Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Tuttle Twins and the Food Truck Fiasco

by Connor Boyack
58 pages / 2016

I've been trying to find ways to help my children see through the good-intentioned but ultimately disastrous view that the government should run the economy. So I was very happy to discover author Connor Boyack.

Boyack has written five "Tuttle Twin" picture books, in which the young heroes are 9 year old Ethan and Emily Tuttle. There is a moral to each of these stories, and it is always highlights a different government-caused economic problem.

The best of the bunch

So, for example, in my and my daughters' favorite of the bunch, The Food Truck Fiasco, the Tuttle twins find out their friend Amy is going to have to sell her food truck because government regulations are making it too expensive for her to stay in business. It turns out that the owner of Bob's Big BBQ – a bricks and mortar-type restaurant – is good friends with the mayor, and he encouraged the mayor to pass a law which banned food trucks from operating within 2,000 feet of a restaurant.

The twins learn a lesson in what "protectionism" is – this is when businesses lobby the government to pass regulations and restrictions that hamper and hurt their competitors. They use the government to stop competition. And, as the twins learn, that means customers are left with fewer, and often only the more expensive, choices.

When they hear about Amy's problem, the twins then organize a political rally and, eventually, embarrass the city council into changing the law. That means Amy will be able to still make a living with her food truck business. Hooray!

Now, you might think this sort of an educational book would be rather boring, but Boyack has done really good work here. The illustrations are bright and eye-catching, and by making the heroes a couple of kids the author inspired my own girls – five and seven – to ask how they can help people too.

They've also asked for me to read The Food Truck Fiasco repeatedly, which I have to admit was a surprise to me. I liked the book, but more for its educational aspect. They seem to like it for the story, and perhaps because it is just so different from anything else they are reading.

Cautions

I do have a caution to share. To fight city hall, the twins – with parental help – organize a rally that is just across the street from Bob's Big BBQ. The rally includes a half dozen food trucks. Which means they are breaking the new las. Is civil disobedience warranted here? I don't think so. We can't just disobey any law we don't like; we can only do that when the law requires us to violate God's law. And at the same time, this is a very civil form of civil disobedience. I talked about it with my daughters and noted that if the food truck owners had been fined, then they should not fight the fine, but pay it – they broke the law and did not have to, so they should accept the consequences.

The bigger caution I would have is with another book in this series. While the author is either Mormon or Christian (it's clear he is operating from some sort of Judeo-Christian perspective) it's clear he is also a libertarian. Now, libertarians and Christians can get along quite nicely, and on many issues, because we both agree that government shouldn't try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller government. But in The Tuttle Twins Learn About The Law Boyack's libertarian perspective comes out in a way that conflicts with a solid Christian perspective. In The Law children are left with the impression that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. And from that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do. So, just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money from you, the same should be true of government. Children will be left thinking that taxation is theft, and that simply isn't so – God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14). There are some good points made in this same book, but because it is aimed at children, I think it a bit much to expect them to sift out the good from the bad, so I would not recommend this title.

Other titles

There are three other titles in the series that are worth recommending.

In The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, the twins and their class go on a field trip to a pencil factory where they learn "not a single person on the face of the earth knows how to make" a pencil. They learn that the eraser was made up of three ingredients, that had to come from three different countries. The wood for the pencil could only be harvested with the combined efforts of loggers, and all the workers involved in crafting chainsaws, trucks, rope and more that are involved in bring the wood to the mill. Then they look at what was involved in making the graphite "lead", and the yellow paint, and the metal ferrule at the end that holds the eraser - the class learns that countless people are involved in making a pencil, but each one of them only knows about how to make their own contribution.

The point here is that a managed economy - where all decisions come up from the top, by people who are supposed to understand the whole process - couldn't make even a simple pencil. How wonderful it is then, that we have a market where we can trade with one another, and we can divide up tasks, and no one has to know every bit of it. Boyack has based this story on a classic economic essay promoting the free market, by Leonard E. Read, called, I, Pencil. It isn't long and it is very good, so be sure to check it out!

In The Tuttle Twins and the Creature From Jekyll Island the twins learn from their grandfather about why money was first created, how it is useful, but also how the government can, through inflation, decrease everyone's wealth – when the government prints more and more money, our savings becomes worth less as prices go up. (Government currency manipulation is the "creature" mentioned in the title.)

Though this is intended for kids, it would be a great one for adults to read too, to understand how government currency manipulation can have an enormous impact on the economy. It would also help explain the interest in alternate currencies like Bitcoin – people are looking for a type of money that governments can't manipulate. While my 7-year-old daughter read this, and liked it, I don't know how much of the lesson she actually understood.

Finally, in The Tuttle Twins and the Road to Surfdom the twins learn that a new road has so changed the traffic patterns that businesses on the wharf at their favorite beach are now going out of business. Boyack is doing a homage to economists F.A Hayek's The Road to Serfdom (a five minute video "cartoon" summary of Hayek's book can be viewed here). The lesson here is that government actions have enormous unintended consequences, and while those actions might help some, they can devastate others. It is, in other words, an argument for greater government restraint - the government should do less, and allow people to handle their own affairs, because individuals forging agreements with one another will come to decisions that are mutually beneficial.

Conclusion

While the series can be enjoyed by children as young as 5, I think to fully understand the concepts readers will have to be in at least Grade 2. I also shared this with a high school teacher because I thought it could serve as a helpful very quick introduction to some of these concepts in the older grades too.

If I were to order the books by preference, it would look like this:
  1. The Food Truck Fiasco
  2. The Miraculous Pencil
  3. The Creature from Jekyll Island
  4. The Road to Surfdom
  5. The Law 
I think the first and second are really something special, the next two are good but not great (because their stories just aren't as interesting), and the last I don't recommend because the problem with it is too subtle for children to really understand or see through. 

Overall, this is a wonderful, inventive way to get your children thinking the right way about some important economic issues. You can find Food Truck Fiasco at Amazon.com here. It isn't currently available in Canada, but you can get Miraculous Pencil at Amazon.ca here.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Wambu: The Chieftain's Son

by Piet Prins
182 pages / 1981

This is a book about cannibals – what more could any boy reader want?

Wambu is a young boy living in the deep jungles of New Guinea before the arrival of the white man. His tribe is a small one and hasn’t been able to eat any people for quite some time now so when Wambu and his father come across a strange girl wandering through their part of the forest their first inclination is to eat her. Fortunately they have second thoughts and instead adopt Sirja, the girl, into their family. The main thrust of the story starts here, since Sirja is a new Christian convert. Her Christianity is sharply contrasted with the village’s paganism.

Though Wambu likes listening to Sirja’s stories of Moses and Abraham and Jesus, he also likes going hunting with his father and learning about all the evil spirits in the forest. Sirja tell him that the white missionaries are wonderful, but the village’s witchdoctor insists that white men are evil spirits who have taken on flesh. Who is Wambu to believe?

When Wambu’s village is attacked by a rival headhunting tribe he escapes and goes for help…to the white man!

This is a fast paced book, with loads of interesting information about what it’s like to live in the jungle. Did you know that some people find caterpillars delicious? Or that they eat the insides of trees? Fascinating tidbits like this are thrown in throughout the book and make the story all the more compelling as we, the readers, are taken into the depths of a very foreign world.

The Chieftain’s Son’s only fault is that it doesn’t have a proper conclusion. It is the first of three books in the Wambu series and the story is incomplete without the other two books so when you buy the first you simply have to buy Wambu: In the Valley of Death, and Wambu: Journey to Manhood as well. (You’ll want to order them all at the same time, because once you start reading you won’t want to have to wait for the other books to arrive.) While I am going to try these with my girls in a few years, I would say they are most definitely "boy books." I'd suggest them for over ten, but add these are the type of books fathers would enjoy reading to their children – there is even enough action in them for Dad!

They are available from Inheritance Publications.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Praying Life

by Paul E. Miller
277 pages / 2009

I used to think I prayed a lot. I knew plenty of brothers and sisters in Christ who didn't pray nearly enough, and as an elder, I counseled many to begin and end each day with the Lord.

I no longer think I pray enough. (Probably no-one does, this side of Christ's coming, since "prayer is the most important part of the thankfulness which God requires of us.")

Part of the reason that I realize (again) that I need to pray more is this book.

I have read other books on prayer that challenge us (in one way or another) to "name it and claim it," and heard many people warn against that approach by reminding us that God is sovereign, and that therefore we should simply seek to do God's will, and seek His strength to do it. Neither approach seemed to reflect the combination of confidence and submission with which Paul, the psalmists, and many other Biblical saints approached God.

What Miller urges us to remember is that we are coming to our Father, and that therefore our prayers, even our "bad" prayers, are precious to Him. This does not mean that we get to simply pour out our rebellion against God before His face, but it does mean that when we are frustrated, when we don't understand what God is up to, even when we want Him to change His plans... we tell Him.

And then, like dependent children, we listen; we wait; we let His word, His people's good counsel, His Spirit correct us, direct us, and tell us what we really need to ask for next. Miller gives many examples of specific, Biblically directed prayers that get more concrete than simply "Bring back those who are straying" or "Heal him if it is Your will." What I appreciated most was his honesty about the fact that, as other authors have also stressed, if we want God to answer our prayers for real change, the answer will almost certainly be harder on us than if we had just left everything alone.

Jesus Himself yielded to the will of His Father, and went through suffering to bring salvation, but He did pray first - over and over. We, too, may often find that prayer will make our lives more complicated, more difficult, and more painful - but also more joyful, more peaceful, and more adventurous - than going our own way. Prayer is literally often "asking for it" - suffering, perhaps in unexpected ways - so that God may bring us closer, not just to Him, but to those we are praying for.

As I read this book, I began to think about big decisions in my life - many good, some bad - that were not preceded by prayer. Miller challenges us to sow, wait for growth, and then reap - pray, listen and wait, and go to work - rather than, as we often do, reversing that order - praying only after our own ideas and actions have failed.

Finally, Miller reminds us that our skepticism and even cynicism about prayer is a reflection on our living in and too much like our North American culture, and that therefore prayer is worth more time and more planning than we often give it, because prayer is part of, not separate from, our real life. To that end, he gives some very specific ways to work with prayer, to pray intentionally.

If you believe that Paul Miller can help you bring your "real life" and "real prayer" together, here's where to find A Praying Life at Amazon.com, and Amazon.ca.


Friday, April 7, 2017

Celebrating the Sabbath

by Bruce A. Ray
125 pages / 2000

In Celebrating the Sabbath pastor Bruce Ray warns there's a couple of ways we tend to get things wrong when it comes to Sunday observance:
Two equally great and destructive dangers that we must avoid when talking about the Sabbath are legalism and lawlessness.
In my churches we used to lean in the legalistic direction, turning this gift from God into a day of “don’ts.” Riding a bike, going to lake after church, or playing some basketball with friends were all things that “we niet doen op Zondag!” ("we don't do on Sunday!")

Forgotten commandment

But today the pressure is coming from the lawless side. It seems as if Christians in most other churches don’t have a problem with working on Sunday. Sure, many do take the day off (who doesn’t weekends off?), but if the boss wants them to come in, they won’t object. And when they get to go to church, they think nothing of going to brunch right afterwards and putting cooks, waitstaff and dishwashers to work on their behalf. The 4th Commandment has become a forgotten commandment.

It’s curious. It’s as if the Western Church believes there should now be just the Nine Commandments. I’ve heard it argued that the 4th Commandment was part of the Old Testament ceremonial law, and that like the rest of the ceremonial law it was fulfilled with Jesus’ coming.

Not fulfilled

But as Pastor Ray points out the Sabbath rest has a history that extends to long before God gave the Ten Commandments. It begins right in Genesis 1 and 2 with Creation.
…the Sabbath was ordained before the Fall, for all people of all time. It cannot be confined to the ceremonial law appointed specifically for the nation of Israel, but was intended to be a celebration of creation for Adam and all his posterity
So, no we are not down to just Nine Commandments….and that is a very good thing. God knows us, and in this command He gives us what we badly need. In Celebrating the Sabbath Bruce Ray includes a good quote from M. J. Dawn about how the 4th commandment is a blessing.
A major blessing of Sabbath keeping is that it forces us to rely on God for our future. On that day we do nothing to create our own way. We abstain from work, from our incessant need to produce and accomplish, from all the anxieties about how we can be successful in all that we have to do to get ahead. The result is that we can let God be God in our lives. 
Conclusion

There is a lot to love in this book. Ray address all the most commonly asked questions (like why the Sabbath is on Sunday now, rather than Saturday) but does so concisely. His clear writing, and clear Scriptural grounding make this my favorite reference on 4th commandment. It's slim size also means that it can be read in just three or four nights, making it well worth giving to any church member.

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