Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Theodore Boone: The Abduction by John Grisham

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

This is the second book in John Grisham's new kid series. This story focuses on Theodore and his best friend April who is kidnapped from her home during the night. The whole town of Strattenburg is fearful for young April. It is well known that her family life is not stable, but no one believes she would have run away.  Theo is desperate to find his friend and must use his investigative skills to help the police as they track down possible leads. I wasn't as enthralled with this story as I was the first book. I was disappointed that Theo didn't get to use his skills as a lawyer as much (more like an investigator). Mostly, I was disappointed because the story lacked the intensity of the first book, and the story line from the first book didn't continue as we were left with a huge cliffhanger. However, at the end of the book there is a hint that maybe the story line will continue in the next book.

Positives: A great book for a young mystery lover. While some of the story is predictable, there are plenty of interesting plot twists to keep young readers engaged. I also loved the comedy that was included in this story to balance the seriousness of the story. I loved when Theo went to animal court to "rescue" his friends parrot.

Negatives:  Theo and his friend are deceptive to their parents when they come up with a plan to rescue April. They justify it by saying their parents will be happy with the end result. I was glad to see that he did wrestle with this decision though.

Talking Points: Truth. It is a difficult thing these days for kids to grasp. They are being told from every which direction that there is no truth, or that they can create their own truth, and that truth is not important. We need to help them understand that there is a source of truth - God's Word (John 17:17) and that it is to be taken seriously. As I mentioned above, I was glad to see that Theo at least wrestled with misleading his parents, but ultimately he did choose the path of deception and that is never the right choice. We must help our children see and understand that truth is important because it is part of God's character. Jesus calls himself "truth" - it is what He is (John 14:6). The Bible is clear about how God feels about lying and deception as well. Read some of these passages and help your child understand the importance of truth (Ex. 20:16; Prov. 6:17; Prov. 12:19, 22; Titus 1:1-3; Heb. 6:18; Rev. 21:8) . While Theo was ultimately able to rescue his friend and it seems like everything worked out alright, we must teach our kids that disobedience to God's law never "works out alright."

Age Level: 8 years of age and up

Thursday, November 29, 2012

So B. It by Sarah Weeks

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

This is another book that my Jr. Higher is reading in school this year and it's a tearjerker. Ok, maybe not for a 7th grade boy, but for this mom there were a few misty-eyed moments.

Twelve year old Heidi lives in a small apartment with her mentally disabled mother. Her neighbor Bernadette has taken Heidi and her mother under her wing and cares for them. They are an interesting "family" since Bernadette has agoraphobia and refuses to leave her apartment. Nonetheless, they are a loving family unit who cares for and protects each other. As Heidi grows older though, she has questions about who she is, where she came from and does she have any other family? Her Mama doesn't talk so she can't find any answers there and all Bernadette knows is that they showed up at her doorstep one day when Heidi was an infant. As Heidi begins to uncover clues, she grows desperate to know and understand not only about herself, but about who her mother is. Her Mama only knows a few words and one particular word that she repeats often begins to haunt Heidi and she must find the answers. As she sets off on her journey of discovery there are many heartaches along the way, but Heidi does learn that you don't have to be related to be family.

Positives: I really just loved this story. The characters were so interesting and real, they drew me in and made me laugh and cry right along with them.

Negatives: Heidi seems to have a lucky streak in her! When they are running low on money Bernadette sends her to a slot machine and she always wins money to provide for them. Bernadette and Heidi are careful though and don't get greedy, Heidi only wins what they need. Being only 12 years old this is illegal and while Bernadette does acknowledge that, she feels like there is no other way to provide for this family. Heidi also hides her age in order to buy a bus ticket.

Talking Points: Heidi's curiosity about her family history is natural and there is nothing wrong about it, but the thing I will talk to my son about from this book is finding his identity in Christ. When we struggle with loneliness or acceptance we always turn to Psalm 75 to remind ourselves that God is sufficient - He is all we need. When everyone and everything on this earth fails, Christ is enough. He has promised to provide all of our needs (Philp. 4:19), He will always be with us (Matt. 28:20) and Colossians tells us that He is sufficient for salvation!  Matthew 6:19-21 tells us to not treasure the things of the earth. Teach your kids that Christ is enough - He is more than enough! No matter what our life on earth is like we can be a part of the family of Christ, accepted and loved far beyond the love any  human could offer.

Age Level: 11 years of age and up

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Uncle Jesus by Georgia Lee Anderson

Recommendation: *** (3 stars)

In this fictional account we meet young Shem who misses his Uncle Jesus. Shem (fictional character) is the son of Jesus' brother, Jude. After sharing some of his favorite memories of his uncle, Shem hears from his Grandma Mary the story of when Jesus was born and how his father and other uncles came to understand that Jesus was not just their brother, but their Savior as well.

Positives: A clever and beautiful story. I thoroughly enjoyed how the author explored Jesus' family life. While the Bible does not specifically say that Jesus had nephews, we do know that he had brothers and sisters so this is a plausible fiction story.

Negatives: While the author intends for this story to be fictional, she does use biblical elements throughout the story. That being the case, there was an element of the story that bothered me. Twice in the story it is represented that Jesus was not the oldest child of Mary and Joseph. First, Jesus is referred to as "...their little brother..." and secondly when Mary recounts the story of their flight to Egypt she tells Shem that Jesus' brothers were upset because they had to tend the shop for Joseph while they were gone. If any of Jesus' brothers were alive when they fled to Egypt, they certainly weren't old enough to tend a shop. I know these are small details in a fictional story, but when dealing with Scripture, we must be careful to accurately portray what it says even to the smallest detail.

Talking Points: What would it be like to live with a brother who never sinned? Do you think it was hard for Jesus' brothers to live with him? Shem was thankful for his Uncle Jesus, but he also prayed to thank God for the Holy Spirit. In John 14:16 Jesus promises his disciples to send the Holy Spirit and today, all believers have the Holy Spirit living in them. Is this any different than Shem having his Uncle Jesus with him? Talk to your kids about the Holy Spirit and how He is always with Christians. On earth, Jesus could not be everywhere at all times, but we have the Holy Spirit who can teach, help and guide us every moment of the day (John 16:7,13).

Age Level: 3-8 years of age

I received a free copy of this book through the BookCrash program in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Taken by Brock Eastman

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

In this futuristic novel the four Wikk children are on a desperate mission to find their parents and uncover the clues they have left behind that will help them discover the truth about the planet Ursprung and the beginnings of life. As they travel from planet to planet they don't know who to trust and sometime complicate matters by fighting amongst themselves. There are so many secrets to uncover - secrets about themselves, their parents, the Ubel renegades. Will they be in time? Can Oliver protect his brothers and sister? Will they ever see their parents again?

Positives: I loved this fast-paced and riveting story! I really enjoyed the realistic relationships between the siblings. They love each other, but boy can they get mad with each other! The characters were well developed and it was great to see and understand their personalities. The gadgets they use are really fun and it liked the drawings of the Phoenix and the visual glossary in the back. I also thoroughly enjoyed the Blauwe Menson (the Blue People)! They were so cool! I cannot wait to read the rest of the series!

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Actions have consequences. In this story Austin and Mason disobey their brother and leave the Phoenix when they are not supposed to. This action has consequences! In the story, we don't even know or understand all the consequences these actions might have and in life we don't always think clearly about the consequences we or others may face for our actions. God promises that with disobedience comes discipline. The Old Testament is full of stories of people who disobeyed and the consequences they suffered (Achan in Josh. 7, Moses in Num. 20, Lot's wife in Gen. 19, David in 2 Sam. 11-12). Our actions also affect others. We need to carefully consider actions and words, regarding others as more important than ourselves (Philp. 2:1-8). Jesus' actions took us into consideration! Are we, like Jesus, willing to suffer temporarily here on this earth so that others might gain eternal life? Our actions speak loudly about what and who we truly love and value. We may not see the results of our actions today, we may never know or understand the pain or joy we have caused another, but we must carefully consider how our actions affect others and their view of Jesus Christ.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Would You...Read Me To Sleep? By George Edenfield

Recommendation: * (1 star)

The story told is that of a loving father-daughter relationship. Leia and her father spend hours together. They go on walks and pick flowers and make friends with the bunnies, but their favorite part of the day comes right before bedtime. This is when Leia and her dad sit together and read, and their favorite book is the "big storybook" that tells the tales of shepherd boys, valiant kings and men who spent the night with lions. The story tells of the changes that take place as Leia grows. For many years they enjoy story time together but eventually Leia grows up and moves out. One day she comes back to read to her father, who is very ill, from the "Big Storybook."  Her father dies and enters heaven where he awaits the day Leia, his Princess Angel of Love, will join him there.

Positives: I gave this book 1 star because of the lovely illustrations. The pictures are made to look like oil paintings on canvas and the colors are vibrant. The children's faces in  particular are beautiful.

Negatives: As I researched the book I could not find what the author's target audience was. When looking at the cover, my first thought was this was written for kids 6 and younger. That being the case, this book is far too wordy for small children and uses too many unfamiliar (big) words for kids (i.e., foraging, tranquil, serenade, piqued, pondered, tyrant). More importantly though, the gospel message is very unclear. While it does make a veiled reference to Jesus (the Son of the Great King), the message of the book is that Heaven, not Christ, is the greatest treasure - The Great Treasure of Golden Destiny. They also talk about the secret of the  Seven Golden Keys. This part was confusing and difficult for me to understand. I believe the author intended the Seven Golden Keys to be the words "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," that Jesus spoke when they entered heaven. It is unclear what the purpose of these words are in the book though. I also did not like that the Bible was referred to as the "big storybook." This is just a personal preference, but it didn't establish that the Bible is different from any other book, fiction or nonfiction. The Bible is unlike any other book ever written!

Talking Points: Matthew 13 speaks of the kingdom of heaven as a treasure of great value. Certainly talk to your children about heaven and the kingdom that Christ is preparing there for his children. How amazing and merciful that Christ would choose to bring us to the dwelling place of God for eternity and to grant us the privilege of worshiping and living forever in the presence of our great God and King. However make sure that your children understand that Christ is the treasure. Heaven means nothing without Christ. I once heard John Piper ask a question something like this: Would you rather have all the treasure and beauty of heaven without Christ, or would you choose Christ with no promise of heaven? Christ is enough!

Age Level: 2-6 years of age

I received this book through the BookCrash program in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

Wondering what Jr. High kids are reading in school these days? This is one of the books my 7th grade son recently read for his English class. It was pretty entertaining and had some thought provoking moments as well.

It's 1935 and Moose Flanagan and his family have just moved to Alcatraz. His father has taken a job working in the prison and Moose is less than happy about the situation. The reason for the move is to help Moose's sister Natalie get into a school that will help her. Today,  Natalie would be diagnosed as autistic, but in 1935 all kinds of schools and treatments were being tested on children like her. The story is given from Moose's perspective - a 12 year old, baseball loving boy, who has just left behind his friends and now lives next to a prison. The group of kids who also live on the island are an unlikely bunch, but they manage to get each other in and out of trouble regularly. With plenty of humor and emotional appeal this is a well-told story with a fantastic, unpredictable ending.

Positives: The family relationships were real and intact. This family wasn't without its faults, but they were fierce in their love and care for each other. They were willing to work through the difficulties life dealt them together and fight for and with each other.

Negatives: The kids who live on Alcatraz regularly lie to their schoolmates about life on Alcatraz and break the rules they are supposed to follow on the island. They are punished for their schemes at one point, but it doesn't stop them for long.

Talking Points: Moose, like all kids (and adults), struggled with what he knew to be right, and his own selfish desires. He had a heavy conscience when he behaved wrongly. We all have the law of God written on our heart. Whether we acknowledge wrongdoing as sin or not, we know when we have broken God's law. Talk with your kids about their conscience and the role of the Holy Spirit in conviction. Every person has been given a conscience, but only believer's have the Holy Spirit. We all know when we have broken a law, but we do not all have the ability to repent and change our actions.  Talk through the gospel and help  your kids see that acknowledging their sin (conscience) is the first step, but repentance can only come through the Holy Spirit working in their heart and helping them to change. Romans 2:14-15 talk about our knowledge of the law and our conscience. Eph. 2 tells us that apart from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives we cannot change. Impress on the hearts of your kids the importance of a changed heart, a changed life - through the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of Christ on the cross, and not just being a moral person.
Age Level: 10 years of age and up

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Battle For Cannibal Island by Marianne Hering and Wayne Thomas Batson

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

Beth and her cousin Patrick are once again sent on an adventure in the Imagination Station. This time they find themselves on a ship sailing through an area that is known for its cannibals. After being labeled as stowaways they find themselves in danger around every turn. During a storm and in the midst of a prison break the cousins are separated and become desperate to find each other again. Through this adventure the cousins learn about bravery and the importance of relationships - caring for others more than themselves, as Mr. Calvert demonstrates to them.

Positives: This book kept me guessing! Just when you think Beth and Patrick are safe, more trouble seems to find them. I enjoyed the character of Mr. Calvert who willingly sacrificed and put himself in harms way so that the cannibals could hear the gospel. He showed little concern for self, and much concern for the souls of the lost.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: At the end of the story the kids talk about Mr. Calvert and how he continued to pursue Toki and the other cannibals no matter how they treated him. He was so concerned that they understand the gospel. Talk to your kids their level of concern for unsaved friends and family members. Do you regularly pray for the unsaved? Do you encourage your child to share the gospel with others? Are they equipped to do so? Are they more concerned about what others think of them than about their eternal destiny? We must help shape our self-centered hearts to be burdened for the souls of those who do not know Jesus Christ. Can we and our children like Paul in Romans 1:16 say that we "are not ashamed of the Gospel..."? In Philippans 1:23-24 Paul shows his heart for the Philippan people when he states that while it would be far better to be with Christ, He chooses to "remain...for [their] progress and joy in the faith." What sacrifices do we make to obey Christ's call in Matt. 28 to "go into all the world and make disciples..."?

Age Level: 5-10 years of age (7 year old reading level)

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing for this review.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Beginner's Bible App for FREE!

Right now you can download the Beginner's Bible App for free! It contains 6 stories and 6 activites. An additional pack of 6 stories is $1.99. More packs will be released in the coming months.

Beginner's Bible IPad App

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

From time to time I have reviewed book related products that I have found and enjoyed. While I am mostly  a fan of books and reading, there is nothing wrong with a little technology that enhances a child's interaction with a book - especially if it is the Bible! I hope you find this review helpful as you seek to find the proper place for technology in your home and family.

I have been a fan of The Beginner's Bible for many years. In fact, it was the first Bible my husband and I purchased for our children and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The pictures were vibrant and fun and the text told short Bible stories in simple language. In the new IPad app the style of the Bible is the same as the published version, but there are some fun new additions that your kids will enjoy. The story can be read or listened to and the illustrations are interactive. On one page you can make the butterfly fly or you can add fruit to the tree on another. You can help Noah get the elephant on the ark or turn the morning into night. There are also activities that go with each story. These include puzzles, coloring pages and a version of "Fruit Ninja" in the garden of Eden which was very fun to play!

Positives: A fun way to get your kids to interact with Scripture. I liked that they could email the completed coloring page when they were done. How fun to send a picture to grandma and grandpa or other family member who lives far away!

Negatives: None

Talking Points: I think this App is just a way to extend your Bible conversations with your Pre-Schooler. As they interact with the various stories you continue to talk about what the Bible teaches and point them to their Savior every step along the way.

Age Level: 2-5 years of age

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Escape To The Hiding Place by Marianne Hering and Marshal Younger

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

This is the 9th book in The Imagination Station Series from Adventures in Odyssey and Focus on the Family. This series takes the reader on a historical adventure and teaches a character trait or truth along  the way. In Escape to the Hiding Place, Beth  and Patrick are taken to Holland during World War II. Here they meet members of the Dutch Resistance who are trying to help Jews and many others stay alive and avoid the war camps. Due to dangerous circumstances, Beth and Patrick are asked to help deliver a young baby to her mother as they have been separated. They are given an address and told they must go quickly and keep the baby hidden as she doesn't have proper papers. With danger following them Beth and Patrick are able to arrive safely and meet Corrie ten Boom and her family. They see the great danger Corrie puts herself in to help others and learn that even kids can do great things for God.

Positives: This series provides a fun way for kids to learn a bit about history, and see how Christian's have played integral parts in history. My 7-year old was thoroughly engaged in the story and has begged me to get more! They are great for her to read by herself, but we also love reading them together. I loved the detail brought out in the story of the backpack, the parachute and the watch. Through these kids can see that God takes care of the smallest details of our lives. We also enjoyed going online and entering our "secret password"  to learn more about Corrie ten Boom.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: There are many conversations you could have with your children surrounding this story. My daughter and I talked about God's sovereignty and our call to trust Him.  Our kids can wonder why such horrible things had to happen and still happen in our world. We must continue to point them to a God who is sovereign - in control of all things. Here are a few Scriptures that talk about God's sovereignty: Job 14:5-6, Job 42:2, Psalm 33:10-15, Psalm 115:3, Psalm 139, Prov. 16:4-9, Prov. 21:1, Is. 55;10-11, Rom. 13:1-2, James 4;13-15. We can only trust a God who is in complete control of all things! Teach your children that God is indeed worthy of their trust because He knows the very number of hairs on their head (Matt. 10:30). Read through the Psalms with your kids and make note of everytime the word trust is used. Talk about how and why we put are to put our trust in the Lord and not in earthly things.

Age Level: 5-10 year olds (7 year old reading level)

I received a free copy of this book from Tyndale Publishing for this review.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Eric Liddell - Are You Ready? by Catherine Mackenzie

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

This early reader edition tells the story of Eric Liddell. Eric was an excellent athlete who loved to run, but more important to Eric was honoring his God. He became well-known for his refusal to run on a Sunday during the 1924 Olympics in Paris. While Eric enjoyed running and knew that he ran to give God glory, he was more concerned for the souls of lost people. He spent years in China as a missionary where he eventually died during World War II.

Positives: It is clear that Jesus Christ was important to Eric. He sacrificed much to honor and serve his Lord and Savior. The easy language is great for early readers and the illustrations help tell the story well.

Negatives: There were a couple of sentences that were confusing in the book, they didn't seem to express a complete thought. This could be confusing for young readers.

Talking Points: Eric Liddell lived what he proclaimed. He was passionate about telling people about Jesus and his life reflected his belief in the gospel. II Cor. 5:17 tells us that Christians are new creations and that they live in a different way as a result of their heart being changed by the gospel. Talk to your kids about their own hearts, do their actions reflect what they profess? We also see that Eric counted the cost of following Christ. He sacrificed much for the gospel, ultimately dying as a missionary in a prison camp while sharing the gospel with other prisoners. Matt. 16:24-26 and Luke 14:28-33 calls us to count the cost. Don't be afraid to teach your children about the sacrifices Christ calls us to. If you continue to share the gospel as the pearl of great value, they will understand that the cost is worth it.

Age Level: 2-8 years of age (6-8 year olds can read this independently)

I received a free copy of this book from CF4K Publishing in exchange for this review. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What Is The Gospel? By Mandy Groce

Recommendation: **** (4-star)

Children have a way of asking questions that are both difficult and easy to answer at the same time! Questions concerning the gospel are some of the most important questions your child will (hopefully) ever ask - and the answer you give is of even greater importance. This book offers a simple look at some of the different aspects of the gospel and shows us the faith of a child we are all called to exhibit.

Positives: There is so  much about this book that I loved! First of all it was great to see a biblical family structure. This boy knew he could ask any family member about the gospel (brother, uncle, mom) and they would be willing to help him. Most importantly however, the story upholds the father as the spiritual head of the home. Although mom could have answered the question, she directed her son to his father. I also enjoyed the emphasis on the different aspects of the gospel. It spoke of sin and grace and being a part of God's Kingdom. I also enjoyed the illustrations!

Negatives: I wish the book had addressed God's holiness to better show the great gap between man and God.

Talking Points: As I said earlier, the gospel should be of utmost importance. Be deliberate and careful what you teach your child on this subject. Use Bible verses and biblical terms when talking about the gospel. Don't water it down  for them! Don't tell them they should "ask Jesus into their heart." Nowhere in Scripture are those words used! Trust the perfect, authoritative, sufficient Word of God! Will your child perfectly understand all aspects of the gospel? Well, do you? As you are given opportunity over and over again to explain the gospel, pray for the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your child, that they will grow in their understanding of these vital truths. I loved the ending of this book - the boy trusted in God's faithfulness to continue to teach him these truths. That is what we must do as well! Here are some Scriptures to use as you share the gospel: God's holiness - Is. 6:1-3, Deut. 32:3-4, man's sinfulness - Eph. 2:1-3, Rom. 3:23, Rom. 3:10-12, penalty of sin - Rom. 6:23, I Cor. 6:9-11, Jesus Christ - John 1:1-5, Phil. 2:5-11, John 19:16-42, John 20:1-18, I Cor. 15, Faith - John 20:30-31, Acts 4:12, Eph. 2:8-10.

Age Level: 4-9 years of age

I received a free copy of this book from CF4K Publishers in exchange for this review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Amy Carmichael: Rescuer of Precious Gems by Geoff and Janet Benge

Recommendation:  ***** (5 stars)

We are introduced to Amy Carmichael as a boarding school student with a mischievous bent to her leadership skills. When she must return home to Ireland, she is given God’s heart for service when she and her brothers help a poor woman. As she faces numerous challenges with her father’s death, her heart for serving the poor and rejected grows. This passion later takes her to Japan, where God promises her that although she will not marry, she will never be alone. He is faithful to this promise, as she becomes a mother to hundreds of children in India years later, saving them from a life of slavery in the Hindu temples and other terrible circumstances. Amy never desires attention for herself, but sacrificially cares for and teaches many about the God who loves them.

Positives: This true story shows off God’s faithfulness in numerous ways. As Amy begins her ministry to poor women and girls in Ireland, she believes that He will provide necessary funds. Throughout the course of her life, many structures are built to accommodate ministry as Amy follows God’s conviction. She never asks anyone for money, but the money is always provided. It is clear God’s hand of provision and guidance is upon everything. Her simple and unwavering faith is steadfast, even during difficult times of mourning and personal illness.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: From the very outset of the book, as Amy senses God speaking to her about serving others unashamedly, the concept of the fear of man (Matthew 10:28) can be elaborated upon. There are several instances where others criticize or misunderstand Amy’s work and convictions (wearing a plain sari  as Indian women did, so her English dress would no longer be a distraction), but Amy does not care about these opinions that oppose God’s leading. She is also sensitive to the cultural differences around her. The caste system in India cannot be ignored, so when a hospital is built, there are places for families to prepare meals for their patients so that caste will not be broken. (1 Corinthians 9:22) By accommodating these practices, opportunities for the gospel to go forth are created. Amy must lean heavily on God’s grace, and more apparently so in seasons of grief. It is clear that her strength is from the Lord and He faithfully provides it. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Psalm 121:1)

Age Level:  10 years and up

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Mystery of the Indian Carvings by Gloria Repp

Recommendation: **** (4-star)

Julie Fletcher has problems, a stepmom who doesn't like her, a temper she can't seem to control...but maybe this change is exactly what she needs. Her father has decided to send her to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin Karin, for a couple of weeks this summer. Although nervous, Julie is hopeful that she will be able to enjoy her time this summer. As she meets her extended  family however, her hopes begin to fade as it becomes evident that Karin clearly doesn't want her there and her aunt and uncle are too distracted with their own problems to pay much attention to her. How could her father send her here? And how could he speak of the great memories he had of spending his summers here? Will this summer be the start of a change in her life?

Positives: A nice story that young girls, in particular, will enjoy as they will be able to relate to Julie's character. I enjoyed how the story brought together so many facets of a young girls life and wove them together. Family and friendships in particular were addressed and it was great to see how these played out in Julie's mind throughout the story.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: One of the biggest struggles Julie faced was controlling her temper. Obviously this had been a problem at home with her stepmother and continued to be a problem at her aunt and uncle's. It wasn't until Julie was confronted with the idea of asking the Holy Spirit to help  her that she began to see change and experience victory. Talk about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer with your kids. John 14:16-17 tell us that the believer receives the Holy Spirit as a helper. How can we say "no" to sin? How can resist temptation? Only  by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our flesh is weak! Don't be afraid to teach your child that believers cannot live a life of holiness on their own. Teach them to cry out for a Helper to come and rescue them in the moment of temptation. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit will we experience victory over sin.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Last Superhero by Stephen Altrogge

Recommendation: *** (3 stars)

John Utticus Wagner II appears to be an average 8th grader. His days are filled with school and homework and occasionally ripping a tree out of the ground for a neighbor.  Junior, as he is known to his parents, possesses superhuman strength and descends from a long line of superhero's.  In this story, Coreopolis is being terrorized by Boom. This villain is blowing up bombs all over the city and it is time for the Wagner family to take action! After sitting on the sidelines for years, John's father, Orville is ready to take on Boom and save the city. With the help of John Utticus Wagner Sr., Orville and his son Junior secretly plan a middle of the night raid. It soon becomes obvious that Boom is actually after the Wagner family. He knows all about them and has planned for months to destroy them. Who is this super villian and will he succeed? You'll have to read the story to find out!

Positives: A fun storyline. Kids will laugh and enjoy the action scenes. I enjoyed the family dynamic, so great to see a a multi-generational family that worked as a unit and wasn't "dysfunctional." In spite of the disappointment John Sr. felt that his son couldn't be the next great Wagner superhero, he didn't give up on him, still treated him as a son.

Negatives:  Orville (dad) did deceive Eleanor (mom). He made her believe that he would not go after Boom when he had every intention of doing just that.

Talking Points: Talk with your kids about their reputation. Every action, every word, every thought is a reflection of our character. As they spend time with friends, what do they want to be known for? What kind of legacy do they want to leave? While the Wagner family certainly wanted to be known as a great superhero family, I think there were things more important to them than that. Grandfather, John Sr. was ultimately more concerned about his son (Orville) than he was about the Wagner name and Orville left a legacy to his son of never giving up, in spite of failures and disappointments. He also taught him that family, and people are of great value. Proverbs 22:1 tells us that our reputation is valuable, but Christ's reputation is of even greater value and as believers our words and actions should reflect Christ to the world. (Matt. 5:14, Gal. 5:23, Eph. 2:10, John 15).

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

I was given a free copy of this book for this review.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

In book one of his new Merlin's Immortals Series, Brouwer introduces us to an ancient world where trust is not easy to come by. Secrets lie around every bend and friends can become enemies in the blink of an eye, if you can figure out they are your enemy. Thomas was raised in an abbey for most of his life, raised in secret by a woman who pretended to be his nursemaid, raised as a slave to the monks who mistreated him and taught him to despise the God they claimed to serve. Most importantly, he was raised with a secret he must guard with his life and a destiny bigger than he can ever imagine. His quest to conquer Magnus, the ancient castle, turns out to be only the beginning.

Positives: Kids will enjoy the medieval setting and the high level of intrigue. The well-developed characters are clever, sinister and thought provoking.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Raised in an abbey and surrounded by religious practices and people for many years Thomas was calloused toward God. He questioned his goodness, his love and even his existence. Talk to your kids about their thoughts and feelings toward religion. Let your kids be open and honest and carefully listen to their answers. Use this conversation to continually point your child to the gospel. I Corinthians 1:18 tells us that the cross is foolishness to unbelievers, they cannot understand it. Pray for the Spirit of God to work in your child's heart and continue to teach them of the great Creator God who sent his Son to rescue us from our greatest danger - our own sinful hearts. Romans 8 is a wonderful passage that I kept thinking of while reading this story.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham

Recommendation: **** (4-star)

I was fascinated to find out that best-selling author John Grisham had started a kids series and when I found it at the local library I couldn't wait to start! Young Theodore Boone is the only child of two lawyer-parents. So naturally, he is curious about all things law- related. At 13 years old Theo already knows every judge and court clerk in town and everyone at his middle school knows who to take their problems to. While being able to help his friends is great, Theo also loves to sit and watch trials, and the biggest trial in recent history is about to take place - a murder trial. Theo becomes involved in the case when a witness comes to him for help, but refuses to come forward. What is Theo to do? Will he pursue truth and justice at any cost?

Positives: A great story filled with integrity! Kids will love the storyline and will learn about the legal system as well. Most importantly they will learn the freedom that comes from truth and trusting in the God-given authority we are placed under.

Negatives: I was a bit disappointed in the ending. I was hoping there would be a better conclusion to the story, but I may have to read the sequel for that!

Talking Points: Theodore Boone, like all of us, has a conscience. Talk to your children about the importance of their conscience. God created us to know the difference between right and wrong. His law is written on our hearts. But what happens when we ignore our conscience?  Read Romans 2, particularly verses 14 -16. What do these verses say about our conscience? Talk about how Theo handled the difficult situation he was in. He learned to trust in those God had placed in authority over him. While he did not right away want to go and speak with his parents, he finally realized the wisdom and experience his parents could bring to the situation. God has placed many forms of authority in all of our lives. Teach your children the wisdom of recognizing authority and trusting in God's plan for them as they obey their parents, and as they grow older and are placed under many different authorities (Eph. 6:1-8, Rom. 13:1-7).

Age Level: 8 years of age and up

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Recommendation: *** (3 stars)

In this hilarious and wild adventure we meet the Cray family - Mickey, Susan and their son Wahoo. Life with the Cray's is a zoo. They actually own and train wild animals in their own backyard! When money gets tight Mickey takes a job working with a reality TV show and he and Wahoo are in for the adventure of a lifetime. The shows star - Derek Badger is arrogant and demanding, as is Mickey, and the two clash until one day Derek disappears. With adventuresome twists and turns this story will keep you captivated til the end.

Positives: This story is funny and riveting at the same time! Your kids will love the well-developed characters and the engaging storyline. The seemingly ridiculous adventures is what make this a great story!

Negatives: When their son Wahoo was born Mrs. Cray put an end to Mr. Cray's profanity. So instead of swearing he now says "bleep," literally. For example, he might proclaim, "What the bleep are you doing?" While it is creative, it does not take away from the fact that he is using profane language.

Talking Points: Your kids will be able to identify with Wahoo. Talk about his character and how he relates to his parents. Talk about how he cares for his friend Tuna and helps her. As Christians, how should we handle a difficult situation like the one Tuna is in? How about helping Derek Badger? Are we kind even to our "enemies" when they are in trouble? Read Matt. 5:43-48, what do these verses tell us about our enemies? Romans 12:14-21 tell us to be kind to our enemies and to overcome evil with good. How well did Wahoo put biblical principles into practice? How well do we? Ask your kids for the names of their friends, neighbors and classmates that they can show this type of kindness too and talk about practical steps they can take to overcome evil with good.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery (retold by Kathleen Olmstead)

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

Anne from Anne of Green Gables is now sixteen years old. Formerly a student at Avonlea School, she is now the teacher. This condensed version of the original Anne of Avonlea tells of Anne’s adventures with her students, young twins who come to live with her and Marilla, and the various efforts of the Avonlea Village Improvement Society. As she and her peers grow into young adulthood, their interests develop, and romance enters the picture. Anne encounters love as she helps a friend rekindle an old love, her best friend becomes engaged, and an admirer patiently waits for her.

Positives: This beloved classic is retold in a form that younger readers can enjoy without the original length. A wonderful story of life in simpler times, capturing the stage of Anne’s life where she is becoming a woman. There are very good questions at the conclusion of the book to help with discussion and making connections to the characters.

Negatives: none

Talking Points: The story opens with Anne’s encounter with Mr. Harrison, a good example of what can happen when we do the right thing, even if it is difficult. She makes a new friend in an unexpected way, and both parties are blessed. (Matt. 22:39) Marilla also demonstrates this kind of love when her friend’s husband dies. As she and Anne care for the twins, they selflessly welcome the children into their home. (James 1:27) When Anne and Diana meet Miss Lewis, they fully engage this lonely woman in a new friendship and the end result is a wonderful reunion leading to the rediscovery of an old love. This can be viewed in like manner for Christians to live each moment for the Lord, being open to opportunities that He brings. (Col. 3:17)

Age Level: 7 years and up

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Kingdom by Bryan M. Litfin

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

The final book in the Chiveis Trilogy concludes the adventures of Teofil and Anastasia. The action, adventure and spell-binding storyline that captured you in the first 2 books keeps you until the final page! The mission for Teo and Ana has never changed, to bring the Sacred Writings back to the people of Chiveis, to introduce them to Deu and His Son, Iesus Christus. Whatever the cost, no matter the danger, they are committed to this end. After years in exile, danger around every turn, being kidnapped and tortured their resolve has not dimished. As they uncover the lies that have ensnared the people of their homeland for many years, the lies that have allowed Astebril to enslave these people they must again face the High Priestess who has shamelessly carried out these lies. Will they be able to see their dream come true? Will the Chivesian people embrace the truth found in the Sacred Writings of Deu? Will Teo and Ana commit themselves to Deu and to each other forever?

Positives: Litfin delivers another engaging and action-filled story that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat til the very end. The intricate storyline is perfectly woven together. It provides an excellent example of the many who have suffered greatly for the gospel and died to preserve the truth of the Scripture for those who would come after them. The desire Ana, in particular has, for her people to know Deu should convict us greatly.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: The Scripture passage I kept thinking of while reading this is II Cor. 11:25-28. In this passage Paul recounts the dangers and hardships he encountered during his missions trips - beaten and shipwrecked. But the thing that weighs most heavily on Paul is the churches he has ministered in. Teo and Ana had this same heavy heart for those who had not heard the gospel, they counted all the pain they had suffered as worth the cost if they could only tell others about Deu and his Son, Iesus. Talk to your kids about their conviction. Do they want others to know about Jesus? Are they willing to be ridiculed? Are they willing to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus to their friends? Are they willing to count the cost? Teach them to boldly share their faith with grace and truth.

Age Level: 16 years of age and up. Please note that there is some sexual content in this book. Please be aware of that as you make a decision regarding your child reading this book.

I received a free copy of this book from Crossway Publishing in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Pop-Up Bible Stories by Juliet David

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

This short book for toddlers offers 5 stories from the Bible. The stories of Moses, Daniel, Jairus' daughter, the Parable of the Lost Sheep and Jesus Calming the Storm are all told very simply and with colorful illustrations in 3-D.

Positives: I liked that the author included the Bible passage that the stories from the book are based on. Even for young children, it is important that they understand the ultimate source of these truthful accounts.

Negatives: I am not usually a fan of Bible story books. While they can be useful, they often don't give the main thrust of the Bible story and they seem to focus on the character in the story and not on what God is doing. I also like kids to understand that these stories come from the Bible, not a pretty picture book.  In this book, the account of Moses never even mentions God.  There are sometimes things added to stories that aren't in the Biblical text as well.  In the story of Daniel that is presented it tells us that Daniel prayed to be saved from the lions. The Bible never tells us that he prayed in the lions den.  I know this seems picky - and he very well may have prayed, but the Bible doesn't tell us that he did so we need to be careful of how we present these stories to our children.

Talking Points: If you use this book, or any Bible storybook, always go back to the actual Bible text that the story is taken from.  Teach your kids from the Word of God! The pictures may help to keep them engaged, but go ahead and read the short Biblical texts that go with the pictures.

Age Level: 0-3 years of age

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publishing for this review.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Storm Warning by Linda Sue Park

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

The clue hunt seems to be coming to an end, yet the danger and intensity continue to rise! In Storm Warning Amy and Dan find themselves tracking down the history of their pirate relatives and discovering even more secrets about their family and the one person they thought they could trust, Nellie, their au pair. Betrayal runs deep and the rifts continue to widen between family members as they desparately pursue the power the clue hunt has promised them.

Positives: These books never disappoint when it comes to adventure! Combine that with a little dose of history and your kids will actually enjoy learning (just don't tell them that they are learning anything!). Throughout the series the brother/sister relationship between Dan and Amy has been great to see develop. They learn the importance of family, relationships and integrity. As they watch the other teams they realize they don't want to win this clue hunt at any cost, they want to do it the right way.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Forgiveness is a hard lesson, one that both Amy and Dan continue to struggle with. Can they  forgive those who murdered their parents? Can they forgive Nellie for betraying them? Can they forgive their grandmother for seemingly abandoning them? The verses of Ephesians 4 kept echoing in my mind as I read this book. Starting in verse 20 and on Paul tells us to put off the "old self" (lying, anger, stealing, laziness...). Instead we are to be renewed in our minds and to speak truth and grace to those around us. Paul's final instruction in this chapter is to forgive others as God, in Christ, has forgiven you. Teach your children that they are never outside of the reach of God's forgiving grace. Then teach them to extend forgiveness to others as they want Christ to forgive them - freely and graciously.

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lady Jane Grey by Simonetta Carr

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

Simonetta Carr's newest addition to her Christian Biographies for Young Readers, lives up to the high standard the author has set for herself in the previous books in this series. This biography covers the life of Lady Jane Grey. I was only vaguely familiar with her story prior to this and found this book educational and encouraging. Lady Jane Grey was known for her courage in defending the gospel. Though she lived 17 short years, her life has left a mark on the history of her country, England and more importantly on the church. Young women in particular should know her story and be encouraged by her faithfulness to the point of death.

Positives: I have always enjoyed the artwork in this series and Matt Abraxas does not disappoint! The beautiful illustrations enhance the storyline. The pictures help provide an accurate historical view as well. Simonetta has such a wonderful way of teaching as she writes. Your children will learn not only about Lady Jane, but also what it means to "count the cost" of the Christian faith. History and life lessons are wovenly together seamlessly and beautifully.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus tells us to carefully consider the cost of discipleship. Talk to your kids about what this means. Is becoming a Christian something we take lightly? Is it just repeating a prayer? Is it a decision we make in a moment? No, Christ calls us to consider what it means to be one of his followers. He tells us that it WILL be costly, and it may cost us our life.  Yet if we are not called to be a martyr - are we still willing to pay the price of living everyday to the glory of God and not self. Are we willing to abandon self completely? Don't be afraid to share these difficult Scriptures, an understanding of truth makes a confession of faith that much sweeter! Even at a young age Lady Jane understood what was required of her as a Christian and our kids can too.

Age Level: 7-12 years of age

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Door Within by Wayne Thomas Batson

Recommendation: ***** (5 stars)
Aidan Thomas is forced to move away from his best friend so that he and his parents can care for his ailing grandfather. Resentful of every aspect of his new living situation, Aidan does not look forward to starting all over at a new high school. Unaware of the adventures that await him in The Realm, he realizes that he is being called to this other world to serve a noble king. Entering The Realm requires him to believe in it and King Eliam, and Aidan discovers that trusting this king brings him an inner strength that is not his own. He forges new friendships with his fellow servants and is changed from within as he becomes a revered knight.
Positives: This other-world adventure (similar in style to the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien), paints a picture of Aidan’s real struggles, the hope he finds with faith, and strength that is provided by this faith. While Aidan’s parents doubt his beliefs in The Realm, he finds an unexpected ally in his grandfather. When he finds himself amongst others who believe in and serve King Eliam, he also discovers a bond that ties this group together no matter what difficulties they face. After having been molded into a hero that Aidan himself could not have imagined he could become, he knows that the strength he needed along the way was not something he possessed apart from his faith.
Negatives: Although there are many aspects of this story that parallel the power of the gospel to change one’s life by faith, there is not a clear, defining moment that describes the need of a believer to repent of one’s sins.
Talking points: Aidan is a real teenager with real struggles that many of us can relate to. I appreciated the honest portrayal of how he responded in frustration to things he could not control. A discussion on how life inevitably contains hardship can include not overlooking the difficulties that come with trials, but rather that we have choices to make in how we respond. Will we trust the sovereign hand of God and allow these trials to shape and strengthen our faith? (Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 1:6-9) In the midst of uncertainty and even times of desperation, in what, or rather, in whom will we place our hope and trust? (Psalm 91:1-2; Hebrews 4:16) Talk about the trust and awe that Aidan and his friends have in and toward King Eliam, and how the king helps them when they desperately need it. (Isaiah 40: 28-31) As he grasps what is happening in The Realm with opposing forces, Aidan gains a sense of urgency for those back home who do not yet believe. He understands that time is limited and that the consequences of unbelief are horrific. (Matthew 25; Matthew 28:19-20)
Ages: 10 years and up

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Emperor's Code by Gordon Korman

Recommendation: ***** (5-Stars)

When Dan and Amy discover new truths about their parents it is both shocking and divisive. How do two young kids handle such news after everything else they've been through? Dan and Amy split ways for the first time ever and both begin to wonder if this quest is worth the cost. As they do some soul-searching they discover not only that they desperately need each other, but that truth, though costly, is more important than anything.

Positives: While slightly less adventuresome (slightly being the key word!) this story deals a lot with Dan and Amy's relationship which is ultimately strenghtened and renewed through the difficulties they face when separated. I continue to enjoy this sibling relationship as it unfolds with raw honesty and these two children mature into adulthood together.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Toward the end of the book Amy comes to the conclusion that truth is the most important thing. Once again this series brings us back to the value of truth. How much do we value truth? Truth is a part of God's nature, He is not just truthful, He IS truth (Is. 65:16, John 14:6) and His Word is truth (Ps. 119:160, John 17:17). How important is it that God is a God of truth (Heb. 6:13-20)? How are we to handle to Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15)? How does God feel about those who are untruthful (Rom. 1:16-32)?

Age level: 9 years of age and up

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Last Martin by Jonathan Friesen

Recommendation: **** (4-star)

A clever, wildly imaginative and hilarious story of young Martin Boyle. Martin Boyle is a pretty ordinary pre-teen boy.  He has an overly protective, hypochondrial mother, a father who prefers to re-enact battles from the 1800's and a younger sister who, well, she's a younger sister. He has a best friend (Charley) and a girl he has a crush on (Julia) who doesn't know he even exists, and oh yeah - he also has a homeless boy living in the boxcar behind his house. Martin also has a knack for writing stories and his imagination often goes into overdrive. The firstborn male in each Boyle family is always named Martin, and on his families yearly visit to the cemetery to celebrate the lives of the many Martin Boyle's who have gone before them, young Marty makes a discovery...every time a new Martin is born, a Martin dies - there is only ever one Martin Boyle. Why is this a problem for young Marty? His aunt is pregnant with a boy, who will be named Martin. When one Martin is born, one dies. Will Marty be able to live? Will he be able to break the Martin curse? This is a delightful and funny story that your kids will enjoy.

Positives: I love how the author interwove the story Marty is writing within the story of Marty himself. I also enjoyed the relationship that developed between Marty and his father.

Negatives: I didn't love that Marty and his sister referred to their mother as the "Barn Owl", but her character sure made the story funny and she even began to realize toward the end that she needed to let her son grow up.

Talking Points: While I love the humorous approach this book takes, don't be afraid to address the more serious topic of death. Take the opportunity to talk to your kids about the state of their soul. Do they know where they will go when they die? Do they know that they will face God, their Creator when they die (Heb. 9:27)? Don't miss an opportunity to share the gospel with your kids! Tell them that a holy, perfect God created them yet because of our sin we cannot have a relationship with Him. Because He loves us, He sent Jesus Christ, His only Son to this earth to live a perfect and sinless life and to pay the penalty for our sin by dying on the cross. He defeated sin and death and rose again on the third day and He know sits in heaven at the right hand of God, His Father. When we repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ - placing our faith in His death, knowing that only by His grace can we stand before God and be declared righteous, we can spend eternity in heaven with Him! Here are some Scriptures that may help. Is. 6:1-3, Rev. 4:8, Rom. 3:23, Eph. 2:1-3, I Cor. 6:9-11, Rom. 6:23, John 1:1-5, Phil. 2:5-11, Is. 53, Heb. 9:22, Matt. 27-28, I Cor. 15, Acts. 4:12, 16:30-33, Eph. 2:8-9, I John 5:13

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Viper's Nest by Peter Lerangis

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

In Book 7 of the the 39 Clues Series Dan and Amy Cahill continue to hunt down clues left for them by their deceased grandmother. In this book the brother and sister find  themselves traveling  from Indonesia to South Africa and following clues relating to Shaka Zulu and Winston Churchill. As they decode messages and learn more secrets they also meet new friends and allies as they escape the Tomas stronghold. Their cousins the Kabras emerge again and this time Dan's life is seriously threatened. They also uncover a truth about their parents which tells them which Cahill branch they belong to, and they can't believe it!

Positives: Another action packed adventure that weaves history throughout.

Negatives: One instance of a character saying "Oh my god!"

Talking Points: The books talks quite a bit about the history of apartheid in South Africa. Talk with your kids about this and other injustices that people have suffered over the years. Talk about modern day injustices, what groups of people are currently being discriminated against? Christians in many countries suffer greatly for their faith. Here is a link to a great resource to learn more about our brothers and sisters who suffer persecution around the world.  How about unborn children? Here is a link for a video that talks about abortion. Please note, you will want to preview this video as it contains graphic images that aren't suitable for young children. Older children may be able to view it with you. How should Christians respond to these issues? Scripture is very clear that all people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). As image-bearers of Christ, He sees us each as a precious and unique creation - a small-scale expression of His great glory. We are to treat people as He did. Read James 2 which talks about the sin of partiality. Talk about different ways we can love others in our neighborhood and around the world.

Age Level: 9  years of age and up

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

In Too Deep by Jude Watson

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

In Book Six of the 39 Clues Series we continue to follow the adventures of Dan and Amy Cahill as they travel around the world uncovering clues to a powerful secret. As they head to Australia to continue their quest they feel like they are reconnecting with their parents (who died when Dan and Amy were young) as they travel to places their parents visited. They also find an ally in Uncle Shep who saves their lives more than once. As they uncover clues they uncover more danger and not knowing who to trust they end up losing a secret ally as well. Will they be able to continue? Will they seek revenge or justice as they uncover secrets surrounding the death of their parents?

Positives: We continue to enjoy this series. The books are a pretty quick read and are packed with adventure and mystery.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: During this story Amy struggles with new information she begins to understand surrounding her parents death. She has feelings of guilt as well as desiring revenge for the death of her parents. How should Christians respond to being wronged? Talk with your kids about what the Bible says we are to do when we are wronged. How did Jesus respond when He was wronged? Here are some Scriptures to use in your discussion - Phil 2:3-8, I Pet. 2:18-24, Luke 23:34.

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman

Recommendation: **** (4-star)

A friend recommended this book and it was a great story with some very interesting theological implications in it. Prince Horace is known by everyone in the kingdom as Prince Brat - a very stubborn, lazy and disobedient child.  However, it is unlawful to spank a prince so an orphan boy (Jemmy) is taken from the streets and is the prince's whipping boy. Every time the Prince is to be punished Jemmy is brought out and whipped, taking the punishment for the prince. One night the prince decides to run away and takes Jemmy with him. The wild adventures that follow weave a story of friendship and trust. Can these two boys learn to trust each other? Can the Prince change his ways? Will they be able to return to the castle alive? What will happen if they do return?

Positives: A short story that will be easy for your young reader to read independently or a great story to read as a family. I loved the spiritual lessons that can be brought out in this story.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: There really were whipping boys in England during the 15th and 16th centuries. Ask your kids about how Jesus is like the whipping boy (2 Cor. 5:21, 1 Pet. 2:24)? How important is it that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins (1 Tim. 2:5-6)? While the illustration of the whipping boy is not perfect, it does help give kids a picture of Christ. You can also talk with your kids about the friendship between the Prince and Jemmy. How did it change? Who changed - the Prince, Jemmy or both? How did they learn to trust each other? Talk about the kings offer of forgiveness at the end, how does this reflect Biblical forgiveness?

Age Level: 4 years of age and up (6 years old to read independently)

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Black Circle by Patrick Carman

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

The hunt for the 39 clues continues and Dan and Amy Cahill find themselves traveling to Russia and finding danger around every corner. As the quest continues Dan and Amy decide to try and join forces with another team, at least temporarily, to follow the trails the clues lead them on. They also discover help from an anonymous source and while still not able to completely trust others, at times they have to choose what seems to be the lesser of two evils.

Positives: I enjoyed the development of some of the other characters in the story, especially Irina. She is still a mystery, but is she softening toward Dan and Amy? What secrets is she protecting? Who is she protecting?

Negatives: None

Talking Points: While reading this I was brought back to thoughts on the sovereignty of God. This story weaves an amazing web of history and fiction and it is fun to read  about the adventures of Dan and Amy. There will always be conspiracy theories, government upheavals and uncertainty. How comforting to know that my God is in complete control over His creation! There isn't a secret He doesn't know. There isn't a king he doesn't rule over. There isn't a family so powerful that He cannot control. There isn't a child so small that He doesn't care for. God has always been and always will be in control. Read Psalm 90 with your kids and talk about the amazing God that we worship who is "from everlasting to everlasting!"

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson

Recommendation: ***** (5-star)

Since the death of their grandmother only a few weeks ago, Dan and Amy Cahill  have followed the clues of a treasure hunt and traveled around the globe - Seoul, Tokyo, Venice, Vienna, Salzburg, and Paris, just to name a few. In Beyond the Grave they find themselves in Cairo Egypt and what else do you explore in Cairo than tombs, right? Following the clues left by their grandmother and with the help of some friends they are able to continue their quest to solve the mystery of the 39 clues.

Positives: Another great adventure! We can't read these books fast enough!

Negatives: A couple of instances of kids saying "oh my god."

Talking Points: We continually come back to the topics of lying and trusthworthiness in this series. There is a distinct link between the two. When we lie, we cannot be trusted. Amy and Dan, and all the characters are deceptive. Is lying ok sometimes? Ask your kids what they would do in different situations. Talk about the importance of truth and what God requires of us from His law (Ex. 20:16). Why does God hate lying so much(Prov. 12:22, Prov. 6:16-19, Rev. 21:8)? Why does God love truth (Ps. 15, Ps. 51:6, Ps. 119:43, John 8:31-36, John 16:13, John 17:17)?

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

The 39 Clues Series keeps getting more interesting and intense! These action packed stories are fun and I am enjoying the adventure as much as my kids I think! In The Sword Thief brother and sister team Dan and Amy Cahill follow the clues from Venice, Italy to Japan. They team up with their Uncle Alistair as they uncover clues together, but it is hard to trust anyone who is a Cahill anymore. Will they be able to complete the clues in time? Will they even survive past today?

Positives: There is one thing that remains constant in this series- you don't know what to expect! The characters continue to develop and surprises are around every corner. Who is going to show up where and when? What scheme do they have up their sleeve? Will Dan and Amy persevere?

Negatives: A couple of instances of kids saying "oh my god."

Talking Points: Trust. Dan and Amy are told to trust no one. And it certainly seems that everytime they do trust someone they get burned. Is this a good way to live life? The Bible tells us to trust in the Lord (Prov. 3:5-6, Ps. 20:7, Ps. 37:3, Ps. 40:4, Ps. 91:2), but what about trusting other people? What about being trustworthy ourselves? As we seek to follow in the footsteps of Christ we must develop trustworthiness as a character trait. We know that can trust God because He cannot lie (Heb. 6:17-20). We know that we are not to be liars as well (Ex. 20: 16). Talk to your kids about what it means to be trustworthy and how to become a person that others trust.

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Friday, April 27, 2012

One False Note by Gordon Korman

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

Book Two in the 39 Clues Series is full of action, adventure, danger, mystery and humor. Brother and sister team, Dan and Amy Cahill are on the treasure hunt of their life as they follow clues that are hundreds of years old with the promise of a treasure beyond their wildest dreams. The siblings, who were orphaned at a young age, are racing against teams who all belong to the Cahill family and who have a lot more money and resources than these two. But they persevere and continue to uncover clues by working hard (and a little luck!).

Positives: As with the first book I love the history that is brought out. This series is written by a number of different authors and I have really enjoyed the differences in writing while maintaining a very fluid story line. I also appreciate the growing relationship  between Amy and Dan. As brother and sister they do argue and call each other "dweeb" and such, but as the story continues to develop they show a mutual respect for each other. They begin to understand their strengths and weaknesses and become better and better at working together.

Negatives:  A few instances of kids saying "oh my god."

Talking Points: As I read this book I thought about family relationships. As I stated above I am enjoying the brother/sister relationship that continues to develop, but I am also saddened by the other family relationships that have been destroyed by greed. It is obvious as you read through this story that these family rivalries go back many many years and all for what? Talk to your kids about the importance of people. People are more important than things! Matt. 6:19 tells us to store up treasures in heaven, not here on earth.  Ecc. 5:10 tells us that money will never satisfy. Talk to your kids about what they treasure and how their treasures reflect their heart.

Age Level: 9 years of age and up

Monday, April 23, 2012

Great Deal on Children's Commentaries

Herein Is Love Commentaries by Nancy E.Ganz are a wonderful resource! For a limited time they are available for $3.99 each as a Kindle ebook. We own the Genesis commentary and have used it many times including for family worship. It's great just to read through with your kids and it is very thorough. The Genesis includes a section at the back with activity and craft suggestions. I believe the others do as well, but am not certain. I would highly recommend you get these while they are available at this price!


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Crater by Homer Hickam

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

I had high hopes, but was disappointed

This Sci-Fi novel is set in the 22nd century when people live on the moon and mine Helium-3 to produce energy for Earth which  has been ravaged by war. The hero, young Crater Trueblood was born on the moon and has never been to earth. Orphaned at birth, his foster parents were killed when he was a young boy. While he has been taken care of by a generous lady in Moontown, Crater is truly alone. He is an impressive young boy though, he works hard and is very good with engineering, building and repairing things. This makes him appealing to the Colonel of Moontown who sends him on a dangerous mission - a convoy along the Dustway to deliver Helium-3, and to retrieve an important but secretive package. The Colonel also sends Maria, his grandaughter, on the trip and tells Crater to take care of her. One the journey they encounter many dangers, surprise attacks and hardships and Crater must learn many lessons along the way as he develops into a young man.

Positives: A fair amount of action and suspense, along with mutant creatures and the fact that it takes place on the moon will make this story appeal to young boys.

Negatives: I must admit I am not a science fiction fan and maybe that is why I didn't enjoy the story that much. I chose this book as I thought it might be something my boys would enjoy, but I found it lacking. I could not get engaged in the story line. At times events were choppy and disconnected, it felt like the author didn't know how to develop the story or characters at a particular point so he killed them off. There were also many questions left unanswered. I know that this is the 1st installment in a trilogy, and maybe some of the questions will be resolved, but I still felt I needed more answers to continue to feed my interest. The whole plot of Crater being sent to retrieve a secret passage took a backseat until nearly the end of the story and then it became the focal point.

Talking Points: Crater Trueblood was a good, moral boy. He worked hard and tried to always do what he thought was right. Ask your children if this is them? Do they try to do what is right? Do they live by following their conscience? Do they think that this will get them to heaven? Although there is very little mention of anything religious or spiritual in this story I could not help but think about all the kids who grow up believing that if they try to do what is good they will go to heaven. Scripture tells us just the opposite! Please share the gospel with your children! Here are some basic points with Scriptures that they need to understand:

  1. God is Holy (Is. 6:1-3, Rev. 4:8, Matt. 5:48)
  2. People are Sinful (Eph. 2:1-3, Rom. 3:23, Rom. 5:12)
  3. There is a penalty for sin (Rom. 6:23, I Cor. 6:9-11, Rev. 20: 14-15)
  4. Jesus came to the earth, was crucified and rose again (Matt. 1:23, John 1:1-5, Phil. 2:5-11, Col. 1:15, Is. 53, Heb. 9:22, Mt. 27-28, Mark 15-16, Luke 23-24, John 19-20, I Cor. 15)
  5. We place our faith in Christ alone (John 20:30-31, Acts 4:12, Acts 16:30-33, Eph. 2:8-9, I Tim. 2:5)
Do not let your children have a false sense of security. Allow the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts that the truths of God's Word may pierce their soul and bring about new life (Heb. 4:12-16, II Cor. 5:17-21)!

Age Level: 9-13 years of age

 I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com 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.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

William Carey: Obliged To Go by Geoff & Janet Benge

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

William Carey, born in 1761 to weavers in the town of Paulerspury, England, finds himself as a young man attending  a nonconformist prayer meeting, to pray for the American revolutionaries to win. After joining this group of dissenters who read Scripture with the certainty of believing it, William married his first wife, Dolly, and soon after became a part-time preacher. At the age of 26, he spoke the unpopular view of supporting foreign missions, as well as stuyding and writing a manuscript about it. He overcame numerous obstacles, but eventually made it to India with his family, after helping the first English missionary society to be formed and volunteering to be its first missionary. Among the fruit of his labor and influence was sharing the gospel with any Indian people he met, Bible translation into many Indian and Asian languages, the opening of schools and churches, and outlawing the inhuman practices of infanticide and sati (the live burning of a widow along with her deceased husband) in India. He always persevered and kept a strong faith through the deaths of four children and two wives, continuing to serve in the ways God led him.

Positives: All the books in the Christian Heroes series we have read are very well written, with a style that draws our children in  as we read aloud together. This family reading time is often requested and eargerly anticipated, as the missionaries and their lives are painted in a descriptive manner that also teaches histsory and sets the scenes in a way that the reader (and listeners) can better understand what they faced in their day. These true stories are very enjoyable, and more importantly, faith-building, as they display God's unmistakable power in the lives of ordinary people who trusted and obeyed Him. Our children celebrate along with us the victories of souls saved and battles won as they hear of the work of the Holy Spirit through faithful servants.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: There is so much evidence of God's faithfulness in William Carey's life (Psalm 118:1). The Lord's sovereign hand of guidance, provision and timing is clearly shown within details such as when ships sailed, when laws were made, as well as people coming in and out of his life, all directing and affirming William Carey's decisions and actions. As this missionary  faced extremely difficult and heatbreaking situations, such as the deaths of loved ones and the destruction of valuable equipment and papers, we can remind ourselves and our children of the faithfulness and comfort of God in the midst of and despite trials (Hebrews 4:16, 10:35-36). William's heart for the Indian people was a clear display of his compassionate love for these fellow human beings created in the image of God (Matthew 22:37-39). He was an excellent example of one who  persevered and was faithful to the Lord all the way to the end (Hebrews 12:1-2), even ecouraging another missionary from his deathbed in starting another Christian college in India. As this man was leaving, William told him not to speak of William Carey after his death, but only of his Savior (Col. 3:3). This Christian Heroes series is a valuable resource in  providing concrete examples of true heroes of the faith after which we and our children may follow in seeking God's will for our own lives.

Age Level: 9 years of age and up