Friday, February 28, 2014


by Jacob Abbott
2009, 202 pages

How do you make history come alive for teens? Sometimes it means turning to an author long dead.

Jacob Abbott died 125 years ago, but a quick read through this volume explains why his books endure. The original 1853 edition of Nero is available for free in many places online, and is well worth downloading to your Kindle. But it does benefit from the updating that publisher Canon Press has done to their version. Some longer 70-word sentences have been broken up and editor Lucy Zoe Jones has also replaced a few obscure words like "declivities," "salubrity," and "preternatural." Little else was required.

Now, Nero's life might not seem like appropriate material for a biography aimed at teens – this Roman emperor indulged in every sort of immorality. However Abbott is both a tactful and talented writer. He doesn't delve into the salacious details, so younger readers will only encounter a broad overview of Nero's wickedness. But Abbott does tuck in a bit more information in between the lines, there to be read and understood by older, less naive readers. It's an impressive feat.

Like many good teen books, adults will enjoy this as well - it is a engaging introduction to a key figure in both Church and Western history.

For Canadian readers, this edition is available at, and in the US you can get it at here.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Anselm of Canterbury

62 pages / 2013
by Simonetta Carr

As first glance it seems author Simonetta Carr has made a strange choice of subject for her latest biography. Anselm of Canterbury was a loyal follower of the pope, repeatedly seeing his advice and always submitting to the pope's commands. Why is a Reformed author highlighting this Roman Catholic archbishop?

It's because Anselm (1033-1109 AD), centuries before the Reformation, uncovered a truth that would be incorporated into the Reformers' catechisms and confessions. Anselm understood why Jesus had to be both fully God and fully man. That was a question being debated in Anselm's time, and before. He helped the Church by explaining that our Savior had to be perfect otherwise he would have his own debt to pay and couldn't pay anyone else's. That's why he had to be God. And he also had to be fully human, because God is just, and would only punish Man for Man's sins. Anselm, like the Reformers after him, sought to know God and tell others about His greatness

Like Simonetta Carr's previous "Christian biographies for young readers," Anselm is produced to the highest standards: wonderful and plentiful pictures in a well-bound hardcover so it can last generations. It is a wonderful educational resource for children 8 to 12 that will make learning church history almost painless. But like many a history book, children might not pick this off the shelf on their own, so a little adult involvement will go a long way in turning this good biography into an excellent education resource.

You can pick up a copy at here, and here.

RELATED REVIEWS: Other children's biographies by Simonetta Carr

Friday, February 14, 2014

Just Do Something

by Kevin DeYoung
2009, 128 pages

Remember Gideon and the fleece? God kept the fleece dry while the ground was wet, and wet while the ground was dry. Persuaded by God's reassurance, Gideon took on the task of clearing the foreign oppressors out of Israel. (More about him later.)

Too often, we want God to do the same for us, and on far less significant matters than a direct commission from God. This need for God's direct guidance on matters ranging from what to wear to where to live can keep us from "just doing something," anything, until God gives us a "sign."

Kevin DeYoung takes on this attitude by telling us that all we need to do is follow the counsel of Ecclesiastes 12 - "Fear God and keep his commandments" - and then move forward as God gives us the desire and wisdom to do so. He starts by looking at how our uncertainty as to what to do with our lives can keep us stuck on "The Long Road to Nowhere" (Chapter 1's title). Of course, part of the reason we get stuck is that we confuse various understandings of "God's Will in Christianese" - the focus of the second chapter - His will of decree, of desire, and of direction. DeYoung explains five reasons for us being so "Directionally Challenged" in the third chapter, from the best - we genuinely want to please God - to the worst - we are cowards. All of us will undoubtedly recognize ourselves in one of the reasons DeYoung gives.

Matching the five reasons for our treating God as "Our Magic 8-Ball God" (the title of Chapter 4) are five problems DeYoung explains relating to asking God to give us such direct guidance, from our focus on non-moral decisions to the hopeless subjectivism of such a quest. Again, most Christians will find themselves identified in one or more of these problems in our attitude to God.

DeYoung then sets out "A Better Way" (the title of Chapter 5) to walk in God's will: Don't worry; seek God's Kingdom - as Jesus makes clear in the Sermon on the Mount. DeYoung makes clear in Chapter 6 - "Ordinary Gifts and Supernatural Surprises" that even the apostles generally relied on the wisdom that God gave them, rather than direct guidance from the Spirit. In Chapter 7 - "Tools of the Trade" - DeYoung makes clear that the wrong use of the Bible is a form of testing God (just as it was for timid Gideon), leaving us to instead follow "The Way of Wisdom" (the title of Chapter 8) - relying on Scripture (studied, rather than simply flipped open randomly), on good counsel, and on prayer.

DeYoung's insights lead naturally to the last two chapters. Chapter 9 deals with "Work, Wedlock, and God's Will" - the big issues that everybody is thinking of when they want to know what God wants with their lives. Finally, "The End of the Matter" is the living example of his grandfather, who has lived, and is living, the commands of Ecclesiastes 12 - "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man," enabling him to Just Do Something for God and his neighbor - as we should.

I hope it's obvious how much I've left unsaid from this book that I have recently heard used as the basis for a brilliant sermon on the petition "Your will be done." If you want to be liberated from doubt and uncertainty, read the whole thing, not because God revealed that this is the book especially for you, but because it's as edifying as it is entertaining.

You can pick up a copy of Just Do Something at here and here.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Grandma's moving in

by Stephanie M. Cone
illustrations by Matthew Sample II
27 pages / 2013

When Albert finds out that his grandma is moving in with them, he starts worrying about how he could possibly take care of her. "Will I have to sit with her in the house... every... single... day?" he wonders. "I'll probably have to push her in the wheelchair... for miles... and miles... and miles!" His fretting soon has him convinced that this is a job too big for a little boy like him.

But then his dad takes him for a walk, to show him "that Albert really was able to care for Grandma." Albert's dad asks the people they meet how Albert could care for his grandma. Lots of helpful suggestions are offered. The mailman suggests talking to her. The donut man suggests giving her a treat. The pastor's wife suggests praying with her. And the local star football player suggests touching her – gently – by giving her hugs and holding her hand. Albert soon realizes that there are lots of little ways "that even a little boy like me can help care for Grandma!"

It's a simple story, teaching a lesson to little children that is well worth learning whether their Grandma is moving in or not.

You can pick up a copy at here and here.