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.