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Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Who's on First?

by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello illustrated by John Martz 40 pages / 2013 If you've ever seen the ol' Abbott and Costello "Who's on First" routine, then to "sell" this book to you all I need to share is that this is a faithful rendition. The comedians have taken the role of a bear and a rabbit, the colors are all bright and bold and the script is straight from the 60+ year old original. If you've never heard the "Who's on First" routine, then a word of explanation might be due. In this comedic bit Costello asks Abbott about his baseball team. But poor Costello gets a mite confused because the baseball team has some unusual names. The first baseman, for example, has the name "Who." So when Costello wants to know "Who's on first?" the unsatisfactory answer he gets from Abbott is "Exactly." The gives you a taste of what this is all about. (I did my own homage to this routine when I had to create an illustration for an article about how only boys - not girls - have the Y chromosome). I read this to my five year old and she got parts of it, but I would say this is probably best suited for the 7+ crowd. I was trying to think of any cautions I could add and the only think I could come up with is that there is a bit of yelling in the book so this might not be one to read to a rambunctious lad. It is a great fun book that is sure to get some giggles out of your little ones. I'd recommend this as a great one to get from the library rather than own, since it is based on a joke, and jokes don't stand up to repeated reads quite like good stories do. But it is a very good joke and wonderfully executed. ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Strange New World

How thinkers and activists redefined identity and sparked the Sexual Revolution by Carl R. Trueman 2022 / 187 pages Just how strange is this new world we live in? Well, we’ve seen: A father jailed because he used the “wrong” pronouns to refer to his gender-confused daughter Pastors arrested for holding worship services while thousands marched unmasked to protest alleged systemic racism Elementary school students sent to the principal’s office for “misgendering” their classmates Boys taught that their natural rambunctiousness is an example of toxic masculinity and must be despised and replaced with more feminine traits. The world is in the throes of madness, but to assume that there is no method to the madness would be naive. In Carl Trueman’s, Strange New World, (a concise version of his earlier The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self), we take a swift trip from the Enlightenment to the 21st century to review the radical thinkers responsible for the madness of today’s identity politics. Under identity politics an individual is only as important and valued as the racial, social, or sexual group he is part of. A black transgender woman would be near the top of this hierarchy, deserving of society’s sympathy and support while a straight white male is at the bottom, deserving of ridicule because of the privilege he must have based on the color of his skin. People are no longer judged by their character but rather by their lived experience and the history of oppression or privilege their “group” has experienced. As Trueman details, the problems associated with identity politics can be traced back to our notion of the self. For all of history, we recognized that if our inner feelings differed with the physical reality around us it was important to realign our feelings to that reality. However, bringing the mind into line with the physical body has, in the space of only a few years, been rejected in favor of bringing the body into line with the mind. Toleration was once… well, tolerated. But no longer. Now full acceptance of the latest new view is expected, with severe repercussions to those who do not. How does our culture justify that severity? Well, if the mind is said to be the driving force behind reality, then words have much more significance – words themselves can now marginalize and cause damage to the person. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” needs to be adjusted to something along the lines of “sticks and stone may break my bones, but your words are also violent.” Many institutions are quickly writing laws that carry punishments for inflicting emotional damages to those in marginalized groups. What Trueman makes plain is that although this shift towards identity politics has occurred recently, thinkers such as Rousseau, Marx, and Freud long ago laid the foundation on which identity politics now stand. Identity politics is not some passing trend but is rooted deeply in our culture’s psyche. Seeing it widely embraced could lead Christians to despair. However, as Trueman reminds the reader, Christ has promised His church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. God is sovereign and His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven. With this hope we can continue to eagerly await the coming marriage feast of the Lamb. This book is a must-read for older teenagers and adults alike (and ranks in my personal top 5). Understanding the history of the ideas that led to this moment gives us the power to resist our culture’s siren call into identity politics, and will better equip us to sympathize with those who haven’t resisted, and have been shipwrecked....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Sugar Birds

by Cheryl Grey Bostrom2021 / 328 Pages This page-turner takes place in the Pacific NorthWest, a little north of Seattle, and tells the story of two girls who have lost their way in wildernesses of their own making. Ten-year-old Aggie accidentally sets fire to her home and is sure she has killed her parents. So, she flees into the forest where she puts the survival skills taught by her dad into practice. Climbing trees is her passion and finding bird nests with eggs waiting to hatch gives her joy but she has been forbidden by her unstable mother to continue climbing. Celia is 16 years old and has to spend the summer with her grandma instead of going to Lake Chelan with her father.  She meets a very handsome farm hand and falls in love with him but this relationship is a disaster waiting to happen.  Aggie’s autistic brother, Burnaby, carefully gathers bones of birds that have died and threads their skeletons back together.  He becomes a healing balm for troubled Celia. Cautions include a few instances of impolite language, a section where Celia and a boy are beginning something they shouldn’t but steer clear, and one time there’s the threat of rape, though not the act. This is quite the touching story about anger, rebellion, forgiveness, and redemption. However, because of the mentioned subject matter I would recommend it only for the mature reader....

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Snow Treasure

by Marie McSwigan 1942 / 196 pages In 1940, shortly after the Germans invaded Norway, a Norwegian freighter arrived in the US city of Baltimore carrying $9 million worth of gold bullion. This cargo has been smuggled out of the country to keep it from the Nazis, and as a news account from the time noted, children on their sleds had been used to slip it past the invaders. Snow Treasure, published two years later, expands on those scant details to give young readers a story that should be understood as much more fiction than fact: 12-year-old Peter Lundstrom, and all the other children are made-up characters, as are all the events and details. But what's true about this tale, and the reason it is worth reading is the bravery of not just the children, but the parents too in putting their children at risk to keep this wealth out of the hands of men who would use it only for evil. It's this celebration of courage and conviction that's likely kept this continuously in print since it was first published 80 years ago! (It was awarded the Young Reader's Choice Award back in 1945 when winning it meant something.) There are no cautions to offer. While there is peril, no one dies or even gets shot at. Snow Treasure will be best enjoyed by children in Grades 2 and 3, and might be a quick fun read for those even a little older. Over the decades it has been published with all sorts of covers, both terrible and terrific, so be sure to get a good one....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Journey

A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims by Peter Kreeft 1996 / 128 pages This is an allegorical journey, reminiscent of John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. But in this case, the pilgrim - the author Peter Kreeft - has Socrates as his guide. And instead of facing trials and temptations on the road, he runs into one Greek philosopher after another, every time there is a fork in the road. Each one of them offers up their own particular worldview for consideration and Kreeft then has the choice of either staying with them, and subscribing to their philosophy, or rejecting it, and continuing on his journey in search of Truth. Though these philosophies are ancient, they are also current. Take as example the first philosopher Kreeft and Socrates meet: Epicurus presents the "Eat, drink and be merry." He tells Kreeft that the Truth isn't even worth seeking after - not when there is so much partying to do! Today we might call this the Hugh Hefner philosophy - why think about things such as Truth and the purpose of life, when there is yet another woman to bed, more money to be made and spent, and more parties to attend. And indeed, when the pilgrim rejects this worldview, he notices that Epicurus bears a strong resemblance to Hefner. As he continues he meets more ancient Greeks, each with their own challenge to present, and each with their own modern-day counterpart. This is what makes the book a valuable tool. Just as Socrates is a guide to the pilgrim Kreeft as he is confronted with ten different errant worldviews, so too this book can serve as a guide to anyone bumping up against these worldviews today.  Some of the philosophers he meets include: The Skeptic The Cynic The Nihilist The Materialist The Relativist The Atheist The Pantheist and Deist It is a very well-written, fun read, but because the book is deliberately philosophical this slim volume could seem a bit intimidating to anyone not already familiar with ancient Greek philosophy. But you don't need to be able to tell Socrates from Plato to enjoy this book. All you need is an interest in learning to discern how these philosophies are still being practiced and promoted today. One note of caution: the author is Catholic, and in this book that comes out in an Armininan flavoring to some passages. But Kreeft is also a great thinker, and when he targets secular errors, as he does in this book, there are few writers his equal. He has a whole series of books that feature Socrates and his questioning method, including The Unaborted Socrates: A Dramatic Debate on the Issues Surrounding Abortion and the Best Things in Life, both of which I would also recommend. But Kreeft is also a dedicated apologist for the Roman Catholic church and has written innumerable books on that subject too, so I would not recommend all his books with equal enthusiasm and would warn off an undiscerning reader from most of them, these three excepted. That said, this particular title would be perfect for anyone in university, or heading there, as a great tool to help them see through and answer the secular worldviews they'll run into on campus....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

Only When It’s Dark Can We See the Stars: a father’s journal as his son battles cancer

by John van Popta 2022, 194 pages Why Lord? That’s the question 12-year-old Julian van Popta, his parents, and his siblings had to contend with when this young man was diagnosed with leukemia. Only When It’s Dark Can We See the Stars is an account of the four years that followed, as written by his father, Pastor John van Popta. The chapters are made up of the regular updates Rev. van Popta sent out to friends and family during the rounds of Julian’s treatment. What’s striking, and what makes this such a valuable read, is the trust the author demonstrates in God, even as the van Poptas struggled with why God would bring such sickness. As the author shares, it is one thing to face cancer as a pastor comforting parishioners, and another thing to do so as a parent seeing their child too weak even to eat. The question Why Lord? is made all the more urgent when, during Julian’s repeated hospital stays, they meet other children also battling cancer, and the van Poptas share in these families’ hopes and their losses – Julian does eventually recover, but many others do not. While this is a deeply personal account, the struggle to trust God in the face of death is one that we’ll all have to face, and this then is an example of how to struggle well. It is a father writing, but there’s no missing this is also a pastor who wants to feed the sheep with what he knows we need: to understand that my only comfort is that I am not my own but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. That truth, powerfully delivered, makes this not simply a good book, but an important one....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Recent Articles, RP App

Microcosmos

Documentary / Nature 80 min / 1996 Rating: 9/10 Have you ever wondered what it’s like for bugs when it rains, getting hit by water droplets bigger than their bodies? If so, then this is the film for you. Winner of the 1996 Cannes Film Festival technical grand prize for its cinematic brilliance, this documentary delves into the world hidden beneath our feet. The bugs are the stars, so there is practically no narration – perhaps a hundred words over the whole film. We see trains of caterpillars strung out, nose to butt by the dozens, a spider capturing air bubbles to drag down to his underwater lair, the emergence of winged ants as they jostle down the tunnel towards the opening en masse, and a millipede in exquisite detail as it walks over undulating tiny, tiny hills. Parents who watch this with their children may have to do a bit of explaining about the birds and the bees (well, just the bees in this case) as a few scenes touch on sex. But as there is no narration parents who want to evade the topic for a bit can tell their kids that, “those two snails are just kissing.” ...

Adult non-fiction, Apologetics 101, Book Reviews

The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Orgins Debate

by Jason Lisle 2009 / 254 pages Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) is an important figure from our Reformed heritage. A careful theologian with a love for the Word of God, Bavinck is just beginning to be truly appreciated in North America through the translation of his four-volume Reformed Dogmatics. Even though he isn’t mentioned in it, The Ultimate Proof of Creation owes a debt of gratitude to this giant. From Bavinck to Van Til to Bahnsen to Lisle How so? Well, back in the 1920s, a young student at Calvin Seminary in Grand Rapids became enamoured with Bavinck. Reading him in the original Dutch, this student caught on quickly to Bavinck’s perspective.  In later years, this student would go on to apply Bavinck’s insights to the field of apologetics. Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) never claimed to be original and never claimed to be doing anything other than standing on the shoulders of the giants who went before him. While at Westminster Theological Seminary, Van Til would teach several generations of Presbyterian and Reformed men how Reformed theology demands a Reformed apologetic and he would offer that apologetic mostly on the basis of what Bavinck had developed. One of Van Til’s disciples was Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995), a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Bahnsen was a well-known populariser of the Reformed apologetics developed by Van Til.  He not only taught the theory, he also effectively put it into practice in numerous debates with atheists, the most notable of whom was Gordon Stein in 1985. Bahnsen is directly credited at the beginning of this book by Dr. Jason Lisle as the one whose writings and lectures provided its inspiration. However, as noted, the credit ultimately goes back to Herman Bavinck. A presuppositional approach In this book, Lisle (at the time a research scientist at Answers in Genesis and since then the founder of the Biblical Science Institute) applies Reformed presuppositional apologetics to the question of origins.  Too often, Christians try to “fight fire with fire” when it comes to the debate between creation and evolution. In other words, they use the same methods and approaches that the unbeliever or theistic evolutionist adopts.  This has been a notable problem in creationist literature. Lisle calls this (using the terminology of Bahnsen), the “pretended neutrality fallacy.” The debate is not over the evidence; rather it is a debate over worldviews. When it comes to method, we need to begin and end with what the Bible teaches. Lisle calls this a “Bible-first” approach, but we could also call it the presuppositional or Reformed approach. It takes the biblical doctrine of sola Scriptura seriously, as well as the related matters of the Bible’s verbal plenary inspiration and inerrancy. In other words, this is an effort to consistently apply what the church confesses in articles 5-7 of the Belgic Confession. Lisle concretely demonstrates how the biblical worldview (which includes creation as described in Genesis 1 & 2) should be defended. This involves exposing the weakness and irrationality of opposing worldviews (including those of theistic evolutionists) and then demonstrating how the biblical worldview is the only one which can make sense of the world in which we live. Evidence has a place in this apologetic as a tool to drive the discussion forward towards a recognition that worldview differences are key. However, evidence will not in and of itself resolve the issue. Dealing with logical fallacies One of the noteworthy features of this book is its attention to logical fallacies. Knowledge of these is important for exposing the weakness of worldviews that do not take what the Bible says in Genesis 1 and 2 at face value. Chapter 7 deals with informal logical fallacies. One of these is a fallacy of presumption known as “begging the question.” Lisle states, “Every old-earth argument I have ever seen commits the fallacy of begging the question.” He gives the example of radiometric dating: they say young-earth creationists are wrong because radiometric dating shows that rocks are billions of years old. This begs the question of whether radiometric dating is reliable – the opponent assumes that it is and that the young-earth creationist is wrong. Chapter 8 goes on to deal with formal logical fallacies. This is more complicated, but Lisle does a good job of making it as understandable as possible. Once again, he reveals the subtle fallacies that evolutionists (secular and theistic) commit in their reasoning. The book concludes with three appendices. In the first one, Lisle defends a natural, straightforward reading of the Bible. Here he especially has his eye on those who claim to believe the Bible but yet argue that the world is millions or billions of years old and that humans have primate ancestors. In the other two appendices, Lisle gives numerous practical examples of how to put the apologetics described in this book into practice. Conclusion I am stoked about this book. It’s been published at just the right time. As I write, there is an ongoing debate in the Canadian Reformed Churches about creation and evolution. This book argues that a consistent Reformed apologetic requires a belief in what the Bible literally says in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the consistent application of Reformed, biblical principles handed down to us from Bavinck and others. I highly recommend this book to one and all, and especially to my fellow pastors and elders in our churches, to our seminarians, to teachers in our schools and to post-secondary students. This is the best book on the creation/evolution issue that I’ve read. Dr. Wes Bredenhof blogs at Bredenhof.ca. This post first appeared in the January 2010 issue. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse

by Torben Kuhlmann 96 pages / 2014 How did man first learn to fly? It seems we had a little help. This is the story of a little mouse who made the very first transatlantic flight, back when Charles Lindbergh was but a lad. As our story begins we learn what first motivated this mouse to seek the skies. In the late 1800s, another invention was becoming quite popular – the mousetrap! – which had this furry inventor seeking somewhere safer to live. Where could he go? Why not America, a place that welcomed immigrants of all sorts (whether man or mouse)? That was a good destination, but when he tried boarding a boat, he barely escaped the harbor cats. They were guarding the docks, and there was no getting past them. It was there, however, as the little mouse was hiding in the shadows, that he was "struck" by inspiration: "Suddenly wings flapped against his face! Ghostly creatures flew through the dark. They looked like mice, with tiny eyes and huge ears. But they flew with powerful black wings. The little mouse carefully studied the strange flying relatives, then scurried home..." Why not try flying to America using wings like bats! In the many pages that follow we see the mouse draft plans, secure supplies, evade owls, fail, try again, fail once more, and then finally make his way into the skies. What makes the book so special is the enormous, gorgeous, detailed pictures. I want to make the case that this should be shelved in the graphic novel section of the library, even though it isn't what most would think of as a graphic novel. There are no word bubbles, but there are whole sections where the story is told entirely by sequential pictures. It might be accurately called a picture book, but that makes it seem like it's for little children (what older kids read picture books?). This is not a children's story. That's in small part because it has a grim bit here and there – one mouse is depicted in a newspaper picture as clearly dead, caught in a mousetrap, which would be an unexpected jolt to readers in the lowest grades. It might also be too tense with the owls determined not simply to frustrate his flight, but to eat our little inventor. The bigger reason this is older fare is simply the length and depth of the story. The mouse draws schematics that deserve to be closely examined – there are echoes here of Leonardo da Vinci. And he is playing a cat and mouse game on a few levels, not simply with cats, but owls, and people too. So, yes, this visual feast belongs best in the graphic novel section where boys in Grades 4 and up will discover it and love it! Caution The only caution, other than age appropriateness due to the aforementioned grim bits, would concern not this book, but a sequel in the author's "Mouse Adventures" series. In the next book, Armstrong (2016), another mouse takes things even further, developing the first ever rocket to the moon so he can prove that it is not made of green cheese. It's another inventive story, and the only nit I have to pick comes afterward, in an appendix of sorts. There we're told that Galileo Galilei "contradicted the Church's view at the time and his work was banned while he found himself accused of heresy." This is true, but without context, it contributes to the popular idea of Science as the ultimate authority, especially over and above what the Church teaches from the Bible. What this overlooks is that the Church's problem here was its reliance on faulty science in the first place – Aristotilean science – rather than the Bible. Most kids aren't likely to even ingest this section of the book. But this particular lie is a pernicious one, used as a universal solvent to undermine clear biblical teachings on origins, sexuality and gender. While it's only a small mention of a potent lie, it is also delivered to a young audience, which is why I'd give this one a skip for a school library. I'd also skip on Einstein (2020), not because of specific problems, but because there were parts of this picture book/graphic novel that as an adult, I didn't even understand. I think this one was too ambitious, considering the target audience. Conclusion That said, this story is the very pinnacle of creative genius. It will teach children at least a little about what it took to first developed powered flight, providing as fun and wonderfully illustrated an introduction to the topic as you'll find. For more, take a look at the book's trailer below. And if your child enjoys this one, they'll likely also love the third book, Edison: the Mystery of the Missing Mouse Treasure (2018) in which a mouse invents underwater travel to recover the illuminating invention his ancestor created. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction, Children’s picture books

Corrie ten Boom: the courageous woman and the secret room

by Laura Caputo-Wickham 2021 / 24 pages For such a short one, this picture book sure fits a lot inside. We meet Corrie ten Boom as a child sitting with her watchmaker father at work, see the whole family's love for the Lord evident in their devotions together, and then transition to World War II and witness the family's eagerness to hide and protect Jews from the Nazis. Finally, we see her capture, time in the concentration camps, and a glimpse of her life afterward. Corrie ten Boom was a brave woman, but others have been brave before her, so what makes her "picture book worthy"? It was the foundation for her courage that set her apart. She feared and loved the Lord, which is why she didn't fear Man, not even Nazi soldiers armed with guns. It was her wisdom – her understanding of how things really are – that allowed her to act when so many others, Christians among them, were too frightened to. As even this short picture book makes clear, she understood that God had her, no matter what. This is a very good picture book, but it can't match her glorious autobiography The Hiding Place, so children should be told that when they get older, they really need to hear this remarkable woman's story again, and this time in her own words. You can see the whole book below, as the author reads and shows her work. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Contending for the Faith: the story of the Westminster Assembly

by William Boekestein and Joel R. Beeke 2022 / 40 pages I love the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism ("What is the chief end of Man? ...to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever") but didn't know anything about the assembly that crafted it, the Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have a Dutch Reformed heritage, whereas these were birthed by the English Reformation. That's why I was happy to discover that United Reformed pastor William Boekestein had teamed up with Heritage Reformed professor Joel R. Beeke to give us this fantastic, accessible overview. While it's for kids, it's also a great presentation for adults who want to know a little, but might not have the time or interest to dive all that deep. This Assembly is worth at least a dip. This was a pivotal moment in Church history, and quite the encouragement to see some of what God wrought in the lives of kings and queens, and pastors and persecutors that resulted in these documents. Contending for the Faith is really well done, with wonderful pictures and clear text. That said, I don't know that this will be the sort of book kids are going to pick up on their own – they might need a bit of encouragement. That means this would work best as a homeschool or institutional Christian school resource. Boekestein has also done three books, all very good, on the confessions which make up the Three Forms of Unity: The Quest for Comfort: the story of the Heidelberg Cathechism (2011, 40 pages), The Glory of Grace: the story of the Canons of Dort (2012, 40 pages), and Faithfulness under Fire: the story of Guido de Bres (2010, 40 pages), who authored the Belgic Confession. All are recommended! ...

Family, Movie Reviews

The Creation Adventure Team

A Jurassic Ark Mystery Family / Children 45 min / 2001 Rating: 7/10 Six Short Days, One Big Adventure Family / Children 38 min / 2002 Rating: 7/10 The folks at the creationist organization Answers In Genesis have created two frenetic kids' videos that feature a robot dinosaur sidekick and comic hijinks. What more could you want? In the first episode, Jurassic Ark Mystery, the Creation Adventure Team is out to discover when the dinosaurs died, how they lived, and whether there were any on Noah's Ark. We are treated to non-stop action, decent special effects, a number of clever spoofs, and a talking robot dinosaur named Proto. Renowned dinosaur sculptor Buddy Davis, his teenage friend Ivan, and of course Proto, explore a dinosaur museum and show how these “terrible lizards” did indeed fit on the ark. A Jurassic Ark Mystery is one of the most entertaining creationism videos available for children. The only video that might be better is the sequel: Six Short Days, One Big Adventurer where the crew helps a student give a presentation to her public school classmates about how God created everything. The videos come with a pile of extras. Our family spent at least half an hour afterward looking through them all, with our favorite being the features on how they brought the robot Proto to "life." Caution The only one I can think of is that, as is pretty typical for a Buddy Davis production, the action here is a little on the frantic side of things. Davis is clearly focused on keeping the kids engaged, but I've heard a parent or two complain about just how hyper this all seems. Conclusion This is a video that would be fantastic for parents to watch with their kids – it is informative and entertaining! But for parents who can't deal with too much hyperactivity on the big screen, you'll want to steer clear. They say this is for ages 7-12, but our 5-year-old really liked it too, and even our 3-year-old was content enough to stick around for the whole show. While these are available on some Christian streaming services (and on DVD), Answers in Genesis has made both available for free online viewing, though they've broken them up into several chapters. That isn't the best way to watch them but it is a great way for parents to get a preview – watch them for free at the links below: A Jurassic Ark Mystery Six Short Days, One Big Adventure ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Shane

by Jack Schaefer 1949 / 176 pages Sometimes I reread children’s literature because I enjoy being captured again by the quality of writing and the stir of imagination. I read Laura Ingalls Wilder alongside every Louis L’Amour western in my junior high library. Not one librarian said I couldn’t read them because I was a girl, and thankfully, those same librarians pointed me next to Zane Grey. At age 13 and 14, these westerns were deep to me, even if I did recognize the plot patterns. I loved them. Action, mystery, rescue, the setting sun, the lonely West, and often, a misunderstood man. In the same vein, Jack Schaefer’s very first novel creates a story that’s even more impactful. Shane(1949) began as a short story that was serialized in three parts in Argosy magazine in the late 40s. First titled “Rider from Nowhere,” it wasn’t intended for young children, though it’s certainly suitable. Through the eyes of a child narrator and from his opening description, Schaefer crafts a deeper cowboy character than most, perhaps because we witness Shane’s moral choices and his influence upon an entire family. Dressed with a “hint of men and manners,” Shane mysteriously arrives in the Wyoming valley alone on his horse. I know, I know. It begins like a cliche to our adult eyes. And yes, we soon find out that a few homesteaders are holding out against one greedy rancher. It may seem predictable to an experienced reader but that is not the case for young hearts able to view historical realism with wonder. The appeal is simple. Yet here is where the story veers because Schaefer shows us, rather than tells us, who Shane is as he meets and is hired by homesteader Joe Starrett. Shane carries a chill with him yet is careful of his dress. He’s not large yet he’s wiry and powerful. Within the first day of working for Joe, Shane’s presence alone dissuades the local peddler from cheating Joe. Young Bob shares, “You felt without knowing how that each teetering second could bring a burst of indescribable deadliness…a strange wildness.” Even with an aloof nature, Shane begins a friendship with Bob, sharing chores and sharing wisdom like “What a man knows isn’t important. It’s what he is that counts.” But there are moments when the mystery of who Shane is overshadows his behavior. When he shows Bob how to hold and aim a pistol, a fierce moment of memory hits and Shane freezes, his face described as a “gash.” Bob has to say his name several times to break the hold of the past. Many times, Schaefer describes how Bob recognizes there’s more to Shane, yet Bob, and yes the reader, never learn enough. The story unfolds, tensions rise, and the homesteaders must choose to fight the manipulative mob boss of a rancher. More than once, Bob must watch Shane fight to right a wrong. He sees, and we see, “the flowing brute beauty of line and power in action” as Shane overpowers the rancher’s men. By story’s end, we want more. Schaefer has furrowed our curiosity to a point where we love Shane as much as Bob and his family do, yet we all remain caught in the unknown of who he is and who he was. It remains a true mystery and begs us as readers to ponder, to resolve, to discuss not only who Shane was but also who we are. Christine Norvell blogs at ChristineNorvell.com where a version of this review first appeared....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration

by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura 2021 / 160 pages After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, tens of thousands of Americans of Japanese descent were rounded up and placed in detention camps around the US. They lost their jobs, their businesses, and even their homes, not because of any crimes committed, but simply for their ethnic roots. This same indignity wasn't forced on German or Italian Americans, even though Germany and Italy were at war with the US. Just Japanese Americans. And despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their loyalty and patriotism. What the graphic novel We Hereby Refuse recounts are the stories of Japanese Americans who did protest, in very different ways. One protester was an otherwise quiet young lady. Mitsuye Endo was a 21-year-old typist who lost her job when she was ordered to report to the internment camp. A lawyer asked her to sue the government for causing her job loss. He recruited her because she seemed the ideal candidate at a time when everyone was scared of Japan: she did not speak Japanese and didn't follow a Japanese religion like Buddhism or Shinto. She even had a brother serving in the US army. And she had also done everything the government had ordered her to. She was quiet and still she stood up, her case eventually going all the way to the Supreme Court, where she won. Another story shared is that of Jim Akutso, who repeatedly tried to sign up for the Army but was refused because of flat feet. After he was imprisoned in a detention camp he was found out he'd been drafted, but now he refused. His reasoning was that if his country wasn't willing to let him live freely, then he wasn't going to fight to protest the freedoms he didn't even have. His refusal was condemned by many other Japanese Americans, who thought his actions cast them all in a bad light. He was convicted of draft-dodging, and moved from the camp to a regular prison, and given a sentence that extend past the end of the war. Cautions I'm not familiar with the history here, so I can't really assess how fair the presentation is. I suspect that certain historical figures, particularly the Japanese Americans who acted as go-betweens for the prisoners and the US government, might dispute the way they are portrayed. However, the broad overview seems to be reliably done. I don't generally recommend books that take God's name in vain, but I'm making an exception here because this is not simply entertainment but educational, sharing an event that needs to be more widely known. For Christian parents or librarians who might like to strike a line through it, the abuse occurs just once, on page 128. Another caution concerns age-appropriateness. Near the end of the book, an older woman kills herself in despair. She's shown beginning to wrap a lamp cord around her neck, and while it doesn't get more graphic than that, the act itself isn't something young children need to read about. I'll also note that I've seen the authors making appearances on podcasts sharing their personal pronouns, so I rather suspect their politics and worldview do not line up with my own. But that difference wasn't evident in the book itself. Conclusion This was compelling, but I didn't find it an easy read. Some of that was due to my unfamiliarity with Japanese names, which had me confusing different characters so that I'd have to flip back and forth to keep things straight. But I was happy to keep flipping because it's a story worth knowing. We Hereby Refuse is a reminder that the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use that power with great restraint. What happens when it doesn't act with restraint? We get victims by the thousands and tens of thousands, as happened here. Another lesson? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. This would be a great purchase for Christian schools, and for parents to buy and read with their children. The serious subject matter means this is probably for 14 and up. The 4-minute video below, offering some local news coverage, gives a good overview of the book. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Finding Winnie

by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages / 2015 It turns out that Winnie the Pooh, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort. Just as Winnie the Pooh starts with a father telling his son a story, so too Finding Winnie beings with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case, the storyteller is the great-granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way, he met a man with a baby bear, and ended up buying the little beast. To make a long story shorter, this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown – ended up in the London Zoo where a boy named Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced. It is a wonderful story, but what makes it remarkable is the charming way it's told. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, that same charm, is there throughout. This will be a treat for fans of Winnie the Pooh no matter what age. Both my daughters and I were entranced! Winnie by Sally M. Walker 40 pages / 2015 The same year a second picture book came out about the bear behind the bear that was also very good, very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books....

Family, Movie Reviews

The Incredible Journey

Family 1963 / 80 minutes Rating: 8/10 What do Elsa and Anna, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Pollyanna, and even Huey, Duey and Louie all have in common? If you said, they'd all been featured in Disney films, you'd be right, but that's not the answer I was looking for. They all lack, and what many a children's story protagonist lacks is, parental supervision. Dead or otherwise departed parents are pretty common in children's fiction and films, and it isn't as nefarious as it might seem. Parents need to be out of the picture because otherwise the story would end before it even got going. How could Peter, Lucy, Edmund, and Susan have explored the wardrobe if they'd been back in London with mom and pop? Parents still home when the Cat in the Hat stops by? He'd never make it past the front door. And Jack and Jill would never have tumbled if their mom had been there to tell them: "You're not old enough to climb the cliff face– it's dangerous! How many times do I have to tell you to use the path on the other side of the hill?" In The Incredible Journey the parents are once again missing, but this time there is a twist: the Hunters aren't so much parents, as owners, and their "children" are two dogs and a cat. While the Hunters are heading to Oxford, where dad is going to teach for a semester, family friend John Longridge has volunteered to take care of their pets back at his own cabin, some 200 miles away. But then he leaves too, heading out on a long hunting trip, and entrusting the animals' care to his housekeeper Mrs. Oakes. Then, when the note he leaves her falls into the fireplace and gets burned up, she thinks he has the animals. The result: when the trio head out on their own, no one is missing them. Luath, a Yellow Labrador, is the leader of the group. He wants to go back to their family, and convinces the other two, Siamese Cat Tao, and Bodger, an English Bull Terrier, to start off with him. While Luath knows the right direction, he doesn't realize that home is more than 200 miles, and a mountain range, away. That's the set up for their incredible journey. On the way, they have to contend with hunger, whitewater, bears, a lynx, and, unfortunately for Luath, a porcupine! Cautions The big caution here would concern the tension. At one point it seems like that cat has been swept away by the river to her death, and the two dogs are left mourning. The only way my kids could get past that was with the reassurance that the dogs were wrong and the cat would actually be okay. Conclusion There's a 1993 remake, where the animals are voiced by big-name celebrities. I like this version better, where a narrator explains what's going on in the different animals' minds. It's a more realistic approach, almost akin to a nature documentary, where we're observing something that could really have happened. Despite what you might read elsewhere, this didn't happen – it is not based on a true story. There's been some confusion on that point because the author of the book that inspired the film said the pets were based on her own – they are based on true pets – but her pets never went on any such journey. What makes this such a wonderful film is the loyalty the animals have for one another. Bodger is old, and a drag on the group, but that only means that he gets to set the pace – Tao and Luath would never think of leaving him behind. Our whole family, from 8 on up really enjoyed it. The appeal for the kids is the pets – our girls love pretty much any story with dogs or cats in it – while the appeal for the adults was the uniqueness of it. This is an old-school Disney film, so it was easy to predict that everything would turn out fine in the end, but these animals took us on quite the journey with twists and turns that weren't so easy to predict. And that sure was fun! ...

Animated, Movie Reviews

Life at the Pond

Life at the Pond is a series of five videos that have a lot in common with VeggieTales. Both combine simple animation with sophisticated humor – these are children's videos that parents can appreciate too. Both teach moral lessons that line up with what God teaches. But while many of the VeggieTales videos "sanitize" familiar biblical stories (ex. David's descent into murder and adultery is turned into a story about wanting someone else's rubber ducky) The Pond steers clear of any disrespectful treatment of Scripture by setting their stories in the present day. (I'll note , though, that the original audio programs do sometimes have 5-minute news-type reports from biblical times, with, for example, an on-the-scene report of Jonah's time in the belly of the whale. Our family has enjoyed these otherwise fantastic audio programs, but we hit "next track" whenever it gets to these bits.) The stories all take place at, of course, a pond, and the four stars are all aquatic: • Bill the Duck is a regular joe; we are Bill the Duck • Tony the Frog fills the role of wisecracking comic relief • Floyd the Turtle is the most child-like, and often the straight man setting up Tony's zingers • Methuselah the Alligator is older, and a voice of biblical wisdom This is aimed at the pre-school set, but there's enough humor for parents and elementary-aged kids to enjoy too. I'd break these into two age groups, with There's Something Funny in the Water and The Little Things good for even the youngest children, and the others, with more tension, would be 5 or 6 and up. There's Something Funny in the Water 27 minutes / 2004 Rating: 8/10 In the first video we get two 15 minutes stories. Bill the Duck hides the fact that he is afraid of heights, because he doesn't want to be made fun of, and then Bill, Tony and Floyd all learn that it is important to keep our promises, even when doing so cuts into our fun time. These are stories kids can relate to, and parents can appreciate too, right from the get-go. The video begins with the familiar FBI warning against copying the film and Bill and Tony walk in from the sides to take a look. Bill: Has the video started? Tony: No it's just the FBI warning. Bill: And after this, what? CIA warning? FDA? NRA? Tony: The NRA puts up a warning, I pay attention! Big Mouth Bass 32 minutes / 2005 Rating 7/10 This time around Sarah, a big-mouth bass, is swimming off with whatever toys land in the water. She's taking them because "toys lead to noise!" and she wants quiet! This bass is a grouch, and scary too. So when she goes missing – a bear has taken her away as a pet fish – the Pond friends don't know whether to "save her ...or celebrate!" It's a lesson about loving your less than lovable neighbors, and reaching out beyond your friends group (Luke 14:12-14). Our three-year-old found the fish here too scary. Even though the bass turned nice by the end it didn't matter – she started off mean, so this video was deemed too scary (the accompanying Jaws music probably didn't help). However, what's scary for a three-year-old wasn't for our five and seven-year-old. Tony the Frog is my favorite character, and as he goes looking for Sarah he mutters some good lines to himself: "After I find Sarah I can go look for the bully who pushed me around last year. And then, if there's still time, a quick trip to the dentist to have some teeth removed. Anesthesia? Not today Doc, not today." The Little Things 29 minutes / 2007 Rating 8/10 When the carnival comes to town all the Pond friends get jobs. Three of them get great jobs (running rides or the food stands) but Floyd the turtle has to do the clean up. He wonders why he got the worst job, and eventually realizes it's because the circus owner saw the careless way he treated his toys. And because Floyd wasn't good with caring for "the little things" the circus owner didn't want to trust him with anything bigger. So, as the Dove review put it, for younger children the lesson is simply, don't break your toys, while older children can apply that more broadly to: “If you can’t be trusted with the little things then you can’t be trusted with the big things either.” The only caution would be that in the song at the end it mentions how you will "reap what you sow" and while that is a thoroughly biblical thought (Gal. 6:7-8, 2 Cor. 9:6,  Prov. 22:8) our kids also need to know that by God's grace His children will not get our just desserts in the end. The Alligator Hunter 29 minutes / 2007 Rating: 7/10 There are two stories again. In a parody of The Crocodile Hunter, Methuselah the Alligator is nabbed by a reality-show crew of kangaroo, so they can release him later somewhere far away. While Methuselah gets away, the kangaroos then capture his friends! Methuselah saves the day by returning and shaming the kangaroos into letting everyone go. This was way too tense for our youngest, and wasn't that popular with our older kids either (kidnapping doesn't seem the best subject for a children's show). The second episode is much calmer and funnier. Floyd the Turtle turns out to have selective hearing: whenever someone tells him to do something he can't hear them. He doesn't even hear it when his friends tell him to get out of the way of a falling tree branch.! Selective hearing is, of course, a malady common to many a child, so this can make for a fun illustration when the malady next strikes. The Rise and Fall of Tony the Tiger 29 minutes / 2009 Rating: 8/10 When Tony the Frog starts a paper route, it isn't long before his ambitions turn it into a business empire. He ups his speed by first adding a bike, then using a machine gun mounted on a HumVee to fire them at subscribers, then dropping them from an F-18 fighter jet. It's all going to his head and his friends realize he's made his business an idol...but how can they get Tony to realize? The F-18 sequence is quiet frantic and might be a bit much for younger kids, but Tony's friends, eager to help, and happy to forgive him, makes this a sweet one. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Nicky & Vera: a Quiet Hero of the Holocaust...

by Peter Sís 2021 / 64 pages Nicholas Winston never set out to be a hero but he also knew what needed to be done. When the Germans were taking over Czechoslovakia in chunks, before World War II has officially begun, Jews in the country were trying to get their children out. Winston knew how to get this done, pushing the paperwork, bribing the right people, and arranging for families in England where the children could stay. He ended up saving 669 children, most, or all of whom, were Jewish, and he didn't have to brave bullets to do it. That is the important lesson of this book: that there are quiet ways to do vital work. It was quiet work, but no less life-saving than what Allied soldiers did fighting to end the Nazi reign. And in its quiet manner, Winston's actions were more like the important work we are called to do today – our fights are not in the trenches, but writing our MPs, or making donations to the right organizations. We can, for example, save lives by donating to pregnancy crisis centers, and do so at no risk to ourselves. But we need to be persistent, seizing opportunities when they come, creating them when they don't, and working around obstacles as they appear. Winston was not Christian so far as I can tell (it doesn't come up in the book), but his example is still one we can benefit from. This would be a great picture book for a school library, to be pulled out and showcased around Remembrance Day each year....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Don't let the pigeon stay up late!

by Mo Willems 2006, 34 pages My kids and I love this for two very different reasons. They love it because they get to interact with the book. Pigeon desperately wants to stay up late. But a sleepy-looking fellow at the start of the book (the bus driver from the previous book Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus) asks us to make sure the pigeon goes to bed. But the pigeon, like many a child we all know, doesn't want to go to bed and has all sorts of excuses as to why he just has to stay up a little while longer. "I'm not even tired!" "How about five more minutes?" "Can I have a glass of water?" "Pleeeeeeaaaasssseeeeee!" "I'll go to bed early tomorrow night instead!" "My bunny wants to stay up too!" He has all sorts of strategies - sulking, whining, begging, reasoning - but it's the children's job to respond to each one with a firm "No!" They love laying down the law! I love the book because it gave me a helpful word to sum up my children's bedtime behavior. "That's enough guys," I'll tell them, "You're being pigeons and it is time to stop." They know exactly what I mean, and on a good night pointing out what they are doing in this quick and clear way is all I need to bring bedtime to a close. I'm not going to say it works every time - this isn't magic - but I do think any parent will benefit from having this bit of verbal shorthand in their parental toolbox. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Bell Mountain

by Lee Duigon 267 pages / 2010 Jack and Ellayne are two children on a mission from God: they are going to ring the bell that King Ozais built on the top of Bell Mountain. But there are a few things in the way: They’re just kids who don’t know anything about mountain climbing, traveling through the woods, or living off the land. They’re not sure there really is a bell on the top of Bell Mountain – no one alive has ever seen it. An assassin has been sent to stop them. They think the end of the world might happen when they ring it. It’s quite the mission, and quite the opening for this, the first book in author Lee Duigon 13-going-on-14 book series. The setting seems to be a medieval one: travel is conducted by horse and oxen, people live in walled cities and villages, and they fight with swords and spears. But when Jack and Ellayne meet a little squirrel-sized chirping man-creature named Wyyt it becomes clear this is not our world. Here Man once had the power to fly through the skies, but no longer – something happened long ago that left behind destroyed cities and set technology back a thousand years. In this post-apocalyptic world the national "church" (or Temple) has become so corrupt that no one reads the “Old Books” anymore but instead only the Temple’s interpretation of the Old Books is shared (if this makes you think of the pre-Reformation Roman Catholic Church, I’d agree that the author’s Reformed bona fides are showing). As the author puts it, people have forgotten how to listen to God. They don’t even know how to pray – that’s something the priests do for them. Now God is going to use two little children to rectify the situation. This is definitely a children’s story. The heroes are children, the tension level is appropriate for ten and up – lots of peril but nothing nightmare-inducing – and the plot, while nicely layered, is simple enough for children to follow. But there is a depth that will make them enjoyable for adults as well. Lee Duigon is simply good at what he does. I knew from the get-go this was a quest story, but I was always eager to find out what was going to happen next and so were my girls. I've read each of the 13 books in the series to them them, and they've always been eager for the next one to come out. The only way to purchase this series in Canada seems to be via the Chalcedon Foundation website store (chalcedon.edu/store). The Chalcedon Foundation is Reformed, as is our readership, but they are also Christian Reconstructionists, which most in our readership are not. It might be worth noting, then, that anyone who objects to Christian Reconstructionism would not find that a reason to object to anything in these books – it doesn’t come up. I'd recommend these for Grade 3 and up if they're reading them, but if dad is doing the reading, then they'd be good for kindergarten-aged children too....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Pro-life - Abortion

Horton hears a Who!

by Dr. Seuss 1954 / 72 pages  This fun children’s book has a surprisingly clear message – it’s seemingly pro-life! In typical Seuss style, the rhythm of the narrative captures its audience. However, what seems to capture readers even more, is Dr. Seuss’ repetition of the phrase “a person’s a person no matter how small.” In this story Horton the elephant finds a small creature, called a Who, on a speck of dust. Horton soon becomes aware of many Whos living on this speck of dust; they in fact have an entire town of Who-ville. Horton bravely defends and protects the vulnerable tiny people from others who mock Horton and try to destroy his speck of dust because they do not believe that there are any Whos living there. Horton’s fierce determination and perseverance are both heartwarming and admirable. begged, “Please don’t harm all my little folks, who Have as much right to live as us bigger folks do!” The Whos finally make themselves heard and Horton’s doubters accept the Whos as persons. They even join Horton in protecting them. While children may enjoy this story on its most basic level, adults can easily pick up on its underlying theme. It’s been discussed that some of Seuss’ work has been overanalyzed – ideas have been concluded that Seuss had not intended. Yet some of Seuss’ work has had real underlying messages. For example, his story Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now? was written with the intention of replacing the above name with Richard M. Nixon (when he then stepped down as president of the USA). Seuss does not seem to readily confirm Horton’s pro-life theme, but its clarity seems to generate fairly conclusive evidence of his pro-life stance. Several pro-life organizations currently use Seuss’ book to advocate the right to life for all persons. Dr. Seuss writes an exciting story with a poignant theme. Room on your bookshelf can be made for this story, no matter your age! Use it to spark some controversial conversation! Because, remember, a person’s a person no matter how small! This review first appeared in the July/August 2005 issue....

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