Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Bedtime With My Boys

‘Bedtime With My Boys’
One of my favorite times is bedtime with my boys,
When we turn aside from the day’s busyness and noise.
We linger then together to read, talk and ponder
Over the Bible, stories, the day and wherever our minds might wander.
In this time more than any other of the day
Little hearts and minds open up, and I long to hear what they have to say
Of joys and fear, wonders and dreams
Of the way that life to each of them seems.
I see which of my lessons have sunk in well
And what views of life are beginning to gel.
Errors and almost truths oft expressed,
Can here be gently corrected and shaped to what’s best.
Truths and proper conclusions are stated as well,
Causing my soul to rejoice and my chest to swell.
Oh, what joy can be sweeter than from one’s offspring to hear,
Free, unprompted affirmation of truths you hold dear,
Assertions of warm-hearted orthodoxy
Aspirations of courage and nobility
Longing a good and godly man to be.

Yes, bedtime with my boys is a time I hold dear,
More and more precious with each passing year.
Lord, bless our discussions which go on each night
That well in the future they may grant my boys light
To walk in the path and keep to the straight way
And may they linger with their boys at bedtime someday.

“My son, keep my words, And treasure my commandments within you.” (Prov. 7:1)
“Listen, my son, and be wise, And direct your heart in the way” (Prov. 23:19)
“Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad” (Prov. 27:11)
“My son, if your heart is wise, My own heart also will be glad; And my inmost being will rejoice, When your lips speak what is right.” (Prov. 23:15-16)

- RVN, 5/15/03

Thursday, January 26, 2006

African Adventures

African Adventures , Dick Anderson
(Christian Focus Publications, 2003), pb. 96 pp.
ISBN 1-85792-807-5

This is a book of missionary stories written for children. Rather than a collection of stories from different people, as I had assumed, it is a group of stories drawn (with some modification) from the experiences of one missionary doctor and his friends in Kenya (whether the author is that doctor or someone recording the doctor’s stories, I do not know). The book develops chronologically along the missionary’s time with the Turkana people, so the reader sees the growth from a lone missionary, to the building of a mission hospital, to the arrival of his family, further staff and the development of a church. Each chapter consists of a short story (4-6 pages) centering around an adventure including encounters with jackals, leopards, lions, snakes, bandits and diseases. Each story concludes with one person in the story drawing a spiritual truth from the incident.

My boys (ages 4 to 7) thoroughly enjoyed the book, as I read it to them. The adventure dimension of the stories was effective. I appreciated the opportunity to give them a picture of missionary work. It brought more clarity and reality to our praying for missionaries. The publisher has two other titles in this series, Rainforest Adventures and Amazon Adventures. For reading with young children or for slightly older children to read on their own, this book is a simple, fun portrait of missionary activity.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


Tirzah, Lucille Travis
(Herald Press, 1991), 159 pp.

This is the story of a young Israelite girl, Tirzah, as she and her family follow Moses out of Egypt to Sinai and toward the Promised Land. We read this book about a year and a half ago and my boys (about 8 and 6 years old) enjoyed it. It was a bit slow for them in places, and I was a bit uncertain about some historical particulars, but overall it was a good book. It provides an ‘inside’ look on what it might have been like to be a part of the Exodus. Mrs. Travis does a good job in showing the presence of those who led the complaining against Moses. It is helpful in understanding the story to be reminded that these people would have been neighbors and family members of the rest. The story represents well the stresses and strains on families as they seek to survive, to understand whom to believe and follow (Moses or others), and to be faithful to God. We can tend to simply assume that it would have been easy to have faith in this situation, but the story shows the struggle to believe.

The story ends a bit suddenly, just after the Israelites (at least the majority) refused to enter the Promised Land at Beersheba. The book closes with Tirzah’s parents, who had been for obeying the Lord, sitting around the fire with their children contemplating the judgment just handed down from God. After sitting quietly the father led them in prayer with tears. Then he takes his wife’s hand and says to his children, “My children, though we shall never see the good land Yahweh has promised, you will … Your mother and I will prepare you for the day that will come when you shall enter the land. You will take our places, be our eyes, our ears. Your joy will be for us too. … We shall teach you all that we can, my dear ones, for as long as Yahweh wills.” When his wife begins to weep, he says, “Remember, my dear, we are forgiven. Yahweh’s love is great and his decree is just.” I had never considered a family sitting together contemplating the fact that the parents would die in the desert but the children would make it to the Promised Land. The picture of a faithful father leading his family through such a time with faith in the goodness of God was both convicting and encouraging. This powerful ending alone makes it a worthwhile read.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Family Worship Book

This is not actually a book to read to your children, but it is a great book about reading The Book to your children. Family worship, so common in previous days (indeed lack of it was often considered grounds for discipline!), has fallen on hard times. Terry Johnson's The Family Worship Book: A Resource Book for Family Devotions is a great resource for a family wanting to begin family worship. You can see my review of this book here. As you can see in the review, part of what I like about this book is the down to earth approach. Johnson encourages us to be simple and focused on the main thing. We have found this a helpful resource to take and adapt to our use.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Quintus: A Story about the Persecutions of Christians at the time of Emperor Nero

Quintus: A Story about the Persecutions of Christians at the time of Emperor Nero, R. Weerstand (2d ed.; Pro Ecclesia Publishers, 2000)

This book started out a bit slow with almost too obvious ‘preaching points.’ You could tell that the author was overtly trying to teach about life in Rome and to make theological points. At times it was a bit over the top telling you exactly what was on the devil’s mind at certain points or what the devil was doing. I always edited these portions. However, it did a good job portraying a young man struggling with the claims of Christians and the slander being spread about Christians before and after the burning of Rome. Once the story came to the point of the persecutions some good points were made (particularly from statements by the presbyter Sestianus) about suffering, trusting God even in difficulty and how God’s ways are always best.
One last note- the book is not for the very young. The death of Quintus’s mother in the fire is related forthrightly. Then, the tortures of Christians by burning in Nero’s gardens and being torn apart by wild animals are related in much gory detail. It appears the author is wanting to bring the point home- a viable position, but not so much for younger children.

Fountain of Life

Fountain of Life, Rebecca Martin (Christian Light Publications, 2001)

This was a fair book. It was not real exciting for young boys and misses it a bit on Jewish life. It comes across with a too exalted view of the Sadducees (probably not intended)- the Sadducees are the nice open-minded guys in contrast to the narrow-minded judgmental ones- and too negative a view of the Law. Nonetheless, it does depict local Jewish people struggling to understand the life and teachings of Jesus and clearly portrays for the reader the importance of repenting and believing in Jesus.

Homer for Children

Last year we covered Greece and Rome in our homeschooling, so we looked at a number of books on the Illiad and the Odyssey. We were very pleased with the two books by Rosemary Sutcliffe,Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of The Iliad and The Wanderings of Odysseus: The Story of the Odyssey . Mrs. Sutcliffe retells the story well communicating the action, adventure and intrigue. Furthermore, Alan Lee’s illustrations are masterful resulting in two very compelling books that make it easy to introduce children to these classic stories of western civilization. I enjoyed reading them simply for myself, and my boys would beg us not to stop reading.
Now two issues might come up concerning these stories. First, there is some female nudity in the illustrations. I think it occurs once. When using books with young boys, I think this is a legitimate concern. The illustration would probably be considered mild, but we were able simply not to show that picture to the boys and move on.
The second issue is that some wonder about teaching their children about pagan gods. We did not introduce discussion of Greek mythology until our boys were clearly grounded in the biblical view of God. Now this can be done easily by age four or five (not that they are ready for a degree in systematic theology, but they are clear that there is one true God, and know His basic attributes). Then, with a proper view of God in mind it was not problematic to encounter old stories about “the gods other people believed in.” We have regularly encountered people (in books) who held other views of God, and my boys readily discuss how their ideas conform to or fail to conform to Scripture. For example in reading Black Ships Before Troy we came to the section where Zeus descended to assist the Trojans. Then thinking everything well in hand, he turned aside to pressing matters in Egypt. Then, while he was not looking the tide of the battle turned so that Zeus discovered later, to his chagrin, that his side had lost! At this, my boys scoffed, commenting on how poor their gods are if they can be turned aside and be duped! This led to a great conversation about how the One True God is far superior to the various imagined gods men have conjured up. It is a great joy to see one’s young children see the deficiency of man made religion and in essence say with the Psalmist, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (96:5).

So we would highly recommend these two books. Penelope Lively has also written a companion volume retelling the Aeneid, In Search of a Homeland : The Story of the Aeneid . We have used it as well and would recommend it though it is not as good as Mrs. Sutcliffe’s books.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Reading and Listening

In this blog I am simply assuming the value and importance of reading aloud to your children. One of my goals in reading to my boys (in addition to the main goal of learning) is to develop a love for hearing good reading. So, books on tape or audio dramatizations fit our goals well. My boys love to listen to audio stories while we travel. These are great ways to encourage the art of listening and a love for being read to. Even if we had the chance, we would not take a video option in our automobile because we have already established an enjoyment of listening. One of our favorites is Adventures in Odysey, produced by Focus on the Family. These are nicely done stories, with good adventure and good morals. One could quibble with places, but by and large it is great stuff.
I posted earlier about one of our other favorites, the Chronicles of Narnia .

We have also enjoyed finding books on tape available at Cracker Barrel restaurants. You can purchase the tapes and then return them for a refund of most of your money. The result is that you can essentially rent the tapes for a very reasonable cost. If you return the tapes in a week you pay $3.49. When traveling this past summer we made much use of these and really enjoyed listening to books from the Magic Tree House series, the Boxcar Children series and the Hardy Boys.

Hand that Rocks the Cradle: Good Books to Read Aloud to Children

Hand that Rocks the Cradle: Good Books to Read Aloud to Children
By Nathaniel Bluedorn

We began building a library for our boys well before they could read. As we began one of the best resources we had was this little booklet, in which Bluedorn has listed books his parents read to him and his siblings as they were homeschooled. He lists over 400 books, grouped according to three reading levels (easy, difficult, advanced), and most books have a brief annotation. It is a great resource as you go along looking for books. I kept this booklet with me in Scotland so I would know what to look for when I had a chance to step into the used bookshops. The booklet is published by the Bluedorn’s family business Trivium Pursuit.

The Christmas Troll

The Christmas Troll
By Eugene Peterson (NavPress, 2004)

I bought this book a year ago because I think Peterson is a good writer and story teller. However, this book was a disappointment to me. It is nicely illustrated and the story is fine, there just was not much to it. The point of the book can be summarized in one of Peterson’s lines form the book, “Gifts are for giving and receiving, not for grabbing and getting.” That’s a fine lesson but the book simply was not as substantive as others we have read.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Gold Thread

The Gold Thread: A Story for the Young, by Norman Macleod, D.D.
(London: Burnet & Isbiter, nd), 68 pp.

I found this old book in a little bookshop in Scotland, and it has become a favorite in our family. This is a beautiful allegory of the Christian life in a manner that reminded me of C. S. Lewis though I believe this would have been written prior to Lewis.

The story is all about Eric, son of good King Magnus. He has gotten lost in the wood because he strayed from the Gold Thread which would safely guide him through the wood back to his Father. Eric endures difficulties being lost in the wood, finds his way back to the thread, and must face various temptations and threats which would pull him away from the thread. I am not entirely sure what Macleod’s intention was, but I took the Gold Thread as a symbol for Scripture, that which is to guide is along our way on the journey to our Father’s kingdom. The temptations to leave the thread, even slightly, that Eric faces portray in a very compelling way the temptations which we face do divert from Scripture. At places it seems impossible to go on with the thread, that it will lead into a wall or over a cliff or into the clutches of a lion, but each time when he follows on in faith the thread does lead him safely along. These parts of the story provide a great picture of faith, trusting and obeying God’s Word even when we do not understand- an important lesson powerful communicated.

My boys enjoyed this story beginning around the age of five. It is clearly written and full of adventure. I recommend it heartily, as it is one of oru families all time favorites. Used copies can sometimes be found, and more recently a reprint edition of this wonderful little book has been made available.

Son of Charlemagne

Son of Charlemagne, Barbara Willard
(Doubleday, 1959; Bethlehem Books, 1998), 183 pp.

This is essentially an overview of the career of Charles the Great, King of the Franks, written from the perspective of his son and heir, Carl. According to information in this new edition, the book was originally written for a series which aimed to present significant times and events from a Christian perspective for children- a great aim.

We were not real impressed with this book, however. While it had its places with excitement, it often moved slowly. This may be due in some part to the fact that we read the excellent story of Rolf and the Viking Bow just before this one! Nonetheless, this story was a lesser one for several reasons. First, it was very difficult to follow the flow of time in the story. From one chapter to the next several years may have passed with no statement of that fact. Thus, it was often confusing wondering what the ages of the characters were and whether young Carl was an older boy, a teenager or what. This had a serious disorienting effect on the reading. Secondly, for us, it was to pro-Catholic. Of course, this was the religion of the time, but the lack of explanation or clarification introduced barriers for us. I do not want to present the pope as the Vicar of Christ or Sovereign Pontiff; but this was strongly affirmed in the book. Of course Catholic readers would appreciate this, but for Protestant readers, reading to their young children and shaping their views, this is a significant issue.

So, this is a decent book, it does give some historical background, but I would not go out of my way to get it.

NOTE: Interestingly my opinion is significantly different from the three reviews posted at Amazon. This highlights one of my reasons for doing this blog. We routinely have had books recommended that we thought were below average. So, at least here's another angle.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Picture Bible

The Picture Bible
By Iva Hoth. Chariot Victor Publishing. 800 pages

We bought this one because I remembered enjoying it so much as a kid. I had encountered it as a series of smaller volumes in our church library, and loved them. It took us a long time to find it and then we discovered this hardback all-in-one edition (and this one is in color!). Bible stories are faithfully told in a comic strip format. I know the words ‘comic strip’ used in conjunction with the Bible does not bode well, but this one is well done.

While we were trying to find The Picture Bible we bought a copy of The Lion Graphic Bible. The animation is more update in the Lion book, but the stories are not as faithfully or tastefully done. I would recommend passing on the Lion Graphic Bible, but the Picture Bible is a good addition and a fun way for younger readers to read the basic story line of the Bible.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Article on Bible Material for Children

Here is a link to another piece I have written on bible material for children. I have posted this on my pastoral ministry blog previously, but it has been edited a bit (e.g., prices now in US dollars) and its subject is suited to this blog. This edition was recently printed in the Dec 21 edition of the Baptist and Reflector, the TN Baptist state paper. For convenience I have listed below the books recommended in this article.

The Learn About God series (Christian Focus)
God’s Little Guidebooks, by Hazel Scrimshire (Christian Focus)
Bible Time & Bible Wise, by Carine Mackenzie (Christian Focus)
Hear Me Read series, by Mary Manz Simon (Concordia Publishing House)
Big Truths for Little Kids, by Susan and Richie Hunt (Crossway Publishers)
My First Study Bible, by Paul Loth (Thomas Nelson)

Monday, January 09, 2006

Raising a Modern-day Knight

Here is another book I reviewed a few years ago.

Raising a Modern-day Knight: A Father’s Role in Guiding His Son to Authentic Manhood
Robert Lewis (Tyndale House, 1997; now from Focus on the Family)

This is a super book in pointing out the importance of a vision of authentic manhood and of a father passing this down to his son(s). Lewis rightly challenges the fathers to first be men of honor and then to pass on to their sons by example and instruction this vision of manhood. He lays out a vision for authentic manhood, a code of conduct and a transcendent cause. He posits in clear and concise terms a vision for manhood in four principles:
A real man:
- Rejects passivity
- Accepts responsibility
- Leads courageously
- Expects the greater reward
I think this sums up well a vision that we men need. I especially see in the first 3 issues which I am so often tempted to shirk.

He then outlines in three statements a summary code of conduct, which in effect fills out the responsibility mentioned in principle two:
- A will to obey (God’s)
- A work to do (vocation)
- A woman to love
This is in essence nothing new, but I found it very encouraging to sum up my responsibilities concisely like this. It gave an extra sense of dignity to my vocation and to loving my wife.

Then Lewis argues that we need a transcendent clause to make this all worthwhile. He lists 3 necessary characteristics of a transcendent cause:
A transcendent cause must be:
- Truly heroic- ‘a noble endeavor calling forth bravery and sacrifice’
- Timeless- containing significance beyond the moment
- Supremely meaningful
In contrast Lewis suggests we often fail our sons at these three points in the following ways (87):
- ‘We invest our sons with marketplace competence, but not moral conviction.’
- ‘We help our sons to become socially successful, but not spiritually significant.’
- ‘We give our sons good things, but not the best things.’
As Lewis notes, the only truly worthwhile cause is following Jesus Christ. To faithfully follow Jesus will call for bravery and sacrifice and will have eternal significance and meaning.

This book grows out of the author’s desire to think through and pass these things on to his own sons and it shows. He and some fellow fathers used the metaphor of knighthood and its ideals as a model and it worked well giving tones of nobility and honor, characteristics sadly missing in our day. He also argues strongly for marking the son’s maturing with ceremonies which celebrate his maturing and reinforce the biblical view of manhood. He includes examples of what he and other fathers have done for such ceremonies. He clearly says these are only examples which others can adapt to their own situations. The examples will be great help to me one day as I hope to do something similar and they were very moving to read.

Probably the main fault with the book in my mind is that his use of Scripture is not always careful. It is always reverent, but the issue at hand sometimes overrides the primary meaning of the passage. This is not uncommon, and the major points still stand. The book does not say all there is to say about manhood, but it does sum up some key points very well. Folks like me who are forever worrying with the details and theory are well served by the likes of Lewis who can state succinctly a plan of action. We perfectionist detail guys may wonder if all details are included or about tweaks here or there, but I for one am glad for an action plan.

I recommend the book heartily to every father of sons. May we by God’s grace raise sons of dignity, courage, nobility, and honor who will fear God and keep His commands.

Some Children's Books from Christain Focus

A few years ago I reviewed briefly some (then) recent publications for children from Christian Focus Publications, one of our favorite publishers of Bible material for children. Here is a link to that review.
The books mentioned here are:

For children about ages 7 and up:
Carine Mackenzie, The Bible Explorer: God's Truth from Genesis to Revelation
Irene Howat, Ten Boys Who Changed the World, Ten Girls Who Changed the World, Ten Boys Who Made a Difference, and Ten Girls Who Made a Difference

For younger children:
Penny Reeve, God Made Something Strong
Catherine Mackenzie (daughter of Carine), My God is So Big

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Catechism and Stories

Susan and Richie Hunt, Big Truths for Little Kids.
Good News Publishing, 1999, hb., 160 pages. $12.50. ISBN 1581341067

This book quickly became a favorite of ours after my wife purchased it 5 or so years ago. It acn be used with kids as young as three and then continues to be of much interest to my nine year old. It pairs a modern day story with a children's catechism. I have previously written a review of this book which you can find here. The link will take you to a page with two reviews. This book is in the second review.

This would be a great book for every home, and makes a great gift.

Pilgrim’s Progress for Children

Often times renditions of classic books for children are disappointing. However, we have found two renditions of Pilgrim’s Progress which we have really enjoyed.

The first one came across and used is The Evergreen Wood, by Alan and Linda Parry. In this book the Parry’s retell the story with all animal characters. For example, Christian becomes Christopher Mouse. He is fleeing the Dark Wood and journeying to the Evergreen Wood. The transformation is nicely done. The sense of adventure and the gospel lessons come through clearly. My children at ages four and five loved this book! We read it repeatedly and I was glad to be able to set before them the basic story and message of this book at an early age.

The second book, which we introduced a little later, is Dangerous Journey. This book tells the story with out so much adaptation, but with really nice illustration (interestingly, the illustrations are by Alan Parry). This one is still quite readable but contains more text and information than The Evergreen Wood. We used this one with our boys at about ages six and seven. This was too has become a regular favorite.
I commend both of these to you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow, Allen French

The Story of Rolf and the Viking Bow(originally published early 1900’s; Bethlehem Books, 1993), 244 pages.

This was a great story! It did seem to start slowly, and the language is different (they talk in Elizabethan English and various Icelandic or Norse terms). However, there is a glossary to help in getting started, and the story is well worth the work. There is grand adventure, battles, intrigue and an underlying theme, as typical in the old tales, of honor, nobility, courage and faithfulness. The closing even drew together points from the story to make a strong point concerning endurance without complaint and the value of humility and being willing to ask forgiveness. French, according to the introduction, was steeped in the ancient sagas and lore, and this shows in the style and quality of his writing. This was another story that made it difficult on the next book we turned to.

The story follows the life of Rolf a young boy in Iceland around 1010 AD, about a generation after Christianity was introduced to the island. In addition to the positive qualities just mentioned, the story is helpful in becoming familiar with this era in history in Northern Europe which has significant connections to the development on British and therefore American history.

This is one of the really good ones. My 9, 8 and 6 year old boys loved it. It is probably too complicated for children younger than 6.

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The Lantern Bearers, Rosemary Sutcliffe

The Lantern Bearers, Rosemary Sutcliffe
(Oxford University Press, 1959; Sunburst, 1994), 280 pages.

We have read several Rosemary Sutcliffe books by now, and though this is the first one I am posting about it is not the first we read.

This story concerns a young Briton, Aquila, who is a Roman soldier but stays behind when Rome withdraws from Britain. The story then focuses on the invasion of the Saxons, from Aquila’s enslavement by Jutes to his regained freedom, and fighting alongside the remnants of Roman leadership and British tribes against the invading Saxon tribes.

Sutcliffe, as seems typical from what I have read of her so far, is very reliable with her historical data, making this a good way to learn this era of history. Then, battles were central enough to this story line that my boys enjoyed this one. However, it was really written for an audience significantly older, so a number of the issues and concerns were really lost to them. My boys ranked this as one of the books they most enjoyed in our 2005 reading, but they do not realize how much adapting I did in reading it to them- (adapting and interpreting on the fly is an important ability for reading to your children, in my opinion).

So, this is a good book, but probably more suited for children about 12 years old or older. Of course if you can adapt a bit and clarify my seven and nine year old really enjoyed it.

Children's Bio of Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick, Michael J. McHugh
(Christian Liberty Press, 1999), 150 pages.

Stories about key historical Christian leaders are always attractive to me but we have learned from experience that a good idea for a book does not insure the good writing of the story. This book, however, is really well done. The story is told well, including good action. My boys really enjoyed it. The author also does a good job at various places in the story of presenting the gospel- not in a cheesy or truncated manner as so common in many kids stories. The gospel arises naturally as Patrick considers his soul during his enslavement in Ireland eventually resulting in his conversion (which is related well), and then in his missionary preaching later on. Each time the gospel call is repent and believe.

Now, this book is not Narnia level writing. It does seem a little heavy handed at times, but I do warmly recommend it. It presents courage, perseverance, the importance of obedience to parents, sharing of the gospel, gospel removing fear of death and enabling boldness. The author clearly seeks to distance Patrick and the British church from Rome, which is fine with me, but I do not know how historically accurate that is.

(Note: I cannot findthis book listed on the publisher's website currently. I have contacted them and will update this post when I hear something. Sadly, this book like several others we have enjoyed is nto available through Amazon. Amazon does have an Audio version)
UPDATE: The link above will now take you to an Amazon page where the book can be purchased.

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Children's Bio of Augustine

Augustine: The Farmer’s Boy of Tagaste, by P. De Zeeuw, J. Gzn
(Inheritance Publications, 1988; translation of Dutch original), 93 pages.

This book, though from the same series as the Athanasius book, was better written. The author does a good job in showing how Augustine chased sin and its consequences. I think the story is told in such a way that is useful to young boys who themselves are tempted to pursue their own pleasure without regard for what is right. Augustine’s need for a new heart is clear and his inability to change himself is conveyed well. This is very helpful in setting up conversations with your children about their own situation, how they parallel Augustine, demonstrated by their own inability to overcome their sin, and how they need God to change their hearts. Augustine’s conversion is told well also. Often times conversions are poorly told, so it was good to see this one handled well.

In the ministry of Augustine the author takes the opportunity to stress the importance of right doctrine, the need to counteract error and the place of courage in pastoral leadership.
“Masses of inhabitants fled before the threatening enemy. What made Augustine very angry indeed was that many bishops and other spiritual leaders fled even sooner and faster than the members of their congregations. He believed that the church would not remain in Africa if her leaders deserted her. His advice was to remain in the place of calling. If need be, he would die for his faith rather than leave his congregation.” (p 90)

There are some weaknesses in the book. The author states that Augustine was in no way connected to what became Roman Catholicism. In fact most scholars refer to places where Augustine lays the basis for Roman Catholic teachings and other places where he lays the basis for Protestantism. I don’t favor Augustine’s more Roman leanings, but we must not revise history. There are also a couple of places where I was skeptical about the historicity of the account.

In the end the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, and I recommend this book. It is a good way to introduce children to this important man of the faith. I read it to my boys when they were 9, 7 and 5 years old.

Children's Bio of Athanasius

Against the World: The Odyssey of Athanasius, Henry Coray.
(Inheritance Publications, 1994), 111 pages

The idea of a children’s book on Athanasius, especially one designed to relate the heroism of the man and his stand for orthodoxy, is definitely appealing. However, this book was a disappointment to me. The book is designed for children, but it seems the author did not consider enough how to write for such an audience. There is much excitement and adventure in the story he seeks to relate but it does not come out in the writing. The style is laborious, wordy and unnecessarily complicated. Here is a sample:
As is sometimes the case when ecclesiastics assemble to transact church problems, no sooner had Hosius called the council to order and prayed than confusion reigned. In religion, as in politics, preconception and prejudice too frequently displace calm, deliberate reflection.

Why use the word ‘ecclesiastics’? Why use the wording, ‘to transact church problems’? Is transact the most natural verb here? The structure of the first sentence is not particularly inviting. In spite of the alliteration in the second sentence, ‘preconception’ is not a particularly helpful word. Perhaps the author intended to write for an older audience, but I think it could have been written more clearly even if being written for adults.

Now, I am not one to balk at the use of good vocabulary and complex issues. I have read the Chronicles of Narnia, Brian Jacques’ Redwall stories and many other books (which claimed to be written for older age levels) to my boys, and they have enjoyed them. Sophisticated writing is not complex, wordy writing. Profound truths can be communicated with simplicity and power. In my opinion, this book most often lacked both. What I found myself doing most often was adapting as I read or pausing after a section a retelling it with a bit more verve and in words more readily understandable. In the end I did not read the whole book to my boys.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Gospel for Children

John B. Leuzarder's book by this title is a great find. You can read an earlier short review here.

Commentaries for children

I have previously reviewed the three commentaries (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus) written by Nancy Ganz and published by Shepherd. I think these are great books. You can read the review here.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Chronicles of Narnia

With all the movie buzz, The Chronicles of Narnia will be good books to start with. These books are favorites of mine and my boys. We read them all two years ago when my boys were 6, 5, and 3 years old. They absolutely loved them. The writing is excellent (in fact it made it hard to take up other books- the writing clearly paled in comparison), the action and adventure is compelling, and the messages are wonderful as well. I cannot recommend them too strongly. I read them and loved them as a kid (and still as an adult!), and my boys have as well. It is fun to find my boys playing outside and hear that they are playing “Narnia”!

You can find the books in other forms. First, of course, there is the movie just released. I enjoyed the movie, and I think it was the most faithful adaptation to movie of any book I have ever seen. However, ‘the movie’ is never as good as ‘the book.’ It never can be. Various aspects of the book were missing or changed from the book- too many to list, though topping my list would be the significant lessening of the heroism of the children and the absence of the discussion of Aslan as not a tame lion in the conversation in the beavers’ home. Also, I will not take my children to the movie yet because I think it will be frightening to some of them just yet. I am glad that the movie has been made and hope it does well, but it cannot hold a candle to the book.

More compelling to me are audio versions of the book. Harper Audio has a well done audio book version featuring the reading of the full text of the books by Michael York. York does an excellent job changing his voice for characters and inflecting his voice. We only have The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in this collection, but we have really enjoyed it. This book comes on four CDs and runs for four hours.

Another exciting edition is Focus on the Family’s Radio Theatre version of the entire series. This differs from the York CD in that it is not a straight reading of the book but a dramatized audio complete with background sounds, multiple voice actors, etc. This one is also well done and a favorite in my family. Once my father was visiting and heard one of the CDs while riding with us. He went home and immediately bought himself a copy and has listened to it multiple times.

So, I recommend the books themselves first and then the audio versions. With these we have covered the books various times with the result that the books are gradually working themselves into the basic psyche of my family- a thing for which I rejoice.

NOTE: I looked back at my annual lists of books read and saw I had previously given the worng ages of my boys when we first read the Narnia books. In case others are wondering about ages for their own children I have corrected the ages now.