Friday, February 21, 2020

Brave Ollie Possum

by Ethan Nicolle
373 pages / 2019

If you were ever a scaredy-cat, or if you might have one in your family, this could be a fun story to read together... though you might have to do so during the daytime, with all the lights on.

It's about nine-year-old Ollie Mackerelli, who is so afraid of things that go bump in the night that he's taken up permanent residence in his parents' bed. This is about how he learned to be brave. But his transformation doesn't happen quickly. Things start off with cowardly Ollie running to his parents' bedroom yet again to crawl under the sheets with them. That's a safe place to be, but it does come with a cost: three people in a double bed leave his dad with bags under his eyes and a scowl on his face. He wants to know when Ollie is going to grow up and stop being afraid of imaginary monsters. 

Then, mysteriously. Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle, a very strange, very large lady shows up at the Mackerellis' door. She offers to take their son to a "special go-away fun place where children like Ollie can be taken and all his fears will be gobbled up." Who is this lady? Her card says she specializes in "professional anti-scary therapy and comfortology." Desperate, the sleep-deprived parents hand off their son to the expert, hoping she'll be able to help.

But here's the twist: Mizz Fuzzlebuzzle isn't actually an expert in anti-scary therapy. She's actually an ogre. And all those bumps in the night? It's her pet monster making them. Ollie was right all along! But being right won't get him out of the clutches of this ogre. And to make matters worse, she wants to eat him. It turns out scared children are an ogre delicacy.

But despite being scared, Ollie gathers enough courage to spray the ogre with one of her own magic potions. Sadly, ogres aren't susceptible to magic potions. People are, though, so when the ogre spits the potion right back at him, Ollie is transformed into a creature that passes out in the face of danger: Ollie becomes a possum.

The rest of this rollicking tale is about Ollie, with the help of some animal friends, learning what true courage is: that it's not about being unafraid, but about facing our fears and going on anyway. The author of Brave Ollie Possum is one of the folks behind the Christian satire site so the book is every bit as funny as you might expect. Another highlight is the artwork. This is a full-size novel, but it could almost be called a picture book, with fantastic, fun illustrations every three pages or so.


The only caution I'll note is that this book about being brave is, at times, scary. I think it might be the book I am most looking forward to reading to my children, but there is no way I could read this as their bed-time story, or even in the middle of the day. I'm going to have to wait a bit, probably until they are all at least ten.


But for kids over ten, particularly boys, this will be so much fun. And for certain 9-year-old kids who are scared of what goes bump in the night, this could be a good day-time read with mom and dad to help a little one learn what being brave is all about.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Mission Statements: Two Books about What God's People Have to Offer the World

The Human Right:
To Know Jesus and to Make Him Known
by Rice Broocks
293 pages / 2018

What Is the Mission of the Church?
Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom,
and the Great Commission
by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert
283 pages / 2011


Is focusing on rights wrong? These two books explore whether the task of the church is to right wrongs, and secure rights; or whether instead, we must first of all witness to the right understanding of our need for Christ's righeousness before the face of God.

Rice Broocks's The Human Right contends that the most important human right is "the right to know Jesus Christ and to make Him known." There is a great deal of wisdom and inspiration in his affirmation of the necessity and power of the gospel to anchor and promote human rights. Vishal Mangalwadi's The Book That Made Your World covers similar territory by showing that the Bible changed Western civilization by showing the value of every human being as created in the image of God.

The problem with Broock's approach is not the foundation of his argument, but its direction. He moves from the desire for social justice in our world to the fact that such justice is best satisfied by the revelation God gives us in the Bible, to our own need for reconciliation with God in Christ through His satisfaction of the requirements of God's justice. Along the way, Broocks covers some compelling territory – the gospel as public truth, the reality of spiritual life, the authority of Scripture, the exclusivity of Christ, and the necessity to speak the gospel (not just "live" it) – but he ends, rather than begins, with the ministry of reconciliation and its fruit in the lives of believers.

DeYoung and Gilbert's book makes more clear the Biblical, rather than pragmatic, foundation for a missional approach to the gospel that begins with proclaiming the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ. They carry this out by:
  • defining the word mission in relation to the church;
  • outlining the Biblical narrative of God's work in redeeming his lost people;
  • clarifying the relationship of Christ's redemptive rule, social justice, and the Biblical concept of shalom to the task of the church;
  • describing the right motivations for doing good works, both as individuals and as churches; and
  • affirming the necessity of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.
DeYoung and Gilbert end with advice for the young, motivated, and missional that demonstrates how passionate pastors should approach their congregations.

All in all, What Is the Mission of the Church points the way toward a Christian passion for, first, the saving work of Christ, and, as a result, the love of the world over which Christ has established His reign.

If you want to explore Rice Broocks' contention that the human right is to know Jesus and to make him known, you can find his book here in the US, and here in Canada. If you want to know how to make sense of social justice, shalom, and the Great Commission, you can find the book by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert here in the US, and here in Canada.

Friday, February 7, 2020

The Winter King

by Christine Cohen
351 pages / 2019

15-year-old Cora lives in a time of horses, and swords, and meat pies. It's also a time of poverty, and bitter winters, and threadbare clothing, and not enough food to make it through to Spring. To make things even worse, ever since Cora’s father was killed, the village has treated her and her family as if they are cursed, and as if that curse is contagious.

But no matter, Cora is resourceful, and she’ll do just about anything to ensure her family lives through the winter. But how does a young girl stand up, by her lonesome, to the village god, the tyrannical Winter King, who is taking their food?

I didn’t know quite what to think of this book in the early stages. While the village other villagers were religious, Cora was not. And she was the hero. So how was this a Christian book, then, if the god in the story seemed to be the bad guy? Well, as Douglas Wilson noted in his own review, this is a very Protestant book in that Cora rejects a false religion in favor of the true one. She rejects the false representation of the Winter King that the village’s religious authorities maintain. But then she uncovers a book that tells a very different story about this King, presenting instead, a God who loves.


Cora is bitter and sometimes manipulative, and so driven to keep her family fed that she does stuff that she should not. There's good reason for her desperation – death is reaching for her whole family – but that it is understandable makes it tricky ground for the younger reader to tread. This is not a heroine in a white hat, and for the pre-teen, or even younger teen reader, used to simpler morality tales, they might not have the discernment skills yet to be able to cheer on a hero whose actions are not always praiseworthy.

I feel like I'm making Cora sound darker than she is. There is surely darkness in her – but there is also a darkness around her that she is fighting, futilely at first. But then hope comes.


From the cover to even the way the pages are laid out, this is a gorgeous book, with a deep and satisfying story. I'd recommend it for 15 and up, but I know adults will find this has real depth to it that they'll enjoy exploring.