Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Urchin of the Riding Stars

by M.I. McAllister
2021 / 299 pages

This was so good I had to share bits of it with my wife. This is an animals-with-swords tale, the hedgehogs, otters, moles, and squirrels all living together in the same island kingdom under the good King Brushen. 

But all is not well in the kingdom of Mistmantle – there are "cullings" being done to the newborn handicapped children. This is quite the somber subject for a children's book, and as the culling are considered for the elderly too, it's clear that the author is speaking to both abortion and euthanasia. 

The young Urchin is very much opposed, but his heroes, Captains Crispin and Padra, don't seem to be doing anything to stop it, and the third captain, Husk, seems to be enjoying it! So who are the good guys then? Who can Urchin turn to for help to save these children? It turns out some of the good guys are indeed good, but, on the other hand, some turn out to be really, really bad. 

This a fairytale that takes seriously the Chesterton quote about dragons:

"Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."

There is evil in this book, and the might even turn off some of its target preteen to early teen audience. But it gets to be quite the rollicking adventure soon enough, full of courtly intrigue, conspiracies, and heroes being heroic. 

I think the author is Christian, and the God of this story is referred to as "the Heart." This spiritual element isn't huge, but it is persistent and doesn't stray into anything weird or wacky. I know this will be a book I'll enjoy reading to my kids. An otherwise entertaining second book in this Mistmantle Chronicles series is marred by an agenda-pushing, albeit passing, mention of a female priest. The first book stands well enough on its own, so in our house I think we're going to start and stop with number one.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Nobody knows how to make a pizza

by Julie Borowski
2019 / 30 pages

The picture book’s title makes a claim that my daughter just couldn’t believe: “Come on Dad, you know how to make a pizza!”

But do I really? Sure, I know how to combine a pizza crust with cheese and tomato sauce. I’m even very good at it. But the point this slim volume is trying to make is that there is a lot more to it.

That flour I use started as grain that somebody had to grow, and I certainly don’t know how to do that. That farmer who does, brings in his crop using a wheat harvester, which he isn’t able to make himself. He’ll ship off his grain, perhaps via a train, which neither of us could ever manufacture. We also don’t know how to turn wheat into flour, and the folks that do, don’t know how to make the semi-trucks that ship their flour to grocery stores around the country. Making even the simple pizza crust requires a lot of different people all working together, with not one of them knowing how to get all the needed steps done. That’s why the pizza narrator’s claim – that “there’s not a single person on Earth who knows how to make me” – isn’t as outrageous as it first seem, And that doesn’t even get into the tomato sauce and cheese!

You might be wondering, okay, but so what?

The point of this little book (and the 1958 essay, I, Pencil, which inspired it) is to expose the arrogance of any big government’s central planners. Whether it’s full-blown communists who want to plan everything, or a democracy where the elected leadership “merely” direct large chunks of the economy (gov’t spending in Canada accounts for 45% of GDP, and their impact is extended further still via regulations), we have governments of all sorts all around the world that think they know how best to run things from the top down. However, if planning the production of a single cheese pizza is beyond the capabilities of any one man, or even a team of the very smartest people on earth, then why would we think the government could ever know enough to competently make the innumerable management decisions they make, from what minimum wage everyone should be paid, to how children should be educated in K-12 (and what they should learn), which companies should be bailed out or subsidized, or even how much milk should be produced?

Of course, if no one knows how to make a pizza, that prompts an obvious question: how is it that countless cheese pizzas are made every day?

Instead of someone at the top planning it all out, this miracle occurs without much planning at all. The author of this picture book makes more of a libertarian presentation than a Christian one, so I’m using the term “miracle” here for a wonder she doesn’t really attempt to explain. But Christians do have an explanation. Now, we might take for granted what the free market can produce – cheaper computers, innovations like the smartphone, innumerable kinds of bagel – to the point it seems too ordinary to call all of that a miracle. But the free market is a miracle nonetheless, completely beyond anybody’s ability to plan and create, making it all the easier to see God’s fingerprints. His commandment “Do not steal” creates property rights, which is the basis for one person trading what they own to another for something they want more. If you can’t steal from others, then the only way to provide for yourself and your family is by producing something other people will value. You get money from them to meet your needs by making something that meets theirs. So God’s law is the basis for free trade and it is unplanned, unorganized free trade that has miraculously proven to be the most effective way of raising people out of poverty. The government still has a role here – to prevent theft, enforce contract laws, and generally ensure that property rights are respected – but not in picking the winners and losers.

While that’s deeper than this picture book goes, what Julie Borowski does highlight is the result: all sorts of strangers cooperating with one another, each looking out for their own interests, but together creating something that none of them could make on their own – innumerable voluntary exchanges and, eventually, violà a pizza!

As noted, this book has a libertarian flavoring to it, and because libertarians can often be libertines on moral issues, their values can be at odds with what God knows is best. However, in this case the libertarian impulse for small government syncs up well with the Christian emphasis on humility and Man’s fallibility – we have a hard enough time trying to plan out our own lives, so it’s arrogant indeed for bureaucrats and politicians to think they can plan out everyone else’s lives for them. Better then, to limit (though certainly not eliminate) the government and what it does, so as to leave people the responsibility and allow them the freedom to manage their own lives.

This would be read to best effect with a parent along for the ride. Otherwise I could see kids enjoying it, even as they entirely miss the overall small government argument being made.

You can watch the author read her book below.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer

by Andy Runton
2004 / 160 pages

This is two stories in one, and at about 80 pages each, they have room for some real fun. In the first, we get introduced to Owly, who, as you may have guessed, is an owl. The forest creatures are afraid of him because, well, he’s an owl, and they know that typically owls eat creatures like them. But not Owly. He’s a kinder gentler owl, and all he wants to do is feed his fellow birds seeds. 

Sadly, no one trusts him, and Owly is all alone… until the night of the big storm! Then Owly finds a worm, half-drowned, and nurses it back to health. Worm, realizing he hadn’t been eaten, trusts and befriends Owly, which is the start of something beautiful. It’s never really explained what Owly does eat, but we can be certain that it isn’t cute little worms! 

In the second story, Owly and Worm meet a couple of hummingbirds and have a great time until the little speedsters have to head south for the winter. But don’t worry, they’ll be back come Spring!

It’d be more accurate to call these “talkless” rather than “wordless” because, even as the dialogue between Owly and his worm friend is limited to symbols and punctuation marks – a question mark when one of them is puzzled and an exclamation mark when they are excited – there’s the occasional shop sign or even a whole encyclopedia page entry on hummingbirds that does require the reader to be able to actually read. 

If you’re considering getting this for your school library, you’ll be interested to know there are two editions of this story, the first in black and white with this symbol-based dialogue, and the second, now titled simply Owly: The Way Home (2020) that is in full-color and adds in a minimal bit of verbiage between the characters. While I really like the original near-wordless version, it was sometimes a bit hard to decipher what Owly and his pal were saying to each other, so the second editions are probably the best way to go. Everything in this series seems to be gentle and kind including Just a Little Blue (1st edition 2005 /2nd edition 2020, 130 pages), Flying Lessons (2005/2021, 144 pages), A Time To Be Brave (2007/2022, 132 pages), and Tiny Tales (2008, 172 pages).

Monday, April 25, 2022

Maker Comics: Draw a comic

by JP Coovert
2019 / 124 pages

Cartooning was a fascination as a kid, so I've read a few different books on how to do it, and I think this might be the best overall introduction I've seen. One of its strengths is the way it teaches - via a comic adventure! Our guide Maggie, and her dog Rex, are trying to fulfill her grandfather's dream of having a comic library, but the villain of the piece, Dr. Stephens wants to turn the building into a parking lot. How can they stop him? A discovered treasure map might lead to just what they need to buy the building.

Alongside their treasure quest, readers are given 6 projects to complete: 

  • Learning the parts of a comic
  • Planning a comic strip
  • Drawing your comic strip
  • Making a one-sheet, 8-page comic
  • Printing your one-sheet comic
  • Make a bigger comic book

There's piles of information here, but kids only have to use the bare bones of it – just a pencil and a sheet of paper – to start making their own mini-comic books. And if they get into it, then they can dive back into the book to learn more about the different pencils, pens, brushes, and techniques they can use to get better. 

There isn't a lot of help offered for actual drawing technique – kids will have to turn elsewhere to find more on that. What this book is about is equipping kids to get a running start in presenting their story or joke in a polished and yet still easy-to-do manner, even while their art skills might be at the stick figure level. They can get excited about starting and completing an actual comic. 

The only caution is a minor one, a passing mention made in one of the comic captions about dinosaurs living 65 millions years ago. 

My 10-year-old daughter and I have read another in this "Maker Comics" series and found Build a Robot a lot harder to get off and running with – you need to have a spare small motor lying around. That said, Draw a Comic does have us interested in checking out others, like their Grow a Garden and Bake Like a Pro titles.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson

by Glenn McCarty
327 pages/ 2019

I’m sure I’m not the first reviewer to describe Misadventured as Mark Twain-esque. This is a tale of two very different boys, living out frontier life in 1876, and equally matched as both friends and rivals. Tumbleweed Thompson is a shyster and the son of a shyster, blowing into Rattlesnake Junction as father and son peddle miracle medicine from the back of their wagon. 

Eugene Appleton, a good son of the town’s pastor, is in the audience, watching as the peddlers are shown up and run out. But when Tumbleweed reappears on his ownsome, he pulls Eugene into a whole summer’s worth of getting chased by smugglers, trailing train robbers, and trying to outdo each other for the attentions of the mayor’s daughter, Charlotte Scoggins, a misadventurous lass herself. 

It’s evident the author is Christian, though that might not be apparent to the 10–14-year-old audience this is intended for because, even as Eugene means well, he doesn’t always act well (and Tumbleweed often enough doesn’t even mean well). That would be the big caution then, not to give this to boys who are struggling with telling right from wrong themselves. That does mostly get sorted out at story's end, when both boys do the very best thing, acting in defense of a widow and a man falsely accused. 

Loads of fun!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Once again, 5 good, but not "really good," comics

The name of this blog is "Really Good Reads" so why review graphic novels that are good but not great

It's because, while these comics themselves might not be outstanding, they are an outstanding way to get reluctant readers into the habit of regularly reading. Some of these will use pictures to draw them in, and then the story will keep them hooked. And then, as they grow, they can progress to more complex graphic novels which often have as much text as full-size books. And then it is only a hop, skip, and a jump to reading those non-graphic sorts of novels. Many of the more complex graphic novels have as much text as many a full-size book.

In other cases, graphic novels can serve as a great introductory level textbook to a topic. Think of it as a Dummies sort of broad overview, wonderfully accessible and still highly informative.

Unfortunately, many comic books are silly, racy, gory, or disgusting in other ways, so if you have a son or daughter who you've managed to turn on to reading, then they might start chewing through graphic novels, and be looking for more. So, to keep those fires burning, here are some solid suggestions.

Around the World in 80 Days: A Graphic Novel
by Jules Verne, Chris Everheart and Tod Smith
Stone Arch Books
2015 / 72 pages

This is a comic adaptation of Jules Verne's 1873 classic Around the World in 80 Days. The story begins in London, in 1872, when a man makes a bet with some wealthy friends that, in this "modern" age of wonder, he can travel around the world in just 80 days. They don't believe it, and are happy to make the wager. But, as if that wasn't challenge enough, our hero, Phileas Fogg, is mistaken for a criminal, and even as he travels around the world, he is pursued by a dogged detective.

This makes for a fun exploration of different sorts of transportation, and the different ways people dress and act around the world.

I read this with my six and four-year-old, and while graphic novels are not, generally, a group read, this worked well. Both of them loved the pictures, and reading it together gave me a chance to explain what a suttee was. This is the practice of burning a dead man's still-living widow, along with his body, on the funeral pyre. It was practiced in India, and in the story Fogg, and his loyal servant Jean Passepartout, rescue a young widow from this fate.

While the comic is 72 pages, the story itself is just 58, so there isn't the space to do Jules Verne's original novel true justice. Even the fantastic surprise ending is cut out. SPOILER ALERT: In the original, on the very last day of his journey Fogg is arrested by the detective, and isn't released until day 81. It seems he has lost his bet. But no, Fogg has traveled ever eastward, through one time zone after another, and that has meant that, on average, instead of 24 hours, his days have only lasted roughly 23 hours and 45 minutes - he was losing roughly 15 minutes a day. Or to put it another way, his shorter days meant that at the end of the journey, he actually had one whole day to spare - he had traveled 80 days, but in London that only amounted to 79! Thus, after his release, he discovered it was still just day 80 in London, and he had won his wager!

Now, if that explanation didn't quite explain things for you, then you'll understand why they skipped it entirely in the comic. In this version, he simply arrives in the nick of time. It is a sad loss for a grand ending, but an understandable edit for this medium and audience. Still, it is that type of abridgment that makes this a merely good, and not great, adaptation.

Machines that think!
by Don Brown
2020 / 120 pages

Where did computers and robots come from? Author Don Brown has given a comprehensive overview, starting with the discovery of binary, to the invention of mechanical computers, then transistors, and bringing us all the way to today's self-driving cars. 

Our narrator is Muhammad ibn Mūsa all-Khwârizmi, the popularizer of Arabic numbers (ie. 1,2,3, instead of the Roman numerals I, II, III), which might be a politically-correct effort to counterbalance all the other, Western-based, advancements in math and engineering the rest of the book details. If so, then thankfully, that's as far as PC culture intrudes. This is largely "just the facts ma'am." Old and new are introduced, from Blaise Pascal and Ada Lovelace to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Some of these folks had checkered pasts, so I appreciated that the author sticks with their computer contributions and doesn't get into anything else. 

Artwork is very cartoonish, with the exception of some schematics which are drawn more realistically. There are a lot of complex ideas and technological leaps details here, and this friendly artistic style helps make this a far less intimidating work than it might otherwise have been.

This is just the sort of broad overview that could get a certain sort of kid interested in engineering. I'd recommend it for ages 12 and up.

I survived the Nazi invasion, 1944: a graphic novel
by Lauren Tarshis
2021 / 160 pages

After the Nazis invaded and conquer Poland, they quickly start rounding up Jews, and placing them together, in ghettos. These are rundown neighborhoods, which the Germans then surround with barbwire to keep the Jews in. This is the story of Max and Zena, two Jewish children who get in a tussle with a German soldier and have to flee the ghetto to get away. They end up finding a sympathetic farmer, and a group of Resistance fighters who help them hide in the vast forests of Poland. 

This is an exciting story, with the Nazis almost finding them a number of times, and Max even gets shot. By story's end, Max is telling us that he has trouble sleeping, and we've seen enough of what he experienced to understand why. 

This is intended for teens, and largely age-appropriate, noting the many who died, without actually having any of the Jews we're introduced to get killed. That's not realistic - we're told in the appendix that more than 90% of the Polish Jews didn't make it to the end of the war - but that is understandable for this age group. There is a happy ending for all, a marriage in one case, a move to Israel for some, and a move to America for Max, Zena, and the father they've been reuinted with.

The big caution for this book concerns the violence. In addition to Max getting shot, we also see three German soldiers get shot, and a fourth hit in the face by a large rock, all of them presumably killed. While it is not especially gory, there is some blood shown. For 12 and up, this is likely no big deal, but because this is a comic book, kids a lot younger might be tempted to open it up to take a look. And they should be steered clear.

Fred & Marjorie: A doctor, a dog, and the discovery of Insulin
by Deborah Kerbel
illustrated by Angela Poon
2021 / 56 pages

This is the story of how, in 1920, Dr. Fred Banting's experiments on dogs led him to the discovery of Insulin. Both man and animals produce insulin, and it is used to regulate the amount of sugar in our bloodstream. Without it, a person can develop heart and kidney disease, vision loss, and more. The only treatment before Banting's discovery was to limit a person's food intake, to thus reduce their blood sugar. But this was starving someone to keep them from getting heart disease, so it wasn't much of a treatment.

The comic is simple and solid, a bit jumpy in parts likely because Dr. Banting's recall of events was also spotting in parts. It's a bit of a detective story, with Banting and his colleague first needing to figure out what it was that these patients weren't getting enough of. A middle-of-the-night moment of inspiration led him to propose a series of dog experiments, half of them having their pancreas removed to induce diabetes, and others studied to see what it was their pancreas was secreting. These secretions would then be injected in the diabetes dogs to see if they helped. This process is what eventually led to the discovery of insulin. But it did involve a lot of dogs dying. This wore on Banting, and the comic shows some of the emotional toil it caused him. But he knew that if they figured this out, he could save millions of children. So he kept on. 

The cautions concern age appropriateness. Early in the book there is mention made of children dying of diabetes, and some are shown in a near skeletal state (though in line drawings that aren't overly detailed). Sensitive children may also find it hard to read about, and seeing some of the dogs dying, though again, there is nothing overly graphic shown. A more notable caution is about the discussion in the appendix, about whether animals experimentation is bad or good. The book, in showing it, and touting the benefits of it, is clearly making the case for, but the discussion the back takes a neutral stance, noting some believe all life to be "equally sacred" and that sacrificing a dog to help humans is immoral. I suspect some Christian children in the young grades that this is intended for (Grades 4-7) might need a little help in seeing through the lie in that position.

Who was the First Man on the Moon? Neil Armstrong
by Nathan Page
2022 / 64 pages

Despite the title, this is more about the Apollo 11 moon landing, and the whole crew, than it is about just Neil Armstrong. And that’s what makes this an interesting, if all-too-brief, read. Like all the books in the "Who is" series, the pages are small, which makes for only an average of 4 panels a page - this could be read in ten minutes. Of course, that's also a feature for some young readers.

The story also ends with their landing on the moon, which is a bit of an abrupt ending but does also leave readers wanting more. So they can turn to another moon landing graphic novel, The Far Side of the Moon, for more.

One caution would be an incidental mention of the moon being 4 billion years old. Another: that this recommendation shouldn't be taken as an endorsement of the "Who is" books, since this secular series frequently celebrates people who shouldn't be celebrated, like evolutionist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, crossdresser RuPaul, homosexual activist Harvey Milk, abortion defender Ruth Badar Ginsburg, and communist revolutionary Che Guevara. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Rule of Law

by Randy Singer
2017 / 473 pages

Rule of Law is a legal thriller, but the story begins outside the courtroom, with a SEAL team storming an Arabic jail to free an imprisoned American journalist. When that mission takes a tragic turn, the fallout ends up in front of the Supreme Court. 

Author Randy Singer uses his fictional story to examine the real-world way in which the US government, and particularly the executive branch, has been acting as judge, jury, and executioner in placing foreign nationals on a “kill list,” and then taking them out, and those near them, via drone strikes. Singer doesn’t seem to be arguing against all drone strikes. But the title he has chosen certainly references the idea that we all need and benefit from accountability, so we all – including even the president – need to be under the law. Our leaders must not act like they are above it, as dictators do. 

This is well written, with a great balance of action, some romance, unexpected courtroom twists, and some realistic, subtly woven in, wrestlings with God. Singer is rapidly becoming a favorite author.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

A Different Shade of Green

A Biblical Approach to Environmentalism and the Dominion Mandate
by Gordon Wilson
2019, 189 pages 

Christians are right to be skeptical of an environmental movement that sees Man as a problem for the planet, rather than the steward of it. But, as Gordon Wilson explains in his A Different Shade of Green, Christians can’t simply be contrarians – we won’t arrive at the biblical position simply by being reactionary and anti-Green. Instead, our foundation has to be God’s Word, starting with the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28, and then God’s own evaluation of His creation as is expressed a few verses later: “and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). We are to value His Creation and the creatures in it because He values it, and we are to take charge of its care because He has made us responsible for it.

What Dr. Wilson has gifted us with here is a challenging and engaging Biblical Environmentalism 101 – he hasn’t worked it all out for us, but he is pointing us in the right direction. For more of Wilson’s creation care thoughts, be sure to check out his nature documentary series, The Riot and The Dance.

Monday, February 14, 2022

God's Smuggler

by Brother Andrew 
2015 (originally 1967) / 288 pages

This is an amazing true story about God’s miraculous interventions to get Bibles to his persecuted Church in both Communist countries and Muslims ones.

There are miracles all around us, but the rising sun, our pumping hearts, and babies’ wriggling toes do their thing with such regularity as to seem ordinary. Not so the miracles in God’s Smuggler. Here “Brother Andrew” (1928- ) relates one extraordinary answer to prayer after another: a needed cake delivered by an off-duty postman, money of the right sum arriving at just the right time, the instant healing of Andrew’s crippled ankle. 

Then, in his work smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, this Dutchman came to rely on the extraordinary becoming regular. Border crossings into Communist countries were always tense, but each time Brother Andrew would ask God to “make seeing eyes blind” and again and again God would do so. The same border guards who had just taken apart the car in front of them would simply wave them through or, if they did inspect their cargo, the guards would completely miss the Bibles crammed in everywhere. It was through these regular miracles that God used Andrew and his coworkers to deliver His Word to millions in the persecuted Church. 


While reading this to my children, I told them that we shouldn’t understand the many miracles Andrew experienced as evidence that he was always acting and praying as he should. He acknowledges himself that God honored some of his requests despite how he prayed. So we don't need to take this all prescriptively, as what we also should do, but we can take it descriptively as evidence of God’s great love for his persecuted Church.


We can also appreciate how aware Andrew was of his complete reliance on God. We all are, all the time, but when times are good we so often forget. Living his life in danger so much of the time, Brother Andrew wasn’t nearly so forgetful. 

This would be also be a valuable tool to impress on a younger generation that while in their lifetimes it has primarily been the culture that has been the biggest enemy of God’s Church, in many places, and at many times, it has been the government. 

I would recommend this primarily for adults, because it does take some discernment to think through where Brother Andrew is relying on God in a ways that we too should imitate, and where he might be getting close, or even crossing the line, into testing God. 

For a younger audience, just read it to them and discuss afterwards. Then it could be good for as young as 8.

Monday, February 7, 2022

The Divine Challenge: on matter, mind, math, and meaning.

by John Byl
2021 / 421 pages

Is the Christian vs. evolutionist/naturalist/materialist debate about the best explanation for why there is something, rather than nothing? No, says Dr John Byl, in this brilliant apologetic work. The real question is “Who will rule: God or Man?” 

In the world’s attempts to usurp God, they’ve crafted many a worldview to try to explain things apart from Him. Dr. Byl shares the world’s best godless explanations and shows, often in the proponents’ own words, how their attempts are self-contradictory or simply fail to explain what they set out to explain. Naturalism says there is nothing outside of nature, and materialism that there is nothing outside matter, so how can either explain how matter came to be, or the non-material world of math and meaning? Byl also makes evident how very often these godless philosophers understand the emptiness of their best answers, and yet cling to them anyway only because they hate the alternative: bowing their knee to God. 

This is a book that will stretch most readers, and in some parts (Chapter 14 was a doozy for me) I only got the gist of it…but what an encouraging gist it was! While the 2004 paperback edition is still available, Dr. Byl has made the 2021 revision a free ebook you can download on his blog here

Thursday, January 27, 2022

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura

2021 / 160 pages

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in detention camps around the US. They lost their jobs, their businesses, and even their homes, not because of any crimes committed, but simply for their ethnic roots. This same indignity wasn't forced on German or Italian Americans, even though Germany and Italy were at war with the US. Just Japanese Americans. And despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their loyalty and patriotism.

What the graphic novel We Hereby Refuse recounts are the stories of Japanese Americans who did protest, in very different ways.

One protester was an otherwise quiet young lady. Mitsuye Endo was a 21-year-old typist who lost her job when she was ordered to report to the internment camp. A lawyer asked her to sue the government for causing her job loss. He recruited her because she seemed the ideal candidate at a time when everyone was scared of Japan: she did not speak Japanese and didn't follow a Japanese religion like Buddhism or Shinto. She even had a brother serving in the US army. And she had also done everything the government had ordered her to. She was quiet and still she stood up, her case eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court, where she won.

Another story shared is that of Jim Akutso, who repeatedly tried to sign up for the Army but was refused because of flat feet. After he was imprisoned in a detention camp he was found out he'd been drafted, but now he refused. His reasoning was that if his country wasn't willing to let him live freely, then he wasn't going to fight to protest the freedoms he didn't even have. His refusal was condemned by many other Japanese Americans, who thought his actions cast them all in a bad light. He was convicted of draft-dodging, and moved from the camp to a regular prison, and given a sentence that extend past the end of the war.


I'm not familiar with the history here, so I can't really assess how fair the presentation is. I suspect that certain historical figures, particularly the Japanese Americans who acted as go-betweens for the prisoners and the US government, might dispute the way they are portrayed. However, the broad overview seems to be reliably done.

I don't generally recommend books that take God's name in vain, but I'm making an exception here because this is not simply entertainment but educational, sharing an event that needs to be more widely known. For Christian parents or librarians who might like to strike a line through it, the abuse occurs just once, on page 128. Another caution concerns age-appropriateness. Near the end of the book, an older woman kills herself in despair. She's shown beginning to wrap a lamp cord around her neck, and while it doesn't get more graphic than that, the act itself isn't something young children need to read about.

I'll also note that I've seen the authors making appearances on podcasts sharing their personal pronouns, so I rather suspect their politics and worldview do not line up with my own. But that difference wasn't evident in the book itself.


This was compelling, but I didn't find it an easy read. Some of that was due to my unfamiliarity with Japanese names, which had me confusing different characters so that I'd have to flip back and forth to keep things straight. But I was happy to keep flipping because it's a story worth knowing. We Hereby Refuse is a reminder that the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use that power with great restraint. What happens when it doesn't act with restraint? We get victims by the thousands and tens of thousands, as happened here. Another lesson? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims.

This would be a great purchase for Christian schools, and for parents to buy and read with their children. The serious subject matter means this is probably for 14 and up.

The 4-minute video below, offering some local news coverage, gives a good overview of the book.

Monday, January 24, 2022

When Faith is Forbidden: 40 days on the frontlines with persecuted Christians

by Todd Nettleton
2021 / 272 pages

Though it'd be best absorbed in the month-and-a-half that the title prescribes, I read this in just two days – it was simply too wonderful to put down. 

Each of the 40 chapters is a story of a Christian who shared God's good news with those around them, come what may. They shared it because they knew that the relatives trying to silence them, the mob trying to intimidate them, or even the policemen coming to arrest them, all needed what God had already given to them. So this is a story of Christians far braver than we, but more importantly, it is the story of the good God who sustained them. 

In a few instances He did so by way of big miracles: Muslims with no access to the Bible are reached in their dreams, a man shot twice in the chest survives because the bullets did no major damage, police tossing a house find a lost sewing needle but miss the three large boxes of Bibles in the middle of the room. In others, the miracles were maybe less spectacular, but exactly what was needed: a man who used to beat Christians is so won over he is now willing to suffer those beatings rather than stay quiet about his Lord, a woman whose husband was murdered is able to forgive the murderers, a drug addict who turns to God is instantly freed from his addiction. 

This is an incredible book, and much needed here in the West where we are terrified of speaking God's good news because of what it might cost us in status, or promotions, or friendships. These persecuted Christians want us to understand that for God's people, persecution is to be expected (John 15:18-21) but it need not be feared because our God is greater than the world and what we might have to suffer is nothing compared to what we have gained in Him.

This could be the sort of book you buy by the boxload, so you can give it to everyone you know.

Friday, January 14, 2022

It goes without saying: Peanuts at its silent best

by Charles Schultz
2005 / 160 pages

There seems something almost wrong about using a multitude of words to recommend a wordless book so let me hit just a few highlights and be done. The brilliance in this "tour through fifty years of Peanuts pantomime strips" manifests in at least three different ways.

  1. This is all ages. With no words to struggle over, my 6-year-old, still-learning-to-read daughter enjoyed this just as much as me. Might this be a gem for a reluctant reader?
  2. This is unique. We're all used to the regular puns that populate the newspaper comics page and know what to expect, but the sight gags here are humor of a whole different sort, and that curveball is sure fun.
  3. This is art. Schultz does a lot with a little - not just wordless, but his artistic style is also sparse, and it is amazing to see what he can communicate with just a few lines here and there.

I'll only add that if you enjoy It Goes Without Saying, you might want to check out Garfield Left Speechless. (or, for a twist, Garfield minus Garfield...although that one will be above kids' heads).

Friday, January 7, 2022

Kitten Construction Company: meet the house kittens

by John Patrick Green

70 pages / 2018

The author of Hippopotamister is back with another charming treat for early readers. The story begins with "the city of Mewburg preparing for a big project..." They are building a new mansion for the mayor, and to get it started the city planner has to find the right architect. He has a few candidates to chose from, and the first up has a brilliant design. But there is a problem: the architect is a cute kitten!

"Sorry," he tells little Marmalade, "I regret that you are just too adorable to be taken seriously."

When Marmalade goes off to drown his sorrows in a saucer of warm milk, he meets another kitten dealing with the very same problem: no one is giving him a chance, because he's just so cute. The two decide that maybe they can team up. When they get hired on to help at a big construction project, they think that maybe their luck has turned. But they soon realize that they aren't being given actual work - just busy-work projects.

That's when they decided that if no one else will take them seriously, they'll go out on their own. And that's how the Kitten Construction Company is born!

The kittens get to show their talents when the official mayor's mansion falls to pieces, and they can then take the media and their mayor to see their own, gorgeous, and fully upright, version. That's when everyone has to acknowledge that cute isn't the opposite of capable.

While most of the book's intended audience won't realize it, the author is kindly and gently poking fun at discrimination. He's making the lesson gentle, by making the source of discrimination "cuteness" rather than skin color or gender but what comes through is that treating people based on how they look rather than what they can do is ridiculous. He's also not hammering kids over the head with the lesson, feeling free to divert from the lesson to bring in some funny cat jokes.

The sequel deals with a similar anti-discrimination theme when the kittens get the call to design and build a bridge. As everyone knows, cats don't like water, so they'll need some help with this job. And standing ready are...the Demo Doggos.

Dogs? Marmalade isn't sure. Will that be, as the title asks, A Bridge Too Fur?