Saturday, February 28, 2015

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales

Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales are a graphic novel series telling bits of history. Nathan Hale was a famous American spy during their Revolutionary War who is best known for his last words: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country." The author of this series shares the same name, and latched onto the idea of using his namesake as the narrator of this series.

So the very first book begins with American spy Nathan Hale being led to his hanging. There he gives his famous last words and then, in a moment of creative license, is eaten by "The Big Huge Book of American History." Why was he eaten? Well, because his last words were so good, they got him into the history books. Shortly afterwards he is spit back out and Hale explains that while he was in the history book he got a peek at future events, and has quite some stories to share. So share he does, with the Hangman, and the British provost guarding him.

The three of them act as comic relief, interjecting comments throughout, with the tall British solider as the the stiff straight man, and the shorter rounder Hangman as his loud emotional sidekick - it's a inventive riff off of Abbot and Costello.

Some of these accounts are quite weighty so the humor helps make these stories appropriate for a younger age group then they would otherwise have been, with only the very occasional joke that borders on bad taste (as is bound to happen when humor is injected into serious situations - a mistake or two is going to happen).


Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood
128 pages, 2014

A few decades ago a cartoonist decided to tell the story of the Jewish Holocaust in World War II via an animal metaphor. He made the Jews mice, and the Germans cats, the good folk dogs and the collaborators were pigs. It was a dark story, of course, but the use of the animals made it slightly less gritty, and thus more bearable.

In Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood, author Nathan Hale has done something similar for World War I. Each nation is assigned an animal: the Germans are eagles, the English are
The Russian bear and German eagle
bulldogs, the Belgians are lions, the Ottomans are otters, the Russians bears and the Americans get stuck being bunnies, because eagle has already been taken. Hale does a good job of laying out the facts, and detailing the slaughter that amounted in the millions, but also lightening things up with doses of humor whenever he can.

I knew the basic facts of World War I already, but learned a lot from this overview. Of course a comic, particularly one presented in metaphor form, shouldn't be regarded as an authoritative source, but it does provide a useful overview. Now if I want to find out more, I've now learned enough to know what I might want to read more about.

This book is one of in a series of "Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales" and it's a unclear whether the series is named after the author Nathan Hale, or the American spy Nathan Hale who lived 250 years ago, but who appears in this series as the narrator. But I guess it doesn't much matter.

A couple cautions to share: this is a historic account that details the death of millions, so even though it is in animal comic form parts of it would be too much for the very young. I'm not talking about gore - there isn't any - but rather the story itself. Also a language advisory: a couple of "good heavens"s pop up, a "holy moley" and in one instances a character says, "ye gods" (page 73).

I'd recommend this for children 12 and up, though some kids might be able to handle it as young as 10. You can buy a copy by clicking on the link to here.

Donner Dinner Party
128 pages, 2013

The general gist of this tale is well known: the Donner party was a caravan of settlers heading to California that took an ill-advised short-cut and to survive the winter had to eat their dead. So this might not seem the sort of story that is well suited for a graphic novel account: too dark and disturbing. There is certainly something to that, but author Nathan Hale does ensure this is, at most, a PG-rated account - there is no gore of any sort, save one panel in which a man is stabbed and that is as muted as a stabbing can be.

I enjoyed learning the true (or mostly true - the author fills in the gaps with his imagination) story behind the popular folk tale. But, unlike the previous story on World War I, there is no pressing reason to read this graphic novel. There is no real lesson to be learned (other than, as one survivor put it, "Don't take no cut-offs, and get where you're going as fast as you can") and the story of the Donner party has had no real impact on our culture or our world. So if you don't know much about it, well, you can still get by.

But readers will get an idea of just how brave (and perhaps crazy) these first settlers were, to travel for months on end through wilderness and Indian lands and without even really knowing what they were in for.

So my overall recommendation would be to get Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood before you get this one. But while there is no pressing reason to get this one, there are no real reasons not to, and it is an interesting slice of American history well and quite delicately told. You can get a copy from by clicking here.

Big, bad, Ironclad
128 pages, 2012

About the American civil war, and how the two sides each had, for the first time, ironclad ships (that cannonballs would just bounce right off of) fighting each other. I review it in more detail here.


One Dead Spy

This is the first book in the series, and American spy Nathan Hale's first story is his own – when he first decided to become a soldier, his part in booting the British out of Boston, the story of the supply ship he seized - which coincides with the story of the early part of the American Revolution. That's the real thrust of the book, to give readers a look at how the war started. But at just 128 pages there simply isn't room for the whole story, so this tale ends with the end of Nathan Hale. Or rather, it ends with him on the gallows, telling stories to the Hangman and his British guard.

It is the first story, but finds it's place here at the bottom because, unfortunately, the author includes an exact quote from a British General that begins with the general taking God's name in vain (page 57). That wasn't necessary.

Alamo All-Stars
128 pages, 2016

"Remember that Alamo!" - many of us have heard this rallying cry, but don't know what it is we're supposed to remember. This is the story of the stand that a 200 (or so) Texans took against a Mexican army many times that size in 1836. The Texans took their stand in a makeshift fort at the Alamo mission, and after a 13 day siege the Mexicans wiped the smaller Texan force out, leaving only a few women and slaves alive to spread the story in the hopes it would break down resistance to Mexican rule. It did the opposite - among those killed were the infamous Jim Bowie and famous Davy Crockett, and their deaths helped spark a revolution which saw the Mexicans defeated and Texas declaring its independence (10 years later Texas joined the United States).

Hale does another fine job here of teaching history while keeping things very interesting, but in two instances (page 99 and 103) he again depicts God's name being taken in vain, both involving historical quotes.

The Underground Abductor
128 pages, 2015

This would best be described as a biography of Harriet Tubman, an American slave who helped dozens and eventually hundreds of other slaves flee to freedom. She worked with many others, who would shelter the slaves as they went from one stop to the next in their journey from the slave-holding southern states to the freedom found that was to be found in Canada. These escape routes that slaves would take, traveling from safe house to safe house, came to be known as the Underground Railroad...even though very few trains were involved in their transport, and none of it was really underground (though a few secret cellars were involved).

This is a fascinating story, but there is some strange mysticism included: Harriet Tubman, after recovering from a severe head injury, would claim to get visions from God. But more troubling is that this book, like One Dead Spy takes the Lord's name in vain. In this book it happens at least a couple times, which is why it, also, is at the bottom of this list.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Bruno the Bear

by W.G. Van de Hulst
47 pages / 1978 & 2014

Little Rosie is sick so Mother takes her off to bed. But wait, what about her teddy bear Bruno? The little goof has slipped right out of her tired little hand onto the floor. There he lies, sitting up against the doorpost with his glass eye twinkling, almost winking, as if he had a secret joke. It’s no joke though, when Jimmy and Joe come home from school, and turn their sister’s favorite toy into a puppet on a string. They make Bruno dance and fly, and then - oh no! – they swing him about over the canal outside their window. When Bruno gets hooked on a pole sticking out of the water the string breaks, and then the two naughty boys don’t know what to do. Their sister is crying – she’s sick and wants her teddy. But they don’t dare tell Mother what they did!

Bruno the Bear was originally published in Dutch, and the translators have done a wonderful job – it is a fun book to read out loud. It is also a beautiful book, with more than 25 pictures that are quite helpful in setting the scene. My three-year-old and five-year-old were both able to follow all the way through this pretty long story – I think it might have taken a half hour to finish.

One thing I particularly appreciated was the author’s Christian take on the boys naughtiness. The two boys don’t want to tell Mother or Father, and they don’t. But that night, as they go to bed, we learn that Joe tried to pray, but didn’t dare. And Jimmy “had said it as fast as he could. And that was not really praying. No, Jimmy did not really dare to pray either.” When I asked my girls why the two boys didn’t dare pray, they understood exactly why, and we had a good conversation about what the boys needed to do (which they do indeed do a few pages later).

Bruno is one of 21 Van de Hulst children’s books the publisher sent me, and so far this is our favorite. In some of the other books I’ve had to “mute” some of the action – for example, in The Rockity Rowboat I skipped over a description of just how fierce a big black dog looked – but what might be need a bit of abridgment for a three year old will be great reading for a child in Grade 1 and 2.

So, to sum up, Bruno is well translated, beautifully illustrated, thoroughly Christian, and engaging enough to keep a three-year-old’s attention for half an hour. You can order it, and the other Van de Hulst books, at Inheritance Publications (

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Can We Be Good Without God? A Conversation About Truth, Morality, Culture, and a Few Other Things That Matter

by Paul Chamberlain
1996, 202 pages

Interestingly, this book comes from a professor of philosophy at the beleaguered Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. TWU has had its right to establish a law school challenged by several provincial law societies because of its Christian code of conduct for students. Presumably, many lawyers do not believe Christianity should not be behind the laws of our country. Paul Chamberlain takes the debate one step farther and deeper when he examines, through an extended fictional debate among representatives of five philosophies of morality, whether we can be good without God.

When five people are invited to a series of luncheons by an unknown host, they begin discussing the basis of morality - why we believe certain behaviours are right and others are wrong. First up, Ted, the Christian philosophy professor at the center of the story, opposes the position that all morality is subjective - just a matter of our feelings. This is similar to an argument from C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man, reviewed previously on this blog.This gives pause for thought to Francine, the moral relativist. In a public lecture given by Ted, he invites the other four and the rest of his audience to consider the position that morality is objective - is based on some standard outside of ourselves. He takes on various objections to objective morality, including the biggest one - that different cultures have different moral practices. Again, Lewis also deals with just how common, rather than diverse, the moral standards of the world are in an appendix to The Abolition of Man. Ted notes that what seem to be radically different moral practices are often motivated by similar moral standards in challenging circumstances.

(Think of the often-discussed and very real issue from World War II of whether to lie to the Nazis about whether you are hiding Jews. In a broken world, it can be (almost?) impossible to maintain all your values (e.g. honesty, protection of the innocent) at the same time. This is not a problem with the moral standards themselves. Ted uses an even more controversial example of how the Inuit treated their elderly. You'll have to read the book to find out how well he deals with this objection.)

In the second part of the book, the mysterious luncheons continue, and each of the remaining three diners gets a chance to propose his own objective basis for morality - atheism, humanism, and evolutionism. Ted raises significant objections to each new foundation raised, demonstrating that the explanation is inconsistent with either itself or the real world. As Ted begins to figure out who is their mystery host - someone very interested in having a clear and logical basis for objective morality - he proposes that the only remaining basis for objective morality is God Himself, and takes on objections to his proposal.

Perhaps if the provincial law societies were to read Chamberlain's book, they would not of course instantly become theists, but they would recognize that morality needs a basis and be at least open (by the grace of God) to the understanding that we can only consistently be good with God.

If you would like to see how morality needs accurate faith as its basis, you can buy this book at Amazon.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs

edited by Bodie Hodge and Laura Welch
2011 / 24 pages

This book is often paired with Dire Dragons by Vance Nelson, and there's a good reason for that. Both books argue that, contrary to what the evolutionists say, dinosaurs (aka dragons) and people lived at the same time. But while Dire Dragons makes its case by sharing all sorts of physical artifacts of dragons from around the world – sculptures, drawings, etchings, reliefs, paintings, pendants, etc. – the editors of Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs make their case by sharing the many stories of dragons from around the world. If no human has seen a live dinosaur, then why do the descriptions of dragons in these stories bear such a striking resemblance to dinosaurs?

It's a good question, and the make their case with stories from Greece, China, Britain, and even America and South America. And while most every story is sourced, sometimes the source is a website, which isn't, in my mind, the most credible of sources. That bugged me a bit, because this is the sort of book that is going to attract heated opposition because what it is saying is so very counter-cultural. So when you know the heat is coming, why not go to the extra effort and make sure all your sources are rock solid? But that said, this is intended as a children's book, so maybe I shouldn't criticize it for not having textbook type sourcing.

It's short, just 24 pages long, but these are no ordinary pages: one has a half dozen envelopes to open with messages within (see pic), others have flaps to unfold, and on a couple there are even mini books to read. So there is a lot to explore, and this is a very fun of exploring it - there are lots and lots of fantastic dragon pictures to see. I’d recommend this for Grade 2 and up (and Dire Dragon for an older audience, maybe 10 or even 12 and up).

 The one downside is that target audience for this group 12 and up boys, is also a group that would very likely lose or rip bits of it. So if parents make a gift of it, they either need to give it to very careful kids, or be fine with it getting tattered over time.

You can buy a copy at by clicking here.