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