Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pirate Island Adventure

Pirate Island Adventure, by Peggy Parish
(Yearling, 1975), pb., 167 pp.
Ages 6-10

This is the third in the “Liza, Bill, & Jed Mysteries” series. I commented on the first in this series, Key to the Treasure, previously. Having enjoyed the first one so much we wanted to read another and since we did not have (or have lost!) the second book we moved on to the third.

This story is very similar to Key to the Treasure with the same strengths: fun, simple story, mystery, adventure and good family interaction. Adults will notice that the author has basically used the template from a previous, successful book to write another one much like it. For adult-level writing that could be a critique, but in this case I have no qualms at all. It is what I often do in making up stories for my children. And, when this results in a fun story which is enjoyed by all, then it is a success.

I will also take this opportunity to comment further on something which is true in both books. The positive interaction of children and grandparents is very nice. In a day where there too often seems to be less interaction between children and older adults, the portrait of this book is encouraging.

Furthermore, the children have to take initiative, work, and think creatively. They have their squabbles with one another but, in the end, resolve them well. These are fun books well worth reading.

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Monday, June 15, 2015

Sir Christian de Galis and the Fish Gravy

(Westbow Press, 2014), pb., 242 pp.
Ages 10-15

This is a comical take on the stories of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. The author obviously knows the Arthurian legends well as he uses aspects of the traditional stories and plays off of them en route to make a moral or spiritual point. However, the humor and its nuance was often beyond the reach of my 7 and 9 year old to whom I was reading. The story reads like slapstick and in that genre there is a fine line between being hilarious and just too odd to follow. It didn’t work for us, but in another setting with a slightly older audience it might work very well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Key to the Treasure, by Peggy Parish

Key to the Treasure, by Peggy Parish
(Yearling, 1960), pb., 154 pp.
Ages 6-10

We have long enjoyed Peggy Parish’s Amelia Bedelia series, so we finally dipped into this book which is the first in the Liza, Bill, & Jed Mysteries. We loved this story! In fact, my 7 year old son (my youngest) had struggled to engage with our reading until this one. This story captivated him.

Liza, Bill, and Jed are siblings who are spending the summer with their grandparents as they typically do. A favorite story that Grandpa tells the kids concerns a riddle with hidden treasures Grandpa’s grandfather left for his children years ago before he left for the Civil War. The first clue had been lost and for generations no one has been able to figure it out and find the treasure. When the kids accidentally discover another clue they set off to find the generations-old treasure.

Riddles, clues and treasure are just fun! The kids have to think, work and dig. Then the transgenerational aspect added another special element as this mystery is something the kids’ father, grandfather and great-grandfather had searched for. The strong family ties, respect and care portrayed in the story were encouraging. Furthermore, I liked the example of the kids playing outside, coming up with their own ideas, preparing to build a tree house on their own- just generally being creative and taking initiative.

The book is simply written, positive and fun. We look forward to reading the second one.


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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