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Adult biographies, Book Reviews

The Watchmaker's Daughter

The true story of World War II heroine Corrie Ten Boom by Larry Loftis 2023 / 384 pages Larry Loftis is an international bestselling author who has written three other nonfiction thrillers of World War II heroes. Now, with The  Watchmakers Daughter, he has written an excellent, well-paced and very well-researched biography on Corrie Ten Boom. I really enjoyed this book; I read it in one sitting while enjoying the sunshine on my patio! At a young age, Corrie started to learn the watchmaking trade from her father, Casper, widely renowned for his amazing skills and known as the Grand Old Man of Haarlem. Shortly after they celebrated the 100th anniversary of the business, Hitler's Nazi forces took over the Netherlands. The Ten Boom family was deeply religious and believed that they needed to protect the Jews who were “the apple of God's eye” so they opened their home to Jews and to onderduikers (dutch for "divers"), young men hiding from the Nazis. But in March 1944, the family was betrayed by a Dutchman, one of their own. During the rest of the war, as Corrie was moved from one concentration camp to another, she finally ended up in Ravensbruck, a hellish place. But during the years of giving refuge, and throughout her and sister Betsie's imprisonment, she relied completely on her Savior, finding blessings even during the darkest of days. After the war, Corrie spent 25 years visiting more than sixty countries telling her story of love, forgiveness and grace. In his afterward the author writes that “writing about Corrie's message of faith, hope, love and forgiveness was an empowering and spiritually moving experience for me.” What I also enjoyed about the book was the occasional mention of Anne Frank's family in Amsterdam, and of Audrey Hepburn in her early to mid-teens who lived in Amersfoort. Hepburn worked in the military hospital there and put on private ballet performances in nearby homes, donating the proceeds to the underground. Dietrich Bonhoeffer also gets mentioned, as he was also in concentration camps, and towards the end of the war was shot. And all three of these connections are dovetailed right into the Ten Boom story. I also liked the several appendices, the “rest of the story” which completes the story of the refugees in the Ten Boom home. Appreciated as well were the 45 pages of notes where we read quotes from Bonhoeffer and Victor Frankl, and the extensive bibliography and an exhaustive index. This would be an excellent book for school and church libraries. There are at least two other books with the title "The Watchmaker's Daughter," one of them even about Corrie Ten Boom (but a children's book), so be sure to track down the one by Larry Loftis....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Little Robot

by Ben Hatke 136 pages / 2015 This is one of those little-girl-meets-little-robot, little-girl-loses-little-robot, little-girl-kicks-some-big-robot-tushy-to-save-little-robot stories. What sets it apart from all the others is that the first 26 pages are entirely wordless, and there isn't much talking the rest of the way either. The little girl, it turns out, is quite the amateur mechanic, so when she comes across an abandoned box and discovers a robot inside, she sets out to get it running. And she gets a little frightened when it does come to "life." This little girl is also quite lonely, so once she overcomes her fear, she becomes convinced this is going to be her new friend. However (insert ominious music here) she isn't the only one interested in the little robot! His manufacturer has noticed he's missing, and has sent a big bad robot on a search and recover mission. And this thing is massive – a semi-truck-sized beast that looks like it could eat trees! When it swallows the little robot, it's up to the girl, and some other new-found robot friends, to outwit the big robot bully and free her little buddy. Cautions At one point the big bad robot also swallows a poor defenceless kitty, but never fear, the fuzzball isn't chewed up – it's just inside, waiting to be rescued. The only other caution would be the notion of robots as people. Kids' stories have all sorts of anthropomorphism – cats can have hats, rabbits have swords, and trees might even walk – so is it a big deal if robots get this treatment too? No, unless kids get too much of it. No one believes cats, rabbits, or trees could actually become people, but they are saying that about robots today. The world misunderstands mankind as simply "meat robots," and from there, it isn't much of a leap to think robots could one day become "metal people." But we are more than our meat - we are body and soul, and no amount of hardware or software will ever engraft a soul into a robot. And that's a point that might be worth sharing with our kids. Conclusion The protagonist of the story usually gives you a good gauge of the target audience, and as this one is a little girl, girls would certainly be among those interested. But it's also got robots, and robots hunting robots, which will appeal to the boys. And as a mostly wordless comic, it will also have some appeal for early readers. It has a bit of tension, which could be a bit much for some in Grade 1, but for most in Grades 1 through 5, this will be a real treat....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

You are not enough (and that's okay)

Escaping the toxic culture of self-love by Allie Beth Stuckey 2020 / 208 pages In today’s culture, women often encounter myths promoting the belief that genuine happiness is attainable through self-love and autonomy. Social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram frequently showcase quotes urging women to embrace their supposed perfection and view self-love as the ultimate path to fulfillment. Allie Beth Stuckey’s book, You’re Not Enough (And That’s Okay), fearlessly confronts these myths from a Christian standpoint, emphasizing the significance of discovering true contentment through Jesus rather than the pursuit of selfish ambitions. Dismantling 5 myths Stuckey dismantles five prevalent myths perpetuated by the culture of self-love: You are enough You determine your truth You’re perfect the way you are You’re entitled to your dreams You can’t love others until you love yourself Drawing from her Christian testimony, she exposes the emptiness that arises from relying on oneself for happiness, recounting her struggle with a failed college relationship leading to a season of partying and disordered eating. Christ, not you Living in a culture that constantly affirms self-worth, conveying the message that one is a sinner in need of redemption through Christ provides a counter-narrative. Stuckey adeptly navigates this cultural landscape, highlighting the inherent discontent and feelings of inadequacy resulting from the pursuit of self-love. In the chapter “You’re perfect the way you are,” Stuckey asserts that one is “not perfect the way you are, and you will never be.” She explains that Scripture reveals two kinds of selves: the old self, utterly depraved and seeking love and satisfaction in the wrong places, and the new self, redeemed by Christ and free from the bonds of sin. Accepting the secular narrative of “you’re perfect the way you are” means that instead of relying on Christ's perfection, we'd be relying on our own, embracing ourselves instead of Him. Stuckey also addresses the Church’s susceptibility to the allure of the self-love culture. She reminds readers that Jesus’ commandment to love others as oneself is not an endorsement of self-love. Rather, Jesus understands that “self-love” is inherent, born out of looking out for our own interests. Stuckey cites Philippians 2:3-4, teaching that we should consider others’ interests more important than our own. The book concludes with a poignant reminder that while self-love depletes, God’s love is enduring. Stuckey highlights the profound and eternal nature of God’s love, contrasting it with the superficial and temporary nature of self-love. In summary, You’re Not Enough (And That’s Okay) provides a much-needed Christian perspective in a culture saturated with self-love....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Best of Caldecott: 146 great picture books!

As a new parent, I sometimes had a hard time finding picture books to read to my girls. There were just so many stunningly boring books out there (Amelia Bedelia, I'm talking about you!) and while my kids might have enjoyed many of them, I started going a little balmy when they asked me to read the same one again and again. I also started noticing the devil had a foothold even in our public library's picture book section. Most often the offending books simply celebrated brats, but a daughter who loves to dance got me to check out a book with a ballerina on the cover that I only realized afterwards was titled Princess Boy. It was about a boy who wanted to be a girl. That wasn't the age I wanted to have to explain transgenderism to my little girl, but, well... now I had to. That's why I wanted to create a list for parents that they could use to reserve great picture books from their local library. The overall goal was to provide so many recommendations that a parent wouldn't have to repetitively read any of them – there would always be another book they could pull out of the collection they'd just checked out from the library. I've also been involved in the purchasing for our local Christian school's library, and knew that a good long list could be helpful for librarians too. What follows is based on the Caldecott Medal. This award has been given annually since 1938 to the previous year's "most distinguished American picture book for children," as determined by the American Library Association (ALA). The award is given to the artist, rather than the author, because the pictures are the focus, not the words. Each year the ALA has also highlighted anywhere from one to six runners-up or "Honorees," which gave me more than 350 books to sift through. While the ALA is not Christian, their award gave me a place to start – here were their best of the best, and most of them were, at the very least, artistically impressive. And because they are "Caldecotts" you are quite likely to find many of these at your local library – availability was an important factor too. However, their idea of good could differ quite sharply from mine, and was sometimes diametrically opposed to what God declares good. A 2015 Honoree, This One Summer (the first graphic novel to be honored), is about a couple of girls "discovering their sexuality" and has all sorts of F-bombs. While that sort of agenda is a more recent thing, there is some wackiness amongst the older entries too: 1974 Medal Winner Duffy and the Demon is, as the title suggests, about a demon, and 1971 Honoree In the Night Kitchen features a boy, often shown from the front, floating around in his birthday suit. So, sifting needed to be done! Now, because the Medal Winners are pretty famous, I've rated all of them, putting them in categories of "Recommended," "Take It or Leave It," or "Don't Bother."  I figure the Medalists are popular enough that parents might appreciate a warning about the worst of them. I've also looked at all or nearly all of the Honorees, but in this case I've only noted the ones that were worth recommending. These aren't nearly as popular, so it didn't seem worth it to catalogue cautions for all of them. The result is a list of 140+ Caldecott recommendations for you and your family to consider. I've sometimes noted, or linked to, other great offerings by a particular author, which takes this list to well past two hundred. If you aren't already familiar with your local library's reservation system it's worth getting acquainted with it. You can go online and check this list against what they have, and then click a button or two to get the librarian to set aside your picks for you to drop by and grab. Our family used to live in the library on Saturday afternoons, but these days, because the library has gotten weirder and our Saturdays busier, we don't want our kids lingering there anymore. But by reserving books, we can still get our literary fix by just walking in and walking out. I also hope this list will be of use to Christian school librarians. There's sure to be a few gems here that you may not have run across before. And grandma and gramps, are you looking for a good Christmas gift or two? Maybe a little one's birthday is coming up? Have a hand in encouraging them, not simply to read, but to read good books. There are so many options to choose from below! While I found all the "recommended" titles impressive, I did like some more than others. If you are interested you can figure out my personal favorites by noting the longer reviews and the ones that include a picture of the book cover. Happy reading to one and all! RECOMMENDED (146) 2023 WINNER Hot Dog by Doug Salati 40 pages Averaging just about 4 words a page, this simple story is about how a very long and very hot dog needs a break from the city, so his owner takes him to the seaside where he gets to run and dig and meet seals. Peaceful, quiet, colorful, and just nice.  Honoree Knight Owl by Christopher Denise 44 pages Absolutely gorgeous book with full-page pictures throughout. Little owl wants to grow up to be a knight, and while it seems unlikely, his prospects pick up when knights start going missing. He graduates, with honors of course, and gets assigned the night watch, which is really rather his jam. There's a clever bit when he asks "Whooooo is there?" and some more fun too, when he convinces a dragon to snack on something other than him. A happy end for all, including the dragon, makes this a nice gentle treat for children 3 through 9. 2022 WINNER Watercress by Andrea Wang and Jason Chin 32 pages When her parents stop to harvest watercress from the ditch, a little girl is embarrassed. Free food from a ditch? Why can't they just get their meal from the grocery store? But then her mother shares just a little about what watercress meant to her family back in China. In the most poignant two-page spread on the left side we see a family of four around the table, and in the next picture it is a family of three, a little boy now missing, and mother explaining, "We ate anything we could find, but it was still not enough." The little girl hears, and learns. Next page she says, "...I am ashamed of being ashamed of my family." A beautifully drawn immigration story for children in Grades 1 and 2. Honoree Mel Fell by Corey R. Tabor 40 pages This is a book to be read sideways – the “top” of the book left side, and the bottom the right – so when a baby bird takes her first flight she has a long way to fall: right across two pages! And as she falls the other tree critters try to save her, bees, a spider, even ants. But is she really falling… or just diving? Be sure to check out Corey Tabor's latest, Simon and the Better Bone, inspired by Aesop's "The Dog and His Reflection" and with a happier ending. Honoree Have You Ever Seen a Flower? by Shawn Harris 48 pages It begins in black and white as a little girl is driven out of the drab city to go see brightly colorful fields of flowers. Thereafter the colors take over in this ode to the wonder of flowers, and to the wonder of life itself. 2021 Honoree Outside In  by Deborah Underwood and Cindy Derby 44 pages A poetic take (though done in prose) about how we sometimes forget how wonderful the outside is. But, thankfully, outside reminds us of just how awesome it is by going inside after us. "...Outside reminds us, with flashes at the window... Outside cuddles us in clothes, once puffs of cotton..." 2020 Honoree Bear Came Along by Richard T. Morris and LeUyen Pham 34 pages You know that old metaphor about the 4 blind men all feeling parts of an elephant and one thinking it was like a snake (he felt the trunk) and another thinking it was like a palm leaf (he felt the ear), and yet another thinking it was a spear (tusk). Well, together they had a pretty good picture of it. In this story an adventure is had on the river, and none of the animals are really ready for it, but when they all come together, they are. Parents could read this and talk about 1 Corinthians 12:12-27's one body, many members. 2019 WINNER Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall 48 pages A man lives out his years in a lighthouse, first by himself, then with a wife, and finally with the addition of a child. But then a letter arrives, telling the man that the day of the manned lighthouse has come to an end. The story does end on a happy note, with the little family settled on the shore, still able to see their lighthouse. It concludes with two pages on the history of manned lighthouses. The story will appeal to girls, and the lighthouse cutout will catch boys' attention. Honoree Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora 36 pages A grandma-ish lady makes a delicious pot of stew, and when the neighborhood smells it, they each come by, one at a time, to have a bowl. But when it is finally time for her own supper, there is none left for Omu! But grateful neighbors return her generosity in kind, each bringing a treat, and together creating a feast. 2018 WINNER Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell 48 pages A boy trudging through the snow, making his way home from school, comes across a lost wolf cub which he befriends and then helps find its pack back. The effort exhausts him but when he collapses in the snow the grateful wolf pack then helps his parents find him. It's a fun story, and well drawn, but I do wonder whether, because the wolves are drawn so realistically, a little kid could read this and think it is passing on accurate information on the friendliness of wolves. It's also featured in our 100+ Wordless Wonders article. 2017 Honoree They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel 38 pages We get to see a cat through the eyes of a child, dog, fox, fish, mouse, bee, bird, flea, snake, skunk, worm, and bat. And as you might imagine, they all have quite a different take on what a cat is, with the opposite extremes taken up by the mouse, who sees the cat as a fierce monster, and the fox, who sees him as a tender morsel. Honoree Du Iz Tak? by Carson EIlis 48 pages An insect discovers a plant shoot and tells his friends about it in an invented insect language, and they gather to build homes on it. So, lots of talking in this book, but all of it made up. Lots of fun here, for kids who are up to trying to figure out what all these bugs might be saying. 2016 WINNER Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages Did you know Winnie the Pooh was named after a real bear who had his own adventures? This is his story and it begins with Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian traveling across Canada by train to go fight for his country in the First World War. 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. There is quite a difference between A. A. Milne's Winnie tales and this author’s truth, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, that same charm, is there throughout. This will be for all ages! Honoree Waiting by Kevin Henkes 34 pages Five toys on a windowsill just love to peer outside and see what they can see. A quiet book, but with an upbeat spirit. A warning for sensitive little souls: on one page an elephant figurine visits and "leaves" never to come back, but we see him broken on the ground. 2015 Honoree Sam & Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen 40 pages Two boys dig a hole and they won't stop digging until they find something spectacular. Some kids will really appreciate, and I suspect others will get increasingly frustrated, at the pair's many near misses. Honoree Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo 40 pages A boy goes to visit his Nana in the big city. He finds it a busy, loud, scary place, and thinks his Nana should move. But the next day his Nana shows him how the city is a busy, loud, extraordinary place, just right for his Nana to live in... and for him to visit. Honoree The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet 44 pages The life and times of Peter Roget (1779-1869), whose popular thesaurus is still being published today. It includes lots of detailed word lists from Roget's original thesaurus. That makes it colorful but also a bit much for Grade 1 and under. Could be fascinating to certain kids in Grade 2 and older. 2014 WINNER Locomotive by Brian Floca 66 pages A prose/poetry account of how the cross-America railway was built, and what it was like to ride on it. While it is an attractive book, it struck me as having too much text for a picture book, and as too picture-bookish for the Grade 3-5 readers this would be best suited for. Split the difference and pitch it to Grades 2 and 3. Honoree Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle 44 pages In this wordless wonder, Flora dances an elegant and energetic duet with a flamingo. My favorite of the “Flora’s feathered friends” series is the 2014 sequel, Flora and the Penguin, which sees her switch up dance partners, and Flora and the Peacocks (2016), which has her dancing with two others for even more fun. The only downside is that they include flaps and foldouts that might need reinforcement to hold up to school library use. But if you’re buying it for a child or grandchild who likes to dance, these will be inspirational. (Don’t confuse these with the two other “Flora books” – featuring an ostrich in one, and baby chicks in the other – which are board books intended for babies.) Honoree Journey by Aaron Becker 40 pages If your children loved Crockett Johnson’s Harold and the Purple Crayon you’ll want to check this one out. While Johnson wrote her own sequels, Aaron Becker’s Journey might be the most worthy successor. There are some notable differences: Harold’s world is a blank page, ready to be drawn on, while Journey has lavish full-color spreads; Harold is narrated, while Journey is a completely wordless book. But in both books, a child equipped with a large crayon and an even larger imagination sets out on an adventure of their own crafting. In Journey, a girl’s dad, mom, and sister are all too busy to play with her, but when she finds a large red crayon on her bedroom floor she discovers she can make her own fun. She uses the crayon to draw a door on her wall, which she can then open and walk through into a whole other world of wonder. A quickly drawn red boat allows her to float down a forest stream to a castle that has moats running all throughout it, and friendly guards who wave her through. Like Harold, she too, in a moment of quick thinking, conjures up a balloon to save herself from a big fall. The adventure continues into the clouds, where she comes upon a strange king, his stranger airship, and an imprisoned beautiful purple bird that looks almost as if someone – someone with a purple crayon – had drawn it! Of course, she has to free the bird, and of course it isn’t easy, leaving her requiring some rescuing herself. In the sequel, Quest (2014), red crayon girl, and the purple crayon boy she meets at the end of the previous book meet an orange crayon king right before he is dragged away by soldiers. They set out to rescue him, using their own crayons and the orange crayon the king left behind. But to do that, they need to find three more crayons and, as the title indicates, have to go on a quest, and they’ll have draw the tools and the animal friends they’ll need along the way. The conclusion to this wordless trilogy is Return (2016), in which the girl’s dad discovers the red door in his daughter’s bedroom and enters this other world in search of her. While the girl rescues them both with a quickly drawn submarine (these crayons work even underwater!), it’s dad who devises and draws (Wait, he has a crayon too? Has he been here before?) the trap that catches the evil king. These are all great fun, and deserve a slow “read” and then “reread” as children will be sure to notice all sorts of details on a second run-through. 2013 Honoree Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger 34 pages All about the different sorts of green. With just 33 words in 34 pages, this is not a heavy read. It is on heavy stock paper, though, which allows for cutouts on most pages, allowing the colors from the next and previous pages to peek through. It's clever, and the paper is thick enough that it should survive library usage. Honoree One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo and David Small 32 pages When Elliot and his father visit the aquarium, the boy asks dear old dad for a penguin. Dad thinks he means a stuffed one, and says yes. But Elliot did not. The confusion continues as Elliot takes a smallish one home in his backpack and turns his room into an antarctic setting. Fun throughout, with a twist at the end just for parents (as I don't know that kids will catch this last joke). This is one of three books David Small has on this list (see The Gardener and So You Want to Be President? further on down) and I'll just mention a couple of other favorites. In Imogene's Antlers, a girl is surprised to wake up one morning with a set of antlers on her head. It doesn't faze her though, as she runs with it, using them to dry laundry and hang donuts, and it is her optimistic outlook that makes this such fun. In the sequel, Imogene Comes Back, her antlers are gone, but now she has a giraffe neck, and the next day an elephant nose... and she's still as upbeat as ever! Honoree Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen 40 pages A girl in a cold little town of buildings blackened by soot, and streets whitened by snow, finds "a box filled with yarn of every color" with which she knits sweaters for everyone in town, and even for the animals and buildings, and still the box remains full of yarn. A goofy little story that might, perhaps, inspire a reader or two to take up knitting. 2012 WINNER A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka 32 pages Daisy is a cute little pup who loves her big red ball and plays with it everywhere. Things take a tragic turn when another dog, trying to get in on the fun, pops the ball! But don’t worry, a happy ending is coming – after a few pages of Daisy being sad, the owner of the dog who popped the ball brings over a brand new one, and this time it is blue. A 2013 sequel, Daisy Gets Lost, has a half dozen more words than the wordless original but has the same quiet tension: Daisy chases her blue ball into the woods, then chases the squirrel she discovers, and gets lost for a dozen or so pages before being rescued and hugged by the little girl who owns her. Honoree Blackout by John Rocco 40 pages When the electricity goes out all over the city, one family discovers the wonders of not being off on their own phones, computers, and devices. Told in a comic-book style, this is an attractive, friendly book (even if big sister is a bit unfriendly at the beginning, telling her little sister to "Get out!"). 2011 WINNER A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead 32 pages First we get to see Amos in his routine: early rising, on to the bus to work, and then it's chess with the elephant, races with the tortoise, stories with owl, and quiet time with the penguin. Amos, you see, is a zookeeper. But when he gets sick and has to stay home, his animals reverse his routine, starting with hopping on the bus to visit sick Amos. Sweet and quiet – as my sister-in-law noted, a perfect going-to-bed book for ages 3-8. A 2021 sequel, Amos McGee Misses the Bus, is just as sweet, with his animal friends helping out once again. However, a one-page foldout might make this problematic for library usage (they always seem to get torn or folded up wrong). Honoree Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein 40 pages When Little Chicken's dad reads him some classic fairy tales, the young'un can't help but interrupt and warn Red Riding Hood not to talk to the Wolf, Hansel and Gretel not to go into the witch's house, and Chicken Little that it was just an acorn. I was worried this might be a rude book, but the little chicken is just exuberant. There are at least a couple of sequels, including Interrupting Chicken: Cookies for Breakfast, done with nursery rhymes this time, that was also very fun. Kids already familiar with the originals will love both. Recommended for ages 3-9. Honoree Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill and Bryan Collier 40 pages Nearly 200 years ago an American slave made thousands of clay pots, some small and others enormous, signed his name on some, and on a select few, also included a couple of lines of poetry. Dave the Potter was a master craftsman, but all we know of him is what he told us in these select few lines of poetry. This is a fascinating, beautifully illustrated book that shows what Dave might have had to do, to transform clay into his pots. The last 4 pages are just text, explaining what we know about Dave in a little more detail. Good for Grade 2 and up. There is a fold-out though, that might need reinforcing. 2010 WINNER The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 40 pages When a tiny mouse disturbs the rest of the King of the Beasts, the King seems intent on having a quick snack. But instead, after some back and forth with the tiny petitioner, the lion lets the mouse go. Why? Readers already familiar with this Aesop's tale will remember that the mouse has pledged to help the king if ever he is in trouble. But in Pinkney’s almost entirely wordless version – there are only a few squeaks, one owl screech, and a lion’s roar – it isn’t as clear. But no worries, we can follow along well enough. Then when hunters trap the mighty lion in a net, it is the mouse that comes to the rescue, chewing through the rope to set the lion free. The moral of the story? Even the strongest will need help. Pinkney had a lot of others worth checking out, which we review here. Honoree Red Sings from Treetops by Joyce Sidman and Pamela Zagarenski 32 pages We are taken through the four seasons and shown how the colors yellow, blue, white, gray, purple, and black make their appearance in each one. The art – particularly the people – is both wonderful and a little weird, giving the book a strange charm. 2009 Honoree How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz 32 pages When his family has to flee to another country, and they have just a room to call their own, a boy gets angry with his father for buying a giant world map instead of food. But later he concludes his father was right – they went without food one night, but that map brought color to the whole room, and transported him in his imagination to all these far-off places. I'd also recommend Shulevitz's The Secret Room, about a man both clever and humble. 2008 Honoree Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity by Mo Willems 48 pages Trixie has grown up in this second knuffle bunny book (see below for the first) and takes her bunny to school only to discover another girl has one too. And when they argue over how to say "knuffle" (is the "k" silent or not?) the teacher confiscates both bunnies, returning them only when they head for home. But what do both girls discover that night? They have the wrong bunny! But, they both have pretty special dads, who ride to the rescue. A great sequel to the original, and a third in the series, Knuffle Bunny Free, is every bit as good. Honoree First the Egg by Laura Vaccaro Seeger 28 pages Which came first, the chicken or the egg? In this book we're told "First the egg" and then as the page turns, "then the chicken" but the real fun here is that the egg is actually just an egg-shaped hole in the page, and the white shell comes from the white feathers of the chicken on the next page. Sturdy paper stock means these cutouts on every fourth page should survive library reading. After "First the tadpole... then the frog" and "First the seed... then the flower" we eventually get back to "First the chicken.... then the egg." Simple fun for ages 3 to 8. Honoree Henry's Freedom Box: A true story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson 40 pages This is the true story of Henry "Box" Brown, an American slave whose wife and children were sold away from him. Afterwards he decided to mail himself in a large crate, special delivery to the North where he could be free. This is told in a careful, somewhat muted manner, but might be a bit much for Grade 1, so I'd recommend it for at least Grade 2 and up. 2006 WINNER The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster and Chris Raschka 32 pages This is a sweet story about a child who loves to visit her grandparents' home, which only ranks somewhat low in my estimation because I don't know if a kid will pick this up - too many words for an early reader, and pictures too childish for Grade 2 and up. However, I think grandparents might really enjoy reading this to a little one. Honoree Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman 40 pages In 1783 a trio of flyers took to the sky. No, this wasn't the first manned flight, but it might have been the first "animaled" balloon flight – a rooster, a sheep, and a duck sailed off in this grand experiment. The story is introduced in detail, but the flight itself is told from the perspective of the three animals, and thus, wordless (though there are some baaaaahs and such). Very colorful balloon pictures make this a visual delight, and an explanation in the back of what may have actually happened, make this educational. Honoree Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and Bryan Collier 32 pages Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama, on December 1, 1955, and took a seat somewhere in the middle. When the bus filled up, she was asked to give up her seat. Why? Because she was black, and someone white needed a seat – it was a rule that blacks had to make way for whites. But Mrs. Parks said no, she would not get up. She was arrested, which sparked a protest – blacks in the city and white folk who supported them stopped using the buses. That was a tough way to protest – it's not like they all had cars they could use instead. The protest lasted a year as Parks' court case made its way to the US Supreme Court, where she eventually won. This is an intense book, well told, which serves as an example of how courts can be used to hold governments accountable. One caution is just that racism, civil disobedience, and one level of government (the courts) holding another accountable is, in my mind, a bit much for Grade 1 or 2. Yet picture books are seen as a bit childish by Grade 3 and up, so who is actually going to read this? It is both educational and interesting, so with some help from teachers or parents, who'd need to place this in older kids' hands, this could be a much-appreciated book (my 6th-Grader thought it was "cool"). One practical concern is a two-page foldout that will need some reinforcing if this is bought for a school library. Honoree Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman and Beckie Prange 32 pages This is poetry paired with science and full-page art. Each two-page spread has a poem about some pond critter – plant, animal, or bug – and on the facing page we get a concise, under 100 words, briefing on what this creature is like. This is not a picture book most kids would pick up on their own, but I think its super creative way of educating us on pond life could make it a favorite among teachers, Grade 2 and up, for their science classes. 2005 WINNER Kitten's First Full Moon by Kevin Henkes 34 pages Kitten sees a big bowl of milk in the sky - the full moon! But try as she might she just can't reach it, ending up soggy and defeated. But when she returns home she discovers a happy delicious ending to her night. Honoree Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems 36 pages This is the original knuffle book – a little girl loses her little "knuffle" bunny at the laundromat, and has to figure out how to tell her dad. Except she doesn't know how to talk yet. This features a really attractive combination of cartoon art, and real photography. Honoree The Red Book by Barbara Lehman 32 pages This is a wordless story about a boy who discovers a red book in the sand, and a girl elsewhere who finds a red book in the snow. Each opens it to find themselves looking at a picture of the other. The girl then buys a gazillion balloons and manages to sail into the sky to find the boy on the beach. Weird but wonderful. Kids who enjoy this mystery will enjoy the sequel Red Again (2017) which is more mysterious still. In fact, they should be bought as a set, with the ending of the one serving as an introduction to the next, and vice versa (or as my one daughter put it “They’re a circle!”). 2004 Honoree Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems 40 pages Pigeon really wants to drive the bus, but the bus driver is trusting us that we won't let him... no matter how much he begs. The fun in this book is that pigeon is very creative in his reasons, whines, and promises, to try and get us to change our mind - children will understand they sound like pigeon sometimes. And they get to take the parental role of saying no, no, and no! Parents can read this one with their child to create some shared vocabulary. In our house, at one time we could tell our kids "You sound a bit like pigeon right now." And there are seven others in this series. And if you don't know about it already, you're going to love Willems' fantastic 25-book Elephant and Piggie series! 2003 WINNER My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann 32 pages When rabbit sails mouse's toy plane high into a tree, he has an inventive idea of how they can get it back - stacking animals, starting with an elephant, hippo and rhino. They all eventually go tumbling, but the plane is retrieved. Mouse loves rabbit, even if trouble follows him wherever he goes. Bright colors and sparse text make this a good one for early readers. Recommended for 3-7. Honoree Hondo & Fabian by Peter McCarty 32 pages A dog and cat start their day together, then go their separate ways as Hondo heads out to the beach to run around with another dog, and Fabian stays home, trying to escape the attentions of the baby. Honoree The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt and Tony DiTerlizzi 38 pages I wasn't going to recommend this one, because it's creepy. The text is based on an 1829 poem whose opening lines are famous to all: "'Will you walk into my parlor?' said the Spider to the Fly." Adults all know how that invitation is going to turn out, and we'll appreciate the moral to the story: don't let flattery entice you into listening to bad sorts. Another highlight is the stunning black and white artwork, though that excellence only makes the well-dressed spider all the creepier. This is really a rather amazing work, but the problem is, in this picture book setting, the demise of the Fly is going to come as quite a shocking surprise to its young readers. So, don't get this for your Christian school library, where it will just be in the general mix and freak out a lot of unsuspecting little tots looking for a happy ending. But this could be a good one to take out of your public library to read along with your child, and use the shock to really drive home the moral. 2002 WINNER The Three Pigs by David Wiesner 40 pages When our middle daughter discovered this one she just had to share it with her younger sister right there and then. This is a creative spin on the old tale as the Big Bad Wolf blows the pigs right out of the story and into some others (including Wiesner’s own The Loathsome Dragon). As they travel from storybook to storybook the pigs decide there is no place like home, but also decide to bring along a guest from another story – a dragon! – to give this pesky wolf quite the surprise. There are two more Wiesner Caldecott winners below, and we review all his books here. 2001 Honoree Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin 34 pages When Farmer Brown's cows get ahold of a typewriter, they start making some demands: "The barn is very cold at night. We'd like some electric blankets. Sincerely, The Cows." When Farmer Brown won't listen, they take it up a notch with their next note: "Sorry. We're closed. No milk today." Then the hens get in on the action and type up their own note. Ridiculous fun! Honoree Casey at the Bat by Ernest Lawrence Thayer and Christopher Bing 3o pages The original 1888 poem is paired with detailed black and white drawings – almost photo quality – and short newspaper clippings discussing stories that could have appeared in the papers of 135 years ago. Fantastically executed and best appreciated by Grade 2 and up. 2000 WINNER Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback 36 pages When Joseph's overcoat gets worn, he turns it into a jacket. When his jacket gets worn he turns it into a vest, and so on and so on, until he's left only with a button... which he loses. But no worries, because he then writes about it, turning it into this book! Clever small cutouts on every fourth page give us a glimpse into what's coming and what was and because the book's pages are extra thick, this is still practical for a school library – they won't be easily torn. This is great for kids 3 through 8, who will also like Phoebe Gilman's Something from Nothing, based on the same Yiddish tale. Honoree Sector 7 by David Wiesner 48 pages A boy on a field trip to the Empire State Building meets a rambunctious cloud (he discovers that clouds are people!) who takes him back to “Sector 7” high up in the sky where the clouds get their orders about what shape of cloud they should be. But the clouds seem a bit bored with these shapes and ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. What fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the cloud returns the boy, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. Honoree The Ugly Duckling by Jerry Pinkney 40 pages Everyone seems a little bit nicer (or maybe a little less mean) to the ugly duckling in Pinkney’s version, though he does still get picked on for looking so different from the other ducklings. It’s only when he discovers he is a swan, not a duck, that he finds his place in the world. The moral to this story is one that parents can shape to a degree: is it about finding the right peer group – one that will accept you for who you are – or is what’s important finding out who God intends you to be? 1999 WINNER Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin and Mary Azarian 32 pages The true story of a farmer who made it his life's study to dig into the beauty of snowflakes. We take it for granted now, the close-ups we've seen of these crystalline marvels, but it's quite a trick to take a picture of something so small and fragile. And he figured it out. The expression that "no two snowflakes are alike" comes from his efforts. This can be tackled at two different speeds, with extra material for older kids to chew on, so I'd recommend it for Grades 1 through 6. Honoree Snow by Uri Shulevitz 32 pages A young boy is excited about the first snowflake. But it's just one, says his grandfather. But one is followed by two, and then three and more, and finally the gray town is turned a delightful white! 1998 Honoree The Gardener by Sarah Stewart and David Small 38 pages Lydia Grace Finch's family has fallen on hard times, so the little girl is sent off to the city to live with her baker uncle Jim, to help him around the shop. The story is told via her short letters home, where she updates the family on her efforts at making her somber uncle smile, and the garden she is growing, both in the window boxes where everyone can see, and in secret, on the roof of the building. Will she get her uncle to smile with all the beauty?  I really loved this one – a sweet story with art that fills every corner of every page. Sarah Stewart and David Small have also teamed up for the wonderful The Quiet Place, an immigration story where a young girl, who has moved to the US, sends letters back to her aunt in Mexico. Learning a new language and making new friends can be overwhelming, so she is grateful when she is able to turn a big box into her own quiet place. 1997 Honoree The Paperboy by Dav Pilkey 32 pages This is a throwback to the author's life, when paperboys would get up before the crack of dawn to deliver papers by bike. It's a pleasant look back. Honoree Hush! A Thai Lullaby by Minfong Ho and Holly Meade 32 pages A Thai mother takes all sorts of animals to task for their peeping, creeping, squeaking, leaping, sniffling, beeping, and shrieking during her baby's nap time. Quite the diligent mom to even wag her finger at a nosy elephant. Lots of repetition in the mother's warning for each animal, which could make this a good nap time read for preschoolers (though that same repetition is what makes this one I'd want to borrow and not own - I'd only have the patience to read it so many times). 1996 WINNER Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann 36 pages Officer Buckle loves passing on safety tips. But the kids he's talking to aren't as enthused... until he brings his dog Gloria along. Unbeknownst to the officer, Gloria is acting out the consequences of ignoring each safety tip, much to the appreciation of the students. Suddenly Officer Buckle is getting invited to speak everywhere, and told to bring his dog. When he finally finds out what Gloria is doing, it puts him in a bit of a funk. But it turns out, not only does he need Gloria, she can't do the talk without him either. The moral of this hilarious story is, keep your buddy close. A really fun one for kids 3-10. Honoree Zin! Zin! Zin! a violin by Lloyd Moss and Majorie Priceman 32 pages Children will learn the names of the many instruments in an orchestra via this rhyming introduction. Honoree Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens 36 pages A rabbit family needs to earn some money so they make a deal with the lazy bear next door that they'll plant his fields for him, and split it 50/50. Rabbit asks Bear ahead of time which half he would like, "The top half or the bottom half?" Bear picks the top half, and so the clever rabbit plants all root crops. When the bear gets his half at harvest, he demands that next season he get the bottoms. So, of course, the rabbit plants lettuce, broccoli, celery and more above-ground foods. Eventually, the bear learns that if he wants any proceeds, he better put in the work himself. The book has a unique layout, with the book held sideways so that the normal left page is actually the top, and the right page is the bottom. But it is a problem that the "hero" of the story is taking advantage of the lazy bear. Honoree Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson 32 pages In this clever alphabet book, kids can find one letter per page hidden in a picture of their everyday urban surroundings. 1995 Honoree Time Flies by Eric Rohmann 32 pages A bird flies into a museum, and flutters around the ancient dinosaur skeletons, which, for reasons unexplained, come alive. Or has the bird simply been transported back in time? It’s unclear, but what’s very clear is how cool these dinosaur pictures are. And because there are no words, there’s no evolutionary proselytizing – hurray! 1994 WINNER Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say 30 pages True story of a Japanese man immigrating to America in the early 1900s, traveling the country by train and riverboat, bringing his bride over to him in California, and then eventually moving back to Japan, only to have his grandson, the author, follow in his footsteps and move to America. Ends on a poignant note that might make some sensitive kids a bit sad: "The funny thing is, when I am in one country I am homesick for the other. I think I know my grandfather now. I miss him very much." Honoree In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming 32 pages A girl's visit to a small, small pond is told with bright pictures and very few words, making this a great one for kids just learning to talk, or kindergarteners just learning to read. A dozen animals are featured, each with their own rhyming descriptors like: "lash, lunge, herons plunge" and "splitter, splatter, minnows scatter." This is a sequel of sorts to Fleming's In the Tall, Tall Grass, which is every bit as fun.  Honoree Yo! Yes? by Chris Raschka 32 pages Two boys, strangers at the start, become friends over the course of this series of one- and two-word exchanges. Probably less than 40 words total, in a book well suited for Kindergarten and First Grade. 1993 Honoree Seven Blind Mice by Ed Young 40 pages Seven blind mice encounter a "Something," and each in turn, takes a feel to figure out what it is. The reader will know from the start that it is an elephant from the pictures, but when the first mouse feels its foot he thinks it a pillar. The second feels the elephant's trunk and thinks it a snake. The third feels a tusk and thinks it a spear. And so on it goes, each mouse disagreeing with those that went before, until we get to mouse #7. He figures out that he should take a little more time and feel more. And when he runs across the whole elephant, he can share the whole truth with his brothers. And that's the moral of the story, that wisdom comes from seeing the whole. This book can also be used to rebut relativism, the notion that we each have "our own truth." The first six mice thought they did, but the one real truth was actually yet to be discovered. 1992 WINNER Tuesday by David Wiesner 32 pages The only words we see tell us the time, and that it is a Tuesday. For reasons that are left entirely mysterious, at around 8 pm, a swarm of frogs suddenly starts flying (or is it their lily-pads that are doing the levitating?). They flock into town, chase some birds for fun, watch a little telly, and then, just as they are heading back, dawn breaks, and the sun’s rays seem to sap their flying powers. That leaves the whole lot of them hopping back to their pond. This is silly nonsense and kids are sure to love it. 1991 WINNER Black and White by David Macaulay 32 pages This unique book has four stories being told simultaneously on each two-page spread. Or is it all just one story? Very fun, but not for the impatient, as the answer reveals itself slowly. Honoree "More More More," Said the Baby: 3 Love Stories by Vera B. Williams 36 pages Each of these 3 stories involves a baby and an adult who loves them very much. In the first it is dad who is chasing down "Little Guy" and swinging him all around, and kissing his belly button. "'More,' laughed Little Guy. More. More. More." A wonderful read for toddlers, but only if parents are up for a little roughhousing afterward. 1990 WINNER Lon Po Po: a Red Riding Hood story from China by Ed Young 32 pages The familiar story of Red Riding Hood is given a twist: this time grandma doesn't get eaten, there are three children, and with no woodcutter coming to save them, they have to figure things out themselves. Like the original, this account is a little grim – the wolf does not get out alive – so this might be best read with mom and dad along for comfort. For ages 5-9. Honoree Color Zoo by Lois Ehlert 36 pages This is a very clever cutout book; it uses three layers of cutouts – circle, square, and triangle – to form the first animal, a tiger. Then, as you flip the page, there are only two layers left – the square and triangle cutouts – which form a mouse. Flip the page once more, and the one remaining cutout – a triangle – is the basis for a fox. If it's still not all that clear in your head, I'll readily concede this has to be seen to be understood. It is done on thick paper stock so it should survive a lot of use, and covers animals, colors, and shapes, for ages 2 through 8. 1989 WINNER Song and Dance Man by Karen Ackerman and Stephen Gammell 32 pages A bright, colorful story about a grandpa who used to be a "song and dance" man on the vaudeville stage, pulling out his old hat, cane, and shoes, to put on a wonderful performance for his grandchildren! Honoree Free Fall by David Wiesner 32 pages A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along in his dream. As dreams often are, this is wordless throughout, one page streaming into the next as the boy goes from meeting a dragon to growing giant-sized, to flying home on a leaf. It makes sense only in the ways that dreams do. But the smart-eyed reader will be able to spot on the last page, when the boy wakes up, all the objects in the room that inspired the different parts of his dream. This is one to “read” slowly and enjoy every picture. Honoree Goldilocks and the Three Bears by James Marshall 32 pages The classic tale is retold with bright cheerful art, and a small twist: this is one of the only times I can think of where Goldilock's rudeness – just barging into a house and eating their food and going through their stuff – is actually acknowledged. Goldi does escape in the end, and thankfully the bear family never sees her again! 1988 WINNER Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr 32 pages A girl goes "owling" with her father for the first time, heading out into the crisp snow. The forest is a little scary, but "when you go owling you have to be brave." Their hike includes regular stops, with pa making his owl calls, at last rewarded when finally they hear a hoot in return, and a feathered friend descends right on the branch above them. Then, for one whole minute (or is it one hundred?) they stare at one another. A cozy story about a father sharing a wonder with his daughter, good for ages 3 through 9. 1987 WINNER Hey Al by Arthur Yorinks and Richard Egielski 30 pages A man and his (talking) dog live in a one-room apartment in New York and are having a hard time just getting by. The dog in particular is a bit whiny about it, but the story takes an amusing turn when a giant bird invites them both to a tropical island where they can relax. Things are going great – they both love it – until one day they find they are turning into birds. That's not a trade they want to make so they flutter back home, losing feathers along the way, and learning the lesson of appreciating what they had back in New York. Colorful pictures give this one a boost. Best for 5 through 8. 1986 Honoree The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant and Stephen Gammell 32 pages It's summer so that means the relatives are coming! For any large family spread out across the breadth of this continent, this will be a familiar story, though taken to fun extremes – a horde of relatives are coming for an extended visit, and there's no room so they'll all just sleep on the floors and on top of each other. Bright, vibrant pictures add to the affection, as everyone is just so glad to see each other! 1985 WINNER Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges and Trina Schart Hyman 32 pages This is an epic knight vs. dragon tale, retold in gorgeous illustrations that are detailed, and, while not gore-free (we do see blood spurting from the dragon's tail when it gets cut off) certainly not gory. Both children and adults will enjoy time just pondering the pictures - when people talk of visual feasts, this is what they mean. The only caution I can add is a bit comical - there is some small elfish immodesty in these pages. The elves are not part of the story (they are a part of the larger Edmund Spenser tale "Faerie Queen," of which this is an extracted part) but appear on the title page, and in small pictures that frame each page's big center image. The elves, in one or two instances, are entirely naked, but the pictures are so small as to be easy to miss, and the elves themselves so childlike as to be quite innocent-looking. Nothing lascivious here and I mention it only so that those who might find such pictures objectionable aren't surprised by them. This might not be a going-to-bed book – too exciting – but otherwise would be for ages 3-9. And their dads will enjoy reading it to them. Honoree Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri 26 pages When a mama duck loses one of her charges, she paddles around the pond asking the beaver, fishes, and even a frog or two, "Have you seen my duckling?" The missing chick is eventually brought home by the turtle, and if a child is paying attention, then he'll have noticed that the turtle showed up early, and stayed around lurking on the corners of each spread of pages. And a really keen eye will notice the missing duckling off in the distance of each set of pages too. The duckling isn't lost; she's always right near by! 1984 WINNER The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot by Alice and Martin Provensen 40 pages A half dozen years after the Wright brothers first take to the sky, Frenchman Louis Bleriot successfully flies over the English Channel. This is an attractive book that explores a little of the man behind the flight, and the many failed plane designs he had to work his way through before he had anything truly air-worthy. Honoree Little Red Riding Hood by Trina Schart Hyman 28 pages Gorgeous artwork makes this the very best version, but parents should know Little Red gets eaten in this one, before finally being rescued. That makes this old-school retelling a bit tough on some kids. But that extra bit of tension can be a good way of introducing a little grit, small in dosage, to stiffen young spines and ready our kids for their task as truth-tellers and dragon-slayers. And kids will love finding the cat that artist Trina Schart Hyman has hidden on every page. Honoree Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang 22 pages As a youngster is put to bed, readers count down from her ten cute toes, to her nine stuffies, and so on, in this simple but charming counting book. 1983 Honoree A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams 30 pages In what could be a true story, we see how little Rosa’s family recovers from an apartment fire that burns all their things. Family and neighbors help out, giving them odd chairs, a kitchen table, a rug, and more. And then the family saves all their spare quarters, putting them in a big glass jar, to save up to buy a big comfy chair. It’s a sweet story about love and thrift and work. A child might ask why there is no father in this family, or might not, as his absence is never noted. Honoree When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant 32 pages The author of the fantastic 25-book Mr. Putter and Tabby series (seriously, you have to check it out!) shares the story of her own childhood, growing up in the Appalachian mountains with her grandparents. A gentle story, with one oddity being the absence of her parents, which is never touched on. 1981 WINNER Fables by Arnold Lobel 42 pages The author of the Frog and Toad series crafted this collection of 20 one-page fables about all sorts of animals. They all have a moral to their story, most of which might even be true; in "The Hen and the Apple Tree" a chicken learns that the apple tree that shows up in her yard one day, and which has a furry trunk and fuzzy toes, may not be a tree after all. When she tricks the wolf underneath into revealing himself, we are told: "It is always difficult to pose as something that one is not." A couple of the morals are a tad problematic – one declares "satisfaction will come to those who please themselves,"  which seems a little self-absorbed – but so long as a child doesn't treat this as sacred, but simply silly, this will just be fun. Honoree Mice Twice by Joseph Low 30 pages Cat invites Mouse for dinner, and when Mouse asks if he can bring a friend, Cat says yes, thinking that twice the mice will be quite nice. But when Mouse shows up accompanied by Dog, Cat gets more than he bargained for. And that's only the first dinner invite in this trickster tale. Honoree Truck by Donald Crews  24 pages In this wordless brightly-colored gem, we get to follow a red semitrailer truck bring its load of bicycles through all sorts of traffic. Pre-schoolers will love this, because they can, kind of, read it on their own. 1980 WINNER The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney 40 pages In 1832 a farmer and his family pack up their ox-cart with all the goods that they are bringing to market. They've got wool, goose feathers, brooms, linen, mittens, and more. Market is a 10-day walk and when he gets there, the farmer sells everything, including his ox and ox-cart. Then he uses the money to get tools and treats for his family, and makes his journey back. Told in a poem of sorts (no rhymes but lots of rhythm) and with beautiful pictures, this will give kids a good understanding of all the industry involved in farming way back when. 1979 Honoree Freight Train by Donald Crews  24 pages Just 55 words, but lots of brightly colored train pictures make this a quick, pleasant read for 2-5 year olds. 1978 Honoree Castle by David Macaulay 80 pages Author David Macaulay tells the detailed, historically accurate (though fictitious) story of how an English castle was constructed in the late 1200s. Be sure to get the 2010 version, which has all the full-page pictures in full color. Castles are the coolest, so if you were to get just one Macaulay book, this should be it. Honoree Noah's Ark by Peter Spier 48 pages This is a beautifully illustrated, nearly wordless account, with only three of the 48 pages containing text: two are biblical quotations, and the other is given to an English translation of a 400-year-old poem about the Flood by Dutchman Jacobus Revius. The rest is filled with seemingly simple but incredibly detailed pictures of Noah and his family as they build the Ark, bring in the animal pairs, and feed and care for them inside. Some of the detail is whimsical – a mouse is shown trying to push an elephant’s foot off of its fellow mouse’s tail – but we also see the floodwaters overtaking the animals that were left behind. This is no cutesy, sanitized account! I will add that a friend still thought the pictures a tad too whimsical – that they were making a joke out of things. I disagree, and the only problem I had is one picture where it appears as if Noah (rather than, as the Bible says, God) is closing the Ark doors. But we can choose to assume God is on the other side, sealing them shut. 1977 Honoree Fish for Supper by M.B. Goffstein 30 pages A simple line drawn, simple story about a day in the life of the author's grandmother, how she would rise early in the morning, make breakfast, fish all day, prepare the fish for dinner, and go to bed. Too simple for Grade 2, but maybe just perfect for Grade 1. 1976 WINNER Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema and Leo and Diane Dillon 32 pages In this folk tale from West Africa a mosquito annoys an iguana who in his huff, freaks out a snake, who in running away, startles a rabbit, who alarms a crow, who scares a monkey, who in swinging away as rapidly as he can, breaks a branch which lands on an owlet, killing it. The mother owl normally hoots to awake the Sun to start the say, but because she is so very sad now, she won't hoot. And so the whole forest is cast in darkness. Eventually, King Lion tracks down, one animal after another, who started this chain of events. But was it really the mosquito's fault? That might be a good point to raise with young readers. This chain of events reminds me a lot of Mike McClintock's fantastic A Fly Went By.  1974 Honoree Cathedral by David Macaulay 80 pages The one that started it all. Its oversized pages showcase in words and wonderful, detailed pictures how a medieval people, lacking all our modern construction tools, could build something that would marvel us still today. The black and white original was redone in color in 2013, and the added vibrancy is wonderful. 1972 WINNER One Fine Day by Nonny Hogrogian 34 pages A fox drinks up an old woman's milk, so she cuts off his tail. That'll have all his friends making fun of him, so he makes a deal that the old woman will give him his tail back if he gives her her milk back. That sends him to go make a deal with a cow, who wants only some grass in return. The field will give him grass if only he brings it some water... and so on and so on. Ten trades later, and he's got his bushy back end in place again. Great for ages 2-8. Honoree Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs by Randall Jarrell and Nancy Ekholm Burkert 32 pages The classic tale gets a bit of a "Goldilocks and the 3 Bears" twist, with Snow-White coming upon the dwarfs' home, sampling all of their meals in turn, and trying out each of their beds before falling asleep on the last. And when the dwarfs arrive home, they do the whole "Who's been eating out of my little plate?" routine. In this version, the wicked queen has three unsuccessful goes at killing Snow-White (first she eats what she thinks is Snow-White's lung and liver!) before seeming to accomplish her aims with the fourth go. It is Snow-White with a harder edge, but one that is more in keeping with the original. Best read with an adult, I would think. Wanda Gág's  Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a 1939 Caldecott Honoree, tells the same tale – almost identical text – but with its own charming art. 1971 Honoree Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel 64 pages This is but one in a series of Frog and Toad books, all of which contain a number of stories about these two good friends. Most are gentle, but I will say, some are better than others. The oddity in this collection of five is "A Swim" where Toad and Frog going swimming. Frog, normally clothed, just takes off his clothes to dive in. That's sort of weird, because people wouldn't do that, and these critters are sort of stand-in people. Making it odder still is that Toad does have a swimsuit. But one he feels shy about. And in the end, Frog and several animals laugh at him. So, not so nice either. More typical is story #3, where Toad is sad because no one ever sends him mail. So, of course, Frog sends him a letter but relays it via a snail. So they both have to wait a long long time for the letter. That's the sort of gentle fun that's made so many like Frog and Toad. Two other books in the series are better, with nary a sour note: Frog and Toad Together and Frog and Toad All Year. 1970 WINNER Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig 34 pages Sylvester, a donkey child, comes across a magic pebble and runs home to tell his family. But on the way back, he bumps into a lion, and instead of using the pebble to transform the lion into something like a bug, Sylvester's first thought is, "I wish I was a rock." He's saved from the lion, but now the magic pebble is lying next to him and he can't pick it up. A happy ending accompanies the message that, really, what more could Sylvester wish for than to be with this family? I'll put a plug here for another Steig title that didn't win the Caldecott but which makes a wonderful argument for the self-evident truth we have of a Creator: Yellow & Pink. Honoree Thy Friend, Obadiah by Brinton Turkle 38 pages Why is this seagull following Obadiah wherever he goes? The little boy doesn't like it, though his parents think it quite special that one of God's creatures would favor him like this. After chasing it off, Obadiah starts to miss it. And thankfully, he gets a second chance to befriend the bird who first befriended him. This takes place in early 1800s Nantucket. It's a thoroughly charming book, made all the more so by the quaint way the Quaker mom and dad talk (but not Obadiah) with "thees" and "thous." In an equally delightful sequel, Rachel and Obadiah, Obadiah and his sister learn that when a ship returns safely, a child can earn a silver coin by running to the captain's wife to give her the news. But which of them will get the job? To figure it out, they race. Obadiah is bigger and consequently faster, but in a Turtle and the Hare fashion, he lets something – a bush of blackberries! – distract him, and Rachel wins the race and the job. This was a sweet treat! 1968 WINNER Drummer Hoff by Barbara and Ed Emberley 32 pages A silly, brightly-colored book about a troop of soldiers all coming together to create a cannon and fire it... once. A sample of the fun rhymes: "Sergeant Chowder brought the powder, Corporal Farrell brought the barrel, Private Parriage brought the carriage, but Drummer Hoff fired it off." A delightful read-out-loud, but so very short, that might be a reason to borrow, rather than buy it. 1966 WINNER Always Room for One More by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Nonny Hogrogian 32 pages A wonderful old Scottish poem about a man and his wife who always had room for one more in their house.... until they pushed that to its limits and the house exploded! But don't worry, there is a happy ending for this generous family. Best read by an adult, as there are a few old-fashioned words (like "bairns") that kids will figure out when they hear it, but not as easily when they read it. A very fun one for kids 3 through 9. Honoree Hide and Seek Fog by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin 32 pages When a 3-day fog rolls in on this coastal town, everyone – fishermen, vacationing families, and even the drivers – have to slow down and wait it out. Soft pastel-ish pictures obscure details and give kids the impression of fog. Nicely done. Good read for kids 4-8 and kids in Grade One will enjoy reading it to themselves. 1965 Honoree A Pocketful of Crickets by Rebecca Caudill and Evaline Ness 48 pages A longer picture book sharing a little boy's friendship with the cricket he found and brought to school. The pacing is leisurely, and there's nothing scary, making this a good bedtime tale, though I suspect some boys could find it too slow. 1964 Honoree Swimmy by Leo Lionni 32 pages If the animals in fairy tales were actual people, some of these stories would be downright brutal – just think of The 3 Little Pigs, or The Ugly Duckling for example. But they aren't people, and that makes the horrific more distant and palatable, as happens here, where the story begins with everyone Swimmy knows getting eaten, in just one gulp, by a "swift, fierce, and very hungry" tuna. Thankfully, Swimmy's life takes an upturn from there as he travels the ocean, seeing wonderful sights. And when he finds another school of fish, he now knows how to protect them, getting the whole bunch of them to swim in tight formation so together they look like a big fish and scare away the predators. Clever, and with some intriguing art. 1963 WINNER The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 40 pages Simple story about a little boy who discovers it has snowed overnight. We get to follow along as he crunch, crunch, crunches through the snow, drags a stick to make trails in the snow, and makes snow angels. And after a good long day of exploring the snowfall, his mom helps him out of his wet clothes as he tells her about his adventures. A relatable story for any kid who's been excited about a snowfall. Recommended for ages 2 or 3 through 1st Grade. The 50th-anniversary edition is worth hunting down, for the extra pages that explain the history of the book, and the impact of its black central figure at a time when black children weren't seen in children's stories. 1962 Honoree Little Bear's Visit by Else Holmelund Minarik 64 pages When Little Bear visits his grandparents both of them have a story to share, grandma sharing about what Little Bear's mom was like when she was little, and grandpa sharing, well, a bit of a dad joke. Pictures on every second page, and a decent length at 64 pages, make this a wonderful 10-15 minute read for grandma and grandpa to share with their own little cubs. This is #4 in a series of 6, and Little Bear (the first), Father Bear Comes Home, Little Bear's Friend, and Little Bear and the Marco Polo were quite nice as well. There is one last title, but Hen, a character in A Kiss for Little Bear, thinks this book has "Too much kissing!" and I would agree. 1961 Honoree Inch by inch by Leo Lionni 32 pages The inchworm is proud of how he can measure just about anything with his inch-long body. But then the nightingale issues him an impossible challenge: "Measure my song or I'll eat you for breakfast." Can he do it? Well, no. But kids will enjoy how the inchworm gets himself out of this predicament, and find it a fun challenge to spot him on the closing pages. Good for preschoolers through Grade One. 1959 WINNER Umbrella by Taro Yashima 30 pages When a three-year-old is given rain boots and an umbrella for her birthday, she can't wait for it to rain. But wait she must, as an Indian Summer has everything dry and breezy. Maybe she could use it to shade her eyes from the sun? Nope, mamma says wait for the rain. And eventually, the rain comes, and this little girl becomes a big girl, holding an umbrella just like a grown-up lady! Honoree What Do You Say, Dear? by Sesyle Joslin and Maurice Sendak 48 pages The subtitle sums it up: "A book of manners for all occasions." So, if a child doesn't know quite what to say when a gentleman is giving away baby elephants, and the child would really like one, but first they need to be introduced, and he doesn't know quite what to say, help is to be had here (the child should say "How do you do?"). If you bump into a crocodile when walking backward? You should say, "Excuse me." And if a cowboy outlaw asks, "Would you like me to shoot a hole in your head?" we are informed that the polite thing to say is, "No, thank you." This last one would understandably put some parents off, so this isn't one for a Christian school library, but could be a fun, silly one to borrow and read with your kids! 1958 WINNER Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey 64 pages An almost poetic account of a family spending their summer on the Atlantic coast. Lots of beautiful coastal pictures. An enormous storm brings this otherwise quiet story a needed bit of action. Honoree Anatole and the Cat by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone 32 pages Anatole is the most honored muse in all of France, in charge of all the cheese tasting at M'sieu Duval's factory. He ensures only the tastiest of cheeses are sent out to the customers. But no one – not even M'sieu Duval himself – knows that Anatole is a mouse. He does all his work at night when everyone else has gone to sleep and leaves notes for the workmen to read. As well as this system normally works, when a cat shows up in the factory, things go all higgly piggly, with Anatole so flustered he leaves nonsense notes for the workmen, telling them to wrap the cheese in banana peels, or add chocolate ice cream. Fortunately, Anatole is very clever, so with a lot of thought, and some bravery, he faces the cat, and bells it, so it will never be able to sneak up on him again. This is a longer book, that only Grade 2 and up will be able to read on their own, but kids 5 and up will really enjoy hearing. This is one of my favorites on this list. There are many other Anatole stories including one more on this list, the original Anatole, a 1957 Caldecott honoree. I've read and enjoyed four others: Anatole over Paris, Anatole in Italy, Anatole and the Piano, and Anatole and the Toyshop. Honoree Fly High, Fly Low by Don Freeman 54 pages Sid, a pigeon, and Midge, a dove, made their nest in the B of a lit-up sign in the city of San Francisco. The B sheltered them from the rain, and warmed them too. But when workers take down the sign, Sid doesn't know where his nest, Midge, or their two eggs have gone. Thankfully, a bird-loving older man is happy to help. Lots of color on these pages, and a longer than average story make this a wonderful read for ages 5 to 8. 1957 WINNER A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont 32 pages Trees are nice for dozens of reasons, as recounted one after another here. This would be a great book to share with children to have them understand just how blessed they are, by taking something they most often overlook – something like a tree – and showing how many ways just this one thing improves their lives. To be clear, this isn't a Christian book, but it sure is a great book for a Christian parent to use in instructing a little one. Honoree Anatole by Eve Titus and Paul Galdone 32 pages A mouse wants to make an honest living instead of just living off what he can snitch from humans. So he heads out to a Parisian cheese factory to see if he can put his cheese expertise to profitable use. Remarkably he gets hired by the factory owner... though the owner never discovers he is a mouse! Fun, clever, and long enough for a good bedtime read for ages 5 and up. Honoree Gillespie and the Guards by Benjamin Elkin and James Daugherty 58 pages This one is not widely available, but worth a laugh if you can find it. Three brothers have the sharpest eyes on the planet so the king makes them his guards and challenges his kingdom to try and pull one over on them. When no one can, the guards grow proud. That's when little Gillespie decides to trick them, for their own good. Each day he takes a wagon load of worthless things from the palace – leaves, sand, garbage, etc. – and each day the guards inspect his load to make sure he's not taking anything valuable. After weeks of this, the little boy calls the king to show him the trick he's pulled on the guards. So off they go, a whole parade of royals and guards and even a band to the boy's garage where he shows them.... dozens and dozens of wagons! 1956 WINNER Frog went a-courtin' by John Langstaff and Feodor Rojankovsky 32 pages An old folk tale about a Frog courtin' Miss Mousie, and having to get Uncle Rat's permission. Then we get introduced to many wedding guests, including "a bumblebee...banjo buckled to his knee," and "two little ants, fixin' 'round to have a dance." It's all done in rhyme, and the ambitious parent can have a second go at it with the tune written up in the back. Charming, and good for ages 2 through 8. Honoree Play with Me by Marie Hall Ets 26 pages When a little girl asks a frog, a turtle, a bird, and even a snake to "play with me" the animals all hop, swim, fly, or slither away instead. But when she, in disappointment, sits down and sits still, they all come back around to her delight. I don't know how this won an illustration award but the sweet story will please toddlers and other preschoolers. Honoree Crow Boy by Taro Yashima 38 pages On the first day of school a boy is so shy they find him hiding "in the dark space underneath the schoolhouse." He finds school boring, and the children start calling him "stupid and slowpoke." But, day after day, he shows up for class. And things change when a new teacher arrives and discovers that this little boy knows quite a lot about the world outside the classroom – the plants, and especially the crows! He is so good at imitating crow calls, that the insults thrown his way are replaced with a more affectionate nickname, "Crow boy." The boy's schoolmates then discover that the boy has been walking to school each day, starting at dawn to get there – and he has never missed a day! His classmates and his whole school start to understand that their little crow boy is quite the exceptional student. Set in Japan, this tale of trouble, and finally acceptance, could get a few tears going for Grade One and Two. 1955 WINNER Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper by Marcia Brown 32 pages The classic tale, well told. Cinderella even looks out for her step-sisters, finding them handsome lords to marry. After you acquaint your children with the original, you'll want to share the classic retold: Shirley Hughes' Ella's Big Chance. 1953 WINNER The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward 88 pages Little Johnny goes out into the woods to shoot himself a bear, but comes back home with a baby bear. That baby grows and grows, eating not only Johnny's family's food but their neighbors' food too, necessitating that Johnny take his friend back into the woods. But as far as Johnny takes him, the bear always returns. And this is where the book goes a little old school, telling a story I don't know that you would find in any kids' picture book today: Johnny and his dad conclude a different solution is needed. Parents will quickly figure out what that solution is – Johnny is going to take the bear into the woods to shoot him! – but kids may not, as it isn't ever stated that plainly. And before Johnny can shoot the bear, they both get trapped in a cage put out by zoo folk looking for a new exhibit. A happy ending for everyone! 1952 WINNER Finders Keepers by William Lipkind and Nicolas Mordvinoff 32 pages  Two dog buddies argue over who should get the bone they discovered. They ask a farmer, a goat, and a barber, none of whom offers much help. Only when another dog tries to steal the bone do the two friends realize sharing something is better than having nothing. 1951 Honoree Dick Whittington and His Cat by Marcia Brown 36 pages In feudal times a young orphan boy constantly struggles to fill his belly. When finally he finds a household he can serve in, the cook beats him and rats and mice keep him up all night. Fortunately, he is able to buy a cat that makes short work of this second problem. Then, when his master sends out goods to trade around the world, Dick sends his only possession, his cat, along. When the tradesman later come across a Barbary King who is also plagued by mice, the king buys the cat for a chest of jewels. And the young Dick Whittington gets quite the happy ending! 1950 Honoree Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss 54 pages A king isn't satisfied with just the regular old snow, fog, sunshine, and rain coming down from the sky – he thinks he's so important that he should be able to get something new! So, despite the advice of his loyal manservant Bartholomew, the king calls up his royal magicians. They promise to make him "oobleck." What is it? They don't know because they've never made it before. But as Bartholomew warns the king, this sticky, icky stuff isn't a step up from the snow, fog, sunshine, and rain! A fun, goofy story about humility. Honoree The Happy Day by Ruth Krauss and Marc Simont 32 pages The Caldecott committee must have had a thing for snow, because here's another that's filled with page after page of the white stuff. In the opening pages we're shown scenes of bears sleeping, and mice sleeping, and even snails sleeping. But then they start sniffing, one after the other. And then they all start running! They sniff and run, run and sniff. Why? Well, because they've all caught the scent of... spring's first flower! So maybe this isn't so much about snow, as it is a celebration of coming spring! 1949 WINNER The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader 48 pages When the geese head south for the winter, all the other animals in the forest choose their own path. The groundhog, Mrs. Chipmunk, the skunk family, and the raccoons get ready to hibernate. Meanwhile, Mrs. Conttontail and her little rabbit, two cardinals, three black crows, and the deer, are preparing themselves to live through the snowy weather ahead. And some others are going to leave with the geese, including a blue jay, and a bluebird. It's a highly educational story, teaching which animals do what, and at the end it notes how an old man and old woman help the animals through the winter by spreading seed and hay on the ground after a heavy snowfall – some stewardship over creation shown right there! There are a fair amount of words, so it might be a bit much for the youngest children. Recommended for 5 through Grade 2. Honoree Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey 64 pages Little Sal and her mother go berry picking in the same patch as a mother bear and little bear go berry eating. The two mothers' young'uns get switched for a time, and quiet hilarity ensues. Honoree Fish in the Air by Kurt Wiese 64 pages A Chinese boy by the name of Fish, asks his father, Big Fish, for the biggest kite that looks like a fish. When they get it, a gust of wind picks up the kite and the boy, and sails them out over the river where a Fish Hawk destroys the kite. The boy lands in the river and is retrieved by a fisherman. The book ends with the boy asking his father for the smallest kite that looks like a fish - a nice punchline. The one caution about the book is that it is a pre-industrial setting (probably decades before the book was written) and that is nowhere noted, so kids could read this and perhaps think this is how China is now. 1948 WINNER White Snow Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt and Roger Duvoisin 30 pages Everyone knows it is going to snow, so when it does, the postman, policeman, and farmer are ready... and the children are delighted. When the snow goes the next day, the adults are quite happy, and the kids look forward to Spring. Part poetry and part prose, this might be a bit slow for some children, but it would be great for a unit on snow, as would the other half dozen books on snow in this list. Honoree McElligot's Pool by Dr. Seuss 60 pages A boy is told he's "sort of a fool" for fishing in the tiny junk-filled McElligot's Pool. But the boy wonders if it might not be connected, down below, to an underground stream that maybe even goes to the sea. And then who can imagine but what sorts of fish he might catch. In typical Seuss-style, the boy imagines all sorts of never-before-seen sea creatures, from cow-fish and dog-fish to something that makes whales look like sardines. 1947 Honoree Rain Drop Splash by Alvin Tresselt and Leonard Weisgard 30 pages What starts as just a "drip drop splash" bit of rain that "dropped from a rabbit's nose" and "splashed from a brown bear's tail" eventually flows into a puddle, and then a brook, and a river and finally the sea, showing us one half of the water cycle. It's a lyrical look, with scenes of wherever the water flows. Great book for early readers in Grade One. Honoree The Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack and Jay Hyde Barnum 30 pages We're introduced to all sorts of boats: a Ferryboat, paddle-wheel Riverboat, Ocean Liner, Tugboat, Motorboat, Sailboat, Rowboat, Freightboat, Submarine, and, finally, American Warship. It's a 70-year-old book, so some of these boats have gotten bigger since then, but it's still quite the charming introduction. A good Grade One read. 1946 Honoree My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Becky Reyher and Ruth Stiles Gannett 46 pages Varya is a little Ukranian girl who, like all the children of the village, helps her parents with the wheat harvest. Of course, she doesn't work quite as hard as them, and when she takes a break in the middle of the wheat, she finds herself lost. Surely she can find the harvesters, she can hear them just over there. But it turns out, those are strangers, and she gets quite distraught. The strangers are harvesting their own wheat, but eager to help reunite lost little girl and momma, so they ask Varya if she can tell them who her momma is. The girl, fighting tears, can only blurt out, "My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world!" The leader laughs and says, "Now we have something to go on" and calls all the local beauties to see which of them it might be. But no, it is none of them. Just then Varya's mother shows up, and we learn while she might not be so beautiful by the standards of the world, loving someone makes them beautiful to you. This got me a little misty, thinking of how God's love makes us beautiful. This is a wonderful, longer picture book that would be best shared by mom or dad or a teacher so they can explain why it is that this 1945 book interchanges the terms Ukrainian and Russian as being synonymous with each other. Honoree Little Lost Lamb by Golden MacDonald and Leonard Weisgard 44 pages When a black sheep decides to head off on his own, the little shepherd heads into the dangerous nighttime mountains to find him and bring him back. A good one for five and under, and could be accompanied by a reading of Psalm 23. Honoree You Can Write Chinese  by Kurt Wiese 66 pages I remember coming across the Braille alphabet as a child, and the Morse code, and being fascinated. So while this won't be interesting for every child, some might be intrigued to accompany an American boy as he is taught the Chinese characters for numbers and some familiar objects. Any reader will come away with an appreciation for how our alphabet system of writing sure is an upgrade! 1945 Honoree In the Forest by Marie Hall Ets 40 pages During his walking in the forest, a boy comes across a lion, two baby elephants, a couple of bears eating jam and peanuts, and a stork who was so still the boy had to walk right up to him to find out if he was real. More animals join the parade, and they play Hide and Seek, which ends when the boy's father comes hunting for him. Was it all just pretend? Yes indeed, and they'll all be waiting for the little boy when he comes back again tomorrow. Honoree Yonie Wondernose by Marguerite de Angeli 44 pages This has been described as an Amish Curious George tale. Yonie is a seven-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch boy whose father is trusting him to take care of the farm while he is away. But that's a hard task for a boy who is always wondering about where that squirrel just disappeared to, or what caused that noise over there. Yonie is so curious he almost can't help but be constantly distracted from all the work he has to do. But he's trying! And when lightning sets the barn on fire, Yonie has to focus, to get all the animals out safely, and even then, he has a hard time of it! But there is a happy conclusion. The drawings are old-fashioned, and the Amish setting only adds to that. But the story is great. So, I think kids will love this, so long as it is read to them. 1944 Honoree Pierre Pidgeon by Lee Kingman and Arnold Edwin Bare 50 pages In this Canadian tale, a boy in a fishing village on the East Coast knows just what he wants for his birthday: that ship in a bottle at the corner store. Pierre makes his own ship models, but they aren't in bottles. How did this big ship get past the small opening, into the bottle? Pierre gets his wish, and uses birthday money to buy the boat. But on the way home an energetic dog jumping all over him causes Pierre to drop the bottle. That makes him sad, but sets him on the path to figuring out how to get his ship into a new bottle. 1943 WINNER The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton 44 pages The story starts with a solid little house in the country that can just see the lights of the city on the horizon at night. But as the decades pass, the city approaches and then engulfs the little house, making her sad. But when the first owner’s great-great-granddaughter comes across it, she decides to move the solid little house to a new spot, out in the country once more. Honoree Marshmallow by Clare Turlay Newberry 36 pages What a delight! Anyone who loves bunnies or cats is going to adore this book. The illustrations are wondrous – you can tell what the cat is thinking just from how its eyes and ears are drawn. Oliver is a house cat who's never even met other animals, and just generally likes his sedentary ways. So when a baby bunny moves into the premises, Oliver is more than a little freaked out. And that stops him from being the friend that the little baby bunny Marshmallow really needs right then. Afterward, as they hang out more, Oliver goes from scared to... well, predatory. Cats will be cats, after all. But their smart owner heads things off before trouble starts. And this talented lady also writes a couple of charming poems in tribute to her newest pet. So will Oliver and Marshmallow every become best buds? Well, yes, and super cute buddies they will be! This is just such a charming and quietly quirky treat. 1942 WINNER Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey 72 pages Mr. and Mrs. Mallard want to find a good place to settle down. A city park would have been ideal – passersby fed them peanuts! – but the kids on bicycles were just too fast. That wasn't a good place to raise ducklings. Finally they settle on an island in the nearby river, and befriend a nearby police officer who has peanuts to share. And when the whole family wants to go for a walk to that city park? Well, their police officer friend is happy to stop traffic for them! Wonderful drawings and 72 pages of space give the author enough time to tell a simple story wonderfully. 1941 Honoree April's Kittens by Clare Turlay Newberry 34 pages Newberry sure knows cats: how to draw them, and what a treat they are to those that love them. April and her mom and dad and their cat Sheba live in New York in an apartment so small that though she is six, April still sleeps in her crib. There just isn't room for a bed. That also means, as her father often says, that it is just a one-cat apartment. So when Sheba gets pregnant and delivers three kittens, father is clear: three of them have to go. And if April wants to keep a kitten, then Sheba will have to go! There's some real tension in this one, as April is so sad at the thought of Sheba leaving. But when her mother and father realize April has outgrown her crib, they make plans to find a bigger apartment so they can fit in a bed for her. And not just that: their new accommodations will be a two-cat apartment; April will be able to keep Sheba and a kitten! 1940 Honoree Cock-a-Doodle Doo by Berta and Elmer Hader 54 pages The moment Red Chick is born it is clear he is not like his fellow hatchlings - they are ducks and he is not! So, he soon sets out into the broader world to find his family, and encounters a hawk and fox who want to eat him. There is a happy ending, but there is genuine peril and it requires a little grit on Red Chick's part to make it through. This, then, is a classic that's still worth reading today. 1939 Honoree Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty 72 pages After checking out a library book on lions, Andy meets an actual lion! Like Androcles and the Lion (or Jerry Pinkney's 2010 Caldecott winner The Lion and the Mouse further up this list), Andy makes peace with the lion by pulling a thorn out of its paw. When they next meet, Andy manages to calm the savage beast because it remembers the good deed that Andy did for him. Honoree Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Wanda Gág 44 pages This is a fun retelling of the classic tale, using almost identical text to Randall Jarrell and Nancy Ekholm Burkert's 1972 Caldecott Honoree, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs. While that 1972 account is the more beautiful version, the art here is charming, too, and it could be fun to contrast and compare the two books' styles. Honoree Barkis by Clare Turlay Newberry 34 pages When James gets a puppy named Barkis for his birthday, he won't share it with his sister Nell Jean. Why? Well, when she got a kitten, she wasn't so generous either, so now he's going to do to her, what she did to him. In return, Nell Jean decides she going to hate puppies. When she sees Barkis escape the house, she says nothing, only coming to her senses when Barkis falls into the creek. Then, after she saves the pup, her brother is willing to share Barkis. Before she takes her brother up on his offer, she has to make a confession. Old-fashioned morals and heart-warming pup and kitten pictures make this a treasure still. And while the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12) isn't directly cited, the story here sure could be used by parents to speak to it. Honoree Wee Gillis by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson 72 pages Wee Gillis is a lad of two worlds: his father's relations are all Scottish Highlanders, and his mother's are all Lowlanders. So what should he be? Should he tend the cows, calling them home each night as the Lowlanders do? Or should he stealthily stalk stags, like a Highlander will? To figure it out, Wee Gillis spends a year doing each. And, it turns out, his time both high and low prepares him for his true calling: to play the bagpipes like no one else can! A cute tale that kids will enjoy reading to themselves in Grade 1 and 2. 1938 Honoree Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale and the Lion by Boris Artzybasheff 32 pages A rich, powerful, wise, and really really good-looking king wants to find a really good-looking wife. So, like many a fairytale, this has its shallow moments. But it's also very fun, with classic-styled illustrations that are full of detail. The King recruits the help of 7 brothers, each of whom has his own special talent - one can build super-fast boats, another can see around the world, and a third can steal anything – that sort of thing (for another of this style, check out Claire Huchet Bishop's Five Chinese Brothers). The whole stealing away of his bride becomes less problematic when the King presents her the choice of marrying him or not. This is a longer read with full pages of text on every second page, which makes it best suited for Grade 2 and up. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (17) Up next are 17 books that might be worth a read for some, but for a variety of reasons – whether they're outdated, odd, confusing, or a bit boring – they didn't make the recommended list. I've focused here only on the Caldecott Medal Winners, since those are the most commonly touted and widely available. I thought parents would appreciate a complete accounting of all the Winners, to celebrate the best of them, but also warn parents about the weird ones. There are some good ones below, but they might need to be put to a particular purpose. 2015 The Adventures of Beekle the Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat 36 pages An imaginary friend who has yet to be imagined gets tired of waiting for his human to think of him, and sails out to the real world in search of her. Whimsical. But for young readers in need of a real friend, this points them in an unhelpful direction. 2009 The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson and Beth Krommes 40 pages Pictures of black, white, and a little yellow are visually striking, but there's no discernible story other than, perhaps, that a child is slowly being put to bed. Had a bit of a Goodnight Moon vibe to me. Might work as a quiet good-night read to a child, 5 and under. 2007 Flotsam by David Wiesner 40 pages When a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach, he brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves, and the world that they live in when we aren’t looking is certainly something to behold: little mermaids and mermen, robotic fish, giant turtles carrying shell cities on their backs, and even what looks like aliens taking rides on the guppies. Done without any text at all, each picture is another discovery. The very last snapshot is of a girl holding up a picture. And in that picture is a boy holding a picture of a girl holding a picture of a boy. A look through a magnifying picture shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals still more layers to the photo. This is inventive and fun, with the only cautions being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, the aliens and mermen are fantasy, not fact. 2001 So You Want to Be President? by Judith St. George and David Small  54 pages A partisan-free overview of what it's like to be president, focusing mostly on the trivial, like what pets past presidents had, what they ate, what jobs they had, and more. It's in this section because minor points are now outdated (even in the updated 2004 edition), like listing Ronald Reagan as the oldest president (Joe Biden is now, by 3 years and counting), and saying no one of color has been president. 1998 Rapunzel by Paul O. Zelensky 48 pages A beautiful illustrated version of this well-known fairytale. But like many a fairytale, there are adult themes. The girl Rapunzel is locked up in a tower visited only by the evil witch that put her there. With no door in the tower the witch gains entrance by having Rapunzel let down her long hair, and climbing up. When a handsome prince happens upon her, drawn by Rapunzel's singing, he too climbs up her hair. The two fall in love, though keeping the prince's visits a secret from the witch. What's left unsaid is that they have sex. What is said is that the witch discovers the secret visits when Rapunzel starts complaining about how tight her dresss is becoming. The child reader will only discover she was pregnant when, after the witch drives the girl away, we learn that Rapunzel gives birth to twins. So, yes, a classic fairytale, but an odd one, and with an awkward edit. 1982 Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg 1981 / 30 pages A set of siblings, Peter and Judy,  discover a board game called Jumanji and its instructions warn them that once they start playing, the game can't be stopped. No biggie, you might think, except that in this game, the hazards become real! When one child takes a card that says, "Lion attacks, move back two spaces," a real-life lion shows up and starts chasing little Peter. The siblings begin the book quite bratty but otherwise this is quite the imaginative tale. For those familiar with the movie, this original is exciting, and not nearly as frantic. 1971 A Story, a Story by Gail E. Haley 36 pages An African fable about how Ananse, the Spider man (think Loki - a trickster god) gets the Sky God to share his collection of stories. Before he'll share them, the Sky God wants Ananse to bring him "Osebo the leopard of-the-terrible-teeth, Mmboro the hornet who-stings-like-fire, and Mmoatia the fairy whom-men-never-see." Ananse isn't strong, but manages to trick the leopard, the hornets, and the fairy, and when he gets the Sky God's stories, he shares them with mankind. While this is a pagan myth, it might be a good one for a unit on other cultures. 1967 Sam, Bangs & Moonshine by Evaline Ness 48 pages Sam is a little girl who can't stop lying. She doesn't seem to even understand the difference between what's real and what is, as her father puts it, "moonshine." One of her tall tales sends her friend Thomas to go search the beach for the pet kangaroo she doesn't actually have, and the boy nearly drowns. Only then does she see the trouble lying can cause. That could make this a very good story to read and discuss with your child, but there's also a talking cat in the story that could make this confusing for a child to read on their own. Can Bangs really talk or not? A parent will understand that this too is Sam confusing reality with moonshine, but as Bangs keeps talking even as Sam realizes the kangaroo isn't real, it does get a mite confusing, even for a parent. 1965 May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrice Schenk de Regniers and Beni Montresor 40 pages A little boy brings a new animal every time he visits the king and queen. There's nothing problematic in this story, but with forced verse accompanied by not particularly attractive pictures, you might borrow it from the library but never buy it. 1962 Once a Mouse... by Marcia Brown 30 pages This fable from ancient India has a hermit rescue a mouse that's being chased by a cat by transforming the mouse into a bigger cat. When this mouse/cat gets chased by a dog, the hermit makes it a bigger dog, and so on. Eventually he turns it into a regal tiger, but then the mouse/tiger becomes proud, and in punishment, the hermit turns it back into a mouse. 1961 Baboushka and the Three Kings by Ruth Robbins and Nicolas Sidjakov 24 pages A old Russian woman, a "babooushka," is just keeping her house tidy when three kings knock on her door and invite her to help them "to find the Child, to offer Him gifts, and to rejoice in His birth." But she declines. She regrets that, and the next morning sets off after them. She goes door to door asking after the three kings, but never finding them. We learn at book's end that she is said to resume her search every year, leaving small gifts behind. This is, then, a Russian version of Santa Claus, bringing gifts on Christmas Eve (though Santa is based on Saint Nicholas, who was a real person). That educational value would have ranked the book higher if not for the artwork: one step up from stick men. I can't imagine a kid picking this up. 1954 Madeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans 64 pages In a Paris orphanage/school, 12 little girls are cared for by Miss Clavel (some type of nun?). When one of them, Madeline, falls into the river, she is rescued by a dog, and in gratitude, they adopt it, and name it Genevieve. But when the school trustees see the dog, they boot it out, and Madeline vows the dog will get its revenge. That doesn't happen, and the dog is welcomed back, despite what the trustees have ordered. There is some rebellion against authority going on here that isn't addressed and so is tacitly endorsed. The rhymes do make this a fun read. 1950 Song of the Swallows by Leo Politi 30 pages A boy loves swallows, is sad when they leave for a season, and sings a joyful song when they return. The story celebrates the wonder of swallows, and two people, the boy and an older man, who appreciate that wonder. But it is set in a Roman Catholic mission and since this book is intended for children, I think this somewhat subtle Catholic boosterism is more significant than it would be in a book for older children. 1947 The Little Island by Margaret Wise Brown and Leonard Weisgard 48 pages The story of a little island that, about a quarter of the way through, goes from being an it to a who – it starts talking, chatting with a kitten. Weird. And nothing else happens so this is a bit on the dull side. 1946 The Rooster Crows by Maud and Miska Petersham 62 pages This is a fun collection of "American rhymes and jingles" that includes lots of old favorites, but with a new twist for some, like Mary having a lamb whose "fleece was black as tar, and everywhere that Mary went, they thought it was a b-a-a-r." Quite the forced rhyme to make tar rhyme with bear but a version you probably haven't heard before. But I wonder if kids will want to listen to more than one or two of these nursery rhymes in a row. 1945 Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field and Elizabeth Orton Jones 30 pages A little girl offers up her nighttime prayer, asking for blessings for her milk, bread, bed, sleep, toys, shoes, chair, lamp, fire, mother, father, friends, family, and children far and near. Sweet, and while it doesn't begin with any mention of God, it ends, "for Jesus' sake. Amen." However, as a model for prayer, which is what it means to be, the prayer doesn't offer adoration to God, or request forgiveness from Him. 1944 Many Moons by James Thurber and Louis Slobodkin 48 pages When the king's sick little daughter asks him for the moon, he wants to get it for her. But his Lord High Chamberlain can't do it. And neither can his Wizard or his Mathematician. But when the King calls on his Court Jester for some comfort, the Court Jester has an idea: why not ask the princess? This is clever, but has that kids-know-better-than-adults angle, which is why it got bumped down to the "Take It or Leave It" category. In a strange irony, if you do get this story, the 1990 version, still by James Thurber, but with art by Marc Simont, is far more attractive than the 1944's Caldecott-winning version. DON'T BOTHER (26) This last section covers the worst of the Caldecott Medal Winners. These are books that have problems, and sometimes that's because they explicitly mock God in one way or another. It might be taking His Name in vain, or pitching Santa or the Easter Bunny as a stand-in for Him. Others celebrate things we shouldn't celebrate, like needlessly risking our lives. Why bother with the "don't bothers"? Because, as Caldecott Medal Winners, they're quite likely to be out on display at your local library, maybe when the new Medal Winner is announced each year. Or parents might find them as part of a promoted list online. Since I was reading them anyway, I figured I could offer up a quick mention to help parents sidestep these stinkers. I could have done the Honorees too, but they don't have nearly the same fame, and I really wasn't interested in cataloguing all the world's lousy books, so that's why I kept my focus here on only the Caldecott Medal Winners. 2024 Big by Vashti Harrison When a little girl becomes a big girl quite early on, no one seems able to stop with the comments. The lesson here is that it's never a good idea to make critical comments about someone's appearance, especially if it's not something they can even change. Anyone who is short, or tall, or skinny, or has this type of hair or that type, will be able to empathize, and maybe other kids who read this will learn to empathize too. I would have recommended it, but for one instance of an "OMG" (abbreviated as such, and not spelled out in full). 2021 We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom A young Indigenous girl preaches how it is our sacred duty to protect Mother Earth from the evil black snake (oil pipelines) that will poison everyone's water. 2020 The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander and Kadir Nelson About racism in America, but identifies as a victim Michael Brown, who likely was not. 2017 Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe The story of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a modern graffiti artist who died young from a drug addiction. Sad life told with often ugly art. 2013 This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen A story about stealing – a small fish steals a big fish's hat while it's sleeping, and brags that he'll get away with it. While he eventually doesn't, most of the story is just the bragging and his comeuppance is really minimal. 2008 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick Hugo lives in the walls of a Paris train station, out of sight. This is an intriguing and enormous book, with about half of its 500+ pages devoted to sections of full-page but wordless pictures that show, rather than tell what Hugo is up to. But it is marred by one use of God's Name in vain. 2004 The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein A man is lauded for frivolously risking his life (and the lives of his friends, and those walking below, unaware of the weighty rope above them that was almost dropped) to walk on a tightrope between New York's Twin Towers back in 1974. 1997 Golem by David Wisniewski This is the Jewish myth of a hero, Golem, crafted out of clay to save the persecuted Jews of Prague a thousand years ago. At that time they were being falsely accused of mixing Christian blood with flour to create their matzos, the unleavened flatbread they eat for Passover. This "blood libel" is an accusation that Jews really faced, and feared, for it could turn a mob against them. The mythic Golem was a giant that could stand up for this persecuted people. Golem might be worth studying in older grades, but because it has some Old Testament echoes – a hand of light draws on the wall, and they create Golem from the dust – it strikes me as too odd to want to present to children. 1995 Smoky Night by Eve Bunting and David Diaz A children's book about marauding rioters? This might be a help to children who have had to live through that fearful experience, but for every other child, this is grim reality they don't need to be acquainted with yet. 1993 Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully The story of a girl and her reluctant mentor – it explores the history of, and praises, the risky practice of high-wire walking. 1986 The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg It's a Christmas story all about faith, with nothing at all to do with Christ. A little boy has stopped believing in an all-powerful, loving being, and takes a magic train to discover that actually, Santa is real for those who "truly believe." Bleck. 1983 Shadow by Marcia Brown It's a story about shadows, told in a tribal African setting. I didn't really understand the story, which is one strike, and it's got an eerie vibe, which is another mark against a children's book. 1979 The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses by Paul Goble Indigenous girl from long ago lives with her tribe and cares for its horses. When a storm separates her and the horses from the tribe, she ends up preferring horses to people, and, as legend has it, she becomes one. Thus humans are said to have "relatives among the Horse People," which is a touch of nature worship nonsense our little kids don't need. 1977 Ashanti to Zulu: African traditions by Margaret Musgrove This is an alphabet book with a different African people highlighted for each letter of the alphabet. It's pretty cool, and I'd recommend it as a resource for older grades... except that older grades don't read alphabet books. But the mention of polygamy, Islam, and ancestor worship make this more than a bit odd for its intended audience of preschool children. 1975 Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott A Pueblo Indian tale about a boy who is shot as an arrow to visit his father the Sun. To prove he is the Sun's son, the boy has to go through a series of four trials, and the artwork is so chunky that for 7 pages straight it is impossible to know what's really going on. It is an already strange story told badly. 1974 Duffy and the Devil by Harve and Margot Zemach In this Cornish retelling of Rumpelstiltskin, it isn't straw that gets turned into gold, but simply wool into amazing clothes. But the big difference is that "Rumpelstiltskin" is now an actual devil. So, stick with the original instead. 1973 The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent A Japanese folk tale about a laughing old woman trying to track down a dumpling that rolled away. In her search she comes across a number of Japanese gods. She is kidnapped by some sort of demon, a wicked oni, to cook for him and his demon friends. She eventually gets tired of it, and escapes, stealing a magic cooking paddle that doubles up whatever rice you are cooking. Weird for little kids, but could possibly be used with older kids to teach them about Japan. 1969 The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Arthur Ransome and Uri Shulevitz An unloved and a simple third son sets out to marry the Czar's daughter. To gain her hand, he needs to bring a ship that can fly through the sky. On his journey, he happens upon someone who shows him how to magically build one, and happens upon a crowd of other remarkable fellows as well. The Czar then requires him to do one impossible task after another, but each of his companions turns out to be just the right person for each job – ie. one fellow can drink any amount, and so is able to fulfil the Czar's requirement that they drink 40 barrels of wine. It struck me as kind of boring – everything just happens to work out but through no effort or skill on the son's part – and it was marred also by a single use of God's Name in vain. 1964 Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak A bratty boy is sent to his room, where he imagines an adventure where he is the biggest, baddest wild thing of all. The story ends with him unrepentant. 1960 Nine Days to Christmas: a story of Christmas by Marie Hall Ets and Aurora Labastida It is a "Christmas" story that almost seems to have a little something to do with Christ. Jesus, Joseph, and Mary are mentioned a couple of times in passing. However, the real "star" of this story is a Christmas piñata shaped like the star the wise men followed, that a little girl picks. And because she loved it so much, when it is broken open it becomes a real star and goes up into the heavens. A mix of the silly with the sacred isn't good. 1959 Chanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney This middling story adapted from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales might have landed in the "Don't Bother" section anyway, but two or three instances of God's Name being taken in vain secured its spot. 1951 The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous A story of Easter in which Christ is never mentioned, and the Easter Bunny, and Easter eggs are the entire focus. 1941 They Were Strong and Good by Robert Lawson An American child recounts the story of his grandparents and parents meeting and marrying, over a period of the early 1800s to about the 1860s. Too odd for younger children – there's a passing mention that his mother used to have Indians drop by the house and refuse to leave until they were fed, and that one grandfather went from fighting Indians as a soldier, to fighting the "Powers of Evil" and Satan as a preacher, to fighting the Yankees during the Civil War, and back to fighting Satan afterward – and as a picture book it will lack appeal to older children. 1940 Abraham Lincoln by Ingri and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire For a children's book, this is quite a lengthy account. But in all of its 56 pages, there is not a critical thing said about the man, making this more hagiography than biography. 1939 Mei Li by Thomas Handforth Unimpressive pictures accompany a story where a "kitchen god" visits households in Northern China at midnight on New Year's Eve to "tell them what they must do for the coming year." Add in that the narrator is a somewhat whiny little girl who sneaks out of the house against her parents' wishes, and that the book is largely unavailable, and there's good reason not to bother. 1938 Animals of the Bible by Helen Dean Fish and Dorothy P. Lathrop This is both very hard to find, and not worth the search. Helen Dean Fish found passages of Scripture that talk about animals, and then had artist Dorothy Lathrop illustrate them. The drawings are black and white, and while some of them are interesting, most are quite sparse. It also includes a picture of a bare-breasted Eve, though with her long hair covering up down there. It's not a sensual picture, but is just one more reason not to bother with this one....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

I survived the Nazi invasion, 1944

by Lauren Tarshis art by Alvaro Sarraseca 2021 / 158 pages Max and Zena are two Polish Jewish children who, at the time our story begins, have survived for almost five years living under Nazi rule. After Hitler's German troops conquered Poland, their mistreatment of the Jewish population started immediately. Jews were spat on, their synagogues burnt down, and their businesses destroyed. In the town of Esties, as happened elsewhere, Jews were forced to all move to the same small neighborhood, which was then walled off with barbwire so the Jews could never leave. With no employment, food was hard to come by, so when Max and Zena come across a raspberry bush just on the other side of the fence, Max decides to risk it. He slips through the wires to grab some berries. They both get caught. To save his sister, Max attacks the Nazi guard, whose gun goes off in the struggle, the bullet hitting the soldier in the knee. There's nothing to be done but to run, so off they both go into the woods. During the first long night in the woods, Max does some remembering, and we're given the siblings' backstory, how their aunt had warned them not to move into the ghetto, and how their papa had argued it was best just to go along with whatever the Nazis ordered. Their aunt soon disappeared. To America? That's what Max hopes. When the Nazis then take away Papa and the other men – to where no one is sure – Max and Zena are left to fend for themselves. Flashback complete, we see the two escapees stumble across a farmer. Will he help or turn them in? Thankfully he is a friendly sort, and after misdirecting the Nazi searchers, the farmer introduces them to the Polish underground. These are Polanders who have never stopped fighting the Nazis, and who have a safe place to hide in the woods. The siblings are delighted to discover that one of the underground fighters is their very own aunt! CAUTION When the Nazi soldier is shot in the knee, there is some blood shown, but not in much detail. A little more gory is a two-page recounting of a story that Max's father used to tell him about how David fought Goliath. We see rock-to-face with some blood spattering, but fortunately, the giant's beheading is dealt with just outside of frame (David is described and depicted as a boy, maybe of 10 or 12, and there is good reason to think he was an older teen instead). The scene is echoed some pages later when Max has to resort to hurling a rock to stop two Nazis about to shoot his sister. Again, we see rock-to-face, some small blood smattering, and, maybe more disturbing, a frame of the soldier, seemingly dead, staring up blankly. A gunfight follows, concluding with Max realizing that the Nazi trying to kill them is just a boy only a little older than himself. He realizes this just as his friend Martin fires and kills the young soldier. That's the most devastating scene in the story, made so not because of the blood spattering, but because we learn that Hitler was turning near-children into murderers. CONCLUSION This is a really well-done graphic novel, recounting a part of the war that our Canadian-Dutch heritage children might not be that familiar with: the Polish Jew's perspective. I'd recommend it for 12 and up, but add that many younger kids would be able to handle it too. There are plans in place for at least ten books in the I Survived... graphic novel series. So far, I've read seven and quite enjoyed six of them, though I don't think the others are as significant as I Survived the Nazi Invasion. The five other recommended ones are, in historical order: I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 – This is a bit of American history famous enough that many a Canadian has heard of it. A city full of quickly built wooden buildings goes through a heat wave, and while their fire department is impressive, one night they just can't keep up, and a one-mile by four-mile length of the city goes up in flames. This comic has it all, with the brave young lead willing to stand up to bullies and risk it all to save the girl. I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912 – Our guides are a pair of young siblings, including a rascal of a boy who manages to discover every last one of the Titanic's rooms, ladders, and passageways. While two-thirds of the passengers and crew lost their lives, everyone we're introduced to in this story makes it out, which makes it a relatively tame account of this tragedy. I Survived the Attack of the Grizzlies, 1967 – This is the story of what led to two fatal grizzly bear attacks occurring on the very same night in the US National Park system. Melody Vega and her little brother are visiting their grandpa at his cabin in Glacier National Park – their mom recently died, and their dad thinks it's important for them to head out to their traditional summer vacation spot even without her. But when a grizzly follows the girl right back to her cabin and tries to break down the door, Melody and her mom's best friend start investigating why the bears in the park are acting so strange. This isn't a Christian book, but the moral is that humans have to take better care of God's creation – Christian kids should recognize the stewardship implications. People were dumping their garbage where bears could get it, which made for great shows for the tourists ("Come to the back of our inn and see the bears up close as they eat") but which got the grizzlies dangerously familiar with people. It also harmed the bears physically, from the glass and trash they ingested along with the food scraps. There is some minor nonsensical environmentalism along with the stewardship message: kids are told they can protect wildlife by not buying single-serving bags of chips. It's quite the leap to go from showing the danger of feeding bears our garbage to saying that we're hurting them when we buy a big cookie wrapped in plastic. No, not if we throw the wrapper in the garbage. But this departure only amounts to a few sentences in the whole 150+ page book. I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 – Barry Tucker's family tried to obey the mandatory evacuation order. But when all the roads leaving New Orleans were backed up for miles with wall-to-wall cars, and then his little sister got really sick in the car, they decided to turn back. They were going to tough it out at home, like they had for many a storm before. The difference this time was that a levee – one of the huge walls holding the stormwater back – completely crumbled, and suddenly the city, and Barry's street, were underwater. Even the attic wasn't high enough! Things get more dramatic when Barry gets separated from his family, falling into the flowing water. Then his resourcefulness and bravery are on full display, as he not only saves himself but saves a dog that he used to be terrified of. There is a happy ending for all at the end when Barry reunites with his family. The history here isn't as relevant to non-Americans, but this is a good story. One caution, or at least a point worth discussing with kids, would be the superhero character that Barry created with a friend, and how that fictional superhero serves as a source of hope for him and his sister. This is what unbelievers accuse Christians of doing – placing our hope in a fictional god just to make ourselves feel better. Here, Barry is actually doing so. I Survived the Attacks of Sept. 11, 2011 – 11-year-old Lucas loves football, but football may not love Lucas. When his parents tell Lucas that his third concussion in two years means he has to stop playing, he skips school. He has to go talk to his Uncle Ben, the guy who got him interested in football in the first place. Both Uncle Benny and Lucas's dad are New York firefighters, and Lucas is desperately hoping his uncle can get his dad to change his mind. But as he's talking with his uncle, we see the first plane hit one of the city's Twin Towers. Lucas has to stay behind as Uncle Benny and all the other firefighters head out to help. Author Lauren Tarshis initially considered having Uncle Benny be one of the victims but realized that would be too much for her young readers. So, all the main figures do make it out alive, but many of their friends don't. I thought this would be a heavy book for my kids. It wasn't, or at least not any more so than the others. I get it now – I lived through this and they didn't. It's just more history for them. I wasn't impressed with I Survived the Shark Attacks of 1916, where the new kid in town pranks his friends by spreading ketchup on the dock only to see a real shark swim up the river. Of course, now no one will believe him, and he ends up paying for his prank with a piece of his calf the shark bites off. That makes this unnecessarily grim. After all, why do kids need to learn about this particular shark attack? They can learn not to cry wolf without the panel-by-panel depiction of a shark attack. To be clear, it isn't super gory, but as there is no particular reason to get it, I'd argue there's also no particular reason to overlook any gore. I Survived the American Revolution 1776 struck me as too simplistic, with the main Loyalist shown as a bully and vicious slave-owner, while the boy revolutionary is brave and anti-slavery. Maybe its my Canadian roots showing, but, really? Additionally, the Lord's Name is taken in vain once. So, a couple to give a miss, but overall, quite a series. I'm looking forward to the ninth book, scheduled for Spring 2024, called I Survived the Battle of D-Day, 1944....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Mr Putter & Tabby: 25 sweet stories

by Cynthia Rylant illustrated by Arthur Howard 44 pages / 1994-2016 It's always fun to find a children's book that is interesting enough for parents to read repeatedly without getting too bored. And it is an absolute treasure when you can find an entire series of such books! Cynthia Rylant's Mr. Putter and Tabby books – 25 in all – are exactly that sort. Mr. Putter is an older retired man with an older, quite sedentary cat named Tabby. And next door, they have a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who has a "good" dog named Zeke. They go on the sort of adventures that older people do – a boat ride, a cooking class, painting the porch – and their two pets help liven things up. These are quiet, sweet stories that will have you and your child smiling throughout. My wife and I enjoyed reading them to our then three-year-old, who was only disappointed with one story, but that was because I told her it was the one "where Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry finally get married." She was very sad to discover I was just joking – this perfect couple hasn't yet become an official couple. We are still hoping, though! I would recommend these for the 3-9 year-old age group. They are great books for parents to read to both pre-school and even elementary-age children because parents and children will enjoy them. And they are very fun books for children who are just learning to read to tackle by themselves. I've included short reviews of all 25 titles. There's no real order to them, except maybe the first two. Those would be best to read in order at the start. I would highly recommend the whole series, with just one caution. Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train has this elderly couple flouting a "no pets" rule – not the best example in a book for young children – but that is the exception to a series that's full of charm and warmth. 1. Mr. Putter and Tabby Pour the Tea Mr. Putter has some wonderful English muffins he would love to share, but no one to share them with. And when he goes to the pet store looking for a cat, all he finds are kittens, far too full of energy. But when he visits the animal shelter, Mr. Putter finds a cat who's certainly not overly energetic. Tabby's joints creak, her fur is thinning, and she seems a bit deaf in one ear... just like Mr. Putter! It's a wonderful match! 2. Mr. Putter and Tabby Walk the Dog This marks the first appearance of Mr. Putter's wonderful neighbor Mrs. Teaberry. When she slips on a kiwi (the fruit, not the bird) and twists her ankle, soft-hearted Mr. Putter quickly volunteers to walk Mrs. Teaberry's dog, Zeke. But Zeke is no model dog – for Mr. Putter he is a nightmare! At least until Mr. Putter and Zeke have a man-to-dog talk! 3. Mr. Putter and Tabby Bake the Cake Mrs. Teaberry inexplicably loves fruitcake. Or, at least, Mr. Putter finds it inexplicable. For Christmas, Mr. Putter decides he wants to make her a cake that won't hurt her foot if she drops it. But he has never made a cake before! Another sweet story about this wonderful elderly couple. 4. Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears Mr. Putter loves Fall because that's when he can pick the juicy pears from his tree and make pear jelly. But this year Mr. Putter's cranky legs aren't cooperating – he can't make it up his ladder to pick them. But that isn't enough to stop this inventive senior. Mr. Putter remembers how, as a kid, he used a slingshot to knock things down. He fashions his sling, takes careful aim at his pear tree, and gives it a go. It turns out, however, that his slingshot is much more powerful than he thought, and Mr. Putter spends the next several hours launching apples high, high, high into the air, until they disappear over his house. Great fun... though it does nothing to get his pears down. And it leaves him without any apples too! Fortunately, Mrs. Teaberry comes to the rescue. 5. Mr. Putter and Tabby Row the Boat On this very hot summer day, Mr. Putter figures out a great way to stay cool. He takes Tabby, and his neighbor Mrs. Teaberry, and her good dog Zeke, out on the lake. And on an island in the middle, they eat their lunch and he and Mrs. Teaberry share "tall tales" from their lives. This is the first book that had me hoping the author would soon write "Mr. Putter & Tabby Pop the Question." 6. Mr. Putter and Tabby Fly the Plane  Mr. Putter may be old, but he still loves toys (even though he knows he isn't supposed to anymore). In this adventure, Mr. Putter and Tabby enjoy flying a radio-controlled toy plane... and give it to someone who enjoys it even more. 7. Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train What could be better than going on a train ride? The only problem, it turns out, is that trains don't allow pets. But this rule is bypassed when Mr. Putter backs Zeke into a backpack, and Mrs. Teaberry carries Tabby on the train in a picnic basket. One caution: This focuses on how to cleverly get around rules. So, if I was getting a dozen of this series for my school library, I'd give this one a miss. But I might still take it out of my public library and then, while reading it to my girls, teach them that even such wonderful old folks can misstep now and again. 8. Mr. Putter and Tabby Toot the Horn Mrs. Teaberry decides that since she and Mr. Putter like music so much, they should be in a band. But what sort of band can they be in, since neither knows how to play an instrument? 9. Mr. Putter and Tabby Paint the Porch Mr. Putter's porch is looking a little shabby. But when he gets out the pink paint, a squirrel decides he might want to help. Soon little pink paw prints are everywhere! Fortunately, Mr. Putter has a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Teaberry, who is happy to help him clean up the mess. 10. Mr. Putter and Tabby Feed the Fish Mr. Putter and Tabby both love visiting the fish store. But when Mr. Putter brings three goldfish home, Tabby starts having troubles – he can't stop watching them! However Mrs. Teaberry is once again able to help. How nice it is for Mr. Putter and Tabby to have such a wonderful neighbor! 11. Mr. Putter and Tabby Catch the Cold "When Mr. Putter was a boy, he had almost liked colds. He always got spoiled." But now that he's old, it's not good to have a cold – there's no one to spoil him! Or is there? Mrs. Teaberry and her good dog Zeke make sure that this is "the best cold Mr. Putter ever caught." 12. Mr. Putter and Tabby Stir the Soup Mr. Putter and Tabby both love soup, but there always seems to be something stopping them from making it: either they don't have the onions, or the beans, or the macaroni. And then, when they finally have all the ingredients, their trusty stove decides not to work. But no worries – Mrs. Teaberry would be happy to let them use her stove. And, of course, Zeke won't be a bother, right? One caution offered: Mr. Putter says "Jiminy!" at one point, which some regard as a mild expletive. 13. Mr. Putter and Tabby Write the Book When a snowstorm keeps him indoors, Mr. Putter decides to become a mystery writer. He soon discovers there is a lot of preparation involved in getting ready to write – snacks don't just fix themselves! When Mr. Putter's writing strays from mysteries and towards the many good things he sees all around him, Mr. Putter is a bit discouraged... until Mrs. Teaberry cheers him up! 14. Mr. Putter and Tabby Make a Wish With a shock, Mr. Putter realizes that today is his birthday, and while he thinks he's too old for cake, candles, and presents, he still wants a celebration. So he calls up Mrs. Teaberry. She is happy to come over... but she first needs to do some chores. While Mr. Putter waits, increasingly impatient, Mrs. Teaberry is preparing a surprise! One caution offered: Mr. Putter says, "Good heavens!" 15. Mr. Putter and Tabby Spin the Yarn Mrs. Teaberry is a very good neighbor and also a cook and a baker who loves to share her culinary creations with Mr. Putter. But Mr. Putter has started to wonder if he's a good neighbor – what does he do for her? So he decides to do something nice by serving tea to Mrs. Teaberry's knitting club. But being a good neighbor turns out to be quite a bit harder than Mr. Putter thought! 16. Mr. Putter and Tabby See the Stars Mrs. Teaberry likes to feed Mr. Putter. And Mr. Putter likes to be fed by Mrs. Teaberry. But one night he so enjoys himself that he doesn't notice just how many of her jelly rolls he has eaten. Later that night he does notice – his grumbling tummy won't let him sleep. So he and Tabby go for a walk in their neighborhood. And who do they meet? Mrs. Teaberry! It seems her good dog Zeke also had too many jelly rolls, and his tummy wouldn't let him sleep either. Mr. Putter and Mrs. Teaberry tell each other "stories in the moonlight. They told secrets. They make each other laugh." This is another sweet, simple story that will have you rooting for Mr. Putter to get down on one arthritic knee. 17. Mr. Putter and Tabby Run the Race With Mrs. Teaberry's encouragement, Mr. Putter enters a seniors' race. And, with the help of Mrs. Teaberry's good dog Zeke, Mr. Putter runs quite a race! 18. Mr. Putter and Tabby Spill the Beans Mrs. Teaberry is very good at coming up with new things for her and Mr. Putter to do. Of course, sometimes these new things don't work out. But they are always an adventure. This time around Mrs. Teaberry wants the two of them to take a cooking class: one hundred ways to cook beans! To Mr. Putter this doesn't sound like it will be much of an adventure. "But he wanted to make Mrs. Teaberry happy." Fortunately, Tabby and Zeke are able to turn this into an adventure after all. 19. Mr. Putter and Tabby Clear the Decks Mr. Putter thinks that Mrs. Teaberry is a genius when she decides they should have an adventure on a sightseeing boat. But as much as Mr. Putter likes the boat, Zeke likes it even more. When he decides he doesn't want to leave, it is up to the boat's captain to talk Mrs. Teaberry's good dog into letting go of the mast. 20. Mr. Putter and Tabby Ring the Bell Mr. Putter gets all nostalgic about school and arranges to visit a first-grade classroom. And Tabby and Zeke arrange to make this a very memorable visit! 21. Mr. Putter and Tabby Dance the Dance Mr. Putter may have two left feet, but Mrs. Teaberry thinks he is a wonder! I wonder when he is going to ask her to marry him! 22. Mr. Putter and Tabby Drop the Ball Mr. Putter decides that, as fun as napping is, they really need to take up a sport. He finds his old baseball glove and calls up Mrs. Teaberry, who knows just the right team to join, where one of the players is 100 years old! No one is very fast... except Zeke. Oh, Zeke, put down the ball! 23. Mr. Putter and Tabby Turn the Page Mr. Putter loves to read out loud, and Tabby loves to listen. When the library invites patrons to come "Read aloud to your pet at Story Time" Mr. Putter decides to go. But he makes a mistake. He tells Mrs. Teaberry. She loves new things, so she wants to do it too. But Zeke in a library? 24. Mr. Putter and Tabby Smell the Roses Mrs. Teaberry's birthday is just around the corner: what can Mr. Putter and Tabby get her? She likes her garden, so Mr. Putter decides to take her to the Conservatory. But can Zeke behave himself in the midst of so many flowers and plants? Well, no, and suddenly the bananas and lemons are flying everywhere. But even after the rambunctious mutt gets them all booted out, that doesn't put a damper on the celebrations. Mrs. Teaberry even manages to make lemonade out of the lemons. 25. Mr. Putter and Tabby Hit the Slopes While this isn't the happy conclusion to the series that we were hoping for – Mr. Tabby and Mrs. Teaberry are still only neighbors – it is another fun episode. This time Mr. Putter is a bit tired of winter and needs a little excitement. He remembers the sledding he used to do as a boy, and just knows his adventurous neighbor is bound to have some toboggans!...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

The Miracle Seed

by Martin Lemelman 2023 / 80 pages In 70 AD, after besieging Roman forces destroyed Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple, they went on a destructive rampage through the rest of Israel, killing thousands of Jews and enslaving thousands more. And, as this graphic novel shares, they also cut down and burned groves of Judean Date Palm Trees. Eventually, a small group of Jewish forces retreated to the hilltop fortress of Masada. Numbering under one thousand, they tried to outlast a Roman force ten times their size, but it was only a matter of time. And when the Jews lost, they left behind broken weapons, scraps of clothing, and pots to be buried by the drifting sands... only to be uncovered by archeologists millennia later. Amongst those pots was one that contained Judean Date Palm seeds. The Judean Date Palms that remained after Rome's rampage didn't fare well without people around to tend them. Even the wild varieties started dying off, though we're told it is unclear whether that was due to changes in climate or perhaps the activities of the Crusaders one thousand years later. All we are sure of is that in our modern day the Judean Date Palms were only known by their accounts in the history books – they had been extinct for hundreds of years. The comic continues the story in 1963, when that the jar of seeds was discovered. The six seeds inside were put in a drawer and forgotten about for 40 more years. Then a medical researcher got involved.  Dr. Sarah Sallon wondered if what she'd read about the Judean Date Palm's healing powers might have been true. And that got her wondering if those six seeds could be used to revive the species! As the title gives away, the trees did have an amazing comeback. It was quite a process, involving inventiveness and imagination – who would have thought it could be possible to sprout seeds thousands of years old? Caution The author is Jewish, and that comes out in a couple of quotes from Jewish commentaries. The first, opening the book, is nonsense, and a young audience might need to be told that nowhere in the Bible does it say, "There is no plant without an angel in heaven tending it and telling it, 'Grow!'" The only other caution is that the title miracle is never ascribed to God – He is not mentioned. Conclusion This will be fascinating read for students curious about science or history – there's more than a bit of both here. I'd recommend it for Grade 6 and up, including adults who will appreciate this as a quick, light read about an intriguing topic. ...

Book Reviews, Economics, Teen fiction

The Hyperinflation Devastation

by Connor Boyack 400 pages / 2019 Remember those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books kids loved back in the 1980s? Readers would be brought to a fork in the road, given two options to choose from and if they chose Option A, they would be told to go to one page, and if they chose Option B then they would be directed to another. Afterward, they would continue on their chosen track with the adventure continuing to branch repeatedly thereafter. In The Hyperinflation Devastation, author Connor Boyack has taken that concept and expanded on it, creating a 400+ page “Choose Your Consequence” adventure to teach teens various lessons about economics. In this, the first book in the series, Emily and Ethan Tuttle, a pair of 15-year-old twins, head out on their own to the small South American country of “Allqukilla.” If 15 strikes you as young to be out without parents, I’m with you. However, these two are a particularly independent pair who have spent the last year planning and saving for this trip. They want to go to Allqukilla to check out the country’s ancient ruins. But is it to be? Right after their plane arrives, they see local news reports warning about an impending earthquake and it’s here that readers face their first choice. Are the Tuttle twins going to have an incredibly short adventure and head back on the very next plane, or are they going to go on to their hotel? Of course, no reader is going to take the cautious route, so onward and forward the adventure continues. While exactly what happens depends on the choices a reader makes, the twins will encounter that earthquake, and then, with power disrupted, they’ll have to deal with roads in bad repair, hyperinflation, a lack of available food and water, and no cell phone service, as the two figure out their way home. The author’s economic outlook is a small government, libertarian one, which comes out in the lessons the twins learn. So, for example, in one story branch, they end up in a small village in the hills that still has power because these villagers have never relied on the government to provide it. In another branch, they encounter some not-so-warm-hearted help – entrepreneurial sorts who will do them good…for a price. The twins sometimes get entirely altruistic help, but the point is, they also get help from people who wouldn’t otherwise be helpful, except that it is in their own self-interest to do so. The lesson here is that the free market is important because it gives people a motive to provide things other people want. While this is intended as an educational story, Boyack doesn’t beat readers over the head with the lessons he’s trying to teach. Only once, in the eight or so different story arcs does a character offer up a prolonged economics lecture. But even then, it isn’t too long. CAUTIONS The one caution I would offer deals not with this book, but with the author. He writes from a generally Judeo-Christian, libertarian perspective. Often times, those two perspectives can match up quite nicely since both Christians and libertarians recognize that the government shouldn’t try to be God. Thus we both believe in some form of smaller, limited government, which sets us apart from the many who call on the government to solve whatever problems they face. But in some of Boyack’s other books, his libertarian perspective comes in conflict with his Judeo-Christian perspective. In The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law (one of the Tuttle Twins picture books he’s written for younger readers) he teaches readers that governments gain their authority from people, and not God. Based on that assumption the author argues that governments should only be able to do what people are able to do, therefore just as it would be wrong for a person to forcibly take money, so too the same must be true of government. But this simply isn’t true. God has empowered governments to do some things which individuals must not do, and taxation is one of them (Luke 20:25, 1 Peter 2:13-14). The libertarian perspective in Hyperinflation Devastation is more restrained, and thus in keeping with a Christian worldview that understands God as distributing powers and responsibilities not simply to the state, but to parents, and the church, and individuals too. CONCLUSION I would recommend this for any kid from 10 to 15. The adventure is a solid one, and the Choose-Your-Own-Adventure component will grab their attention. Yes, this is an economics lesson, but it is a generally subtle presentation that never gets in the way of the story. That allows most kids, whether they are politically-inclined or not, to enjoy this. But because the economics angle is so very different from what they are reading in other books, it may well spark an interest in learning more about money, inflation, politics, and more. It may interest parents to know there are other titles in this “Choose Your Consequence” series so far, but as I haven’t read them, I can’t recommend them as of yet. There is one mistake in the book, on page 388, where we are directed to Page 335 but should be directed to Page 111. I recommend some of the Tuttle Twin pictures books on my personal blog here....

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

God’s Daring Dozen: A Minor Prophet Series

by John Brown and Brian Wright Illustrated by Lisa Flanagan 2021 / 40 pages each Christian Focus Publications I’ve never been a fan of children’s Bibles. When our kids were young, we never used them during our daily family worship. We always just read straight from the Bible. I figured they would get enough Bible stories at school – and they did. My negative attitude about story Bibles is due to a couple of factors.  One is their tendency to moralize everything and the other is to miss the One to whom the whole Bible is pointing: Jesus. So I was a tad skeptical about this series of storybooks based on the Minor Prophets. I looked at the first four volumes in this series: Obadiah & the Edomites, Habakkuk’s Song, Haggai’s Feast, and Zephaniah’s Hero.  They’re meant for reading to kids ages 4-6, but kids ages 7-10 should be able to read them for themselves. I read through them for myself and mostly appreciated the approach. They’re well-written, capturing the message of these books, and helping kids see how they point to Christ. The illustrations are colorful, bold, and appropriate. I don’t have any young children at home anymore and no grandchildren yet either. However, I have a daughter who works as a nanny.  I asked her to test drive these books with the children she cares for. These were kids on the younger side of the target audience and she found they had a hard time focussing. However, she did say that they would probably work well in the Christian primary school environment or perhaps Little Lambs (Sunday School) at church. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Dark Harvest Trilogy

The Dark Faith 368 pages / 2012 by Jeremiah W. Montgomery The Scarlet Bishop 304 pages / 2013 by Jeremiah W. Montgomery The Threefold Cord 312 pages / 2014 by Jeremiah W. Montgomery ***** I gave The Dark Faith to my oldest daughter, knowing only that it was by an OPC minister. The cover looked a bit dark and ominous, but I figured It's by a Reformed pastor, so how freaky can it be? I hadn't gotten to it yet because, well, I'd also figured It's an epic fantasy novel by a Reformed pastor, so how good could it really be? I was wrong on both counts. This was really good, and quite freaky. My daughter was only a few chapters in when she gave me this update: "Dad, the main girl has just fallen into a well of blood!" "Real blood?" "Yeah, real blood!" "Hmmmm... maybe this isn't a good one to keep reading." "No Dad, it's okay. I can keep reading." An OPC pastor writing about wells of blood? A couple of days later, and another update from my daughter: "They're going to skin this nun alive!" And then, "Oh Dad, there's something even worse!" A story this freaky, that my squeamish daughter still wouldn't put down? I had to start reading it too... and it was so good I didn't stop until I was through all three. The trilogy is set on a Great Britain-like island empire called Aeld Gowan, and the time is very pre-Reformation. The Church here isn't quite the bed of hypocrisy that got Luther going, but it attracts both the devout and the power-hungry eager to use its influence. Our hero is one of the devout, a monk named Morumus, who turned to the Church for another reason: knowledge. When still a boy, Morumus saw his father, Raudron Red-Fist, and all his soldiers, slain by nightmarish creatures whose song rendered the men unable to raise their swords and shields in defense. The boy Morumus was overlooked and escaped. Now, as a grown man, Morumus thinks that whatever it was that attacked his father, they were likely followers of the "Dark Faith" that once ruled the island. And he wants to learn more, to prepare the Church for what might be coming. But in ten years of study so far, he hasn't found much of anything. What his learning has done, however, is make him an expert in languages, and now his archbishop wants him to translate Holy Writ into the language of peoples who might still follow the Dark Faith. His love for the Lord, and his obsession with solving the mystery of his father's murder seem to be converging! This is a complex story, and not one that can be briefly summarized (the appendix of names is a much-needed feature to keep track of the extensive cast). There's just so much here – whether it's palace intrigue, a compromised Church, cunning enemies, or unexpected friends, it's all here, and all wrapped up in an epic fantasy that is very relevant for our own time. Caution The cautions concern the gore, and especially a scene in which a monastery of monks, who were having their evening meal, are found slaughtered, their innards piled up on the plates in front of them (this was the scene my daughter was warning me about). Why did the author include that? I think to show the evil to be evil. And while there is gore, he's not glorying in the gore, as some writers do. That's why my 14-year-old could read it without getting too bothered, though this was a book she wouldn't read at night. It is, however, why this might be better for 16 and up. Conclusion I was struck by just how well-written it is – this would make for a great read-out-loud if only I could find an audience brave enough to hear it. I don't want to overhype it, so I won't make comparisons to Tolkien or C.S. Lewis, but I will say that outside of those two, this is really among the best of the best of Christian fantasy fiction. Epic, excellent, and insightful, telling an old tale that has lessons for our modern age. Two thumbs way up! And if you want to hear another Reformed perspective on the Dark Harvest Trilogy, be sure to check out this review, by OPC member and teen (at the time), Katharine Olinger....

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

Dr. Seuss's "Horton trilogy"

Parents may be familiar with the first two of Dr. Seuss' Horton books, but the third, only recently republished will be a new delight for many. Horton hearts a Who by Dr. Seuss 1954 / 72 pages  This was the last Horton story written, but ranks first in our hearts for its surprising pro-life message! With his giant ears, the elephant Horton is able to hear what no one else can: that there are tiny little people, – Whos they call themselves – living on what looks like a dandelion puff. They are too tiny to see, and for everyone else they are too tiny to hear, but as Horton knows, and as he often repeats: “a person’s a person no matter how small.” So, conscientious pachyderm that he is, Horton is determined to protect the little Whos, and their whole town of Who-ville. His friends think he's crazy, and one in particular is so sure he's nuts that she wants to grab the dandelion puff and burn it, to put an end to his delusion. It comes to a climax with Horton encouraging all the residents of Who-ville to make as much noise as they can so others will finally be able to hear them! Will their humanity ever be recognized? Kids will love this for the rhymes and the charming hero, but pro-life parents can't help but embrace Horton's oft-repeated entreaty that "a person's a person no matter how small." His simple plea is so famous that it can be a tool in cultural conversations about the unborn since absolutely everyone has read Horton Hears a Who! Might Christians be reading something into the story that the author didn't intend? Quite likely. His second wife said the pro-life movement was hijacking the story for its own purposes. But whether Seuss intended it or not, his story makes a point worth hearing: that our worth is not dependent on our size. Christians have to take that further though, explaining where our worth does come from: being made in the very image of God (Genesis 9:6). Horton hatches the egg by Dr. Seuss 1940 / 64 pages The start of the Horton trilogy isn't as insightful as the third, but it is fun. In his first outing, the genial elephant is taken advantage of by a lazy mother bird named Mayzie. She says she just wants a quick break from egg-sitting, but once Horton agrees to take over, Mayzie takes off and doesn't look back. So, for day after day, Horton faithfully babysits the egg, roosting on the nest, at the top of the tree. As in Horton Hearts a Who, his friends aren't supportive – they're making fun of him again. And then hunters, startled by this strange sight of an elephant up a tree, transport him, tree and all, over the sea to put him in a circus. Horton has to endure the indignity, being displayed as a spectacle to crowds all over, but, as he repeats to all his critics: "I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!" And that, there, is the attraction of this book – it is about steadfastness, and sticking to your word, even when others – where is that Mayzie? – just won't. Children don't need to worry, though, as both Horton and Mayzie get what's coming to them in the end: the baby bird that finally hatches is half elephant! Horton and the Kwuggerbug and more lost stories  by Dr. Seuss 2014 / 64 pages Back in 2014, reports came of a "new" Dr. Seuss book, to be published 23 years after the author's death. It wasn't new new, but rather rediscovered new, with work that Seuss had published in magazines before, but never in a book. It was to be a collection of four stories, all of which had first appeared in print back in the early 1950s. The title tale features Horton once again being sorely treated, this time by a kwuggerbug, who promises to split some delicious beezlenuts if Horton will only carry him to the tree. It seems a deal when the tree seems near but in the end Horton is crossing crocodile-infested rivers, and climbing mountains and the trail just keeps going on and on. Then, in one final trick, the kwuggerbug "splits" the nuts by taking all the nut meat for himself and leaving Horton the shells for his half. But once again, justice is done, this time via an unintentional sneeze. And while there is no great moral to this story, it sure is fun to see Horton this one more time....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Shoofly Pie

by Tim Downs 2003 / 371 pages Did you know that insects have been known to help solve murder investigations? One of the first recorded cases of an insect aiding in a murder investigation occurred in 13th-century China. The murder weapon was assumed to be a sickle, a common tool used to harvest rice. An investigator had all the local workers lay out their sickles and although the sickles looked clean, flies began to swarm one. Why? Because the unseen blood was a magnet for flies who were searching for a place to lay their eggs.  Forensic entomology, the study of insects to solve crimes, has now progressed to a point that investigators are able to estimate the time and place of a death just by looking at the age and species of the maggots on the person of interest. In Shoofly Pie, we follow a fictional entomologist, Nick Polchak, as he investigates the suicide of one of his clients’ close friends. Polchak is extremely bright and has decided to move beyond associating with the human race, referring to them only as “your species.” This disassociation leads Polchak to some funny and interesting interactions with the human species around him.  I had a really hard time putting this book down. Author Tim Downs does a great job developing characters that you want to care about while at the same time driving a very strong plot. Cautions If thinking about maggots makes you squeamish, this may not be the book for you as descriptions of death and decay are encountered often. There is also reference to hard drug use by one of the characters, so if the mention of a suicide didn't already make it clear, this isn't a book for preteens. The only language concern would be one use of “Gosh." Conclusion I highly recommend this book to anyone high school-aged or above. I loved it! If you enjoy this book as much as I did, Shoofly Pie is the first in a series of eight "Bug Man" novels. ...

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Adventures of Lancelot the Great

by Gerald Morris 92 pages / 2008 This has all the adventure you’d expect from an Arthurian tale, but way more humor. And maybe the best way to review it is to share one of those jokes. Sir Lancelot wants to be one of King Arthur’s knights because “They have the bravest hearts, the noblest souls and the shiniest armor in all the world.” Lancelot is a little obsessed with his appearance but on his journey to Camelot, (to introduce himself to the King) he gets caught in a rainstorm, and his armor ends up getting “splashed all over with dirty spots.” When at last the rain stopped, Sir Lancelot turns his attention to his spattered appearance. Moving his lance to his left arm, he draws a towel from his saddlebags and begins scrubbing at his armored legs. Soon he is absorbed in the task, paying no attention to where his horse is taking him. When he does finally look up, Lancelot sees a knight bearing down on him. Thinking it one of those roving evil knights and “having no time to shift his lance to his right arm…he met the knight’s charge left-handed, popping his attacker very neatly from his saddle.” Almost without pause, another knight attacks him, and then another and another, which gets Lancelot quite annoyed, as this near constant assault really interferes with his cleaning efforts. But he quickly dispatches them one after another. This happens 16 times in all, and after the 16th knight was dispatched, Lancelot hears clapping. It turns out he had wandered into a tournament unawares and won it quite unintentionally while using his lance left-handed. Then, when he finds out the King himself is the host of the tournament and wants the noble knight to join the Round Table, Lancelot is distraught. Why? “Look at me! I’m all covered with mud! And I did want to make a favorable first impression!” The rest of the book is more of the same – my girls were laughing out loud, and I was having a great time too. Wizards, and sorcerers, and magicians, oh my! I have no real cautions to offer for this book. The most juvenile humor in the book is when Sir Lancelot gets shot in the behind with an arrow. That gets some good laughs from the kids, but doesn't get anywhere near the realm of potty humor. I will say I was a little surprised when one knight ended up dying (after eating a poisonous pear) because Death doesn't make an appearance in most kids books. But it isn't a big part of the story and didn't seem to shock my girls. So the only real reservation I have has nothing to do with this book, but rather Book 3 in the series. Morris has written 4 books in all in this The Knights' Tales series, and as happens in the Authurian original magic and sorcerers make appearances. In the Bible God condemns sorcery, so when a positive portrayal of it pops up in fiction, that should give us pause. In Book 2, Sir Givret the Short, the only magical reference is where the magic is clearly and admittedly fake - Givret pretends to be a sorcerer to scare an evil knight (Givret is short, but he knows how to use his brains). So no reason to be concerned here. And in Book 4, Sir Balin the Ill Fated, a seer pronounces doom and gloom, though by book's end it seems that she was, most likely, a fraud. The problem is, kids might not get that. There is also a wicked invisible knight who can use magic to turn himself invisible - I don't have much of a problem with that, as the wicked do indeed try to make use of magic. My concern is about when magic use – which God condemns – is portrayed positively. That's what happens in Book 3, Sir Gawain the True, where a friendly sorcerer befriends Sir Gawain. Friendly sorcerer? Now, the sorcerer is not Morris's creation – he is a part of the original Arthurian legends – and that seems a factor to consider. But I have to admit as to not knowing quite what to think – good sorcerers are a lie, so should we be encouraging our kids to read books where this lie is furthered? And at the same time, Arthurian stories have history to them, and it strikes me that this is a lot like learning about Greek gods – they can do "magic" too – but knowing about them is simply a part of being educated. Of course there is a big difference between reading about something for educational reasons and reading the same things simply for entertainment. We can tolerate some things for educational reasons – for example, news reports that might have graphic violence – that we would have reason to avoid when it comes to entertainment. So it would seem positive portrayals of sorcerers are more problematic in entertainment than they would be in strictly educational settings. And as this is more entertainment than educational, I do continue to have problems with Book 3. Conclusion Three out of the four books in this series are just good, silly, feudal fun. They could be, and I'll predict, most certainly will be enjoyed by kids all the way through Grades 5 and 6....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

The Gardener

by Sarah Stewart and David Small 38 pages / 1997 Lydia Grace Finch's family has fallen on hard times. So their little girl is being sent off to the big city to live with her baker uncle Jim to help him around the shop. The story is told via Lydia's short letters home, where she updates the family on her efforts at making her somber uncle smile. She's also, as the title indicates, quite the gardener, an interest she shares with her grandma back home. One of the care packages from her grandma even contains little plants that amazingly survive the postal trip. Though she's living in her uncle's apartment, Lydia fills everything she can with plants, and finds room on the roof to create her own secret garden. Will all her flowery beauty manage to prompt a smile from her uncle? This is a sweet story, and the art fills every corner of every page. Two thumbs way up! If you liked this, you'll also enjoy three others by David Small. One Cool Friend is about a boy, Elliot, and his father visiting the aquarium. When the boy spots a penguin exhibit, he asks his dear old dad for one. Dad thinks he means a stuffed one, and says yes. But Elliot did not. The confusion continues as Elliot takes a smallish one home in his backpack and turns his room into an antarctic setting. Fun throughout, with a twist at the end just for parents (as I don't know that kids will catch this last joke). In Imogene's Antlers, a girl is surprised to wake up one morning with a set of antlers on her head. It doesn't phase her, though, and she runs with it, using them to dry laundry and hang donuts. It's her optimistic outlook that makes this such fun. In the sequel, Imogene Comes Back, her antlers are gone, but now she has a giraffe neck, and the next day an elephant nose... and she's still as upbeat as ever!...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart 512 pages / 2008 Reynie Muldoon is an 11-year-old orphan who knows he is smart – he certainly reads more than any of the other boys at the orphanage – but he doesn't quite understand just how smart. The orphanage administrators seem to have an inkling, assigning him his very own tutor. His tutor, Miss Perumal, is certainly aware, so when she notices an ad in the newspaper offering a scholarship for gifted children who pass a special exam, she signs Reynie up. It might seem just a multiple choice exam, but there's more being tested here than knowledge. I don't want to give too much of the fun away, but I'll share just one example. The children are told to take one pencil, and one pencil only; not any less or any more. Simple enough, except that as Reynie and several other children approach the exam building, the girl in front of him manages to drop her pencil down a sewer grating. The exam is just about to begin, and she has no pencil. Reynie stops to help but she tells him to just go – he doesn't have an extra pencil, so what can he do anyway? That's when Reynie takes out his pencil and breaks it in half. Problem solved. All it took was some creative thinking by a kind soul. The first half of the book is full of all sorts of puzzles like that, that involve not only clever thinking, but often thoughtfulness. While dozens of children take the test, only Reynie, and three others pass. Like Reynie, they are all missing their parents, and they all have their own unique way of looking at the world, and their own gifts. George "Sticky" Washington can remember everything he reads, Kate Wetherall is quick thinking, athletic, and always positive, and Constance Contraire... well the children aren't quite sure what Constance is, other than grumpy. After passing the tests, they meet Mr. Benedict, the man behind it all. He explains to them that the world is facing a mysterious danger, that the world is only aware of as "The Emergency." No one quite seems sure what the emergency actually is, but it has everyone feeling discombobulated, and looking to their leaders for direction. Mr. Benedict reveals that the Emergency is actually being caused by subliminal messages being sent over the radio and television airwaves. And the messages are coming from an elite children's school called the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened or L.I.V.E. (and note also, what it spells backwards). Mr. Benedict wants them to go undercover as his operatives at the school to find out what's really happening. I loved the first half of the book best, with all its different puzzles to solve. But another highlight was the creepy L.I.V.E. Institute, and their rules. Kids might not catch it, but if parents are reading this out loud, it might be worth noting to your children that the double-speak here is of the sort we hear from our own political leadership, who will transform tolerance to mean its opposite, and love to mean embracing what shouldn't be. Here are a few of the Institute rules: There are no rules here! You can wear whatever you like. However, trousers, shoes and shirts are required at all times. You don't have to bathe if you don't want to. Simply be clean every day in class. You may stay up as late at night as you wish. Lights are turned off at 10 PM and you must be in your room at that time. You are free to go where you please. Please note, however, that you must keep to the paths and the yellow-tiled corridors. Cautions A common and troubling theme in children's books is for the kids to be much smarter than their parents, such that they don't feel a need to listen to the authorities in their lives. After all, their dumb parents just don't get them.  That the protagonists here are four pre-teen geniuses mean there is at least a little of that, but it's balanced off by the fact that Mr. Benedict himself is a genius and several of the other adults – his assistants Milligan, Number Two, and Rhonda – are highly capable. But there are still occasions – particularly in the first sequel – where the kids ignore an adult's order because they know better. And because they are geniuses, they often do actually know better! The author balances that out by the number of times the adults are involved in rescuing them – sometimes adults know best too. There are 5 books in the series, with each clocking in at 400+ pages, so with the amount of time a child might put into it, it is worth noting the complete lack of spirituality in the series. This is 2,000+ pages of God being almost entirely ignored. The only exception I can recall is in the prequel, Book 5, in which a mention is made of a chapel service. Conclusion Overall, this is a fairly gentle series – it could make for bedtime reading without much danger of giving anyone nightmares. I appreciated it for making television one of the tools of the bad guys, as it so often is in real life too. There is also an implicit warning against overreaching government control, with the bad guys trying to use the Emergency as an excuse for them to seize the political reins of power. This isn't really a political book, but what politics is has, I rather like. There are three sequels to The Mysterious Benedict Society, then a prequel for #5 telling the young life of their mentor Mr. Benedict, and finally, a companion puzzle book for #6 that invites us to become a puzzle-solver too, just like the Benedict Society. The series, in order, is: The Mysterious Benedict Society (2007, 512 pages) The Perilous Journey (2008, 440 pages) The Prisoner's Dilemma (2009, 400 pages) The Riddle of Ages (2019, 416 pages) The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (2012, 480 pages) Mr. Benedict's Book of Perplexing Puzzles, Elusive Enigmas, and Curious Conundrums (2011, 176 pages). I'd recommend the first two and last two. The first of the bunch has an originality to it, and a very clever reveal at the end that'll have you saying "Of course!" even as you had no inkling of it before that moment! The second doesn't reach the same heights... but how could it? It is, however, very fun. The second-best book in the series is actually the fifth, the prequel about the young Mr. Benedict, and his own adventures in an orphanage. I read about 15 minutes of this to our girls each night, for about 2 months straight, and they were always asking for more. While the puzzle book was interesting, I was glad we got it out of the library and didn't buy it. I wouldn't bother with books 3 and 4. In these two, Constance has developed telepathy, and since mind-reading is beyond all of us (even as figuring out puzzles isn't) this development makes these two books a good deal less relatable, and consequently less interesting. Telepathy also seems a cheat – how hard is it to outwit your enemies when you can read their minds? To top it off, Constance also learns how to manipulate minds with her telepathy, influencing them to think as she wants them to. This takes us into the realm of mind-control, not by machine as in the first book, but by supernatural powers, and for a decidedly unspiritual book, this is getting too weird for my liking. Thankfully each book is entirely self-contained, so it is easy to get just 4 out of the 6, without any sense of incompleteness. Books 1 and 2, along with 5 and 6 total more than 1,500 pages of reading, which should keep even the most avid bookworm in your family chewing for a long time....

Articles, Book Reviews

Recommended books on fear and anxiety

While our website has a growing number of articles on anxiety, space allows an article to say only so much. To help readers dig deeper, we've got a lot of recommended books here, and also links to excerpts from 17 of them. Recommendations First up, three biblical counselors offered up the book recommendations that follow. Two of these are devotionals, quite a few of them are by Ed Welch, and a couple were recommended by more than one counselor. Heres Snijder Prescription Without Pills – Susan Heitler When People are Big and God is Small – Edward T. Welch A Small Book for the Anxious Heart (devotional) – Edward T. Welch - see the excerpt from Westminster down below Caring For the Souls of Children (Chapter 7 specifically) – Amy Baker Generation Z Unfiltered – Tim Elmore & Andrew McPeak Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt For children: Buster Tries to Bail – David & Nan Powlison Zoe's Hiding Place – David Powlison For adults: Laughing at the Days to Come – Tessa Thompson Anxiety: Knowing God's Peace (devotional) – Paul Tautges Created to Care: God's Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace Reset – David Murray Refresh – Shona and David Murray Mini booklets Helping Your Anxious Child – Julie Lowe Teens and Anxiety – Eliza Huie Living in a Dangerous World – William P. Smith John Siebenga Resilient: Restoring Your Weary Soul in These Turbulent Times – John Eldredge Heres Snijder and Rhonda Wiersma-Vandeburgt Running Scared – Edward T. Welch When I Am Afraid: A Step-By-Step Guide Away from Fear and Anxiety – Edward T. Welch Excerpts David Murray's Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression David Murray wrote a pair of books, one for parents called, Why is my Teenager Feeling like This? A Guide for Helping Teens Through Anxiety & Depression, and a second, for their children to read called Why Am I Feeling Like This?: A Teen’s Guide to Freedom from Anxiety & Depression. I think these will prove to be incredibly helpful for families facing this struggle. Read a chapter from the teen book, titled "Beautiful Brianna." Westminster Bookstore's free "sampler" of 15 theologians tackling anxiety and fear The folks at the Westminster Bookstore have done something special, collecting key chapters from 15 Christian authors addressing the topic of anxiety and fear, and they then distributed those collected chapters for free. The thought is, you can sample them, find out which might be the most helpful, and then order that book (preferably from Westminster Bookstore, at least if you live in the US). In order, the chapters taken come from: A small book for the anxious heart – Edward T. Welch (4 daily readings from it) Anxiety – Knowing God’s Peace – Paul Tautges (4 readings) Created to Care: God’s Truth for Anxious Moms – Sara Wallace (Chap 8) Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy – Mark Vroegop (Intro/Chap 1) Everyday prayer – John Calvin (Ps 130, 143) God’s Grace in your Suffering – David Powlison (Intro) In the Presence of my Enemies – Dale Ralph Davis (Ps 29 – Chap 6) Living Life Backwards – David Gibon (Chap 1) O Death, Where is Thy Sting – John Murray (Chap 13) Piercing prayers – Puritans Pray Big – Alistair Begg (Chap 2) The Promises of God – Charles Spurgeon (5 daily readings) Suffering – Paul David Tripp (Chapter 11) The Whole Armor of God – Iain M. Duguid (Chap 1) Untangling Emotions – J. Alasdair Groves + Winston T. Smith (Chap 13) Walking with God through Pain and Suffering – Timothy Keller (Intro) Click here to download the PDF (4 mb) or read it in your browser by clicking here....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Worship Matters

by  Cornelis Van Dam 2021 / 327 pages The deeper I got into this book, the more I appreciated its simple title, Worship Matters. In this volume, Dr. Cornelis Van Dam has collected about two dozen of his articles about the church’s worship of our triune God. He addresses many worship-related topics: the meaning of the Lord’s day, the importance of preaching, the place of the Ten Commandments, the gift of congregational singing, the function of the second service, and much more. There are numerous “worship matters,” but what becomes even more clear from this book is that worship matters. From the first page to the last, Van Dam impresses on us the immense privilege and responsibility that are ours when we meet with God in public worship. God has been so gracious to reveal Himself through His Word, to tell us about the way of salvation opened by the crucified and risen Christ, and to transform us by His Holy Spirit. In humility and reverence, we then respond to God with praise, drawing near to the holy Lord with a desire to give Him our very best. Such a spirit of worship must characterise our entire life, but in a special way we may honour God together as congregation on the Lord’s day. Van Dam does not attempt to treat every aspect of Reformed liturgy, but the ones that he does are clearly and helpfully explained. For instance, he has excellent chapters on Psalm-singing, the public reading of Scripture, musical accompaniment, and the closing benediction. Time and again, his liturgical explorations demonstrate the truth of Article 7 of the Belgic Confession, where we confess the sufficiency of God’s Word, and where we state, “The whole manner of worship which God requires of us is written in at length.” Drawing on Old and New Testament alike, Van Dam shows the depths and riches of Reformed worship. In his study of worship matters, Van Dam also doesn’t shy away from some controversial topics. He evaluates the trend of removing the reading of the law from Reformed liturgy, or having people other than office bearers read Scripture in a worship service. He considers the question of whether we can still sing the so-called imprecatory Psalms, addresses the ever-sensitive topic of our Sunday clothing, and discusses the place of liturgical dance. I will leave these intriguing topics for you to read about and consider. Dr. Arjan de Visser contributes a convincing and timely chapter on being “An Attractive Church.” If we desire to be faithful in our prophetic task, we should think about what will truly (and enduringly) attract people to our churches. Should we be prepared to modify our liturgy and message to make them more accessible? Or does Scripture show that true attraction will be based on something else? When a book is good, one can always wish it was a little longer. And so I arrived at the last page wishing that Van Dam had touched on a few more worship matters. His chapter on baptism would have been nicely complemented with a chapter on the Lord’s Supper. A study of the offering would be welcome too, especially in a time when it seems that many of us “pass the bag” – perhaps it’s because of the trend towards a cashless economy, or it’s for some other reason. Just what is the Biblical importance of the offertory in public worship? But an author can’t say everything in a book, of course, and the ground that Van Dam has chosen to cover is valuable. This book would be useful for any church member to read and reflect on. It originates from the pen/keyboard of a professor of theology, but it is not a difficult or complicated book. Rather, its brief chapters are clearly written, carefully organized, and thoroughly Scriptural. While helpful for any church member, this book would also be beneficial for consistories to study together, maybe taking time each meeting to consider a chapter or two. For a consistory, it is inevitable that questions concerning the worship services arise. This might happen through their own discussions, or when members suggest different approaches. Sometimes we feel threatened by any talk of liturgical change—or conversely, we’re sure that such changes will remedy a range of our problems as church—but in any case, we should be ready to seek faithful and upbuilding practices for our liturgy. This book supplies us with solid Scriptural principles and directions for the worship of our great and holy God. It’s worth a careful read, because worship matters! Canadians can find it at Reformed Christian Books,, and elsewhere....

Adult biographies

FREE E-BOOK Gospel Patrons: people whose generosity changed the world

by John Rinehart 2013 / 170 pages Are you a giant? Church history is full of such people. William Tyndale translated the Bible into English. George Whitefield was used by God to spark the Great Awakening, while John Newton was the ex-slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace and helped William Wilberforce end the British slave trade. These were Christian giants; their stories well known. But, as author John Rinehart notes, not all of us are called to these leadership positions. Many are called to supporting roles. In Gospel Patrons Rinehart tells the stories of three people who enabled Tyndale, Whitefield, and John Newton to do their work. Humphrey Monmouth was the man who financed Tyndale’s translation work (and spent a year in the Tower of London as reward). Lady Huntingdon used her position and influence to have the richest in England come to hear George Whitefield preach the Gospel and she funded his work reaching the rest of England and America. John Thornton placed John Newton in an influential church and encouraged him to publish a book of his hymns, one of which was Amazing Grace. Their stories are not well known, but their roles were vital too. Most of us are not giants like Tyndale, Whitefield, and Newton, and we might think that we don’t have the funds to act like Monmouth, Lady Huntingdon or Thornton either. But while few of us have the funds they did, most of us are in a position where we can spare money or time to support worthy causes. In sharing these three biographies, what author John Rinehart wants us to realize is the importance of this supporting role. God has a part for each of us to play. And if we understand how important the “lesser” roles are, perhaps we will more willingly take them on, sacrificially donating our money and our time. If I were to offer one critique, it would be on the topic that Gospel Patrons doesn't tackle: making sure that who you give to is going to use your money to good ends. Christians need to be generous and discerning. That said, this is a short book with a tight focus – to encourage and inspire Christians to be generous – so maybe discernment in giving is a topic for a different book. Meanwhile, Gospel Patrons is a very readable, very challenging, and much-needed book. I highly recommend it for all ages. And you can download it as a free e-book here. TO EXPLORE FURTHER: If you want to get a flavor of this "gospel patron" idea, author John Rinehart has also written a series of articles and created some short videos, all of them freely available on his website Here are two examples that might be of particular interest: The Gospel Patron behind RC Sproul ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Hostage Lands

by Douglas Bond 2006 / 235 pages “When am I ever going to use this?” It’s a question that comes up frequently in classrooms around the world. And it’s a question Neil Perkins, a British lad, is asking about his Latin class. But while some students have to wait years to put the lessons they learn to practical use, Neil only has to wait until later that same day. On his way home from school he takes a nasty spill off of his ATV, creating a small crater where the machine lands. It’s in this crater that he discovers the leather -wrapped  tablets that are the focus of the majority of this book. These tablets are covered in Latin, so Neil, with the help of his underappreciated Latin teacher , starts translating them. He soon finds out they comprise a story told by a Roman centurion who lived two thousand years ago! Douglas Bond’s Hostage Lands is really two stories in one. The first is a short story about a boy named Neil who doesn’t like Latin, and doesn’t talk much with his dad. This accounts for only 6 of the book’s 37 chapters, serving mostly as an introduction and conclusion to the larger story about Roman Centurion Marcus Aurelius Rusticus. The Centurion’s story starts with his account of what he suspects will be a suicide mission into the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall, the territory of the savage Celts. Rusticus only manages to escape death with the help of a friendly Celt, Calum, who he soon discovers is a very different sort of man, for Calum is a Christian. I don’t want to give too much away about this book but would like to strongly recommend it. This is Douglas Bond’s very best book so far. Christian fiction is too often celebrated for the great message contained in the book, even when the artistry, the actually writing is poor. Bond’s book has a strong message – in it the Christian worldview is contrasted with worldviews that elevate power, the State or maybe honor to be supreme. However it is also a wonderfully written, thoroughly engaging story. I would think this is primarily a boy’s book, in the ten to early teens range, though a father may want to pick this one as a read aloud book because he’ll probably enjoy it too....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Time will run back

by Henry Hazlitt 368 pages / 1951 As novels go, this is intriguing. As economics textbooks go it is downright amazing. Like 1984... In Time Will Run Back author Henry Hazlitt envisions a future in which the communists won and have been in power for more than 100 years. As Henry Hazlitt himself acknowledges, his novel bears some similarities to 1984 (published two years earlier) since both take place in a dystopian future in which the government manages every aspect of citizens' lives. But Hazlitt didn't read 1984 until after he had finished the first draft of his own book, so no plagiarism was involved. Instead, as Hazlitt puts it, authors like Orwell, Aldous Huxley (and his Brave New World) and himself were: plagiarizing from the actual nightmare created by Lenin, Hitler and Stalin....All the writers had done was to add a few logical extensions not yet generally foreseen. In Hazlitt's envisioned future the government has not only taken over the capitalist West, but they've wiped away any memory of capitalism, even editing Karl Marx's books so that no one could deduce from them what sort of economic system it was that Marx was writing against. Into this setting Hazlitt places the ultimate outsider. The world dictator's son, Peter Uldanov, has grown up far away from his father, isolated on a Bahama island. When his mother and father split, he agreed to let her take Peter, so long as she agreed not to teach Peter anything about history, politics or economics. So when the world dictator calls his now adult son to Moscow and informs Peter that he is to succeed his father as dictator, father first has to bring son up to speed in these three key areas. Peter's education takes up the first third of the book, though there is some palace-intrigue as well: the second-ranking member of the ruling Politburo is eager to see Peter dead, but doesn't want to be caught doing the deed. ...and Screwtape Letters This first third bears more than a passing resemblance to C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, with Peter's teacher filling the role of the elder Screwtape explaining to his younger devilish charge why they do things the way they do them. For example, at one point Politburo member Adams and Orlov, the editor of the world's state-approved and only remaining newspaper, explain to Peter how what is carried in the paper has nothing to do with the truth, but instead has to do with what is useful for the masses to hear. It turns out "what is useful" can be hard to determine. "It is for the Politburo to decide, for example, whether we shall say that the production record is very bad, in order to exhort and sting everyone to greater output; or whether we shall say that it is very good, in order to show how well the regime is doing and to emphasize the blessing of living under it." "These decisions are sometimes very difficult," Adams put in. "We often find that a zigzag course is best. For example, if goods are shoddy and fall apart, or if too many size nine shoes are made and not enough size eight, or if people cannot get enough to eat, there may be grumbling and complaints – or silent dissatisfaction. We must make sure that this unrest does not turn against the regime itself." "Therefore," said Orlov, "we must lead the complaints. We must ourselves pick scapegoats to denounce and punish." In the middle third of the novel Peter takes on the role of the ultimate benevolent dictator. He wants to help his citizens, so he tries desperately to figure out ways to make socialism work. He has the help of his country's greatest minds, and near absolute power, so he is in the best sort of situation to make it work. But try as he might, they can't make it work. The biggest trouble Peter keeps running into is trying to figure out the value of what they are making. They have no money (since no one buys anything, but is instead given what they need) so they can't use price to calculate how valuable one product might be compared to another. And if they can't calculate value, then they also can't determine if the country is producing more overall this year vs. the last. Sheer tonnage is one proposed measure – that could use that to compare how much grain they grew from one year to the next. But even this falls short, because grain can come in different qualities. How then should they evaluate things if one year more grain is produced but of a lower quality, and in another year there is less but of a higher quality? Which was the better year? After ruling out tonnage as a helpful means of measuring output, one alternative after another is proposed only to have the shortcomings of each then exposed. The alert reader will see where this is leading: what this socialistic  economy lacks are markets in which the value of a product is assessed by consumers as a whole. In the final third of the book Peter gets more desperate and more radical in his efforts to make real improvements and give citizens real freedom, and he ends up discovering some economic principles that really help: open competition, property ownership, and the rigorous prosecution of cheats and swindlers. To help his citizens he is forced to invent capitalism! Conclusion Though the book is most obviously about communism, the warning Hazlitt offers here - that freedom and prosperity cannot co-exist with an economic system that prioritizes equality of distribution – is directly applicable to communism's democratic twin, socialism. This book sat on my shelf unread for many years because I didn't believe a world-renown economist could also be a credible novelist. I was wrong. There is a conversation here and there that gets bogged down by the economic lesson Hazlitt is trying to teach, but overall this is not just readable, but engaging and entertaining, able to stand up to comparisons with 1984 and Brave New World, which themselves are not read for their wonderful prose, but rather for their insightful investigations of human nature in the face of tyranny. So this is a readable, intriguing and important novel with a few slow bits. And as an economics textbook, there is none better – Hazlitt makes a strong and compelling case for the free market. The e-book can be had for free here. Note to Teachers: How Time Will Run Back is better than 1984 and Brave New World Though 1984 and Brave New World are important books, they both have sexual content (Brave New World more so) that can make them problematic to discuss even in the high school setting. Sex is also discussed in Time Will Run Back but in a way that parents and teachers may find more palatable: brief mention is made of how the government manages even citizens' sex lives, mandating that no one can pair up for longer than a month, lest they form familial bonds that compete with the bonds they should have to the state. But this is sex at is most boring - nothing titilating here. I believe you'll find find Hazlitt's offering a worthy substitution for either of these other two - just as engaging, as insightful, as thought provoking, and without the sexual content....

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