Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Magic Tree House Series

The Magic Tree House Series, Mary Pope Osborne

My boys really enjoy this series. We have listened to some on tape, my wife has read some to them, but mostly they have read these themselves. These have been some of the best books for them to get started with a love for reading.

The stories are centered around the adventures of a brother and sister duo, Jack and Annie, as they travel across time in their magic treehouse. They encounter various situations looking for clues and learning about historical events. This is not the source for profound or critical history lessons, but it is a good way to gain basic awareness of popular history.

The writing is on an easier level, but not simplistic. The adventure and intrigue make it a great draw for my boys, and we would recommend them.

A question has come up in the comments because some others have specifically not recommended this series. I have addressed this some in the comments here, and I will offer some clarification as well.

I am recommending this series primarily as something for children to read on their own. They are not up to the level of some other books recommended here. They are not the most in depth kid’s books on history. However, we have found them to be acceptable. They have been good places for a start for our boys in reading for themselves. The element of mystery and adventure are appealing, and being a series there is a draw to keep reading. These have been books, then, that our boys have saved up money to buy in order to keep going with the series. We have been pleased with that sort of interest and in the fact that they get a basic awareness of the historical events. The tie in to Camelot during part of the series is an added benefit as well since knights are a big favorite of ours.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Awesome God: Worship Songs for Children

Awesome God: Worship Songs for Children, Sovereign Grace Music

Several weeks ago I, along with a number of other bloggers, received a copy of this CD for review. Sovereign Grace Music is a division of Sovereign Grace Ministries, the ministry led by C. J. Mahaney.
At first I was not especially taken with the CD because the music is not particularly my style. My boys thought the chorus of “Forever God” was a bit funny as it repeated “on and on and on.” They said it went “on and on and on.” However, from the beginning we appreciated the careful and substantial lyrics. Indeed, as we listened more we were won over. Now it is a favorite. The music is fun, but the best part is the God-centered, gospel-oriented lyrics.

One that I especially like is “Your Love.” The chorus in part says:
Your awesome love protects me
When I sin your love corrects me
You’re faithful to direct me
Always to Your love
I appreciate the discussion of God’s love including his gracious discipline and care.

This can be a fun resource for encouraging our children in thinking biblically.


Monday, March 27, 2006

Craftsmen, reading to your children

Craftsmen: Skilfully Leading Your Family for Christ , by John Crotts
(Shepherd Press, 2005), pb., 160 pp.

This is not a book for reading to your children but a book particularly to Dads about leading their families. The author draws from the Old Testament wisdom literature to talk about being a wise man in your family. I think the subtitle promised more than was delivered, but Proverbs is so good that simply the gathering of some of them along topics and then citing them is helpful itself. So, in the end, this is a fine book, and will be helpful. I was just looking for more direct application to the role of husband and father. At some places he does more of this but, it is not consistent.
My point in listing it here though is his last chapter, "Sources of Wisdom,” which was one of the best chapters. In one section he discusses ways that parents can impart wisdom to their children (p. 146 ff.). He opens with a great quote:
“The biggest beneficiaries of a wise man in the house are his wife a children” (146).
Well put. As I often say to myself and other men, “If you want to bless and help your family, pursue godliness with all you have."

Crotts goes on though to list several ways a father can impart wisdom. Among them he lists stories. I was pleased to see this. He focuses primarily on the relating of your personal story as Solomon does in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Then he also does mention the value of other stories. Here is the key paragraph.

“Of course illustrating God’s wisdom through stories should reach beyond your own experiences. Tell your children all kinds of stories. Read biographies of heroes of the faith. Use their accounts to instruct your family. Enjoy fictional tales as well. God seems to have given children an incredible appetite for stories. Satisfy their hunger and impart true knowledge at the same time.” (148)

AMEN! This is what this is site is all about. In our home, the dinner table is the typical place for telling our stories. My second son will often plead for another story from “when you and Momma were little.” These stories frame their worldview in ways beyond what we can imagine. They remember better than we do what we have told them. Then bedtime is especially given to reading other stories.

So, this is an encouraging book. I am glad to see the encouraging of fathers in this realm. Too often only the mothers are involved- it seems that mostly mothers read this site. I am not in any way hoping for a decrease in the involvement of mothers- far from it! (see 2 Tim 1:5; 3:14-15) However, I do long to see an increase in the involvement of fathers.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Max Lucado’s Wemmicks

We saw the first of these books, You Are Special, several years ago when some friends gave it to us as a gift. Only more recently have we seen the sequel, If Only I Had a Green Nose . Anyone who has read even a little of Lucado knows that he is certainly a gifted writer, so these are engaging stories. The artwork by Sergio Martinez is nicely done as well. However, as could be anticipated by reading Lucado, the theology contained here is disappointing.

The stories center around Punchinello, a Wemmick, as he lives in his fallen little world of Wemmicksville. Wemmicks are little wooden people and their Maker, the woodcarver Eli, lives atop the nearby hill. The use of Eli (Hebrew for “My God”) for the “God-figure” is well done. Lucado’s main goal in both books seems to be to address the issue of self-esteem. In the sequel this is not bad as the point is simply not to try to be like everyone else. In You Are Special, however, self-esteem seems to trump the gospel. When Punchinello approaches Eli for the first time, Eli’s only message is “You’re ok.” The goal of coming to God on a regular basis is feeling better about yourself, no longer being worried about other’s opinions. Surely finding peace in God’s acceptance is a good point, but sinful people, including children, cannot find acceptance with God without the gospel. Perhaps some would say, “That’s assumed.” But we cannot simply assume the most important issues. We must speak to the reality of sin and God’s wrath so that our children will see the desperateness of our situation and the glory of the gospel’s offer of forgiveness. Some also shrink from speaking so plainly of sin and wrath to our children, but such fears are without basis. Love requires us to speak truth not to hide from it.

In the end the creativity of these stories is nice, but the theology is shallow, superficial and man-centered. I want books for my children that present the glory and greatness of God, the reality of sin, and the incredible wonder of God’s grace in the gospel. There are enough books in this direction not to bother with books like these two.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Shepherd Press Catalogue

Shepherd Press Catalogue

Here is another good resource we enjoy for finding children’s books. Shepherd Press (publisher of Ted Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart material) includes in its catalogue books they publish as well as other books they would recommend. I have previously recommended their commentary series for children. The St. George and the Dragon book I recommended is also found in this catalogue. This catalogue is not as extensive as the Veritas catalogue, but it is a good resource. They also offer books on various other realms of Christian living and often include good essays on parenting or other facets of discipleship. You can request a free copy of the catalogue here.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Saint George and the Dragon

Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges
Illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman (Little, Brown and Company; 1984)
Hb. 32 pp., $16.95, ISBN 0316367893

This is a nicely done adaptation from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen, beautifully illustrated. It is well deserving of its Caldecott Medal. The great illustrations captivate young and old, and the story speaks well to courage, nobility, perseverance and protecting the defenseless. This is one of the first books I read to my boys dealing with knights and dragons. It remains a favorite among them today. I am writing this brief review now because one of them brought our copy out this afternoon to look back through it again. This is one I hope shapes their thoughts well.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Roger Lancelyn Green
(1953; Puffin Books, 1994) pb., 330 pp.

I really enjoyed the King Arthur stories as a boy and looked forward to reading them to my boys. There are various renditions of course (and I have gathered a number of them over the years), but this one is particularly interesting because it was done by a significant literary figure (and friend of C. S. Lewis). In his introduction, Green notes that the Arthurian legends are inconsistent and incoherent as they come from various sources. Green attempts here to draw them together into one story.

The inconsistency of the legends can be felt in the reading. In the early portion of the book I was often frustrated with the underlying worldview. Honor is often thought to be found in fighting and killing each other almost as sport. Oddly enough later in the book this idea is judged harshly, and the noble knight is the one who fights only when there is a just and necessary cause. Similarly, the pride of knights seems to be condoned in the earlier parts, but is severely criticized in the latter parts. My boys picked up on the inconsistency.

While the book seemed to start slow (this seems to be a recurring theme in my reviews), eventually my boys really got into it. Even with the faults, the stories are explicitly Christian. They intend to be Christian even when they fall short of a truly biblical worldview. This combined with my boys growing interest caused me to persevere with the reading. Along the way, and especially as we came to the latter half (roughly) of the book we found many good morals. Form the earlier part of the book, in the story of the brothers Balyn and Balan, there is a strong point of perseverance in spite of being placed in difficult circumstances. At one point Balan says to his brother:
“Many sad things have indeed befallen you,” said Balan, “but we must endure even the hardest adventures that God sends us.”
Here you have perseverance under the sovereign hand of God. This provided very useful fuel for discussion for perseverance in homework, etc. Somehow it resonates a bit more with my boys when tied to knighthood! Furthermore, as the story turns to the quest for the Holy Grail the issue of purity of heart, and resistance of temptation comes strongly to the fore. This too provided many useful opportunities for discussing various temptations and distractions which face us.

Anyone familiar with the basic story will know that some of the temptation that comes to various knights is sexual. However, Green handles this very tactfully. Sometimes he simply says that maidens tempted the knight without further explanation, or the temptation is phrased in terms of trying to get the knight to marry or kiss a maiden who is married to another. For my boys this was a very tasteful reminder of the sanctity of marriage and the preserving oneself (here represented as kissing) for marriage.

In the end, the story comes across as a significantly Christianized fable. It sounds almost like a thoroughgoing exhortation to Christian living in terms of medieval spirituality. Thus, it would need explanation and some editing, but with that it can be very useful.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Theras and His Town

Theras and His Town, Caroline Dale Snedeker
(1924; reprint, American Home-School Publishing, 2002), pb. 237 pp.

We read this book last school year as we studied Greece and Rome. The idea of the book is to tell a story which provides a contrast between life in Athens and life in Sparta. The story works well and does provide a good look at life in these two key Greek city states.

However, I was really surprised by the religious statements in this book. Having found this book in the Veritas Press catalogue, I expected either a Christian world view or something less explicit. However, various times statements were made, as obvious asides to the modern reader, condoning the polytheism and idolatry of the Greeks. For example when discussing Athena, at one point the author cautions us (particularly the children) not to judge the character too harshly for worshipping a statue. She explains that all the people in Athens prayed to Athena and then writes:

And often they prayed to Athena so truly and thought her so good and kind that their prayers reached to the true God over all. (45)
I was totally caught off guard and shocked- to so easily disregard the exclusivity of Christ! It did provide an opportunity to clarify with my boys. This kind of sentiment appeared with some frequency. One might choose to use this book for some history, but would need to know in advance so as to edit or be ready to correct. In all, there are a number of good books in this area so that this one can be bypassed.

Veritas Catalogue, Another Resource for book ideas

One of our most useful resources for recommending good books is actually the free catalogue available from Veritas Press. Veritas lists books recommended for use in classical education. We find it useful in our work of classical home education, but I have often recommended as a good resource for parents in various settings. Many of the books I review on this site have been read in our family because we found them in this catalogue. We have found that some books they like have not been all that good in our opinion (you can find those opinions on this site). Still, this is a very useful (and free!) resource broken down in age ranges.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Pivotal Posts

In order to provide a an easier way to get oriented to this site, my friend Brian Denker has added a category on the right hand side of the page entitled “Pivotal Posts.” At the moment the one item listed there is an article I wrote previously explaining briefly some of my basic thoughts on Bible material for children and some of the books my family had found most helpful at the time of the first writing (a few years ago now). If you want to get a quick orientation that might be a good place to look.
This blog post originally pointed to this article.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Most of All, Jesus Loves You

Most of All, Jesus Loves You, Noël Piper
Illustrated by Debby Anderson (Crossway Books, 2004), hb., 24pp.

This little book is written as a parent speaking directly to his/her child. It lists various people who love the child ending with “Most of all, Jesus loves you.” That is the extent of the text. I, honestly, was a bit surprised at the brevity of it. While it has the nice illustrations of Debby Anderson as in I Love My Bible, it lacks the same sort of depth. Now, I use ‘depth’ advisedly knowing we are considering reading to young children. Still I have become accustomed to books with a bit more substance even for young children (some have been discussed here).

For what it is this is a fine book. One just should realize what it is and what it is not. It is essentially a brief ‘goodnight’ for your children. The back cover suggests the book is for children ages 3 to 7. I think it will be most useful to children three and younger. The sweetest thing about it is the dedication which suggests this is a distillation of what Mrs. Piper regularly said each night to one of her daughters. The book does represent something good to say to our children. I just don’t think I would purchase a book for this.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Boy’s Guide to the Historical Adventures of G. A. Henty

The Boy’s Guide to the Historical Adventures of G. A. Henty
By William Porter (Vision Forum, 2000), pb., 122 pp.

Since I just commented on one of Mr. Henty’s famous novels I thought it might be useful to mention this volume. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is entitled, “Why Boys Should Read the Magnificent Adventures of G. A. Henty,” and contains and introduction to the man and his work. Some might object to the exclusive focus on boys here, but there is no reason to do so. It is valuable to have books that address each gender specifically. Henty’s primary audience was boys as he sought to encourage and teach the values of courage, nobility and heroism- ideas which are not so highly prized to day but are all the more sorely missed. Furthermore, Henty pursues this task from a Christian worldview which is readily apparent in his books. The book contains this excerpt from an interview with Mr. Henty:

To be a true hero you must be a true Christian. To sum up, then, heroism is largely based upon two qualities- truthfulness and unselfishness, a readiness to put one’s own pleasure aside for that of others, to be courteous to all, kind to those younger than yourself, helpful to your parents, even if that helpfulness demands some slight sacrifice of your own pleasure. You must remember that these two qualities are true signs of Christian heroism. If one is to be a true Christian, one must be a Christian hero. True heroism is inseparable from true Christianity, and as a step towards the former I would urge most strongly and urgently the practice of the latter.
It is because this vision so much mirrors my own that I have collected Henty books for my boys. One other quote from the book (this time from Porter) will also help to make the point:

Perhaps the best reason boys should read G. A. Henty has already been alluded to: the Christian character of Henty’s boy-heroes made them men of Honor, fortitude, and perseverance. They took their place as leaders in the army, in civil government, in their professions, in trade, and in their families. They became manly men, unwavering in principle, eager to defend their families and prepared to die for family, nation, comrades, or in a just cause. Many of the real historical characters that anchor the stories, though flawed as all men are, still set examples that did not disappoint the boys of the story. From Richard the Lionhearted to William Wallace, from King Alfred to Gustavus Adolphus, from ‘Chinese’ Gordon to the Duke of Wellington, we see examples of men devoted to duty, unafraid of death, makers of history. Are these not traits we want our boys to admire and embrace?
The second, and longer, part lists 72 of Henty’s historical adventures chronologically and grouped according to historical eras. They span from 1250 B.C. to 1900 A.D. A page is given to each story describing the basic gist of the story. This provides a great tool for using these books in teaching your own children history. Whatever period you are studying, this volume can show you which Henty books are set in that period. Porter claims to have listed all of Henty’s historical novels written specifically for boys. I think I have found some not listed here, but I may be mistaken. At any rate, this book is a very useful tool both for arranging these novels historically and for providing an introduction to this man’s life.