Category: Shelf Snooping


I have the most beautiful book gathering dust on my shelf waiting for me to FINALLY write the review so as to properly shelve it. It has been there for longer than my youngest has been alive. Six or seven months of dust certainly adds up fast. The book is Where Lilacs Still Bloom by Jane Kirkpatrick.

Starting with the shallow, I adore the cover. Moving deeper, despite the 6 months that have passed since actually reading it, I can still remember it well enough to tell you what I loved about it. If that doesn’t communicate its value enough on its own, read on. First, it’s about a daughter who loves tinkering with plants as does her father. She wants to make an apple hybrid that is tasty and peels easily, so she follows in her father’s footsteps and after many years of dedication and secret attempts, manages to do so. This is not being done in today’s ‘pursue whatever makes you happy’ atmosphere either, but with onlookers who think tampering with nature is anti-God, that mothers should only ever be spending time on their children.

In fact, in the beginning she HIDES what she’s doing. She wonders often if she shouldn’t be spending less time in the garden and more with her family (though throughout the book it is apparent that she does everything there is to do for her family and that gardening is just another way for her to have stewardship over what God has given her.) The author traces this ‘based on a true story’ novel through her overwhelming desire to create a type of lilac: one with a specific shade and number of petals. Through that main story-line we listen to the scientific method she employs, the dedication of a husband who orders lilacs from oversees, the pain involved in culling the ‘lesser’ of her plants, the determination involved in digging up and preserving them on rafts tied to trees lest the common flooding that destroyed her gardens ruin all her efforts. It highlights her struggle to balance her passion for her work on that front and her passion for her family.

Kirkpatrick highlights how others, whose storylines are carefully woven in, were impacted by what many folks at the time considered a waste of her time and even a blasphemy of what God made. It chronicled how she used her garden to help other children by paying them to help her water and housing them so they were near enough to take lessons or attend a school they wished to go to. I found myself really loving Hulda Klager in all her spunk and dedication. The reality of her story as she dove into an unexplainable depression that nothing seemed to help. How God used her love of gardens, the gentle prodding of her family and a simple seed catalog to coax her from it. I loved feeling her attachment to her children as she struggled with them moving away or suffering losses of their own and her attempts to meet them where they were. It further interested me to find that the author of the book actually has varieties of the very lilac that Hulda did eventually produce.

I was a bit perplexed by the multitude of reviews that said they had a hard time getting into the book. It certainly isn’t an action-packed spy novel or anything, but I felt the author fleshed out a real person in real ways and did a good job of making it interesting. This was a non-stressful, relaxing, yet somehow emotional read that I enjoyed very much and would highly recommend. Not just for the beautiful cover either.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through a blogging program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Advertisements

My niece has complained many times about my significant lack of ‘girl fiction’ in my own personal junior fiction library (which is only slightly smaller than my adult fiction library).   Yes, it’s true.  I gravitate towards the action, male lead genre.  Why?  Next to those testosterone driven tales of heroism and adventure, girl fiction seems pale and limp.. and the girl books nearly always seem to revolve around so many petty (to me) emotional issues.  A friend saying something that offends and a yearlong resolution process might be the sole plot of an entire girl-fiction book.   Or perhaps the plot is deeper, more serious and appropriate leading to meaningful dialogue.  “He’s so cute!” “I KNNOOO-OOW!!!!” “He looked at me for 10 seconds before math class, do you think he likes me?” G.R.O.A.N.!

With that as my overall opinion, you can easily see why junior fiction authors like Peretti and Lee Roddy and good series such as the Accidental Detectives, which while enjoyable by girls (I like them!) are certainly more oriented to the male crowd, take precedence over the ‘girlier’ titles.

Nevertheless, I have found myself in possession of two very girly daughters who will someday want to read a series OTHER than Little House on the Prairie and Unfortunate Events type literature once in a while.  With that I mind, I volunteered to read and review “Here’s Lily” by Nancy Rue.

First, I should say that the very pink cover with flowers on the edge and a friendly looking girl was extremely inviting to the girly girl.  My 6 year old daughter who is still working on fluently reading books like “Pan and the Mad Man” immediately picked it up and said she would read it when I was done.   I have half expected her to cart it off to one of her secret ‘stashaway’ bags because it is so OBVIOUSLY hers.  I did wonder if the cover would turn off the tween crowd who may think they are beyond cartoons and pink flowers, but when I looked up the other books online I found they have photographic style covers.  No concern there then.  You can get the same book in an ‘older’ cover if that is your wish.

Something has to hold your interest beyond the cover, though, and that is honestly what concerned me.   I prepared myself for the usual ‘girl drama’ and indulged in one martyr sigh and began an internal mantra “I’m doing this for my girls.  I’m doing this for my girls.”

The first two chapters set the stage for Lily, a young girl who is dealing with the typical school age issues, a boy who enjoys tormenting her, girls who are unkind and the desire to rise above and display poise despite it all.  So far, so good.  Chapter 3, though won me over.  They introduce you to Lily’s family.  Surprise!  The mom isn’t a girly girl.  She hates clothes shopping.  They don’t do a lot of ‘touchy-feely-self-esteem building’ in the home.  It’s more a teasing atmosphere with two ornery (and sometimes insulting) brothers, a gallant father and the mom who just isn’t into the girl things.  Yes, this is PERFECT for my girls.  Spot on except lacking a sister or two.

But it gets better.

Much better.

It turns out that Lily is invited to a modeling school.  (I know, groan, right?)  Her parents aren’t psyched about it.  They are far more in tune with the baseball/volleyball/pep band scene and aren’t really understanding why they should get excited about a girl using her gifts to sell clothes.  (Really, I’m not the only one?)  Lily points out that if the older brother wanted to play a new instrument, they’d let him.  “He’s a musician!”, they say.  If the younger one wanted to do another sport, they’d let him. “He’s an athlete!”, they say.  Lily wisely points out that she doesn’t know what she is, but that this is what she wants to do.  They allow the class, but maintain reservations about letting her sign on as an actual model.   Then they encourage her to ‘find out what God has for you in this’.  (No, not in a corny, preachy way… it flows naturally.) So in the midst of the modeling course (which I am pleased to report doesn’t involve a lot of makeup or anything that the whole ‘tots/tiaras’ type shows might bring to mind and instead focuses on poise, accentuating their best features rather than trying to change or even identify the ones they dislike) she finds that she’s a natural at this.  She finds that knowing she’s a natural and practicing poise for modeling sake gives her the poise to handle mean boys and rude comments and even her own family without getting so very frustrated.  She starts a club (every girl book has a club, right?) for girls that get picked on.  She teaches them poise and makes the rule that they will not say unkind things to one another.

She is allowed to star in a modeling show at the end of the course… and then there is a horrible grease fire which leaves her feeling far less than beautiful.  Worse than before she STARTED the course, in fact.  The consolation that it will heal soon does not outweigh the idea that the modeling show will happen sooner than the actual healing and that she will be bandaged for it.  She has surely lost her #1 slot.  (Yes, it sounds shallow, but the author ARTFULLY captures the turmoil involved here to the point that I was actually feeling teary toward the end… quite a feat for someone to get ME to cry over a beauty show I must say.)

Meanwhile, she deals with the guilt of feeling sorry for herself because of a show when her father is undergoing surgery for his burns and this is placed atop the guilt of not knowing exactly where God is in all this modeling, beauty focus after all. Fortunately for her, the modeling instructor just happens to be a Christian and informs her that they aren’t looking for external beauty, but more for poise and “confidence”, which she quickly terms “God-confidence”.   Lily isn’t certain, though.  Modeling and being beautiful and getting the rude boy to the show so that he will be wowed and quit picking on her suddenly don’t seem as important with her dad at the hospital and all.

She talks it through with them, explains what her teacher has said and goes through with the show.  The boy is even in the audience through none of her own efforts. But while no one gasps horrified when they see a bandaged model and even applaud, her success at the modeling show does NOT magically make the boy’s teasing stop.  He’s still rude.  The girls are still unkind.  But because of her ‘God confidence’, Lily’s teeth no longer grit when she interacts with them.  She can speak to them and walk away as if she is beautiful, because in God’s sight she is.

And she has a growing club of girls with whom to share that insight.

Apparently, we don’t get to find out until book two whether she actually takes the modeling career path she is offered at the end of the book.  They leave that up to the imagination.  In the aftermath of the grease fire, we DO get to see the mom explaining to the boys that she is absolutely finished with the insulting-type teasing that they have been partaking of with regard to their sister.  She later addresses Lily’s negative attitude towards the brothers similarly explaining that they will find it easier to give her a break, if she’ll give them one and quit assuming they are going to be obnoxious.  So much packed into this girly book that this non-girly girl gives it a high review.  And not just because it will be a perfect fit for my daughters but also because I, a grown woman, enjoyed reading it.

Thanks, Nancy Rue, for creating a girl-series that I can put on my shelves with full confidence that I won’t shudder when my daughters ask me to read them.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Booksneeze’s blogging program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

This little book is a sturdy, board book perfect for little fingers.  I appreciated the Biblical truths that were made accessible to younger ones and also the cute illustrations that give little eyes much to absorb.

I absolutely LOVE how they differentiated between the love we have for ‘our enemies’ and the love that mom and dad share.

The beautiful lessons range from the little bear’s struggle to love some trouble making otters at the beginning and his grandfather’s reassurance that this is what God commands of us to how that love necessarily differs from the love that his mom and dad have for one another (with all the kissy, huggy stuff) and how he should love his siblings even though sometimes they a little more like the troublesome otters than the cub would like.

I found this to be a beautiful and unique explanation of love and what that word means in different situations.  Not getting exasperated with those who aren’t doing what is convenient for us, hugging and kissing each other when love is expressed in marriage/family, and that God’s love is with us even though we cannot see Him.  If you are going to have board books in your house for your little ones, this is definitely worth a look.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

I’m almost certain that some reviewers are likely to miss the word FAITH in the title of BE THE PEOPLE: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith & Promise.  So in case you are one of those, this book does lean to Christian answers to and understanding of political problems.  So much the better in my opinion.

Carol Swain aptly took a book that would easily have been another dry and boring presentation of facts and responsibilities and infused it with purposefully placed quotes, sparkling personal insights and sensible, doable action points.

Swain handles sensitive subjects such as abortion, immigration, the redefinition of words like ‘family’ and the broader scope of America’s history and identity without sounding one-sided or self-righteous.  (Disclaimer: Perhaps those who disagree with her views would disagree with my perspective on this; however, I felt she handled the issues matter-of-factly without red faced passionate decrying and also  provided perspective by using details and examples of WHY she considers these issues as problematic for America.  This is a far cry from most of the logic-lacking denunciations we hear today.)

While I enjoyed the entire book, I confess that I was most excited by her last chapter which, I am ashamed to admit, surprised me.   It should have come as NO surprise at all that this author, with her careful exposition of Biblical values in previous chapters, should have as the primary spot of #1 step to reclaiming America “Make a concentrated effort to know the biblical principles that motivated so many of our forebears” but it did both catch me off guard and delight me.  Her following suggestions I view with equal regard, from familiarizing yourself with our nation’s formative documents and making them as accessible as your Bible, to using more than a single source (even to the point of subscribing to conflicting viewpoints) for news to (and this one made me want to stand up and cheer) CONFIRMING the information we receive via email or Facebook BEFORE stamping it with our approval and passing it on to our entire list.  Voting, of course, contacting representatives, of course, and then she surprised me again by telling her readers to expect to be persecuted and ridiculed for taking a stand on Christian values.

After giving us insight into the problems with our nation and then some ideas on how we might be better able to act as a responsible citizen, she then closes in yet another surprising, gratifying fashion.

Instead of calling us to arms and leaving us with a heavy mandate saying, “It’s up to you to do ABC so that we can have XYZ.”, she explains that our first priority as Christians is (NOT to ‘Go out in mind-freezing frenzied passion and rescue our nation no matter the cost’, which you might expect from the majority of books focused on patriotic values) but to focus on our relationship with God.  Our second is to strengthen families and churches and our THIRD is to inform educate and enlighten fellow believers who have “fallen into unbiblical thinking due to inadequate knowledge”.   Her main exhortation at the end is that we faithfully teach these values to our children and grandchildren and that our love for God requires that we take on the responsibility to warn society of God’s impending judgment on those who continue to follow a course which is not God honoring.

Again, those who do not subscribe to Christian values will have a great deal of trouble with this title.  Even I, as someone who subscribes to those values, was shocked with the clarity of their presentation and the place of honor they received above, even, knowledge of our founding documents!   How sad that we as a society, if my surprise is any indication of where the rest of us are, have forgotten what it looks like to have Biblical values placed at the forefront.

My own initial sense of discomposure with her emphasis on Biblical virtues in a political book was possibly the greatest indication to me of how far we as a nation have slipped.  Thank you, Carol Swain, for the wake-up call.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through Booksneeze’s blogging program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This story had an unusual take on some issues regarding the supernatural. We have angels of various ranks and their children, dark angels and their agendas, harps that heal the ill, the traditional ‘ordinary girl’ emerging as the heroine and the roguish guy on the wrong side coming over to the right side for the sake of that girl,{What can I say. Favorite themes can be reused indefinitely if done well in a fresh tale.} and many characters who have been well thought out, carefully inserted who provide some great depth to the story.

There were several parts that drove a good point or moral home but in a way that didn’t devolve into the ‘preachy’ type monologues or asides that too many novels resort to in order to be ‘Christian’. If I want preaching, I read a non-fiction book (and, yes, I do that too). Stories should show me a moral and not outright teach it in a long-winded way. Breath of Angel was careful to avoid that. A few sentences from a friend here, a quick quip there, were enough to drive the author’s points home without messing the rhythm of the story.

All in all, though with my first read through I found myself annoyed that certain portions of the book ejected me from my totally involved state of reading this fresh take on good themes into a ‘…’ or ‘wait, what?’ state of out-of-book thought, I wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been absorbed in the first place. And then, of course, I ended the book highly interested in reading the sequel, Eye of Sword, to continue the path the author started me on here.

If you like science fiction or new takes on myth/legend based stories, give it a try.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The most convincing thing I can tell you about this title is that I fully plan to have all of this author’s works on my shelves in the near future.

It’s true that I am a sucker for books in general, but when a story makes teaching values or facts simple and enjoyable without ruining the literary qualities that make for a good read, that is something worth obtaining, and Chuck Black managed to accomplish just that.

Black managed to take a real life threat of apathy and make it look as appealing and intrusive, and then as ugly and ‘in your face’ as it truly is.  Furthering his cause, the author aptly contrasts that with what a life of purpose looks like and in doing so gives, what I believe, to be an accurate picture of the very real struggle facing all of us today.

I will say that I was taken in by the Tolkeinesque language utilized in the prologue and initially disappointed when the story itself didn’t use the same style, but this was quickly reconciled as I imagine most of our young readers today might appreciate a foray into the poetic, but would wane in interest if they were required to continue on in that vein for the duration.  So I forgave him and promptly lost myself in his land of knights, honor and adventure.

The story follows Quinlan, the ‘lesser gifted’ of two friends.  Both of them enamored with a new type of pet called a paytha.  The pet can do so very many useful things, is committed to its owner, loving, adorable.  Even I wanted one.  The problem being that when an elite group of knights calls on the friends, the stronger and more talented of the two is enjoying his pet and his life of ease a bit too much.  The less talented of the two, commits to the harder life after disposing of his pet and goes into training with the Knights of Arrethtrae.

After Quinlan disobeys an order putting the rest of the knights in danger, he doubts his calling, but after some additional training and the revelation of a secret about himself he settles into his role as a leader and returns to his hometown to do battle with not only the enemy, but also the knights in training who have forsaken their calling and require assistance and encouragement to reenter the fray.

Black returns to his Tokein-style writing for a soul-pricking epilogue.

As I said, these will be on my shelf as soon as our book budget allows.  All of them.  Every last one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

And this post about it is probably too long to be proportionate to their quickly read result.

Their overarching premise that America has changed from an aggressive stance against terrorists to an unfavorable placating one is presented straightforwardly, sometimes earnestly enough that opponents may find it abrasive, in eight easily read, oft foot-noted chapters.

Starting out, Bennett and Leibsohn address the Fort Hood Massacre noting the many signs of trouble that were ignored in an attempt to flow with our country’s values, namely tolerance and understanding.  As the author’s express this, “through our… actions, we are not now…on a serious war footing against our enemies, Islamic terrorists; but rather, we are abnegating the cultural, policy, and rhetorical responsibilities of rational self-defense.”

They argue that our conciliatory stance is evidenced by statements like the following: “As horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” and that this attitude, which they argue allowed the Fort Hood Massacre to occur in the first place, is pervasive not only internally but is also the face we are showing the terrorists themselves and the international community.

The authors then address what they believe to be an absurd amount of caution and mollifying language used from the leaders of the land.  Apologizing for using the word ‘crusade’ to refer to our ‘war’, changing ‘war’ itself to ‘struggle’ and ‘Muslim extremists’ to

They continue on to make their case that in America’s attempt to be ‘fair’ and avoid persecuting innocents, good goals in and of themselves, we have leapt off the other end of the spectrum to the point where we not only speak softly but also lay down our sticks in the face of the enemies.  Rather than addressing horrendous evil as evil, we spread a comforting blanket over everyone that says, ‘We do wrong things, you do wrong things, we’re all in the same boat.  We are going to give you respect you don’t deserve and explain why we don’t deserve the respect you give us either.’

They speak of administrations and key figures (not merely one) that play down the problems and refuse to ‘call a spade a spade’.  Of leaders who by catering to those who permit and assist those who despise us, essentially present a submissive posture to the very people who threaten us which in turn encourages MORE acts of terror, not fewer.  They back this up by citing the number of terrorist activities performed during the ‘war on terror’ versus the number since we have rephrased this to be a ‘struggle’ and begun meeting and placating those whom we should be admonishing.

I appreciated the authors’ efforts to put history in perspective alongside some of the rationales behind this behavior and behind some of the speeches given that evidenced this attitude.  I further appreciated that they took the time to evaluate the ‘terror grows out of poverty…’ idea by pointing out that most of the leaders and instigators are not those who are poor or unprivileged in another way, but actually started out highly educated , wealthy or both.

I do wish I had a better grasp of the more recent historical events as I found myself doing some research on certain items the authors referred to, but this is not a negative for the book as I’m sure both authors would agree that we could all use a better understanding of history so as to act prudently in the current age.

The Fight of Our Lives is highly recommended to those who do not understand why terrorists require our attention and why, perhaps even a bit of the ‘how’, we should be addressing them so as to effectively eliminate the threat they pose.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For books like this, I truly detest that “I couldn’t put it down” has become such a cliché, since I can very sincerely say that I could not put this book down. Despite the reality of four small children and impending weekend company, despite the past few nights of inadequate rest, I found myself reading it start to finish in a single 24 hour day… except for that last hour, which technically belonged to the next day.

 

This author magically hangs flesh on the characters her words built, giving them personality and charm without using the lazy ‘extended description’ fallback plan, she stealthily holds back information that you feel you MUST know throughout the story so that you are never left thinking you have it all figured out, inserting the exact amount of little twists and turns to make the story pop without turning it into the convoluted, dense, heavy mess that signals someone tried way too hard to make the ‘same old’ different.

 

I identified with this mother’s internal struggle of how to introduce culture to her children without also introducing her children to its more negative influences; yet, somehow I also identified with the Uncle who is appalled that the children know next to nothing about the world around them. I understood the mother’s life with her 6 young children (I have four myself), but found myself wincing at the noise along with the uncle who was plunged into their midst. I laughed aloud at the reality of many young ones painted so clearly in the pages and fell in love with children that I keep thinking must have been drawn from the author’s experiences. They were too true to life to have been pulled from thin air.

 

And so I read. And read. And read. And ignored the clock and read some more. If you happen to pick up this title, I hope you are slightly more responsible with your commitment to get a good night’s rest than I am.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Charlatan’s Boy
Rarely am I unenthusiastic about proclaiming the great qualities of a recent read. I’ve even been known to sing the praises of a few favorite chapters in an otherwise unfavorable book. Inexplicably, I find myself at a loss when trying to explain this book to others.

 

The trouble may be sourced in my not quite knowing how to respond to this book. I am unsure whether to comment on the literary quality, my own personal enjoyment, the overall message/tone of the story…

 

In an attempt to keep it simple, perhaps I’ll just default to a standard review format.

 

SUMMARY:

Jonathan Rogers’ The Charlatan’s Boy is about… well.. a Charlatan… and a boy. More specifically it is the first person account written by a boy that has been playing a ‘feechie’ (ugly creatures that frequent swamps) in a sideshow. The antagonist in this piece would have to be growing skepticism of the people they depend on deceiving in order to make a living. The boy struggles a bit when asked to play other roles in order to bring in the funds because.. well.. he’s ALWAYS thought of himself as a feechie!

Finally, having hatched a scheme to ‘bring back’ the feechie scare – in order to return to their formerly lucrative trade – they embark on a long-con perpetuating the myth of the feechie folk and their impending onslaught.

 

COMMENTS:

And this is where I start fumbling for what to say.

 

The Charlatan’s Boy is an easy read, but it leaves my brain grasping at the text after shadowy meanings and pondering why exactly certain characters in his fictional account remind me of real live persons.

 

Can we say, “paradox”? Let me explain. By easy read, I mean that the first person account is charming and the overall pacing is relaxing and soothing and very often amusing. It teases my brain, though, with subtle thought-provoking themes that I’m too relaxed and ‘lazified’ to ponder during the actual reading, but return to haunt me hours after I’ve put it down: his desire to belong, the gullibility of the people, the trickery used…

 

As to the actual literary quality, I admired the author’s style of writing. I appreciated the character descriptions/developments which truly are the center theme of the story. Because I generally prefer a page-turner rather than relaxation reads and because the story itself wasn’t a driving feature, I found myself having to push a bit to reach the end.

 

His memorable characters made it worthwhile, however. The gentleman that confronted a party of ‘drovers’ by saying he could lick them all and showed them his long list of people he’d ‘whupped’ before asking if they wanted to fight him to prove him right or just add their name to his list is just one example. After adding every drovers’ name to the list, one changed his mind and requested the fight because he was sure of victory. The list holder promptly nods, says he’d better remove his name, did so, and proceeded to the next caravan with the same spiel leaving us to wonder if he truly was a great fighter, or simply good at blustering his way into names.

 

This little interchange isn’t even a key part of the story, but quality bits like this that made what would have felt like a slow read to me otherwise worthwhile.

I cannot in good conscience give it five stars. The author would have to add a riveting storyline to his already marvelous character base for me to do that, but I will gladly give it four.

 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the blogging for books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <[…]> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wow. I’m always intimidated when I have to review things written about Jesus. I mean, with that kind of subject matter, is there really an appropriate way to say, “I didn’t like this aspect of it.” without sounding nit-picky… unless of course they say something that is absolutely anti-biblical.

That said, Gwen Ellis did a MASTERFUL job in Read and Share Stories About Jesus of using simple language and selecting stories with points small children could understand. The illustrations are unique and friendly and the overall book practically exudes comfort and love as any toddler book should.

A few things that are neither positives nor negatives but may be the ‘clincher’ as to whether this is what you are looking for.

-This is a board book, but is the size of a traditional story book.

-It contains 13 stories that from start to finish are a paragraph or two long.

-As I mentioned above, this book was written and illustrated in a style that simply envelopes the reader in comfort. As such, the book skips the trial, crucifixion, resurrection in a rather masterful way by using, “Before Jesus went back to heaven to live with God,” as the opening for the story of the ascension. Again, very suitable for children who need the love and assurance, and just aren’t ready for the grisly details.

-The author included a recap and/or discussion question at the end of each story which is great if you wish to use this as a sort of devotional.

And here we hit the nit-picky portion of this review.

I LOVE making Bible stories accessible to kids, which this team did. I appreciate the effort to get kids involved in discussing/retelling stories so that they will better remember them by using follow up questions. I applaud the author for the effort, but I think a few of the questions were not designed for the otherwise targeted audience for this particular book.

Children the age this appears to be written for would certainly be able to recall the story. They may not, however, be able to explain “How is Jesus like that shepherd looking for his one lost sheep?” based solely on the story read prior to this question, since the story is merely a short version of the parable without any explanation of what the parable taught.  Nowhere in the story does it state plainly: “Jesus is like the shepherd because….” Now that’s a great concept for the adult to explain, but unless the child has already heard the comparison made at another juncture, they simply will not be able to answer it based on the text. The follow up thought is great, though. “Remember you are as important to Jesus as that one lost sheep was to the shepherd.”

Now parents could explain the answers to these or ad lib the answers as part of the story if they read the question first. I will be the first to admit that though answering a question of that nature would be difficult for a toddler, even the smallest toddler can handle HEARING and absorbing deeper discussion like: Jesus loves you just like the lamb in that story and He seeks out one lost person just as wonderfully as the shepherd sought out that little lamb.

Another spot that seemed age in-appropriate was “Have you been baptized?” I might expect a question like that after an elementary age story that perhaps included an explanation of what baptism is and why it is done, but not at the end of a two paragraph tot-age story about Jesus’ baptism. Perhaps the author’s intent with regard to the questions that I mentioned was for the child to say, “I don’t know” so that the parent could explain? Even so, questions posed to toddler/pre-k children that expect (however simple) reasoning and extrapolation just doesn’t fit with the rest of this book’s layout.

To be fair, some of the questions and thoughts were spot on, requiring simple recall or use of imagination: “If you had been in the boat, what would YOU have done?” or “When you are frightened, what do you do? Remember Jesus is always there with you. Just ask Him to help you and He will.” That one is excellent. Likewise, I appreciate the non-question of “When we ask God for something, sometimes He says yes and sometimes He says no. The most important thing is that He always hears us and does what is best for us.” that follows up one of the stories.

So for a welcoming, first Bible story book for an infant or toddler, it would work.  Due to its limited scope and nature (though it excels at what it does), I would probably appreciate it as a baby/toddler’s gift, but would not purchase it on my own simply because I have children between the ages of 1 and 6 and may as well use a single Bible story book that works for all of them at the same time. The Big Picture Story Bible has filled that need for us and includes a general overview of the whole Bible where this one would probably only be instructive for my youngest two and is only about select portions of Christ’s life.  Nevertheless, if you have a sensitive child who needs to hear a gentler version of Christ’s life, or who needs extra assurances this one might be just the ticket for you.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”