Monday, March 26, 2012

Simon And The Easter Miracle by Mary Joslin

Recommendation: * (1 Star)
This book falls far short of telling the Easter story.

The book opens with a man named Simon (Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26) coming into the city loaded with goods to sell at the market. When he arrives there he finds it very busy due to the festival and he also sees a large group of angry people surrounding a man who looks like he has been beaten. He is carrying a cross and is obviously on his way to be crucified. As Simon tries to avoid this group, he is pulled in and ordered by a soldier to carry the cross for the man. He has a brief conversation with the beaten man, but really just wants to do as he is ordered and quickly get away and head home. On Sunday (2 days later) he finds the eggs in his barn are hatched but empty and no chicks are around and when he goes to the orchard 12 doves are in the trees.

Positives: The story started out with some promise. Many have speculated on the life of Simon of Cyrene, who is only briefly mentioned in Scripture, and I found the opening of this story to be interesting.

Negatives: This story is a disappointing and sad representation of Christian children's literature. According to this story the miracle of Easter was the empty eggs Simon found on Sunday morning in his barn and the doves in his orchard. My 6 year old knows the Easter story from Scripture and was completely confused by what this story meant. It does not mention Jesus by name and does not tell the story of his death and resurrection. Also, in the story Simon asks Jesus (referred to only as 'the man') "What are you supposed to have done to deserve to die?" Jesus' response was to shrug slightly and say "Preaching a message of peace..." While I'm trying not to read too much into this exchange, it seemed to convey that Jesus wasn't exactly sure why He was being crucified. And, while he did preach a message of peace, this was not the charge brought against Him at His crucifixion. The charge brought against Him was that He claimed to be the Son of God (Matt. 26: 57-68, Mark 14:60-65).

Talking Points: Open your Bible to one of the gospel accounts of Jesus' death and resurrection (Matt. 26-28, Mark 14-16, Luke 22-24, John 18-21) and talk about the real miracle of Easter - that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a holy life on this earth, suffered and died on the cross, shedding His blood, to pay the penalty for sin so that the wrath of God could be satisfied. He rose again on the 3rd day showing his victory over death and that through Him we can have peace with God and live with God for eternity in heaven. I would also talk about the fact that Jesus' name was not mentioned in the story and how misleading this is. If you want to tell a story about salvation and new life in Christ you must use the name of Jesus. Acts 4:12 tells us that there is no other name by which we must be saved and Phil. 2:9-11 tells us that Jesus is the name above all names and that at His name (Jesus) every knee will bow. Please teach your kids that the object of their faith is Jesus and that He alone offers salvation.

Age Level: 2-6 years of age

I was given a free copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for this review.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Behemoth by Jonathan Leicht

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

This action-packed sci-fi thriller is a lot of fun and provides plenty of food for thought as well. If you are looking for a good fiction book that deals with dinosaurs from a creationist standpoint - you have found it!
Two separate stories unfold as teams of scientists travel to Africa in search of dinosaurs. For years locals have spoken of and seen these large animals, but most chalk them up to legendary tales passed down through the ages. But when Jim Thompson, game warden at Masai Mara Game Reserve finds large unidentifiable animal tracks in his park and has several elephants mauled he sets out to find the beast that has found its way into the Game Reserve. He enlists the help of is long-time friend - dinosaur expert, Dr. Dan Williams and together they embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Meanwhile, Dr. Stephen Gregory has just been relieved of his teaching position at a university for his beliefs relating to the creation of the world. Upon his release he is presented with the opportunity to lead a dinosaur hunting expedition. As the two stories unfold there will be plenty of surprises and adventure along the way!

Positives: Finally a book that deals with dinosaurs from a creationist standpoint! Many questions about creation, evolution and science are handled and the creationist viewpoint is presented clearly and biblically.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Obviously this book presents a great opportunity to talk about creation as taught in the Bible and evolution that is the popular worldview. Over and over again in the book the ideas of evolution are shown to be based on poor scientific methods while the Bible gives us all the answers we need to understand how and why our earth was created. Talk with your kids about the importance of the authority of Scripture in their lives (2 Tim. 3:16, John 17:17). Another interesting conversation to have is that if dinosaurs were ever found it would not change or have any  impact on the teachings of the Bible, however, evolutionists would have to change their entire belief system. What a great example of how truth never changes! While this is a fictional story I've provided some links that I found very interesting as I pondered whether there may still be dinosaurs here on earth. If you've never heard of Answers in Genesis, I highly recommend the resources they provide. Here and Here! Enjoy!

Age Level: 12 years of age 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.”

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Maze Of Bones by Rick Riordan

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

When their grandmother passes away Dan and Amy Cahill are devastated and alone in this world. Their parents passed away several years ago and while their grandmother didn't have custody of them, she was the only one who seemed to care for them. Grandmother had a surprise for them though - a chance for the adventure of a lifetime. The Cahill clan is a large family with a mysterious past. Grandmother always said their family had shaped civilization. In order to claim a prize - to be the most influential person in history, they must accept the challenge and follow the 39 clues that they will be given along the way. With nothing left to lose, Dan and Amy accept the challenge and begin a heart-stopping adventure. Only one team will win and to win, their family must fight against each other. Dan and Amy have been instructed to trust no one. Who will win? Who can uncover the clues? This first book in the 39 Clues series is sure to be a hit with your kids!

Positives: Plenty of adventure and mystery to keep the reader on the edge of their seat! There is also some great history lessons thrown in. Have your kids do some research on Benjamin Franklin and check the facts given in the book.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: This book presents an excellent opportunity to talk about several topics. The verses that kept coming to my mind were from I John 2:15-17. These verses talk about not loving the things of the world. The characters in this book were consumed with the things of the world, some more than others, but they were willing to kill their own family members to gain a treasure that will someday burn. Talk to your kids about what things of the world they may love. Help them to see the idols that they worship - the idols of possessions, popularity or acceptance for example. You could also talk about lying and deception. As you read through the story deception is justified as necessary to win the treasure hunt. What does the Bible say about deception (Ex. 20:16, Prov. 12:19, 22, Rev. 21:8)? Ask your kids what it means to be trustworthy and whom do they trust and why.

Age Level: 9-12 years of age

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Recommendation: *** (3 stars)
The story isn't as good as the first book but has less violence

In the final installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy we find our heroine Katniss Everdeen once again very conflicted. She is being asked to be the symbol of the revolution that is breaking out across the districts, to rally the rebels to continue fighting against an unjust and overbearing government. She agrees to this with some conditions and a lot of hesitancy. Throughout the story she continues to struggle with the deaths that she has caused and not knowing who to trust or believe.

Positives: This book was not nearly as violent as the previous 2 books and the violence takes place during war time not for "entertainment purposes," so it is a little easier to swallow. I like that Katniss struggles so deeply with the deaths she has caused. I think we often become desensitized to murder and death and don't think it would bother us. Whether it is someone killed in self-defense or in cold blood it should shake us to the core when a human life is taken. Katniss was never the same - and she shouldn't be.

Negatives: The story lacks the intensity of the first books and didn't hold my interest as much. At times the storyline didn't seem to connect real well and was confusing.

Talking Points: Katniss really struggles with knowing and understanding the truth about a situation and knowing who to trust. Given the details of her life, this is understandable. Talk with your child about truth. While Katniss has nothing to measure truth by, we as Christians do. We know that God is a God of Truth and that He cannot lie (Heb. 6:18) and therefore His Word, the Bible is true as well (John 17:17). Talk to your child and teach them to go to the source of truth, God's Word, in all circumstances. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 tells us that All Scripture is...profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction and training in righteousness. Teach your kids to always turn to Scripture as their source of truth. Some other Scriptures that might be helpful include Psalm 19, Psalm 119, Heb. 4:12.

Age Level: 13 years of age and up

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Viking Ships At Sunrise by Mary Pope Osborne

Recommendation: **** (4-star)
Good for your kid who wants to start reading chapter books.

My 1st graders current favorite books are the Magic Tree House Series. This is book #15 in the series and while it may be beneficial to start with the 1st book, these do not have to be read in order (of course your firstborn will insist upon it, but my 3rd born could not care less!).

These books chronicle the adventures of Jack and Annie, a brother and sister who travel to different times and places from their Magic Tree House with the help of Morgan le Fay - a magical librarian from the time of King Arthur. In this particular story the children try to recover an ancient book from Ireland during the Dark Ages. They meet up with Brother Patrick and other monks at the monastery as well as having a close encounter with Vikings.

Positives: This book encourages imaginative thinking as well as teaching history in a fun way. It also reinforces to kids that reading and learning are exciting.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Since this book introduces us to Brother Patrick (St. Patrick) it provides a great opportunity to learn about the real St. Patrick. The book does accurately say that he brought Christianity to Ireland. Here is a link to some history of St. Patrick that I found very helpful. You may also want to talk about the differences between Catholicism and Christianity. This is another opportunity to clearly speak the gospel into their life! Tell them that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ alone, not by any works that we do (Eph. 2:8-10), but our faith spurs us on to good deeds. Be sure that they hear it often from you, not just at church.

Age Level: 4-8 years of age (6 years and up could read them independently)