Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Children of the Covered Wagon

Children Of The Covered Wagon, by Mary Jane Carr
Revised and edited by Michael McHugh
(Christian Liberty Press, 2005), pb., 275 pp.
Ages 8+

This is an older book which has been revised and edited, though there was no indication of the previous publication date or the extent of the revising and editing. The story itself “chronicles the trials and tribulations of a company of pioneer men, women, and children who braved the dangers of the Oregon Trail in 1844” (from the Preface). The story focuses on a particular company’s travel to Oregon relating, primarily from the perspective of one of the young boys, the difficulties, adventures, sufferings, and joys of the people along the way.

My boys had been learning abut this era, and this book really helped us grasp more of what it must have been like for the people who made this journey. The book “humanized” the Oregon Trail for us. As we read of them leaving family behind, eventually having to dump prized possessions along the trail in order to keep moving and fearing Indian attack we were brought into the story. More than once my boys commented along the lines of “Wow, that would have been hard!” The story was not as consistently exciting as some others, but it was valuable in coming to a better appreciation of this era in American history.


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Prince's Poison Cup

The Prince's Poison Cup, by R. C. Sproul
Illustrated by Justin Gerard
(Reformation Trust, 2008), hb., 35 pp.
Ages 4+

R. C. Sproul’s writings have meant a lot to me for many years, so several years ago I noted with interest when he began writing children’s books. This is the first of his children’s books I have read however. I am now all the more interested to get his other children’s books.

This story is a good allegorical retelling of the gospel. The story begins with a little girl who loves to hear stories from her grandfather. She asks him, “If medicine helps us get better, why does it always seem to taste so bad?” From this question the grandfather tells her a story of how “sometimes things that seem terrible are actually very good.” What follows then is medieval story of a people who rebelled against their good King (the King of Life) and drank from a forbidden fountain. As a result the people became wicked and abandoned the King. Eventually the King’s Son, the Prince came and drank the deadly poison himself. The poison killed him, but the King brought him back to life. The Prince’s action also turned the poisoned fountain into a life giving fountain that restored the people to the King.

The story is well woven bringing in many facets of Christ’s ministry and giving a good grasp of the atonement in basic terms. A discussion guide is also provided in the back to help parents discuss the book with their children. This is a great tool, because although the connections will seem obvious to those raised in the faith, this guide ensures that you can give this book to people with no background in the faith and they will be sure to see the connections being made.

I commend this book heartily. Books like this are wonderful on various levels. For one, I like to be able to present the gospel regularly to my children from various angles. Secondly, this is a great tools for parents, helping them as they read to their children to better grasp the gospel and to learn to interpret some of the imagery of the Bible. Then, this is helpful not only for believing parents, but it can also be a good evangelism tool as you give books like this to non-Christian parents. Often time parents who do not profess faith will want their children to have some exposure to Christianity. Anyone reading this book- young or old- will hear the gospel, and that gospel is still the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16)!

Lastly, the book also portrays a healthy family situation where a grandfather is involved in the life of hid grandchildren, where he is considered a source of wisdom, and where adults take time to tell stories and explain the gospel to children.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Books in Bed

“As a parent and a teacher, therefore, I argue for the continuance of books in an age marked by visual technology. There remains nothing like the feel of the book in the hand, nothing like the security offered by a book in the bed (an experience recorded in the West from at least the twelfth century).”


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Very First Christmas

The Very First Christmas, Paul Maier
Illustrated by Francisco Ordaz
(Concordia, 1998), hb., 32 pp.
Ages 5+

I was so impressed with Maier’s book on Luther that I wanted to see this book of his on Christmas as well. Maier’s chief concern here is to relate the real events of the birth of Christ to reassert to reality of the event. In his introduction Maier states:

Children’s Christmas books are often long on fancy but short on fact. Many of them ignore the central theme of the first Christmas and opt instead for Grimm’s fairy-tale settings ….
This is certainly correct in assessing much of children’s literature, though there is an increasing number of good books on the topic (here is one example). Maier sets up his story as a conversation between a mother and her “bright eight-year-old son” who is inquisitive and has decided he only wants true bedtime stories from now on. The mother has done some study and tells the story of Christ birth in an engaging way filling in various historical details which are at times overlooked (for example the fact that the word the Bible uses for Joseph’s vocation can refer to someone who works with stone and well as one who works with wood).

In the end, this is as good a book though not as good as the Luther book. The illustrations here are not as good as the ones in the Luther book. I also take issue with the way Maier essentially slights fairy tales. I appreciate and affirm his point on the historicity of Christ’s birth, but I see no need to pit that against fairy tales. Probably this is the influence of C. S. Lewis on me as he affirmed the value of fairy tales as another way to express important truths.

This critique, though, affects only a bit of the positioning of the book. The story is well done and this book will be a good resource for families. I recommend it warmly and will plan to get a copy for our church library.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed the World

Martin Luther: A Man Who Changed The World, Paul L. Maier
Illustrated by Greg Copeland
(Concordia, 2004), hb., 32 pp.
Ages 4+

I have seen this book and heard good things about it, so this year I decided to buy it for Reformation Day. I am glad I did!

This is an excellent brief overview of the work of Martin Luther. Maier, as a historian, knows his facts, but the key thing about the book is that it gets the key issue of the Reformation- the gospel. This is not a collection of facts about Martin Luther but the story of how God used Martin Luther to recover the gospel, which is “the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Maier captures the heart of the reformation in a way that is understandable for young readers. It is also very nicely illustrated by Copeland.

The book opens not with Luther, but with God as one who rescues his people and sends servants to keep His church pure. Luther is introduced as one of these people. Then Maier explains the corruption of the medieval Catholic church, writing:

In those days, the Christian church no longer based its beliefs on the Bible alone. It had actually invented new doctrines and practices that Jesus and His apostles had never taught. Sadly, too, the church leaders of that time, far from setting a good example for their people, sinned worse than the people did!

Maier then surveys the key events and accomplishments in Luther’s life in an engaging way. The book closes then summarizing the many contributions Luther gave to the world, ending with this:

But his greatest gift of all was to find in God’s Word the answer to the question that had tormented him as a monk: ‘What must I do to win God’s forgiveness for my sins?’ The Bible showed him that God had already done it all for him by sending Christ whose suffering and death paid the penalty for sin and whose resurrection would be shared by all those who had faith in Him. That great good news is the Gospel- the central message of the church that is as great today as it was 500 at Luther’s time, or in Jesus’ own day.
Amen! This is what I want my kids to understand from Luther and the Reformation. Great truths, important history, well told and beautifully illustrated- this is a great book and I recommend it for every family.

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