Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tolkien, Read Books Above You

I recently came across a great comment from one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s letters (written in April 1959). Tolkien is advocating reading books with more difficult books to children rather than confining the reading to easier books. Tolkien states:

“A good vocabulary is not acquired by reading books written according to some notion of the vocabulary of one’s age-group. It comes from reading books above one.” (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, cited in Roverandom, xvi).

Great point!

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Father's Wish, by Edgar Guest

A Father's Wish
By Edgar Guest (in When Day Is Done)

What do I want my boy to be?
Oft is the question asked of me,
And oft I ask it of myself--
What corner, niche or post or shelf
In the great hall of life would I
Select for him to occupy?
Statesman or writer, poet, sage
Or toiler for a weekly wage,
Artist or artisan? Oh, what
Is to become his future lot?
For him I do not dare to plan;
I only hope he'll be a man.

I leave it free for him to choose
The tools of life which he shall use,
Brush, pen or chisel, lathe or wrench,
The desk of commerce or the bench,
And pray that when he makes his choice
In each day's task he shall rejoice.
I know somewhere there is a need
For him to labor and succeed;
Somewhere, if he be clean and true,
Loyal and honest through and through,
He shall be fit for any clan,
And so I hope he'll be a man.

I would not build my hope or ask
That he shall do some certain task,
Or bend his will to suit my own;
He shall select his post alone.
Life needs a thousand kinds of men,
Toilers and masters of the pen,
Doctors, mechanics, sturdy hands
To do the work which it commands,
And wheresoe'er he's pleased to go,
Honor and triumph he may know.
Therefore I must do all I can
To teach my boy to be a man.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

In the Time of Noah

In the Time of Noah, N. D. Wilson
Illustrated by Peter Bentley
The Old Stories Series
(Canon Press, 2007), hb., 33 pp.

This is a nicely told, well illustrated rendering of the story of Noah. Like its series counterpart The Dragon and the Garden, however, it will surprise most readers fairly quickly. The distinctiveness of this series is that the stories are told drawing from interpretations from early church authors. Here is the explanatory paragraph found tucked away with the publication data:

In the Time of Noah uses the version of the Deluge story told by many church fathers from the first several centuries after Christ. Nemesius of Emesa, Ambrose, and Clement of Alexandria are just a few. Augustine believed the giants were true giants, but were not the descendants of angelic beings. Others deny both elements of the story [giants and angelic beings fathering children with human women] and, of course, today it’s not difficult to find theologians who deny the story in its entirety.
The opportunity to see the story played out in this way is fascinating, but this also means that a number of complicated issues are raised. I am not convinced that the reading of these early church fathers are correct (as some of their contemporaries thought as well!). When my boys looked at it, they would say, “Is this really true, Dad?” I would have to say, “Not necessarily.” Some examples include Noah pursuing the animals and taming them, gathering phoenixes and winged serpents. The idea that the animals obeyed Noah in a way unknown since Adam is really interesting, but without clear biblical basis.

In the end, I can’t recommend this for everyone. It seems to be aimed at younger children, but at that stage I want them to get a clear presentation which is solid and not dependent on mere possibilities. Later, older children could read this and discuss possibilities.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids' Bible Dictionary

Kids' Bible Dictionary, by Jean Fischer
(Barbour, 2009), pb., 159 pp.
Ages 8-12

This is a colorful and well-illustrated dictionary which aims to define and explain key people places and things which children will encounter as they read the Bible. Each entry ends with scriptural references where you will find the word or concept.

The author is careful in her definitions, knowing she is writing for children. For example, in the entry on Tamar she states that Amnon “behaved badly toward her” (2 Sam 13). I think that is well done.

This will be a fine resource for helping children as they read the Bible. It is not as theologically deep, however. This is tricky with a children’s resource, but I think the notes and information in the ESV Children’s Bible are a good example of more theological depth while still being accessible. For example, the entry for “propitiation” does not refer to God’s wrath. Instead the word is defined as “a way of making things right.” Now, on one level I am just glad they have an entry on propitiation. But, then it would be better if it explained that the reason things needed to be made right is that God, being holy, is angry with sin.

Also, the entry on “salvation” was less than what I hoped for. It focuses on us being “cleaned up” with much less emphasis on our guilt and the punishment we deserve. It is also “decisionistic”, telling children to pray a certain prayer (words given), saying, “Pray this prayer: … Now you have received salvation!” This concerns me because it can suggest to children that salvation is just a mechanical process.

In the end, this is a useful resource, though more is needed in theology.

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Friday, June 12, 2009

Sergeant York and the Great War

Sergeant York and the Great War: His Own Life Story and War Diary, Alvin York
Originally edited by Tom Skeyhill, 1930
Edited by Richard “Little Bear” Wheeler
(Vision Forum, 2005), hb., 209 pp.

Originally Skeyhill edited York’s diary into publishable form and in this edition Wheeler has included photographs and some history of World War I. I like the story of York and I love introducing my boys to heroic men, so I was excited about this book. However, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Wheeler notes in his introduction that Skeyhill had not corrected York’s grammar or spelling. He felt this authenticity “draws the reader into the life of Sergeant York.” If the errors were limited this might be OK, but they were so great and numerous as to make the reading ponderous. Also this edition is very repetitive which made it boring in several places. My boys often asked, “Haven’t we read this part before?” I would even double check only to discover that the same points and stories were simply repeated in concurrent chapters. Better editing could make this a more useful book.

Concerning editing, it was not always clear what came from the editors and what was from York himself. At several places it clearly noted “Editor’s note:”. But it was often not marked when it returned to York. At other places it seemed certainly to be the editor (based on spelling, etc.) but it was not marked. Again, more careful editing would be helpful.

Parents should also be aware that the doctrinal positions of York at times seem questionable. His discussions of conversion sound works oriented at times. This may in fact be simply due to his lack of training and failing to communicate clearly. But you need to know this as you communicate to your children! Also he seems to suggest that his fellow soldiers who showed no concern for God were spiritually fine because they meant well. Again, my point here is not a critique of York’s beliefs (it may be unclear, etc.) but what we communicate to our children as we read.

The portion describing York’s heroism in the Argonne Forest was good (though still repetitive). A pared down version of this which came some sampling of his earlier life and his war efforts would be more useful. The photos and timelines are good resources. I would recommend this book as a resource to ‘dip into’ rather than a book to read straight through.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Here is the Church

Here Is the Church, by Anita Reith Stohs
Illustrated by Kathy Mitter
(Concordia Publishing House, 2009), hb., 32 pp.
Ages 2-5

This simple little book is aimed at young children to encourage their engagement in the worship of the church. It begins with the well-known little children’s rhyme:

Here is the church, and
Here is the steeple,
Open the door to
See all God’s people.

It then continues the rhyme walking through the key parts of a Lutheran worship service. Coming from a Lutheran publishing house it of course reflects that theological understanding. However, most of it will fit orthodox evangelicals in general. Comment is made, for example, on prayer, choir, congregational singing, Bible reading, preaching, communion, baptism, and an offering. I particularly liked the closing bit addressed to parents where the author encourages parents intentional teaching of children about what goes on in corporate worship. She goes on to encourage family worship as well.

In a day when the church is so often minimized or disparaged, it is great to see a children's book like this. The inside cover front and back also have Eph 3:21 printed. This is a very thoughtful, though simple, book for children to help them understand what goes on at church. It will be a good resource.

I would like to see my own denominational publisher produce something similar in a Baptist vein.


Monday, June 08, 2009

The Twelve Ordinary Men

The Twelve Ordinary Men 6pk (Arch Books), by Kelly Skipworth
(Arch Books, Concordia Publishing House, 2009), pb., 16 pp.
Ages 4-9

The Arch Books Bible Story Series has been around for more than four decades. I enjoyed some as a child and we still have some older ones. They are typically faithful to the text, tell the story in simple language, and are written in poetic form. This book is one of the latest installments in this series.

This book aims to introduce children to each of the twelve disciples and succeeds. With some disciples there is not much information and the author acknowledges that without stretching to make something up. There are a few quibbles. Thomas’s doubting is the only thing highlighted though he makes some other very positive statements elsewhere in John’s gospel. Then, it si said that Simon the zealot put away his sword to follow Jesus when in fact Jesus told his disciples at one point, “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one” (Luke 22:36). And certainly Peter still had a sword at the Garden of Gethsemanee.

However, overall these are small quibbles. The book is not intended to give a deep treatment but to provide a brief, catchy overview of these 12 men. In this, the book succeeds well.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys

Amazing Tales for Making Men Out of Boys, by Neil Oliver
(William Morrow, 2009; previously published in the UK by Michael Jospeh, 2008)
Hb., 364 pp.
Ages 6+

We just found this book at Sam’s tonight, but I wanted to go ahead and mention it because I love the concept. Just note these lines from the back cover:

Stories of heroism, exploration and sacrifice that will inspire boys to be courageous, honorable and open to adventure. TALES OF BRAVE AND SELFLESS DEEDS used to be part of every boy’s education. We grew up sharing stories with our fathers, uncles and grandfathers of how great men had lived their lives, met their challenges, reached their goals and faced their deaths. Becomign a young man was about comradeship and standing by your friends whatever the circumstances. And it meant that sometimes it was more important to DIE A HERO THAN LIVE A COWARD’S LIFE.

Yeah!! How can a book that says this not be good! This is exactly what I want for my boys. In the book the author recounts D-day and Omaha Beach, the Charge of the Light Brigade, the Alamo, Shackleton’s Journey, Scott in the Antarctic, John Paul Jones, and Thermopylae and other stories.

I think that the cover could be done better, but I am excited about this book and my 7 year old asked on the way home when we would begin reading it.
P.S. The trailer for the book is well done also! Note the comment that morals are handed down through good stories. This is a key point that was well understood in days past but often forgotten today.

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Monday, June 01, 2009

The Spy Who Came in From the Sea

The Spy Who Came in From the Sea, by Peggy Nolan

(Pineapple Press, 1999), pb., 129 pp.

Ages 8+

This book was a disappointment. It is based on a great idea but fails to deliver in several ways.

First, the idea and setting of the book is great. I did not previously know that during World War II German spies had been dropped off by U-boats on American beaches in New York and Florida for sabotage missions (you can see an official description of this story at the FBI site). This book is built around the landing of one of the spies in Florida. The story is fictional but incorporates some of the facts of the real case. In the story a boy happens to see the spy come ashore and tries to alert authorities. However, due to his tendency to exaggerate no one believes him, except two friends. He and these friends then do their sleuthing alone, risking danger and eventually expose the spy and avert real danger. This is great stuff for story-telling and fun history to learn about.

However, as I noted above, the book itself was disappointing. The writing is only fair. With this sort of material I hoped for a powerhouse! Instead this book limps along. But it is the overall values of the story that made it not a fit for us. Since we found the book in the Veritas Press catalogue we had certain expectations of the book. However, my boys readily picked up that this book did not represent “us” in ways that other books that we have read do. In general this book had the feel of a typical kids’ book one might find today. The book was filled with language we do not approve of- not outright profanity, but "gosh," "darn,' and words like that. The mother is quite flighty and there is a lack of strong adult characters. The main character is a real braggart and while this is eventually shown to be negative, it was more than we would want. Then the dating scene is more prominent in this book than in our family. The 14-year-old main character is pursuing girl friends, dances, and his first kiss. He is proud to have reserved his first kiss for someone special. That is alien to my boys for whom dating is a non-issue, kissing is something married people do, etc. Now, those reading this review may think we are the weird ones, and that is fine. My aim is for you to know where this book is coming from.

There are many better books on the World War II era and we would not particularly recommend this one.