Friday, October 27, 2006

William of Orange, The Silent Prince

William of Orange, The Silent Prince, by W. G. Van de Hulst
(trans. From Dutch; Inheritance Publications, 1992, 1996, 2000), pb., 142 pp.

We finished this book about 5 weeks ago, but I have been waiting to be able to write a good review. Time never comes though, so I will make my best attempt.

This was a fascinating book. It was not as great a read for my boys as Piet Prins or A. Van der Jagt which we read recently. My boys are always more drawn in by books that view the account from the perspective of a boy or young man who meets the historical figure or is involved in the events. This was more of a straight biography. Also since this was originally written in Dutch for a Dutch audience there seem to be some assumptions made about general knowledge of locations and people. Trying to explain these (or figure them out for myself!) bogged down the reading. However, the story itself was fascinating. At times the power of the story shone forth for my boys and at other times it took some effort on my part to help them see it.

I would recommend parents read this book to their children somewhere along the way simply because of the great history involved which is so little mentioned. I consider myself a bit of a history enthusiast, but I was totally unaware of this story of the Netherlands fight for their independence and their incredible leader.

William of Nassau is presented as a great example of perseverance and self-sacrificial leadership. His love for the people of the Netherlands compels him to defend their cause though it cost him position, prestige and fortune. And the fight was not one that progressed easily or quickly to success. Their path was cluttered by failures, disappointments, and difficulties. Yet, in the midst of them William persevered. Much is made of this point. Indeed the motto of his family was “”I will persevere.” This theme alone makes the book worthwhile reading.

William also provides a very compelling model for leadership in general- a good thing for young boys in particular to see. While the book may embellish the praise of William in places, the little research I have done bears out this picture of William as a leader. He refused to be intimidated, could not be bought, and even endured the misunderstanding of his people as he sought to negotiate his way between extreme responses on either side. Reading this book has made me interested to read more about this man myself. The book does claim to know the mind of William in places and as I said engages in hagiography at places, as is often common in books on national heroes. This book is analogous in many ways to books written in the US about George Washington. Even if they overplay his character and nobility in places, there was true strength of character there and displaying that is helpful.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

C S Lewis on Fairy Tales

Earlier I posted on some of C. S. Lewis’s comments on children’s literature. Here is another quote from the same book (On Stories: And Other Essays on LiteratureOn Stories: And Other Essays on Literature). I resonate with this quote.

“By confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happened, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of police.”
– “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Secret Mission, another Huguenot Tale

The Secret Mission: A Huguenot’s Dangerous Adventures in the Land of Persecution, by A. Van der Jagt (Inheritance Publications, 1992), pb., 187 pp.

This is the sequel to The Escape, which I have reviewed previously. We enjoyed this sequel as much as we did the original. In this one, John and Manette have settled into their life in Holland. John has a job working for a Dutch official. The Dutch government has been secretly helping the Huguenots who are being persecuted in France, but war is coming btw the two countries. John is sent with a Dutch official on a government mission to the French government, but John also has several secret missions to accomplish. He ends up having to work his way across the country in search of his father who in the last book was sentenced to life on the galleys. He encounters various hardships and adventures along the way. Throughout the book the reader learns about the suffering of the Huguenots and of their eventual armed resistance.

Reading this book (and the previous one) has meant so much more to my boys than simply telling them the bare facts of what happened to the Huguenots. Through this book the experiences of these brave people have become real to them. Their story opens up many examples of perseverance and faith under trial. One example was particularly moving for us. Along the way John encountered a group of Huguenot prisoners- elderly and children included- who are being harassed by the inhabitants of a town they are being marched through. At this point the author includes a true account of Huguenot resilience in the face of suffering:

After the priest with his followers had gone, the town women became very offensive. Their leader was a heavy-set hag with a shrill, loud voice. She began to revile the Huguenots again and to dance in front of them shaking her fists. This did not seem to satisfy her, for suddenly she stopped, bent down, grabbed some mud from the street, and slung it in the face of one of the Huguenot men. The other women followed her example, and in a very short time, all of them, including their children, began to throw mud at the faces of the Huguenots. Soon the small Huguenot children began to cry, holding their mud-smeared hands and arms before their eyes.
At that moment, John heard the old man with the white hair tell the Huguenots to fall on their knees, and to call upon the Lord. He led them in prayer with a loud, bright voice that could be heard clearly and the others joined him. “Gracious God, who seest the wrongs to which we are hourly exposed, give us strength to bear them, and to forgive in charity those who wrong us. Strengthen us from good even unto better. Amen.”

Astonished, the women and children stopped their yelling, and apparently embarrassed, dropped their mud balls on the ground. After the prayer, one of the Huguenots began to sing Psalm 116, and after the first words, the whole group sang with him. (pp. 130-131)
The account goes on to mention how the lead woman came up to the old man begging for forgiveness and how he gave it. Then she told the others watching that the authorities had lied to them when they told them that the Huguenots were heretics and bad people. She pointed to their faith and willingness to forgive as proof that they were indeed followers of Christ. This sort of testimony is a powerful reminder of the effect of living out the gospel.

This is a great book and we recommend it strongly. The writing is not at the same level of C.S. Lewis or Allen French, but it is effective. My boys and I all really enjoyed the book. The adventure and suspense was compelling and the truths behind it all were very good. This is a great way to introduce your children to good reading and the brave people known as Huguenots.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Value of Fairy Tales

We recently purchased a copy of Faerie Gold: Treasures From the Lands of Enchantment(P&R Publishers, 2005) for our children. It is a collection of various ‘fairy tales’ from writers such as George MacDonald. I have not yet had a chance to read any of the fairy tales, but I read the essay included at the end on the value of fairy tales for children. It is excellent! This is a well written argument from a Christian perspective on the value of fairy tales. Here are just a few quotes:
“A child may be too young for fairy tales, but he can never be too old for them.” (274)

“Some universal spiritual truth underlies the really fine old fairy tale; but there can be no educative influence in the so-called fairy stories which are merely jumbles of impossible incidents, and which not infrequently present dishonesty, deceit, and cruelty in amusing guise.” [quoting Kate Douglas Wiggins] (275)

“it is this taste of joy and desire that draws us ever onward to the most incredible, true, and wonder-filled of all stories – the gospel.” (276)
I would recommend this essay to all parents.

Following the essay is a collection of quotes from famous people on the value of fairy tales. Here are a few. I’ll plan to post more in the future.

“If you want your kids to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” –Albert Einstein

“If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other – the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.” – G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered

“In a utilitarian age, of all other times, it is a matter of grave importance that
fairy tales should be respected.” – Charles Dickens

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Quote, Importance of Books Read in Childhood

Here is another quote from Grant, George & Karen Grant. Shelf Life: How Books Have Changed the Destinies and Desires of Men and Nations.

“The books that charmed us in youth recall the delight ever afterwards; we are hardly persuaded there are any like them, any deserving equally of our affections. Fortunate if the best fall in our way during this susceptible and forming period of our lives.”
- A. Bronson Alcott (1799-1888)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Power of Books for Children, Quote

“Never underestimate the power of books for children. Note this well: it was the literature we read before we attained sophistication, maturity, and adulthood that has done the most to mold our characters, frame our thoughts, and influence our lives. A catalog of such books might well afford us a better map of comprehension than all the machinations of psychology.”
- Richard Ogilvie (1902-1988)

From: Grant, George & Karen Grant. Shelf Life: How Books Have Changed the Destinies and Desires of Men and Nations. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House Publishing, 1999, page 168. This is a great book which I would highly recommend!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Escape: The Adventures of Three Huguenot Children Fleeing Persecution

The Escape: The Adventures of Three Huguenot Children Fleeing Persecution, by A. Van der Jagt (Inheritance Publications, 2001), pb., 179 pp.

We really enjoyed this one! The plight of French Protestants (Huguenots) in 17th century is told from the perspective of three children who end up on their own due to persecution. John and Manette’s family endures persecution because of their allegiance to the gospel. Their father is sent away to the galleys for life and their mother eventually dies of the resulting strain. Manette is sent away to Paris to live in an abusive situation. John encounters trouble as he holds fast in refusing to adopt Catholicism. Eventually John runs away intending to find and free his sister and make their way to Holland and freedom- both daunting tasks. Along the way he meets Camille another Huguenot boy who has fled after his parents converted under pressure but he was unwilling to do so.

The story presents the history well, and is full of good examples on various points including perseverance, diligence, prayer, compassion, and sacrifice. For example, when John is being pressured to convert to Catholicism and can find no way out he begins to despair. He was only a boy and couldn’t fight alone against all the priests! Thinking of this, he lifted his head with a jerk for it suddenly dawned on him that this was not true. His thoughts were utter nonsense, for he didn’t have to fight alone. Hadn’t Mother told him that the Lord would never forsake His children? Hadn’t she taught him to pray! He blushed for this very night he had completely forgotten his evening prayer. He hadn’t told the Lord his difficulties and worries as he should have done before anything else.

Slowly, he left the window and before he went back to bed, he knelt on the floor and prayed. He prayed for his father and Manette but above all he asked the Lord to give him a brave and faithful heart so that he could resist all temptation and be a true servant of Jesus Christ. (p. 22)

Some may look down on this as “moralizing”, but I disagree. It comes out naturally in the story as believing young man simply lives out his faith. It is one of the best way to teach the same to my boys. I delight in books like this.

Lastly, the book was well written. We have read other books (and they have been commented on in this blog) that had good content but simply were not told very well. This book was a delight. My boys hung on each chapter, begging each night for me to read more and urging each other to get ready for bed (finish chores etc.) quickly so that we could have more time to read (that’s always helpful!). This is a fun, meaningful book- exactly the sort we look for. We would highly recommend it.