Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Little Robot

by Ben Hatke

136 pages / 2015

This is one of those little-girl-meets-little-robot, little-girl-loses-little-robot, little-girl-kicks-some-big-robot-tushy-to-save-little-robot stories. What sets it apart from all the others is that the first 26 pages are entirely wordless, and there isn’t much talking the rest of the way either.

The little girl, it turns out, is quite the amateur mechanic, so when she comes across an abandoned box and discovers a robot inside, she sets out to get it running. And she gets a little frightened when it does come to “life.” This little girl is also quite lonely, so once she overcomes her fear, she becomes convinced this is going to be her new friend.

However (insert ominious music here) she isn’t the only one interested in the little robot! His manufacturer has noticed he’s missing, and has sent a big bad robot on a search and recover mission. And this thing is massive – a semi-truck-sized beast that looks like it could eat trees!

When it swallows the little robot, it’s up to the girl, and some other new-found robot friends, to outwit the big robot bully and free her little buddy.


At one point the big bad robot also swallows a poor defenceless kitty, but never fear, the fuzzball isn’t chewed up – it’s just inside, waiting to be rescued.

The only other caution would be the notion of robots as people. Kids’ stories have all sorts of anthropomorphism – cats can have hats, rabbits have swords, and trees might even walk – so is it a big deal if robots get this treatment too? No, unless kids get too much of it. No one believes cats, rabbits, or trees could actually become people, but they are saying that about robots today. The world misunderstands mankind as simply “meat robots,” and from there, it isn’t much of a leap to think robots could one day become “metal people.” But we are more than our meat – we are body and soul, and no amount of hardware or software will ever engraft a soul into a robot. And that’s a point that might be worth sharing with our kids.


The protagonist of the story usually gives you a good gauge of the target audience, and as this one is a little girl, girls would certainly be among those interested. But it’s also got robots, and robots hunting robots, which will appeal to the boys. And as a mostly wordless comic, it will also have some appeal for early readers.

It has a bit of tension, which could be a bit much for some in Grade 1, but for most in Grades 1 through 5, this will be a real treat.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

The Dark Harvest Trilogy

The Dark Faith

by Jeremiah W. Montgomery
368 pages / 2012

The Scarlet Bishop
by Jeremiah W. Montgomery
304 pages / 2013

The Threefold Cord
by Jeremiah W. Montgomery
312 pages / 2014


I gave The Dark Faith to my oldest daughter, knowing only that it was by an OPC minister. The cover looked a bit dark and ominous, but I figured It’s by a Reformed pastor, so how freaky can it be? I hadn’t gotten to it yet because, well, I’d also figured It’s an epic fantasy novel by a Reformed pastor, so how good could it really be?

I was wrong on both counts. This was really good, and quite freaky. My daughter was only a few chapters in when she gave me this update: 

“Dad, the main girl has just fallen into a well of blood!” 

“Real blood?”

“Yeah, real blood!”

“Hmmmm… maybe this isn’t a good one to keep reading.”

“No Dad, it’s okay. I can keep reading.”

An OPC pastor writing about wells of blood? A couple of days later, and another update from my daughter: “They’re going to skin this nun alive!” And then, “Oh Dad, there’s something even worse!”

A story this freaky, that my squeamish daughter still wouldn’t put down? I had to start reading it too… and it was so good I didn’t stop until I was through all three.

The trilogy is set on a Great Britain-like island empire called Aeld Gowan, and the time is very pre-Reformation. The Church here isn’t quite the bed of hypocrisy that got Luther going, but it attracts both the devout and the power-hungry eager to use its influence.

Our hero is one of the devout, a monk named Morumus, who turned to the Church for another reason: knowledge. When still a boy, Morumus saw his father, Raudron Red-Fist, and all his soldiers, slain by nightmarish creatures whose song rendered the men unable to raise their swords and shields in defense. The boy Morumus was overlooked and escaped. Now, as a grown man, Morumus thinks that whatever it was that attacked his father, they were likely followers of the “Dark Faith” that once ruled the island. And he wants to learn more, to prepare the Church for what might be coming. But in ten years of study so far, he hasn’t found much of anything.

What his learning has done, however, is make him an expert in languages, and now his archbishop wants him to translate Holy Writ into the language of peoples who might still follow the Dark Faith. His love for the Lord, and his obsession with solving the mystery of his father’s murder seem to be converging!

This is a complex story, and not one that can be briefly summarized (the appendix of names is a much-needed feature to keep track of the extensive cast). There’s just so much here – whether it’s palace intrigue, a compromised Church, cunning enemies, or unexpected friends, it’s all here, and all wrapped up in an epic fantasy that is very relevant for our own time.


The cautions concern the gore, and especially a scene in which a monastery of monks, who were having their evening meal, are found slaughtered, their innards piled up on the plates in front of them (this was the scene my daughter was warning me about). Why did the author include that? I think to show the evil to be evil. And while there is gore, he’s not glorying in the gore, as some writers do. That’s why my 14-year-old could read it without getting too bothered, though this was a book she wouldn’t read at night. It is, however, why this might be better for 16 and up.


I was struck by just how well-written it is – this would make for a great read-out-loud if only I could find an audience brave enough to hear it. I don’t want to overhype it, so I won’t make comparisons to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, but I will say that outside of those two, this is really among the best of the best of Christian fantasy fiction. Epic, excellent, and insightful, telling an old tale that has lessons for our modern age. Two thumbs way up!

And if you want to hear another Reformed perspective on the Dark Harvest Trilogy, be sure to check out this review, by OPC member and teen (at the time), Katharine Olinger.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

Mooses with Bazookas

by S.D. Smith

2023 / 160 pages

I liked this book so much that right after I finished it, I read it again, this time to my kids for bedtime.

Like C.S. Lewis before him, S.D. Smith is a popular Christian author who had some curious correspondence land in his lap. In Lewis's case, it was serious stuff – he somehow got his hands on notes from a senior devil to a junior devil, instructing him on how best to tempt and devour people. Lewis later published this correspondence as The Screwtape Letters

Smith got sillier stuff, but how he got his hands on these letters is every bit as mysterious. Eleven "jug notes" from one Wally Warmbottom, author, expert, and solitary shipwrecked resident of the deserted island of Peachpitistan, somehow floated across the ocean to Smith, who lives in the land-locked state of Virginia. Smith doesn't understand it, but he collected and has now published the notes.

As Wally Warmbottom recounts it, his small island is full of peach pits and beach pits, both of which are tripping hazards. It also has a "story cave" with tales preserved there in jugs, written by, well, who knows? The stories didn't interest Wally, but he thought Smith could take a look, so the book includes, in addition to 11 letters from Wally, four of these short stories. What Wally missed, you will most certainly enjoy as "Binsley Bustbocket burns the buns" and "Rocket and Elsie and Rocket" are a hoot!

This is wonderfully stupid throughout, but I think I might have most enjoyed one running gag that pops up in a couple of Wally's letters, and also in the title story. Barry the Moose has been having quite the day: Fort Moosefort has been overrun by flame-thrower-wielding bears, Barry's lucky stick has been burnt to ash, and a bear bullet broke off a favorite bit of his antler. So now he's on the run, and who can this silliest of all creatures turn to when he's in desperate need? Well, Science of course. But when Barry invokes his god, it's always to no effect.

  • "The bears started firing rocket launchers at the cabin. 'Trust in Science!' I screamed..."
  • "I swiveled and saw a pack of wolves rushing at us with fully loaded shotguns. Were they locked as well? I couldn't tell. I didn't know if you could lock one or if you would even want to in a fight, because if it's locked, can you still shoot it? ...'Help me, Science!" I cried as I dove behind a skinny tree."
  • "The wolves had abandoned the chase – or at least the chase of me. Maybe that was bad news for J. J. whathisname or whathisinitials, but for me, no loaded or locked gun would be fired or shot at me for a while. May Science guide you, I thought towards J.D., finally remembering his intials..."

It's a joke that will breeze right over the kiddos' heads, but is there for mom and dad to appreciate. So, a silly goofy story, with some political subtext – what more could you want?

Maybe the only critique I might have is that, other than this being both hilarious and clean, I wouldn't have had reason to suspect the author was Christian. That said, it might be hard to include God – Who appreciates silly, but is not at all silly – in such a deliberately insubstantial book.

I'll rate this as a great one for everyone eight and up, so long as they can appreciate Dad-joke humor.

For a good taste of the silly, check out the book trailer below. And if you like this, S.D. Smith has written a less silly but more adventurous series on "rabbits with swords." Check out our review of the first book: The Green Ember.