on coming up with these great fictionalized "biographies"!

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here and Amazon.ca here.