Sunday, May 17, 2015

National Geographic Kids Almanac 2016

(National Geographic, 2015)
pb. 352 pp
8-12 years old

My Kids love the National Geographic almanacs and were excited to see this one. It is filled with nice color photos and information on nature, animals, history and culture. Tons of information is presented in bite size portions in an engaging manner.

Of course, this is an entirely secular publications. A two-page spread covers the five main world religions with a brief description without advocating any one of them. Evolution is assumed in some key discussions. So, this is not an authoritative guide, but if you have discussed these issue with your children, then they can engage this and use it as a learning opportunity.

Even with our fundamental disagreements we enjoy this for what it is- a fun tool to stimulate interest in a wide variety of areas with parental guidance.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Daredevil Duck

DaredevilDuck, by Charlie Alder
(Running Press Kids, 2015), hb., 48pp.
Ages 3-7

This book is due to be released next month, and I was sent an early copy for review. It is a fun, nice book which encourages children to be brave while being honest about our frailty. Children’s books on this sort of topic often go wrong either being cheesy, telling them simply to believe in themselves or even saying bravery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Mrs. Adler hits the topic very well.

First, the book is creatively designed. There are several half pages where you turn a portion of the page to reveal something which changes the scene. My children have always enjoyed these in books. The illustrations are simple and fun as well.

The hero, Daredevil Duck, wants to be brave and dreams of being brave. However, he really struggles with being scared. However, a situation arises in which he helps someone else and finds he can be brave. This encourages him to continue being brave though he still gets scared sometimes. This simple message is the basic thing I want to communicate to my young children. It is both inspiring and realistic. It is hopeful and recognizes our struggles.

My nine year old daughter is my first reviewer of books for younger children, and she liked this one.

This is not an overtly Christian book, but one that addresses the issue of fear in a basic, helpful way.

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

Rise of the Falen

Rise of the Fallen, by Chuck Black
Wars of the Realm, vol. 2
(Multnomah, 2015), pb., 300 pp.

I have previously reviewed a couple of Chuck Black’s book which we really enjoyed. However, this one was not as good as the previous ones we read. This new series seeks to deal with spiritual warfare which can be quite tricky. For full disclosure, we did not finish the book, so perhaps it got better.

The book opens with a firefight between angels and demons in which they use machine guns which can kill demons or angels. This scene lost me. I appreciate wanting to help young readers grasp the reality of spiritual warfare, but I don’t think presenting it in this manner is the way to do it. And, I don’t think angels can be killed.

Then, theologically the book needs some more fine-tuning. Black goes to great lengths to clarify the difference between biblical truth and imaginative filling in of the story. In fact at the beginning of the book he states, “reference statements that are directly correlated to biblical truths are set in bold text” (ix). However, one of the first statements in bold in the book seeks to describe the Trinity by stating, “One God, yet choosing to reveal himself in three ways- Elohim HaAv, God the Father; Ben Elohim, the Son of God; and Ruach Elohim, the Spirit of God” (6). I am not sure of the value of the transliterated Hebrew, but the problem is that the statement “One God, yet choosing to reveal himself in three ways” fits in one of the categories declared to be heresy by the early Church. It sounds like the heresy of modalism. God has not merely chosen to “reveal” Himself in three ways, but He is “one God eternally existing in three equal Persons.” (You can search that last phrase in quotes to see that this is common language used to express the truth of the Trinity.) Let me be clear: I have no reason to doubt the orthodoxy of Chuck Black. From what else I have seen from him, I believe this was unfortunate wording on his part. Describing the Trinity in a young adult work of fiction would be challenging. However, this does point to the need for more theological editing or for a different choice in topics. If you wade into such waters, you must do it well.

So, I cannot recommend this book. We enjoyed Chuck Black’s books where he summarized the overarching story of Scripture in terms of knights fighting evil, and I hope he continues to produce good work like those books.

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Saturday, January 31, 2015

Nonna Tell Me a Story

Illustrated by Renée Graef
(Running Press Kids, 2014), hb., 60 pp.

Although I like to tell puns, I must admit, the title of this book made me skeptical about it. I was afraid poor humor would ruin it. However, I was pleasantly surprised by this light hearted story. The author draws from her childhood experiences in her grandparents’ courtyard in Istria (near Italy) to present a grandmother having a fun visit with her grandkids, taking them to a farm and helping them understand where we get our food. The author recognizes that many children today will never have seen live some of the animals we eat or realized where eggs come from.

I also really appreciated the strong, healthy family portrayed here as the grandmother loves and has fun with her grandkids. The story closes with the parents returning and all the family enjoying a nice meal together. This intergenerational picture is also very good.

The last almost half of the book contains recipes that tie back to the story in one way or another. This was a surprise to me and I would not have expected it to be of interest to my children. However, they loved it and we ended up reading through the recipes like we did the story. We may try some of the recipes soon, just for fun. 

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Kareem Abdul-Jabar's book for middle school kids

Stealing the Game, by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld 
(Disney-Hyperion, 2015), hb. 305 pp.

This book is scheduled for release next week but the publisher sent me an advance copy to review. I thought it would be useful to get a review from a young reader. So, I enlisted the help of Nate Barnard, 12 year old son of my colleague Justin Barnard, and voracious reader.

Below is his review. I hope you find it helpful, as I did.

This is a story about a boy who notices something is wrong with his brother and is determined to find out whatʼs going on.....before itʼs too late. The main character, Chris, is your average middle-schooler who loves playing basketball. When his brother Jax comes home from Stanford law school, Chris senses something is amiss. With the help of his friend Theo, Chris uncovers a mystery bigger than he ever imagined. Soon, he finds a way to save his brother: gather a team and play a game against an elite travel team. When that plan backfires, Jax decides to rob a pawn shop in order to pay off his gambling debt...and enlists Chrisʼs help. After a successful raid, all Jax has to do is pay off his debtor and heʼs free. But thereʼs more to Jax than meets the eye and this is what enables him to bust a ring of house burglars that have been terrorizing the town. Overall, I enjoyed this book. The plot is well-defined and every character has secrets that no one else knows. For example, Chris loves to draw comics but hasnʼt told anyone except Jax. Heʼs also a designer baby, born so Jax could live. Because Jax was the Golden Boy of the family, Chris feels overshadowed by his accomplishments. But he still loves his older brother and looks out for him. There is nothing inappropriate in this book. Chris and Jax both steal things; but, in the end “Itʼs all part of the job”. Chris hints that he approves of gay marriage, but it was something barely noticeable and only appeared once. Even the bad guys arenʼt truly evil, theyʼre just misled teens who feel driven to crime. This book kept my attention the whole way through. I would highly recommend it to anymiddle-schooler wanting something to do on a rainy day.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Real Story of the Exodus

Paul Maier, The Real Story of the Exodus
Illustrated by Gerad Taylor
Concordia Publishing House, 2009), hb. 32 pp.
Ages 8+

I have previously commented on two books by Maier which we have appreciated.  This one is more similar to his book on Christmas in that it seeks to tell the real story, providing a faithful, historical retelling of the biblical account. He succeeds well in this aim, and the illustrations by Gerad Taylor are nicely done. I particularly like the illustration of the Red Sea crossing (which also appears on the book cover) because it captures the dramatic reality with water stacked up on the sides, a dry path and the people pouring through.

The downside is that the text is pitched at a higher level than one might expect given the pictures and look of the book. It was harder to hold my children’s attention. So, it could work well as a lesson but not so much as simply a story to read together with younger children. 

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Best Reads with My Kids in 2014

As 2014 comes to a close I thought I’d list the best books I've read with my kids this year (my list of best reads in 2014 for myself can be found here). Here are the top 10 full-length books which I read to them this year. The list is in no particular order, mostly just the order in which we read them this year. This is my second time through this age range so some of these books have been discussed here previously when I read them with my older children.
1.      Rascal, Sterling North- Somehow I missed reading this one with my older kids. It is a wonderful story in so many ways. I wrote a post on the book after we read it.
2.      Pinocchio: The Tale of a Puppet- This is a great story with silliness, adventure and some great lessons. It is significantly different from the Disney movie. My 6 & 7 year olds loved it. (Here is a post from the first time we read it)
3.      Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, Robert C. O’Brien- My children really got into this one as well. Fun, action-packed and with some good lessons on hard work and the value of learning. Here is my post from when we read it.
4.      The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis
5.      The Horse & His Boy, C S Lewis
6.      Prince Caspian, C S Lewis
7.      The Magician’s Nephew, C S Lewis- It was fun to read these again with my younger ones. I’m always helped, challenged, bettered by reading Lewis and my daughter, who was 7 and then 8 years old as we read them, loved them. My son, 6 and then 7 years old, listened but was slower to really get into them. Prince Caspian we listened to on Focus on the Family’s wonderful Radio Theater. These are some of my favorite stories for myself and for my children. (Here is my previous post on the series)
8.      Hand of Vengeance, Douglas Bond- This was another fun, historical fiction piece from Douglas Bond, one of our family favorites, and I recently discussed it here.
9.      Crow and Weasel, Barry Lopez- This is a profound story of growing up, but my 6 & 8 year olds weren’t quite ready to appreciate it. Here is my post written after reading it with my older boys.
10.  Martin the Warrior, Brian Jacques- This was a favorite of my older boys when we read it so I was excited to read it to my younger ones- I was surprised to find I had not written a post on the book previously (here is a general post on the series). The story has nobility, high adventure, heroism, sacrifice, and a clear clash between good and evil. My daughter (8 at the time) really liked it but it was a bit over the head of my 6 year old son though he got into it in places.

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