Monday, May 22, 2017

Cat Tale

by Michael Hall
40 pages / 2012

This is just such a clever and fun book to read out loud. The front cover gives a good clue as to what this is going to be about - three cats, their tails swaying, but the title refers to another sort of tale. Yes, this is all about homonyms - words that sounds alike, but have different meanings.

Every page features a homonym or two. So, for example, at one point the cats have used a box to hide from bees, and then on the next page the cats are doing "...their best to box some fleas."

On and on it goes, with flea then becoming flee:
They flee a steer.
Of course, sometimes homonyms have the same spelling, so on the next page it is still steer, but a different sort:
They steer a plane.
It took my girls, all seven and under, the first reading to figure out what was going on - it was all a bit mysterious to them as to what the joke was. But that was, in part, because I was still figuring it out, so I wasn't reading it with the proper emphasis - I should have been giving a little extra oomph to each homonym as they appeared.

But that delay wasn't frustrating for them; it is a fun, colorful book with attractive pictures, so that was enough to keep them intrigued during the first go-through. And on second reading, when I explained the joke to my youngest (the seven-year-old was starting to catch on) they just loved it. This is the perfect sort of joke for this age group - simple enough for them to get it, but clever enough for them to spend a lot of fun time exploring how it works from page to page.

So great fun for all my girls from three to seven. And that's probably the proper age range for it - any younger and they won't understand, and any older and the picture style would make this seem too childish (even if 40-year-old me still enjoyed the humor). This would be a fun book for the home, but make an absolutely fantastic resource for a Grade One classroom.

You can pick it up at Amazon.com here, and Amazon.ca here (and if you do use these links to make a purchase, Amazon will send us a small tip, at no cost to you).


Sunday, May 14, 2017

When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy

by John Piper
268 pages / 2004

Both my fellow blogger and I have reviewed several really good reads from John Piper (and his son), but for struggling Christians, this is perhaps his best read yet.

Behind this book is the idea of Christian Hedonism. At first glance this may look like a contradiction in terms, but Piper summarizes it as the understanding that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. We are intended to, as the Westminster Catechism puts it, "glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Piper makes it clear that the Bible commands us to take joy in God.

But how can God command a feeling? And how can we change our feelings? The answer is that God Himself gives us what He commands. Even before we feel joy, the Spirit gives true believers in Christ the desire for that true joy.

We know that God also uses both methods and means to work in our hearts, after he enables us to recognize the weakness or even absence of that joy in our relationship with Him. Piper shows us those methods and means, so that we can "work out [our] own salvation, ...for it is God who works in us.."

What are the methods? They involve the following:
  • fighting for joy at the same time as we depend entirely on God for the ability to fight;
  • learning to see the glory of God through enlightened eyes and ears; and
  • seeking consciences cleansed by our justification in Christ.
The means should be familiar to Christians, but Piper's discussion of those means shows us both their value and the most effective ways to use the means of
  • God's word, the Bible (including proper Scriptural meditation, memorization, and making its meaning clear for our lives);
  • prayer (without ceasing, focusing on the Giver rather than His gifts, praying our I.O.U.S.); and
  • God's whole creation (using our physical senses to see the glory of God).
What is true Scriptural meditation? What does the formula I.O.U.S. mean, and how does it deepen both our prayer and our reading of God's word? How can we "use" the world properly rather than being tempted by it? You'll need to read the book to find out!

A final question: What if all these means seem fruitless? Piper shows us how to hold on when the darkness persists, when we still live with spiritual depression, and encourages us by showing us the power of a renewed focus on Christ's saving work, as well as how depressed believers in church history have either found relief for their depression or have become a source of relief for others.

If you believe that John Piper's book will help you when you don't desire God, you can get it at amazon.ca here, and at amazon.com here.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Adventures of Lancelot the Great

by Gerald Morris
illustrations by Aaron Renier
92 pages / 2008

I've read some Gerald Morris in the past - this pastor is quite famous for the Arthurian stories he's written for teens – but I had no idea he could be so funny.

Morris is once again writing on King Arthur and his court, but these book are meant for younger crowds, maybe Grade 2 and up (though if daddy reads it, even kids as young as 5 will probably enjoy it). And to play to this younger audience Morris has crafted some fantastic, chapter-long jokes.

Maybe the best way to review it would be to share one of the jokes. The very first has to do with Sir Lancelot's wish to join the Round Table. He wants to be one of King Arthur's knights because, "They have the bravest hearts, the noblest souls and the shiniest armor in all the world." Lancelot, at least in the early going, is a little obsessed with his appearance and Morris has great fun with this. On his journey to Camelot, to introduce himself to the King, Lancelot gets caught in a rainstorm, and his armor ends up getting "splashed all over with dirty spots."
When at last the rain stopped, Sir Lancelot turned his attention to his spattered appearance. Moving his lance to his left arm, he drew a towel from his saddlebags and began scrubbing at his armored legs. Soon he was absorbed in the task, paying no attention to where his horse was taking him. 
Looking up, Lancelot sees a knight bearing down on him, and thinking him one of those roving evil knights and "having no time to shift his lance to his right arm...he met the knights charge left-handed, popping his attacker very neatly from his saddle."

Right after, another knight attacks him, which is getting Lancelot quite annoyed, as it is interfering with his cleaning efforts. But he quickly dispatches that knight too. And then another attacks! This happens 16 times to Lancelot's dismay, and after the 16th knight was dispatched, Lancelot hears clapping.

It turns out he had wandered into a tournament unawares, and won it quite unintentionally, while using his lance left-handed. Then when he finds out the King himself is the host of the tournament and wants the noble knight to join the Round Table, Lancelot is distraught. Why?
"Look at me! I'm all covered with mud! And I did want to make a favorable first impression!"
The rest of the book is more of the same – my girls were laughing out loud, and I was having a great time too.

Wizards, and sorcerers, and magicians, oh my!

I have no real cautions to offer for this book. The most juvenile humor in the book is when Sir Lancelot gets shot in the behind with an arrow. That gets some good laughs from the kids, but doesn't get anywhere near the realm of potty humor.

I will say I was a little surprised when one knight ended up dying (after eating a poisonous pear) because Death doesn't make an appearance in most kids books. But it isn't a big part of the story and didn't seem to shock my girls.

So the only real reservation I have has nothing to do with this book, but rather others in the series. Morris has written 4 books in all in this The Knights' Tales series, and in the other three (not this one though) magic and sorcerers make appearances.

That should really be expected in an Authurian story; magic is a big part of the original after all. But in the Bible God condemns sorcery, so when a positive portrayal of it pops up in fiction, that should give us pause.

In Book 2, Sir Givret the Short, the only magical reference is where the magic is clearly and admittedly fake - Givret pretends to be a sorcerer to scare an evil knight (Givret is short, but he knows how to use his brains). So no reason to be concerned here.

And in Book 4, Sir Balin the Ill Fated, a seer pronounces doom and gloom, though by book's end it seems that she was, most likely, a fraud. The problem is, kids might not get that. There is also a wicked invisible knight who can use magic to turn himself invisible - I don't have much of a problem with that, as the wicked do indeed try to make use of magic. My concern is about when magic use – which God condemns – is portrayed positively.

That's what happens in Book 3, Sir Gawain the True, where a friendly sorcerer befriends Sir Gawain. Friendly sorcerer? Now, the sorcerer is not Morris's creation – he is a part of the original Arthurian legends – and that seems a factor to consider but this is the one book in this set I might not check out of the library again.

I have to admit as to not knowing quite what to think – good sorcerers are a lie, so should we be encouraging our kids to read books where this lie is furthered? And at the same time, Arthurian stories have history to them, and it strikes me that this is a lot like learning about Greek gods – they can do "magic" too – but knowing about them is simply a part of being educated.

Of course there is a big difference between reading about something for educational reasons and reading the same things simply for entertainment. We can tolerate some things for educational reasons – for example, news reports that might have graphic violence – that we would have reason to avoid when it comes to entertainment. So it would seem positive portrayals of sorcerers are more problematic in entertainment than they would be in strictly educational settings.

What do you think? Anyone have some thoughts to contribute?

Conclusion

Magic concerns aren't relevant in Sir Lancelot the Great so I recommend it unreservedly. It was one of my favorite books this past year because of how much it made our girls laugh.

While magic makes a minor appearance in Books 2 and 4 I would also recommend them because this is magic of either the fake kind, or the magic use is done by villains.

The only one I would not recommend is book 3, Sir Gawain the True. Or, at least, I won't be recommending it until I have a better understanding of proper and improper use of magic in literature.

You can pick up a copy of Sir Lancelot the Great at Amazon.ca here and Amazon.com here. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck Fiasco

by Connor Boyack
58 pages / 2016

I've been trying to find ways to help my children see through the good-intentioned but ultimately disastrous view that the government should run the economy. So I was very happy to discover author Connor Boyack.

Boyack has written five "Tuttle Twin" picture books, in which the young heroes are 9 year old Ethan and Emily Tuttle. There is a moral to each of these stories, and it is always highlights a different government-caused economic problem.

The best of the bunch

So, for example, in my and my daughters' favorite of the bunch, The Food Truck Fiasco, the Tuttle twins find out their friend Amy is going to have to sell her food truck because government regulations are making it too expensive for her to stay in business. It turns out that the owner of Bob's Big BBQ – a bricks and mortar-type restaurant – is good friends with the mayor, and he encouraged the mayor to pass a law which banned food trucks from operating within 2,000 feet of a restaurant.

The twins learn a lesson in what "protectionism" is – this is when businesses lobby the government to pass regulations and restrictions that hamper and hurt their competitors. They use the government to stop competition. And, as the twins learn, that means customers are left with fewer, and often only the more expensive, choices.

When they hear about Amy's problem, the twins then organize a political rally and, eventually, embarrass the city council into changing the law. That means Amy will be able to still make a living with her food truck business. Hooray!

Now, you might think this sort of an educational book would be rather boring, but Boyack has done really good work here. The illustrations are bright and eye-catching, and by making the heroes a couple of kids the author inspired my own girls – five and seven – to ask how they can help people too.

They've also asked for me to read The Food Truck Fiasco repeatedly, which I have to admit was a surprise to me. I liked the book, but more for its educational aspect. They seem to like it for the story, and perhaps because it is just so different from anything else they are reading.

Cautions

I do have a caution to share. To fight city hall, the twins – with parental help – organize a rally that is just across the street from Bob's Big BBQ. The rally includes a half dozen food trucks. Which means they are breaking the new las. Is civil disobedience warranted here? I don't think so. We can't just disobey any law we don't like; we can only do that when the law requires us to violate God's law. And at the same time, this is a very civil form of civil disobedience. I talked about it with my daughters and noted that if the food truck owners had been fined, then they should not fight the fine, but pay it – they broke the law and did not have to, so they should accept the consequences.

The bigger caution I would have is with another book in this series. While the author is either Mormon or Christian (it's clear he is operating from some sort of Judeo-Christian perspective) it's clear he is also a libertarian. Now, libertarians and Christians can get along quite nicely, and on many issues, because we both agree that government shouldn't try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller government. But in The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law Boyack's libertarian perspective comes out in a way that conflicts with a solid Christian perspective. In The Law children are left with the impression that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. And from that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do. So, just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money from you, the same should be true of government. Children will be left thinking that taxation is theft, and that simply isn't so – God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14). There are some good points made in this same book, but because it is aimed at children, I think it a bit much to expect them to sift out the good from the bad, so I would not recommend this title.

Other titles

There are three other titles in the series that are worth recommending.

In The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, the twins and their class go on a field trip to a pencil factory where they learn "not a single person on the face of the earth knows how to make" a pencil. They learn that the eraser was made up of three ingredients, that had to come from three different countries. The wood for the pencil could only be harvested with the combined efforts of loggers, and all the workers involved in crafting chainsaws, trucks, rope and more that are involved in bring the wood to the mill. Then they look at what was involved in making the graphite "lead", and the yellow paint, and the metal ferrule at the end that holds the eraser - the class learns that countless people are involved in making a pencil, but each one of them only knows about how to make their own contribution.

The point here is that a managed economy - where all decisions come up from the top, by people who are supposed to understand the whole process - couldn't make even a simple pencil. How wonderful it is then, that we have a market where we can trade with one another, and we can divide up tasks, and no one has to know every bit of it. Boyack has based this story on a classic economic essay promoting the free market, by Leonard E. Read, called, I, Pencil. It isn't long and it is very good, so be sure to check it out!

In The Tuttle Twins and the Creature From Jekyll Island the twins learn from their grandfather about why money was first created, how it is useful, but also how the government can, through inflation, decrease everyone's wealth – when the government prints more and more money, our savings becomes worth less as prices go up. (Government currency manipulation is the "creature" mentioned in the title.)

Though this is intended for kids, it would be a great one for adults to read too, to understand how government currency manipulation can have an enormous impact on the economy. It would also help explain the interest in alternate currencies like Bitcoin – people are looking for a type of money that governments can't manipulate. While my 7-year-old daughter read this, and liked it, I don't know how much of the lesson she actually understood.

Finally, in The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom the twins learn that a new road has so changed the traffic patterns that businesses on the wharf at their favorite beach are now going out of business. Boyack is doing a homage to economists F.A Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (a five minute video "cartoon" summary of Hayek's book can be viewed here). The lesson here is that government actions have enormous unintended consequences, and while those actions might help some, they can devastate others. It is, in other words, an argument for greater government restraint - the government should do less, and allow people to handle their own affairs, because individuals forging agreements with one another will come to decisions that are mutually beneficial.

Conclusion

While the series can be enjoyed by children as young as 5, I think to fully understand the concepts readers will have to be in at least Grade 2. I also shared this with a high school teacher because I thought it could serve as a helpful very quick introduction to some of these concepts in the older grades too.

If I were to order the books by preference, it would look like this:
  1. The Food Truck Fiasco
  2. The Miraculous Pencil
  3. The Creature from Jekyll Island
  4. The Road to Surfdom
  5. The Law 
I think the first and second are really something special, the next two are good but not great (because their stories just aren't as interesting), and the last I don't recommend because the problem with it is too subtle for children to really understand or see through. 

Overall, this is a wonderful, inventive way to get your children thinking the right way about some important economic issues. You can find Food Truck Fiasco at Amazon.com here. It isn't currently available in Canada, but you can get Miraculous Pencil at Amazon.ca here.



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.