Friday, April 29, 2011

The Perils of the Peppermints by Barbara Brooks Wallace

Recommendation: Recommended

The sequel to Peppermints in the Parlor, the story of orphaned Emily Luccock’s misfortunes continues. Her aunt and uncle seem to no longer want her, leaving her in the care of Mrs. Spilking’s Select Academy for Girls, a boarding school that proves to have a false reputation. As Emily quickly learns, the institution is not what her aunt and uncle were promised, and instead is more like a prison. Although she does make some friends, things for Emily go from bad to worse. But then someone with a connection to her past shows up, things turn around for the better, and Emily is reunited with her aunt and uncle. They did want her all along, and she is able to expose the academy for what it truly is. The writing style is compared to that of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events.

Positives: Many admirable qualities are seen in Emily as a leader and courageous girl. She also endures through many trials and keeps her head about her. Character development is done well, and the end delivers a happy result.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: There is no sense of God in this story, but there is a strong sense of upholding that which is right and true. Many opportunities exist for discussing the struggle between good and evil, and how evil triumphs at many turns. However, in the end the truth is known and all lies exposed. Parallels with reality that can pointed to are the trials of life (1 Pet. 1:3-9), the need for endurance in the face of hardship (Heb. 10:35-36), the sure victory that we can hope in, and knowing that God will make all things right in the end (Rev. 21:1-4)(and yet it is the beginning of a glorious eternity with Him).

Age Level: 8 and up (but this was a great read-aloud for my 6-year-old)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Hand that Bears the Sword by George Bryan Polivka

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

An intriguing account filled with high seas adventure, a mysterious creature, and two kingdoms at war  – all interwoven with the truths and display of Almighty God. Spiritual transformations and deepening faith occur all throughout this account while Packer Throme and his new wife, Panna, struggle to honor God in the face of adversity and uncertainty. How is he to pray when the entire crew considers him a hero, and yet he is reluctant to kill? How does she stay true to her marriage while a prisoner of the prince and learning of his dishonorable character? Many lives are lost in this war, but some are gained as the reality of God’s grace is seen and understood for the first time.

Positives: There is a clear gospel message with the need for repentance toward a holy and sovereign God, and that faith alone in the sacrifice of Christ alone is the basis for salvation. Also a factor in this tale is another law (like Scripture) that is followed by the enemy. The depiction of this world is timeless in regards to human nature, culture, and the many different ways that people perceive and respond to God and His people.

Negatives: Some violence due to war setting (I chose to conceal some of the more graphic parts from my son)

Talking Points:  There is no naivete when it comes to the exposure of characters who willfully defy and curse God, continuing in their rebellion toward Him even unto death. This shows plainly the biblical truth that the gate is narrow and the path hard that leads to eternal life. (Matt. 7:13-14) But even more powerful is the life-changing ability that He has in lives that formerly lived for themselves, then encountered the truth of their sin and need for forgiveness (Eph. 2:1-5). Even the cowardly prince in the end freely gives up his life to save another, having himself finally been reconciled to His Maker. This book covers a full range of walks of life (fishermen and seminarians, warriors and royalty), as well as different stages of relating to God --  struggling to honor Him in the darkest moments, simple and humble service to Him, and even some who know the Truth but choose to remain in darkness. God’s faithfulness to those who uphold His commands is clear, even when this means that they suffer.

This writing has so many various elements and facets of its storytelling that it will stretch younger readers and keep us older ones riveted. I was very pleased to see sinful human nature and the amazing grace of God portrayed so biblically.

One topic that is weaved throughout the book is one that you may or may not have had much occasion to speak with your children about. It is the issue of marital infidelity. Although it does not occur, there is certainly the opportunity and desire for it on the part of Prince Ward with Panna, Packer’s wife. He keeps her in the palace while Packer is gone and mostly treats her well, but the reader is privy to the longings of his heart. He also struggles with it, knowing it is wrong (good lead-in for talking about our struggle between flesh and spirit – Rom. 7, application to believers). There are times that he does make advances, and she repeatedly refuses him, even physically defending herself. She is a good example of faithfulness in what could be a tempting situation. The writer very clearly draws the parallel to King David and Bathsheba’s adultery, opening up a window into this well-known Old Testament event that is followed up by David’s repentance (Psalm 51) and the consequence of their baby’s death (2 Sam. 11-12). A great time to discuss the recognition of sin, heartfelt repentance, restoration to the Lord, and the reality of the results of sin – all against the backdrop of a holy God (Rev. 4:8).

Age Level: 11 and up

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In Front Of God And Everybody: Confessions of April Grace by K.D. McCrite

Recommendation: Recommended
In the first book chronicling the life of feisty 11 year old April Grace, we are introduced to the Reilly family – April Grace’s parents, her older sister Myra Sue, and Grandma Grace. This close knit family lives in the heart of the Ozarks.
This book was very entertaining as April Grace tells the story of her new neighbors that moved from California, plays detective to uncover the truth about her grandmother’s new beau, and learns about kindness.
Positives: Hilarious! This story kept me laughing from beginning to end.
Negatives: While there was no actual swearing, there were plenty of times that we were told that people were swearing and using foul language. While it certainly seems that the Reilly family is religious, they mention church attendance and prayer, it does not seem to go much beyond that to impact their everyday lives.
Talking Points: Throughout the story we learn April Grace’s thoughts and hear the words that she speaks as well. Controlling her tongue is something she (like all of us) needs to work on. The Bible is full of references to the tongue particularly in Proverbs. James 3:1-12 is a great passage on the importance of controlling our tongues. Talk to your children about the importance of their words.
Age Level: 10 years old and up
I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Sir Rowan And The Camerian Conquest by Chuck Black

 Recommendation: Highly Recommended

Author Chuck Black once again delivers an allegorical masterpiece! In Sir Rowan and the Camerian Conquest we live the tale of a young knight’s rise to prestige, power and wealth and his subsequent downfall as pride overtakes him. Through the difficult lessons he must learn and the consequences he must face, he surrenders his life the King and to His Son, the Prince. In what the author calls “one very loose interpretation” of the end times, Sir Rowan and his brother, Sir Lijah, are the two witnesses spoken of in Revelation 11. They speak boldly for the King and in the end receive their reward.
Positives: The story is filled with Biblical allegory on every page it seems. The storyline is imaginative and captivating. There are also discussion questions (and answers) for each chapter at the end of the book. These are great for helping your child unlock the allegories and see the Scriptural truths for themselves. I also appreciated the author’s commentary at the end which unfolded his purposes for writing the book.
Negatives: None
Talking Points: The discussion questions offer many Scripture references as they help you understand much of the allegory in the story.  The passage that kept coming to my mind was I John 2:15-17. As Sir Rowan sought the applause of men, ask your children, what in this world do they love? What captures their heart, what do they spend their time doing? Where has pride crept into their hearts? Proverbs 6:16-19 speaks of God’s hatred of pride. God desires a humble servants heart as spoken of in passages like Psalm 51:17 and Is. 66:1-2.
Age Level: 10 years old and up
I received this book for free fromWaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk

Recommendation: Recommended
Sam is a mouse who lives in the school library and loves to read books at night when everyone is gone. Eventually, he decides to write and illustrate some of his own books. He places them on the shelves according to the type of book, and the children and librarians are very impressed. He is able to inspire the students to write their own books, which they also place on the shelves of their library.
My daughter’s class voted this as their favorite book.
Positives: Sam displays initiative, creativity, an interest in all kinds of books, and a desire for others to enjoy the process and achievement of authoring their own books. He is also, in a sense, humble, as he is not eager to meet the people when they request his presence. In this regard, he does not want credit and attention for himself, but would rather help others to try something new.
Negatives: none
Talking Points: This is a good opportunity to discuss the importance of learning so that we can make the knowledge from learning our own, and use it in our own way.  The psalmist so often asks the LORD to teach him his ways, laws and paths. Psalm 119 is full of expressions of how the psalmist delights in the law of the Lord and puts his hope in God’s words. As we learn God’s Word and hide it in our hearts, we can then live life in every situation according to His commands.
Also, Sam helped others to enjoy writing their own books. We can share our knowledge of life and interests with others. Most importantly, we can show others in all these things the joy of walking with the Lord. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
Age Level: 5-7

Thursday, April 14, 2011

John Owen by Simonetta Carr

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

I had heard of this series of biographies but had not yet read them so I was so delighted to find them at my local public library! John Owen taught against the heresy of the Church of England during some very difficult years in England’s history. He strongly believed in the Bible as the Word of God and fought tirelessly for the freedom to worship as the Bible calls us to.
Positives:  A wonderful story of faith and perseverance. In spite of tremendous difficulty and the church being outlawed, he stayed in England and continued to spread the gospel and encourage believers.  A modern version of Owen’s lesser catechism is printed at the end of the book. This is a wonderful tool as you teach your children the Scriptures and theology.
Negatives: None
Talking Points: As the “Prince of the Puritans” Owen strongly believed in the authority of Scripture to govern all of life. Study these Scriptures which tell us about God’s Word (Ps. 19, Ps. 119, II Tim. 3:16-17).
Age Level: 7-12 year olds

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John Calvin by Simonetta Carr

Recommendation: Highly Recommended
A snapshot portrait of the life of John Calvin for young readers, this book will introduce your child to an early father of the faith. It also provides excellent historical background and basic theological concepts.
Positives: I liked the chapter divisions.  For my youngest (5 years old), we could only read a chapter or two at a time so it was nice to have these stopping points easily laid out for us. The pictures and illustrations enhanced the storyline. We particularly enjoyed the map at the beginning of the book and the pictures of churches. The section at the end titled “Did You Know” was also very useful in understanding the history and the time in which Calvin lived and ministered.
Negatives: None
Talking Points:  In Matt. 5, at the end of what is known as the Beatitudes, Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we are persecuted and reviled for his sake. Talk about how Calvin was persecuted, yet remained true to the Scriptures. What a pattern for us to follow!
Age Level: 7-12 years old

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Hat by Jan Brett

Recommendation: Highly Recommended

In this adorable story we meet Hedgie the hedgehog and his array of farm animal friends. Hedgie finds himself in a predicament when a stocking gets stuck on his head. All his friends are laughing at him and he begins to feel sorry for himself. Little does he know that his friends think he is pretty wise in preparing for winter.

Positives: A simple and cute story for young ones. I can’t tell you the number of times I read this book to my kids in their younger years! The illustrations are beautiful as well.
Negatives: None
Talking Points: At the end of the book, the little girl, Lisa says, “You ridiculous little hedgehog…Don’t you know that animals don’t wear clothes!” Talk about how God wonderfully prepares animals for each season so they don’t need clothes like we do. Colossians 1:17 talks about Jesus holding creation together, He is the sustainer of all life.
Age Level: 2-5 years old

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How To Be God's Little Princess by Sheila Walsh

Recommendation: Recommended (with hesitation)

I am not a huge fan of anything princess but I thought I would give this book a try. I think we tend to encourage too much "princess" behavior in our little girls. Yes, they need to know that they are loved and cherished by both us and by God, but a  strong princess mentality can cause some ugliness! This book was written to teach manners and etiquette to young girls and it does a fair job of that. It touches on some good subject matters, but I felt it emphasized "royalty" too much and didn't focus enough on Scripture. It did get better towards the end as it addressed attitudes and servanthood matters.

Positives: I did like that it provided many ideas for fun crafts and projects that little girls may enjoy. I also like that manners and etiquette are being addressed, beyond just saying "please" and "thank you". Some good practical advice was given for different life situations.

Negatives: I did not understand the necessity for the section on "Choosing the right tiara for your face shape" or the section teaching you how to wave like a princess. I also felt it didn't go far enough in addressing modesty and the reasons why we wear modest clothing.

Talking Points: While a portion of this book discussed the outward appearance of a princess, make sure your little princess understands that it is the heart that is most important to Jesus. Prov. 31:30 and I Pet. 3:1-5 talk about this.  Lastly, manners are very important as they show kindness and respect to others - like Jesus asks of us! (Eph. 4:32 and Phil. 2:1-8).

Age Level: 6-10 years old

I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Ale Boy's Feast byJeffrey Overstreet

Recommendation: Recommended
My main purpose in choosing this book was to expose myself to an author I was unfamiliar with. Jumping into the 4th and final book of the Auralia Thread Series was a difficult task. While I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s writing, I was so unfamiliar with the myriad of characters and the fantastical land and creatures where they dwelt it took me well over half of the book to begin to grasp the story line.  However, I am still glad that I read it and will probably have my kids read the series (starting from the beginning!) at some point.
The story opens with the King missing. The land the people are living in is turning against them, they fear for their lives they are looking for a way to escape. The Seers have lied to them and they are reluctant to trust anyone, even each other. The ale boy, finds an escape through an Underground River, but will they make it? And will they ever find their King, or Auralia and her magical colors?
Positive: A very well written fantasy.  As much as I understood of the story I enjoyed.
Negatives: I hesitate to state these negatives as they may be unfair due to my unfamiliarity with the previous books however the number of characters was difficult to keep track of. The fact that we would often jump storylines made it even more difficult. Any Scriptural or Biblical themes were sporadic and seemed disjointed.
Talking Points: One of the main themes of this book that I walked away with was the utter destruction and deceitfulness of sin. The Seers completely deceived the people and it caused the ruin of many lives as well as the people’s way of life. II Cor. 11 talks about Satan disguising himself as an angel of light and I Peter 5:8 tells us that our enemy (the devil) is looking for ways to devour us. The consequences of their belief in those lies were far-reaching. It is the same with sin. When we are deceived to believe that sin is alright there are consequences not only in our own life but in the lives of those around us. Once we are caught in that downward spiral, it is so difficult to escape. The Bible tells us that even creation is moaning under the curse of sinfulness. Talk with your kids about their own sinful hearts and the patterns of sin that are being established in their life right now. Patiently teach them to recognize their sin, repent, beg for mercy and forgiveness and put on their spiritual armor (Eph. 6).  

Age Level: 12 years and up
I received a copy of this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing group for this review.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Then I Think of God by Martha Whitmore Hickman

Recommendation: Highly Recommended
Everyday events are ordinary, but the children in this book have been taught to see and think of an extraordinary God, in the ordinary events of a day. This book provides a valuable tool as parents train their children to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength.
Positives: Besides the content of the book, I also enjoyed the multi-cultural representation in the paintings.
Negatives: None
Talking Points: The Scripture that immediately came to mind was from Deut. 6:4-9. This book provides an excellent example of this Scripture – teaching and talking of God through every activity in the day. It provides an excellent question to ask your children – When do you think of God?  Ask your children often and when you see something that makes you think of God – share it with your children.
Age Level: 4-8 years old

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tell Me Again About The Night I Was Born by Jamie Lee Curtis

Recommendation: Highly  Recommended
Every child loves to hear stories and stories about themselves are some of their favorites! This book tells the heart-warming story of the beginning of a family through the miracle of adoption. Honesty and humor are masterfully woven together as you join this family on their journey.
Positives: A strong sense of family is evident throughout. The illustrations provide entertainment and humor. I particularly liked the honesty with which the story is told.
Negatives: None
Talking Points: Tell your child stories about them and their family members often. Tell them your family stories of faith, of how God has worked in the lives of people they know and love. Psalms 9:1 says, “I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.”  Psalm 73:28 says “…I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” We are told over and over again in Scripture to tell of all that God has done for us. What a treasure to give your children a rich family history of stories about the faithfulness and glories of God.
Age Level: 3-8 years old