Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Lost Baron

The Lost Baron, Allen French
(1940; Bethlehem Books 2001), 297 pp, pb

Wow! Another homerun from Allen French! After Rolf and the Viking Bow, The Red Keep and now the Lost Baron, French has become one of our favorite authors. French really knew how to tell a story. We tend to blow through these books because they are so much fun that we don’t want to put them down. All the while we cover what life was like in feudal Britain.

This story is set in Cornwall in the year 1200. The structure of the story bears the closer resemblance to The Red Keep. A young girl is left the heiress of a castle and its lands after the death or disappearance of her father, but another man holds power over the lands. Further in both stories the young woman is eventually helped by a local young man as he comes to age. These similarities in no way detract from either story in my opinion, or in the opinion of my boys.

In this story Martin is the young hero and he provides a great example of various qualities including bravery, honor, loyalty, humility and wisdom. French also clearly seeks to advocate a concern for the common people from those of the nobility. This story pulled in my 6 year old as well as my 9 and 8 year olds. Even my 3 year old repeated portions of the story to me along the way!

This is another great book and we give it our highest recommendation.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reviews Coming

Mom and baby are doing well, though sleep and extra time, as usual, have been less. :)
I thought I would at least write briefly to note the books which are ready for reviewing just as soon as there is time to write!

We finished reading The Lost Baron just as the baby arrived, so I am itching to write on one more homerun by Allen French. He is becoming one of our favorite authors. Then tomorrow night we should finish Howard Pyle’s, Men of Iron. I have been trying for sometime to complete my review of Hymns for a Kid's Heart, by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada. I have also been waiting for enough time to do justice to the wonderful Big Picture Story Bible, which you probably have noticed is already listed in the side column of ‘favorites’ even though no review has been written yet. Then, there is the ESV Children's Bible which my boys love and I am ready to review as well.

Hopefully some of these will appear soon.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Story Telling, by Edgar Guest

Since I amnot able to write up a review just now, I'll post a poem from a poet I really like, Edgar Guest. I have been reading Guest for a few years but just today came across this poem. I like what he expresses here.

Story Telling
Edgar Guest

Most every night when they're in bed,
And both their little prayers have said,
They shout for me to come upstairs
And tell them tales of gypsies bold,
And eagles with the claws that hold
A baby's weight, and fairy sprites
That roam the woods on starry nights.

And I must illustrate these tales,
Must imitate the northern gales
That toss the Indian's canoe,
And show the way he paddles, too.
If in the story comes a bear,
I have to pause and sniff the air
And show the way he climbs the trees
To steal the honey from the bees.

And then I buzz like angry bees
And sting him on his nose and knees
And howl in pain, till mother cries:
"That pair will never shut their eyes,
While all that noise up there you make;
You're simply keeping them awake."
And then they whisper: "Just one more,"
And once again I'm forced to roar.

New stories every night they ask.
And that is not an easy task;
I have to be so many things,
The frog that croaks, the lark that sings,
The cunning fox, the frightened hen;
But just last night they stumped me, when
They wanted me to twist and squirm
And imitate an angle worm.

At last they tumble off to sleep,
And softly from their room I creep
And brush and comb the shock of hair
I tossed about to be a bear.
Then mother says: "Well, I should say
You're just as much a child as they."
But you can bet I'll not resign
That story telling job of mine.

From the book "Rhymes Of Childhood" ©1924

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Baby Before Blogging :)

Blogging will be suspended a few days due to the arrival of our fifth child- but first girl!- this morning at 8:54. Abigail Calene was 8 pounds 11 ounces and was 20.5 inches long. Mom and baby are doing well, and big brothers are very proud. Coming as she did on Easter Sunday – as mom had long predicted- she is our little reminder of new life.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The King's Shadow

The King's Shadow, Elizabeth Alder
(Bantam Double Day Dell, 1995), pb., 259

My wife reads to our boys in the afternoon as the key part of our history studies, and then I read to them in the evening before bed. Sometimes I end up jealous :) over books that I miss out on, and this was one of those! My boys really liked it and so did my wife. She often would fill me in later in the evening.

The story centers around a young Welsh serf, Evyn, whose life is suddenly overturned with the killing of his father and the cutting out of his tongue. The story follows Evyn’s life as he eventually becomes a servant to Earl Harold of Wessex, eventually King Harold. The story leads right up to the Battle of Hastings where William the Conqueror defeated Harold. The adventures along the way are well told, and the worldview which emerges clearly from the story is so good. The clear point in the story is persevering through trials and finding one’s purpose in life. The book is full of sturdy, hearty sense. The best way to illustrate this without giving away the whole story is to include here a brief excerpt. This part of the story occurs as Evyn interacts with a young monk friend, Lewys. Mrs. Alder wonderfully presents an encounter where one friend refuses to allow another friend to sulk in self-pity but instead does the difficult, and risky, work of confronting that friend with the truth he needs to truly persevere.

That night in the whitewashed cell he shared with Lewys, Evyn sat with his wax tablet on his knees, writing furiously while Lewys looked over his shoulder in amusement and a little irritation. Lewys read the first line aloud: “ ‘I will not go back.’” He walked over to look Evyn in the face, and as he did so his huge shadow followed him around the candlelit room.
“Evyn, our lives are not our own. After all that you have endured” – Lewys’s green eyes narrowed with intensity – “you of everyone here must know that.” He paused, pressing his lips together in exasperation. “I am a monk. I answer to the abbot. By God’s will he is my lord here in this life. But you were meant to live in the world. And, as God has made Harold Earl of all these lands, so he, Harold, is your lord. To serve God, you must serve Harold.”
Evyn sneered and bent over his tablet again, his knife racing swiftly across the surface, forming letters. When he finished, he held the tablet up for Lewys to see.
“ ‘As water boy?’” Lewys read. “Ah, I see, the Devil’s favorite sin – pride. You still fancy yourself a free man and a storiawr, do you? Are you too important to draw water? Does that not bring life and health to people?”
Evyn scribbled again.
“So, they are not your people, you say. Tell me, Evyn, where are your people?” Lewys raised his voice sharply. He would be cruel, if need be, to make Evyn understand. “Your people are in a Carmarthen graveyard. That was your old life. You are no longer Evyn of Carmarthen. You are no longer free. You are a silent shadow now. Why God has allowed this I do not know. But I do know that now it is your duty to serve Harold, and if Harold’s Lady needs a water boy, then that is your vocation, and you should fulfill it with holy pride, which comes of serving God.”
Lewys paced the room again, running his fingers through the fringe of his hair, while Evyn sat sullenly hunched over his wax tablet.
“Do you know,” Lewys said suddenly on a different tack, “that you have yet to make one sign of gratitude for all you have received from Harold’s Lady? It was in her power to make you a galley slave or a mole burrowing in one of the mines. Instead, she gave you food and clothing, and kind words, too, I will wager.” (p. 72-73)

This is a truly biblical worldview- whether intended by the author or not I do not know. We have here the need for trusting God even when we don't understand, simply serving God wherever we find ourselves, not thinking ourselves above menial serivce, the fect that we serve God only as we submit to proper authority, the need for gratitude no matter how hard life has been, and simply the picture of true friendship in being willing to speak the hard but necessary truth.

This was a good book for our boys in various ways (beyond the basic goal of learning history!) confronting whining, teaching gratitude, self-sacrifice and perseverance. The account of his tongue being cut out could be a bit much for a younger audience. My boys were 9, 8 and 6 at the time of the reading, and it was fine for them. We would commend this book heartily.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket

If All the Swords in England: A Story of Thomas Becket , Barbara Willard
(1961; repr. Bethlehem Books, 2000), pb. 181 pp.

The story of Thomas Becket’s brave stand against the King is a moving and powerful story. It is full of lessons and examples about ultimate allegiance to God alone and the willingness to follow God even to the point of death. However, this retelling of the story does not succeed very well in communicating this powerful account. Mrs. Willard seems to assume her audience knows the story already, and therefore jumps about in the story often without clear clues to her readers. This is similar to my complaint with her other book, Son of Charlemagne.

Honestly, this is one we endured our way through. I had to work hard to salvage the key points of the story. The account follows pretty carefully historical accounts as far as I can tell, but it simply is not communicated well. Tell your children about Thomas Becket, but look for other resources to help you in doing so.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien

This was a fun book to finally read with my boys (which was also my first reading of the book as well). This book, like most it seems, did start a bit slowly, but my boys really loved it once it got going. It helped that there was some built in anticipation because we have talked about this book and the Lord of the Rings for a little while. A good friend gave us a very nice deluxe edition of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy about a year ago so that has added to the anticipation.

The story speaks to various important themes including courage/nobility, pluck, teamwork, simplicity, and the danger of greed. Tolkien, of course, is not writing an allegory (in contrast to Lewis’ Narnia) so we are not to look for direct connections to the gospel. However, he has created a meaningful world, so there are connections to biblical truths about living. As has been said, all the truly great stories are great because they resemble at some level the story- the drama of redemption.

In The Hobbit each character has his flaws, so we see real ‘people’ dealing with the issues of life, encountering fears and temptations. This opens up numerous possibilities for conversations with your children. As the characters travel through the Mirkwood the challenge is to remain on the path in obedience to their directions, acting in faith in spite of their feelings and resisting distractions ( The earnest command to stay on the path is reminiscent of Pilgrim’s Progress) This was very relevant for some issues with our boys. The dragon of course is the picture of evil. The reading is all the more meaningful if you are aware of the traditional associations of the dragon- evil, greedy, and wily. There is a strong message about greed as the dragon is the greedy one and then when the treasure is captured greed affects those who have obtained it. In fact, the dwarf leader, Thorin, eventually says to Bilbo, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” (272-73).

Then as the story closes there is almost a surprise at the end as Gandalf mildly chides Bilbo for seeming not to be surprised at the fulfillment of the prophecies.

“Of course!” said Gandalf. “And why should not they prove true? Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!” (290)

So, the story closes by affirming that something more is at work here than simply one creature having an incredible journey- the old prophecies are coming true. Exactly what Tolkien was up to here, I am not sure. But from a Christian standpoint, this opened up conversation about how God works history to His ends, how he still uses us in the process, and how our lives are about more than just us. We are playing our part in the bigger drama of God’s working in history.

Lastly, the edition we used (the one pictured above) has some really nice illustrations which my boys enjoyed checking out between readings.

Added note: At the time of this reading my boys are 9, 8, 6 (also a three year old but he was not much into it!). They all enjoyed it and followed well. I think the 6 year old might not have followed as well if it were not for older brothers. Perhaps that will help in your thinking about when this book might be good for your children.