Friday, December 28, 2012

A Bad Case of Stripes

by David Shannon
Blue Sky Press, 1998

My daughter had me read this book to her, and I'm not sure who whether I liked it more than her or the reverse.

The story is about Camilla Cream, a girl all too nervous what others will think about her. She refuses to eat lima bean, for though she loves them, her friends hate them. She chooses to conform.

The day before school starts, Camilla tries on 42 outfits, trying to find one that is perfect and will impress her friends. The next morning, she wakes up and finds herself afflicted with a mysterious case of stripes. That's right, in horizontal stripes across her body she's decorated with all the colors of the rainbow.

As the story progresses, you find that Camilla's stripes are open to suggestion. As people mention other colors and designs, her stripes rearrange themselves to match the suggested pattern.

Things get progressively more bizarre until a mysterious woman appears on the scene and urges Camilla to eat lima beans. The very thing that Camillia refuses to eat due to peer pressure is what this odd old lady suggests as the cure to Camilla's stripes. As you've probably guessed, when Camilla eats the lima beans, her mysterious color changes are ended, and she returns to being an average and happy girl, but one who's a little bit more at ease with what she likes and less interested in what other people want her to be.

This is a light-hearted and entertaining look at peer pressure. It offers a moral without being preachy. A six year (and her dad) would enjoy this book a lot.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Luther: Echoes of the Hammer

by Susan K. Leigh
illustrated by Dave Hill
Concordia Publishing House, 2011
144 pages, Paperback, $14

I tested this graphic novel (a.k.a. comic) on two of my nephews with mixed results. The older, heading to grade 10, was happy to take a look, and thought it would be a great way to learn about Luther. The other, two years younger, seemed to think it was too much biography, and not enough comic book for his tastes.

As far as comics go, this one is quite intense. Interspersed throughout are explanations of key events, like the Diet of Worms, key terms, like “indulgences,” and key figures, like Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor. These one or two-page insertions really add to the narrative and make this a highly educational comic.

However, a few of these insertions will also trouble informed Reformed readers. In one list of Luther’s adversaries, Calvin is numbered among them. While it is true Calvin and Luther had their differences, it is surprising to see Calvin listed among Luther’s enemies. Especially when, some pages later, we find Erasmus listed as one of Luther’s supporters!

While Erasmus was, like Luther, critical of the Roman Church, he never left it, and this led to strong, vitriolic disagreements with Luther. In fact Luther once called Erasmus, “the very mouth and organ of Satan.”  It is downright silly then for the authors to list Erasmus as a friend if they are going to list fellow Reformer John Calvin as an adversary.

The only other quibble would be the too high regard the authors have for Philip Melanchthon, describing him as “a great Reformer, second only to Martin Luther.” The publisher is Lutheran so this overestimation of the second most important Lutheran is understandable, but of course Calvin is clearly the more important Reformer. That said, these are just quibbles, amounting to only a few paragraphs in this vast and weighty graphic novel (I would estimate it as well over 20,000 words long).

The writing is crisp, succinct and engaging. The artwork is attractive and instructive – many of these pictures are worth a thousand words. For example, in the pages covering Luther’s visit to Worms illustrator Dave Hill shows us the man’s quiet passion, his many supporters, and his opponents marshaled together. This gives us a good understanding of the setting, and thus a better understanding of the courage it took for Luther to stand up for what he knew to be true.

So, it is an impressive work, aimed at older teens, and certainly enjoyable for adults too.

For a 32 page preview, you can click here. And you can pick up a copy at by clicking here.

Related reviews

The 1953 film Martin Luther
The biography The Heroic Boldness of Martin Luther
The children's picture book The Barber Who Wanted to Pray

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Pilgrim's Regress

by C. S. Lewis
originally published in 1933
Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. (September 1981)
211 pages

One last C. S. Lewis to recommend... Next month I'll tell you about a book by the author this book is responding to.

Pilgrim's Regress is, as sharp-eyed or well-read readers might already have figured out, a twentieth-century update of Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan; however, while Bunyan's book can be seen mainly as a journey of the soul, Lewis's is much a journey of the mind. The allegorical tale tells how John, raised within a nominally Christian but very moralistic environment, is driven by sweet longing for an island he sees in a vision to seek he knows not what.

Sadly, along the way, John tries many other things to satisfy his sweet longing. Right at the beginning, he mistakes Lust for that sweet longing. Recently a commentator noted how today's obsession with pornography involves, as C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton would have understood, that same desire for something beyond ourselves. Some of the details at this point (e.g. "a laughing brown girl about his own age, ...[with] no clothes on" standing in for John's lustful desires and activities) definitely point to this book being for a mature audience - definitely not for children.

John tries to understand and satisfy his sweet desire in many different ways and many different places. He meets characters representing both sides of the secularization of Western culture - Romanticism and the Enlightenment. In Book Two, "Thrill," John encounters Mr. Halfways, who promises that the Island John seeks is everywhere and nowhere, that it can be found in idols like the  search for beauty (and thus supposedly finding truth), in romance, in the love of power... The other characters have names that similarly signal both their methods and their inadequacy, like Media Halfways.

The characters John encounters from the Enlightenment show Lewis's battle as a new Christian against those who fancy that they are tearing down idols, but are actually worshipping at the altar of reductionism - the idea that all spiritual longings are merely biological, psychological, or economic motives in disguise. He meets characters like Neo-Angular, Humanist, and Sigmund (representing, of course, Freud). He is assisted by true Reason when she slays the Giant of  "Darkest Zeitgeistheim," but even Reason cannot bring him to the object of his sweet longing. For that he seeks the help of Vertue, but even Vertue fails him in the end.

Only Mother Kirk can guide him to the truth, to the glimpse of his sweet longing on the other side of the seemingly suicidal trip across the Grand Canyon, a trip that equips him to tackle the Dragons of the swampy southern marshes (Romanticism) and of the harsh Northern wastes (Enlightenment modernism).

Lewis's most allegorical work shows the search for truth, the battle of faith and reason against the intellectual idols of his time (and ours) as one that is not merely intellectual, but spiritual, personal, and life-and-death, as it truly is - but also life-giving, as it truly is, to those who find, not only truth, but the Truth, the Way, and the Life.

You can pick up a copy of Pilgrim's Regress at by clicking here.

Related reviews

Friday, December 7, 2012


by Arthur Geisert
Enchanted Lion Books, 2011
24 pages, Hardcover, $15

I've recently become a big fan of wordless books and Arthur Geisert's Ice is one of the funnest. It is the story of a clan of pigs, living together on an island enduring a hot, hot summer. The island's water reservoir is just about empty, so the pigs band together to get their airship ready. Then they sail off, traveling 'round the world to the north pole where they snag and drag an iceberg back to their home. We then see the lot of them with ice saws and pick axes carving up the iceberg and depositing it in their reservoir. Ice for everyone!

What makes books like this so much fun is that my two-year-old can read them to me. When we first got this one home I read it to her the first time, lingering over each page-spread, and noting all of the many things that the pigs were up to. Then, the next night, I told her I would read her one story, and she would read me one. She was very excited to do so, and because we had gone through it together once before, she was up to the task. It was a joy to see her working through how best to describe the action - this is a very fun way of encouraging your child's creativity and imagination.

The author has written a number of books about this pig clan, including one or two others that are wordless. These titles are all more involved - there is quite a lot going on in each picture - making them too complicated for my two-year-old, but perhaps quite fun for children two or three years older.

Ice, though, is amazing for two-year-olds and 40-year-olds, and has my vote as the very best of Geisert's bunch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Porcupine in a Pine Tree

A Canadian 12 Days of Christmas
By Helaine Becker
Illustrated by Werner Zimmerman
Northwinds Press, 2010

Every year around Christmas time people start singing about all the things "my true love gave to me" for Christmas. But does it make any sense to you to be given "swans a swimming" or even "lords a leaping"? Not to me.

In a modernization of the classic song, A Porcupine in a Pine Tree puts a Canadian twist on the tune we all know so well. From the lone porcupine in a pine tree all the way to a dozen bear cubs who like to dance, every item in this book is something that Canadians know well and can relate to.

The illustrations are also a major part of the fun. While the song is silly enough, the various animals in the illustrations are behaving mischievously in every single picture. Reading the book with a child and spotting the silliness in the pictures would be a lot of fun.

Though this book seems to be hard to get with, Canadian sites like do have this title.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Who should I date?

by William P. Smith
New Growth Press, 2009, 21 pages

Though it is aimed at teens and young people I would recommend this title to parents. They can use it as a very helpful tool to start a conversation with their children about who, and who is not, a legitimate option when it comes to dating.

Dr. Smith begins with a short essay on what character traits to look for, and which to watch out for. Some of them include:
  • Actively listens vs. passively hears
  • Constructively disagrees, or just disagreeable?
  • Giving vs. needy
  • Willingly confesses vs. being cornered
He directs readers to the Bible to show what God thinks of these traits, and ends the list by pointing readers to the most important trait of all: that Jesus is the center of their life.

In the second half of the booklet Smith presents these same points as a quiz in checklist fashion where reader can not only assess a potential date, but themselves too. They should look in the mirror and ask: “Am I dateable?”

Young people are encouraged not to “casually fall into a relationship” but to instead “start by asking yourself at the beginning of a friendship: Should this relationship take the next step in becoming more serious?” This is advice any parent can appreciate. And this booklet is a great tool that every Christian parent should use.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Great Divorce

by C. S. Lewis
originally published in 1946
HarperOne (February 6, 2001), 160 pages

First, why the title? Lewis's fictional satire is not about either marriage or divorce. Lewis himself tells us that the title is a response to the title of the Romantic poet William Blake's much shorter poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. Blake's view of heaven and hell was far from Christian; however, unthinking readers of C. S. Lewis may think the same about The Great Divorce - if they miss the fact that C. S. Lewis is showing indeed the metaphorical "great chasm" between heaven and hellish human nature.

I say "unthinking readers" because anytime an author seeks to show spiritual realities in fiction, he is open to misinterpretation. For example, Frank Peretti's This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness sought to show the reality of the spiritual warfare in which we are all involved, without necessarily knowing it; unfortunately, some readers used the book as a prayer warrior's training manual. Peretti had to warn his readers in his third book that it was not intended to be an exact depiction of the details of the spiritual war of Satan against the church. (In the same way, we do not take the image of the dragon in the book of Revelation as a literal portrayal of, say, Satan's appearance.)

We need to use the same imaginative caution in reading The Great Divorce. Here are some examples from the plot. If we were to visit heaven, we would not take a bus - but we might find the experience very like the impersonality of public transportation if we were not spiritually ready for it. Similarly, we would not find the grass literally too sharp for our feet - but there is something uncomfortable about heavenly reality when we want to treat this world as if it is heaven. Finally, and obviously, souls in hell do not get a chance to visit heaven, but - and this is Lewis's main point - if they did, they could not stay there, because their unredeemed nature could not stand heavenly blessings.

Again, Reformed Christians may find this upside down. Isn't it God in His holiness who could not tolerate us in heaven? True, but Lewis is using this bus trip to heaven to show exactly what is so offensive about our sins - how even qualities that we consider commendable, like a mother's love or the need to give God our best work, may be instead evidence of egoism or selfishness. Lewis memorably depicts how sinners cling to such seemingly virtuous sins; however, he also shows the beauty of the glory arising when more obvious sins as lust being torn from our souls - like a pet lizard being ripped off your shoulder. The removal of lizard lust will remind many readers of how Eustace lost his dragon skin in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. More importantly, Lewis shows how all spiritual growth involves the gouging out of the right eye or the cutting off of the right hand that troubles us (Matthew 5:27-30), or the dying of the old nature that the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of. If only to show that the Christian life involves painful but rewarding struggle against our own sinful nature, this is a book everyone should read.

Related reviews

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Little Riders

by Margaretha Shemin

illustrated by Peter Spier
76 pages, 1963

There is a treasury of great children's books about World War II that are told from the Dutch perspective. This is another, but with a difference: one of the heroes is a German soldier.

Little Johanna doesn't think much of Germans when the story begins. As her own private act of resistance she has vowed never to look a Nazi soldier in the eyes. But when her family is force to billet a German officer Johanna find the man hard to hate. Captain Braun is polite and quiet, a man who walks softly... except when he has to come into Grandmother and Grandfather's part of the house. Then he stomps noisily with his boots, "so that they could hear him long before he knocked on the door. There was always time to hide the radio behind the books in the bookcase."

Later in the story Captain Braun provides some very unexpected help to Johanna when she hides 12 ancient metal horsemen from the town's cherished church clock. The Germans want to melt them down and use the metal to make guns and bullets but the two of them tuck the horsemen away in a very clever spot.

There are clear "don't be quick to judge" and "love your enemies" lessons here, but perhaps the most important one for little ones to learn about World War II is that many of the German people should be counted among Hitler's victims.

Short chapters, and simple line drawings from Dutch artist Peter Spier, make this an accessible story for children as young as Grade 1.

You can pick it up at here and here.

Questions for parents to discuss with their children

A couple points come up in this book that might make good fodder for discussion with our little ones.

1. Does God wants us to risk our lives to protect mere things, like these "little riders"? What Johanna and Captain Braun did could have cost them, or others, their lives if they had been discovered. Should they have done it?

2. Johanna doesn't like the Nazi soldiers, but are all of them bad? And even if they were bad, how does God want us to treat our enemies? Read Matthew 5:43-48 Is that easy to do? (See verse 48 in particular).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Complete Maus

by Art Spiegelman

25th Anniversary Edition
Pantheon Books, 2011
296 pages

Every year close to Remembrance Day, I try to tell my students a bit about why Canada went to war. I give them some of the nasty details of the Holocaust including the story of Dr. Joseph Mengele known as the "Angel of Death." Lest the kids be overwhelmed by the gruesome detail and just memorize it for a quiz, I try to personalize my account. I tell my students about a little Dutch boy whose father was a member of the Dutch underground and then relate to them about the day Canadian troops came to liberate that boy's village. Then, when all those kids are mentally cheering the arrival of those soldiers, their fellow Canadians, I tell them that boy in the story is my dad.

In the same way, Maus personalizes the story of the Holocaust. It is the tale of the author's father, mother, and brother. While the father and mother live through the Holocaust, the brother doesn't. Though the mother fails to cope with her experiences - ultimately committing suicide - the father is left cruelly scared as well. Much of the book shows how the father has been emotionally wounded, and how his son - the author - is affected by this as well.

Being a graphic novel, there is a curious visual convention that is used. All the characters are portrayed as animals; the Poles as pigs, the Jews as mice, the Germans as cats, and the Americans as dogs. There are some obvious reasons for those choices, but it's also interesting that the Germans are always ugly looking cats and the Americans are virtually always ridiculously friendly and helpful looking dogs.

The story is raw and filled with emotion. Being written as a graphic novel (a fancy term for a really big comic book) you not only read how people were starving in the camps, but you see it as well. You not only mentally visualize the compromises and moral trade offs that were made, you get to see them.


With raw emotions comes occasional use of raw language and this does include some profanity - God's name is used in vain. It's only two or three times in the book, and it is certainly true to the moment in the story but it shouldn't be there at all.


For an emotional appreciation of the suffering caused by the Holocaust not only during World War II but long after, this book likely can't be beat. You may not want to read it right before bedtime since the images have a way of lingering in your mind.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other graphic novels about war

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Ambassador's Guide to Mormonism

I’ve been good friends with a Mormon for nearly 15 years. In that time I’ve worked through several books on how best to challenge and present the Gospel to him, and while Brett Kunkle’s The Ambassador’s Guide to Mormonism is the shortest I’ve read, it is also one of the most useful.

Kunkle gets to the key issues quickly - it is just 64 pages - and suggests helpful “tactical” questions that will expose how:
  1. Mormonism is not Christianity
  2. The Mormon Gospel is not the Gospel
It’s the tactical questions that set Kunkle’s book apart from most others - he gives his readers tools they can put to ready use.

1) Not the same

Because Mormons claim to be Christians, and use the same theological terms while giving them different meanings, it can be quite confusing to start talking with them about God. They sound very Christian. So a helpful first step is to make it clear that there are enormous differences. Kunkle shows how this can be done with the use of clarifying questions.

When a Mormon tells you he is also a Christian, Kunkle suggests asking him, “Does that mean I am also a Mormon?” Their response will likely be a “a swift and emphatic ‘No!’” Mormons don’t believe they are Christians like us - they believe they are the only true Christians. However, they often aren’t upfront about this, so we need to call them on it. Kunkle’s question is a quick, tactful way to do so. If we are going to genuinely explore our differences, we need to be honest about them.

2) Different Gospels

One of the most notable differences between Mormons and Christians concerns the Gospel. This difference can also be clarified with a thoughtful question. Kunkle suggests asking your Mormon friend, “What is the ultimate goal of your religious efforts?”

For us, all our efforts are thanksgiving directed to God for what He has already done for us. For Mormons, their efforts are the means by which they may or may not achieve godhood - it depends on what they do.

That’s quite a difference! And it’s one that shows Mormonism to be a works-based religion. Kunkle calls this the “Impossible Gospel” - rather than being freed from the yoke of the law (Acts 15:10) Mormons have to live up to it. The law, rather than God’s grace, is what they are turning to for their salvation. What a heavy yoke to bear!

Planting a seed/stone 

The tactic I most appreciated was Kunkle’s encouragement to set modest goals for any conversations - instead of pressing for an instantaneous conversion we should be content with leaving them a thought to consider. In the excerpt that follows, Kunkle calls this “putting a stone in their shoe.” It’s a humble approach that recognizes, like Paul in 1 Cor. 3, while we can try to plant a seed, it is God, not us, who will cause it to grow.

Kunkle writes:
I was in Salt Lake City on my first Utah mission trip with 20 other students and leaders from Biola University. We’d met John just an hour earlier. Now we were sitting in a local diner a block from Temple Square listening to his story. 
“My path out of Mormonism began during a conversation with Christians like you, almost 20 years ago,” he said, “so keep doing what you’re doing.” 
John grew up LDS (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) and had become a “temple” Mormon. His wife and kids were Mormons. By the time our paths crossed, he had decided to walk away from it all, convinced it was false. As I listened carefully to John’s account, I was struck by the prominent role he gave to a 20-year-old conversation with Christians. According to John, his conversion out of Mormonism started there and came to completion two decades later. What happened in that first conversation? Christians planted a seed. 
Think about the Mormons you know. Most of them probably grew up in the LDS Church. Their parents are Mormons. Their family members are Mormons. Most of their close friends are Mormons. The LDS church plays a preeminent role in their life, touching every area. With this in mind, is it realistic to expect Mormons to abandon their faith after one or two conversations? Probably not. That’s an unrealistic goal. 
Because of our love for LDS friends and family members our final vision for their lives is that they come to know the true Jesus. But that’s not the goal of every individual conversation. 
Recently a friend shared that some Mormon missionaries had come knocking and she invited them into her home for conversation. After a second follow-up visit, she decided to cut things off. “Look, you guys aren’t going to change your views, and I’m not going to change mine. So it’s pointless to continue meeting.” That was after just two conversations. 
If the goal of every conversation is conversion, you’ll find yourself frustrated and ready to move on. So don’t try to close the deal right away. Instead, just try to put a stone in their shoe. What’s your reaction when you get a stone in your shoe? It bothers you. You can’t stop thinking about it until you take the shoe off and deal with the annoyance. The ultimate goal is to see our LDS friends come to Christ, but the goal of any individual conversation is to put a stone in their shoe. Give them one good thing to think about. 
This approach takes time. Ask yourself if you’re willing to be patient. It may take years walking with your LDS friend before you see them come to Christ. For some ex-Mormons like John, it takes Christians leaving stone after stone, year after year, before they’re ready to walk away from Mormonism. Hopefully your perseverance means you’ll still be around, ready to walk them into God’s Kingdom when the time comes. *

There is a lot to love in this slim book. But it is small so if you’re regularly talking with Mormons you will want to follow it up by reading books from apologists like James White and Ron Rhodes, or watching the series of impressive documentary films has created challenging specific Mormon claims.

The most important take away from Kunkle’s book is that thoughtful, tactical questioning is a great way to begin. Mormons sound like Christians, but careful questioning can make clear the enormous differences that exist between the Mormon and Christian Gospel. And it is only once that difference is recognized that we can then present God’s Gospel to them.

May God use us as his instruments in reaching our Mormon friends and neighbors!

*This excerpt is reprinted with permission of Stand To Reason ( where Brett Kunkle works as a full-time Christian apologist.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Abolition of Man

by C. S. Lewis
originally published in 1943
reprinted by Lits (December 2010), 60 pages

In my previous review of That Hideous Strength, I noted that scientism - the worship of science - was the target not only of that novel, but of C. S. Lewis's book of essays The Abolition of Man. Lewis, a native of Britain, starts by focusing on an elementary English textbook from his own nation's education system that refers to the (as Lewis puts it) "well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall." The textbook's authors correct Coleridge for believing that he has made an objective judgement about the waterfall in calling it "sublime." The authors assert that any judgement about beauty or morality is really only a statement about our own feelings. In other words, the authors strongly endorse relativism.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Augustine of Hippo

by Simonetta Carr 
66 pages, 2009
reviewed by Adolph Dykstra

This is a book I would have liked to have had when our offspring were youngsters! Its 66 pages are interesting and easily read in about forty minutes, but it is not hard to spend a lot more time with this book because of the many fine illustrations and photos that take up about half of its pages.

The publisher’s blurb on the back cover claims that, “outside of people in the Bible, Augustine of Hippo is the most influential person in church history.” That’s debatable, but his influence in explaining the Bible’s teachings was remarkable. “Yet how many people know his story? Author Simonetta Carr introduces young readers to the life and ministry of Augustine, sharing with readers Augustine’s personal struggles and the high value he came to place on the Bible and truth. Reader will also see the difficult days in which Augustine lived, and learn about his disputes with false teachers and about the turbulent times during the fall of the Roman Empire.”

That sums up the book very nicely. Along the way, we learn about Augustine’s Confessions and his twenty-volume The City of God, all of which are still readily available today. We get a clear understanding of why the teachings of Pelagius were false. We discover many more interesting facts about the culture and history of the Roman Empire.

This is a very readable book for the ages 7-12, but can also serve as an excellent resource for parents and teachers. Recommended without reservations.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other children's biographies by Simonetta Carr

Friday, September 28, 2012

Canada at War:

A graphic history of World War II
by Paul Keery, illustrated by Michael Wyatt
176 pages, 2012

Half way through Canada at War I realized it was filling in an odd gap in my education. I had read about the Dutch experience of World War II in great kids’ books like Anne de Vries’ Journey through the Night and Piet Prins’ Scout series, and a love of classic war films like Casablanca and Twelve O’Clock High had given me a good sampling of the American perspective. But I don’t know if I've ever seen the war through Canadian eyes.

Canada at War is a “graphic history” - otherwise known as a comic - but it would be a mistake to dismiss this as fluffy kids’ stuff. It is weighty and well-researched and would be best understood as an illustrated history textbook. It includes chapters on:
  • Canada before the war
  • Canada’s early defeats defending Hong Kong from the Japanese and attacking German-held Dieppe, France
  • The creation and impact of Canada’s Air Force
  • The Canadian Navy’s seemingly impossible task of protecting the Atlantic supply chain from U-boat attacks
  • The costly lessons our Army learned in Sicily and Italy
  • The joint invasion of Europe
  • The Canadian role in the liberation of the Netherlands and the final defeat of Germany
Author Paul Keery, and illustrator Michael Wyatt do a masterful job of explaining, in just 176 pages, how Canada went from having next to no military to, in the space of just five years, becoming the third most powerful fighting force in the world. And they give readers a good understanding of just how much we owe the 1 million men who served.

Cumulatively the pictures are worth many thousands of words. Descriptions can’t quite convey the information available in a picture of a sailor waste deep in water on a leaky Corvette assigned to protect otherwise defenseless supply ships on their way to Britain. There is also a lot packed into a single frame, where we see a bomber pilot relaxing at his home base, happy to have survived another bombing run, but knowing that he has only a 1 in 4 chance of living through to the end of his tour.

The style of the visuals is also striking: it’s a mix of quite realistic computer animation and solid simple lines. Illustrator Michael Wyatt shows us action and lots of it including planes being blown apart and submarines being sunk. Wyatt uses great restraint, showing the results of war - the blood, death and destruction - without dwelling on the gory detail. This bloody detail is most often muted, either by being obscured (often times by making use of silhouette images) or by being skipped right over. For example, in one exchange we see a soldier with blood on his face, but only learn how it happened from the caption. But as should be expected in a “graphic history” or World War II, there are a few “graphic” frames. However, Canada at War is intended for a young adult readership, so these pictures are unlikely to shock them. I've included a few of these frames immediately below this review, so that parents can evaluate them for themselves.

An impacting book, that will give this generation a far better understanding of what their grandparents and great grandparents endured to give them the Canada they see today. You can pick up a copy at by clicking here.

One of the more graphic frames: the artist uses restraint by making use of silhouettes.
Another example: there are several bloody pictures throughout,
as one might expect in a graphic history of WW II.

Friday, September 21, 2012


How Should We Teach Them? 
by Paul David Tripp
27 pages, 2000

Paul Tripp notes, “as Christians we say that sex is a wonderful gift from God, yet we are strangely silent on the topic, and uncomfortable in the rare instance when it is discussed.” Our silence means our teens are turning to the world to get answers to their questions, and that’s the very last thing we want. So silence is simply not an option.

How then can parents equip their children? The first step is to present them with a biblical model of sexuality, and then establish biblical goals for our teens in regard to sex. Tripp convincingly argues that abstinence is hardly a worthy goal – it isn’t even a good bare minimum: “To be physically abstinent is not the same as being morally pure. Moral purity is a matter of the heart. If the heart is not pure, the body will not be kept pure for long.” In keeping with this Tripp notes that we can’t simply put off the old man (ie. “Don’t have sex”) but need to provide our teens with a positive “put on” agenda (Eph. 4:22-24). So we need to present them “some practical, godly goals for the teen’s relationship with the opposite sex.” He concludes with a “threefold plan for helping teens” that will give parents a good foundation for the talks (note this is a plural - and not “the talk,” singular) we need to initiate with our children.

The author has packed in a lot in this slim volume, and gives readers much to consider. At just 27 pages, it isn’t all that parents should read about this subject but it sure is a great one to begin with.

Friday, September 14, 2012

That Hideous Strength

by C. S. Lewis
originally published by John Lane the Bodley Head, 1945, 382 pages

Like the first two books of C. S. Lewis's space trilogy, That Hideous Strength links up with a famous literary legend. In this case, it's the story of King Arthur. What's more, it also serves as the inspiration for a more contemporary young adult novel - Frank Peretti's Nightmare Academy, the second (and last so far) in his Veritas Project series.

This novel is longer than the first two in the trilogy combined, and that is only fair, since in many ways it climaxes Ransom's fight against the foolishness and evil that man has brought to two other planets. Back on Malacandra both he and Weston tried to understand the inhabitants in strictly scientific terms, missing a huge part of the total picture, and being rebuked for their ignorance. On Perelandra, Ransom fights a feminism that demands that authority justify any restrictions on our individual freedom.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Where is the Cake?

by Thé-Tjong Khing
32 pages, 2007

Thé-Tjong Khing was born in Indonesia, studied in the Netherlands, and is now one of the Netherlands’ best-known illustrators and authors. His books have been translated into several languages, and Where is the Cake? must have been the easiest as, except for the title, it is a wordless book.

The main story involves a chase after two possums who have taken Mr. and Mrs. Dog’s cake. The action takes place on large pages (even a bit larger than the pages of a magazine) so there is plenty of room for detail, and for a host of different animals. There are more than 30 characters on each page, and almost as many storylines!

I “read” this with my two-year-old daughter and we had a great fun trying to keep track of what everyone was up to. While it is wordless, it still lends itself to a lot of interaction. I was constantly talking to her about what must have happened “in between” the pages and congratulating her as she found Mr. and Mrs. Dog once again. She loved it, and her dad did too because it was book I could read again and again (as parents are often required to do) and keep finding new things.

Great fun, and beautifully done. There is a sequel called Where Is the Cake Now? which continues the story. It is also very good, but doesn't quite duplicate the charm of the original.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fixing My Gaze

by Susan R Barry
272 pages.

A brain scientist walks into an eye doctor's office and says, "Doc, I'm having this trouble with my vision."

It sounds like the start of a joke, but it's not. This book is the story of Susan Barry, a neuroscientist, who lacks stereovision or depth perception. Cross eyed in early infancy, Susan Barry never learned to see the world in three dimensions. She lived in a flat, two dimensional reality that would be hard for any of us to fathom. As she approached 50, Barry went to an optometrist about other vision problems and the doctor held out the possibility that it might still be possible to learn to see in 3D.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Noah's Ark

by Peter Spier
1977 / 48 pages

What author and illustrator Peter Spier gives us here is a beautifully illustrated, nearly wordless account of the Flood, with only three of the 48 pages containing text. There are two biblical quotations, one to start the book from Genesis 6:8: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” The second ends the book, and is taken from Genesis 9:20: “… and he planted vineyard.” In addition, one page is given to an English translation of a 400-year-old poem about the Flood by Dutchman Jacobus Revius.

The rest of the book is filled with seemingly simple, but incredibly detailed pictures of Noah and his family as they build the Ark, bring in the animal pairs, and feed and care for them inside. Some of the detail is amusing – two dodos are shown waddling their way to safety (at least for a few thousand years). But we also see, in a series of panels, the floodwaters overtaking the many animals that were left behind. This is no cutesy, sanitized account!

I find most Bible storybooks quite problematic, as they so often mangle the biblical texts. What I appreciate about Spier’s account is that, because it is wordless, it actually requires that you go to the Bible to read the original account. So it is not a Bible storybook meant to replace Bible reading, but is instead a Bible study book, meant to spur further thinking on God’s Word.

Americans who like Noah’s Ark will also appreciate Spier’s We the People, a picture book he made celebrating the creation of the US constitution. It contains the text of the constitution (but only 26 amendments, as the book was written before the 27th was passed), a short account of how it was drafted, and pages upon pages of pictures showing how this document has shaped the country over the last 200 years. Most picture books are intended for children, but this is one of those rare ones that an adult will readily appreciate too.

You can pick up Peter Spier's Noah's Ark at here and here.
One of the gorgeous illustrations: Noah and his sons hard at work, keeping the Ark clean.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Perelandra (Voyage to Venus)

by C. S. Lewis
originally published by John Lane the Bodley Head, 1943
206 pages

Last month, we saw parallels between C. S. Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet and Gulliver's Travels. Given that Lewis was a professor of English literature, it's not surprising that the second book in his space trilogy Perelandra (Voyage to Venus) also links up to a famous literary work: John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost.

Perelandra raises the two questions that all Christians think of when reading Genesis 3 or Paradise Lost: How might the fall have been prevented, and why allow temptation into the world in the first place? To explore these questions, Lewis takes Ransom to Venus this time rather than Malacandra, and on a mission rather than in a kidnapping.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Physics and Psychology in the service of deception
by Jim Ottaviani and Janine Johnston
G.T Labs, 2007, 71 pages

Jim Ottaviani writes graphic novels about scientific topics, including the creation of the first nuclear bomb, and a biography of Neils Bohr. In this, one of his shorter efforts, he stretches to make the connection to science, insisting in his subtitle that this is about physics and psychology. It is, instead, a history of the development of the levitaiton magic trick, as it was refined by John Neville Maskelyne (1839-1917) and Harry Kellar (1849-1922).

So this is chance to not only see how one of the most intriguing magic tricks is done, but to how it was developed. If you have any interest in magic acts or an interest in clever engineering you will find this as fascinating as I did.

I should note that there is one language concern: there are three occurrences of the word "damn." The only other caution I could add is that the magicians used mystic patter in the set-up for their tricks, calling on the spirits for help, or talking about how they learned this secret from a pagan priest in far off lands. This is a minor element, and hardly a persuasive presentation of paganism, but might be a reason not to give this to the very young.

But then this is quite clearly intended for teens and adults, as it is a fairly reading-intense "comic." Overall, just a fun, intriguing read, and I look forward to reading more of Jim Ottaviani's material.

You can pick up Levitation at here and here.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers

by Tom Standage
Walker, 2007.
256 pages.

The Victorian Internet, surprisingly, details the 19th century development of the telegraph. You wouldn't expect the telegraph to be compared to the Internet, but Tom Standage makes the connection make sense. For people in the Victorian era, used to a slow pace of life and news that literally took months to cross the world, the telegraph changed the way they lived.

Standage provides the background you'd expect about just how the telegraph developed. He tells you about how successive inventors built on each others' work ultimately culminating in Samuel Morse's telegraph that took over most of the world, and quite a different version that became popular in England. He explains the successes, the failures and the personal rivalries that led to the rise and fall of this instrument of communication.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

How do you kill 11 million people?

by Andy Andrews
Thomas Nelson, 2011, 80 pages

In his book How Do You Kill 11 Million People? Andy Andrews answers the title questions this way: “lie to them.”

The 11-million figure is the total of people institutionally killed by the Nazis between the years 1933 and 1945. It does not include the more than 5 million German soldiers and civilians killed in the fighting, nor the 28 million Europeans killed by Hitler’s governmental policies. What this figure does include is the 6 million Jews and 5 million others that, in general, walked to their deaths peaceably and in good order. This enormous number prompted Andrews to ask a question almost as provocative as his title: “What we need to understand is how 11 million people allow themselves to be killed?” He admits this is an oversimplification; many did resist and fought the Nazis. But most did not. Andrews asks:

So why, for month after month and year after year did millions of intelligent human beings, guarded by a relatively few Nazis soldiers, willingly load their families into tens of thousands of cattle cars to be transported by rail to one of the many death camps scattered across Europe?

The answer is that the Nazis used “an intricate web of lies” that was delivered to the Jews in stages. First they were told that the barbed wire fences going up, encircling their neighborhoods, were “temporary necessities of war” and that, as long as they cooperated, they would not be harmed.

The Germans also accepted bribes, which helped convince the Jews that they weren’t in any great danger. If the Nazis intended to kill them, so the Jews reasoned, they wouldn’t bother with accepting bribes since afterwards they could just take it all.

When the Nazis came to take the Jews to death camps they would often bring only a small number of soldiers. Adolf Eichmann, the man in charge of the Nazi genocide, would show up with “an entourage of no more than 30 local men and officers of his own – many unarmed.” He would ask the fathers and husbands to help their families onto the waiting cattle cars, explaining that the Russian advances had necessitated moving them to another place, but that it was a wonderful place. They would have work, their wives would stay at home and their children would go to school. The lack of soldiers, and the calm manner of Eichmann’s speech reassured the listening Jews who would then proceed to the train cars where they were crammed into the cars with as many as one hundred people in a car designed for just 8 cows. The door was shut and quickly padlocked. It was now too late – the cars would only be opened once they had arrived at the death camps.

That’s how you get 11 million people to walk to their own deaths. You lie to them. And the lies weren’t limited to the Jews. The German people were lied to for more than a decade before this point. In his autobiography Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote: “The great masses of the people will more easily fall victim to the big lie than the small one.” 10 million copies of his book were distributed across Germany, and, as Andrews writes, “The masses believed him anyway.”

Andrews concludes, “The most dangerous thing any nation faces is a citizenry capable of trusting a liar to lead them.”

Is he arguing that if we allow our political leaders to lie to us we’re going to be the site of the next Holocaust?

No, I’m not saying that it will happen. I am saying that it could happen…. History shows that any people who are sheeplike in following their leadership (so long as their personal self-interests are satisfied) may one day awaken to find that their nation has changed in dramatic ways. 

Honesty, then, must be the bare minimum we demand from our politicians.

Are we demanding it?

Honesty doesn’t seem a lot to expect from our political leaders and yet we aren’t asking it of them.
This past month the Canadian government passed an omnibus budget bill – a massive piece of legislation that impacts more than 60 different laws. By bundling all this together the Conservatives have prevented serious debate from occurring on any of the individual sections. Back in 2005 when the Liberals presented their own omnibus budget, then opposition leader Stephen Harper objected, “How can members represent their constituents on these various areas when they are forced to vote on a block of such legislation?" It was a good point. Omnibus bills make it impossible to hold MPs accountable for any individual part because they can readily say they didn’t necessarily support that particular part, but voted for the bill as a whole. But what he opposed in 2005, Harper is now doing himself. Leader-Post writer Bruce Johnstone noted that there was one difference between the two omnibus bills: “the Liberals' budget bill in 2005 was 120 pages, a record at the time, but 'wafer thin' compared with the 452-page leviathan [of] the Tories.”

In June pro-lifers learned that six months earlier the Ontario government amended the province’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act so that the act “does not apply to records relating to the provision of abortion services.” Ontario citizens can no longer find out how many abortions their tax dollars are paying for each year. But it isn’t just what the Ontario government did that’s offensive; it’s how they did it. The amendment was Part VIII of Bill 122: “An Act to increase the financial accountability of organizations in the broader public sector.” They hid the amendment in a completely unrelated bill, which is why it took six months to discover what they had done.

Is this honest government?

In his book Andrews asks if we’ve ever considered why we have a massive and incomprehensible tax code. It’s so complicated we either have to hire professional help to figure out how much we have to pay, or we have to spend a week or two of our nighttime hours doing it ourselves. Yet this is an issue on which we could get near unanimous support from voters: make it simpler! So why don’t we have it? Because an incomprehensible tax code is a wonderful tool for a government to hide the many different kickbacks and pay-offs they make to the groups they are really listening to.

When we think of dishonest politicians, we most often think of those that have been caught in a lie - Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton may come to mind. But there is another sort of dishonesty that is more prevalent. Our elected politicians are supposed to be accountable to us, so whenever they try to evade that accountability they are not being honest with us. The omnibus bill, Ontario’s secret amendment, even the political candidate who tries to get through a campaign without making promises at all – these are the actions of politicians who don’t want to be held accountable.


There have been many “bare minimums” proposed for what we absolutely must demand from our politicians. In the US right now some Christians are arguing that we can only vote for a candidate who professes God’s name (and that, therefore, Christians should not vote for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney who is a Mormon). Another bare minimum, frequently proposed on both sides of the border, is support for a balanced budget. In our Reformed circles many argue (myself included) that we must not vote for a candidate who won’t stand up for the unborn.

But Andrews’ minimum is more vital than any other. After all, it doesn’t matter what a politician says he stands for or what promises he makes if he isn’t honest.

If we are going to demand honesty, what does that involve? It means researching each candidate’s positions, and going to them to get answers if they haven’t addressed an important issue. And if they won’t answer, they are telling us they don’t want to be held accountable on that issue. It means checking on the incumbent’s record to see if he has kept his promises. It means encouraging our elected representatives to ask for accountability, and congratulating them when they do. And finally, it means not voting for candidates who aren’t being upfront… even if that leaves us with no candidate to vote for.

The vital necessity of honesty is a point we can communicate even to co-workers, friends and neighbors who may not share our political convictions. They might oppose us on abortion, budgetary priorities and foreign policy, and we could still get them to come alongside us demanding accountable, honest politicians in all parties. Andy Andrews’ book could be an effective tool towards that end. It has an attention-getting title, can be read in 45 minutes to an hour, is an affordable $15, and its sturdy hardcover will stand up to repeated readings, making it the perfect lending book. Let Andrews convince your neighbors that next election we need to demand more from our politicians – we need to demand honesty.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Out of the Silent Planet

by C. S. Lewis
Harper Collins, 1938, 351 pages

Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in C. S. Lewis's unjustly little known space trilogy. Why unjustly? Because these three novels are books that all adult fans of C. S. Lewis should read, but too many never read past the Narnia Chronicles in his fiction.

So where in space will you go, and what might you be reminded of, when you read these three stories? Each is set in a different planet in our solar system, and each also has echoes of other famous literature - from Gulliver's Travels to Paradise Lost to the legends of King Arthur - even though Lewis himself only acknowledged his debt to H. G. Wells.

The reason that Out of the Silent Planet will remind many of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels is that the main character Ransom, like Swift's Gulliver, is a traveler who ends up marooned in a strange land - in this case, the planet of Malacandra.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Pre-engagement: 5 questions to ask yourselves

by David Powlison & John Yenchko
P&R Publishing, 1987, 36 pages

The subtitle is a good summary of its contents: “5 Questions to ask yourselves.” Authors Powlison and Yenchko want to help couples assess whether they are ready to marry by asking them pointed questions. Each of the five main questions is coupled with several follow-ups. For example, the first question asks, “Are you both Christians?” In the pages that follow the authors note what being a Christian means – that God is first in your heart, above all others – and then ask:

Are you looking to marriage to make you happy or complete, to give you identity or purpose? When this happens, Christ is no longer your Lord in a practical way.

The authors are both involved in the biblical counseling movement (as part of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation) so their questions are consistently biblical, and consistently helpful... even if they might make couples uncomfortably aware of their shortcomings. The other four main questions are:
  • Do you have a track record of solving problems biblically (follow up questions: “Do you know how to solve problems biblically?” “Where do you need to change and grow to become a wiser person?”)
  • Are you heading in the same direction in life?
  • What do those who know you well think of your relationship?
  • Do you want to marry this person? Are you willing to accept each other just as you are?
At just 36 pages this booklet is not comprehensive, but it is a great, and inexpensive way to start assessing your relationship in light of clear, direct, biblical truths. Marriage is among the biggest decisions you can make in your life, so it is that much more important that it is a God-honoring decision.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Unholy Alliance

by Susanna Gregory
Warner Books, 1997.
408 pages

I'm not normally one to read mystery novels, nor one to browse in thrift stores, so you can imagine my surprise when I recently found myself buying  An Unholy Alliance from a neighborhood thrift store. To my delight, I found a really good book.

If you like mysteries and historical novels, I think you'll like this story. It's set in Cambridge, England, shortly after the town (and most of England) has been devastated by the Plague, or "the Death" as many characters in the book refer to it. The Plague, it seems, has brought out the worst in people, and several of the town's prostitutes are murdered. Then a thief is found dead after attempting to steal highly secret university documents, a university official goes missing, and when a grave is exhumed it contains the wrong person. As Shakespeare might have said, there's something rotten in the state of Cambridge.

A university lecturer, Matthew Bartholomew, is asked to investigate the goings on. You wouldn't expect an English physician trained in Paris by an Arab doctor to be a good sleuth, but he is. His slightly different view of medicine in particular and the world in general give him unique insights into human nature.

The language of the book is generally clean except for two or three archaic curses (is a curse still a curse if you don't understand what it means?). There also seems to be a current of skepticism by logical characters like Bartholomew towards the devout believers whose faith is closer to superstition than trust in God. There is a curious lack of intelligent, thinking, and yet devout Christians in the story. Though it doesn't hurt the storyline as such, it makes you wonder what the author's worldview is like.

This is the first book by Gregory that I've read, but I'll be on the look out for more. As every page was turned, the mystery and morass got deeper and deeper and I wondered how it could all be solved. Yet it did work out and the ending was satisfying. I'll be on the hunt for more novels by this author to see if they're as good as this one.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Jay Adams: "Do all religions lead to God?"

In Together for GOOD, Jay Adams gives readers a fictionalized conversation between Greg Cunninghamm, a pastor, and Bob Rawlston, an unbelieving man wrestling with the Book of John. One of the Bob's struggles is with John 14:6 where Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." It is the exclusive claim of the last sentence that bothers Bob.
"I always thought that whatever religion you accept, so long as you are sincere, it will ultimately lead you to God. But Jesus doesn't provide much room for anybody except those who believe in Him?"
The Pastor has two responses that are worth passing on:
"If all religions lead to God, surely He wouldn't be much of a God since He'd be a contraction in Himself. You see, since every religion contradicts every other, and if all of their ways lead to God, then God Himself must be confused. You wouldn't want to believe in a God who says one thing today and the opposite tomorrow, one thing to one person and the opposite to another, I'm sure?"
"..... And think of this: if people can be saved from their sins some other way than by believing the Gospel, then Jesus' crucifixion was not only a senseless tragedy, but sending Him to die was a stupid, brutal act on God's part. No matter how you squeeze it, when you think rationally, you have to come to the conclusion that if there's one God, there can only be one way."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

John Calvin

by Simonetta Carr
Reformation Heritage Books, 2008, 64 pages

Simonetta Carr has created an impressive educational resource that parents and teachers will absolutely love… and children will like.

Parents and teachers will love it because it has good pictures and strong writing that make it an excellent read-aloud book. Though in the format of a picture book, it might be better to think of it as a chapter book – it is divided into seven chapters and has more than 50 pages and over 4,000 words. That length gives Carr the space she needs to deliver a solid overview of Calvin’s life and emphasize the importance of his work. It also allows her space to include more trivial but interesting tidbits, like the fact that some of Calvin’s opponents named their dogs after him, and that Calvin would occasionally play a game similar to horseshoes with his friends. There is really no better book to introduce young children to this Hero of the Faith.

John Calvin’s length and the serious subject matter do mean the book is unlikely to become one of your children’s favorites. However, if mom or dad decide to pick this off the shelf and read aloud a chapter or two, it’s also unlikely your children will mind at all. Recommended for 7-10 year-olds.

You can pick it up at here and here.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Till We Have Faces

by C. S. Lewis
1956, 300 pages

It is hard to describe the beauty of this book. Let me start by noting that Thomas Bulfiinch's retelling of the original Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche (which you can find at is only about  seven pages. C. S. Lewis's reworking of the story is roughly forty times longer, but never lets the reader go.

Why is the book so compelling? The main reason is how creatively Lewis uses the myth to show us ourselves. He does this by making a minor character both the narrator and the focus of the story. After all, most (or all?) of us make ourselves both the narrators and the focus of our own stories, even though we are also ultimately minor characters in the much greater story of good news that God has told in Christ and continues to work out today.

I had never had any exposure to the original before I read C. S. Lewis's summary in the Introduction. The Greek myth has two themes. The first focuses on Psyche's struggles to survive the goddess Venus's jealousy of her beauty (just as Snow White is helpless before the envious queen in her story). The second has to do with Psyche's complex relationship with the god Cupid, and her struggle to trust him (as Adam and Eve failed to trust God in the garden of Eden, and as Israel failed to do in the wilderness during the exodus).

In C. S. Lewis's version, the narrator is one of Psyche's jealous sisters named Orual - jealous of Psyche's beauty, desperately craving Psyche's love, suspicious of others' jealousy of Psyche, and unwilling to believe that a god could really love her. It is as if the story of Cinderella were told by one of her stepsisters, but that stepsister both loved her and envied her. Imagine how that sister would regard the passionate love of the prince for Cinderella, and how she might react to it even after the "happily after after" wedding.

Aren't many of us prone to that same love/hate relationship with others - perhaps in our family, perhaps in the church family - who walk so close to God that it seems too good to be true? Even more, when our relationship with God in Christ is a rich source of strength and love for us, don't we find that many around us can be skeptical? Don't we see in the media an eagerness to debunk the faith of prominent Christians?

C. S. Lewis shows us that, ultimately, what is going on is jealousy. The gritty beauty of the story that I referred to at the beginning came from my desire to see what the god in the story - and the true God of history - can do with and for those who feel such jealousy without, at least to begin with, the love that should go with it. In the end, the story should also remind us of the parable of the prodigal son, and provoke us to ask whether our relationship with God is based on jealous self-interest (think of the elder brother), or - by the grace of God - love and trust in response to His passionate love for us.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Cats in Krasinski Square

by Karen Hesse
Scholastic Press, 2004 32 pages

When the Nazis took Poland, they created a Jewish “ghetto” in the capital city of Warsaw – Jews were forced to live in one area of the city which was then surrounded with a high brick wall to keep them in. The ghetto was overcrowded, and food was scarce.

Though this is a grim setting for a children’s picture book, this is certainly not a grim book. It tells the story of a Jewish girl who has escaped the ghetto, and lives outside the Wall masquerading as a non-Jew. She has befriended the stray cats that live in the cracks and dark corners of the Wall. When her older sister Mira tells her of a plan to bring food to the ghetto Jews, she can help, by telling Mira about all the holes in the Wall that the cats travel through. And when the Germans find out about this plan, and bring their dogs to find out who is bringing food to the Wall, this little Jewish girl helps again…by bringing cats to distract the dogs!

This is a gorgeous picture book, and a story of courage, cleverness and hope. And it is all the more wonderful because it is based on a true story!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Hunting Eichmann

How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency 
Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi
by Neal Bascomb
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009, 409 pages

It was, perhaps, inevitable that Osama bin Laden would end up dead after he was fingered as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. An evil so great had to be punished by the American government. It didn't matter where bin Laden would hide, for it seemed obvious that the Americans would find him. It was only a matter of time.

Yet bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of only thousands, while Adolph Eichmann was, by his own estimation, responsible "directly or indirectly" for the deaths of some four million Jews in the Holocaust. An evil of that kind needed to be punished and justice had to be seen to be done.

Hunting Eichmann is not only the story of the how the Israeli secret service, the Mossad, tracked down and captured Eichmann, but it also tells how and why Eichmann escaped justice after the Second World War. It is a spy thriller, though not in the style of James Bond. It is about real spies hunting a real war criminal. It is about their successes and failures. Ultimately, it is about the spies themselves.

Simply giving endless details of how Eichmann was captured in Argentina and spirited away to Israel for trial would grow boring. What keeps the story riveting is the glimpses into the lives of the agents themselves. We see what motivates them; how they'd all lost close family members in the Holocaust. We see how they walked a delicate line between the pursuit of justice and the desire for revenge, and where, in a couple of cases, revenge may have been the greater motivator of the two. Ultimately, we see the agents when they encounter Eichmann for the first time. Expecting to see a monster, they see a poor, bedraggled man with "shabby underwear" who they find simply "pathetic."

To their surprise, the face of evil is ordinary. The man once responsible for the deaths of so many had been reduced to poverty and a life lacking in power or direction. Those pursuing Eichmann had so strongly expected something different, that when Eichmann is first discovered to be living in a tiny, rented home, the agent who checked out the clue refused to believe that his quarry really lived there.

That may be where the value of this book lies; in the simple observation that evil is ordinary. Evil is not something we can't identify with because in the right circumstances evil may be us. While the pursuit of evil in the name of justice is still commendable, we may need to examine how we react to those who are "evil." How different are they from us? Do we try to help them overcome the evil as did a missionary who visited Eichmann, or are we the agent who volunteered to help out at Eichmann's hanging?

Hunting Eichmann is an exciting story and all the more fascinating because it is real. Its tale, and its lessons, are something we should all be familiar with.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This Was John Calvin

by Thea B. Van Halsema
Inheritance Publications, 1981, 184 pages

I’ve read four John Calvin biographies and this is by far my favorite. It is tightly written at only 224 pages, and interspersed with dozens of illustration, but what sets it apart are the many minor details the author includes.

One example: other biographies will mention that Martin Luther read and greatly respected what John Calvin wrote about the Lord’s Supper, but in This Was John Calvin we discover how Luther first learned Calvin’s thoughts. He picked up a Latin copy of Calvin’s Little Treatise On The Holy Supper Of Our Lord in a German bookstore. It’s only a small bit of additional detail but it is this sort of extra tidbit that makes history come alive – now I can picture the large Luther ducking through the small front door of a local bookstore, scanning the shelves of the Religion Section and plucking from the titles a slim volume by this young Calvin fellow he had heard so much about. That’s fun to imagine.

Another example: every Calvin biography will note that half of Geneva’s citizenship opposed the Reformer, many of whom were constantly scheming to get him expelled from the city. Van Halsema goes further, spending 3 chapters (out of the book’s 36) to tell the story of Geneva before Calvin’s arrival, and explain the historic reasons for the division in the city.

She also provides a helpful background to Calvin’s encounter with Michael Servetus – a heretic that Calvin is sometimes accused of murdering. Servetus was burnt at the stake by the Genevan authorities for denying the Trinity, and while Calvin agreed with his execution, Van Halsema notes that most everyone at that time did too. In fact the Roman Catholic town of Lyons had previously burnt Servetus in effigy, only substituting a dummy because the man himself had escaped their grasp.

It's is a great, readable biography that will be enjoyed by anyone in their late teens or older who has even the tiniest bit of interest in church history.

And after you finish this one off, you'll want to get the authors' Three Men Came to Heidelberg, about the three principal figures behind it the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism. It is most often packaged with her short biography Glorious Heretic: The Story of Guido de Bres', which is another very quick, very interesting read. Readable, enjoyable church history - you just can beat that!

( may not have the best prices on these - you may be able to get them cheaper at Inheritance Publications.)