Thursday, April 28, 2016

Finding Winnie

The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear
by Lindsay Mattick
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
56 pages / 2015

As we were working our way through The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh I was delighted to find this treasure at our local library. It turns out that Winnie, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort.

It begins with charm. Just as Winnie the Pooh is begun with a father telling his son a story, so too this book starts with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case the storyteller is the great granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way he met a man with a baby bear and ended up buying him. To make a long story shorter (and not to spoil too much of the tale) this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown - ended up in the London Zoo where a boy name Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced and inspired.

It is a wonderful story, but what makes it remarkable is the charming way it's told. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, the same, did I mention charm? is there throughout.

The book concludes with a few pages of the real Winnie, along with Harry Colebourn.

Cautions

The First World War is made mention of, but nothing of the battles are shown.

Conclusion

For any fans of Winnie the Pooh this will be a real treat, no matter their age. Both my daughters and I were entranced! You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here.

In 2015 another picture book came out about the bear behind the bear. Winnie: the True story of the Bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is also very good, and if it had come out on its own, it would have found its own spot on our blog. Very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books. Check out more on it at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Wright Brothers

by David McCullough
320 pages / 2015

Match an astonishing story with a superb storyteller and what more could we ask for? David McCullough clearly had fun delivering a story that, if it weren’t true, would never be believed – the Wright brothers seem simply too good to be true. These two former journalists, now bike builders, simply decide one day to get into the plane building business. They begin by firing off a letter to the Smithsonian Institution to ask for all the information that can be had about flight because they are determined to succeed where all others have failed.

McCullough gives us the measure of these two men, by highlighting just how audacious their goal really was. At the time many thought human flight was an impossibility, and based this conclusion on the decades of failed experiments that preceded the Wrights’ interest. And while the two brothers are not poor, they don’t have the resources some other experimenters have been able to muster. So how could the Wrights manage what they did? McCullough credits it to determination, brilliance, patience, curiosity, and, did we mention determination?

At 320 pages this might seems a bit on the big/intimidating side. But but with 50+ pages devoted to the footnotes and index, it isn’t nearly as large as it seems. Who should read it? Anyone with an interest in aviation, or underdog stories, would love it. But I would most like to see this in the harnds of young men and older teens. This would be a wonderful book to inspire them to investigate, experiment, study, dream and work hard. That’s what the Wrights had going for themselves, and look at how far it took them!

To be clear, this isn't a specifically Christian book. Their father was a church bishop, and a man of principle and dedication, but he didn't seem all that worried about his boys irregular church attendance. While the two brothers were always very strict about taking the Sabbath rest, there isn't all that much in here about their relationship with God. So a fascinating biography but not a spiritual one.

You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Don't Worry - Rejoice!

Parents in Pain
by John White
1979 / 245 pages

Worry: Pursuing a Better Path to Peace
by David Powlison
2004 / 40 pages

While parents are not the only ones to worry, I suspect most every parent struggles with it, which is why David Powlison's Worry pairs up rather naturally with John White's Parents in Pain. We have reviewed both these authors on the blog before, but not their books on these topics.

John White is better known as the author of the Archives of Anthropos, a children's fantasy series. In that series he actually alluded to some of the concerns of his "real job" when his protagonists meet a girl with an unnamed trauma in her past. As a Christian psychiatrist, White is upfront about the fact that parents will experience pain, and that he went through that pain in the raising of his own children. Our children will not turn out exactly like us, and we do not have to take personal responsibility for their mistakes and sins that bring us pain.

One chapter in particular dealt with the issue of worry as a parent when White urges us to relinquish our certain "rights" and expectations parents have created for themselves. He urges us to give up:
  • our "right" to tranquillity, 
  • our "right" to repayment for all our work in bringing our children up, 
  • any expectations of respectability in the eyes of other parents, 
  • and any expectation that we can shelter our children from the consequences of their own action. 

In other words, let us stop making idols of our own powers to change others.

Some references to free will (but not in the Arminian sense), and to abortion as a possibly acceptable solution to teenage pregnancy (though strongly discouraged), should not keep discerning parents from benefiting from much good counsel and encouragement when our children put us through pain.

David Powlison's booklet is not specifically about parenting, but he uses a careful meditation on Christ's well-known words on worry in Matthew 6 to bring us (again?) to the recognition that "your Father is God." He is in control!

One other piece of counsel that both share is to act rather than worry! White mentions that while happy is an adjective, rejoice is a verb. Paul commands us to rejoice even when we have no earthly reason to be happy. Similarly, Powlison reminds us to exercise our Spirit-led will by deliberately focusing on God's promises (wonderful reasons for rejoicing!), and by giving to others in response when we are tempted to worry.

If you believe that either or both of these books will help you stop worrying and start rejoicing and acting in love rather than fear, you can order David Powlison's book here and John White's book here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

The question of God:

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life
by Armand M. Nicholi Jr.
2002 / 244 pages

While C.S. Lewis was 40 years younger than Sigmund Freud, he was well acquainted with his ideas. Freud hated and feared God, and as a young man Lewis found Freud’s atheism attractive. But after his conversion, Lewis used his considerable skills to answer and rebut Freud’s arguments against God. What author Dr. Armand Nicholi has done is presented a type of conversation between the two, with Freud usually presenting first, and Lewis them coming after to respond and correct.

So what do these two “talk” about? As the subtitle shares, C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life. The two also discuss whether morality exists and why there is suffering. And they take a close look at death.

It is a fascinating book, part conversation, but also part biography, giving us a good understanding of both men by sharing the similarities and differences in their histories.

The only caution I would note is that when it comes to the problem of pain both Lewis’s and the author’s Arminian leanings come out. For an interesting Reformed perspective, see Joe Rigney’s “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil.”

But overall this is a very readable, very interesting account of two of the twentieth century’s pivotal figures and their ideas, which continue to impact us today.

You can buy a copy at Amazon.com by clicking here or at Amazon.ca here.