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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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Douglas Bond's Hand of Vengeance

Hand of Vengeance, Douglas Bond
Heroes & History Series
(P&R, 2012), pb., 190 pp.
Ages 8 and up

If you have read much on this blog you will know that Douglas Bond is one of our favorite writers. Books of his that we have read come up in conversation often and his visit to our home is a top memory for my older boys. So, we have been anticipating when this more recent book of his would come up in the reading schedule for school for my younger children. It did not disappoint.

As usual Bond sets the story amidst something historically significant. This story occurs in 8th century Lindisfarne in England where the Gospels were being copied and illuminated. The Lindisfarne Gospels are beautiful manuscripts with significant historical importance and are now held at the British Library. Bond weaves the copying of these manuscripts into his story giving a feel for life in this time as monks do their work, a feudal society seeks to maintain order and they live in fear of Viking raids. In this setting Bond weaves a murder mystery with intrigue, romance, a Sherlock Holmes-type monk with keen points on justice and the gospel along the way.

We enjoyed this story with my 8 year old daughter begging us too keep reading. My 7 year old son was not yet ready to follow as well, which is why I’ve given the age suggestion listed above. The place to start with Bond’s books is the Crown and Covenant series or the Mr. Pipes series, but after those we commend this story to you as well. And we continue to anticipate every new book from Mr. Bond!

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Saturday, December 13, 2014

Santa’s (Zany, Wacky, Just not Right!) Night Before Christmas

Santa’s (Zany,Wacky, Just not Right!) Night Before Christmas, by DK Simoneau & David Radman
Illustrated by Brad Cornelius
(AC Publications Group, 2014), hb., 32 pp.
Ages 3-7

This is a fun, lighthearted book with nice illustrations. It is written in rhyme which enhances the experience of reading it aloud, and the fact that the little mouse shows up on each page adds another dimension as you try to find him at each turn.

We have never done Santa in our family, but that does not keep us from enjoying fun stories like this one. This was a fun, light read.


Advent books

Over the years I have mentioned here a variety of books for Advent and Christmas and these can be found here. As I’ve mentioned before, among all of these books and numerous nice new Advent books we continue to return each year to Christ in Christmas: A Family Advent Celebration (you can see my previous post on the book here). The book is wonderfully simple, giving us key texts to read and then two songs to sing for each week. This allows us to pursue conversation about the songs and texts to whatever degree fits each setting according to ages, time, etc.

Our children now look forward to this during the year, and in the evenings it is not uncommon to hear my younger ones say, “Let’s hurry and get things done so we can do Advent!” The picture here is of Timothy, my youngest (7 yrs old) on the big night when he had his first reading this year.  I had not thought much of it, but it was all he could talk about the day leading up to it (for some reason he also wanted to wear his Thanksgiving puppet as a hat!). This simple little book has been a great help to us in establishing this tradition in our family, and we commend it to you.

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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Augustine on a Father's Duty

"those who are true fathers of their households desire and endeavour that all the members of their household, equally with their own children, should worship and win God, and should come to that heavenly home"
-City of God, Book 19, Chapter 16