Friday, August 7, 2020

Pro-life kids!

by Bethany Bomberger
48 pages / 2019

What I most liked about this book is that my kids just picked it up and started reading it. This is the sort of book they really ought to read – it is educational, teaching them about the unborn, about what they can do to stand up for these babies, and about how the unborn are being dehumanized by those that want to kill them – but educational doesn't always mean enjoyable. So it was a very pleasant surprise to find out this one hit both marks.

Illustrator Ed Koehler’s bright colors got them to open it in the first place, and then author, Bethany Bomberger’s rhyming text kept their attention. One example:
Sadly there are those who don’t understand
That life has a purpose whether planned or unplanned
Throughout history many believed a lie.
“You’re not a person! No way!” they cried
Today many people think that lie is still true
That babies in wombs aren’t people too….
After describing the problem, the book concludes with a rallying cry for all the readers to be
…pro-life kids ‘til in justice ends!
We are pro-life kids. It’s life we defend!
I’d highly recommend this for every school or church library!


Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Noah

by Mark Ludy
60 pages / 2014

Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on.

The danger with such an account is that for some it might come to replace the original biblical version. As children pore over this picture book's pages repeatedly, they could easily forget that even as it is reasonable to believe Noah might have made use of the strength of a dinosaur or two, the Bible doesn't actually say he did.

But what such a book can also do is help us re-evaluate some other non-biblical assumptions we might have inadvertently adopted.

Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is maybe Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandanavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow.

Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They were no primitive dummies so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they also aren't living in caves either.
Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads.

This is not a book that we shouldn't ever let overshadow the biblical account, but when we put it in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid.

I will offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, and they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book.

So who is this for? We probably all think of picture books as being for children, but I really think everyone will love it, from ages 3 on up to 103!

You can take an extended peek here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.

by Kirsten A. Jenson
2017 / 40 pages

Talking with our kids about pornography on the Internet is not a conversation any parent wants to have. But we need to do it. So when I saw this book online I ordered a copy, thinking it might make things easier.

And it did. Once I put it to use.

Amazon delivered it quickly, as is their custom, but then it sat on the shelf for probably half a year. I don't know why it took me so long, but this last week, I looked up from my computer one summer vacation morning to find all of my young charges in my office together reading. I love the company...at least when they are quiet. But this time around they were twitching and tapping and whistling and chatting, making my work impossible. It was either time to chase them back down the stairs or...time to read a book together. So, I finally got to it.

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is best suited for children from 4 to 7. In my case, my audience consisted of one in that range and two above it, but it worked because the older two were just listening in. I had tried the original version intended for 8 and up (with the same title, but lacking the "Jr.") with my oldest, and found it really helpful, but on the long side. We'd gotten interrupted 15 minutes in, and only about a quarter into the book and we've never gotten back to it since. While I do intend to read it with her at some point, this picture book version of the same message was a good substitute for now.

The book, after all, is just meant as a prompt for the discussion parents need to have with their kids. So as we read along, we all did a lot of talking. The book could probably be covered in just 5 minutes, but the discussion took at least another 15.

First, we learned about how there are pictures all over, on our walls, on billboards, and on screens too. Some are good pictures, like pictures of puppies or family pictures or fun videos. "But some pictures," the author informs us, "are not good. They are bad for you." The definition given of a bad picture is very clear, and very G-rated: "Bad pictures show the parts of the body that we cover with a swimsuit. These parts are meant to be kept private."

In response to this page, one daughter brought up a billboard, where the "lady wasn't wearing many clothes." We discussed how it was good to bring that up with mom or dad, and that we'd want her and her sisters to wear more clothes than that. It also gave me an opportunity to go over the book's helpful definition of bad pictures and how this example both kind of fit but kind of didn't.

I'd recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures jr. for any parent, but note that if you don't already read to your kids regularly, don't launch into this one as one of your first. There was a reason I took so long to get to it: it is a weird topic. But what made it a lot less weird was that we do regularly read together, and talk about what we're reading.

So, two thumbs up for this great tool to help parents with an absolutely vital conversation.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

C. S. Lewis: Creator of Narnia

by Sam Wellman
202 pages / 2013

This biography of C. S. Lewis is part of the Heroes of the Faith series, which engage readers in the highlights of the lives of significant leaders in Christian history. Given the title of the series, you could predict that this book would not be an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of C. S. Lewis's ideas, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the author caught the personal foibles and motivations of the title character.

Although (strangely) the cover and spine of my edition did not even give the name of the author of the biography, Sam Wellman skillfully shows how Jack (Lewis's nickname since childhood) went from a nominally Christian upbringing through a full-fledged embrace of atheism to being Surprised by Joy (his young self's hint at the reality of transcendence). Along the way, Wellman gives us glimpses of the sources, experiences, and inspirations behind Jack's writing, starting with his pre-Christian poetry, and progressing to his defense of and understanding of his Christian faith.

Wellman also shows us how Lewis was associated with other Christian writers, both influenced by and influencing them, including the famous Inklings. He portrays Jack's personal relationships with his father, with Mrs. Moore (the mother of a fellow soldier killed in World War I); with Jack's brother Warnie; and with Joy Gresham, the woman he eventually married. Wellman makes clear how Jack was an honorable man whose Christian faith enabled him to ignore personal attacks by unfair critics, but also demonstrates that Jack had to struggle with sinful weaknesses like the rest of us.

Anything missing from the book? As I mentioned above, Wellman does not critique his subject's ideas, and once or twice, in focusing on the critical and popular reactions to Lewis's book, gives some books less appreciation than I felt that they deserved. However, Wellman does often clarify the goals of Lewis's writing through thoughtful discussion of brief excerpts.

Wellman's biography will provide the younger or inexperienced reader of Lewis's writing with an overview of why and what he wrote, and may well encourage readers to check out more of his work.
If you would like to learn about how C. S. Lewis became the creator of Narnia (and Boxen, and much else), you can find this book here, and here in Canada. (There is also a shorter biography of Lewis by the same author entitled C. S. Lewis: A Lion for Truth, which I have not read, but which may be suitable for younger readers.)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

In Grandma's Attic

by Arleta Richardson
144 pages / 1974

When Arleta was a little girl she would visit her grandma, where she’d play up in the attic. There Arleta would find old treasures that she’d bring to her grandma, who would share stories about them, and about when she was young.

The first story is about how Mabel (Grandma) and her friend Sarah-Jane got into trouble with hoop skirts. They wanted to wear the wiry hoops to make all their friends jealous of them, but they were not old enough yet. Then Sarah Jane finds out that her cousin, who can wear hoop skirts, has two old ones that she is going to give up.  Sarah-Jane’s mom says that they can wear them for play, but Sarah-Jane thinks it is a good opportunity to make a big entrance at church. And that Mabel can wear one of the hoop skirts too!

The one thing that they don’t know is how to sit down with hoops. When they walk down the aisle and sit in the front seat, the hoopskirts spring up, which made their dresses fling up onto their faces! That is super funny! This was embarrassing for the girls but they also learned a lesson, how pride can go before the fall.

All of the stories are funny and also teach the reader the lessons that the mischievous girls gained while growing up. This book is great for readers who are comfortable with reading chapter books. And if you like these stories there are three more books in the series.

– Sophia Dykstra

Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy

by Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton
298 pages / 1994

I have reviewed another book in the Turning Points Christian Worldview series:  Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature. The series ended in the 1990s, but it has held up well since then. The book I am reviewing was the second-last book in the series. Because it surveys a broad swath of the history of science, Pearcey and Thaxton's analyis is still relevant.

Pearcey and Thaxton begin by demonstrating that far from being opposed by religion, has been founded on, especially, the Christian faith in the orderliness and rationality of the universe being guaranteed by the orderly, rational work of its Creator. The next chapter summarizes various approaches to the history of science - either judging early scientists by modern standards or recognizing their accomplishments in comparison to the knowledge and commonly held concepts they had in their own time.

Looking at "The First Scientific Revolution," Pearcey and Thaxton first show how various schools of philosophy would form the basis for later scientific endeavor - following the Aristotelian, neo-Platonic, and mechanistic. They stress that even classic Newtonian physics, which seems to treat the world as a vast clockwork, was not purely mechanistic. In the same way, biology was gripped by the tension between "romantic" biologists (inspired by neo-Platonism), and descriptive biology (inspired by Aristotles emphasis on function and purpose). Darwin later imposed a mechanistic frame of reference on biology in his rejection of purpose for life's functions.

Pearcey and Thaxton's discussion of mathematics discloses just how important the belief in the orderliness of creation was in inspiring the pursuit of mathematical knowledge, but how the lack of confidence in that orderliness (because of the rejection of God as the one who created that order) has led to a loss of confidence in mathematics in general. Along the way, they look at such fascinating concepts as non-Euclidean geometry, Godel's paradox, set theory, and exactly what truth means in mathematics.

Finally, the two authors' look at "The Second Scientific Revolution" looks at the mind-boggling insights and paradoxes of relativity, quantum physics, and the information revolution that links chemistry and biology. The last one is the most important, as it makes clear how God shows his presence in the ordered and irreducible complexity of life and its information content.
It is important to recognize that Pearcey and Thaxton are surveying the various religious foundations of science, not specifically justifying the Christian understanding of creation. Nor does the basis of our Christian faith, Jesus Christ Himself, form a part of their discussion; however, there is an extensive list of resources at the end for those who wish to pursue the subject further. For a more specifically Biblical look at science, check this review of The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math, and Meaning.

If you would like to explore The Soul of Science, you can find it here, and here in Canada.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Prince Martin wins his sword









by Brandon Hale
52 pages / 2018

At bedtime, my dad reads a lot of books to us – me and my two sisters. One night he read a rhyming book called Prince Martin Wins His Sword, and we all liked it. Prince Martin is a boy who wants to prove to his father the king that he is brave, loyal, and true. So he decides to explore the unknown forest, and while he was there he found four evil hogs who were bullying a baby deer. And there was a dog there too, protecting the fawn. And the dog was a knight, named Sir Ray! Prince Martin was scared, but then he dove right in, fighting side by side with Sir Ray.

The rhymes in the book are like this:
Should he help or go home, the boy had to decide.
And just how much help, could a mere kid provide?
It has lots of good pictures, but even without the pictures, the book is super good (I didn’t see the pictures the first time because I was in bed). Also, my little six-year-old sister doesn’t really like tension, and while this one was scary it wasn’t too scary.

I think this would be great for kids ages five through ten.

– Sophia Dykstra

Thursday, May 14, 2020

The Fight: A Practical Handbook for Christian Living

by John White
1976 / 230 pages

We have already reviewed other books by John White, both fiction and non-fiction. This is another great non-fiction look at what it means to live the Christian life, which means to fight the good fight.

In White's fantasy series, the Archives of Anthropos, the protagonists fight evil in a world somewhat like Narnia. The Fight shows the spiritual fight that Christians must engage in, if they want to be faithful followers of their commander Jesus Christ.

White begins by showing how radically our allegiance has changed from the kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of Christ. The next nine chapters deal with the impact of that change in the following areas:
  • "Prayer" as the expression of our relationship with God;
  • Bible study as our way to hear God speaking to us;
  • how "Being a Signpost" points others to our Savior;
  • what it means that the devil is now our enemy;
  • how we grow in "Faith" by responding to God;
  • our "Changed Relationships" with others;
  • the way to know God's "Guidance";
  • how we can progressively reflect more of God's "Holiness"; and
  • our "Deliverance from Drudgery" in our daily work.
White ends by encouraging us to fight against the devil, the world, our own flesh, and our fear of death. Two things make this a particularly helpful book. The first is that as a practicing psychologist, White reminds us not to confuse our natural emotions and desires or false guilt with genuine progress or setbacks in our relationship with God - and then directs us, through Scripture, to the truth about our spiritual fight. The second is that most of the chapters end with a study of Scripture that make a good focus for intensely practical devotions.

The only caution I might give is that, in a couple places, White may sound Arminian; however, when that happens,  he demonstrates within a few pages, that God is the one who enables us to get into the battle. If you think that John White can help you in The Fight, you can get his book here, and here in Canada.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Hunger Winter












by Rob Currie
2020 / 236 pages

Author Rob Currie drops his readers right into the action in the opening scene, with an anxious neighbor furiously banging on the front door to tell 13-year-old Dirk Ingelse that the Nazis have his older sister. And they'll be coming for him next! It's November 11, 1944, and while the Allies have started liberating the Netherlands, the Ingelse farmstead near Oosterbeek, is still under German control. What makes it even more difficult for Dirk is that he has no one to turn to. His mother had suddenly passed away not too long before, and his father is in hiding, working for the Resistance.  That's left just him and his older sister Els to take care of their six-year-old sister Anna. Now Els has been arrested, and Dirk has to run. But where to? That's when he remembers his Tante Cora less than a half day's walking away.

The book is, in a sense, one big chase with Dirk doing his best to keep his sister safe, finding brief moments of calm, and then having to run again. Dirk shows himself to be a clever boy, and daring even despite his fears, as he finds hidings spots, and escape opportunities, and even figures out how best to fight the Nazis who are after them. As we follow along with Dirk and Anna, we also get occasional peaks into how Els is doing, facing her Gestapo interrogators.

In another way, this is all about Dirk trying to live up to the example his father set for him. He has a good dad who invested in him by spending time with him, so even though Dirk doesn't have his dad around right when he most needs him, the teen is constantly hearing his dad's advice come back to him whenever he needs to make another decision.

CAUTION

There are no cautions to list, but maybe I'll note one disappointment: for a book by a Christian author, and put out by a Christian publisher, I would have expected God to be more than a minor character. Even as the importance of prayer is mentioned with some regularity, God Himself is not. Maybe the author is trying to portray a journey in Dirk's relationship with God, going from nominally Christian at the beginning – he doesn't pray, except at his little sister's insistence – to something at least a little deeper at the end. But God's near-absence is odd, especially considering this is a book about people in life and death circumstances.

CONCLUSION

That said, this is an intriguing, entertaining, and fast-paced story, with the whole book taking place over just three weeks. And while there are some tense moments, it all gets tied up nice and neatly, making this a great book for ages 10 to maybe 14. The Netherlands setting will appeal to the many RP readers who have a Dutch background, and the time period – the "Hunger Winter" of 1944-45, when Allies hadn't yet liberated all the Dutch, and the Germans weren't bothering to feed them – is one that teens may not have read too much about before. So there's a lot of reasons this is a very interesting read.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020
















A graphic narrative of a slave's journey from bondage to freedom
by David F. Walker 
Illustrated by Damon Smyth 
2018 / 173 pages

Frederick Douglass lived his first 20 years as a slave, then spent the next 25 speaking against the evils of slavery. After the American Civil War and the emancipation of American slaves, he spent his last 30 years fighting the bigotry that still lingered. And in his final decade, defying all social expectations of the time, he married a white woman, Helen Pitts.

While a graphic novel biography can't do this complicated figure full justice – the man himself wrote three separate autobiographies in the attempt – the size of this one, and the evident research backing it make for a very good introduction to its subject. As we follow his life, from plantation to town, to escape to the North, we get to meet along with him key figure in the American battle to end slavery. He knew Harriet Tubman, the lady who repeatedly ventured to the South to bring slaves to freedom in the North. John Brown hid at his house after the white abolitionist's unsuccessful attempt to start the Civil War some six years before it eventually began. Douglass was both an opponent and then an ally to Lincoln, due to largely Lincoln's vacillating opposition to slavery. Later he became a friend and then an enemy of women's rights advocate Susan B. Anthony, the change of relationship due this time to a compromise by Douglass when he decided to support black's voting rights even when they no longer came as a package deal with women's voting rights.

This is quite the story, and it is well told.

CAUTIONS

Its important readers understand that some of what's depicted is deduction, and not clearly established fact. But a read of the introduction will help readers tell what's what.

A word of warning is due for at least a couple uses of the "n-word" in the book, though with the topic matter, that is as you might expect.

There is also some partial nudity. None of it sexual, and it could even be described as modestly done: one scene is a black woman being whipped, naked from the waist up, but her front is either away from view, or hid in the shadows. There are also three completely naked slaves shown, but all are hunched over, in a seated, almost fetal position with arms wrapped around their knees so no genitals are shown, though the top of one's buttocks is.

The overarching concern would be the brutality. There is no gratuitous violence - but there is violence.

Finally, while we get to hear Douglass debate with himself about how slavery should be fought, and whether violence was warranted or not, and whether it was right to compromise on the women's vote, we aren't offered any other perspective. So readers will have to apply their own biblical lens to this for themselves.

Altogether that would make this a book for older teens maybe 14 and up.

CONCLUSION

The target audience for this book, teens, aren't always fans of history books, perhaps because they've been exposed to too many of the wrong sort, texts that make it all about dates and names. What a joy it is, then, to discover a page-turning biography like this. The Frederick Douglass we meet here, while not exhaustively explored, is fleshed out, and consequently memorable. We've now met him, and won't forget him.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did

by Randy Newman
2004 / 269 pages

If you have read Greg Koukl's book Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions, you will appreciate an earlier book that covers much of the same ground. Randy Newman's Questioning Evangelism: Engaging People's Hearts the Way Jesus Did deals more explicitly with developing relationships based on sensitive questions - and answers both wise and compassionate to the questions of non-Christians both genuine and obstructive.

Newman starts by justifying the use of questions in evangelism, by appealing both to the example of Jesus Himself and to the guidance of Proverbs. His use of Proverbs is one of the strengths of the book in Part 2.

Part 2 deals with "What Questions Are People Asking?" - questions like
  • why Christians are (seemingly) so intolerant, homophobic, or hypocritical;
  • why to worship a God who allows evil;
  • why the Bible is reliable; and
  • what's so great about marriage.
What makes Newman's discussion of these issues so valuable is that he distinguishes between the responses of the one who genuinely want to understand and the one whom Proverbs calls the fool.

Part 3 is the most penetrating: "Why Aren't Questions and Answers Enough?" Newman deals with roadblocks to our evangelism: our lack of compassion, our anger, or our compulsion to speak when silence is necessary (for instance, when dealing with people's pain - or their foolish arrogance).

Finally, the Epilogue reminds us that our personal relationships with non-Christians is the most significant factors in our witness to them, and a Study Guide pulls it all together.

The major caution I would give involves some of the references Newman makes - at least in my edition - to other authors or groups that are either not orthodox (Brian Maclaren) or as credible as they once were (Exodus Ministries); however, Newman's points don't depend on their support. I have not read the introduction by Lee Strobel (it was not in my edition), but the value of Strobel's support is weakened by his tacit acceptance of theistic evolution. As well, some of Newman's evangelistic questions in Part 3 may or may not be acceptable within a Reformed understanding of evangelism.

On the whole, though, Newman offers much food for thought, and much room for self-examination in an area of our Christian life that I certainly know I need to work more with. If you want to read about how to engage hearts the way Jesus did, you can find Randy Newman's book here, and here in Canada.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Animal Farm: The Graphic Novel

by George Orwell (and Odyr) 
2019 / 172 pages

For those that don’t know the original, Orwell wrote his allegory in World War II to highlight the dangers of creeping totalitarianism. Instead of a country, his setting is that of a farm, and instead of an oppressive government, things are run by Mr. Jones, who treats Manor Farm’s “citizens” – the pigs, horses, sheep, chickens, and more – like they were animals!

One night, Old Major, a pig respected by all, tells the others of his vision of a better world in which Man is overthrown and all the animals are free to benefit from their own labor. Two legs are the enemy, and all on four legs, or with wings, are treated as equal.

The animals embrace his vision, and when the old pig dies peacefully in his sleep, three younger pigs take it upon themselves to develop and expand on Old Major’s vision. They craft “Animalism” and appoint themselves as leaders of the movement. When the animals rebel against Farmer Jones, they successively drive him off and take over the farm.

The story that follows has clear parallels to that of the 1917 Russian Revolution, that began with noble-sounding aims – freedom from oppression, equality of all – but which quickly evolved into simply another form of totalitarianism. The animals find that, though they are free of the farmer, they aren’t free of having to follow orders. The pigs have them working harder than before, and they are fed no better. Their swine leaders are soon living in the farmer’s house and eating well. But they deserve it, right? After all, they need to be properly provided for, so they can provide direction! It soon becomes evident that while “all animals are equal…some animals are more equal than others.”

CAUTIONS

Because this is a graphic novel, there are a few pages of violent content depicted. But Odyr’s is a thick-line, smudged-pastel style, leaving the gory details mostly a blur. So while these pictures might be a bit much for a child, they are nothing that would disturb a teen.

The only other caution I’ll offer concerns the lesson being learned. Orwell was no Christian, so even as he makes a case against the godless tyranny of totalitarian rulers the world over, he isn’t able to offer a better alternative…so it is fortunate he doesn’t even propose one. However, that means Christian readers will have to do that work for themselves. We can agree with Orwell about the problem: that man has a bent for tyranny and that larger the government the more they can insert themselves into our lives (1 Samuel 8:10-22). But we also know there is a proper, though limited, role for government, specifically to punish evil (Romans 13:1-7).

CONCLUSION

This is a brilliant adaptation of Orwell’s classic work, with a mix of colorful and also stark images that will grab any reader’s attention. Odyr has made Animal Farm accessible to age groups and casual readers that might otherwise never read it.

While I highly recommend this as a gift for teens, it would be a waste to hand it off to your son or daughter and then leave it at that. Unless an adult helps them understand that message behind the story, they aren’t likely to see the real-world application, and will completely miss Orwell’s warning about the dangers of big governments of all sorts.