Thursday, April 26, 2007

Burke on shaping the next generation

"Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young people and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation."
- Sir Edmund Burke

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Crow and Weasel

Crow and Weasel, Barry Lopez
Illustrated by Tom Pohrt
pb., 64 pp.
Older Children, 12+

This is a really deep book. It is a Native American tale of two young men emerging into manhood. Crow and Weasel are sent on an exploring adventure for the sake of their community, going further north than any of their people had ever been. As they are sent out they are reminded of the values of their community and the importance of representing their community well. Along the way they ponder and experience many valuable lessons. One person they met along he way said to them:

“I can see that. But you are beginning to sense your responsibilities, too, and the journey you have chosen is a hard one. If you keep going, one day you will be men. You will have families.” (p. 60)
One friend made a powerful statement about the value and importance of stories, not simply referring to stories in general but to the stories of your own community.

“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves. One day you will be good storytellers. Never forget these obligations.” (p. 60)

While this is couched in general terms, and the characters pray to “the Above Ones”, this story (even more so than Greek mythology) can easily be used to point to Biblical truths. The importance of community, real friendship, thankfulness, appreciating the variety of gifts, and the importance of cherishing and passing down our story are all truths we need to stress more often. For a Christian, the formative story of life is the grand narrative of the Bible (which is composed of many compelling stories). In our culture we often fail to appreciate the power of these stories to shape our imagination, to empower life, etc. Then, our families must also pass down our particular stories of what God has done in our own families. There is much here for profound contemplation.

This leads to one downside of the book. It is depth often requires more reflection and awareness than younger children will be prepared for. My boys (10, 9, 7 years old) enjoyed the adventure, but would say they did not always get it. I think this would be a really good book to read with highschool or even college young men to use it as a springboard to discuss moving to the role of manhood.

I close with another great quote, with which I resonate- the value and importance of the everyday, relationships, and the local:

In the silence that followed, Weasel said very softly, “It is good to be alive. To have friends, to have a family, to have children, to live in a particular place. These relationships are sacred.” (p. 79)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Conference Session on Children's Books

Over at my blog on pastoral ministry I recently mentioned an upcoming conference hosted by the Ryan Center for Biblical Studies at Union University. You can see the post there and the conference webpage for full details. My reason for mentioning it here is that I will be leading a breakout session on Bible material for children. The deadline for registering is April 19. The conference will be held April 27-28 and will be a good opportunity to learn more about studying the Bible well.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Blackthorn Winter

Blackthorn Winter, Douglas Wilson
(Veritas Press, 2003), pb., 141 pp.
Older children, 12+

I was quite interested to see what Wilson would do in his children’s books. This is his first children’s novel. The story line is great, compelling plot, good adventure, nice twists and turns. The overall story line reminded me a lot of R. M Ballantyne- a boys’ writer I really like.

However, the manner of writing was difficult particularly because it was hard to understand and many points. One reason was the overuse of proverbial lines which if they are not common to the reader make reading difficult. I feel like I am aware of many common proverbial statements, but these by nature tend to be regional. This makes the book less accessible. Then the frequent use of nautical jargon (without any glossary) was a bit of a hindrance. We are in the midst of reading a number of books the deal with sailing and still I was stumped at places. Wilson makes many good moral points along the way in the story but they were often so subtle that they would be missed unless I stopped to explain. In general this book required more work on my end to help my boys follow the transitions at places, often to understand the wording and fairly often to catch the implied lesson.

With the explanatory work I did my boys liked the book. The book cover says it is for ages 9-12. I would suggest 12+.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Medieval Castle

Medieval Castle,
Designed by Willabel Tong, Illustrated by Phil Wilson
(Piggy Toes Press, 2004), hb.

This is not the typical book I have discussed here. It is not a story but a visual. You open it all the way until the two covers meet revealing a 3D pop-up of a medieval castle. Doors open from one room to the next, as well as closets, treasure hidden under carpets, and even secret passages behind tapestries! It also has a working portcullis and several punch-out figures including knights, ladies and a dragon. This is great fun and a good way to familiarize yourself with medieval castles. This has been a big hit with my boys.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Audio

While traveling during Spring Break we listened to the Harper Childrens Audio edition of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.. We read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series a couple of years ago (mentioned previously), but recently I have found both Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair in this unabridged audio editions for $10 a piece- about 67% off! We love Narnia so I picked them up- the more editions the better! I mention this first of all to suggest you might find these CD’s discounted in stores near you. I wonder if they are left-overs after the initial rush of Narnia items with the release of the movie.

Second, the reading is very well done. The Focus on the Family Radio Theatre editions are well done with the dramatic portrayal, but it is also good to have the whole book read, and read well. It is also nice to hear the stories read in an English accent, since this is how Lewis would have thought of his stories. Certain things just come out differently.

I could read/listen to these stories endlessly. I don’t know how many times we have gone through The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Listening this time, though, opened up a good discussion with my boys about honor (drawing from Reepicheep)- what it means, how important it is and how forgotten it is in our culture today. This conversation is continuing to bear fruit.

On this listening I also noticed even more Lewis’s emphasis on children reading the right books. The most famous instance is Eustace not knowing anything about dragons because he did not read the right kind of books. This kind of critique is mentioned often. Also, in a number of places the children explicitly draw from events in stores they have read in order to decide how to deal with situations facing them. Lewis was overtly campaigning for the reading of classic fairy tales and myths.

We love to have good stories on CD for traveling. These unabridged Narnia books are more demanding than the Radio Theatre. I think they are especially suited for those who have already read the stories once and therefore can follow along more easily.

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I’ll Love You Anyway & Always

I'll Love You Anyway and Always, Bryan Chapell
(Crossway, 2001), hb., 28 pp.

I like to see prominent theologians, pastors and professors writing children’s books. Chapell has written some very helpful books on preaching and Christian living, so I was quite interested in this book.

It is essentially a gospel presentation growing out of an instance of a father forgiving his daughter. The setting is quite touching with the little girl acknowledging her wrongdoing and then asking her father if he still loved her. Anyone with children can melt at this response. The father affirms his love by saying, "I'll love you anyway and always." He then takes the opportunity to describe God's persevering love as well. He walks through the unfolding story of the Bible of God calling a people to Himself. The story ends with the little girl applying this forgiving love to her brother who had wronged her.

The gospel presentation was fine. The greatest thing about the book, in my opinion, is the example of a father taking such opportunities to explain the gospel to his children. Discipline/correction is an area wide open for us to explain the gospel. Also, the closing with the girl applying the truth in her interaction with her brother was very good. It helps children see that the gospel when received calls for us to extend the same forgiveness.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Landing of the Pilgrims

The Landing of the Pilgrims(Landmark Books), James Daugherty
(Random House, 1950), pb., 149 pp.

This was a much better book on the Pilgrims than the last one. Daugherty provides a good, accurate, well-told account of the Pilgrims from their time in England, to their flight to Holland, their eventual move to the New World and then their struggles over the crucial first three years. I really appreciated having this full scope of the story. You really can’t appreciate their labors and perseverance without the whole story.

This book is a straight forward telling of the story rather than a dramatized, fictional account. We typically enjoy the fictional stories best as they personalize the history through the eyes of a young boy or girl. However, this account was well done. It was not as dramatic as many other books we have enjoyed, but that is not its intent. My boys said they really enjoyed the book. One nice touch is the frequent quoting of accounts from some of the Pilgrims themselves (I have posted one quote on my pastoral ministry blog). I assume the quotes are primarily from William Bradford, but it is not made clear. Such clarity would be an improvement.

We recommend this book. You should know, though, that the quotes and the chapter titles tend to use older language which can be difficult. With a little explanation though you can make it through. One key point with the quotes is to realize that the letter “y” is used in place of “th”. This is never mentioned in the book, though a footnote to this effect would be helpful. Realizing this will make reading the quotes easier.

Lastly, while this is not presented as a religious book, it does handle well the Pilgrim’s faith. We would recommend this book.