Monday, April 17, 2017

Ember Falls

Ember Falls (The Green Ember Series Book 2)
By S. D. Smith
(Story Warren Books, 2016), 234 pp.
Ages 7+

I had heard much about Book 1 in this series, The Green Ember, but had never read it. So, when I had an opportunity to get this book on audio I went for it. I am glad I did! This is an excellent story with grand adventure, heroism, nobility, courage and sacrifice. Since it was on audio I listened to it while travelling and am now looking forward to reading the first book to my children (ages 9 & 11).

The book has similarities to Redwall with rabbit good guys (some of whom are essentially monks) opposed by wolves and birds of prey. However, the moral dilemmas are even more distinct and intentional. In this story the good guys are fighting to preserve to line of King Jupiter and to restore justice to the Wood. The heroes not only battle the evil without but must master self-ambition and their desire to rescue their own families which can be at odds with the need of the entire group.

I finished this book longing for the sequel. This is a very promising series. 

Saturday, January 07, 2017

The Icarus Show

The Icarus Show, by Sally Christie
  • (David Fickling Books, January 2017), 224 pp., pb.
  • Ages 8-12

Here is another guest review from Luke Barnard, son of my friends Justin and Tracie Barnard.

Alex Meadows, an insecure elementary-schooler, has had an awful summer.  His best friend has moved to Scotland, his next-door neighbor dies and the other moves into a nursing home, his new next-door neighbor smells strange, and, worst of all, Alex has been sucked into a terrible conundrum.  Coming home from school one day, he discovers a mysterious note foretelling the flight of a boy.  Alex is faced with the question he is most afraid of answering.  React or Don’t React.  After some snooping, Alex uncovers an unbelievable secret about the “Icarus Show”.  Do you believe it?  Can you believe it?  Will you be there???

 All around, this is a good book.  The beginning gives a sample of the pace of the story.  Alex’s character is very relatable -- his insecurities are what some people face every day.  Bogsy was the best developed of all the cast, his overly independent and cynical spirit paints him in a very mysterious light, his mind might be a little out of whack, considering he plans to jump off a bridge.  Maisie, the sage of great age, Alex’s source of counsel, adds good dialogue to the book, especially in their conversations about the mystical Icarus and his unknown plans.  Alan Tydman, head honcho of Alan’s Battalion and class bully, sheds reality on the whole story, acting as the exact thing every single school seems to have: a big, hulking meanie.  His cruel techniques of extracting money from weaklings are a fact of life for many school-age students, no matter their age.

I didn’t understand some of the scenes in the school Alex attends (Probably due to my lack of experience, when it comes to British public schools), and, at the start, couldn’t tell where this book is set.  The ending lacked gusto, and was kind of confusing.  The book is humorous at times, has great character development, and an outstanding plot.  Do you believe it?  Can you believe it?  Will you be there???         

Monday, October 10, 2016

How Three Brothers Saved the Navy

How Three Brothers Saved the Navy, by Charles A. Salter
(The Kare Kids Adventures #3)
(Outskirts Press, 2016), pb., 111 pp.

Think of the Hardy Boys in a military family and you have a good idea of what this book is like. Three brothers- Matt (12 yrs old), Ryan (10 yrs old), and Jake (8 yrs old)- like to play like they are Force Recon Marines drawing from various things they have learned from their father who is a Captain in the U.S. Navy. In one of their adventures they stumble across a terrorist plot to destroy US aircraft carriers using HALO jumpers. In the ensuing adventure the boys display heroism, courage, teamwork and perseverance as they help to foil the terrorist attempt.

This was a fun read and my 10 year old daughter and nine year old son loved it. Some will probably scoff at the idea of boys this age accomplishing what is recorded in this story or even fret over suggesting to other children that they should seek to take on armed enemies. Such people will miss the point of the book. Is the accomplishment of these boys outlandish? Of course! But that is part of the point. It isn’t likely that any of our children will discover a new world in the back of one of our wardrobes or closets and become kings or queens of those worlds. Nor are we suggesting they find wolves or witches to kill. Rather we want them to be inspired by the courage, initiative and care for others demonstrated in these stories. Salter’s story succeeds well in this goal as he portrays hard working confident children who engage the outdoors, work together and are attentive to their surroundings.

We really enjoyed this book and commend it to you.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Crescent and the Cross: The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad

The Crescent and the Cross: The Eighth Voyage of Sinbad, Robert Rogland
(Saluda Press, 2015), pb., 208 pp
$12.95 + shipping & tax (how to purchase)
Ages 7-14

I found out about this book because the author is a friend of Douglas Bond, one of our favorite authors. With the friend connection and the idea of the book, I was intrigued.

This is a well-conceived story building on the well-known seven voyages of Sinbad and then telling of an eighth voyage during which Sinbad comes to faith in Jesus. The book is filled with good adventure, as the characters get out of one scrape just to fall into another (like the original Sinbad stories). The theological topics are handled well. The evangelization is done well and isn’t “bam” all of a sudden as is sometimes the case in Christian books. However, I do wonder if Muslims would think they were fairly represented, or if more of a straw man were presented. That thought nagged at me, but it was good for reading to my children (which is the intended audience).

This is a fun book which takes up significant theological truths in a way accessible to children, so I commend it to you. You can find information on how to purchase a copy at this link.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Comic Book Hero Bible

The Lion ComicBook Hero Bible, by Siku, Richard Thomas & Jeff Anderson
(Lion Hudson, 2015), hb. 192 pp.

This is Bible story book meets Marvel Comics. According to the publisher, this is the first Bible retelling to engage with and challenge the superhero genre. Here is an excerpt of the publishers description:

The Lion Comic Book Hero Bible is a dynamic expression of the Bible's depth and power, produced in the style of Marvel Comics. You've heard of Spiderman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Now meet Earthman, Lawman, Warrior Man, and many others. With dynamic illustration using a range of styles, Siku (Old Testament) and Jeff Anderson (New Testament) bring the Bible stories alive for a new and graphically sophisticated generation.”

The Bible does indeed have grand, epic stories and this fact is often missed by potential Bile readers. I heartily welcome efforts to help people grasp the power of the biblical stories. This retelling is generally faithful to the text, though of course it must be selective and move fast. At points I think it captures well the dramatic realities of the story. However, in general, I fear the truths of the text get lost in the medium. Is it really helpful to portray Deborah as a warrior with a spear known as “the Iron Maiden”(that's her just to the right of center on the cover picture)? Were the giants referred to in the OT, including Goliath, animalistic? It is not always clear when they present a character in a factual way or take some artistic license for another purpose. To their credit, they do make clear that Jesus is the ultimate hero of the biblical story.

In the end, I cannot recommend the book. It could be fine, but it manages to over-dramatize. I would commend instead The Picture Bible, which I have commented on previously.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Job in Poetry and Pictures

Illustrated by Todd Shaffer
(P&R, 2015), pb., 32 pp.

If you have read this blog for any time you will know that Douglas Bond is one of my family’s favorite authors. I had the opportunity to read the text of this new book a good while back, so I was eager to see the finished product. It did not disappoint.

Bond faithfully retells the story of Job in poetic form. The rhyme and rhythm makes the reading even more enjoyable as well as memorable. My younger children loved it! Then, Shaffer has done a good job capturing the feel of the story in his illustrations. The only character who Is not presented in the appearance of the Ancient Near East is Satan who looks like a mad professor from today!

The book closes with an original hymn by Bond which makes the Christological connection with Job’s expectant hope of a Redeemer. There is also in the back a list of difficult words explained, a quiz, and some questions for thought.

This is a great book for families- fun, educational and enriching. We warmly commend it to you.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The LEGO Architect

The Lego Architect, by Tom Alphin
(No Starch Press, 2015), hb., 186 pp.
Ages 8+

This book is a fascinating idea well presented. The author presents seven different architectural styles and then shows how to build in that style with Lego pieces. To get started he presents a brief history of architecture, and throughout the book he presents nice color photos of good examples of buildings from around the world in each style. I just expected a guide to building with Lego, but realized this was also an engaging way to learn about real architecture.

The guides to building with Lego are detailed and easy to follow. If you or your children enjoy Lego, this will be a fun book for building and learning.

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The Origin of "The Night Before Christmas"

Illustrated by Susan Winget
(Schiffer Publishing, 2013), hb., 54 pp.
Ages 4 & up

This is a fun book, richly illustrated, telling the story of how the famous poem, “The Night Before Christmas” was conceived. Apparently Clement Moore first developed and told the poem as a Christmas present for his sick daughter. The poem was first published anonymously. Some suggest Moore did not put his name to it because he didn’t think such popular verse was fitting for his reputation as a scholar of biblical languages. He told his family the story of how the ideas came together for the poem, and the family passed the story down across generations. Then, Ms. Dinghy Sharp, great-great-granddaughter of Clement Moore told the story to Mark Moulton who has put it into verse reminiscent of the poem itself for this book. The result is fascinating and fun.

I thought the story in verse was well done and engaging. It was a delight to see pieces of the famous poem embedded in the author’s experience the night of writing the poem, from the sleigh, to sugar plums to a kindly old woodman who was secretly leaving firewood for families. This woodman, who was “rotund and jolly,” had a white beard, was dressed in red coat, and was known for telling stories to the village children gathered round in the general store.

It was fun to me to discover that Clement Moore was a biblical scholar (he published a Hebrew-English Lexicon), and watching for echoes of the poem in Moore’s Christmas Eve outing was a delight. We had a lot of fun with this book and commend it to you.

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