Monday, September 28, 2015

Ella's Big Chance

by Shirley Hughes
48 pages / 2003

Shirley Hughes' unique spin on the story of Cinderella is so very good it improves on the original. Some of that is due to Hughes artwork, and the setting: this is a "Jazz-Age Cinderella" pushing the story forward to the 1920s. Ella and her father run an elegant dress shop, making the finest of clothes. The evil stepmother in this case has some business acumen, and turns the small shop into an even bigger success. But the greater the demand, the more work there is to do for poor Ella.

The story follows along the familiar course of many an other Cinderella version, but with pictures all the more stunning, and a twist at the end in which (SPOILER ALERT!) the love-at-first-sight duke finds his Ella, but doesn't get the girl! This is really what sets this version apart and above - none of this nonsense about knowing someone for an evening and then getting married when next you meet again. Nope, Ella ends up with the store's delivery boy, who has always been there for her, and wanted to be so evermore.

While Hughes artwork is wonderful, the prose is superb as well. It flows so very naturally that, as I read this out loud to my girls, I felt as if I was one of those professional readers. I sounded good! But that is all to Hughes' credit, and not my own - there is a wonderful flow to each page of text.

I will add one caution: there is one use made of the term "good heavens," which some view as a substitute oath, and too much like a real blasphemy for their liking. Though I don't agree, I do sympathize, and want to alert readers to its use.

I would give this two very enthusiastic thumbs up, and recommend it highly to anyone who has three- to ten-year-olds. Oh, and this is probably far more a girl book than boy (though I have to say I really liked it too, and I am a boy).

You can buy a copy at by clicking here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!

by Mo Willems
2006, 34 pages

My kids and I love this for two very different reasons.

They love it because they get to interact with the book. Pigeon desperately wants to stay up late. But a sleepy-looking fellow at the start of the book (the bus driver from the previous book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) asks us to make sure the pigeon goes to bed. But the pigeon, like many a child we all know, doesn't want to go to bed and has all sorts of excuses as to why he just has to stay up a little while longer.
  • "I'm not even tired!"
  • "How about five more minutes?" 
  • "Can I have a glass of water?"
  • "Pleeeeeeaaaasssseeeeee!"
  • "I'll go to bed early tomorrow night instead!"
  • "My bunny wants to stay up too!"
He has all sorts of strategies - sulking, whining, begging, reasoning - but it's the children's job to respond to each one with a firm "No!" They love laying down the law!

I love the book because it gave me a helpful word to sum up my children's bedtime behavior. "That's enough guys," I'll tell them, "You're being pigeons and it is time to stop." They know exactly what I mean, and on a good night pointing out what they are doing in this quick and clear way is all I need to bring bedtime to a close. I'm not going to say it works every time - this isn't magic - but I do think any parent will benefit from having this bit of verbal shorthand in their parental toolbox.

You can buy a copy at by by clicking here.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Song of Songs: The Greatest Love Song

by Matthew H. VanLuik
208 pages / 2015

Way back in 1979, Victor Kiam coined a phrase in a Remington electric razor commercial: "I liked the shaver so much, I bought the company." While I don't recommend much else of what Kiam said, this little quip came to mind when I decided to review Rev. VanLuik's commentary on the Song of Solomon. Here's my version: "I liked the book so much, I recommended it for my classroom." Here's a lightly edited excerpt from my recommendation:
One of the greatest challenges today for adolescents in Christ’s kingdom is the world’s increasingly obsessive focus on self-determined sexuality. As much as we must often critique the world’s misplaced passionate focus on sexuality as the purpose of life, an even stronger obligation for us as parents and teachers is to show the responsibilities and rewards of Biblically guided intimacy within marriage.
That is why I am requesting a class set of Rev. Matthew H. VanLuik’s The Song of Songs: The Greatest Love Song, a strongly Biblical, Christ-centered view of the Song of Solomon that shows the ups and downs of love and marriage, both the day-to-day necessity to give of ourselves and the beauty of indeed being and becoming one flesh. Over and over he makes clear also that one cannot have a truly fulfilling marriage relationship without a living relationship with Christ. 
The book divides the Song of Songs into 16 sections that could each form a useful guide for note outlines made by a student or pair for presentation to the class, noting which stage of the relationship is dealt with, the problems and positives of that stage, the analogy to Christ’s relationship with His bride the Church, and the application to the issues that the students themselves face. 
These would become textbooks in our Wisdom Literature course for either Grade 11 or 12, which means that every student in the high school would eventually use them… and, I am certain, benefit from them.
Of course, it is not only teens who could benefit from a clear Biblical view of sexuality courtship, love, and marriage. If you believe that this commentary could help you and your family in, as the cover's subtitle puts it, "exploring the mystery of love in courtship and marriage," you can order it from by clicking here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Don't make me count to three

by Ginger Hubbard
155 pages / 2003

Soon after my first little one became old enough to articulate her sinful nature ("no" wasn't her first word, but it was the first she learned to shout with conviction) I asked friends who had travelled this route before a very practical question: "How often do you spank your kids?"

I was the youngest in my family and as far as I could remember my dad had spanked me less than a dozen times. Of course I don't remember much of what my life was like before Grade One, so I suspected the true count could have been greater by an exponential factor.

So I asked around. I knew spanking was biblical, but what I didn't know was whether it was something to be used only in the rarest of circumstances, maybe once a month or less? Or was spanking the sort of thing that might occur weekly, daily, or even a few times a day?

I asked around and the response I got was wry grins, shrugged shoulders, and a variety of "I don't really recall" and "All kids are different" answers. No one seemed willing to clue me in.

A few years later and as a seasoned father of three, I think I now understand why – it's because no one talks about spanking. Ever. So no one has any idea of how often other parents spank their kids. In this informational void, who would want to own up to spanking their kids multiple times the previous day if it turns out that all your friends only have to spank their kids a couple times a year?

That's a long way of explaining why I love Ginger Hubbard's Don't Make Me Count to Three! It is a highly practical book that offers all sorts of answers. While she doesn't give an exact number as to how many times a day, week, or month we should spanks our kid, Hubbard does make it clear that spanking is not some nuclear bomb option to be employed only when all else has failed. She makes a clear biblical case that physical discipline should be applied with regularity (and at some points in a child's life he/she may well require multiple spanking in a single day).