Friday, June 28, 2013


by John Piper
2013, 51 pages

Even the subtitle to this book is challenging: Better to lose your life than to waste it.
What a thought! But it is clearly a biblical one. Our life is a gift from God, and like the three servants in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) we're supposed to do something with this "talent" – playing it safe is not an option.

Of course Piper isn't promoting risk-taking for risk's sake – he doesn't want us driving without our seatbelt on, or walking along the edge of a cliff. What he's warning us against is making safety and security idols we worship instead of God. Piper is arguing that it's when we're willing to risk our money, risk losing face, risk even our life to honor God that God is most glorified. Then the world knows what is most important to us. And, conversely, if we run from risk, then we aren't living our lives like we believe that whatever we might lose here is nothing compared to what we'll receive from God.

Risk is right is a quick read and one that young men in particular may benefit from. And – bonus! – it can be downloaded for free here.

And if you want a print copy you can pick one up at here and here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Augustine: The farmer’s boy of Tagaste

by P. De Zeeuw 
93 page, Paperback

Augustine might be called the father of the Reformation - though he lived a thousand years before them he was an influential figure to both Luther and Calvin.

Augustine: the farmer’s boy of Tagaste, aimed at Grade 3 and older, is an age-appropriate look at what a man without God is really like. Author P. De Zeeuw shows us that Augustine was not a nice young man – he stole from his parents, lied repeatedly to his mother, was lazy, and didn’t care about anyone other than himself. For our children, many of whom have been blessed to be born into the church, Augustine’s early life may be an eye-opening look at wickedness and its consequences. They likely will not have met a man with the past of this fellow! The time De Zeeuw spends looking at Augustine’s sinful young life is what makes his redemption, and the use God made of Augustine, that much more awe-inspiring. God took a rebel and made him a key figure in the Church, both in his own time, and in the Reformation one thousand years later.

Now it should be noted that the cover is bad – this is not a cover that is liable to make a child pull the book off the shelf. I'm not sure what the pictured broken statue has to do with the story. I'm presuming it is a statue of Augustine, but again, why a drawing of a statue of him? Why not just draw him? However inside the book are some helpful simple line drawings, about one a chapter or so, which are a great addition.

The story is excellent, and the writing is okay – it is a translation of the Dutch original so there are a few rough spots where the sentences don't flow quite like they could, but the writing is never so rough as to get in the way of the story. So when you add it all up - lousy cover, great story, solid, yet unremarkable writing – you've got a book that would be great for children who love reading and are able to handle these "rough spots."
De Zeeuw’s Augustine focuses primarily on the church leader's pre-conversion life, spending only a third of the 93 pages on what happened afterwards (Pelagius is mentioned just once!). So Simonetta Carr’s Augustine, which focuses on his post conversion life, would be the perfect title to read right afterwards.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tales from the Perilous Realm

by J. R. R. Tolkien
(illustrated by Alan Lee)
UK General Books (April 27 2009), 432 pages

J. R. R. Tolkien’s Tales from the Perilous Realm show another side of his amazing creative power. As a father, Tolkien created stories for his children of another realm beyond Middle Earth, and yet not entirely beyond life as we know it. Why is this other realm so “perilous”? Because it reflects the mystery of life – of love, loss, pride, purgatory, and faerie.
That’s right – purgatory. Tolkien, a Catholic, promoted some “perilous” ideas in his tales that mature Reformed readers will have no trouble rejecting, like a farmer defying his king or a painter atoning for his own sins, but behind those ideas are some sound insights into human nature (see Jeremiah 17:9) and God’s grace (see 1 Corinthians 3:10-16).

The first story, "Roverandom," was Tolkien's gift to console one of his sons on the loss of his toy dog - which in the story is a real dog that has become a toy dog through a cranky sorceror's spell, and goes through the kinds of adventures that a new toy dog might be expected to have in a world in which the moon and the Western Isles are equally (un)attainable destinations for the average person. A great tale to read aloud to kids with their own stuffed animals.

The defiant "Farmer Giles of Ham" is not a humble hero, but he is given the opportunity to humble others even more arrogant than himself (including a miller, a dragon, and a king) in Tolkien's glimpse into vanity both petty and grandiose. The story itself mocks the vanity of academic editors as well.

Only two of the sixteen poems in "The Adventures of Tom Bombadil" are actually about possibly the most intriguing character in The Lord of the Rings. The poems, either written or collected by Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam - the hobbits who most loved (and eventually missed) the magical glamour of the elves - show that any kind of faerie spell (including love) can be both enchanting and dangerous. (Blessings can become idols.)

"Smith of Wooton Major" can be seen as a comment on the need for childlike faith, as only those who are given the ability to see - and explore - the realm of faerie can get beyond the cynicism of being too sensible to believe in such seeming nonsense.

Finally, "Leaf by Niggle," though it allegorically depicts purgatory, also shows the importance of others, and the service of others, in the communion of saints. That annoying brother or sister in the congregation may actually be just what the aspiring artist needs to anchor his work in the real world.

For the devoted Tolkien fan, there are also new looks at Tolkien’s home life in the introduction and Tolkien’s famous essay “On Fairy-stories,” showing the value of such stories and the inspiration(s) for them.

So, although there are some pitfall in the path Tolkien treads in his Tales, the Perilous Realm is still well worth exploring for the discerning reader.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Alfie Gets In First

by Shirley Hughes
32 pages, 2009

Alfie is a four-year-old boy with a little sister named Annie Rose. This charming little chap likes to help mom, visit grandma, and take his blanket everywhere. Author, Shirley Hugues, understands the world of children and understands that small stories are big for them. For example, getting a new pair of rubber boots is a quite an event for a boy who loves to stamp in puddles (see Alfie's Feet).

In Alfie Gets in First the little man dashes by his mom to get inside first, and then, when mom goes back outside to get Annie Rose, Alfie slams the front door and accidentally locks everyone out.

Hughes is a wonderful illustrator and makes great use here of the reader being able to see what's happening on both sides of the door. On the one side we see mom, and soon the neighbors too, encouraging Alfie to reach for the door handle. But Alfie is too short, so on the other side we see him putting his own plan into action. When he does manage to get the door open Alfie is a hero, and a celebration over tea and cookies is had with all the neighbors who tried to help.

There is a lot of text on some pages, but if your children can sit still for 10 minutes there is more than enough detail in the pictures to give them lots to look at. Our family hasn't read all the Alfie books yet, but we sure have loved the ones we've seen.

You can pick up Alfie Gets in First at here and here.