Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O’Brien
Ages 6 & up

I loved this book when an elementary teacher of mine read it to me, and I recently had the joy of reading it to my younger two children. It is a wonderful story with adventure, suspense, nobility, courage and a strong family portrait. If you are not familiar with it, Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse who needs help moving her house before the plowing comes and destroys it with her sick son inside. She eventually obtains help from a group of rats who have attained high intelligence because they were experimented on by the National Institute of Mental Health. The story is greatly enhanced by the fact that as the story unfolds various interconnections are revealed producing “aha!” moments. It is a very clever story.

The book does presume evolution which shows up in a place or two, but it is not aggressive (I take such places as opportunity to discuss again what we believe). In addition to courage and caring for one another, one of the strong points of the book is the hearty affirmation of learning. After the rats have gained intelligence and are on their own the come to a house and discover its library.

“But the greatest treasure of all, for us, was in the study. This was a large rectangular room, with walnut paneling, a walnut desk, leather chairs, and walls lined to the ceiling with books. Thousands of books, about every subject you could think of. There were shelves of paperbacks; there were encyclopedias, histories, novels, philosophies, and textbooks of physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, and others, more than I can name. Luckily, there was even one of those small ladders-on-wheels they use in some libraries to get to the top shelves.

Well, we fell on those books with even more appetite than on the food. …

And all winter, far into the night, we read books and we practiced writing.”

Obviously Mr. O’Brien had seen nice libraries and had been taken with them. This is picture in my mind of a grand study. I want to give this passion for reading to my children and what better way than in the midst of a fun story with such a compelling portrait of the enjoyment of reading.

We enjoyed this book and commend it to you.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Blue Baboon in the Big Balloon

The Blue Baboon in the Big Balloon, by Sarah & Steve Mostyn
(Mostyn Books, 2014), pb., 32 pp.

Ages 3-8
List $12.95

This is a fun, lighthearted book which we enjoyed. There is no deep message here, but the authors have fun making rhymes and tongue twisters in the context of a silly story. My 8 year old daughter, 6 year old son and I laughed along with the story and had a good time. How can you go wrong with a blue baboon in a big balloon, a cat named Matt, a family of mice who eat fried rice, and an orange mite who likes to fight with a troll named Dwight? And that’s not all! Throw in a flight to the moon where there are raccoons in cocoons and a panda on the veranda, and it’s enough of a deusey to make you woozy!

This is the first children book from this husband and wife duo and I look forward to more from them.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

Goodnight Songs by Margaret Wise Brown

Goodnight Songs, by Margaret Wise Brown
(Stirling Children’s Books, 2014), hb., 28 pp.
CD included
Ages 3-7

Margaret Wise Brown (1910-1952) is the author of GoodnightMoon, a fun little book that we have enjoyed for years. Apparently others have enjoyed it as well since it has sold over four million copies! This book brings to light 12 previously unpublished poems by Margaret Wise Brown with illustrated by 12 different award-winning illustrators and set to music by Tom Proutt and Emily Gary. The CD, which is included, contains the musical version of each poem sung by Proutt and Gary.

This is a neat project, bringing to light material previously unknown to the public from a beloved author. However, we did not find this book as engaging as Goodnight Moon. Most of the poems left us (myself, my 8 year old daughter and my 6 year old son) lacking. The music was interesting but not compelling. In the end, this was for us a book worth looking at but not one we would purchase.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sterling North’s Rascal

Ages 6 & up

This is a beautiful story, compelling and moving, one that makes you ache in just the right way. I remember my mother reading this book to me as a child, so I recently read it to my younger children. I was able to read it to them using the copy my mother read to me, which was a copy my father received and read when he was a boy (in the photos)

The story chronicles a year in North’s boyhood (1918-19) in Wisconsin when he raises a wild raccoon as his pet. As I read the book I found myself saying that it made me long for a simpler, better time. Only later did I discover the subtitle which I had overlooked, “A Memoir of a Better Era.” That aptly describes the story in which boys can roam free in the woods without worry, father and son can camp along a roadside, and generally no busybodies hyperventilate about some adventure and mishap.

We thoroughly enjoyed the story with the antics of Rascal, the adventures of North and his friends and the great outdoors. It made me long for more time outdoors myself. There were also poignant moments when the specter of the War (World War I) loomed and Sterling hoped for the safe return of his older brother. I loved the initiative, spunk, and hard work seen in North, the main character. He persevered wit building his own canoe, found odd jobs to pay for supplies, raised his own garden, cared for his various pets (raccoon, skunks, crow, dog and others), built an enclosure for Rascal and many other things. Even though his mother has died and his father is sometimes away, there is a strong family connection as well.

We heartily commend Rascal to you!

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Fiction Makes Our Brains Better

In posts at this site I encourage the reading of good fiction, and, of course, one of my purposes in providing reviews is to help point people to good fiction.Reading has many benefits, and I was quite interested in this video which was pointed out to me by one of our favorite authors, Douglas Bond.

This is well worth the three minutes to watch:

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

N. D. Wilson on Darkness and Children's Stories

N. D. Wilson has a really good, brief article in the latest issue of Christianity Today on the place of evil and pain in children's stories. It is well worth reading and will be helpful as you consider books for your children.
Wilson argues that we ought not give children only books where all goes well. Instead they need stories where evil is encountered and dealt with appropriately. He quotes G. K. Chesterton: "If the characters are not wicked, the book is." Wilson's point is well made:

"Childhood is the time for truth, and adulthood is the time for a deeper understanding of the same. To seed courage, we must show fear. To reveal triumph, we must build enemies. To tell the truth about what it means to be heroic, we must spin a fiction full of danger."
Wilson appropriately notes that the issue is dosage. Children don't need to face the full onslaught of human depravity but good stories prepare them for encountering evil and overcoming. I encourage you to read the full article.

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Friday, December 06, 2013

How Can I Help? God’s Calling for Kids

How Can I Help? God’s Calling for Kids, by Mary Moerbe with Gene Veith
Illustrated by Jennifer Zivoin
(Concordia Publishing House, 2013), hb., 32pp.
Ages 3-8

This is a fun, beautifully illustrated little book which focuses, in simple terms, on how children can serve God by helping those around them. The text tends to go back and forth between ways people help children and ways children can help in return. The simple, everyday focus of the book is its strength. It aims to show children they do not have to wait until they are adults to serve God. They do not have to do “big” or “adult” things in order to serve God.

In fact this little book, along with the opening “For Parents” section by Gene Veith, can be a helpful, eye-opening resource for parents. Veith explains the biblical idea of vocation which was recovered at the Reformation and applies this to children. Thus, “Being a child is a vocation, a calling from God.” Veith draws from Martin Luther’s teaching that a little boy obeying his parents or a little girl doing his chores is doing a holier work than the strictest of monks or nuns. For many adults this will be new information, which only increases the value of this little book.

My children enjoyed it and I was glad to have a resource which reaffirms what we are regularly teaching: that they have a calling just like mom and dad, and their calling begins with obeying at home and extends to helping and serving others. This will make a great gift.

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