The year is 1950, and an eight-year-old George Henry Devonshire has finished a book, just published, called The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And now he wants to know Where does Narnia come from? George is old enough to know Narnia is not real, and yet at eight, he's somehow already wise enough to know that this story is about something very true. So where did it come from?
Born with a weak heart, the young George has been confined for most of his life to his own room, and, on better days, to the rest of his house. But his older sister Megs loves him fiercely and comes home every weekend from university, so George is sure she'll help him figure this out. Megs, after all, goes to Oxford, where the creator of Narnia teaches. She should just ask him! It turns out though, that Oxford isn't simply one college, but dozens, and Meg is at an entirely different school than where Lewis teaches. She sometimes sees him walking about, but the quiet girl doesn't want to intrude on the great man with bothersome questions. And yet, for her brother, she promises to try.
In the end, Megs doesn't so much manage to introduce herself to Lewis, as Lewis's brother Warnie introduces himself to her... and invites her for tea! What follows is only the first conversation of many. Megs keeps coming back because Lewis and his brother never seem to offer the simple answer that young George is after. Instead of sharing where Narnia came from, the two tell Megs stories about their growing up. Megs isn't into stories the way her brother is – her studies in math and physics don't leave her a lot of time, as she might put it, to waste on fiction – so even as she enjoys her time with the two men, she doesn't understand why they won't give her a more direct answer to relay to young George. Her brother loves the stories she brings home, but he keeps sending her back for more. George is aware, even though his parents and sisters have tried to shelter him from the knowledge, that he does not have long to live on this earth. So there's an insistent edge to his questions: he needs to know where such beauty and truth comes from.
Patti Callahan has married careful research with simply wonderful prose to create a fictionalized biography of both Lewis and his best-known book. I loved this so much I've given it to my mom and my wife, and I can't really give it higher praise than that. If you're looking for the serious sort of biography that tells you what the subject ate for breakfast on his 43rd birthday, you'll need to look elsewhere. But if you enjoy learning a little something from the fiction you read, or if you've ever wanted to know more about the man who gave us Narnia, you won't find a more charming introduction.
John Milton might approve. Marty Machowski's Dragon Seed covers much of the same ground as Milton's epic poems Paradise Lostand Paradise Regained. Both authors portray Satan's rebellion, the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, and the triumph of Jesus Christ over Satan's temptations. However, Machowski parallels this story of spiritual warfare with a view of the struggles of a teen struggling with grief and anger over the loss of his father.
Nick Freeman (an appropriate name for how he sees himself) is given a book of what his mother calls family history, which tells how Satan and the angels who followed him went from being glorious servants of God to loathsome dragons who spread the same seed of pride that led to their rebellion. Both Nick and his sister react to their situations with pride in different ways (one in conflict with his mother and the other in self-righteous judgment of her friend).
Nick's reading of the family history (ranging from warfare in heaven through the triumph of Christ in His crucifixion and resurrection to the portrayal of the end of history in Revelation) enables him to see and resist the dragon seed that demons seek to plant in every human heart. As for his sister... you'll need to read the book.
The book that Nick is reading is both the strength of, and the possible problem with, this book. Unlike, say, C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, Dragon Seed does not deal exclusively with the actions and words of demons, but also, briefly and imaginatively, with the deeds and speeches of God on His throne, His angels, and Jesus Christ on earth. While Machowski portrays the work and words of God with restraint and consistent with how God reveals Himself in Scripture, some may find the portrayal to be too imaginative.
If you get beyond that issue, the illustration of the devastating effects of pride, and the way back, in both the story Nick is reading, and his own experience, is reinforced by a twelve-day devotional that takes us through how pride is revealed and critiqued in Scripture and challenges us to join the battle against pride by humbling ourselves before God in Christ.
Nicholas Winston never set out to be a hero but he also knew what needed to be done. When the Germans were taking over Czechoslovakia in chunks, before World War II has officially begun, Jews in the country were trying to get their children out. Winston knew how to get this done, pushing the paperwork, bribing the right people, and arranging for families in England where the children could stay.
He ended up saving 669 children, most, or all of whom, were Jewish, and he didn't have to brave bullets to do it. That is the important lesson of this book: that there are quiet ways to do vital work. It was quiet work, but no less life-saving than what Allied soldiers did fighting to end the Nazi reign.
And in its quiet manner, Winston's is more like the important work we are called to do today – our fights are not in the trenches, but writing our MPs, or making donations to the right organizations. We can, for example, save lives by donating to pregnancy crisis centers, and do so at no risk to ourselves.
Winston was not Christian, so far as I can tell (it doesn't come up in the book) but his example is still one we can benefit from. This would be a great picture book for a school library, to be pulled out and showcased around Remembrance Day each year.
Any officebearer who wants to apply the Biblical peacemaking principles explained in Ken Sande`s The Peacemaker will appreciate the depth of the discussion in The Peacemaking Pastor.
Alfred Poirier approaches the issue of conflict within congregations from a Reformed and Presbyterian perspective. He shows how we are all part of the problem of conflict because of our desperately deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), and how peacemaking is a basic part of the message of reconciliation between God and His people, and among God`s people.
Finally, he makes clear how proper church discipline should support and promote peacemaking. A book worth study by consistories and anyone who knows how sin breaks down peace, and how our forgiving God is a God of peace.
What kind of book is suitable for study in the Fifth Grade, and in First-Year university English too? It's got to be some kind of weird and wacky wonder to pull that off!
The Phantom Tollbooth is a classic, old enough to have been around when I was a kid. It's also famous, so I may have seen it displayed prominently in the kids' section at the local library, but back then I would have been put off by the title – I wasn't into ghost books. I've seen it many times since, but only got past the title when I noticed it among the offerings at the Westminster Theological Seminary bookstore. They're not really about fiction (or ghost stories) so I had to give this a closer look.
It turned out the title tollbooth was a phantom only in the sense that it mysteriously appears in the boy Milo's bedroom. For those that might not have run across them – there don't seem to be many of them anymore – a tollbooth is a small building, usually large enough to fit just one person, where people pay to make use of a bridge or road. The author says of Milo "Nothing really interested him – least of all the things that should have” but even his curiosity is piqued to want to test this out. He drives up in his electric toy car, deposits some coins, and suddenly finds himself outside his room, driving rapidly down a road.
Among the first people he meets is a watchdog that can talk. And, more importantly, he can tick – Tock is part dog and part pocketwatch! The dog demands to know what Milo is up to.
"KILLING TIME!" roared the dog – so furiously that his alarm went off. "It's bad enough wasting time, without killing it." And he shuddered at the thought.
Milo soon learns he is in the Kingdom of Wisdom, a land divided after the old King died. His two sons have set up two cities – Dictionopolis and Digitopolis – with one devoted to words, and the other to numbers. The only thing the two sons could agree on was to banish their two sisters, the princesses Rhyme and Reason, and as you might expect, where neither Rhyme nor Reason can be found, craziness abounds.
I was almost a quarter of the way in before I started to get a feel for what sort of book this was. There's some Alice in Wonderland here, with Milo meeting odd sorts speaking confusing but clever things, in a country beyond normal maps. There might be a bit of Pilgrim's Progress too, with Milo learning his lessons by first treading down some wrong paths, and then meeting personifications of troubles he has to contend with. It's not a Christian book, but it is trying to teach a moral – Milo is here to learn that he has lots to learn, and that life is only boring to those too lazy to start exploring.
While there aren't any ghosts, parental eyebrows will be raised when the demons make their appearance. But they aren't that sort of demon. They live in the Land of Ignorance, and have names like Gross Exaggeration, and Horrible Hopping Hindsight. Overbearing Know-it-all is:
"a dismal demon who was mostly mouth...ready at a moment's notice to offer misinformation on any subject. And while he tumbled heavily, it was never he who was hurt, but rather, the unfortunate person on whom he fell."
The only caution needed is to remind children that demons do exist, and the real ones aren't so funny.
While this is studied in Grade 5, and my youngest in Grade 2 is quite enjoying it, this is not a book I'd recommend for younger readers to tackle on their own. It is 60 years old, and some language – like "tollbooth" – is unusual today, in need of explanation to pre-teens. And there are puns galore, many of which only a kid who enjoys playing with language will spot on their own. But that shouldn't be a problem, because this is a book that mom or dad could enjoy too, as they read it aloud to all their young charges.
So, two enthusiastic thumbs up for any and all who are twelve and up.
The six men we get introduced to here are given 25-30 pages each which is enough space to get a very good feel for them. It's also short enough that it avoids completely the indulgence evident in many a bigger biography of telling us what the subject ate for lunch on the third Tuesday of October, one hundreds years ago.
The half dozen that author Christine Farenhorst introduces us to are:
Martin Luther King Jr.
I enjoyed the eclectic nature of the selections – these six holding little in common outside their fame and influence, but all worth knowing better. I was more curious about some of them than others, particularly the very first, the American icon, Martin Luther King Jr. But after learning a little about his thoughts, and the political and cultural battles of his time, I skipped ahead to the profile of Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud who spent most of this life in Europe, and died when King was just 10. I'd read biographies on both men previously, but Christine's solidly biblical perspective brought new light to both subjects.
For the four others, I knew little more than their names – or their artwork, in the cases of Norman Rockwell and Rembrandt – and I enjoyed this opportunity to delve into their backgrounds, their age, and place. I enjoyed learning about Samuel Morse in particular, as he is the only one of these six who was clearly a Christian. Christine shows that some of the others, like Freud, clearly were not, while Rembrandt, had, at best, an odd relationship with his Maker.
Overall, this is a very quick enjoyable read – I think I finished it in a day. It was sad reading about many of these men's outright rejection of God, so I might recommend reading the profiles out of order so that you can conclude with Samuel Morse, and end on a happy note! Children who enjoy history, and reading, would likely enjoy this as young as 12. The short, 30-page profiles, would also make this a great title for adults who want to know their history, but are put off by the tomes that some historians publish.
You can order Listen! Six men you should know at many online retailers.
What are the “Great Books”? There is no one list, but the term is meant to describe a compilation of classics from Western Literature. Some lists are very long, topping hundreds of books, while others limit themselves to as little as 50, but the idea behind all of them is that these are foundational books – read these and you will have a better understanding of some of the key ideas or events shaping the world today. A Christian list would look different than a non-Christian, though a Christian list should contain non-Christian books. Placement is as much or more about a book’s influence as it is about its genuine insight, so pivotal infamous books do make their appearances.
So what exactly might be on such a list? Here is an example:
In this wordless wonder, a little boy on a class trip to the museum stops to tie his shoe and loses track of the others. He then discovers a small door in the wall that leads to a room with 6 small mazes on display. Next thing, we see a little version of him running through each maze, one by one. Has he actually shrunk, or is this him daydreaming and just imagining he’s running through them? Either way, readers in Grade1 and preschool will enjoy working through each of these simple mazes. As the boy makes his way to the middle of the last maze we get a glimpse of him having a gold medal hung around his neck. Right afterward, he’s big again and manages to track down his class. So was his maze adventure just a daydream? Well, on the final panel, as the class leaves the museum, we see the boy discover he does have a gold medal around his neck...and we see the museum director has one around his neck too!
Kids who enjoy the mystery of this tale will enjoy the author’s Red (2004) and RedAgain (2017) wordless stories which are more mysterious still. They should be bought as a set, with the ending of the one serving as an introduction to the next, and vice versa (or as my one daughter put it “They’re a circle!”).
More mysterious still is secret box (2011) in which generation after generation of children going to the same boarding school discover the same box, with a treasure map that allows them to meet up with the children who have discovered the map before. Some wordless books are too mysterious, such that it's hard to know what on earth is going on. This almost crosses the line, but Lehman's friendly, detailed drawing ensure this is still a fun one.
Less mysterious, but lots of fun, (and still wordless) is the author’s Trainstop (2008) where a girl goes on a train ride and encounters little people in need of a big friend. Another favorite is Rainstorm (2007) about a boy wandering his big house all alone who finds a key that unlocks a truck. The trunk opens into a very long tunnel under his house which leads to… well, you’ll have to get the book to find out!
Parents might think wordless books are good ones for their pre-reading or still-learning children to "read" on their own, but that's not so. These are books best experienced with a parent along for the ride, to help them learn the skills of deciphering story from visual clues. It's loads of fun for child and parent!
This is an old-fashioned fantasy tale, with a loosely Christian underpinning. Quentin is a young man who has had a quest thrust upon him. He was going to spend his life behind the walls of a temple, so this turn of events isn’t unwelcome. But he has to figure out how he can see the queen. And someone needs to rescue the king. Oh, and there’s a dark wizard that needs to be dealt with. Is this really a job for a young former priest-to-be who doesn’t know one end of a sword from the other?
The young Quentin, looking for help, meets a hermit of sorts, who serves not the gods, but the one God. That’s an ongoing theme throughout, as author Stephen Lawhead is trying to point readers to the true God.
However, Lawhead sometimes gets it wrong. Quentin is told that God leads by “hunches and nudges” and “very rarely by direct command.” But our God does give us clear direct commands, in His Word, though some who profess to be Christians reject His Word in favor of hunches. Also, when a soldier is dying and asks how to go to heaven, the hermit tells him to just believe, but doesn’t mention anything about God being holy, the man being sin-stained, and the need to ask God for forgiveness.
While those are notable flaws, and worth bringing up with younger readers, they amount to only a few paragraphs in a rollicking adventure. There is a true and proper villain who had delved deep into the dark arts – he's a necromancer even! – which sharpens the contrast with the hermit, who has turned away from magic to serve his Lord.
One feature I really appreciated is that, while this is the first book of a trilogy, it is a full and complete story – this is not the sort of trilogy that is actually one story split over three books. But readers can look forward to Quentin's further adventures in The Warlords of Nin and The Sword and the Flame.
Like any great children's book, this will be a great read for adults too – I'd recommend it for 12 and up.
10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament
by David Murray2013 / 246 pages
This book is really good enough for me to use as a resource in my Bible courses (and possibly even as a textbook).
David Murray explains how he first witnessed, and shared in, the discomfort that many Christians, including preachers, feel when confronting the Old Testament - not because of any disagreement with what they saw as its message, but because they wanted to proclaim Christ, not just God's ongoing relationship with His often disobedient people. He then reveals how he found the answer to this problem in the words of Jesus Himself, and in the words of His servants Peter, Paul, and John: that the Old Testament, just like the New Testament, is the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Murray shows how to find Jesus in the Old Testament as He is manifested in
the lives of His people,
His appearances to His people,
His covenants with His people, and
Murray makes his insights more accessible with study questions (some of which make excellent focuses for personal devotions) and references to both Old Testament and New Testament passages. I found his work so inspiring that I was slightly disappointed that I am not teaching anything from the Old Testament in the near future.
If you want David Murray to help you see Jesus on Every Page of the Old Testament, you can download it for free here, as long as you set up a free account, or you can order it from Ligonier Ministries.
Super creative? Ultra creative? Mega creative? Every good picture book author is imaginative, but somehow David Wiesner (1956- ) manages to be all the more so. His living clouds, flying frogs, and artistic lizards always provide a surprise – a reader starting one of Wiesner's stories will never be able to predict how it is going to end. That's a joy for parents to experience right along with their kids: a children's story that isn't predictable!
And since several of Wiesner's works are wordless, they can also be great books for reluctant readers to tackle alongside mom or dad. Wordless doesn't mean it's an easy "read" but together parent and child can put their detective skills to work to figure out all that's going on!
What follows are my family's recommendations – our favorites – and then a few that we've read but which for this reason or that, I'm not going to recommend like the rest. Finally, there are three that really aren't worth bothering with.
1988 / 32 pages
A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along in his dream. As dreams often are, this is wordless throughout, one page streaming into the next as the boy goes from meeting a dragon to growing giant-sized, to flying home on a leaf. It makes sense only in the ways that dreams do. But the smart-eyed reader will be able to spot on the last page, when the boy wakes up, all the objects in the room that inspired the different parts of his dream. This is one to “read” slowly and enjoy every picture.
Hurricane 1990 / 32 pages
Two brothers are worried about a coming hurricane. But when the lights go out, and the family is still together, the boys realize it's not so bad after all. It even gets quite good the next day, when they discover a huge fallen tree in their neighbor’s yard. In the days that follow the huge trunk becomes their spaceship, and the branches a jungle, and the both of them together, a pirate-hunting sailboat.
Tuesday 1991 / 32 pages
The only words we see tell us the time, and that it is a Tuesday. For reasons that are left entirely mysterious, at around 8 pm, a swarm of frogs suddenly starts flying (or is it their lily-pads that are doing the levitating?). They flock into town, chase some birds for fun, watch a little telly, and then, just as they are heading back, dawn breaks, and the sun's rays seem to sap their flying powers. That leaves the whole lot of them hopping back to their pond. This is silly nonsense and kids are sure to love it.
1999 / 48 pages
A boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building meets a rambunctious cloud (he discovers that clouds are people!) who takes him back to “Sector 7” high up in the sky where the clouds get their orders about what shape of cloud they should be. But the clouds seem a bit bored with these shapes and appear to ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. And what fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the rambunctious cloud returns the boy to the Empire State Building, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. This is another of Wiesner’s wordless books and another one that parent and child will have pouring over to see all that the pictures have to say.
The Three Pigs
2001 / 40 pages
When our middle daughter discovered this one she just had to share it with her younger sister right there and then. This is a creative spin on the old tale as the Big Bad Wolf blows the pigs right out of the story and into some others (including Wiesner's own The Loathsome Dragon). As they travel from storybook to storybook the pigs decide there is no place like home, but also decide to bring along a guest from another story – a dragon! – to give this pesky wolf quite the surprise.
Art & Max
2010 / 40 pages
This might be my favorite picture book. It involves just two characters, which makes this one easy to read out loud to the kids, and there’s so much energy on each page that performing it becomes so easy to do. Art knows how to paint, and Max desperately wants to learn. (Both are lizards, but aside from the fun way they look, that doesn't really matter.) But who should Max paint? When Aurthur suggests himself, Max literally starts to throw paint on Art. And that’s when it gets wacky! As Max tries to clean the paint off Art, he starts to clean all the color off him. Art is see-through; he’s just lines! Then, when that line starts to unravel, Art becomes just a scribble. Fortunately, his friend Max is on it, and proves, as he turns that scribble into a work of Art, that he has some mad skills too.
I Got It! 2018 / 32 pages
Once again David Wiesner lets the pictures do (almost) all the talking, When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve got it!” which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him, since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. But hey, reading together is fantastic!
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
The Loathsome Dragon
1987 / 32 pages
An evil queen/stepmother casts a spell which turns a princess into a loathsome dragon. Along comes a brave prince who has to kiss the dragon three times to break the spell. The only twist in this tale is that the brave prince is her brother, and not a husband-to-be, but that’s not enough to make this seem fresh. I should add that while I was unimpressed, my girls liked this a lot more than I did.
June 29, 1999
1992 / 32 pages
A young girl, Holly, sends vegetable seedlings into the ionosphere for her science project just to see what might happen. Soon after giant vegetables – house-sized and bigger! – start floating down from the sky. But wait! Some of these vegetables are not the sorts that she sent up. So where did those come from? At book’s end we discover the giant vegetables came from a giant alien chef accidentally losing his ingredients while flying above Earth. Very fun to see the giant vegetables all over the landscape but I think it would have been better without the aliens tacked on at the end.
2006 / 40 pages
When a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach, he brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves, and the world that they live in when we aren’t looking is certainly something to behold: little mermaids and mermen, robotic fish, giant turtles carrying shell cities on their backs, and even what looks like aliens taking rides on the guppies. Done without any text at all, each picture is another discovery. The very last snapshot is of a girl holding up a picture. And in that picture is a boy holding a picture of a girl holding a picture of a boy. A look through a magnifying picture shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals more still layers to the photo. This is inventive and fun, with the only cautions being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, the aliens and mermen are fantasy, not fact.
Tiny tiny aliens have landed, but unfortunately for them, their ship attracts the attention of Mr. Wuffles, who thinks it’s one of his cat toys. To repair their ship the little aliens recruit help from ants and bugs – their treasure trove of lost marbles, pencils, loose change, and paperclips turn out to be just what the aliens need to fix things up. There's some vague religious-type imagery written by the bugs on the house walls that, along with the aliens, makes this one I'd rather just skip.
Wiesner’s only graphic novel is the story of a mermaid girl kept captive in an aquarium by the owner who she believes is the god Neptune. It’s odd all the way around, and that she is swimming around topless for most of its 192 pages (though always with strategically placed hair, or fishes) makes this another good one to skip.
Robots get their babies in a box, with some assembly required. This story has its quirky charm, but when Mom and Dad, Uncle Manny, and even the Robobaby tech service can’t assemble Junior properly, but the child amongst them knows just what to do, this become just one more adults-are-dumb-and-kids-know-everything story that we can really do without (Prov. 20:29, 22:15).
David Wiesner is an incredibly imaginative picture book author, which makes him very fun to read, but it's that same active imagination that seems to lead him into a bit of over-the-top weirdness now and again. I couldn't figure out what Wiesner's worldview/philosophy is, and it'd be a bit much to conclude he must not be Christian just because he features aliens on occasion, though aliens (at least the intelligent sort) would seem to be incompatible with Christianity (but demons masquerading as aliens would not be). However, there's nothing in his books that would give us reason to conclude he must be Christian. In lieu of evidence one way or the other, that's good reason for parents to approach his future output with some caution.
If you have a creative kid, Wiesner's best could be just the spark they need to think bigger and bolder. And if you have a not-particularly-creative kid, Wiesner might be an inspiration for them too, showing them how there are all sorts of possibilities to explore and fresh ways of looking at things.
Finally, if you have a reluctant reader, Wiesner's wordless books – Freefall, Tuesday, Sector 7, and I Got it! – might be an encouragement for them to page through, especially if mom or dad comes alongside.
Did you know that baby elephants drink three gallons of milk each day? Or that “woodcock” means “roosters of the forest” And did you know female great white sharks are actually larger than the males?
God's Big Book of Animals is GIGANTIC - it's bigger than any other book I've read. It is filled with amazing information about intricate animals – like the great white shark! – all created by God. Each of the 60 animals are given 4, bright, beautiful pages full of descriptions, fun facts and pictures. Plus each animal has their own 14 x 10 inch full-page photo.
More fun fact examples include:
“Turtles do not have teeth. They have strong, jagged jaws that help them take bites.”
“Komodo dragons are also called monitor lizards.”
“Elephant… trunks are heavy, and can weigh over 300 pounds!
“A group of butterflies is called a kaleidoscope of butterflies, a swarm of butterflies, or a rabble of butterflies.”
“Baby octopuses can hatch in different colors. They can be orange, red, yellow, or different shades of blue.”
I think kids 7 and up would love this! But even kids younger would like the many pictures inside.
It’s the year 65 AD, and Gallus Sergius Vitas is one of the last principled men in Rome. He’s also a confidant of Emperor Nero which means his daily life is conducted on a knife’s edge: indulging the emperor’s perverse demands might keep Vitas safe but would compromise the man that he is; yet to openly oppose the emperor would lead to his immediate introduction to the Coliseum’s lions.
Our story beings with Vitas attempting this balancing act once again. Nero has dressed as a beast, his outfit comprised of lion and bear skins, complete with collar and a chain held by a servant. His night’s entertainment is to terrorize a group of prisoners while playing the part of a beast. Enjoying their fear, the emperor quickly works himself into a killing frenzy. Vitas sees this all from the shadows and can’t let it happen, knowing, though, that to oppose the emperor is to die. So Vistas yells at the chain-holding servant instead: “If the emperor knows you are involved in illegal torture, he will have you destroyed!” It is, as Brouwer writes:
“an all-or-nothing bluff, pretending that he did not know Nero was inside the costume. Trusting that Nero would be too ashamed to admit it. Now. Or later.”
Vitas’ bluff works, but not just because of his daring. An earthquake sends Nero scurrying away, convinced that the shaking ground is a sign of divine judgment.
It’s a great opening, highlighting the depth’s of the emperor’s perversity, the heights of Vitas’ courage, and the certain presence of God even in these pagans’ lives. In less talented hands, the earthquake’s unlikely timing could have come off as cheesy, since in real life God more often uses “ordinary means” (like doctors’ talents or wise friends’ advice) than miracles to accomplish His ends. But miracles do occur, and Brouwer makes it believable. It’s a good thing too, as this is but the first miracle in a story that’s all about how God used miraculous means – the prophetic words in the book of Revelation – to warn his Church to flee the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.What Brouwer and his writing partner, theologian Hank Hanegraaff, have done here is write an alternative to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ popular Left Behind series. Where Left Behind places the beast of Revelation 13 in our near future, Brouwer and Hanegraaff place him in the first century, in the near future of those who first received John’s letter. And they identify the beast as Nero and the bloody empire he led. This “partial preterist” (partial past) interpretation of Revelation holds that the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the city’s fall is a partial fulfillment of much of the prophecy in Revelation.
This, then, is fiction meant to teach as well and entertain, and it does both brilliantly. Brouwer has crafted a story that takes us all around the Mediterranean, with Jews, Romans, and even troubled Christians wrestling with the question of “Who is Jesus?” There’s also political plotting, assassination attempts, sieges, gladiators, and just a touch of romance.
The slowest bits are when theologian Hanegraaff has characters take a page or two to teach Vitas and others what a particular passage in Revelation means. If you’re reading it only for the story, these sections might drag, but they are well spaced out. And if you’re interested in learning about the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation, these will be your favorite passages.
One caution: Nero’s depravity, though described with restraint, still means this is not a book for younger teens.
If The Last Disciple series has you eager to read more of Sigmund Brouwer’s work, be aware that he is a proponent of theistic evolution, and also an Arminian. That doesn’t come up in this series (or his best book, Innocent Heroes, a treat for kids, teens, and parents alike) but it does come up in some others.
Finally, readers should be aware that partial preterism probably isn’t the majority view in Canadian Reformed churches (though I’m not sure what the majority view might be, as Revelation seems to be only rarely discussed). Some do hold it though, and it's also held by Reformed pastors outside our circles such as RC Sproul, Douglas Wilson, and Jay Adams.
The Last Disciple is a great book, kicking off a great series. The cast of characters is large, so if you’re like me, make sure you get the whole trilogy – The Last Disciple, The Last Sacrifice and The Last Temple – right away, because if you wait too long between books, you may start forgetting who is who.
I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – Sigmund Brouwer has got skills. And if you’d love to have partial preterism explained, well, this is the most entertaining way you could ever learn about it!
Our hero, Aidan Errolson, is a medium-sized twelve-year-old with dreams that are far bigger. When we join his story he’s just putting the finishing touches on a letter:
My Dearest King –
You will be glad to learn that I am still available for any quest, adventure, or dangerous mission for which you might need a champion or knight-errant. I specialize in dragon-slaying but would be happy to fight pirates or invading barbarians if circumstances require. I would even be willing to rescue a fair maiden imprisoned by evil relatives. That would not be my first choice, since I am not of marrying age. Still, in peaceful and prosperous times like these, an adventurer takes whatever work he can find…
For Aidan, it’s all that peace and prosperity that’s the problem. While his father was a great warrior, and his grandparents carved out a settlement on Cornwald’s wild eastern frontier, Aiden’s only excitement comes from the imagined foes he fights in defense of the flock he’s been tasked to tend.
However, things quickly take a turn.
First, Aidan hears the bark of the Bog Owl, a creature that has never been seen. Then the Bog Owl turns out to be one of the feechiefolk, who are no less the stuff of campfire stories, akin to impish elves, or fierce boogeyman, and like them both, entirely made-up. But this feechie boy is anything but… and he wants to wrestle.
Second, Bayard the Truthspeaker makes an unannounced stop at the Errolson farm to see, so he says, the “Wilderking of Corenwald.” And Bayard declares that it is none other than little brother Aidan. That’s quite the surprise, and quite awkward too, because Corenwald already has a king, and the Errolson family are his most loyal supporters.
Now, if you’re a bit quicker than me, this last bit might be ringing some bells, reminding you of Samuel’s visit to the house of Jesse (1 Sam. 16). This is where my middlest caught on, but I needed several more chapters. I finally figured it out when Aidan fights a giant. With a sling. And five stones.
In my defense, this is only very loosely based on David – Aidan has to deal not only with a giant, but cannons too, and there’s no feechie folk in the original either. That it is inspired by, but does not pretend to be, the story of David is part of what makes this so intriguing. While there’ll be no confusing the two tales, Rogers’ account will have you reflecting on what a tough position David was in, the king not yet crowned, loyal to, and yet chosen to replace, the failed king.
I usually list any possible cautions for the book being reviewed, but there are none for Bark so I’ll list one requirement instead: this absolutely needs to be read aloud. The feechie folk dialogue, as it is paced and misspelled, will have you speaking with the most delightful accent, without even trying. Jonathan Rogers makes it easy for a dad to sound good.
I really can’t praise this one enough. I started reading it on on my own, and had to stop midway and start again with my girls because this was simply too good not to share. The Bark of the Bog Owl has been compared to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not so much for story similarities, but because both are clearly Christian and utterly fantastic fantasy. Bark of the Bog Owl is a book that, if you do read it to your children, you can be sure that one day your grandkids will hear their own parents reading it to them too.
The two sequels – The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking – complete the story. This is really one epic tale split into three parts, so be sure to buy the set. You can preview the first 2 chapters here. And for a second opinion, read Hannah Abrahmason’s take at Reformed Reader.
What sets Jan Brett (1949- ) apart as a picture book illustrator is how much she packs into every page. There’s always lots going on right there in the middle of her double-page pictures, and then there's even more to see toward the edges – Brett’s trademark is to use the side and bottom borders to give hints to the attentive child of what might be coming next. So, for example, in The Mitten, the small picture on the right-hand border of every two-page spread gives us our first glimpse of the next animal to try to squeeze into the already crowded mitten.
What sets Brett apart as an author is the creative twists she brings to otherwise familiar fairytales. Goldilocks, the Gingerbread Man, Cinderella, and the Big Bad Wolf are all taken to new settings, with the most unusual reimagining being Cinderella as told with chickens.
All of her books are 32 pages, and all are aimed at the pre-school to Grade 2 age group (though older children will certainly enjoy revisiting them for years to come). But which Brett should you begin with? And which would make ideal gifts for the kids or grandkids, or purchases for the school library? With more than 40 books so far, there’s certainly lots to enjoy. What follows are my recommendations grouped by theme.
TWO SETS OF MITTENS
I couldn’t track down which is Brett’s most popular book, but in that’s she’s written three sequels to it, I’d think Brett’s favorite has to be The Mitten.
The Mitten: a Ukrainian folktale (1989)
After his grandmother knits him some snow-white mittens, Nicki loses one in the forest. But one boy’s loss is a mole’s gain, who finds it just the perfect size to crawl into and stay cozy and warm. A passing rabbit has the same thought, and, despite there really being no room, joins the mole, only to have a hedgehog, owl, and more squeeze in. The charming story has a fun twist at the end when Nicki recovers his lost mitten
The Hat (1997)
Hedgie gets a woolen sock stuck to her head, and the other animals use the rest of the drying laundry to fashion their own hats.
The Umbrella (2002) This retelling of The Mitten takes place in the jungle and begins with a little frog trying to find refuge in a little boy’s lost umbrella. But it isn’t too long before he has a lot of very close neighbors.
An Alaskan Muskox named Cozy becomes a refuge for cold animals seeking shelter. It starts with some lemmings, then a snowshoe rabbit, and so on. The attentive young reader will notice that this is another retelling of The Mitten but with its own creative twists.
Hedgie the hedgehog makes frequent appearances in Brett’s books, showing up in at least twenty of them. Most often it’s somewhere in the background (he’s carved into a bedpost in Goldilocks and the Three Bears) but in The Hat above, and in the books below, he has a bigger role.
Trouble with Trolls (1994)
A little girl, Treva, has to contend with some troublesome trolls who really want her pet dog for their own. Though she outsmarts them in the end, children might feel a little sorry for the trolls, who just wanted a pet. But the observant child will notice that, though they don’t deserve it, by story’s end, the trolls do end up with a wonderful pet. Guess who it is!
Hedgie’s Surprise (2002)
Hedgie helps a hen stop a thieving Tomten (a Danish gremlin) from taking her eggs so that she can have a family. The borders are done as needlepoint for added charm.
The Snowy Nap (2018)
Hedgie puts off hibernation long enough to see the farm in wintertime.
FAIRYTALES WELL (RE)TOLD
There is a reason the same fairytales we heard as kids are still being told – they are classics for a reason. But Brett’s taken on the challenge of improving on them, and in these four her success is obvious. The first three here are all versions of Goldilocks and there’s something to love about each one.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1987)
What sets this faithful retelling apart is the detailed, gorgeous pictures - there is so much to see! And the author also explains (which few other versions do) how the Papa and Mama bears could tell Goldilocks had been on their chairs and beds.
The Three Snow Bears (2007)
An Inuit girl, Aloo-ki, ends up at the igloo house of a family of polar bears. She’s less destructive than in the original, and the bears are more forgiving. The arctic landscape brings added charm.
The Mermaid (2017) This time Goldilocks is a mermaid visiting the home of the three octopuses. The ending is a little happier than it usually is – the little one gets a gift from “Goldilocks.”
Beauty and the Beast (1989)
To save her father, a girl agrees to live with a beast and his animal servants. That’s always made this my least favorite fairytale – what sort of loving father would let his daughter sacrifice herself for him? But while Brett’s version still includes this troublesome opening, the artwork makes it special. An observant child will notice the paintings shown on the castle hallway walls reveal what the animal servants used to look like back when they were human.
Town Mouse · Country Mouse (1994)
When a pair of country mice switch places with two city mice, they both learn that there’s no place like home. An added element to this version: a city cat and a country owl both intent on getting dinner.
Gingerbread baby (1997)
While the title character is full of sass, this is a kinder, gentler twist on the classic Gingerbread Man tale.
The 3 little Dassies (2010)
Brett has taken The Three Little Pigs to Africa, swapping in dassies (gopher-like creatures) as the architects, and an eagle as the windbag. It’s a little scarier than its source material because the eagle actually catches the first two dassies, But never fear – in the picture borders we can watch as they are rescued by a friendly lizard even as the eagle makes his unsuccessful attempt at Dassie #3.
THE REST OF THE BEST
Among this potpourri are original stories from Jan Brett, as well as folktales from other countries.
Annie and the Wild animals (1985)
When a little girl’s pet cat goes missing, she tries to find a new pet from among the wild animals in the forest. What she discovers is that none of them are a good fit. Fortunately, her cat comes back...and she brings some surprises with her.
Fritz and the beautiful horses (1987)
A scruffy pony wishes that someone would ride him but all anyone does is laugh at how he looks. But when the town’s bridge breaks, the sure-footed Fritz is able to do something the beautiful horses won’t – he can bring the town’s children through the river back to their parents. Hurray for Fritz!
Berlioz the Bear (1991) A bear and his band of musicians are stuck on their way to the gala – their donkey won’t budge. Can the rooster, cat, goat, or ox get him to move? No, but children will enjoy seeing how something much smaller can change the stubborn beast’s mind!
Daisy comes home (2002)
Set in China, this is the tale of a quiet meek chicken who gets picked on by other chickens. But on an unexpected journey, she has to fight a monkey, a dog, and more, and her courage helps her stand up to the chicken bullies when she gets back home.
Honey.. honey... Lion! (2005)
The honeyguide bird and honey badger normally work together, with the little bird showing the badger where to find honey, and the badger breaking things open so they can both feast. But one day, when honey badger decides not to share, honeyguide knows exactly how to teach him a lesson.
The Turnip (2015)
Based on an old Russian folktale, the badger family can’t pull their giant turnip out of the ground, no matter how much help they get. But when a rooster tries it on his own, and, unnoticed to all, he gets some help from below - bears pushing the turnip up out of their den – the turnip finally comes out.
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
A near-sighted armadillo befriends a pair of red cowboy boots and follows wherever their owner takes them. It’s fine, but just not as interesting as Brett’s best.
Hedgie Blasts Off
Hedgie goes to space to unplug a planet that shoots sparkles, much to the alien tourists’ delight. There’s nothing all that wrong with it (aside maybe from the aliens, because aliens don’t actually exist… but, of course, talking animals don’t either). However, its simpler format (no border pictures) and science fiction elements make it different and just not as enjoyable as Brett’s usual fare.
Gingerbread Friends In this sequel to Gingerbread Baby, the baby goes on a journey in search of friends only to find out that other baked goods can’t talk or dance. But when he returns home to find that his friend has baked him a whole bunch of gingerbread friends. Kids will probably appreciate this sequel, but parents will find it less creative than the first.
A unique turtle – she has a mossy garden growing on her back – is put on display in a museum. But Mossy pines to be back with the new friend (and budding romantic partner?) Scooty. To help the lonely turtle, the museum director releases her back into the wild. This is a gorgeous book, but its message about creature care is in line with environmentalism’s general “hands off” approach which stands in opposition to the “hands on” role God has assigned us as stewards. While this will go over kids’ heads I’m noting it because Brett is pointedly preaching here – there is a message to this book – and she’s directing that point to young impressionable readers. While I’d have no problem reading this with my children, it is one I would want to read with them. I’d tell them that, yes, it is important to address Mossy’s loneliness, but returning her to Nature wasn’t the only option – Scooty could also have been brought indoors.
Cinders, a chicken Cinderella
This is both a bizarre but enjoyable take on Cinderella, with chickens playing the principal parts. The only downside to this book is from a school library perspective: it has a double-page foldout in the middle, that’ll quickly get crumpled up.
The Tale of the Tiger Slippers
Tiger tries to throw out his old raggedy shoes that served him well as he worked his way to wealth, but no matter what he tries, they end up coming back. The story doesn’t have the usual Jan Brett spark, and because the tigers are dressed as people their clothing doesn’t allow Brett’s art to capture the real beauty of these animals.
Of the twelve books listed below, 8 have Christmas in the title, one is about Easter, and the other about Noah’s Ark. The problem here is not so much with anything in the individual titles but in what’s missing from all of them: God. His complete absence is so conspicuous it’s even noticeable to unbelievers – Publisher’s Weekly, in their review of On Noah’s Ark, noted how Brett:
"omits the biblical framework…. There's no mention of God or his relationship to Noah, nor any reason given for the Flood.”
If you read one of her Christmas books God’s absence won’t be as conspicuous since many a Christmas story skips over the real reason for the season, so that she does to doesn’t seem so glaring. But when an author writes eight books about Christmas and Christ never comes up, we have to wonder, what’s going on? In The Twelve Days of Christmas, Brett follows the song with “A Brief History” of the Twelve Days. She writes that:
“The Twelve Days of Christmas are the days linking Christmas on December 25 and the Epiphany on January 6, when the three Magi offered the first Christmas presents – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
Gifts to Who? The Magi get a nod, but Jesus is still ignored?
Individually, Brett’s Christmas books are simply fluffy fun, but collectively they are a studious avoidance of any mention of the God who became Man. So, why bother with them?
Christmas Trolls – Young girl teaches trolls that Christmas is about generosity.
The Easter Egg – An Easter Rabbit becomes the focus of the season.
On Noah’s ark - The boat itself is far smaller than the Bible describes and, contrary to Scripture, it says the mountaintops were not covered.
The Wild Christmas Reindeer – Elf learns that reindeer respond better to kindness than bullying.
Gingerbread Christmas - The Gingerbread baby and his band celebrate Christmas… with no mention of Christ.
The night before Christmas - The classic poem, with Jan Brett’s art.
The Twelve Days of Christmas - Brett notes that though the song is “named for this religious holiday” it “is actually quite pagan in tone.”
The Animal’s Santa – A rabbit discovers that Santa is “truly, truly true.” Sigh.
Home for Christmas - A young troll eventually learns there is no place like home. The Christmas in the title has no relevance in the story.
Who’s that knocking on Christmas Eve? – A boy and his giant ice bear scare trolls away from a Christmas feast.
Two others also worth giving a miss:
Comet’s nine lives - On an island where dogs are people, but cats are just cats, we follow along as a cat (rather gently) dies eight times.
The first dog – A cave boy turns a helpful wolf into his pet and names him “dog.” There’s a touch of evolution here in her presumption that this occurred 12,000-55,000 years ago.
If your kids are into picture books, then they’ll love Jan Brett – it’s as simple as that. Her detailed full-page illustrations are genius, wonderfully capturing the beauty of the many different animals she’s featured. There’s no one better.
You can watch below as Jan Brett reads her book "The Mitten."
Why shouldn’t Christians smoke marijuana? The go-to answer to that question used to be: because it is illegal. But with its legalization in Canada and many US states, that argument is increasingly irrelevant.
But are there any other reasons not to inhale? In this slim volume, Douglas Wilson says yes, arguing that it is a sin, and despite what’s happening in jurisdictions all over, it is the sort of sin that should also be a crime.
Intoxication is out
So why is it a sin? Wilson points to God’s prohibition against intoxication. While alcohol can also cause intoxication, he notes the Bible also spells out five legitimate uses including:
a celebratory, gladdening the heart, function.
It is this last one that is sometimes pointed to as a legitimate usage for marijuana, but in answer to that argument, Wilson notes that God’s condemnation of drunkenness and His call for self-control puts constraints on what sort of celebrations we should have. “True celebration is discipline, accompanied by hard work, training, and fruition of joy” while the use of marijuana “is a celebratory slide downward…”
His point is that alcohol goes well with a been-cooking-all-day-holiday-feast, with one wine pairing “well with the beef, and another chosen because it complements the pasta.” Meanwhile, “marijuana goes well with Oreos and mustard.” The one can be a part of a God-glorifying family gathering, the other simply a lead-in to letting loose. Thus “the only possible lawful use for marijuana is the medicinal, [but] the use to which everyone puts marijuana is the one that is denied to alcohol,” i.e. intoxication.
Should it be a crime?
Wilson also makes the argument that marijuana usage is not simply a sin, but a crime, and notes that’s a departure from the more hands-off stance he once leaned toward. Why the change? While acknowledging not all sins should be crimes – we wouldn’t want the government trying to police the 10th commandment – Wilson notes that in a finger-in-every-pot State such that we have, whatever isn’t criminalized is all too often then encouraged and tax-subsidized. And it isn’t hard to see how that would happen with marijuana usage. Our welfare state will have the government picking up the pieces, doling out tax dollars. That might be money for medical treatments dealing with increased cases of psychosis. Or it might be increased unemployment and welfare payouts that will be needed for the addicted.
Another cost will come to employers. The way legalization has proceeded, it as if it’s been some sort of neutral act, granting the pot-user a freedom at no cost to anyone else. If that were so, Wilson notes, then:
“…the liberty to smoke pot and the liberty to fire a pothead should be the same liberty. Otherwise, we are granting liberty to the privilege and no liberty at all to the responsibility.…[But] the way the push for legal pot is happening now, the pressure is on us to increase the liberty of the irresponsible while simultaneously decreasing the liberty of the responsible ones.”
Government will be stuck with the cost, as will employers, who will not be allowed to fire someone for using what will now be a perfectly legal substance.
Wilson is not arguing so much that marijuana must always and in all circumstances be criminalized, but more that presented with a choice of the State either criminalizing usage or encouraging it, then we should choose the former. But are those really the only realistic options? Can’t the State take a neutral stance, neither against, but also not for? Well, that latest bit of evidence on that front is Washington State’s “Joint for Jabs” where the government is using the promise of a free joint to promote Covid vaccination. It really does seem that if they aren’t against it, then they will be pushing it.
So what then is to be done? Wilson is writing for the US, where some states have legalized it and others have not, and there he’s hoping it might still be possible, if not to maintain an outright “red,” to at least run with a “yellow” rather than a “green.” Where it is completely legal, like Canada, the hope would be that at least the Church can recognize what should be – that it is a sin, even if it isn’t a crime. Unconfused on that point, God’s people can minimize our own addictions, and, to help others, make a push for restrictions, particularly for teenage and young adult usage.
Sinners need their Savior
The book concludes with a Gospel appeal, in which Wilson reminds us that it is only when our country turns back to God that we will be able to turn away from such addictions. But he is quick to point out that while our addictions should have our country desperate for God, we don’t turn to Christ simply to right ourselves or our country.
“If we treat Christ as the means to an end (freedom from drugs, say), then we are not coming to Him as Christ. He is a Savior, not a self-help specialist. We come to the Giver for who He is and not for the gifts that He might give. At the same time, He is the Giver of gifts (Eph. 4:8).”
Our culture doesn’t just need to be freed from addiction – a sober pagan is still going to hell. What the Church can direct people to is not simply freedom from drugs, but freedom in Christ. In Him, we are free to enjoy our God and Maker, and we are free to live to His glory. That will also be a freedom from addiction, but that is the fruit that comes from turning to God. What Wilson is reminding us of here is the need to point others to the Tree of Life, and not simply its fruit.
The value of Wilson’s book is, first and foremost, the section on whether marijuana usage should be a sin. The clarity on offer here could be a great help for our teens and young adults when (not if) they are pressured into trying it. For parents who think that won’t happen, just remember back to the parties you either attended or heard about where all the attendees were church-goers, but where underage drinking was prevalent nonetheless. So let’s not be naive about whether our children are going to be offered marijuana at their own parties today. Dad, mom, Wilson’s book is a quick, insightful discussion that would make for a great read for you to tackle along with your teen – it’s a tool here for you to use.
Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control by Elisabeth Elliot (1926-2015) 191 pages / originally published 1984
We have reviewed Elisabeth Elliot's books before in this blog. Hers was indeed a life consciously dedicated to God in Christ - including her "love life." That's what makes this book so helpful, as Elliot examines what it means to live as the bride of Christ, even while seeking a man or woman to live your life with in marriage in the Lord.
Elliot's book is a fairly easy read, because, like a good novel, her true-life story is an example of how to "Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control," rather than a textbook. She takes us through her budding romance with Jim Elliot, showing us what made him admirable to her in his Christian commitment and maturity (something that makes this book also suitable for guys to read). As well, she shows the difficulties inherent in waiting for God to make his will for their relationship, as Jim goes through his training to become a missionary with the commitment that he will not proceed further in his relationship with Elisabeth until he knows where and when he is serving as a missionary and how she will fit into that work.
In contrast to our culture's attitude to romantic love - the belief that it is just one more way to bring us ultimate fulfilment - Elliot insists that we must yield ourselves to Christ before and above anyone or anything else. She calls our culture's obsession with either romantic love or single self-fulfilment "The Serpent's Reasoning" - the promise of the snake to Adam and Eve in Eden.
Instead of seeking our fulfilment in either ourselves or others, we need to seek God, and Elliot reminds us of what she needed to remind herself in her relationship with God:
God is with us in our struggles with sexual temptation;
sometimes we may simply have to wait for God to make His will clear, and that waiting makes the final result sweeter;
God's will for us may be life as a single person;
suffering frustration by waiting to get married at the right time is good for us, because God exalts us by humbling us first; and
nothing shall separate us from God's love in Christ (not even frustration in romance).
I have only two cautions:
The foreword is written by Joshua Harris, who has also written on this subject, but has since renounced Christ.
Elliot states that while submision is God's command for wives, that does not give husbands the right to "demand obedience," for they are to use their authority in a Christlike way. She stresses the sacrificial nature of Christ's love for His bride - true enough - but then extends that description to say that He does not impose His will. It is not her main point, but this version of the idea that God is a gentleman misses the fact that as a Father, He is willing to "impose His will" on His dangerously straying children.
If you want to understand better the struggle between passion and purity, you can purchase Elliot's book here, or here in Canada.
Things begin with Anansi (uh·naan·see) the spider making quite the discovery: a strange moss-covered rock that somehow knocks you out if you say "Isn't this a strange moss-covered rock!"
It takes Anansi a couple of goes – along with a couple of hours of unconscious time, lying on his back – to figure this out, but once he does, he knows just how he's going to use this magical rock. He starts bringing his friends to come see it, and encourages them to comment on it. Once they do, and are lying on their back taking an unintended one-hour nap, Anansi goes to their house and takes their food. He begins with Lion, then Elephant, Rhinoceros, Hippopotamus, and goes on and on.
The careful reader will notice that there is another animal watching all these goings-on. Somewhere behind the bushes, on most every page, is the little Bush Deer. He decides to make things right by pulling a trick on the trickster. When Anansi invites him to go look at the rock, Bush Deer goes but he doesn't comment on the rock. He even pretends he can't see it. In frustration, Anansi ends up spouting the troublesome phrase himself...and down he goes! That allows the Bush Deer a whole hour to clear out Anansi's house and return his ill-gotten gains.
There are no cautions for this book, but parents should be aware that Anansi the trickster is a folktale from Africa, who, in some versions, isn't simply a spider but is a god in the form of a spider. So the only caution would be not to presume, if you are buying another author's Anansi stories, that they will simply be morality tales with animals standing in for people, as is happening here.
This is a fun animals-as-people folktale that rewards the observant child (even the pre-reader) who spots the bush deer long before he makes his first "official" appearance. On the first go, a child might need some encouragement from mom or dad to look closely, but once they spot the deer once, they'll love finding him the next times. That's what makes this a book kids will look through repeatedly.
Directives for Young Men by Mark Horne 148 pages / 2020
If you are not governed by God's word, which calls you, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to govern yourself, you will not be more free. Instead, you will be governed by your own urges, and will also lose the ability to govern God's creation, as we were originally called to do. Mark Horne shows how Proverbs reveals to young men just how to work out that creation mandate from Genesis.
Here are some of the headings of the chapters and sections Horne writes to show the superiority of wisdom demonstrated in Proverbs over many of the methods our society thinks will get us ahead:
Handguns Can't Shoot Down Poverty;
Immorality Impoverishes You;
Solomon On Cyberporn;
Control Chaos, Don't Inflame It (about the power of the tongue);
Leaving Toxic Talk Culture (a great warning about our social media feeds);
Wisdom Is Better Than Folly Even When It's Risky;
Let Go and Let God? (the need to train in godliness);
Total Ownership (the need for making a genuine plan for change);
Building a Better Man.
Horne's book shows just how practical and up-to-date the wisdom of Proverbs is. In the last two chapters, Horne shows how Proverbs dovetails with the wisdom of the New Testament. There is little explicit mention of Christ, but for young men seeking to live out their commitment to Christ, there is great guidance on "building a better man."
If you are, or know, a young man who could benefit from knowing what Solomon Says, you can get Mark Horne's book here, or here in Canada.
This is the true story of two Dutch sisters who knew that God could be trusted with their lives and that assurance gave them and their whole family the courage to hide Jews from the Nazis during World War II.
Our introduction to the sisters starts with the older Betsie ushering the daydreaming little Corrie out the door so she can go to school. Then we leap ahead to their adult life, with Betsie taking care of the household and Corrie helping her father in the family's watch shop. Then the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. As you might expect from a picture book, it is a G-rated account. That's accomplished via cartoonish pictures, and by covering what the Nazis had planned for the Jews in only limited detail like this:
"German soldiers planned evil things against people who were Jewish. In order to easily identify them and set those who were Jewish apart from other Dutch people, German soldiers forced Jewish people to wear the Star of David on their coats and ration cards around their necks. Before long German soldiers took many Jewish people away from their homes."
But even so, the reader learns that the Nazis hated the Jews, and the ten Booms knew God wanted them to act. We are shown how they smuggled in bricks to create a false wall in their home that Jews and others could hide behind, should the Germans come looking. In one interesting note, the author shares that the width of that space – at just 23 inches (by 8 feet long) – was not even as wide as this book opened up!
The ten Booms helped 800 people before they were caught. While readers are, again, spared from the worst details, we do follow the ten Boom sisters to a concentration camp, where Betsie dies. That isn't where the story ends, of course: in the final pages we see Corrie freed and, through God's grace, able to forgive the very Germans who so mistreated her and her sister.
There are no cautions for this book. But it is the second of a series of 5, and the subject of Book 4 is Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who has had a big role in promoting theistic evolution. So the ten Boom book is well worth getting, but not so the series.
This is a very good first exposure to the ten Boom sisters for students in Kindergarten and First Grade. My hope, though, is that it wouldn't be the last exposure they get – for teens and adults there really is no more encouraging biography than Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place.