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).