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The RP 52 in 22 challenge

If you're a reader, there's a good chance you have a stack of books somewhere that you've really been meaning to get to. But, what with the busyness of life, that stack might well be growing as it is so hard to set aside the time. Wow then, can we get to the reading that we really want to do anyway? The answer, for a trio of competitive lads, was to get a challenge going. So a lawyer, a minister, and an editor all agreed that they would read 52 books by the end of 2022. This "52 in 22" challenge is a race of sorts, and to up the motivation, the three will keep a public running total of their progress, posting short reviews of each book here on this web page (with selections appearing in each issue of the print magazine). Finally, to add a mildly punitive element to it, each agreed, at year's end, to donate $20 for every book they didn't complete to a charity of their choice. Our hope is that the challenge might spur others on to read more great books, including, perhaps, some of the suggestions listed below. Follow it on MeWe, Facebook, Instagram, and Gab under the hashtag #RP52in22 The tally The lawyer – André Schutten: 30 The minister – Jim Witteveen: 34 The editor – Jon Dykstra: 38 Reviews In Thea Beckman's Crusade in Jeans (1972, 275 pages), Dolf is a modern-day Dutch teen accidentally teleported back in time to the 13th century. He appears right in the middle of thousands of German children marching their way to free Jerusalem from its Muslim conquerors. But before they can get there, this "children's crusade" will have to cross the Alps... and who will help the littlest ones find food, and keep warm in those barren peaks? Dolf discovers that his schooling has given him tools and knowledge that could save lives, and his modern diet has given him a stature that gets him a hearing. While he doesn't share the Christian faith of the children, Dolf joins the crusade anyway, both to help as many of the children as he can, and because he doesn't know where else to go. It's a fish-out-of-water tale that introduces us to another time, and treats us to the clever ways that Dolf and his medieval friends employ to solve all the problems they encounter. I've been reading this with my three pre-teen girls, and while the youngest at 9 hasn't found it too scary, my wife, overhearing, was surprised by how matter-of-factly brutal the story sometimes is – hundreds of the children die along the way, from sickness, or in battles. But some of that is softened by the story arc of each chapter: each time Dolf is shocked by the time's poverty, its cut-throat politics, or the general disregard for life, the chapter will ends on rescue, or some other encouraging note. It's a great story that is marred by a single misuse of God's name. Another caution: the Children's Crusade was a real historical event, but young readers should be told we don't really know what's fact and what's simply legend. – Jon Dykstra SEPTEMBER 27 One of my bookshelves is home to a very nice-looking collection of about fifty little books – the "Puritan Paperbacks" series published by The Banner of Truth. I purchased the series with good intentions, knowing that it offers some of the best writing of the Puritans, offered in a more readable form than many of their lengthier, unedited works. But despite my good intentions, most of these books have not yet been cracked open. But looking on the bright side, that means that I have a lot of good reading to look forward to! Christian Love (2004, 106 pages) by Hugh Binning was first published in 1735, nearly a century after the author's death at the age of 26. Beginning with John 13:35  –"By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" – Binning explores what true Christian love really is, and how we are called especially to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Binning goes through the attributes of love as laid out in 1 Corinthians 13, and provides practical advice on how we can show our love for one another, in imitation of Christ. I found Binning's chapter on humility and meekness as prerequisites to Christian love to be particularly insightful. Binning emphasizes that true humility doesn't mean denying the specific gifts that we have received, or denigrating our own strengths. "Humility," he writes, "does not exclude all knowledge of any excellency in itself, or defect in another it can discern; but this is its worth, that it thinks soberly of the one, and despises not the other." Wise words from a young man who wrote them while still in his early twenties! Christian Love is not a book that you will want to read in one sitting. It is not long, but it is densely written, and although modernized, the language and sentence structure is still more challenging than most modern writing. But I would highly recommend this book as devotional reading, perhaps taking a chapter a night to read, digest, and apply. I'm sure you'll find it to be worth the effort. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 25 One of four books in the "Theopolis Fundamentals" series published by Athanasius Press, Peter J. Leithart's Theopolitan Reading (2020, 116 pages) is a concise, readable, and fascinating guide to the most important reading we'll ever do - Bible reading. Peter Leithart, a prolific author who has written a number of books on Biblical interpretation, church history, and literature, has a knack for helping Bible readers get the most out of their reading. He also understands how important it is for Christians to have an intimate familiarity with God's Word, emphasizing that Scripture speaks to all of life as "the ultimate authority for everything, in all circumstances." Here Leithart offers himself as a mentor and model of the "Spiritual reading" of Scripture - not just reading the Bible, but reading the Bible well. A Spiritual reader, Leithart writes, demonstrates the fruits of the Spirit in his reading. The first fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5 is love, and Leithart makes a connection between that fruit of the Spirit and the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13 to show how we should approach Scripture. Approaching the text of Scripture with love first of all means being patient – reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading in the patience of the Spirit. In the second place, it means coming to the text with an attitude of humility. In order to truly understand God's Word, we need to humble ourselves before its Author! In theological terms, Theopolitan Reading is a primer in Biblical Hermeneutics – a study of the interpretation of Scripture. Leithart is not impressed with much modern Biblical scholarship, and argues that the best mentors and guides for reading Scripture are the Lord Jesus and his apostles. His approach has been called "interpretive maximalism" and "symbolic interpretation," but Leithart argues that the Spiritual reading that he advocates is more of an art than a "mechanistic process." And while this discussion may seem a bit heavy for a general audience, Leithart takes pains to explain his approach to Scripture not only to "specialists," but to the average "Theo and Thea," the names he gives to the typical Bible reader. After introducing the concept of Spiritual reading, Leithart spends the majority of the book discussing Scripture's central themes, imagery, types, and themes that are found on every page of the Bible. He begins by discussing the Biblical view of the world, spends a chapter on Adam (and the last Adam), moves on to discuss Eve, before concluding with an exploration of Eden. Leithart's work evidences a high regard for God's Word, and his literary and interpretive skills are impressive. He knows his Bible, and he explains its message well. Despite its brevity, Theopolitan Reading is packed with insight into the Word and how to read it, and my appreciation for the profound depth of the Word only grew. For those who want to plumb those depths, it will be a very useful aid. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 20 Over the course of this year, I've read and reviewed several books on Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Social Justice movement. There are a number of excellent resources out there that deal with these issues, but if I would be forced to recommend only one of them to an interested Christian reader, it would be Fault Lines: The Social Justice Movement and Evangelicalism's Looming Catastrophe (2021, 251 pages) by Voddie T. Baucham Jr. Baucham, who currently serves as the dean of the School of Divinity at African Christian University in Lusaka, Zambia, has written several books on other issues that I would also highly recommend. As a Reformed Baptist, his work evidences a high regard for Scripture as well as an informed and critical eye on culture and its impact on the church. In Fault Lines, Baucham addresses Critical Race Theory (and, more generally, Critical Social Justice) as a movement that has created a dangerous divide in the evangelical and Reformed/Presbyterian world. Some Christians have knowingly and deliberately adopted the tenets of CRT and CSJ, while others, Baucham writes, have naively begun to use the language and categories of these movements, without being fully aware of what they stand for. A good part of this book is autobiographical in nature, as Baucham describes his own experiences as an African-American, from growing up in a single-parent family, to his educational experiences, to his conversion to Christianity and his life as a pastor, writer, and speaker. Countering the conclusions drawn by Critical Race theorists, Baucham points to his own personal experience, and the experience of many others like him, to emphasize the importance of good parenting in children's lives. While he emphasizes the centrality of God's grace in leading him to where he is now, he acknowledges the importance of the role his mother played in his life: "I thrived in large part because, by God's grace, my mother protected me, sacrificed for me, advocated for me, and disciplined me," he writes in the conclusion of his chapter on his childhood. Fault Lines is much more than an autobiography, however. Baucham also goes into great detail about the religious nature of Critical Race Theory, a movement that has its own cosmology, its own version of original sin, a new law (the work of antiracism), a new priesthood, and a new canon. In the end, Baucham argues, CRT is a false religion that is absolutely incompatible with the Christian faith. There is much more that could be said about this book, but I hope this brief review will suffice to encourage you to pick up a copy of this book yourself. As CRT continues to make inroads in the Reformed and Presbyterian world, we must be prepared to "rise to the challenge," as Baucham writes in his conclusion. Baucham writes with passion, and his arguments are based in sound theology and a good understanding of Scripture. This book not only reveals the fault lines that exist in the church, but also provides encouragement and good counsel on how to find a way forward, remaining on solid ground. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 19 In 1971, under the leadership of Pierre Trudeau, Canada became the first country in the world to officially declare itself to be "multicultural." This declaration became the law of the land in 1988, when the Canadian Multiculturalism Act was passed during Brian Mulroney's tenure as Canada's Prime Minister. Over the past fifty years, multiculturalism has spread to many countries of the world, particularly in the West. Over time, it has become more and more difficult for people in the public square to question the wisdom of multiculturalism, to ask whether it is possible for multiculturalism to be successful, or to suggest that multiculturalism will inevitably lead to a nation's decline and fall. Salim Mansur is a Canadian academic who has dared to put himself in the sights of multiculturalism's proponents by confronting it head on. Mansur is a columnist and author, and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Western Ontario who ran as a candidate for the People's Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election. He is also a Muslim. In Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism (2011, 183 pages), Mansur argues that multiculturalism is inherently destructive to a liberal society (using the word "liberal" in its classical sense, not to describe the political ideology also known as progressivism or democratic socialism). The dreams of multiculturalism, and the promises it makes, Mansur writes, are nothing more than a lie. As an ideology, multiculturalism holds a certain appeal to many people – thus the word "delectable" in the book's title – but ultimately, the cultural relativism of multiculturalism is its fatal flaw. Ultimately, Mansur writes, "the worm inside the doctrine of multiculturalism is the lie that all cultures are worthy of equal respect and equally embracing of individual freedom and democracy." While proponents of multiculturalism argue that cultural relativism is the result of open-mindedness and tolerance, Mansur argues that just the opposite is the case; political correctness has led to the stifling of free speech and the expression of differences, has led to shallow thinking about cultural issues, and discourages reflection and debate about the qualities of different cultures. Mansur writes from the perspective of a Muslim classical liberal, and his liberal ideals appear to be the guiding principle behind his political and social philosophy. He rightly recognizes that the foundations of classical liberalism can be found in what he calls its "faith tradition anchored in Judeo-Christian ethics," and while his arguments are based more on the primacy of liberal ideals than on the Christian principles that undergird those ideals, he puts forward a strong challenge to the accepted wisdom that has all but excluded every other opinion from public debate. The book does not make for the easiest reading, but it is a worthwhile contribution to what has become a very one-sided debate, not only in Canada, but in many parts of the world. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 17 Every now and again I'll hand out a book to any nephews or nieces willing to give it a go. And with Caleb Fuller's No Free Lunch: Six Economic Lies You've Been Taught And Probably Believe (2021, 138 pages), I've found the next book I'm going to pitch to them. While Fuller addresses six lies, there is one truth he's trying to present: that every opportunity you pursue, comes at a cost. What cost? The time and money you put into it – and here's the important part – which can't then be spent on other opportunities. This "opportunity cost" could be known as the "you-can't-have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too principle" or, as the book title puts it, "there's no free lunch." So, then, when a government jobs program funds summer work for students, what we see is all the students getting jobs. But what we don't see is the opportunity cost to this program – we don't see all the other jobs that companies might have started on their own – and maybe full-time even – had the government not taxed them to fund their summer jobs program. Fuller shows how much damage is done by the well-meaning, but economically ignorant, and highlights how there is on many issues a consensus among economists on both the Left and Right, that politicians on the Left will simply defy. My only disappointment with this punchy book is that this Christian professor never makes plain why the Left fails, and the free market works. He never mentions how the foundation for the free market – private property rights – is simply obedience to God's command, "Do not steal" (Ex. 20:15). In fact, God is not mentioned in the whole book.  – Jon Dykstra SEPTEMBER 15 I really enjoyed Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales (2013, 448 pages), the third Randy Singer novel I've read for this challenge. But I would place it as the third of those three, simply because of how it started. The prologue doesn't describe it in any detail, but the reader is made aware that in this Syrian jail a woman is being raped and killed in the cell next door. That's a grim beginning for a book I'm reading only for enjoyment. Fortunately, the story heads in a completely different direction starting with Chapter 1. Landon Reed found God in jail and found a good woman and daughter still waiting for him when he got out. The disgraced former college quarterback, indicted for point shaving, spent his time in prison studying. Now that he's out he wants to be a lawyer, to help others make the same life-turn. It is hard for a convict to get a job though, particularly in the legal field. So when he does land a position, and the law firm's other employees start getting murdered, Reed's too grateful to leave. He's going to find out who's murdering his colleagues... even if it kills him. The book's brutal start had me almost quitting before I started, and also had me wondering how far Christian authors can go in depicting evil, and having their characters contend with evil, without making light of the warning in Ephesians 5:12 that "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." To be clear, I don't think Singer crossed a line here – he might even be the example of how to speak of vile deeds in a restrained manner since he kept the details sparse. But I still didn't like the beginning, though the legal twists and turns that followed were intriguing indeed.  – Jon Dykstra SEPTEMBER 12 In 1984, George Orwell envisioned a world in which "every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered." This process has been unfolding before our eyes, and the evolution (or devolution) of the academic discipline of history over the past forty years has been rapid, and drastic, exemplifying the rewriting of books and falsification of records that Orwell foretold. In The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists are Murdering Our Past, (1996, 372 pages) historian Keith Windschuttle explains the disastrous results that have resulted from the wholesale takeover of historical studies by literary criticism, social theory, and various postmodernist movements. Studying a number of historical events and their re-interpretation by contemporary historians, Windschuttle clearly shows how "truth" has been lost as efforts have been made to re-interpret and re-imagine the events and developments of history. Windschuttle focuses his attention on modern reinterpretations of the conquest of Mexico, the mutiny on the Bounty, the first arrival of Europeans in Hawaii, as well as on Australian history, which is the subject of several of his other works. Readers without a history background will likely find Windschuttle's discussions of academics like Tzvetan Todorov and Michel Foucault difficult to wrap their minds around; but as Windschuttle himself says, if you find this stuff hard to understand, you're not alone: "One of the reasons the humanities and social sciences have been taken over so quickly by the sophistry described in this book is because too few of those who might have been expected to resist the putsch understood what its instigators were saying." So although the appeal of this book would probably be limited to those who have studied history in post-secondary settings, I highly recommend Windschuttle's work as a trenchant critique of the current state of historical study. The importance of this subject goes far beyond the halls of academia, as the postmodernist reinterpretations of history have had a serious influence on political decision-making, especially in the area of aboriginal studies and the world of Identity Politics. Windschuttle is a rare bird in the academic world, a scholar who is willing to challenge the "consensus," despite the costs associated with non-conformity. The Killing of History is an important work, and Windschuttle offers a valuable critique of modern historiography that deserves to be heard. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 9 On occasion, I have described myself as a "libertarian Christian," meaning by it that I was for a much much smaller government. How small? Don't know, but we could cut for a long long time before we'd run the risk of going too far. But libertarians can often be moral libertines seeing little to no role for the government in restricting prostitution, pornography, drugs, and even abortion. That's what prevents me from embracing the term. Still, I was curious to read Faith Seeking Freedom: Libertarian Christian Answers to Tough Questions (2020, 142 pages). It's an FAQ-style book by a group of writers who are not at all reluctant about describing themselves as Christian libertarians. The work's strength is in the unique ideas being expressed. Have you ever considered whether, in this Internet Age, the government should be funding libraries (and using your tax dollars to buy all sorts of inappropriate children's material)? Where else would you get hit with a question like that? The book's weakness comes in the divide the writers make between God's law as revealed in the Bible (his special revelation), and natural law which is the portion of God's law that's evident even to people who have never read the Bible (God's general revelation). On the issue of abortion, they basically elevate natural law to a position on par with or even above biblical law. The result is that they take an issue that is clear in the Bible – don't kill image-bearers of God – and waffle on it because, based on natural law alone, there might seem more room for arguing either position. They are choosing their libertarian values over their Christian ones here, and it's wrong. That's why, even as I remain a small government proponent, reading Faith Seeking Freedom has made me more hesitant about labeling myself a "Christian libertarian." – Jon Dykstra SEPTEMBER 5 Over the last ten years hyperinflation has wiped out the Venezuelan currency, reducing it to 1/40 billionth of what it once was, and for years now I've been wondering, aren't we in danger of heading in the same direction? Isn't it just a matter of math that if our governments keep printing more money, that money will be worth less – if they double it, shouldn't each bill end up being worth half as much? And if that's so, what with Western governments' stimulus handouts, quantitative easing, and COVID emergency spending, why haven't we become Venezuela already? That's the lead question that Pastor Douglas Wilson asks financial manager David Bahnsen in Mis-inflation: the truth about inflation, pricing, and the creation of wealth (2022, 140 pages). The book is a series of back-and-forth emails, with Wilson the interviewer, and Bahnsen (son of Reformed presuppositional apologist Greg Bahnsen), giving his best replies. The short answer is, that we probably don't need to worry about Venezuelan-type hyperinflation (and, consequently, don't need to start buying gold), but stagnating like Japan is a real danger. More important still was a connection made between economic worries and the Parable of the Talents. The unfaithful servant fearfully buried his talent, but we are called, even in economic downturns, to take what God has given us and seek a return on it to His glory. Now, if economics is not your interest, this will be a tough read - it took me about three chapters to begin to understand what Bahnsen was explaining (though Wilson's questions did help unpack Bahnsen's answers). However, if you are interested, this has some helpful answers that don't seem readily available anywhere else, which makes it worth the effort! – Jon Dykstra SEPTEMBER 3 Matt Walsh's recent documentary, What is a Woman? was released earlier this year to coincide with Pride Month, and it is not surprising that it met with mixed reviews. On the one hand, Walsh was accused of being a hateful transphobe, while on the other hand his documentary was praised as revealing the incoherence of the "trans" movement and its inherent dangers. Those who are familiar with Walsh know that he has a rather acerbic style, and that he pulls no punches when it comes to questions of culture and morality. While that style may rub some people the wrong way, I believe that it suits this subject perfectly, because it reveals the absolute absurdity of this cultural phenomenon. His book What is a Woman? (2022, 253 pages) is basically a recapitulation of the documentary of the same title. Walsh sets out to answer what he refers to as "the question of a generation" - a question that many seem to be unable to answer. His journey takes him to various "experts" on the subject, medical and psychological professionals, as well as a transsexual who regrets her sex change surgery. Walsh also goes into some detail about the history of the transgender movement, revealing the often sordid history behind the ideology and its promotion, and details the forces that are behind the spread of transgenderism today. In the end, the simplicity of the question (and its correct answer) is revealed through an account of Walsh's discussion of the issue with a group of Massai people in Kenya, whose response to Walsh's titular question reveals that it's not so hard to answer after all. What is a Woman? is a well-written and engrossing book, an informative and interesting read. It does include some foul language (albeit lightly censored with the use of asterisks), mostly in direct citations of Walsh's interviewees. With that proviso in mind, I do recommend this book as a revealing look at the true nature of the transgender movement, which reflects a worldview that cannot maintain itself, because it rejects the wisdom and truth of God himself. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 2 If your concern over the state of our society has been growing in recent years, you probably have a list of culprits in mind when you consider who is actually responsible for the negative developments that have seemed to overtake us so rapidly. Regardless of the kind of problem we're considering, one question always seems to be close at hand: Who is to blame? Generally, our response is this: "Someone else." This has been true since the fall into sin, when the blame game was first played. But as the subtitle of David L. Bahnsen's Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It (2019, 170 pages) says, our culture is addicted to insisting that everything negative is someone else's fault, and we as individuals cannot be held responsible in any way. It is this addiction to blame that Bahnsen takes on in this interesting and challenging book. Bahnsen, who is the son of the well-known Reformed apologist and theologian Greg Bahnsen, is a Christian financial manager who has become a respected figure in the world of finance and investment. While this book largely focuses attention on political and financial matters, its thesis is broadly applicable to all of life. Bahnsen leads the reader to consider his own responsibilities, and to examine the areas in his own life that need to change, and reminds us that we must take responsibility for our own actions and the results that those actions have. While not denying that "the usual suspects" (big government, big business, the media, and the educational system) have all played an important role in leading us to where we are today – socially, politically, economically, and culturally – Bahnsen emphasizes that "what we need now is to end our addiction to blame and accept the responsibility that comes from being part of a society governed of, by, and for we, the people." I believe that Bahnsen shows a tendency toward under-emphasizing the deliberate work that has been done to undermine our culture by ideologues in the mass media, the political sphere, and the educational establishment. But at the same time, this book offers a healthy corrective to those who are tempted to neglect their own responsibilities and cast the blame on one of the various institutions that he refers to as "the bogeymen." It's an important message that needs to be internalized by every generation of God's people, and for this reason Bahnsen's book is a worthwhile read. – Jim Witteveen SEPTEMBER 1 I grew up reading and re-reading the "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I loved those books - both the stories themselves and the iconic illustrations by Garth Williams, which made the story come alive for me. By the time I finished reading the series of books, the Little House on the Prairie television series had already been running for several seasons, and it became "must-watch" TV in our home. I knew that the TV series took liberties with the content of the books, but the overall focus of the story remained the same – one family's experience of making a life for itself on the American frontier. Fast-forward a few decades. The naivete of childhood long past, I was aware that the "Little House" books could not be an exact account of what had actually occurred in the lives of the Ingalls family and young Almanzo Wilder in 19th Century America. So it wasn't a shock for me to learn in Christine Woodside's Libertarians on the Prairie: Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Making of the Little House Books (2016, 259 pages) that the driving force behind the "Little House" books was actually Rose Wilder Lane, Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter. A successful author herself, Rose Wilder Lane took her mother's writing (which itself took some liberties with the actual events upon which they were based), rewrote the manuscripts, polishing them up and shaping them into the best-selling series of books that they became. What is particularly interesting, however, is the way in which the political convictions, both of mother Laura and daughter Rose, shaped the stories that they told. Rose Wilder Lane is known as one of the mothers of American Libertarianism, and her book The Discovery of Freedom (first published in 1943) is still considered a must-read in libertarian circles. It was Laura and Rose's emphasis on personal freedom, personal responsibility, and self-reliance that shaped the message of the Little House books, as well as the events in the Ingalls family history that they chose to include, as well as exclude. Libertarians on the Prairie is a well-written account of the writing of the Little House books, an honest yet sympathetic look at the lives of the Wilder family and the books that made them famous. The author's original research into the lives of Laura, Almanzo, and Rose is presented in a readable and engrossing way, and the result is an enjoyable book that captured my interest and held it from beginning to end. Libertarians on the Prairie, beyond being an interesting read, also reveals how an author's worldview shapes his or her work, and how effectively good authors can influence the thinking of their readers. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of the Little House books, or for anyone who enjoys history and biography.  – Jim Witteveen AUGUST 27 You don't want to get between a mama bear and her cubs - every hiker knows that! A mother bear will do whatever is necessary to protect her young when she believes that they are in danger. And the authors of this book (whose blog and podcast can be accessed at MamaBearApologetics.com) understand that their role as Christian mothers is to protect their children from spiritual harm, just as the mama bear protects her cubs. Their goal is to prepare mothers to "learn how to raise kids who think critically, love biblically, and stand firm against the cultural tide." In Mama Bear Apologetics (2019, 287 pages), they address the issues of self-helpism, naturalism, skepticism, postmodernism, moral relativism, emotionalism, pluralism, the "new spirituality," Marxism, feminism, and progressive Christianity, covering almost all of the bases when it comes to the numerous "ism's" that seek to lead our children astray. Each chapter concludes with helpful advice on how to use the chapter's content with children and young people through discussions, discipleship, and prayer, as well as a list of discussion questions that are well-formulated to contribute to an engaging and useful group study of the material. On a whole I found that the book addresses the ideological challenges that confront our young people in a way that is helpful and encouraging. At times I found myself wishing that the authors were a bit less gentle and a little more "mama bear-ish," but the end result of their work is a book that will certainly serve to equip mothers (and fathers!) to understand the spirit of the age, and apply that understanding to their God-given task of leading their children along the way of truth. The enemy uses many means to get at our children, and we need to recognize those means, and how they are being used, in order to withstand them ourselves, and prepare our children to do the same. Mama Bear Apologetics will certainly help parents to do just that! – Jim Witteveen AUGUST 26 I enjoyed making my way bit-by-bit through Darwin on Trial by law professor Phillip E. Johnson (the 2010 20th anniversary edition, 247 pages). I’ve followed the evolution/creation debate since my undergraduate years with interest and have always felt that the evolutionary position rests on many unproven assumptions. This book proves that hunch correct. Johnson is no amateur when it comes to testing evidence to see if it holds up to scrutiny. He taught law and evidence at a prestigious American law school for decades and approaches the claims of Darwinism with courtroom rigor. He exposes huge gaps in logic or evidence when it comes to things like the irreducible complexity of the eyeball or other organs or organisms (an irreducibly complex organism can’t evolve – all of the working parts need to be there, at the same time, for it to work). He exposes the gaping hole in the fossil record for any transitional organisms (Darwin himself predicted there would be millions of such organisms, but today there are as yet none found) and he highlights over and over again the circular logic and tautologies of leading evolutionary advocates which would never hold up as evidence in court. Though the book is at times a bit technical when discussing some scientific concepts, it’s still a highly recommended read, especially for any Christian science students and teachers. – André Schutten AUGUST 25 Over the last couple weeks I read Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars (1989, 137 pages) to my eight-year-old son. Lowry’s short novel is set in Denmark during World War II. It tells of two friends, Annemarie and Ellen, aged 10, who need to deal with the ravages of war and, particularly, the cruelty of the Nazi occupiers towards Jewish Danes. Ellen is Jewish. The narrative is told from Annemarie’s perspective, and is built around trying to protect her friend from the soldiers looking for her. Two of the themes in the book provide great fodder for discussion with an 8 to 12 year-old: truth-telling versus preservation of life is a tension throughout the book (Annemarie must lie to a German officer to protect her friend, for example), and another theme is simply the difficulty of living during war. The name of the book comes from Psalm 147:4 (which is referenced in the book) and also ties to the Star of David, worn by Ellen at first, and then hidden from the Nazis, and then worn by Annemarie in anticipation of Ellen’s safe return. While this book does not have nearly as many explicit Christian or biblical references as Dutch children’s stories set in World War II might have (see Piet Prins books, for example), the story is still highly recommended for Christian children aged eight and higher. – André Schutten AUGUST 24 In his Christian fantasy novels The Seraph’s Path (2019, 476 pages) and The Seraph’s Calling (2020, 729 pages) Neil Dykstra has shaped a world with not only exotic creatures and nations to discover, but layer upon layer of legend and history shaping the events. There’s quite the cast of characters, but this is mostly the story of Dyrk, a young horse trainer who can’t please his family, so he sets out to make his own fortune. Through courage and luck he wins a combat competition – the last man standing – and gains entrance into the king's military college. But his career gets stolen from him when he's kicked out of the school without explanation. To Dyrk it seems he's at the whim of the fates. Or is it the Seraphs? In this world the god Arren is served by seven Seraphs, and each night Dyrk sends up his prayers via these Seraphs because, so he has been told, Arren is too holy for common man to approach directly. If that strikes you as Roman Catholic, I think you're on to something. The author is Reformed (and despite sharing a last name, not related to me) and this sort of prayer life is one of the many reasons that Dyrk feels distant from his Maker. And, as noted, the other reason Dyrk feels abandoned is that for every good thing he experiences, bad soon follows. As with all good fantasy fiction, the author is using his made-up world to teach us a little something about our own – Dyrk is wrestling with why bad things happen to good people. The first answer he gets to this question is along the lines of, you're not so good as you think: Dyrk gets caught up in sexual temptation (this event isn't lurid, but is sad and realistic enough that pre-teen readers might find it distressing). The second answer he gets is of the sort that Job was given – Dyrk finds out that his Maker doesn't have to answer to him. I suspect that, along with Dyrk himself, some readers might not find that as complete an answer as they'd like. The Bible does offers another, much more satisfying, answer to this question in the life and death of Jesus Christ. In Christ we learn, not simply that God is God and we are not (the Job answer) but that God loves us, and so much so that He gave His one and only Son to die for us. Job and. Jesus. Both answers are true, but the second far more complete... even as we all can't help but wonder still, when we're faced with suffering. So why didn't the "Jesus answer" show up in the book? It's because, with one notable exception, Christian fantasy can only offer the "Job answer." Why? Because as connected as any Christian author's fantasy world will be to the real world, it can only offer, by necessity, a reflection of God as he revealed Himself in the Old Testament. C.S. Lewis is the exception, offering up the New Testament "Jesus answer" by having Aslan the Son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea show his love by dying in Edmund's place. But if another Christian author were to now try to give their own version of this answer, they'd be copying Lewis copying the Bible, and it couldn't help but be horrible. And that's why we get only the Job answer here. So who would like this book? Well, if you never made it through The Lord of the Rings, then this might be too intense a read for you. But if you're looking for a book you'll ponder as you read, and for weeks after, you'll love it. – Jon Dykstra AUGUST 23 A classic American novel, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850, 178 pages) was an interesting read, if only to make myself familiar with the classic and the many cultural references to it. The story is set in a Puritan Massachusetts village in the 1600s. The young Hester Prynne, after giving birth to her daughter Pearl out of wedlock, is accused of adultery and made to wear a scarlet letter “A” on her front for the rest of her days as punishment for her sin. The book is obviously a critique of the (exaggerated) harshness of Puritan moral codes, but more than that, an exploration of public shame and guilt. In fact, Hawthorne’s characters in this book are very complex, and his wrestling with these themes of evil, sin, shame, guilt, and forgiveness or redemption are artfully done. While Hawthorne’s theological position is unclear, his writing shouldn’t be dismissed. I also appreciated that there are no salacious details despite the novel being premised on adultery (Hollywood – it can be done!). Recommended. – André Schutten AUGUST 22 Why Lord? That's the question 12-year-old Julian van Popta, his parents, and his siblings had to contend with when this young man was diagnosed with leukemia. Only When It's Dark Can We See the Stars: a father's journal as his son battles cancer (2022, 194 pages) is an account of the four years that followed, as written by his father, Pastor John van Popta. The chapters are made up of the regular updates Rev. van Popta sent out to friends and family during the rounds of Julian's treatment. What's striking, and what makes this such a valuable read, is the trust the author demonstrates in God, even as the van Poptas struggled with why God would bring such sickness. As the author shares, it is one thing to face cancer as a pastor comforting parishioners, and another thing to do so as a parent seeing their child too weak even to eat. The question Why Lord? is made all the more urgent when, during Julian's repeated hospital stays, they meet other children also battling cancer, and the van Poptas share in these families' hopes and their losses – Julian does eventually recover, but many others do not. While this is a deeply personal account, the struggle to trust God in the face of death is one that we'll all have to face, and this then is an example of how to struggle well. It is a father writing, but there's no missing this is also a pastor who wants to feed the sheep with what he knows we need: to understand that my only comfort is that I am not my own but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. That truth, powerfully delivered, makes this not simply a good book, but an important one. – Jon Dykstra AUGUST 21 It took me all summer, and an encouragement from a friend to see it through, but I finally took up and finished The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution by Carl Truman (2020, 432 pages). The genesis of the book was Prof. Truman’s desire to answer the question of how our entire culture came to accept the statement, “I’m a woman trapped in a man’s body” as true or reasonable. It's a dense read, especially in the first quarter, where Truman explains some important cultural theory from three modern philosophers. However, the concepts like “political man, religious man, psychological man” and “the social imaginary” explained in this first part are helpful to understand our cultural moment. In part 2, Truman covers the philosophical and cultural impact of thinkers like Jean Jacque Rousseau, the three English poets Shelly, Blake, and Wordsworth, and the philosophers Marx, Nietzsche, and Darwin. All of these thinkers shifted the understanding of who man is inward, Rousseau particularly with his ideas of the “authentic self”, and all attempted in their own way to tear down various institutions like the family and the church as oppressive. In part 3, Truman explains the impact of Freud’s thinking on our culture: Freud asserts that to be human is to be a sexual creature from birth. Marcuse and others combined these ideas with the themes of oppression from Marx and Nietzsche, producing a sexual revolution that saw moral (sexual) codes as not merely outdated but oppressive to the authentic self. Truman’s book was enlightening for me, stitching together various parts of history, philosophy, and cultural analysis to make a compelling case for how we got to where we are: the dominance of the LGBTQ+ alliance and the triumph of transgender politics. He does so while remaining quite objective throughout (though his postscript adds the necessary pastoral perspective and an encouragement for the church as she moves forward in this new reality). I recommend this book particularly for pastors and teachers to make sense of the times. Tip: while reading, when you come across a name of a person or a term that Truman explains, write it out with a brief description at the back of the book. One improvement to the book would be a glossary of characters and terms. Truman has since published a simplified version of the book covering the same material in just under half the number of pages, called Strange New World (2022). – André Schutten AUGUST 20 After finishing my second time through Rebekah Merkle's Eve in Exile, and the restoration of femininity (2016, 205 pages) my copy might now have more sections highlighted than clear. I'll have to give it a longer write-up another time because there's just too much gold to unpack in a short review. The bare bones? Eve in Exile is a feminism takedown with its idea that men and women are identical, and women should be evaluated by how well they match up against the men. It is also an exploration of what it means for a woman to be both her husband's equal and his helpmeet. And it corrects the notion that freedom is found only outside the home, and it does so, not with the 1950s caricature of womanhood, but with the Proverbs 31 sort. Finally, it is a celebration of childraising. As Merkle writes: "...a woman raising her children is not only shaping the next generation, she is also shaping little humans who are going to live forever. The souls she gave birth to are immortal. Immortal. And somehow, our culture looks at a woman who treats that as if it might be an important task and says, 'It's a shame she's wasting herself. She could be doing something important – like filing paperwork for insurance claims." Merkle pairs wit with insight in a book that's so encouraging you'll want to buy extra copies to hand out. There's also a documentary version now, and while I haven't seen it, I've heard good things - you can find out more at EveInExile.com. – Jon Dykstra AUGUST 15 The first half of Steven W. Mosher's Politically Incorrect Guide to Pandemics (2022, 343 pages) is an overview of pandemics of the past – the Black Death, bubonic plague, the Spanish Flu, the Swine Flu, etc. – and the various responses to them. This history was new to me: Mosher outlines how the Roman Empire's demise was likely due to a devastating smallpox outbreak, and how the feudal system ended when the Black Death killed off so many serfs the remaining men and women gained some leverage. He shares how the Church's response to the outbreaks – believers risking death to help the sick even as doctors were fleeing – was a powerful witness to Christians' security in God. Moving forward in history, Mosher recounts how the Japanese weaponized the bubonic plague in World War II, killing tens of thousands by dropping plague-contaminated fleas and food over China. The chapter on "The Great Swine-Flu Hoax of 1976" had me consulting the Internet to see if it was actually true 45 million Americans had been vaccinated for a flu that only infected 4 people. Might Mosher's strong and obvious bias – he opposed the COVID lockdowns and mask mandates – have led him to make an utterly ridiculous claim here? But it turns out, it did happen. Some reports put it at 200 soldiers initially coming down with the flu, but others note that only 2 of these were found to have this unique new strain. Whatever the exact number, a vaccine rollout happened without an outbreak to prompt it. The second half of the book is devoted just to COVID-19, and particularly criticisms of governmental responses. Though this is recent history, it was still a shock to recall "two weeks to flatten the curve," encouragements to wear two masks, the characterization of ivermectin as "horse-dewormer," and people being prevented from worshipping even in their cars. In this second half Mosher also defends his premise that "The China Virus turned out to be the most effective weapon in history." While he provides enough evidence to show it is a reasonable premise – the Chinese have an interest in biological weapons, the Wuhan lab was involved in coronavirus research, and China lied about the virus' impact which allowed it to more easily spread to the rest of the world – I don't know that he would convince anyone not already sympathetic. – Jon Dykstra AUGUST 12 At the midpoint of my reading challenge, I read the best book on my list yet, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (1971, 272 pages). Though a type of autobiography, the book is nevertheless a page-turner. It tells the true story of a Dutch 50-year-old spinster, her sister Betsy, and her 80-year-old clockmaker father and how they came to hide several Jews from the Nazis in their home during World War II, and to coordinate the escape of dozens and dozens of others. Eventually their work is discovered, though the Jews they are hiding are not. Corrie and her sister and father are arrested and interned in a concentration camp, where both Corrie’s father and sister Betsy eventually die. What moved me most profoundly, and multiple times throughout the book, was the total and complete faith of these three in the sovereign goodness of God despite the horrific evil all around them, and also their humble service to Him by loving their Jewish neighbors, their commitment to persevere in faith and to love even their enemies, and how God sustained them through his Word and Spirit (and not a few miracles!). A recurring theme that I found particularly important is the centrality of the reading of the Bible in their lives before the Nazi occupation. While today we might dismiss the habitual readings as pietistic or legalistic, it was their familiarity with the Word of God that sustained them through their suffering and trials. The Hiding Place put my life into perspective. And if you or someone you know thinks life is too hard, that God is not being fair to you, that you are more a victim than anything else, read this book! Let Corrie tell you how she could count it all joy to suffer for the sake of the gospel. To rejoice and give thanks for a flea-infested hut in a concentration camp, to love and forgive a Nazi officer, or to share incredibly scarce food and vitamins with others, as Corrie and her sister do over and over again, is a reminder of just how radical the call to love your neighbor as yourself is, and how rewarding it can be. – André Schutten AUGUST 8 While unsuccessfully trying to track down an audio version of The Screwtape Letters read by John Cleese (sadly only available on audiotape) I came across Cleese's Creativity: a short and cheerful guide (2020, 112 pages). It was a small book, but had some really useful tips and encouragements worth sharing. Two main differences between creative architects and their less creative contemporaries were 1) creative sorts still knew how to play with, and consequently enjoy, their work for the activity it is, rather than trying simply to get 'er done, and 2) creative sorts "always deferred their decisions for as long as they were allowed" which left them more time to use any great, but late, ideas that might come up. Cleese also encourages his readers to make full use of their unconscious brain's impressive problem-solving abilities by putting in the time when you are awake, but then feeling free to sleep and see what might pop to mind in the morning. There's no big huge idea that will revolutionize your creativity, but there is some good small thoughts, and, as the subtitle says, they are cheerfully presented. – Jon Dykstra AUGUST 1 In Gladiators Arising: Blood-Bought vs. Blood Sport (2022, 138 pages) Trent Herbert begins with a look at how Christians opposed the Roman gladiator games. Whether it was Christians or slaves being forced to fight, or even willing combatants, Christians were against it, eventually helping put an end to these games because of the abuse done to these Image-bearers of God. With that point made, Hebert then draws parallels to modern-day Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), boxing, and even football. This extensively footnoted, yet still slim volume, has got lots of stats and stories about the damage these sports do. One example: "American footballers sustain a blow to the head equivalent to a severe car crash in every game." My one critique would be Herbert's inclusion of his belief that the growing popularity of MMA has some End Times implications. Other than that, no space is wasted – this is a good quick read that forcefully argues what Herbert calls a "pro-life case" that "Christians should... not be supportive of any sports that intentionally attack the image of God."  – Jon Dykstra JULY 31 This summer I tackled a modern classic Christian book that has been highly recommended to me by a few Christian friends over the years. And Knowing God, by J.I. Packer (1973, 286 pages), was, in my opinion, worthy of its high accolades. The book is theologically rich, and intellectually engaging. But if that’s all you walk away with, you’ve completely missed the point. Packer is a pastor first and he wants his Christian readers to not just know about God, but to truly know Him. And the best way to know God is to know his Word which reveals God’s character. Chapters in the book are topical reflecting their origin (it was originally a series of articles for a Christian magazine), but they build on each other, growing in the Christian a love and reverence for our awesome, triune God. I found the book’s culmination particularly beautiful. Packer makes the case for why adoption is the best paradigm or illustration for understanding God’s love for us and our response to Him (his explanation on this point also gave me a fresh and compelling way of understanding the relationship between law and grace), and his concluding chapter on the book of Romans is absolutely magnificent: it would make a riveting hour-long sermon to introduce a series on the book. I highly recommend Knowing God, and plan to re-read it within a year or two. – André Schutten JULY 28 Linnet is a five-year-old Dutch girl who, we discover, knows absolutely nothing about God. Her ignorance is so profound that when the Nazis invade, and an occupying soldier tells little Linnet about the wonderful family that "God has given" him, she wonders, Who is this God he is talking about? and Is God German? For our own children, who may take always knowing God for granted, it will be eye-opening to follow what it's like, and how wonderful it is, for someone to be introduced to God for the first time. Linnet has the same wonderings any kid might have, but her wartime experiences also have her asking deeper questions, including a child's version of "God are you really there?" Christine Farenhorst's The New Has Come (2022, 262 pages) is that rarity that will appeal to all ages: the World War II setting and charming protagonist will grab your children; moms and dads will appreciate Linnet's questions and the opportunities they present to talk about God with our kids, and grandparents will get more than a little misty-eyed at just how beautifully this tale is told. I could not recommend it more highly! – Jon Dykstra JULY 21 I love love loved Jonathan Rogers' Wilderking Trilogy, a children's fantasy series that echoes the story of David and Saul, though without ever mentioning it, and is set in a kingdom made up of sheep farmers, nobles, castles, and swamps populated by "feechie" creatures that might be men or might just be myth. It was great fun, and when I was done reading it to my daughters, we all wanted more so we were happy to learn that Rogers has also written a stand-alone set in this same universe called The Charlatan's Boy (2010, 305 pages). But as much as I enjoyed the story, my girls did not. One reviewer described it as "C.S. Lewis and Mark Twain rolled into one" and while my girls love Lewis, they aren't about Tom Sawyer-type hijinks. Twain is simply too nasty for their liking. I stopped reading it to them, but kept on myself and really quite liked it. Floyd is the title charlatan, Grady his boy, and the two of them travel from village to village trying to trick folks into believing that a mudded-up Grady is one of the fearsome and fabled feechies. But when time passes and villagers stop believing in feechies – it's been so long since anyone's seen one out in the wild – they stop paying to see feechie acts. So it's up to Floyd and Grady to make them believe once more. If this was just a tricky Twain story, I don't know that I would have liked it either, but it wraps up with a Lewis-esque moral to the story that is equal parts justice and mercy. This, then, isn't a kid's tale like Wilderking, but something intended for a slightly older crowd. For teens and up, so long as Lewis/Twain is an intriguing combo to you, you'll really enjoy it. – Jon Dykstra JULY 20 Consulting a book written by a minister of the United Church of Canada on the subject of "homosexuality and the church" may seem to be an odd choice to make. Today, the website of the United Church of Canada "affirms the value and dignity of all people and rejects any therapy or practice that labels LGBTQIA+ and Two-Spirit people as abnormal, broken, or otherwise not whole individuals" and "strongly condemns the practice of conversion therapy or any efforts that attempt to change a person’s sexual or gender identity through treatment that is hostile to a person’s identity, unethical, spiritually and psychologically damaging, and not supported by evidence." But in 1989, the UCC was only taking its first steps down the path of officially affirming sexual behavior and lifestyles that had been universally rejected by the Christian church throughout history. There were still voices within the United Church like that of Rev. Donald L. Faris, who argued strongly against allowing the "Trojan Horse" of homosexual ideology to enter into the church. Sadly, some 33 years later, such voices are no longer heard. For this reason alone, Faris's Trojan Horse: The Homosexual Ideology and the Christian Church (1989, 80 pages) is a little book that is well worth reading, if only as a cautionary tale. It serves as a warning about the speed at which serious deviations from the teaching of Scripture can overtake a denomination when its Biblical foundations are destroyed and the prevailing ideology of the surrounding culture is allowed to take the place of God's Word. However, this is not the only reason why I would recommend this book. Faris lays out solid Biblical, psychological, and factual arguments against the church's acceptance of homosexuality in the name of "social justice," "acceptance," and a skewed definition of "love." He presciently argues that this ideology is like a Trojan Horse, which, if approved, would bring a wider sexual ideology, "grounded in the self-regarding relativistic individualism which is the ideology of the liberal middle class in North America," into the church. Over the three decades that have passed since this book was published, his insight into the inevitable results of this movement have been proven true. What's more, the last chapter of the book outlines ways of helping homosexuals leave the lifestyle – ways that have now been made illegal in Canada. In the end, while Donald Faris's call to faithful obedience to God and his Word was not heeded by his own denomination, his work remains a valuable and useful resource for 21st Century Christians seeking to defend the truth in their own ecclesiastical and cultural contexts.  – Jim Witteveen JULY 14 I've been reading a three-book series, Matthew Christian Harding's The Peleg Chronicles, as a bedtime read with my daughters for months now, and we've all really enjoyed it. It's quirky Christian fiction, with a fantasy feel (though there isn't any magic) set in biblical times. I'm not normally wild about biblical fiction because I don't want to get confused between what a novelist presents and what the Bible actually says. But Harding has picked a time – the days of Peleg (Gen. 10:25) after the Tower of Babel and before Abraham – when the Bible doesn't say much, and that eliminates any chances of confusion. He depicts a post-Flood world in which the followers of Noah's God are few, dragons exist but are rare too, and a sect of Dragon Priests is gaining power. In the first, Foundlings (256 pages, 2009), we're introduced to Lord McDougal a hero who is as graceful and deadly in battle as he is awkward around ladies. This is just such a fun flaw, but it's more than just a foundation for comic gold - McDougal's social bungling might be what keeps this mightiest-of-all-warriors a humble servant of all in need. Dimwitted giants and a cowardly-lion type warrior add to the comedy. But what makes this a book worth reading is the Christian depth. I was so struck by how deep the dialogue could get – when the going gets tough, different characters struggle with doubt, and the answers offered by the followers of "Noah's God" aren't pat or simple. It's that depth that had me reading chunks to my wife; this a teen series that could also encourage adults. That said, I'll also note it could have done with one key edit: when characters praise God, or speak a prophetic word, they do it in King James language. Fine for an older guy like me, but I had to "translate" as I read it to my kids. I also wish that cover photos were more attractive because we do still judge a book by its cover. So this will be best suited for teens who have already shown an ability to tackle bigger books that require an attention span. For them, I'd give two thumbs up to Foundlings and its two sequels, Paladins (2010, 272 pages) and Loresmen (2014, 278 pages). And to offer up a taste, the author has made the first book available for free as an ebook on Amazon.com. (The author also has a fantastic picture book, only available as an e-book, called Ebenezer's Bedtime Adventure, which my kids have repeatedly begged me to read.) – Jon Dykstra JULY 10 Maria Keffler's Desist, Detrans & Detox: Getting Your Child Out of the Gender Cult (2021, 233 pages) is a book that would seem to have a very limited audience - parents of children who have been deceived into believing that the "sex they were assigned at birth" does not align with who they really are. Sadly, the number of such children has grown exponentially in recent years, which means that books like this one have become all the more necessary. Keffler is a co-founder of Partners for Ethical Care, which describes itself as a "watchdog group which works to safeguard parents' rights and children's safety in public education." Desist, Detrans & Detox is a manual for parents of children who have been tempted to transition to the opposite sex, or who have actually gone through with such a transition. The book provides much helpful information on what Keffler refers to as the "gender cult," including some history, and details of practices and techniques that are being used by those who are promoting the agenda of what another author refers to as the "gender industrial complex." Keffler, a teacher with a background in educational psychology, does write from a Christian point of view. So while I would take issue with some of her terminology (which at times echoes the jargon of secular psychology) and with some of the means that she recommends to deal with struggling children, on the whole this book offers good counsel to parents who may be unsure about what steps they should take and how they should respond in the midst of a very difficult and challenging experience. I would recommend this book to Christian parents of children who have been seduced by the gender cult, and to others who are interested in learning more about the dangers and destructiveness of this movement and how to challenge it.  – Jim Witteveen JULY 7 Every so often I'll pick up a book on writing and whenever I do, without fail, I always benefit. This time, to put that trend to the test, I decided to read Gail Carson Levine's Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly (2006, 168 pages). The author writes fiction for teens, with most of it being of the fractured fairytale or fantasy type. So...not really what I do. And despite that – or maybe because of it – I once again learned a lot of useful nuggets. The one that'll most stick with me is Levine's encouragement to not simply "show rather than tell" (that's a common bit of writing advice) but to recognize that telling has its place too. Showing draws readers in, but takes time and space to do it, so the strength of telling is that it can be a lot quicker and shorter than showing. There is then a time to show and a time to tell. – Jon Dykstra JULY 1 Dated to something like 500 BC, Sun-Tzu's The Art of War is probably the second oldest book I’ve read, exceeded only by portions of the Bible. It is a military stratagems book, with many of the outlined principles applicable to today’s “fields of combat” like business, politics, and even love. An example: “When surrounding an army, leave a passage free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” To paraphrase: someone with nothing to lose is dangerous indeed, so don’t back a person into that kind of corner. That’s both common sense, and not necessarily so common, which is the value of this ancient classic. I’d previously read a couple of different translations, but when I saw a comic version was available I had to check it out. Pete Katz’s Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: A Graphic Novel (2018, 128 pages) seems to contain all the original text. But now there are pictures, and a story arc of an old general teaching Sun Tzu to a boy, which ties everything together. That’s a fun wrinkle, and allows the general to offer a little commentary on Sun Tzu’s wisdom, making this a really accessible version. One caution would be that the pictures are occasionally a bit gory – arrows in necks, swords coming through someone’s chest – but aren’t too bad considering the topic matter. Another caution would just be the need to evaluate this ancient general’s common sense in light of the Bible.  – Jon Dykstra JUNE 30 Chances are high that you are reading this review on your phone. Perhaps you are even in the presence of other people, who are scrolling through one news feed or other on their particular mobile device. Smartphones have become a near-permanent fixture in the lives of many, a companion, a lifeline, or even an obsession. In Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015, 436 pages), Sherry Turkle explores the ways in which our ever-present electronic gadgetry has influenced our culture, often in a negative way. Turkle, a clinical psychological, spent five years researching the effects that our attachment to our electronic devices have had on the way that we relate to and interact with one another, and this book is a result of that research and what is clearly a great deal of serious consideration of the issue. She structures the book using 19th Century American poet and philosopher Henry David Thoreau's image of "three chairs" to examine how the lives of so many have been seriously impacted when they are alone, when they are interacting individually with another person, and in their relationships with broader society. Our phones leave us unable to enjoy quiet solitude, they get in the way of in-person communication with family and friends, and drastically change the way in which we relate to the world around us. Using a multitude of examples (some of which could probably have been excluded to make the work more concise), Turkle reveals what many of us already know from our own personal experience – we need to control the technology that we use, or that technology will end up controlling us. If you're at all like me, reading this book will lead to some healthy self-examination (if not serious guilt feelings) that should itself lead to deliberate consideration of the place that technology has on your life, and then to change. Silence and solitude (that is beneficial and not unbearable), genuine moments of conversation (especially in the home) in which all of the participants' attention is focused on the other parties in that interaction, and an upbuilding and positive way of relating to the broader "on-line world" are possible if we seriously and carefully consider the place of technology in our lives, and whether that technology has become our idol. I highly recommend this book as a useful tool for those who are already concerned about this issue, and also for those who aren't, but should be!  – Jim Witteveen If you’re looking for some meatier Christian fiction this summer, I recommend the novel Fatherless, by Dr. James Dobson and Kurt Bruner (2013, 448 pages). Dr. Dobson is the founder of Focus on the Family and of Family Research Council, and as such he is a natural fit to co-write a dystopian novel (the first of a trilogy) on what the future looks like if our social and political trends continue. The novel is set in 2042, and the elderly outnumber the young, leading to massive economic disruption. Euthanasia (called “transitions” in the novel) are applauded as heroic by policymakers and the public, women who have more than one child are derisively referred to “breeders,” and children with disabilities are routinely terminated in utero. Sexual liberation has allowed men to take very little responsibility, leading to mass fatherlessness. The plot to the novel is engrossing, making the book a page-turner. And what makes this novel well worth reading is how it animates important policy issues (demographics, euthanasia, selective abortion, economics, the role of the press, and more), showing the true human cost if Christians remain ignorant or apathetic around issues of public importance. – André Schutten  One question that I have been seriously considering over the past several years is, "How did we get here?" It's a question that informs many of my reading choices, as may have become obvious from the list of books that I've reviewed so far this year. How did our society get to a place in which Biblical morality has been largely rejected, issues which concern tiny minorities (such as transsexualism) have seemingly become vitally important, relationships between ethnic groups have seemed to worsen instead of improving, human life (both before birth as well as in its final stages) has been so badly devalued, certain individual "rights" have taken centre-stage at the expense of the God-given rights that were so highly valued by previous generations, and our culture has been subjected to such rapid and negative change? In 2020, Christopher Caldwell, senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, set out to answer this question. In The Age of Entitlement: America Since the Sixties (342 pages), Caldwell focuses on the effects of the civil rights legislation of 1964 as an important turning point in the history of the U.S. He examines the way in which the Civil Rights Act became a kind of "second constitution," and how it impacted not only race relations, but also relations between the sexes, economic policy, international relations, and issues such as abortion, marriage and family, crime, and drug abuse. In the final two chapters Caldwell deals with the "winners" and the "losers" in this struggle, and although writing as a conservative, and presumably a Republican, his work is not a hit piece on the Democratic Party; one of the strong points of this book is his unflinching examination of where the so-called "conservative" movement has failed to actually "conserve" much at all, and why that failure seems to be a constant in the American political landscape. While I write this review from north of the border, and this book focuses specifically on the country to the south of us, a famous quotation by former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau shows why this American focus does not at all make a book like this irrelevant for non-Americans: "Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt." In the end, these are movements that, in our shrinking world, affect us all. And while Caldwell's focus is limited, he provides some very helpful answers to the question that many of us have: "How did we get here?"  – Jim Witteveen JUNE 29 For any reader who adores C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, particularly if you love the allegorical aspects of the children’s novels, let me recommend to you Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward (2008, 400 pages). This was a fascinating (though at times academic) read. For decades, critics of the Chronicles (including J.R.R. Tolkien) have argued they are disorganized or lack coherence. Ward makes a very convincing case that the unifying theme to the seven books of the Chronicles is medieval cosmology. C. S. Lewis was always fascinated by medieval astrology, and wrote about it in his academic writings, his poetry, and his fiction (the Space Trilogy is explicit). Ward shows that each of the seven books corresponds to the seven medieval planets: Jupiter, Mars, Sol (the sun), Luna (the moon), Mercury, Venus, and Saturn. Each of these planets have characteristics and symbols which play out in each book’s plot, in various ornamental details, and in how Aslan (the Christ figure) is portrayed. I won’t give the direct connections away here, because the joy of reading about each planet’s correspondence to which book is like unwrapping seven presents. There were moments reading this where I wondered if Lewis was dabbling with syncretism but, on further consideration, I think the concern has little merit. Rather, the cosmological elements work well to highlight different aspects of reality, and different aspects of the person and work of Christ, accentuating those aspects in different ways. Having finished this book, I’m now eager to revisit the Chronicles to see it with new eyes. For those considering picking up Planet Narnia, I recommend first reading the entire Chronicles (ideally multiple times), as well as Lewis’ Space Trilogy to better appreciate this academic work. – André Schutten  JUNE 28 To find a series for kids that's actually worth recommending involves starting, and then stopping, a lot of unworthy contenders. But every now and again, you find gold, like Dawn L. Watkins' Medallion (1985, 213 pages). This will be a fun one for Grade 4/5 boys. Young Trave plans to be king one day, but in the meantime, the current king of Gadalla, his uncle, won't even let him learn to ride a horse. Trave's life takes a turn when a rider comes to warn his uncle of an impending war, and tries to recruit him as an ally against the "Dark Alliance." His uncle dismisses the warning, but allows Trave to head off with the departing rider, happy to be done with this annoying boy. But why does the rider have any interest in Trave? Because the rider turns out to be the king of the neighboring nation of Kapnos, and he knew Trave's father back when he was the fighting king of Gadalla. This King Gris is eager to help Trave become the king that the neighboring nations need him to be, so that together they can stop the Dark Alliance. And while Trave appreciates being rescued from his uncle, he doesn't like being treated like a schoolboy in need of lessons. He mistakenly believes that being a king means fighting and giving orders, rather than serving. And that makes him susceptible to the flattery of the Dark Alliance's leader, who wants Trave on his side. While the author is Christian, that's more notable in the lack of any new age or woke weirdness, rather than the presence of any spiritual dimension to the book. Boys, 9-12, will love the story, and appreciate the twenty or so great pictures, including one of the evil king riding what looks like a miniature T-rex, which is reason enough to get the book! Another highlight is the curious creature Nog, who lives under a bog, and his every line, is always spoken in rhyme. This works well as a stand-alone, but a prequel, Shield, is also quite good, even as the sequel, Arrow, is not. – Jon Dykstra JUNE 22 They say that the three most important rules of Biblical interpretation are "Context, context, and context." In The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics (2020, 141 pages), Jerry Bowyer examines the Biblical, historical, geographical and political context of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Bowyer is an economist, and this is specifically an "economic" commentary, focusing on the economic and political implications of the message of the gospels. Bowyer's thesis is that Jesus' approach to economics placed him at loggerheads with the Judean authorities, who were oppressing their Jewish brothers and sisters, exploiting the poor, and blatantly disregarding God's law. It was specifically this element of the Lord Jesus' ministry that led to his betrayal and crucifixion. Bowyer takes pains throughout the book to emphasize the fact that he is not attempting to replace the theological interpretation of the gospel story with his economic interpretation. He argues that a false dichotomy between the two kinds of interpretation can lead to a hyper-spiritualization of the gospel message, a one-sided emphasis on the "eternal truths" of the gospel that neglects the historical realities that the Lord used to bring his plan to fruition. The gospel story is rooted in history, and the atoning work of Christ is the historical outworking of God's eternal plan of salvation. Bowyer makes a very important point when he highlights the necessity of taking every part of the Biblical text seriously, including the inspired authors' choice to use particular words and include specific geographical and historical details. He seeks to avoid the kind of interpretation that seeks to discover "some vague, subjective 'main idea' of the text," a process that often leads interpreters to limit their focus to a self-defined central thought, rather than dealing with every aspect of what the text actually says. In his effort to study the text in this way, Bowyer provides the reader with helpful and often surprising insights into the economic parables, the Sermon on the Mount, the story of the Rich Young Ruler, Jesus' cleansing of the temple, as well as the overarching story of the gospels. This is not a technical commentary, and Bowyer has done his best to make his work accessible to non-specialists. Those who are looking for a deeper insight into the message of the gospels, or who may have specific questions about what the Bible has to teach us about the issues of social justice, business, and various political systems and theories will find much food for thought in The Maker Versus the Takers. – Jim Witteveen JUNE 20 The Christian social critic Os Guinness has delivered a punchy defence of liberty in his book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future, (2012, 224 pages). While the book is focused on the American context, it is applicable for Canadians too. Christians should give Guinness’ argument serious consideration. He begins by outlining a paradox: the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom. Freedom needs to be both protected by a constitution and cherished by the population. If either fail, freedom is lost. He explains the difference between “negative freedom” (freedom from government intrusion), and “positive freedom” (freedom to accomplish particular goals) and is emphatic that we need both. The core of the book is built around his golden triangle of freedom: freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith, and faith requires freedom, and freedom requires virtue, etc. While I concur with nearly all of what he writes, I did feel that the author clouds the issue around which faith in particular is needed to inculcate the type of virtue that sustains freedom. From my perspective, it’s not just any faith or religion that will produce the virtue required for freedom to flourish. Nevertheless, I do recommend the book. – André Schutten  JUNE 18 "An original and mesmerizing book." "This book amounts to a kind of key to the times we are living in." "A tour de force." "The sort of book that forever changes the way one looks at the subject." So say the reviews printed on the back cover of Joshua Mitchell's American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (2020, 255 pages). It's not unusual for the writers of back-cover blurbs to use hyperbole to promote the work that they're praising - after all, that's why they're there on the back cover! But in this case, the effusive praise is entirely warranted. This is the twentieth book that I've reviewed for RP's "52 in '22" challenge this year, which means that I have 32 to go to reach the goal that we've set for ourselves. And I have to say that one of those next 32 books will have to be truly exceptional to dislodge this book from my "Best book of the year" category. In America Awakening, Joshua Mitchell, professor of political theory at Georgetown University, makes the argument that the ascendancy of identity politics in the United States (and the West in general) is the result of a new religious movement that is supplanting Protestant Christianity as a dominant force in society. As he writes in his preface, "Americans have not lost their religion. Americans have relocated their religion to the realm of politics." Mitchell describes identity politics as a kind of Christian heresy that distorts Biblical concepts of sin, judgment, substitutionary atonement, and salvation in an attempt to achieve a twisted version of "justice" in this world. According to identity politics, an individual is either a transgressor or an innocent; the ultimate transgressor is the white heterosexual male, while the category of "innocent" is more flexible. People are defined by their identity with a homogeneous group, and their assumed level of "purity" depends on the nature of the group with which they identify. The transgressor becomes the scapegoat, the source of all ills, and the purpose of politics (which comes to encompass all of life) is to purge society of his stain. Mitchell concludes by examining two of the "other afflictions" mentioned in the book's title. "Bipolarity" is the first affliction, and Mitchell uses this word to describe a state of affairs in which the individual is at the same time "selfie man" (the centre of the world, deserving of attention and craving recognition and praise) and a faceless interchangeable member of "management society." The second affliction is addiction; while Mitchell's examples of the addictions that plague our culture are probably not what you would expect, they reveal a deep understanding of the nature of our society. In conclusion, American Awakening is a profound examination of one of the defining issues of our time, theologically and culturally astute and very well written. While it may not be an easy read, the effort required to digest everything that Mitchell has to offer will certainly pay off in the end. – Jim Witteveen JUNE 17 For anyone looking for a relatively short, and yet comprehensive, Reformed Christian articulation on the role of the civil government, I highly recommend Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government, by Joseph Boot (2022, 211 pages). The book is both a necessary critique of the government’s encroachment into areas of life where it ought not to, as well as a positive vision of what the civil government ought to be, as an entity instituted by God, under the lordship of King Jesus. I found Boot’s historical approach to the philosophies behind the expansive state helpful for understanding how we got to where we are today. He is rigourous in his defence of the absolute authority of Jesus and what that means practically for government and society. I also found his discussion about the difference between the kingdom of God and the church as institute very helpful and clarifying and, once grasped, it does away with the straw man argument from fellow Christians that too readily dismisses his thesis as “theocracy.” I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to better understand what a reformational view of the place of the state in society is. – André Schutten JUNE 14 If you've heard Neil Postman's name, it was probably in connection with his best-known (and excellent) book Amusing Ourselves to Death, published in 1985. Postman, who passed away in 2003, was known as an insightful social critic, and his work continues to be cited by Christian theologians and authors, despite the fact that Postman himself was not a Christian. Upon his death, one commentator argued that the reason for Postman's popularity among Christians (especially confessional Reformed believers) is the fact that "he knew a golden calf when he saw one." In Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (1992, 222 pages), Postman takes on one of the most influential golden calves of the modern age, technology. He begins with his outline of the historical developments that have led to our becoming a technopoly, a society in which technology is no longer a tool to be used, but a master to be served. He examines the impact of technology on medicine, on the widespread use of computers in every part of life, and also discusses what he calls 'invisible technologies" – things like language, statistics, polling, and intelligence testing – all of which have only grown in importance with the technological advances of recent decades. In his chapter on scientism, which in my view is particularly important, Postman examines the claims of the social sciences, which have themselves become another of the most influential idols of our age. Postman was not "anti-technology," and does not argue that technological advancements are inherently negative. However, he rightly concluded that modern society has not given sufficient attention to the inevitable downsides that accompany every technological development. Because of our lack of critical reflection, we are becoming the slaves of technology instead of its masters. The technopoly is an impoverished society, and will remain so until our dedication to technological progress is re-evaluated and successfully challenged. I highly recommend this book, especially for the insight it offers into forms of technology that often go unconsidered because they have become so embedded in our culture. It's an eye-opener, and well worth reading. – Jim Witteveen JUNE 9 The God Who Is There by Francis Schaeffer (1968, 226 pages) is a must-read for any Christian teacher, pastor, parent, elder, post-secondary student, entrepreneur, artist, or journalist! I have been tracking and reading about cultural developments from a Christian perspective for well over a decade and had a decent grasp on the religious-cultural problems in the West. This book just turned the bright lights on in a big way. Schaeffer explains how the ideas of philosophers, then visual artists, then musicians, and then theologians all devolved into postmodernism, falling below the "line of despair." He traces the problem back to a break in the concept of truth, that for some intellectuals there are things that require "a leap of faith" – things like purpose or morals – thus breaking any unifying sense of knowledge. His discussion on antithesis is simple and brilliant (A is A, and A is not non-A), and he works this basic theme throughout the book. His explanation of faith versus faith was also helpful: is faith a leap of belief into the irrational (the modern conception of faith) or is the value of faith dependent on the object towards which the faith is directed? Christian faith is the latter, and depends on the God who is there, the Christ in history who died upon the cross, rose from the dead in space and in time. The Christian faith is open to discussion and verification. There is much packed into this volume and I wholeheartedly recommend it. – André Schutten JUNE 8 In 2021, as Canada's federal government promised $9.2 billion in annual spending on child care programs, Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children, and Social Development, was quoted as saying: “Child care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. The past year has made it abundantly clear that we need affordable, accessible, inclusive, and high-quality child care, and we need it now. Leaders in the private, social, and labour sectors all agree that a Canada-wide early learning and child care system will drive economic growth, help women get back into the workforce, and give every child across Canada the best start in life. Together, I know we can get this done.” In his book Day Care Deception: What the Child Care Establishment Isn't Telling Us (2003, 222 pages), Brian C. Robertson explains the forces that are at work behind the decades-long push for universal, government-subsidized child care, and why this movement is so destructive to families and society in general. Robertson describes the coalition of interests that are hard at work promoting the institutionalized care of children, and what their motivation is. He argues that the impetus behind the universal day-care movement comes from corporations (which serve to benefit from having more women in the workforce), governments (which benefit politically and also financially via the taxes paid by working mothers and growth in GDP), social scientists (whose ideology devalues the importance of stay-at-home moms and the "traditional" family structure), the day-care industry, and professionals in all of these fields who are seeking to justify their own choice to subject their children to institutionalized care. Forces which emphasize economics have united with ideologues to pressure women to enter the workforce and "contract out" the care of their children, and, Robertson argues, the resulting trends have been disastrous. Day Care Deception presents a detailed, well-supported case for abandoning the "social experiment" that has brought so many mothers into the workforce at the expense of their children's well-being. While the book is somewhat repetitive and could have benefited from some judicious editing, it is a valuable resource that I wholeheartedly recommend. – Jim Witteveen JUNE 7 If you're looking for an easy, fun summer read for the campfire, beach, or cottage, let me recommend The Inimitable Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (1923, 224 pages). The book is a collection of mini-escapades centered on Bertie, a clueless aristocrat in British society, and his clever butler Jeeves. If you enjoy British humor, a clever turn of phrase, some right rummy characters, and poking playful fun at the pomposity of the upper class in early 1900s Britain, this book will have you chuckling in no time. If you need to save a penny, the benefit of reading older books is that they are in the public domain: a free version is available here: www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/59254. – André Schutten JUNE 6 In our "connected" world, we are being bombarded with more advertising than ever before. A multi-billion dollar industry uses increasingly sophisticated techniques to convince us that we desperately need any of a vast array of products or services. And those techniques work. But how do they work? Answering that question is an important part of "propaganda-proofing" ourselves and our children. Vance Packard's 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders (223 pages) is a classic investigation of the psychological techniques that the marketing industry had only recently begun to employ to impact consumer decisions. Packard explores subjects like motivational analysis and subliminal techniques that are used to sell products from soap ("The cosmetic manufacturers are not selling lanolin, they are selling hope") to political figures and their platforms. While this book is 65 years old and its examples are dated (Packard's references to cigarette advertising may confound younger readers who have never seen such a thing!), the techniques he describes and the ways in which they were used form the foundation of an industry whose influence and reach has only grown astronomically over the intervening years. Packard argues that we are being manipulated (often without our knowledge) to become cogs in the consumerist machine, and that codes of conduct should be implemented to govern the use of "depth manipulation" techniques. It is difficult to imagine how such a code of conduct could ever be developed, let alone enforced, so the onus is on us, the objects of the advertisers' work, as Packard admits. His conclusion is an apt one, and explains why I'm reviewing and recommending this old book: "We still have a strong defence available against such persuaders: we can choose not to be persuaded. In virtually all situations we still have the choice, and we cannot be too seriously manipulated if we know what is going on." It was Packard's hope that this book would contribute to the general awareness; it does, and we would do well to learn its lessons and put them into practice. – Jim Witteveen JUNE 5 I feel a little sheepish reviewing this book, but it's worth talking about. Piet Prins' Scout: The Mystery of the Abandoned Mill (1982, 127 pages) is a book for all ages. It's the sixth in a series of seven Scout books written by the Dutch author soon after World War II. It tells the story of three teen boys and their trusty canine Scout, a smart, loyal, and strong companion. In this particular story, the boys are trying to find a lost treasure, hidden from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands, in order to return the treasure to its rightful owner. But they are competing with a ruthless villain who wants the treasure for himself. What I love about reading the Scout books (I read it aloud to my eight-year-old son, who begs me each night to please, please, pretty please keep reading just one more chapter?!) is that not only are they great page-turning adventures, they are also saturated with Christian references: going to church on Sunday, praying at mealtimes, thinking about God's oversight and providence, praying to God when afraid, being ashamed for prideful actions, etc. Each of these references become an easy opportunity to pause and discuss with my son these concepts. So, I recommend this book to dads or moms who want a good book for – and good discussions with – their 6-12-year-old children. – André Schutten JUNE 4 Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove (2015, 304 pages) is a touching novel about a neighborhood curmudgeon, whose backstory is slowly revealed over the course of the book. The author skillfully flips back and forth in Ove's timeline, making the reader fall in love and sympathize with this cranky, stubborn man. The book drew out different emotions in rapid succession: I found myself on more than one occasion choking back a lump in my throat in one instant and then chuckling out loud the next. However, I wrestled with whether to recommend this book due to a major downside: there are about a half dozen instances of blasphemy in the book, as well as multiple cuss words. There is also a short (and approving) reference to a same-sex marriage at the end of the book. That said, the themes of the book are timely for our cultural moment and worthy of consideration by a Christian reader: our society's increasing problem with social isolation, suicidality, and fragmented neighborhoods and communities, as well as a bureaucratic state that pushes aside family to make life and death decisions for elderly or sick citizens (think government long-term care homes, or euthanasia), what does this look like from the perspective of a senior citizen? The examples of the various characters in this novel - especially the pregnant Iranian living next door to Ove - provide a good launching point for critical self-reflection: are we ready to do the uncomfortable but necessary work of loving our (senior and crotchety) neighbor as ourself? And can we see their love, purpose, and dignity despite their unlovable qualities? For this reason, I recommend the book to a Christian audience with the caveat that, as you will likely encounter in your neighborhoods, so you will encounter in this book objectionable language. – André Schutten MAY 25 This was so good I had to share bits of it with my wife as I worked through M.I. McAllister's Urchin of the Riding Stars (2021, 299 pages). This is an animals with swords tale, the hedgehogs, otters, moles, and squirrels all living together in the same island kingdom under the good King Brushen. But all is not well in the kingdom of Mistmantle – there are "cullings" being done to the newborn handicapped children. This is quite the somber subject for a children's book, and as the culling are considered for the elderly too, it's clear that the author is speaking to both abortion and euthanasia. The young Urchin is very much opposed, but his heroes, Captains Crispin and Padra, don't seem to be doing anything to stop it, and the third captain, Husk, seems to be enjoying it! So who are the good guys then? Who can Urchin turn to for help to save these children? It turns out some of the good guys are indeed good, but, on the other hand, some turn out to be really, really bad. This a fairytale that takes seriously the Chesterton quote about dragons: "Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon." There is evil in this book, and the might even turn off some of its target preteen to early teen audience. But it gets to be quite the rollicking adventure soon enough, full of courtly intrigue, conspiracies, and heroes being heroic. I think the author is Christian, and the God of this story is referred to as "the Heart." This spiritual element isn't huge, but it is persistent, and doesn't stray into anything weird or wacky. I know this will be a book I'll enjoy reading to my kids. An otherwise entertaining second book in this Mistmantle Chronicles series is marred by an agenda-pushing, albeit passing, mention of a female priest. The first book stands well enough on its own, so in our house I think we're going to start and stop with number one. – Jon Dykstra MAY 19 Mary Eberstadt is a former research fellow for Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and currently serves as senior research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute, a conservative Roman Catholic think tank based in Washington, D.C. In her first book, Home-Alone America: the Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes (2004, 218 pages), Eberstadt sought to answer a series of what she called "obvious, if necessarily blunt" questions: Why are millions of children being prescribed drugs to change their behaviour? Why are depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders becoming more and more common among young people? Why has childhood obesity become an epidemic in America? And what is behind the epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases among American teenagers? Issue by issue, Eberstadt explores these questions thoroughly, and the answer she provides is well-reasoned, based in common sense, despite being roundly rejected and criticized by social scientists and public intellectuals who she refers to as "separationists." Eberstadt's thesis is that there is a definite connection between decreased parental presence in children's lives and the severity of the problems that children face, problems that begin in childhood and often lead to negative repercussions throughout their lives. I very much appreciated the way in which Eberstadt honestly addresses challenges to her thesis. She examines studies done in the social sciences, deals with the argument that "correlation does not equal causation" (which says that just because absentee fathers, working mothers, daycare, and divorce are often realities in the lives of troubled children, that doesn't mean that these things actually cause the problems children face), and emphasizes that long-term studies ask the wrong questions, and therefore come to erroneous conclusions. For example, while studies of adults who spent a good part of their childhood years in daycare may show that the majority have become successful, contributing members of society, these "results" say nothing about the suffering caused by institutional care and separation from parents and other family members while that separation is actually being experienced by the child. Eberstadt presents a solid and compelling case for the vital role that parents have in the lives of their children, and for the necessity of self-sacrifice on the part of parents. While this book is now nearly twenty years old, it speaks loudly and clearly in a culture that has continued to follow the same destructive path, and is very much worth reading. – Jim Witteveen MAY 18 Having worked in the mental health field for several years prior to entering the ministry as well as having personal experience with members of my extended family who were diagnosed with mental illnesses, the subject of mental illness and psychiatry has long interested me. This interest (and a desire to explore the trends of the past century which have shaped our modern culture) recently led me to explore several of the works of American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz. Throughout his life and work in the field of psychiatry, Thomas Szasz was one of the discipline's most controversial (and outspoken) critics. His best-known work, The Myth of Mental Illness, was published in 1961, and from its publication until his death in 2012, Szasz continued to do battle with the psychiatric establishment, with limited success. While Szasz may be accused of overstating his case, and thus alienating his opponents, many of the arguments that he made throughout his career have proven to be prescient, as the scope of mental illness has grown to such an extent that nearly all of us can be described as "mentally ill" in some way. In Schizophrenia: The Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry (first published in 1976 and updated in 1988, 237 pages), Szasz returns to many of the same themes that he addressed in his earlier works: the abuses of involuntary institutionalization of people diagnosed with mental illnesses, the use of psychiatry as a means of social control, the dangers of the "therapeutic state," and the religious nature of psychiatry itself. Szasz's work is challenging and thought-provoking, and his argumentation is supremely logical. However, as a professed atheist, his most serious shortcoming is his failure to acknowledge the role that people's spiritual lives play in dealing with the mental health challenges that they face. That being said, I can only echo one of Szasz's reviewers, who put it very well when he described Szasz as "a valuable critic and agent provocateur," someone who "has much to say which requires answering." – Jim Witteveen MAY 17 On Character (1995, 234 pages) is a collection of essays written by James Q. Wilson between 1967 and 1993. The common thread that ties these essays together is the theme of character, and the important role that personal character plays in numerous public policy issues, from crime to education to business and beyond. Wilson's focus on the importance of personal character led to him being classified as a conservative, although he only reluctantly accepted that label. As he writes in his introduction, "Now I confess to being conservative, at least by the standards of contemporary academia." The essays themselves reveal that while Wilson had some "conservative" tendencies, it was only the leftward shift in the political landscape that left him in that position. Where Wilson hits the target (and where he faced his most serious opposition), is in his refusal to go along with the dominant narrative (which has only become stronger in the twenty-seven years since this book was published) that blames high rates of drug abuse, criminality, and family breakdown on social inequality, unemployment, and political oppression, without taking into account personal character and personal responsibility. Wilson's essays make for interesting and often insightful reading, particularly his influential work on "The Problem of Broken Windows," an article originally published in 1982 that led to positive policy changes in cities like New York under the leadership of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In the end, however, I can only give this book a qualified recommendation - while Wilson appeared to understand the nature of the problem, the solutions he offers are often less than satisfactory. – Jim Witteveen MAY 16 John Piper packs a lot in this slim volume: Preparing for Marriage: Help for Christian Couples (2018, 86 pages). In 6 chapters and 2 appendices, he covers headship and submission, hospitality, sex, making the most of our engagement, weddings that don't break the bank, and how our spouse should be second, though only to God. While the target audience is couples intending to marry, the first appendix includes 50+ questions that'd be of great use to a young man or woman still evaluating whether or not their beau is marriage material. Questions include: What is the meaning of headship and submission in the Bible and in our marriage? What makes you angry? What are your views of daycare for our children? Will there be one checkbook or two? Should we have a television? Would we consider adoption? How will we distinguish between punishment and discipline? Those questions would make for great discussions for the recently married too. Overall, this would be a great one for engaged couples to read together and discuss. And you can find it for free at DesiringGod.org/books. – Jon Dykstra MAY 12 Concerns with In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) include the fact that the children created in these laboratory settings are routinely killed, some because they have (or seem to have) defects, and others because the parents simply no longer want them. Many are frozen, which comes with its own harms, but also leaves them in an indeterminate state, facing eventual death. But what if a couple was willing to adopt and rescue one of these babies? This involves the implantation of the fetus in the adoptive mother’s womb, giving the child a chance to be brought to term. But Christians aware of the death-dealing nature of the IVF industry might wonder if they should have anything to do with it. Justina Van Manen and Jonathon Van Maren have written Life Under Glass: the ethics of embryo adoption (2022, 80 pages) to ease these concerns, making it clear that it is completely different to get involved in a rescue than it is to make such a rescue necessary. These children already are, and while they should never have been frozen, it is most certainly an act of God-glorifying grace to adopt these tiny orphans. – Jon Dykstra MAY 11 Reverend Kornelis Sietsma pastored a Reformed church in Amsterdam before and during World War II. In 1942, he was arrested for preaching against the lust for power, and for supporting Jews with the collection, and praying for the Dutch royal family. He died a year later, aged 46, in the Dachau concentration camp. Before the war, he wrote a treatise on the idea of office. It has recently been republished in English as The Golden Key for Life and Leaders: The Idea of Office (2019, 123 pages). It is a short, readable, and understandable book that helps Christians think through office, calling, authority and responsibility. It will likely correct some misperceptions about the office-bearers in church, but also expand the readers' understanding of the idea and role of office as a calling from God that every believer has. Because we share in Christ's anointing as prophet, priest, and king (see Lord's Day 12), every believer holds the office of believer with the corresponding duties and authority to carry out that task. But there are also other special offices: in the home (office of parent), church (minister of Word, minister of mercy, minister of the rule of Christ), civil sphere (civil magistrates), and other spheres (teachers, employers, etc.). Submission is owed to every office instituted by God, unless the office-bearer acts outside of his office and authority or compels action or non-action that makes it impossible for other office-bearers to carry out their office and calling. I found this book helpful to think through the tensions within the church during the Covid era and highly recommend it for all deacons, elders, and pastors, as well as others who want to better this concept. – André Schutten MAY 10 You may never have heard of Ignaz Semmelweis, but his story is an important one for two reasons. First of all, it is largely due to Semmelweis's medical discoveries that the rates of death in childbirth (of both mothers and their newborn children) decreased substantially in 19th-century Europe. Secondly, the story of his life, work, and death is a cautionary tale in an age in which we are constantly being warned against accepting the findings of scientists who challenge the "scientific consensus." Semmelweis was a Hungarian obstetrician whose best-known work was done in Vienna, Austria in the first half of the 19th century. At that time, a disease called puerperal fever, or "childbed fever" led to the deaths of up to 10% of new mothers who gave birth in institutional settings. The medical establishment had developed many theories about the causes of such a high mortality rate, but it was Ignaz Semmelweis who finally solved this mystery. After several years of study, he concluded that puerperal fever was being spread by the doctors themselves, as they went from dissecting cadavers in the morgue to assisting in childbirth, often without any concern for their personal cleanliness. Semmelweis argued that doctors should make every effort to ensure that both they and the environment in which the deliveries took place, should be disinfected to stop the spread of a disease that had proven to be so destructive for so many years. It may seem like common sense to us today, but at the time Semmelweis's conclusions were a novelty that ran counter to long-standing and widely-accepted theories. Thus Semmelweis's contemporaries were very difficult to convince, and his theory was rejected out of hand by the majority of his colleagues. The "scientific consensus" was wrong, and Semmelweis ended his life in a mental hospital, never having experienced the widespread acceptance of his findings. In Genius Belabored: Childbed Fever and the Tragic Life of Ignaz Semmelweis (2016, 249 pages), Theodore Obenchain tells the story of the life, work, and death of Ignaz Semmelweis. His well-researched and engaging account is at the same time fascinating and frustrating, reminding us how important a knowledge of history is to our understanding and interpretation of current events. – Jim Witteveen MAY 7 I love the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism ("What is the chief end of Man? ...to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever") but didn't know anything about the assembly that crafted it, the Larger Catechism, and the Westminster Confession of Faith. I have a Dutch Reformed heritage, whereas these were birthed by the English Reformation. That's why I was happy to discover that United Reformed pastor William Boekestein had teamed up with Heritage Reformed professor Joel R. Beeke to give us Contending for the Faith: the story of the Westminster Assembly (2022, 40 pages). It's for kids, but a great presentation for adults who want to know a little, but aren't interesting in diving all that deep. This Assembly is worth at least a dip, to get an understanding of all God wrought in the lives of kings and queens, and pastors and persecutors that resulted in these documents. The book is really well done, with wonderful pictures and clear text, but it isn't the sort that kids are going to pick up on their own. This would be best as a homeschool or institutional Christian school resource. Boekestein has also done three books, all very good, on the confessions which make up the Three Forms of Unity: The Quest for Comfort: the story of the Heidelberg Cathechism (2011, 40 pages), The Glory of Grace: the story of the Canons of Dort (2012, 40 pages), and Faithfulness under Fire: the story of Guido de Bres (2010, 40 pages), who authored the Belgic Confession. All are recommended! – Jon Dykstra MAY 2 There are a number of psalms that have been the subject of controversy in the Christian church for many years. These are the "imprecatory psalms" in which the psalmist expresses a strong desire that God's vengeance be unleashed against those who persist in doing evil. The question arises again and again: can we as Christians make words like those found in Psalm 137:9 our own in our prayers and in our worship? Can we say, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock," or is this sentiment unworthy of a New Covenant believer? In his book Crying For Justice: What the Psalms Teach Us About Mercy and Vengeance in an Age of Terrorism (2005, 199 pages), John N. Day argues that the imprecatory psalms must continue to be used by Christians today, and he explains why people like C.S. Lewis (who believed that the imprecatory psalms are "sub-Christian" expressions of a sinful desire for revenge) are wrong in rejecting them. Day deals with apparent contradictions between the Old and New Testament, examines several of what he calls "unsatisfactory solutions" to the problem, provides detailed analysis of three of the harshest imprecatory psalms (Psalms 58, 109, and 137), and concludes with a sample sermon on Psalm 83. Day's conclusion is that these controversial psalms, which can seem to be so problematic in our 21st Century Western cultural context, must continue to form an integral part of Christian worship. I highly recommend this book, especially for anyone who has struggled with the idea that these psalms should be prayed and sung by Christians today. – Jim Witteveen APRIL 29 Children of the Reformation that we are, we understand our will is in bondage to sin. But that presents a conundrum of sorts, because if we can't help but sin, then how can we be held responsible by God for our sin? C.S. Lewis once noted that the act of turning to God wasn't something he chose to do, but that he was instead, the most reluctant of converts. So, again, if only God can enable us to choose for Him, how can we be held responsible for acting against Him? Calvinists answer this by humbly holding onto two seemingly conflicting ideas: we are responsible for our sin, and yet God is sovereign over all. How can both be true? Well, as Dr. Bredenhof has put it, human beings are always "free to do what is according to their nature," though as an unregenerate creature, that will always involve sin. In his book Free Will (2012, 82 pages), atheist, and materialist Sam Harris attempts to offer a different sort of resolution. His is a godless answer, of course, and so the dilemma for him is a godless one as well: he wonders how mere chemicals in motion that we are (according to his evolutionary worldview) could have any responsibility for our actions. We are, he argues, merely the sum of our inputs, no more responsible for our output than a computer would be. He wants us to acknowledge our lack of free will so that we'll be kinder to murderers who, meat robots that they are, shouldn't be held responsible for their "bad programming." But if they shouldn't be held responsible for their actions, then why is Harris holding us responsible for our actions towards them? Whether we torture or tickle them, no condemnation would be possible, since no one bears responsibility for any actions...ever. Harris ably demonstrates that his materialist worldview doesn't allow for responsibility, so when he argues we have a responsibility to treat criminals better, he proves a different point: that materialism falls short. – Jon Dykstra APRIL 20 Over the past several years we have been hearing more and more about Klaus Schwab and his World Economic Forum (WEF). For those of us who are very concerned about his brand of globalism and the influence that the WEF is exerting throughout the world, what we've been hearing has not been reassuring. But in order to truly understand where people like Klaus Schwab really stand, it is always preferable to go to the source itself rather than relying on second-hand information and the interpretations of third parties. In 2019, Schwab and his co-author Thierry Malleret published Covid-19: The Great Reset. The Great Narrative: For a Better Future (2022, 253 pages) builds on the foundation of that previous work, and is the fruit of a series of interviews with "fifty of the world's foremost global thinkers and opinion makers." The Great Narrative, as its title suggests, presents the WEF's understanding of the state of the world, the problems that must be addressed, and the goals which the nations of the world should be working to achieve. "Narratives," Schwab (or Malleret) writes, "shape our perceptions, which in turn form our realities and end up influencing our choices and actions. They are how we find meaning in life." In a brief review it isn't possible to delve into the many aspects of the narrative that Schwab and his compatriots are promoting. But the very definition of "narrative" that they provide already says a great deal about what they are attempting to accomplish in this work. Our perceptions are shaped by narratives, the stories we use to explain our worldview. And, Schwab says, it is our perceptions which form our realities. In other words, it's all a matter of interpretation. Reality, given this definition, cannot be something absolute, unchanging, and definable. It is something that we create, not an objective state of affairs to which we must adapt ourselves. We are shapers of reality, and it is the narrative that we hold to that shapes how we live. Despite Schwab's mistaken notion about the nature of reality, he is correct in understanding the importance of the "grand narratives" that form our worldviews, and the way in which our actions find their source in our worldviews. He understands that narrative is vitally important, and thus he attempts to create a narrative that will lead people to accept his prescriptions for the government of international society and the lives of individuals. Throughout this book, whether speaking about pandemics or climate change or geopolitical issues or the place of technology in society, Schwab often makes assertions that are not backed up by evidence, but are clearly meant to shape people's thinking according to the "accepted wisdom" of this prevailing narrative. The book demands careful reading because the serious errors that Schwab commits are sometimes subtle, but have serious repercussions, especially because they have been echoed by so many on the world stage. The WEF may not have legislative power, but its "great narrative" has become the prevailing narrative, and expressions of dissent are being marginalized and even silenced in many corners. The Great Narrative attacks the true narrative, the Word of God, the only place that the true meaning of life and true wisdom can be found. In so doing, it constructs a worldview that could only lead to disastrous results if put into practice. For this reason, while there's no way I could recommend this book as a fount of legitimate wisdom, I believe that we need to familiarize ourselves with works of this type because of the influence that they have in shaping the attitudes and actions of many influential figures on the world stage. – Jim Witteveen APRIL 19 On July 29, 1994, Paul J. Hill, at one time an OPC pastor, shot an abortionist, his wife, and their bodyguard. The abortionist and the bodyguard both died. Hill had been arguing for years that such action was biblical, and had been excommunicated for making his arguments publicly. In Lone Gunners for Jesus: Letters to Paul J. Hill (1994, 47 pages), written after the shooting, Gary North responded to Hill, explaining how his actions weren't biblical or effective because: Hill was never called to be judge and jury and God doesn't endorse vigilante justice, Hill's acts only moved the public in a pro-choice direction costing more unborn lives, and while we are called to a public witness against the slaughter of the unborn, non-violent resistance - being beaten rather than being the beater - is the better witness. This slim volume is an important book to calm Christian whose love for the unborn is in danger of being misdirected, but it is also a good read for those who, whether in ignorance or a lack of compassion, don't stand up for the unborn at all. Download the e-book for free. – Jon Dykstra APRIL 18 The brilliant economist Thomas Sowell's Wealth, Poverty, and Politics: An International Perspective (2015, 320 pages - a newer and expanded version is available too), is an excellent, well researched, readable book that makes understandable the politics surrounding issues of social justice, poverty and wealth disparity. Sowell (pronounced "soul"), grew up in Harlem, New York in a very poor, black neighborhood and thus is not writing as an elitist out of touch with the reality on the streets. Yet he pushes back against the dominant narratives about race, oppression, social justice, the welfare state, and more in this book, relying on careful research of the empirical data to show that income inequality is determined by the production of wealth, and not the distribution of wealth. Furthermore, he shows just how complex the factors are that bear on wealth production, including geography, demographics, and culture. His use of historic and global examples make the book a fascinating read and he demonstrates just how much the civil government in the modern west is actually exacerbating the problems for disadvantaged groups. I recommend the book for college/university age and up, to anyone interested in politics, social justice themes, and/or economics. – André Schutten APRIL 13 C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933/2020, 255 pages) is an enjoyable allegory that loosely traces Lewis’ own path to conversion (though he insists in an afterword that it is not autobiographical). It tells the story of John, who is seeking an island he saw and is intensely longing to reach. In trying to reach the island, John has many adventures and runs into people like Mr. Enlightenment (their conversation made me chuckle), Mr. Mammon, Mother Kirk, and others. Most of the allegorical elements are easy enough to pick up on, with the result that Lewis packs an incredible philosophical and theological course into a thoroughly entertaining adventure. Even so, I probably missed some allegorical references. Perhaps I’ll read the annotated version soon? Highly recommended! – André Schutten APRIL 12 I read A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God, (1948/2020, 98 pages) in a single sitting on a Saturday afternoon. What an afternoon! It is short, sweet, and an incredibly powerful call to put aside comfortable Christianity and put God first, to pursue God with every part of you, to know God as He desires to be known. It challenged me and made me squirm at times. Yet, as each chapter ends with a prayer, it called me to lay it all before the throne. While Tozer does not come from a Reformed tradition, there was nothing in this book that caused me any concerns. On the contrary, I felt the book was an excellent wake-up call to the 21st-century, North American church. This book would be great to read aloud as a small group and pray over. – André Schutten APRIL 11 Conn Iggulden is my favorite historical fiction writer. I’ve read three four-book series by him already and am starting a fourth one. The first book of the series is called The Gates of Athens, (2021, 464 pages) and tells of the battle of Marathon (where 10,000 vastly outnumbered Athenian hoplites push off the invasion of Darius’ Persian army) and of the battle of Thermopylae (the famous 300 Spartans who hold the pass against the 300,000 Persians for three days, and the less famous but equally crucial naval battle occurring at the same time). Iggulden also paints a picture of the political dance between Themistocles, Xanthippus, and other statesmen of Athens. This book was a page-turner and difficult to put down. An added benefit is that I refreshed my ancient history lessons. A fun fact not mentioned in the book: it’s very likely that the Persian king Xerxes who led the invasion of Greece and saw the 300 Spartans was the same King who later married the Jewish Queen Esther. If so, on reading this book you will get a better appreciation of just how perilous it was for Queen Esther to approach this king with her requests. – André Schutten APRIL 8 John Taylor Gatto won multiple top teaching awards during his stint as a public teacher. But in Dumbing us Down (1992, 120 pages) he makes his case for blowing the whole system up. The book's small size is what makes him worth hearing, but this was not quite what I was expecting. Gatto features prominently in Indoctrination, a fantastic documentary on public school education, by Reformed filmmaker Colin Gunn. I thought Gatto might be Christian too, and while he identifies as Catholic, this is primarily a secular and libertarian case against institutionalized schooling (the author even seems to have some knowledge of, and dislike for, Calvinism). Public schools are a problem, he argues, for doing just what they were designed to do: create a compliant and dependent citizenry. His solution? More parental direction in their children's education, blowing up the government monopoly on education, and having students do less school overall, to create more room for them to explore their own interests. I appreciated much of what he said, but found this only a good, not a great read. – Jon Dykstra APRIL 4 Though very short (some might call it a mere pamphlet) Of AntiChrist and His Ruin (1692, 2015, 68 pages) by John Bunyan (author of the enduringly popular The Pilgrim's Progress) was a challenging read that took time to understand and digest. Bunyan describes the anti-Christ as being those forces that arise throughout history against Christ and his church and are sometimes found cloaked as Christian or as good government. The language is still in the style of 1692 which was an impediment to my reading speed. More than that, Bunyan's concept of who (or what) is the antiChrist was also challenging to me; I hadn't heard his perspective before. Something that stands out in this piece is the sheer number of scriptural references Bunyan uses throughout to make his argument. A free version of the book is available here in PDF format. – André Schutten APRIL 2 Richard Mouw's Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, 2nd edition, (2010, 187 pages) is a timely book for a church frayed after a controversial few years, and facing an increasingly hostile culture. As the title suggests, Mouw urges his Christian audience to do all we can to remain civil in all discourse, without giving up our convictions. Mouw pushes me further than I'm comfortable going, and he's probably right in doing so. That said, I do note that I strongly disagree with one anecdote in his book where he describes an abortion for a 15-year-old rape victim as "the least evil alternative" (p.52) contrary to the clear teaching in Scripture that a child should not be put to death for the sins of her father (Deut. 24:16). While Mouw's point here is to emphasize having sympathy for such a horrific and tragic situation (which I absolutely agree with), our sympathy should not be blind to what abortion actually does to its first victim. With that exception, I found the book to be a pleasant read and gave me much to think about in how I dialogue about issues I am passionate about. – André Schutten APRIL 1 Christians regularly forget that Jesus is Lord of every square inch of creation, but in her slim volume, A brief theology of periods (yes, really) (2021, 128 pages) Rachel Jones clearly gets it. She is speaking to women but shares information about periods and menstruation that will be helpful for men, and especially husbands. She touches on hormonal contraceptives and the trend to call women "people who menstruate" but the majority of the book is specifically on God's thoughts on periods, including what it says in Leviticus about a women's "uncleanliness," and how we are to take this passage today. Jones asks lots of good questions, even if she isn't able to answer all of them (Did Eve have periods in the Garden of Eden?), and is an orthodox guide on this seldom discussed area of women's life. – Jon Dykstra MARCH 29 During the presidency of Donald Trump, there was a lot of talk about the dangers of the “Deep State.” We all remember the chants of “Drain the swamp!” and promises of a grand house-cleaning that would soon take place in the U.S. government - a house-cleaning that never seemed to become a reality. Wikipedia refers to the idea that a “Deep State” exists as a “discredited conspiracy theory,” but Michael J. Glennon’s National Security and Double Government (2015, 234 pages) provides plenty of evidence for its existence, and the danger it poses to the American republic. Published in 2015 by Oxford University Press (note: before Trump, and by a reputable academic publisher), his book seeks to answer a question which is indicative of a much broader trend: Why was it that Barack Obama’s foreign policy not only did not differ from that of George W. Bush, his presidential predecessor, but actually doubled down on a number of the policies implemented under Bush’s leadership, including a sixfold increase in the number of covert drone strikes in Pakistan? Beginning with this specific question, Glennon seeks to explain why American national security policy remains constant even when one President was replaced by another, who as a candidate repeatedly, forcefully, and eloquently promised fundamental changes in that policy. His answer follows the approach of 19th Century British essayist Walter Bagehot, who described the British political system in the Victorian era as a “double government.” In the US, this double government is made up of two distinct groups, referred to by Glennon as the Madisonians (public political figures who fill positions in Congress, the Senate, and the Presidency) and the Trumanites (those who work behind the scenes in governmental organizations largely established during the presidency of Harry S Truman). It is the Trumanites who make the vast majority of the decisions when it comes to foreign policy, Glennon argues, and the Madisonians who must follow. Therefore, in the arena of foreign policy, it actually makes very little difference which political party or individual wields the apparent power; it is the hidden half of the double government which is pulling the strings. Glennon’s analysis is clear, well-written, and heavily supported by documentary evidence (the page count is inflated by over 100 pages of notes). His explanation of a phenomenon that many do not understand or cannot explain is eye-opening, as well as cause for deep concern. For anyone interested in learning why the “swamp” remains undrained until this very day, this book is required reading. – Jim Witteveen MARCH 22 I’m sure I’m not the first reviewer to describe Glenn McCarty’s The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson (2019, 327 pages) as Mark Twain-esque. This is a tale of two very different boys, living out frontier life in 1876, and equally matched as both friends and rivals. Tumbleweed Thompson is a shyster and the son of a shyster, blowing into Rattlesnake Junction as father and son peddle miracle medicine from the back of their wagon. Eugene Appleton, a good son of the town’s pastor, is in the audience, watching as the peddlers are shown up and run out. But when Tumbleweed reappears on his ownsome, he pulls Eugene into a whole summer’s worth of getting chased by smugglers, trailing train robbers, and trying to outdo each other for the attentions of the mayor’s daughter, Charlotte Scoggins, a misadventurous lass herself. It’s evident the author is Christian, though that might not be apparent to the 10–14-year-old audience this is intended for because, even as Eugene means well, he doesn’t always act well (and Tumbleweed often enough doesn’t even mean well). That mostly gets sorted out at the end, when both boys do the very best thing, acting in defense of a widow and a man falsely accused. Loads of fun! – Jon Dykstra MARCH 16 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was the Richard Dawkins of his time – one of the most prominent academic atheists of the twentieth century. Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou's Logicomix: an Epic Search for Truth (2009, 350 pages) is a graphic novel that serves as a biography of the man, as well as an account of his, and others', ultimately futile quest to use mathematics to arrive at certainty. As a child, Russell was raised by his grandparents. He was made to read the Bible, but his grandfather died early on, and his grandmother didn't seem to show him love. Then, when a tutor explained the logic and power of math, he came to reject the religion of his grandmother, seeing in math a way to live life without the need for any faith. In math, he thought, he could have certainty. But math itself is built on axioms - assumptions, that, while logical and even obvious, are unproven. So it became Russell's life's quest to prove these axioms - he wanted to give math a firm foundation. But as an old man he discovered that the quest for certainty that he had given his life to – that he had rejected God for – was unattainable. It was in 1931 that a young mathematician, Kurt Gödel proved, to the satisfaction of other mathematicians, that not everything can be proven. Logicomix is an entirely secular presentation, marred by at least one instance of God's name being taken in vain, and written at a level that would limit it to adults. But you don't need to understand all the math being discussed (I certainly didn't) to appreciate the moral of Russell's life's story: like many a rebel, he claimed his rejection of God was grounded in something valid, but we can see that even as Russell rejected God for requiring faith, he wasn't willing to reject math for the same "fault." – Jon Dykstra MARCH 15 Both my 10-year-old daughter and I enjoyed Jason Lethcoe’s No Place Like Holmes (2011, 210 pages), a steampunk detective story set in the London of the late 1800s. Our hero is Gilbert, an American boy of an unusually observant nature. Gilbert, we are told, will one day become “the world’s most secret detective.” But for now, he has been sent to live with his detective uncle, Rupert Snodgrass, just one story down from “the world’s most famous detective” Sherlock Holmes. Gilbert’s uncle is quite jealous of Holmes’ notoriety, as he too is a detective, though much less successful, and eschewing intuition in favor of detecting machines, which he himself invents. What sort of machines? All sorts: a robot butler, a metal detector, and a question-answerer that is hooked up to telegraphs lines from around the world – it’s basically a steam-powered computer with Internet. It’s wonderfully silly. The story is also wonderfully Christian: Gilbert’s love for his Lord is woven in throughout. So, for example, his uncle is not a church-goer, and quite obnoxious at the start, leaving Gilbert feeling lonely. But he knows he can ask his heavenly Father for courage. While this is a standalone story, it does have a cliffhanger lead-in for the sequel, The Future Door (2011, 210 pages), which I wouldn’t recommend. It’s a time travel adventure that ends on a sour note when an older Gilbert from the future kills the bad guy, and not in self-defense. Older Gilbert says that he used his time travel machine to explore every other option and all of them ended worse. But this is where the author failed to understand that even granting his character a form of omniscience doesn’t justify disobeying God’s clear command “Thou shall not kill.” If the author didn’t understand that, it’s very likely to go over the head of children readers too, which is a reason to give the sequel a miss. – Jon Dykstra MARCH 14 I read Wilson Rawls' novel Where the Red Fern Grows (1961/2016, 289 pages) to my eight-year-old son over the course of three weeks, and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It tells the story of a very poor boy who is determined to get a pair of coon-hunting hounds, how he achieves his goal, and the adventures he has with his dogs. While I did employ some careful censorship of the gorier details of coon hunting (for the sake of my son's maturity level), I nevertheless highly recommend the book, especially for dads to read to their eight to twelve-year-old boys. It is helpful for teaching the ethic of hard work and persistence, and the lesson that life isn’t always about happy endings, and yet being thankful for the wonderful things we have for the seasons God gives them to us. I found the references to God, Scripture, and prayer always respectful even if the theology is slightly off. Warning: If you're the emotional type, you might start crying through the second-last chapter. I had to pause a couple times to wipe away tears and swallow a persistent lump in my throat. That too, is a teaching moment. – André Schutten MARCH 9 I picked this novel up mostly because it shared a title with a non-fiction book André Schutten read earlier this year. It helped, also, that I’d read another by the author and loved it. Rule of Law (2017, 473 pages) is a legal thriller, and this time the action also includes a SEAL team storming an Arabic jail to free an imprisoned American journalist. When that mission takes a tragic turn, the fallout ends up in front of the Supreme Court. Author Randy Singer uses his fictional story to examine the real-world way in which the US government, and particularly the executive branch, has been acting as judge, jury, and executioner in placing foreign nationals on a “kill list,” and then taking them out, and those near them, via drone strikes. Singer doesn’t seem to be arguing against all drone strikes. But the title he has chosen certainly references the idea that we all need and benefit from accountability, so we all – including even the president – need to be under the law. Our leaders must not act like they are above it, as dictators do. This is well written, with a great balance of action, some romance, unexpected courtroom twists, and some realistic, subtly woven in, wrestlings with God. Singer is rapidly becoming a favorite author. – Jon Dykstra MARCH 3 When Prophecy Fails: A Social and Psychological Study of a Modern Group that Predicted the Destruction of the World (1956, 249 pages) is the story of Dorothy Martin and her small group of followers, and how their lives were impacted when her apocalyptic prophecy failed to come true. Martin believed that she had received messages from aliens revealing that a devastating natural disaster would destroy much of the world on December 21st, 1954. Through the process of automatic writing, in which the writer serves as a conduit for messengers from “beyond,” Martin had been informed that she and her group of true believers would be rescued from the cataclysm by spaceships which would deliver them to safety on another planet. Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, the authors of When Prophecy Fails, had been studying the historical results of failed prophecy when they read a newspaper story about Martin and her followers. Recognizing this as an opportunity to test their theories personally in a real-life situation, they inserted themselves into the group of “Seekers,” and chronicled events immediately leading up to December 21st as well as the disappointing aftermath of the failed prophecy. This is a very sad story from beginning to end, and the authors’ account often reads like a tragic novel and not as a sociological study. Martin herself believed fervently that she had been chosen to serve as a messenger of truth, and her followers were looking for hope and purpose in their lives. They were willing to grab hold of anything, no matter how ludicrous and self-contradictory, because they desperately wanted to believe. And when the forecast disaster failed to happen, the true believers didn’t abandon their trust in Martin and her message; instead, they searched for explanations that fit into their already-developed worldview, explained the failure away, and continued along the same path. In a world in which forecasts of impending doom, both scientific and religious, are commonplace, When Prophecy Fails helps us to understand why failed prophecies often lead to beliefs being held more strongly rather than abandoned completely. – Jim Witteveen One of the most accomplished judges in English history, Lord Tom Bingham, wrote this short but helpful book The Rule of Law (2010/2011, 213 pages). Lord Bingham explains that the book "is not addressed to lawyers… It is addressed to those who have heard references to the rule of law, who are inclined to think that it sounds like a good thing rather than a bad thing, who wonder if it may not be rather important, but who are not quite sure what it is all about and would like to make up their minds." The book opens with some interesting legal history, outlines eight aspects of the rule of law (the chapter on human rights is particularly good), before closing with some modern application to the war on terror. Some post-COVID readers may be happy to apply the warnings of this book to violations of the rule of law over the last two years but may also be appropriately challenged to rethink their position on certain government actions during the “war on terror.” An accessible read, I highly recommend this book for all lawyers, politicians, government workers, and any citizen who has used the term "rule of law" recently but is not 100% sure they know what the term really means. – André Schutten MARCH 2 Richard Pollak's The Creation of Dr. B: A Biography of Bruno Bettelheim (1997, 456 pages) is the story of a man with an invented past and fictional credentials, who wrote fabricated stories about the amazing successes of the Chicago school for mentally ill children that he took over in 1944. Along the way, he published several popular books on parenting and other subjects, worked as a university professor and magazine columnist, and influenced a generation of parents in his role as “public intellectual.” This book is a well-written and fascinating account of one man’s life, and makes for captivating reading on that basis alone. But on a deeper level, the story of “Dr. B.” reveals a great deal about how one person can fool even the “best and brightest” when he tells them what they want to hear. Bruno Bettelheim was not the only intellectual fraud who was active in 20th Century academia, so the example of his life and work, and the way in which he managed to become an important figure in the academic world, functions as a cautionary tale. Even among the “experts” of the world, things are not always as they seem. – Jim Witteveen FEBRUARY 22 I’ve recently been reading a few children’s versions of Pilgrim’s Progress. I’m not normally one for abridgments, but John Bunyan’s classic is also almost 350 years old, so the original wasn’t going to work with my daughters. I checked out the three most popular children’s editions and was pleasantly surprised with them all. The most loyal to the original was Dangerous Journey (1985, 127 pages). Editor Oliver Hunkin has carefully abridged, rather than rewritten Bunyan’s story, and done so in a way that makes it easily understandable for the teen audience it is aimed at. He’s edited out the obscure terms, and paired it with pictures that do a lot of explaining, but which are scarier and darker than my preteen listeners would have been up for. Hunkin also includes a much-abridged 16-page version of Bunyan’s sequel, about the pilgrim’s wife Christiana going on her own journey. For younger children, the most authentic version is Tyler Van Halteren’s Little Pilgrim’s Big Journey (2020, 223 pages). It has somewhat cartoonish pictures they’ll enjoy, and the principal character, Christian, is now a boy, rather than a man. I appreciated that Van Halteren’s rewrite still contains most of Bunyan’s theological challenges and lessons, though on a kid’s level. He’s also written a second book, Part II, that covers Christiana’s journey, though now instead of being the pilgrim’s wife, she is his little sister. The one I read to my children is Helen L. Taylor’s adaptation, Little Pilgrim’s Progress (1946, 336 pages). This text was the most readable of the three (Halteren’s version is very close) and also includes Christiania’s journey, though she is now Christian’s friend. A little of the theological heft was lost, but I think that’s okay, so long as kids understand that they should really check out the original when they’re older. There are many versions of Taylor’s adaptation, some with lavish pictures and others with only simple line drawings. – Jon Dykstra FEBRUARY 21 If the news has you feeling antsy, then you might be interested in a book that calmed and encouraged me. To celebrate 50 years of Canadian Reformed involvement in the mission work in Brazil, editor Harold Ludwig and the Aldergrove Brazil Mission Society, have given us God Gave the Growth (2021, 144 pages). Dozens of contributors, including past and present missionaries and all sorts of workers, take turns sharing how God greatly blessed their work. There are challenges – a different language and culture creates barriers that have to be overcome – but maybe the greatest challenge is one we pray we could experience in Canada too: such a hunger for the Reformed truth that there are more opportunities to preach and teach than can be met. As one missionary shares: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matt. 9:37-38). I really loved that there were so many contributors, as they gave very different glimpses at what God has been up to. This, then, is a book that’ll give you a boost – our God reigns and He is busy! Purchase the sturdy oversized hardcover for $30 CAN plus shipping at MissionBoardBrazil.org. – Jon Dykstra FEBRUARY 18 Christians are right to be skeptical of an environmental movement that sees Man as a problem for the planet, rather than the steward of it. But, as Gordon Wilson explains in his A Different Shade of Green (2019, 189 pages), Christians can’t simply be contrarians – we won’t arrive at the biblical position simply by being reactionary and anti-Green. Instead, our foundation has to be God’s Word, starting with the dominion mandate in Genesis 1:28, and then God’s own evaluation of His creation as is expressed a few verses later: “and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). We are to value His Creation and the creatures in it because He values it, and we are to take charge of its care because He has made us responsible for it. What Dr. Wilson has gifted us with here is a challenging and engaging Biblical Environmentalism 101 – he hasn't worked it all out for us, but he is pointing us in the right direction. For more of Wilson's creation care thoughts, be sure to check out his nature documentary series, The Riot and The Dance. – Jon Dykstra FEBRUARY 17 There are lots of layers in Randy Singer’s courtroom drama Directed Verdict (2002, 486 pages). When the Saudi religious police uncover a secret church, Charles, the American pastor, is tortured and killed, and his wife Sarah is beaten and deported on trumped-up drug charges. From there the action takes place both in an American court where lawyer Brad Carson helps Sarah bring suit against her torturer, and in Saudi Arabia, where the small church struggles to continue, their members fearful and shaken. The large law firm defending the torturer is willing to cheat, so what might their murderous client be willing to do? Sarah Reed’s team is growing to admire her courage but none of them share her Christian scruples, so what might they be willing to do behind her back to help her get justice? This was a quick read, and sure has me interested in what else Singer has written. – Jon Dykstra FEBRUARY 16 Written as a critique of Leo Tolstoy's pacifist ideology, Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin's On Resistance to Evil by Force (1925, 216 pages) provides a passionate and often insightful defense of the legitimacy of physical opposition to evil. Ilyin writes from a distinctly Russian Orthodox perspective which informs his conclusions (and leads to some of its shortcomings). From this perspective, he critiques not only the pacifism of Tolstoy and the ethics of the Roman Catholic Jesuits, but also what he calls "the most naive and elementary attempts to give the sword an absolute justification" of Martin Luther. While Luther wrote that the legitimate use of "the sword" in service to secular governments is a work done on behalf of God Himself, and that it, therefore, is absolutely righteous, Ilyin argues that the use of force in countering evil is actually an unrighteous act, but an act that must be performed by righteous men. We need, he writes, both the warrior and the monk - the warrior to do the necessary work of combating evil, and the monk to do the work of absolving the warrior of that evil. This is where Ilyin's argument goes off the rails, and does not align with Scriptural teaching. However, along the way, Ilyin argues powerfully and logically against Christian pacifism and quietism as ideologies which run counter to Biblical teaching. He makes a cogent case for the necessity of standing up against evil in this world, to the point of physical resistance, on the basis of love for God, for our neighbor, and for righteousness itself. This book was written in Russian in 1925, and is neither an easy read nor a book which I would endorse without reservation. That being said, Ilyin's overarching message is very relevant for our current situation, and provides much food for thought as we consider how and why Christians should actively combat evil in this world. – Jim Witteveen FEBRUARY 15 According to its afterword, “few books have been so widely debated, quoted, excerpted, and also used for teacher education, graduate and undergraduate courses, and in some high schools” as Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970, 219 pages). There is no denying the influence that Paulo Freire’s educational philosophy has had, not just in his native Brazil, but around the world. And as I read this book, Freire’s best-known work, my only conclusion is that this influence has been resoundingly negative. Replete with citations of such luminaries as Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro, Pedagogy of the Oppressed proudly proclaims its Marxist basis, building a system of education on a very flimsy foundation indeed. I have little good to say about this book, although I believe that Freire’s characterization of government educational systems as tools of the elite used to control and form society according to its desires is entirely accurate. His “solutions,” however, are disastrous - as the results have continued to show. While I wouldn’t recommend this book as a handbook of pedagogy, I do recommend it particularly for anyone involved in education who would like to learn more about why public and higher education has become what it is today. – Jim Witteveen FEBRUARY 9 Anne Hendershott is a rare bird - a sociologist who believes that the concept of "deviance" must be reaffirmed in order to avoid a complete societal collapse. The classification of some behaviors as "deviant" was once understood by sociologists as the means by which societies defined what is right and good, maintaining good order and harmony by stigmatizing deviant behavior. Since the 1960s, the sociological study of deviance has become a historical study only, as sociologists question why "deviance" was ever an important concept in the first place. This doesn't mean that there is no longer any such thing as behavior that is considered "deviant." But it does mean that what is now considered deviant behavior is often the exact opposite of what previous generations believed. In The Politics of Deviance (2002, 194 pages), Hendershott examines the subject of deviance by discussing the issues of pedophilia, sexual orientation, sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, mental illness, and rape. Throughout, she demonstrates how the academic and media elite have "shaped discussion and dramatically influenced public perceptions." What is needed, Hendershoot argues, is a return to the traditional categories of deviance. And this, she says, requires a moral awakening, and not merely a change of laws. Her concluding words are worth quoting: "A society that continues to redefine deviance as disease, or refuses to acknowledge and negatively sanction the deviant acts our common sense tells us are destructive, is a society that has lost the capacity to confront evil that has a capacity to dehumanize us all." While this book is now twenty years old and therefore somewhat dated, the trends that Hendershott examined in 2002 have only continued, and indeed worsened. This study remains relevant as our society continues to overturn traditional categories of deviance, and as deviance is redefined as a result of emotional appeals of advocacy groups, public intellectuals, and in the halls of academia. – Jim Witteveen Beloved philosopher Peter Kreeft’s Beyond Heaven and Hell (1982, 115 pages) is a short book patterned after a Socratic dialogue. (Kreeft has written a few of these entertaining and illuminating dialogues, a particular favorite of mine being The Unaborted Socrates). In Beyond Heaven & Hell, Kreeft imagines a conversation between President J.F. Kennedy, writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, and professor and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis, in some space immediately after their death (all three died on the same day, November 22, 1963). C.S. Lewis takes on the modern humanist in Kennedy and the Eastern pantheist in Huxley while discussing and debating the existence of hell, the place of authority, and Scripture as trustworthy, the reality of Jesus Christ and his divinity, and more. I highly recommend the book. It can be read in a single sitting on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday evening. It might be fun to read it aloud with two others, each taking a voice of the three characters. – André Schutten FEBRUARY 8 Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (1932) and Brave New World Revisited (1958) (combined edition, 2005, 340 pages) are modern classics. The former is a dystopian novel, predicting future tyranny not through violence, pain, and terror but through pleasure and technological and medical planning and psychological conditioning. The latter is a nonfiction piece in which Huxley compares modern human relations in 1958 with what he prophesied in 1932. While Huxley was not a Christian (he blended certain Christian ideas with Eastern mysticism and pantheism), some of his criticisms – though certainly not all – are spot on. Huxley's prophesy of control through pleasure – evaluated in the 21st century – is more accurate than his student George Orwell's prophesy of societal control through pain and terror in Nineteen Eighty-Four (published in 1949). The ethical/political issues surrounding IVF and surrogacy, the redefinition of the family to include up to four parents, none of whom need to be biologically related to the child (see Ontario's All Families Are Equal Act, 2016), the ubiquitous nature of pornography, the dramatic shift of divorcing procreation from sex, the state-control of vast swaths of the education system, and society's desire to prefer safety and comfort over freedom and responsibility, all suggest that Huxley was the more prescient philosopher. The book is unsettling to read but I nonetheless recommend it, not only to better understand the many cultural references to it, but also to prick your imagination to better critique the state of our society today. – André Schutten FEBRUARY 7 If you have ever struggled with concentration when needing to focus on a challenging project (writing an article or sermon, reading and understanding an intellectual problem, studying for an exam, preparing arguments for court, etc.) then Cal Newport’s Deep Work (2016, 296 pages) is a must-read. This was the second time I’d read this book in less than two years. It confirms with scientific and anecdotal evidence what I’ve grown to know for myself over the last 10 years: a person needs to have lots of dedicated, focussed time in order to do deep work. Newport defines deep work as: “work for extended periods with full concentration on a single task free from distraction” and argues it is essential to develop two core abilities: 1. the ability to quickly master hard things/ideas; and 2. the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed. Without systems and strategies in place, deep work becomes nearly impossible, making productivity, innovation and output stagnate. This book provides those strategies. I highly recommend Deep Work to any ministers, lawyers, academics, writers, and researchers who want to improve their focus and output with the caveat that this book is not written from a Christian perspective. Implement the strategies, without losing gospel focus in your life. (I hope to read What's Best Next later this year, which is also a book about productivity, but from a Christian perspective.) – André Schutten FEBRUARY 2 There are miracles all around us, but the rising sun, our pumping hearts, and babies’ wriggling toes do their things with such regularity as to seem ordinary. Not so the miracles in God’s Smuggler (1967, 288 pages). Here “Brother Andrew” (1928- ) relates one extraordinary answer to prayer after another, whether it be a needed cake delivered at the last moment by an off-duty postman, or the instant healing of Andrew’s crippled ankle. Then, in his work smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, this Dutchman came to rely on the extraordinary becoming regular. Border crossings into Communist countries were always tense, but each time Brother Andrew would ask God to “make seeing eyes blind” and God would do so. The same border guards who had just taken apart the car in front of them would simply wave them through or, if they did inspect their cargo, the guards would completely miss the Bibles crammed in everywhere. It was through these regular miracles that God used Andrew and his coworkers to deliver His Word to millions in the persecuted Church. I told my children we shouldn’t understand the many miracles Andrew experienced as evidence that he was always acting wisely and praying as he should (he acknowledges God honored some of his requests despite how he prayed). We can take it as evidence of God’s great love for his persecuted Church! – Jon Dykstra FEBRUARY 1 Lawyer and theologian John Warwick Montgomery's Human Rights & Human Dignity (1986, 319 pages) is a great introduction to the Christian foundation of modern human rights. While I would differ with Montgomery on some theological points (he's Lutheran and, at times, criticizes Calvinist thought), his book sets out a devastating critique of modern justifications for universal human rights, exposing how flimsy a foundation they have, and then proposing a transcendental foundation for universal human rights, rooting them in the doctrines of creation and redemption. I recommend the book to anyone interested in a relatively accessible, university-level Christian introduction to the topic of human rights, with the caveat that the book is a bit dated. – André Schutten One of the best-known psychological experiments in history was that of Stanley Milgram, professor of psychology at Yale University. In a series of experiments, Milgram tested hundreds of unwitting subjects for their willingness to administer electric shocks to a "victim" who answered a series of quiz questions incorrectly. Participants were told that they were participating in a study of the efficacy of punishment for learning, but the real goal of the experiment was to study how obedient people would be to authority, even when told to do things that went against their conscience. Milgram discovered that obedience to authority is deeply ingrained, and that the majority of participants would obey even when they believed they were seriously hurting someone. Obedience to Authority (1974, 253 pages) is the fruit of Milgram's research. Much of it is taken up by an explanation of the various forms that the experiments took, but it is the individual case studies that are particularly interesting and insightful. One participant was a member of a Dutch Reformed Church, and had lived through the Nazi occupation of Holland; at one point in the experiment he refused to continue when he believed that the "subject" was being hurt. Another was an Old Testament professor who also refused to obey the authority figure. When asked what he thought the most effective way of strengthening resistance to inhumane authority, he responded: "If one had as one's ultimate authority God, then it trivializes human authority." Milgram writes from an evolutionist perspective, and I would have loved to have seen more of a focus on the role that people's faith and religious presuppositions play in their obedience to authority. That being said, I recommend this book to anyone interested in deepening their understanding about obedience to authority from a psychological and sociological perspective. – Jim Witteveen JANUARY 27 Though it'd be best absorbed in the month-and-a-half that the title prescribes, I read Todd Nettleton's When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the frontlines with persecuted Christians (2021, 272 pages) in just two days. It was simply too wonderful to put down. Each of the 40 chapters is a story of a Christian who shared God's good news with those around them, come what may. They shared it because they knew that the relatives trying to silence them, the mob trying to intimidate them, or even the policemen coming to arrest them, all needed what God had already given to them. So this is a story of Christians far braver than we, but more importantly, it is the story of the good God who sustained them. In a few instances He did so by way of big miracles: Muslims with no access to the Bible are reached in their dreams, a man shot twice in the chest survives because the bullets did no major damage, police tossing a house find a lost sewing needle but miss the three large boxes of Bibles in the middle of the room. In others, the miracles were maybe less spectacular, but exactly what was needed: a man who used to beat Christians is so won over he is now willing to suffer those beatings rather than stay quiet about his Lord, a woman whose husband was murdered is able to forgive the murderers, a drug addict who turns to God is instantly freed from his addiction. This is an incredible book, and much needed here in the West where we are terrified of speaking God's good news because of what it might cost us in status, or promotions, or friendships. These persecuted Christians want us to understand that for God's people, persecution is to be expected (John 15:18-21) but it need not be feared because our God is greater than the world and what we might have to suffer is nothing compared to what we have gained in Him. – Jon Dykstra JANUARY 26 Is the Christian vs. evolutionist/naturalist/materialist debate about explaining why there is something, rather than nothing? No, says John Byl, in his brilliant apologetic work The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning (2021, 421 pages). The real question is "Who will rule: God or Man?" and in the world's attempts to usurp God, they've crafted many a worldview to try to explain things apart from Him. Dr. Byl shares the world's best godless explanations and shows, often in the proponents' own words, how their attempts are self-contradictory or simply fail to explain what they set out to explain. Naturalism says there is nothing outside of nature, and materialism that there is nothing outside matter, so how can either explain how matter came to be, or the non-material world of math and meaning? Byl also makes evident how very often these godless philosophers understand the emptiness of their best answers, and yet cling to them anyway only because they hate the alternative: bowing their knee to God. This is a book that will stretch most readers, and in some parts (Chapter 14 was a doozy!) I only got the gist of it...but what an encouraging gist it was. While the 2004 paperback edition is still available, Dr. Byl has made the 2021 revision a free ebook you can download on his blog here. – Jon Dykstra JANUARY 24 Historian-turned-lawyer-turned-fiction-writer C.J. Sansom has written an engaging historical fiction novel (my favorite genre) in Dissolution (2003, 390 pages). Set during the initial years of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries there, the story follows a hunchbacked lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, who is sent to investigate a murder in a monastery at the behest of Thomas Cromwell (the vicar general of King Henry VIII). The book is part Agatha Christie mystery, part John Grisham drama, combined with the very careful research of the best historical fiction writers. The value of the book for a Christian reader (beyond just enjoying some good fiction) is to show the messiness of the early Reformation in England. Sansom puts away any romantic ideas Reformed people might have about that era. While a corrupt church hierarchy was displaced, it was done through the brutal and corrupt tactics of a tyrant with some early English Reformers playing along. I recommend the book for mystery lovers and historical fiction fans interested in learning a bit more about the early Reformation era with the caveat that the story contains mature subject matter: murder, torture, and adultery (though thankfully not graphically described). – André Schutten My personal library is rather roughly organized according to topic, and one of the categories that I use to sort my collection is "Know Your Enemy." The books included under this heading are ones that I wouldn't recommend because I agree with their content, but rather because it's important to know first-hand what it is that we're up against. Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (1971, 196 pages) is one such book - a highly influential work that provides an insider's view of tactics that have become ubiquitous in the world of politics, and what motivates those who use them. If you've ever wondered why the political arena is so often characterized by dishonesty and pragmatism instead of by high ideals and straightforward honesty, you need look no further than Rules for Radicals, the playbook for a generation of "community organizers," activists, and politicians. Alinsky's dedication of this book to "the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom - Lucifer" reveals his starting point, and from there, as you can well imagine, it goes nowhere good. So I recommend this book, not because I agree with it or find its arguments compelling, but rather because we need to be aware of the tactics that are being used against us. For more, check out my Dan 11:32 podcast here on Alinsky's book. – Jim Witteveen JANUARY 20 John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678, 187 pages) is a series of theological debates and discussions wrapped inside an epic journey. Our hero, the Pilgrim, is setting out from “the City of Destruction” to find a home in the Good King’s “Celestial City” and the journey serves as a metaphor for the Christian life. Bunyan has many challenges and encouragements to offer, but the main one is that “the bitter must come before the sweet.” He wants readers to understand that turning to God won’t make our life easy, and might even make it much harder. But God is worth it! So, along the way, the Pilgrim has to contend with many trials including false friends, doubt, a corrupt judge and lying witnesses, depression, all sorts of temptations, and persecution. He is also strengthened along the way by “Shining ones,” faithful friends, and good counselors who show him what the Lord has done for other pilgrims. There’s loads of wisdom packed in here, which is the reason it was the English world’s most influential novel for at least a couple of centuries. Readers should take some care in finding a good version as there are many to avoid. For example, the Amazon Classic version kept the original language but omits “all the conversations and arguments concerning subjects belonging to the field of doctrine.” Most modernizations also cut out meat or sections that offend modern sensibilities. A fantastic exception is that done by C. J. Lovik, which only lightly – but effectively! – modernizes the text, and includes very helpful explanatory endnotes, with wonderful illustrations every ten pages or so. If you want to read it in the original, there is a great free version by three Johns: written by John Bunyan, introduced by John Newton (the former slave ship captain who wrote the song “Amazing Grace”), and including a biography of the author by John Piper. For those that want more, Bunyan wrote a sequel, this time describing the journey of the Pilgrim’s wife, called “Pilgrim’s Progress Part II: Christiana” – Jon Dykstra JANUARY 18 Presbyterian pastor Dane Ortlund's Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (2020, 224 pages) is a beautifully written book on God's heart for his people. A handful of people recommended this book to me and, since I received it as a Christmas gift from the ARPA Canada board, I decided to read it as my morning devotional. If you've ever struggled with the question of whether God might love you despite your sins, read this book. If you've ever thought that God's attitude toward you is one of exasperation, read this book. It literally brought me to tears (in chapter 6, quoting John Bunyan), and encouraged me many times in the past couple weeks. I highly recommend the book for personal devotions or as an evening devotion for a couple, or as a dinner-time devotional for families with older children. It will provoke discussions of wonder, amazement and praise at how great God's love for us really is. – André Schutten JANUARY 14 Written from a Christian perspective, Carol M. Swain and Christopher J. Schorr's Black Eye for America: How Critical Race Theory is Burning Down the House (2021, 152 pages) is readable and brief – just 79 pages, plus glossary, notes, appendix, and index. That makes it an insightful introduction to Critical Race Theory (CRT) going back to its roots in Marxism, specifically the cultural Marxism of Antonio Gramsci and the Frankfurt school of critical theorists. Each chapter concludes with a list of discussion questions, making it ideal for group study and discussion. Although written specifically for the American context, the book’s suggestions for engaging with and opposing CRT’s influence are easily applicable to readers in other countries as well. – Jim Witteveen JANUARY 13 Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura's We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American resistance to wartime incarceration (2021, 160 pages) is a graphic novel account of the tens of thousands of Japanese Americans who were imprisoned in the US in World War II based solely on their ethnicity. They lost their jobs, businesses, and even their homes. Despite the obvious discrimination against them, the vast majority went without protest, believing that quiet acceptance was a way of showing their patriotism. However, some did dare to protest, and We Hereby Refuse shares three of their stories. One inescapable lesson: the government is powerful, and with power comes the need to use it with great restraint. What happens when it doesn't act with restraint? We can get victims by the thousands, as happened here. Another? The need for brave individuals to challenge government abuses, in the hopes of reducing the number of victims. – Jon Dykstra JANUARY 8 Harvard professor Michael Sandel's Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (2010, 310 pages) is an excellent introduction to the major philosophical theories of justice, covering Aristotle, Mill, Kant, Rawls and others. It's an easy read: Sandel uses very interesting stories and cases to highlight how the theories of justice work and what their failings are. Here’s the caveat: the book is not written from a Christian perspective. By the time you get to the end, you’ll be wishing for one more chapter, to accurately present a distinctly Christian theory of justice, which also critiques the other theories. Sandel himself gets close by his final two chapters (his point about being part of a narrative and community is compelling) but lacks the objective, transcendent standard by which to judge human action as just or unjust. Highly recommended to anyone interested in wrestling with theories of justice and how individuals, institutions, and governments should decide what the right thing to do is in any given situation. P.S. a fun exercise to do while reading the book is ask yourself which theory of justice is being employed by the government as it makes decisions around Covid-19 and what would the other philosophers say about it. – André Schutten JANUARY 7 John McWhorter's Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America (2021, 224 pages) is by an African-American who is himself not a believer. But he makes the case for thinking about the new anti-racism (based in Critical Race Theory) as a religious system, and its supporters ("the Elect") as religious adherents. Highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about the worldviews that form the foundation of Critical Race Theory, with the caveat that the book is not written from a Christian perspective, and does contain a bit of rough language. – Jim Witteveen...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Snow Treasure

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

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

The Journey

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

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Recent Articles, RP App

Virginia Lee Burton: Queen of nostalgia

A mom reading Katy and the Big Snow to her daughters might remember her own parents reading the same book to her. Since they first came out in the 1940s, Virginia Lee Burton's books have been enjoyed by three generations. These are classics!  But there's more to the nostalgia, because even when they were brand new, they likely had a timeless feel because, rather than being about Burton's present, they were a look back, celebrating a not-so-distant past that seemed calmer, simpler, better. The idyllic yesteryear that Burton presents is just a bit before her own childhood, in the transition period between the late 19th and early 20th century. It's a curious time to pick as the wistful pinnacle of civilization. It's an age in which mechanization is already in place, so why is Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel worth celebrating, but the diesel shovels that followed are somehow threatening? But that is the pinnacle she picks, not only in Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, but Maybelle the Cable Car, and then again in The Little House. While these stories are all quiet laments at the technological advances that were revolutionizing the Western way life, they are also a hubbub of activity, with all sorts of machines at work, and so much to see on every page. This busyness is then contrasted by the happy, calm conclusion to each story. While it's fun to take a peek at the past from someone who really appreciates the age she's depicting, parents might remind their children of what the Preacher says in Ecclesiastes 7:10: "Say not 'Why were the former days better than these?' For it is not from wisdom that you ask this." To romanticize the past can sometimes be to overlook the many blessings God is showering on us right now. Recommended Her four most popular are available separately and also in a compendium together. They are wonderful! Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel 1939 / 48 pages Mike Mulligan and his beautiful red steam shovel, Mary Anne, do a lot of digging in this story: cutting canals, lowering hills, straightening curves. But as technology advances, and new electric, diesel, and gasoline shovels come along, no one wants to hire a steam shovel. But instead of sending Mary Anne to the junkyard, Mike takes her to a small town looking to dig the cellar for their new town hall. He tells them that Mary Anne can do the job in a day, or they won't have to pay him. The real fun here is not in finding out whether she gets the job done in time, but in the sweet way the story ends, with Mary Anne and Mike finding new jobs to keep them both busy. The Little House 1942 / 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, she decides to move the solid little house to a new spot, out in the country once more. Katy and the Big Snow 1943 / 40 pages A big red crawler tractor named Katy can push dirt in the summer, but when winter comes, she's the only one strong enough to push through all the snow. When a "big snow" hits, and all the plow trucks get stuck, and the snow piles up to three feet, five feet, and even more, then it's time for Katy to save the day. She clears roads for ambulances, fire trucks, the police, the mailman, the phone and electric company, and then even clears the runway for a plane that otherwise would have crashed. Katy saved the day! MayBelle the Cable Car 1952 / 52 pages Maybelle is a cable car who spends her days going up and down San Fransisco's steepest roads, and she's been doing so for decades. But now the city wants to do away with all the cable cars and replace them with big new buses. Will Maybelle be out of a job? No, because a campaign by citizens to keep the money-losing cable cars wins the day. Yay? What this presumes is that, so long as the majority says so, it's okay to use tax dollars for non-necessities of all sorts, including wistful ones. Parents might have to talk their children through this one, to ensure little ones don't walk away with that lesson. Take it or leave it Fun to read once or twice, these don't need to make the cut for personal or school library shelves. Calico, the Wonder Horse 1941 / 67 pages A peaceful Western county is disrupted by a gang of bad guys. The wonder horse Calico disguises herself with a black mud bath so that Stewy Stinker, leader of the gang, will mistake her for his horse. When he does, she gives him a wild ride to jail. He escapes and makes plans to hold up the stagecoach only to discover that it is full of presents for the town's children for Christmas Eve. Stinky starts crying because "I didn't know I was that mean… holding up Santa on Christmas Eve. I'm never going to be bad anymore." So the bad guys all decide to be good. This is a fun exciting story, but this people-are-only-bad-because-they-are-misunderstood turn at the end obscures that there is real evil in the world, fully determined to be wicked, and they must be fought and not coddled. Choo Choo 1937 / 48 pages A hard-working train engine, Choo Choo takes a bratty turn and decides she wants to go out on her own, so she runs away. After a misadventure, causing all sorts of mishaps as she flies through crossings and even leaps over an open train drawbridge, Choo Choo eventually runs out of steam and is left all on her own at the end of an abandoned line. Fortunately, her conductor, engineer, and fireman go after her, find her, and bring her home, much to Choo Choo's relief – she's learned her lesson and pledges never to run away again. Don't bother The second book below made this category on, admittedly, a bit of nitpick, but the first earned its spot, being nothing but propoganda. Life Story - At 80 pages, this is Burton's biggest book by far, and all of it a godless evolutionary account of how life on earth originated. We move through millions of years of history until, in the concluding pages set in Burton's time, there is on display, her wistful longing for a simple, country life. The Emperor's New Clothes - Burton illustrated this Hans Christian Anderson classic. As much as I like the story, what I'm looking for in an illustrated version for children is for the Emperor's nakedness to be strategically and artfully obscured. Burton almost pulls it off, but on the last page we have a naked butt, and yes, it is a cartoonish naked butt. However, she's already shown in previous pages that this nudity is unneeded. For this tittering age group, one naked butt is one too many. Conclusion If one could overdose on Virigina Lee Burton that might lead a child to romanticize the past, and maybe even take an anti-progress, almost Luddite turn. But Burton didn't write all that much, so this isn't much of a concern. Instead we can just enjoy her timeless books for the lovely look back that they are. We can dig up our own old copy, and point out all the action going on, the favorite bits that we recall from so many years ago "when your grandpappy used to read this to me." Burton at her best offers up stories that will endure at least long enough for you to read them to your grandchildren too....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews, Recent Articles, RP App

Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield

by Jonathon Van Maren 2022 / 256 pages God works in history through people, some of whom have a particularly significant impact. In Canada, one such person was Ted Byfield. Although best known as the founder and editor of Alberta Report magazine, there is much more to his life and accomplishments than that. This book is an impressive biography of Byfield, written by Jonathon Van Maren who is no stranger to readers of Reformed Perspective. The foreword is by Preston Manning, founding leader of the Reform Party of Canada. The book does a wonderful job of outlining the major events of Byfield’s life and explaining the impact he had. Newsprint in his blood Ted Byfield was born and raised in Toronto. One of his uncles, Tommy Church, was mayor of Toronto and later a Conservative MP. His father was a respected newspaper reporter, but also an alcoholic. That vice led to his parents’ divorce, which had a profoundly negative impact on young Ted. Like his father, Ted became a reporter. He moved to Winnipeg in 1952 to work for the Winnipeg Free Press where he was incredibly successful, including winning the National Newspaper Award in 1957. One of his new Winnipeg friends was a devout Anglican who eagerly evangelized him. Through reading books by major Christian apologists, especially C.S. Lewis, Byfield and his wife became committed Christians. Subsequently, he co-founded the Company of the Cross, an Anglican lay organization that would operate three private Christian schools (the St. John’s Schools in Manitoba, Alberta, and Ontario). In 1965, Byfield became something of an apologist himself. That year, legendary Canadian writer Pierre Berton released a book entitled The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment in the New Age criticizing Christianity from a secular, leftist perspective. In response, Byfield wrote a defense of historic Christianity called Just Think, Mr. Berton (A Little Harder), published by the Company of the Cross. Van Maren notes that it “easily constituted the most effective response to both liberalization within the Church and those urging liberalization from outside it.” Like Berton’s book, Byfield’s became a bestseller. The man behind that magazine In 1973, Byfield began using the St. John’s School of Alberta as a base for producing a weekly newsmagazine called the St. John’s Edmonton Report. In 1977, a Calgary edition was added and these two magazines combined to become Alberta Report in 1979. Other editions of the magazine (Western Report, BC Report) appeared later in the 1980s. It was through the magazines that Byfield had his greatest impact. The Report magazines were not overtly religious, but their fundamental purpose was to convey the news from an underlying Christian perspective. As Van Maren explains: “The Report magazines became known as championing two primary causes: Christian values and the Canadian West. The primary enemy of both could be found in the personage of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, the man responsible for decriminalizing abortion, ushering in the sexual revolution, and—at least as Ted and legions of likeminded Canadians saw it—declaring war on the West.” With the magazines as a platform, Byfield played a major role in the formation of the Reform Party of Canada in the late 1980s, which subsequently had a profound impact on Canadian politics. Looking forward to the coming Christian age Ted turned over the major duties of the magazine to his son Link, and spent the next twenty years or more creating two multi-volume history book projects. First was the 12-volume Alberta in the 20th Century series (completed in 2003), and secondly came the 12-volume The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years (completed in 2013). Needless to say, the second set was history from an explicitly pro-Christian perspective. Of course, throughout Byfield’s lifetime, conservative Christianity was losing cultural and political influence in Canada. Nevertheless, he was optimistic about the future, and, as Van Maren explains, he “remained convinced that the post-Christian era was merely a pre-Christian era, and that a new dawn might be just around the corner.” Byfield was, of course, correct to see fighting the culture wars as worthwhile despite the losses, and as his son Link put it, “Think how much worse it would be if we had not fought the fights we fought.” This book is definitely worth getting. For those interested in political and cultural matters in Canada, it is essential. For others, it can be an encouragement to see how one person’s dedication to Christianity made a profound difference in the country. Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield is published by SEARCH (Society to Explore and Record Christian History) and is available from the publisher’s website at TheChristians.com/product/PrairieLion....

Book Reviews, RP App, Teen fiction

The Revolt: a novel in Wycliffe's England

by Douglas Bond 269 pages /  2016 I was never a fan of Church history in school, but I've come to realize that this was really the textbook's fault. It was a series of dry and weary titles, with lots of dates and facts, but no story to them. So I owe a debt of thanks to Douglas Bond for reviving my interest in what is really a most important topic, and he has done so by telling great stories. Sometimes, as he has in this novel, that story-telling involves weaving in fiction among the facts, so I can just imagine someone saying, "But then you're not really learning Church history, are you? Not if lots of it is made up!" Ah yes, but I know more Church history than I once did, and it was painless! And what's more, Bond's fictionalized biographies – he's tackled Calvin, Knox, C.S. Lewis, and now Wycliffe – left me wanting to know more about these men. So after read a Bond book I've followed it up with reading non-fiction books about, or by, all of them. My old Church history textbook never inspired me to do that! In The Revolt, Bond takes on an early Reformer, John Wycliffe, who lived and died more than 100 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses. Like Luther, Wycliffe was a man very much on his own – he had followers, but not really colleagues. He was the trailblazer who decided that, contrary to what the Pope and Church have pronounced, the common people needed to hear the Bible in their own tongue. One thing he had going for himself is that he lived in a time when there were two popes at the same time, which made it easier to question the need for submission to the pope. Wycliffe doesn't actually show up until page 62, so this is more a book about the England of his time than about him. The story begins with a young scholar on the battlefields of France, where the English army is surrounded by a much larger French force. The scholar has been assigned the task of recording the events, so while everyone else has a bow, or a battle axe, or something with some sort of sharp steel end, he is armed only with his quill. It's a great beginning, and from then on we follow along with this scholar who serves as the story's narrator. Through him we meet peasants, other scholars, and finally Wycliffe himself. The Revolt is a novel most any adult would find an easy and enjoyable read. I'm not sure, though, that this would be a good book for a teenager who is only a casual reader. It is a very good story, but it's not the non-stop "thrill ride" that so many Young Adult books try to be these days. To put it another way, this is far from a heavy read, but it's also not a light read either. However, for anyone with any interest in Church history, this is an ideal way to learn more. I sure hope Douglas Bond keeps on coming up with these great fictionalized "biographies"! ...

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

95+ wordless wonders for creative kids, wanna-be readers, and reluctant ones too

If you can remember waaaay back to when you first learned to read, what probably sticks with you is that feeling of triumph. It takes a lot of work, a lot of sounding out of all those letters before a kid can turn them into words and sentences. No wonder then that when we first pull it off, kids everywhere can't wait to get home and regale mom and dad with tales of how "Pat and Matt found a cat." For that excitement to last kids will have to be introduced, not simply to reading, but to books worth reading. That's a real challenge early on because long before kids can read the simplest of sentences they've already been introduced to complex stories. Whether it's Bible readings at the dinner table, audiobooks in the car, a picture book on the couch with Grandma, or The Wilderking Trilogy read by dad at night, non-readers are already refining their literary palate years before they enter school. That's why, after that initial triumph that comes with reading those first few dozen "Pat and Matt" books all on their own, it's not unusual for a First Grader to get frustrated by just how boring these simplified stories are. That's where wordless, or near-wordless, books can be a help by serving as an encouraging supplement to their necessarily boring early readers. And the very same features that make them a help for early readers make them a go-to for struggling readers too. If a child's reading skill level just isn't there yet, we can encourage him to keep at it by feeding him stories that are way more exciting, but which deliver their content in a manner that's more accessible. And for the preschooler who desperately wants to be grown-up just like their older siblings, and do what they do, wordless books are a treat. They can read too, maybe with a little help from their dad at first, but then afterward they'll be able to read the story to Grandma all on their own! But in addition to pre-readers, early-readers, and struggling readers, there's one other pint-sized demographic that can really benefit from this genre. If you have an artistically inclined child, it can be eye-opening to them to see just how much can be said simply by the way a scene or a character is drawn. Some of these books include lushly detailed, full-color pages that a child can pour over for minutes at a time. Others pictures amount to just a few well-placed lines. What a fascinating contrast for a creative kid to explore! But the best reason to read any book? Simply because it's great. Wordless books often operate like a joke, with the bulk of the book as the mysterious setup, and the last few pages, a punchline that makes the rest of it clear. That means, they'll be at their funniest when mom or dad is along for the adventure, to help puzzle things out. You might have to show your kids the ropes, teaching them how to follow the visual cues, but once you go through it with them the first time, they'll be equipped to return to it repeatedly and enjoy it all on their own... or even "read" it to a younger sibling. Quiet and kind (17) These might make for nice bedtime or naptime reads. Ben's Dream by Chris Van Allsburg 1982 / 30 pages A boy has a geography test to study for, and falls asleep with his textbook on his lap. He then dreams of floating past the Great Wall of China, Mount Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and more. At the Sphinx, he even sees his friend, and when he wakes up, he discovers she dreamt of floating past the Sphinx too and seeing him there. Was it just a dream? While this is largely (20+ pages) wordless, it does begin with three pages of text, and then another three to end. The Boys by Jeff Newman 2010 / 40 pages Simple but brightly colored pictures make this a fun one to figure out – I had to flip back and forth through the pages a few times, so your kids will likely need you alongside to think things through. But you'll both enjoy this gentle story of a boy, newly moved to the neighborhood, and the elderly "boys" that he ends up befriending. He wanted to play baseball but couldn't get invited to play with the other kids. The elderly gents were more welcoming, so he started hanging with them...and humorously, starts acting like them, in dress and habits. These gents know a boy has to be a boy, so if he's going to follow their lead, then they are going to show him what it's like to play like a boy. It's sweet, with a happy ending for all... which for these gents means getting back to sitting on their bench and watching those other "boys" play ball. The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky by Kim Jihyun 2021 / 48 pages A boy from the city heads off with his family to visit his grandparents in the country. There he discovers the wide woods and a beautiful lake. While some tales like this descend into fantasy at this point, the fish he finds under the waters are a realistic, though wonderful sort. That makes this a nice quiet tale, but so quickly over that it'd be best to borrow rather than buy. The Farmer and the Clown (3) by Marla Frazee 2014 / 32 pages When a clown baby falls off the circus train, a long-bearded farmer takes him in. He teaches the toddler a little about farming, and the clown teaches him about clowning. When the circus train returns in search of the baby, they have to go their separate ways. But in a twist on the last page, we see the farmer won’t be lonely – a monkey has jumped off the train to visit. That sets up the sequels The Farmer and the Monkey (2020), and The Farmer and the Circus (2021) where the farmer visits the monkey and boy... and then finds the love of his life: a lady clown! Float by Daniel Miyares 2015 / 44 pages A boy crafts a paper boat out of an old newspaper and sails it in the new puddles and streams created by the still happening rainstorm. When the boat gets swept through a storm drain, he manages to track it down to the local river... but at this point it's just a soggy sheet of paper. He returns, saddened, to his home. But dad knows just how to encourage him. After getting dried off and given some hot tea, dad shows him how to make a paper airplane! (This inside front cover shows how to fold a paper boat, and the inside back cover shows how to make a good paper airplane.) The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney 2009 / 40 pages When a tiny mouse disturbs the naptime 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 mice have pledged to help the king if ever he is in trouble. But in Pinkney’s almost entirely wordless version because there are only s few squeaks, one owl screech, and a lion’s roar, what the mice have promised isn't as clear. But no worries, we can follow along well enough. Then when hunters trap the mightly 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 among us will eventually need help too.  Mr. Hulot at the Beach by David Merveille 2014 / 32 pages A man just wants to read his newspaper at the beach. But an errant beach ball, a lost shoe, and a digging dog all get in the way. Fortunately, Mr. Hulot is a laid-back sort and a good sport, treating his misfortunes as the minor matters that they are. That might be the best reason to get this one: to see a man meet frustrating circumstances calmly.  Every little kindness by Marta Bartolj 2021 / 72 pages This sweet book starts off with a sad girl who has lost her dog. But as she sets out to cover the town with posters of her pup, she does a kindness to a street musician, giving him her apple. A passerby sees this good deed and then picks up someone else’s litter to throw it away. He in turn is seen by a little boy, who does his own good deed, and so on and so forth. By book's end one of the good deeds turns out to be a man returning the girl’s lost dog. The color scheme here is fun, with muted colors, but with the do-gooders always holding or wearing an item of red to attract the young reader's eye. A bonus: it’s a special treat that story is quite long! Pip & Pup by Eugene Yelchin 2018 / 32 pages A newly hatched and curious chick pecks a sleeping pup, who doesn't appreciate the interruption and chases away the frightened chick. This doesn't seem like the best of beginnings for a friendship, but when a thunderstorm scares the pup – dogs hate thunder – the chick returns to cautiously comfort him...which is much appreciated. It's a simple sweet story. Sidewalk Flowers by Jon Arno Lawson and Sydney Smith 2015 / 30 pages On a walk through the city, a girl gathers the wildflowers she finds growing here and there in the cracks in the concrete and then gives them out as small bouquets to the people she meets. The author makes a fun use of color, starting things off black and white, with only the girl's red coat sticking out. But the yellow of the first flower she spots also shows its vibrancy. And as she gives the flowers away, each page becomes more and more colorful. The point? I think it's just that being kind, even in small ways, brings a vibrancy to the world around and the gift giver too. One caution: the first bouquet she gives out is placed atop a dead bird in the park, which might make some small ones a little sad. the surprise by Sylvia van Ommen 2003 / 24 pages A thoughtful sheep figures out how to die her own wool, then shave it off, have it turned into yarn, and then goes through all the work of sewing it into a surprise present for a good friend. Only downside to this charming book is how fast it's over. Waltz of the Snowflakes by Elly Mackay 2017 / 32 pages A girl who doesn't want to get dressed up to see the ballet gets completely won over by a performance of The Nutcracker. She's a bit sullen at the start, but it might be because she's shy, as is made clear at the ballet when she sits next to a boy she seems to know, but who she still isn't eager to talk to. However, as she awakens to the performance, she can't help but share her enthusiasm with this friendly lad. Wave by Suzy Lee 2009 / 40 pages A girl takes a bit to warm up to the ocean, but she gets there. A calm, short book, with the only downside being that it is a quick read because there isn’t all that much to see on each page - just the girl, waves, and sand. See a video of it here.  Where’s Walrus? (2) by Stephen Savage 2011 / 32 pages When Walrus escapes from the zoo, his keeper looks for him everywhere. He's hard to find because in each two-page spread, Walrus is disguising himself by trying to look like those around him: dancers, firefighters, artists, and swimmers. The disguises will be easy to see through for the pre-school to Grade 1 audience this is intended for, but he’ll still be fun to find. And while he does finally get caught, Walrus gets a happy ending. In the 2015 sequel, Where’s Walrus? And Penguin?, a friend joins him in his escape, and he gets an even happier ending, finding the walrus of his dreams. Busy adventures (11) There's a little bit of action to some of these tales, which might inspire some galavanting about the house, or perhaps doodling on the nearest sheet of white paper. The Boy and the Airplane (2) by Mark Pett 2013 / 40 pages A boy gets a toy airplane as a present and an errant throw results in the plane getting stuck on the top of a roof. We then get to see him try everything from a ladder (too short) to a lasso, to a pogo stick, to try and recover his plane. When nothing works the boy settles on a long-term strategy that, while it will require patience, is sure of success: he plants a seed and waits for it to grow into a mighty tree that will be tall enough for him to climb and recover his plane. I am not going to spoil it here by telling you the end, but it is sweet and completely satisfying. The sequel, The Girl and the Bicycle (2014), is every bit as good and ties up ends you didn’t even know were loose from the first book.  Draw the line by Kathryn Otoshi 2017 / 48 pages Two chalk-wielding boys back into each other as they're drawing on the concrete. When their two lines become entangled it starts off as great fun, but a roughhouse tug-of-war leaves them both miffed at each other, and as they both pull hard on their joint line, it ruptures into a deep chasm between them. It takes a bit of time for hot heads to cool, but the two learn that by working together, they can erase the chasm and be together once again. This could be a good one for parents to read with kids and discuss how our tempers can make small things bigger, and how God calls us to self-control. Fish by Liam Francis Walsh 2016 / 32 pages This is a weird but very fun one. A boy and his dog pass by a jogger on their way to a day of fishing. But the first thing the boy catches is the letter "F" followed by an "I" and then an "S" but when they catch a "Q" they throw it back. So what letter are they still after? An "H" of course! But it's not quite that simple, as a squadron of "B"s buzz over them, and a giant "C" threatens to eat them! Once upon a banana by Jennifer Armstrong 2013 / 48 pages When I first brought this home, I gave it a read to all three of my girls. After I was done our youngest, all of three, was off on her own "reading" the book to herself. It's been a family favorite ever since. The story is one big chase scene, with monkey owner chasing monkey, and then grocer chasing monkey owner, and then some dogs join the chase, and a skateboarding judge, and a mom, and her baby in its stroller. Oh, and there's a big garbage truck in the mix too. It's crazy and frantic with loads to look at on every page.  Journey (3) by Aaron Becker 2013 / 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.  The Hero of Little Street by Gregory Rogers 2012 / 32 pages This is a favorite because it has a Dutch flavor, and so do I. The story begins with our hero – a little boy with a Charlie Brown-esque look about him – managing to lose a trio of bullies by popping into a museum. And since he's there anyway, the boy decides to take a look. After he contemplates some modern art pictures and sculptures he comes across a room full of masterpieces, including Jan van Eyck's "Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife." While passing by the piece our hero catches the eye of Giovanni's little dog, and down the pup comes, right out of the painting!  The two of them then dance and jump and chase one another through the museum, until they come across a sheet of music lying on the ground. Where did it come from? Ah, wait! The two of them notice that it must have been dropped by that lady at the piano - that lady in Jan Vermeer's painting "Girl at Piano." So, in they jump, right into the picture, and return the music to the grateful girl. This leads to some more dancing, accompanied by the girl at her piano, before our hero and his dog head off further and deeper into this painting, opening a door and entering Little Street, Deflt in seventeenth-century Holland! To say this is an inventive book doesn't suffice! An art-loving parent could use this to introduce their children to some of the masters, and anyone of a Dutch heritage could use it to show what the Netherlands looked like three centuries ago. Young children will love it for the sheer rollicking adventure. It ends with our hero back in modern-day, but now equipped by his time-traveling artistic adventure with just the tool he needs to help him with those bullies. The Typewriter (2) by Bill Thomson 2016 / 40 pages Three kids find a typewriter in a box on a merry-go-round and discover that whatever they type on it appears. That’s good when it is “ice cream” but not so good when it is “giant crab.” After their adventure, the kids leave the typewriter behind for others to enjoy. Chalk is a very similar book, except this time the kids find a bag of chalk at the playground that they use to draw creations that come to life. Things get exciting when a boy draws a T-Rex! What’s remarkable about Thomson’s art is that is nearly photorealistic! A third book following this theme, Fossil, has a boy discover fossils of creatures, all of which then appear, and the last of which, a pterodactyl, flies off with his dog. It’s fun but begins by saying fossils show us creatures “that lived 10,000 or more years ago,” a timescale that falls just outside of the biblical reality. Animals (13) Sweet stories for kids who love animals. A ball for Daisy (2) by Chris Raschka 2011 / 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 but the little girl who owns her. Dog on a digger by Kate Prendergast 2016 / 32 pages Heavy machinery, paired up with Man's best Friend - how could any red-blooded boy resist? This begins with a Dog #1 waking his master because he's eager to head to work, sitting side by side in their excavator. For lunch the two head to a friendly food truck lass who has her own pup. It's when this Dog #2 wanders off and gets himself into a heap of trouble that brave and ingenious deeds need to be done, with a little help from some heavy machinery. This is a great one and it comes on extra heavy paper that school librarians will appreciate. Her earlier Dog on a Train (2015) is also fun, but the drawing is just a little messier, and the story a little simpler, so, unusual as it may be, the sequel is actually better than the original. Draw! by Raúl Colón 2015 / 32 pages A boy imagines himself going on an African safari to draw all the different animals, all of whom are happy to have their portraits taken...except for the rhino! Fly! by Mark Teague 2019 / 32 pages When a baby bird falls out of the nest, its mom suggests it fly back. He has some creative, alternative suggestions, told with pictured thought bubbles, on how he can get back up. Flora and the Flamingo (3) by Molly Idle 2013 / 44 pages 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 see her switch up dance partners, and Flora and the Peacocks (2016) has her dancing with two others for even more fun. The only downside to these wordless wonders 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 for the two other “Flora books” featuring an ostrich in one, and baby chicks in the other, which are board books intended for babies.)  Found. by Jeff Newman and Larry Day 2018 / 48 pages I've not before seen so much poignancy packed into wordless pages. On a rainy day, a little girl spots a lost soggy little puppy in the street below her apartment window. She races down to retrieve him and when she brings him home, she has all sorts of dog supplies at the ready. How comes she's so prepared? An observant reader will notice a "Missing" poster for a dog named Prudence posted on the bulletin board in her bedroom. And that name comes up again when she feeds the pup his chow in a bowl labeled "Prudence" – this little girl has suffered a loss, but is now finding some solace via this pup-in-need. But when she spots another "Missing" poster, this time for the little pup, it takes her just a bit to figure out the right thing to do. She'll suffer another loss, but she'll do for this boy what she wished someone would have done for her: return an owner's lost dog. That's going to have little readers a little weepy (shucks, it got me a little misty) but never fear, there is a happy ending. On the way home the girl spots a dog in the Humane Shelter window that looks in need of a friend. This is a remarkable book, even in the small details, like how it maximizes the use of every page (even the inside back and front covers). Such a delight! Owly & Wormy: Friends all aflutter! (2) by Andy Runton 2011 / 40 pages While Owly also stars in his own graphic novels (which I review below), he also teams up with his friend Wormy to tell a couple of shorter picture book tales. In this first adventure the two buddies plant flowers in hopes of attracting butterflies, but end up attracting caterpillars instead...and they are eating the flowers' leaves! Owl and Wormy are initially disappointed but befriend the caterpillars, only to have them abruptly disappear. Quite the mystery to kidlets, but parents, knowing what caterpillars turn into, will be able to anticipate the happy ending. In the 2012 follow-up Owly & Wormy: Bright lights and starry nights!, a stargazing expedition goes awry when Owly loses his telescope. But some scary-seeming, but actually friendly bats, help Owly find what once was lost and then show him how to use it. Penguin sets sail by Jessica Linn Evans 2020 / 32 pages Penguin’s penguin friends just seem to like eating fish; he wants adventure! So he sets sail and then meets new friends who love adventures too...and returning home afterward to share them with old friends. The simple story makes this one for parents and preschoolers to enjoy together, while some Grade 1 children will enjoy it too. Time Flies by Eric Rohmann 1994 / 32 pages A board flies into a museum, and fluters around the ancient dinosaur skeletons, which, for reasons unexplained, come alive. Or has the bird simply be 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! Favorite authors (19) A few authors have specialized in wordless books. Henry Cole (3) When his pet cat Spot goes out the third-story window and into the big broad city, a boy searches for him, posting “Lost” posters as he goes. This is a lot like a “Where’s Waldo?” book, but in Spot, the Cat (2016, 32 pagers) we’re trying to find the cat and his boy. And it has a happy ending. In a 2019 followup, Spot & Dot, the boy helps a girl find her lost dog, but accidentally lets his cat out. So, this time we get to search for two pets. When a young girl discovers a runaway slave hiding in her family’s barn, she has to make a decision about what to do. Will she help by keeping quiet, or will she tell the Confederate soldiers that are riding about? There’s lots of subtle detail in Unspoken: a story from the Underground Railroad (2012, 40 pages), including a couple of appearances in the sky of the Big Dipper and its North Star that slaves used to find their way to the Free North and Canada. This isn’t a complicated story, but because it is all “unspoken” it’s a good one for children to read along with their parents. You can hear the author "read" it here. Barbara Lehman (7) In Museum Trip (2006, 40 pages) a little boy on a class trip to the museum stops to tie his shoe and loses track of the others. He then discovers a small door in the wall that leads to a room with 6 small mazes on display. Next thing, we see a little version of him running through each maze, one by one. Has he actually shrunk, or is this him daydreaming and just imagining he’s running through them? Either way, readers in Grade 1 and preschool will enjoy working through each of these simple mazes. As the boy makes his way to the middle of the last maze we get a glimpse of him having a gold medal hung around his neck. Right afterward, he’s big again, and manages to track down his class. So was his maze adventure just a daydream? Well, on the final panel, as the class leaves the museum, we see the boy discover he does have a gold medal around his neck...and we see the museum director has one around his neck too! Kids who enjoy the mystery of this tale will enjoy the author’s Red (2004, 32 pages) and Red Again (2017) books which are more mysterious still. 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!”). Sticking with this mysterious theme is the secret box (2011, 48 pages) in which generation after generation of children going to the same boarding school discover the same box, with a treasure map that allows them to meet up with the children who have discovered the map before. Some wordless books are too mysterious, such that it's hard to know what on earth is going on. This almost crosses the line, but Lehman’s friendly, detailed drawings ensure this is a fun one.  Less mysterious, but lots of fun, is the author’s Trainstop (2008, 32 pages) where a girl goes on a train ride and encounters little people in need of a big friend. Another favorite is Rainstorm (2007, 32 pages) about a boy wandering through his big house all alone before finding a key that unlocks a truck. The trunk opens into a very long tunnel under his house which leads to… well, you’ll have to get the book to find out! Absolutely charming is her most recent, a fractured fairytale called Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake (2021, 64 pages). In this case, Little Red is a boy, and he and his dad, Big Red, run a bakery. For a surprise, they want to give grandma one of their cakes, but their cat would really like a piece. So off Little Red goes, asking for directions from all sorts of other fairytale characters like Jack and Jill, Miss Muffet, and Peter Piper. Meanwhile, the cat sneaks ahead and tries to disguise itself as grandma, but is found out…and offered a slice of cake. Very fun!  David Wiesner (5) Flotsam (2006, 40 pages) shows us what happens when a boy discovers an old-style underwater camera washed up on the beach and then brings the film in to be developed. There he discovers pictures, seemingly taken by underwater creatures themselves. The world they live in when we aren’t looking is 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 guppies. 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 who is, in turn, holding a picture of a girl. A peek through a magnifying glass shows this goes deeper still, and further back in time. The boy’s microscope reveals more still. This is inventive and fun, with the only caution being that the young target audience may have to be informed that though the photos look quite realistic, this is fantasy, not fact. A little boy falls asleep and we get to come along to his dream in Free Fall (1988, 32 pages). As dreams often do, one scene streams 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 best read slowly. When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve Got It!” (2018, 32 pages) which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. In Sector 7 (1999, 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. The only words we read in Wiesner's Tuesday (1991, 32 pages) tell us the time, and that it is indeed 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. Mercer Mayer (4) Mayer wrote a cute series of 6 small books that continue a story from one to the next. In a boy, a dog and a frog (1967, 32 pages) a little boy and his dog discover a frog, then briefly lose it in frog, where are you? (1969). Frog stars in frog on his own (1973) though his friends do show up in time to help him escape from a cat’s clutches. The frog gets jealous when a new frog shows up in one frog too many (1975). There are two more in the series, but the “friend” in a boy, a dog, a frog, and a friend is a turtle that at first seems set on drowning the dog and then seems to get drowned by the dog, before reviving and everyone becoming friends. Not so fun. And in frog goes to dinner, the frog makes a surprise appearance at the family’s restaurant outing causing a ruckus, which is fine, but the book’s conclusion with child and pets laughing about the trouble they caused is off-putting. One is enough (4) Sequels don't always work. So while these are all quite good, there's a reason, in each case, not to track down the next in the series.  Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day 1985 / 40 pages This is not technically wordless, as, in addition to the title, there are 9 other words. But it's on this list because the bulk of the book is the dog Carl silently babysitting his charge. The story is a bit bizarre, with mom leaving her baby in a rottweiler’s charge, But aside from letting baby have a trip down the laundry chute, and a short swim in the aquarium, Carl does turn out to be a decent babysitter. Shucks, he even manages to give the baby a bath! There are many, many sequels, but they all lack the originality of the first. Field trip to the ocean deep by John Hare 2020 / 40 pages A child on a class field trip to the ocean floor gets separated from the group when he goes off to see a sunken pirate. While the class's submarine searches for him, he gets to meet ocean floor animals, share his photos with them, and meet what might be a plesiosaurus who poses for him. A fun, quirky, bright, wordless adventure.  There is a sequel, Field Trip to the Moon, which swaps out grey moonlings for the sea creatures, and a girl with crayons for the original’s boy with a camera. The gray aliens love the crayons, leaving the girl with only the gray crayon in her pack. But that’s okay - she can still draw them! Aliens are an outgrowth of evolutionary theory that says life happening by accident is so easily done that “they” must be out there, so I like the first better than the sequel. That said, the second is more a celebration of crayons than aliens. A third, Field Trip to Volcano Island, doesn't live up to the two that preceded it. The Adventures of Polo by Régis Faller 2002 / 80 pages A little dog living on a small island begins his adventure by tightrope walking on a line attached to his beach. It takes him across the water, then up into the sky, and finally sliding for a soft landing onto a fluffy white cloud. The opening pages give you a good idea of what’s to come with the dog Polo traveling via cloud, boat, air bubble, airplane, tree elevator, balloons, submarine, iceberg, and finally a rocketship mushroom. Along the way, he meets all kinds of friends including some happy face moonlings. It’s a stress-free, busy adventure that children, particularly those in Grade 2 and under, will love. There is a sequel, Polo: The Runaway Book, but the free-form adventure borders on chaotic randomness so in this case, one is fun, and two might be too many.   Pancakes for breakfast by Tomie dePaola 1978 / 32 pages A woman sets out to make pancakes only to discover she is short of eggs. While that is easily remedied – just a quick trip to the henhouse – it’s quite the delay when she finds out she is also short of butter. Finally, she discovers she is short of syrup! And when she heads out to get that, she returns only to discover her pets have gotten into everything. But don’t worry, there is a happy ending!. Charming cartoonish pictures make this a book kids will love to read repeatedly. dePaola has another wordless book, but The Hunter and the Animals strikes me as an anti-hunting book so I don't recommend it. Noah's Ark (2) Most Bible storybooks are problematic in that they so often mangle the biblical text. What I appreciate about both accounts here is that, because they are wordless, they actually require that you go to the Bible to read the original account. So it is not meant to replace Bible reading, but is instead meant to spur further thinking on God’s Word. Both can also serve as a corrective to the common misrepresentation of the Ark being so tiny that the giraffes had to stick their necks out the windows. Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier 1977 / 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. Noah by Mark Ludy 60 pages / 2014 Mark Ludy's wordless account of Noah's life will fascinate young and old. There's so much to see on every page, and the wordless nature of it invites parent and child to discuss all that's going on. Noah's wife is shown here as a lighter colored black, while Noah himself is maybe Grecian, Roman, or perhaps Sicilian. What both most certainly are not – and what they most probably were not – is a British or Scandanavian sort of white. That might bring questions for the many a child and adult who, having grown up with picture Bibles that have a white Adam and Eve, and a white Jesus too, have presumed Noah was white as well. But it is more likely that Adam, Eve, and maybe many of the generations that followed had some sort of middle brown skin, as that genetic coding can contain within it the possibility of both darker and lighter skin in the generations that follow. Another corrective: while evolutionary theory portrays Man as being much simpler back in history, the Bible details some big advances being made from one generation to the next (Genesis 4:20-22). They were no primitive dummies so it is helpful to see Noah shown as living in a fairly advanced level of industry and technology. They aren't in a rocket age, but they also aren't living in caves either. Finally, we also get a good idea of the sheer magnitude of the Ark, correcting the silly bathtub toy picture some might have stuck in their heads. This is not a book that we shouldn't ever let overshadow the biblical account, but when we put it in its proper place – like that of a commentary that helps us reflect on what Genesis 6-9 is actually saying – then it can be a wonderful aid. I will offer a couple of critiques: while there's a dinosaur and some mammoths to be seen working on the ark's construction, neither can be found in it. Also, while animals two by two can be seen making their way to the ark, there don't seem to be any groups of 7 (Genesis 7:2). Of course, we don't see every animal arrive, so maybe we just missed those, and they'll be found in any expanded future edition of the book. Comics/graphic novels (12) The biggest fault with wordless books is they are so quickly done. But, thankfully, some of these graphic novels are huge! Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer (5) by Andy Runton 2004 / 160 pages This is two stories in one, and at about 80 pages each, they have room for some real fun. In the first, we get introduced to Owly, who, as you may have guessed, is an owl. The forest creatures are afraid of him because, well, he's an owl, and they know that typically owls eat creatures like them. But not Owly. He's a kinder gentler owl, and all he wants to do is feed his fellow birds seeds. Sadly, no one trusts him, and Owly is all alone... until the night of the big storm! Then Owly finds a worm, half-drowned, and nurses it back to health. Worm, realizing he hadn't been eaten, trusts and befriends Owly, which is the start of something beautiful. It's never really explained what Owly does eat, but we can be certain that it isn't cute little worms! In the second story, Owly and Worm meet a couple of hummingbirds and have a great time until the little speedsters have to head south for the winter. But don't worry, they'll be back come Spring! It'd be more accurate to call these "talkless" rather than "wordless" because, even as the dialogue between Owly and his worm friend is limited to symbols and punctuation marks – a question mark when one of them is puzzled and an exclamation mark when they are excited – there's the occasional shop sign or even a whole encyclopedia page entry on hummingbirds that does require the reader to be able to actually read. If you're considering getting this for your school library, you'll be interested to know there are two editions of this story, the first in black and white with this symbol-based dialogue, and the second, now titled simply Owly: The Way Home (2020) that is in full-color and adds in a minimal bit of verbiage between the characters. While I really like the original near-wordless version, it was sometimes a bit hard to decipher what Owly and his pal were saying to each other, so the second editions are probably the best way to go. Everything in this series seems to be gentle and kind including Just a Little Blue (1st edition 2005 /2nd edition 2020, 130 pages), Flying Lessons (2005/2021, 144 pages), A Time To Be Brave (2007/2022, 132 pages), and Tiny Tales (2008, 172 pages). South by Patrick McDonnell 2008 / 42 pages South is by the creator of the comic strip Mutts, Patrick McDonnell. He imports one of the strip's characters into this comic-like book, Mooch the cat. Now cats might not seem all that sympathetic to birds, but when Mooch comes upon a poor cute little bird who, we see, has been left behind by his flock when they headed south, Mooch lends a paw. Mooch really is a stand-up sort of cat, so he takes the bird under his wing (so to say) and the two of them set out to reunite this lost little one with his family. Since cats can't fly, the journey takes place on foot. Soon enough bird is united with his flock, and it comes time for Mooch and the bird to say their goodbyes. It was at this point that my four-year-old daughter was a bit overcome - goodbyes are always hard! But I reassured her that Mooch and bird would see each other again when Winter turned to Spring. Kunoichi Bunny by Sara Cassidy and Brayden Sato 2022 / 32 pages When dad takes his little girl Saya out in her stroller, she brings her "ninja-bunny" Kunoichi along, and it is a very good thing she does. The sharp-eyed Saya spots two cats fighting, and puts an end to their dispute with a well aimed fling of her bunny. After dad retrieves Kuniochi, they board a bus, where Saya saves the day again. A distracted mom lets go of her stroller only to have it pitch towards the bus stairs. Saya flings Kuniochi in the way, so the stroller comes to a safe stop. As they continue on their stroll, Saya and Kunoichi rescue a baby duck and a little boy, and brighten the day of a sad grandmotherly lady. This busy day ends with Kuniochi getting a much need wash and dry, so she can join Saya in her nice clean bed. This is a sweet story that kids will enjoy reading multiple times. It Goes Without Saying: Peanuts at its Silent Best by Charles Schultz 2005 / 160 pages Over 50 years Charles Schults sprinkled Peanuts with a liberal dose of “pantomime” strips. This has been a fun one for my kids to dip into, enjoying pages at a time, but it isn’t really the sort of book you’d read front to back. As clever as these wordless strips are, 160 pages is too much of a good thing at one go. If your kids like this, they might also enjoy Garfield Left Speechless. It doesn’t have the same charm – Garfield is sometimes meanspirited in a way that Snoopy never is – but it has some of the same slapstick creativity. Jim Curious: A Voyage to the Heart of the Sea (2) by Matthias Picard 2014 / 52 pages This is very, very fun. Our hero, Jim Curious, emerges from his house equipped in a deep-sea diving suit, and as he slides into the sea the pictures transform – now everything is 3D! This is a large-format book, more than a foot tall, and the author makes full use of the giant pages to give us so much to see and explore. The story is comprised of Jim Curious exploring, and us just marveling at all there is to see. He passes by a sunken pirate ship, World War II fighter, and grocery cart, then floats right up to a giant whale, and, finally, discovers the ruins of an underwater city. Here the adventure takes a surreal twist as Jim finds a door in the bottom of the sea. As he opens it, where does it lead but back to his own house – somehow this is his own front door! But this time, when he walks through and emerges once again from his little house, things have gone all topsy turvy. The air is now where the sea had previously been, and sea is where the air had been – whales and fish and octopi are swimming past the windows of his house! It is a funny ending to this gorgeous visual feast. The only downside to the book is that it does require 3D glasses (two pairs are provided) and also has one double foldout section, where the pages fold out from the middle. Jim Curious is clearly intended for young readers but the glasses and the double foldout are just not the sort of thing young children will do well with: the foldouts are going to get torn or crumpled and the glasses will be broken or lost. That means that, despite the book being wordless, it still needs to be read with mom or dad present. There is a sequel, just as surreal, and also 3D, which kids will also enjoy: Jim Curious and the Jungle Journey (2021). The Arrival by Shaun Tan 2007 / 128 pages I am an immigrant of sorts, having moved across the border to the US, and while it was easy enough to adapt it did give me a small bit of insight into what my parents and grandparents must have experienced when they moved from the Netherlands to Canada decades ago. While I didn't have to learn a new language, my children are going to learn an entirely different history. They say "zee," not "zed." And almost everyone I know seems to have a gun in their home. Small differences. My parents had to deal with much bigger ones, and for their parents it was stranger still. It was hard to ask for help because they didn't know the language. They needed help because things were done differently here. Fortunately, they weren't the first – others from the "old country" had come before, so there was some help to be had. This may be an overly long introduction to a book that has no words. To cut to the chase, Shaun Tan's graphic novel may be the very best possible way to share the immigrant experience with the second and third generations. It tells the story of a father who leaves his country, his wife, and his daughter, to head overseas to find a better place for them all. It is a very strange world that he finds. One of the first things we notice is that even the birds look different. In fact, the reader will notice that these birds don't look like any birds anyone has ever seen. It only gets stranger in the pages that follow: the man encounters a mystifying immigration process, and documents that are written in a language that doesn't look like any that the reader will know. The buildings, the food, the transportation - there is a uniqueness to it all. This new country looks like no real country on earth. So what is going on here? The first time I read this graphic novel I didn't understand what was happening and stopped reading about halfway through. This time around a helpful niece alerted me to the fact that this was about the immigrant experience, so what the artist was doing, by making everything just slightly peculiar, was creating a world where the reader would feel the same sort of discomfort and confusion that a new immigrant would feel upon arrival. That little insight was a big help, and turned this from a mystifying, even frustrating story, to an absolutely brilliant one. I will admit to being a bit slow on the uptake here, as the title, The Arrival, should have provided me the only clue I'd have needed. But in my defense, Shaun Tan's creation is utterly original so I have not ever read anything like it. We follow the father as he sets out to find a job, finds an apartment, tries to get the coffee machine (if that's what it was) to work, and tries to figure out where to find food and what sort of food he likes. Along the way he meets several helpful people, including people who had immigrated years before, and were happy to help someone newly arrived. So the book is, on the one hand, about the immigrant experience, and on the other is a story about the impact we can have in helping strangers. The young father would have been lost but for the kindness of strangers. This is a large book, both in the number of pages, and in the size of the pages – 128 pages and about a foot tall – with scores of details to discover on every page. So even though it is wordless, this is a good long read. I would recommend this to immigrant grandparents as a gift they could give to the grandchildren, and one they might want to "read" with them. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves art - this is a beautiful book.  Snow White by Matt Phelan 2016 / 216 pages This is Snow White inventively reimagined as a 1920s Depression-era American tale. The "king" is a stock trader who has managed to survive the stock market crash. The stepmother is still a queen, but this time of the Ziegfield Follies, a popular Broadway show. The mirror is now a stock ticker, and the seven dwarves are seven street-smart kids. Prince Charming? Well, I shouldn't give too much away! This is near wordless, going entirely so for a dozen pages at a time, but interspersed with some sparse dialogue. That makes this a very quick read. Fairytales are typically for children, but this is too somber to attract little ones. Done in black and white, it has a dark, noir style...all but for the last few pages with their happily-ever-after full-color conclusion. So this is something adults could even enjoy, but tweens are the target audience – this has been a very popular one among the 12 and unders in our house. Harder to find (10) While these don't seem to be in print right now your local library may have a copy because they were once quite deservedly popular. Where is the Cake? (2) by Thé-Tjong Khing 2007 / 32 pages Thé-Tjong Khing was born in Indonesia, studied in the Netherlands, and is now one of the Netherlands’ best-known illustrators and authors. His books have been translated into several languages, and Where is the Cake? must have been the easiest as, because he had only the title to translate. The main story involves a chase after two possums who have taken Mr. and Mrs. Dog’s cake. The action takes place on large pages (even a bit larger than the pages of a magazine) so there is plenty of room for detail, and for a host of different animals. There are more than 30 characters on each page, and almost as many storylines! I read this with my two-year-old daughter and we had great fun trying to keep track of what everyone was up to. It lends itself to a lot of interaction – I was constantly talking to her about what must have happened “in-between” the pages and congratulating her as she found Mr. and Mrs. Dog once again. She loved it, and her dad did too because it was book I could read again and again (as parents are often required to do) and keep finding new things. A sequel, Where Is the Cake Now?, continues the story and is also very good (if not quite the match of the original). This one is hard to come by in English, but because it is wordless, can be had in other “translations” including Dutch. Ice (4) by Arthur Geisert 2011 / 24 pages Of all the wordless books I've run across Arthur Geisert's Ice is one of the most entertaining. It is the story of a clan of pigs, living together on an island and enduring a hot, hot summer. The island's water reservoir is just about empty, so the pigs get their airship ready. Then they sail off, traveling 'round the world to the North Pole where they snag and drag an iceberg back to their home. Ice saws and pickaxes are used to carve up the iceberg and deposit it in their reservoir. Ice for everyone! My two-year-old and I lingered over each two-page spread, noting the many things that the pigs were up to. The next day I had a fun time hearing her version of the story as she "read" it aloud. The only downside to the book is its small size – it is over too quickly. We were grateful to discover there is a sequel, The Giant Seed (2012), in which the piggy clan finds a giant – several stories tall! – dandelion seed, complete with the fluff at the top. They plant it, and, it turns out, they've done so just in time. It grows a dandelion with its own fluffy heads and then, when the island volcano threatens to blow, the pigs can all sail away, one pig to each dandelion fluff. Geisert has at least a couple other wordless pig books. In Oops (2006), a pig boy spills his milk at breakfast, and, as one thing leads to another, that spill eventually leads to the utter destruction of his family’s precariously perched house. That would seem a sad ending, but the last page has the family relieved that while the house is gone, the family is okay – it highlights that family is more important than things. But do be careful drinking your milk! More wordless piggie fun can be found in Hogwash (2008) where pig parents let their piglets have a muddy day of fun before the moms and dads use the most marvelous of machines to clean up their kidlets en masse. Then, in  The story of an English Village (3) by John S. Goodall John Goodall's books are unique, unlike any other wordless stories I've seen. Most wordless or near-wordless books are intended for the pre-reading set. But Goodall's books seemed to be aimed at an older age group. He has a series of "The Story of..." titles that tackle "an English Village," "the Seashore" and "a Castle," and in each, the lack of words leaves viewers lingering over each picture. So this isn't wordless to make it accessible to the very young; it is wordless to bring the focus to the pictures, and the impressions left by them. For example, In The Story of an English Village, Goodall starts us with a picture of a 13th-century castle under construction on a large hill, and then in the following two-page spread, he shows us this same setting in one hundred year leaps, until we arrive near our modern day. These are pictures to linger over, then flip back to, comparing the next century with the last.  In this book and many others, Goodall makes creative use of a single half-page stuck between each two-page spread. This is a bit hard to describe, and apparently was unique to Goodall – he may have invented this technique – so let me try to make things a little clearer. Imagine a book with a picture spanning both pages – a two-page spread – and right in the middle of these two pages is a single half page. This page is full height, but only half the width of the book's other pages, so when this half-page is turned from the right side to the left, it gives us a new perspective on the goings on in the middle, while leaving the outer edges unchanged. If you didn't follow that, let's just say it is pretty cool and you should track down one of his books to check it out. Goodall has many other wordless books, and most seem worth checking out, with the exception of his "Naughty Nancy" series about an obnoxious little girl mouse, who is more nasty than naughty. Holland by Charlotte Demantons 2013 / 54 pages This is a treat for any with ties to the Netherlands, even if a generation or two removed. Each two-spread highlights one location, but sometimes different time periods. For example, in the opening picture, we see a three-masted schooner fighting off a British galleon while a giant modern-day container ship sails by. In another spread of today’s Amsterdam, we see Van Gogh painting in his studio. Pages are big – this is a tall book – and there is so much to see. This is a very fun way to tour the country, its culture, and its history.  Last and least (8) These are only okay, but if your children are flying through all the others, and your library has them, then they might be worth a borrow too. Aquarium by Cynthia Alonso 2018 / 36 pages A girl loves fish, and when one jumps onto the dock, she takes it home with her and tries to find a good-sized home for it. That involves filling most every container in the house with water, including the swimming pool. When the fish jumps from the swimming pool into the small puddle beside it, the girl decides it needs something bigger and returns it to the lake. The last page shows her joining it, and more fish friends. Good Night, Garden Gnome by Jamichael Henterly 2001 / 32 pages A child's outdoor tea party features her toys and a garden gnome too. When it's time for bed, the toys are brought back inside, and the gnome is left behind, where we discover that when no one is looking, he comes alive and does some garden tending. He braves the family dog to retrieve a lost toy and brings it to the girl's window sill. Well drawn and charming, but very short and simple. Flood by Alvaro F. Villa 2013 / 32 pages A beautiful little two-story home by the river is loved by its family, threatened by a storm, protected by sandbags, and then abandoned when the water gets too high. We see the water sweep in, and the family return to the devastation… and begin to rebuild. It ends with the house fully restored.  Hank finds an Egg by Rebecca Dudley 2013 / 40 pages This is almost a stop-motion presentation, with a stuffed bear, in a clay-crafted forest setting, discovering an egg out of its nest. He tries to return it to the nest high above, and after a couple of failures, succeeds with some tiny help. It’s a nice story with a feel-good ending. red hat by Lita Judge 2013 / 32 pages When a little girl washes her red knit cap and hangs it out to dry, it becomes a play toy for the animals. They have great fun chasing it, but return it completely unravelled. The girl isn't bothered though, and not only sets out to re-knit it, but knits red caps for the animals too. the whale by Ethan and Vita Murrow 2015 / 32 pages While no one talks in this story, some reading is required at the beginning and end, when newspaper accounts describe, first, how a pair of children 50 years ago claimed they'd spotted a gigantic spotted whale, and how two more children, five decades later, finally confirm this legendary beast's existence. It's exciting, but the required reading at the front and back does detract some from the wordless charm. Zoom (2) by Istvan Banyai 1995 / 64 pages It’s easier to explain what this book is about by describing it backwards. At the end of the book we see Earth from millions of miles away - just a white dot on a black canvass. But, a page earlier, we’ve zoomed in, and can see oceans and clouds. Next, we see things from the perspective of a pilot miles up, then as he flies lower, we see people as ants, and on and on the zooming goes. There is no narrative, but it is intriguing. A sequel, Re-zoom, is equally so....

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

In the hall of the Dragon King

by Stephen Lawhead 1982 / 370 pages This is an old-fashioned fantasy tale, with a loosely Christian underpinning. Quentin is a young man who has had a quest thrust upon him. He was going to spend his life behind the walls of a temple, so this turn of events isn’t unwelcome. But he has to figure out how he can see the queen. And someone needs to rescue the king. Oh, and there’s a dark wizard that needs to be dealt with. Is this really a job for a young former priest-to-be who doesn’t know one end of a sword from the other? The young Quentin, looking for help, meets a hermit of sorts, who serves not the gods, but the one God. That’s an ongoing theme throughout, as author Stephen Lawhead is trying to point readers to the true God. Cautions However, Lawhead sometimes gets it wrong. Quentin is told that God leads by “hunches and nudges” and “very rarely by direct command.” But our God does give us clear direct commands, in His Word, though some who profess to be Christians reject His Word in favor of hunches. Also, when a soldier is dying and asks how to go to heaven, the hermit tells him to just believe, but doesn’t mention anything about repentance. Conclusion While those are notable flaws, and worth bringing up with younger readers, they amount to only a few paragraphs in a rollicking adventure. There is a true and proper villain who had delved deep into the dark arts – he's a necromancer even! – which sharpens the contrast with the hermit, who has turned away from magic to serve his Lord. One feature I really appreciated is that, while this is the first book of a trilogy, it is a full and complete story – this is not the sort of trilogy that is actually one story split over three books. But readers can look forward to Quentin's further adventures in The Warlords of Nin and The Sword and the Flame. Like any great children's book, this will be a great read for adults too – I'd recommend it for 12 and up. I'll add that in his later books the author took, first a Roman Catholic turn in his "Celtic Crusade" series where he reveres relics, and then afterward a general turn to spirituality rather than Christianity (or, at least, any Christian underpinnings are far from clear). But in his earlier books like this series, there's lots to love. You can listen to the first chapter being read below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective

by Donald J. Sobol 1963 / 88 pages Idaville is a small town with an impressive record - no one, absolutely no one, gets away with breaking the law. Most of the credit goes to Police Chief Brown, but he doesn't really want to take it. If the townsfolk were able to believe it, he'd let them know that the town's most puzzling crimes are solved, not at the police station, but at the Brown's dinner table, by his humble, brilliant ten-year-old son Leroy! In addition to helping out his dad, Leroy, known as Encyclopedia by his friends, also runs his very own detective agency, charging 25 cents a case, plus expenses. The Encyclopedia Brown series are great books that each include ten short mysteries for readers to solve right alongside our pint-sized detective. In this, the very first one, all the information needed to solve the mystery is included in the story, and the solution is found in the back. And though the mysteries are simple enough that boys and girls in the 9-11 range will be able to solve many of them, they are still subtle enough to present a challenge to adults (I had to peek at the back to figure out a couple of them...and this was my second time through). As you might guess from Encyclopedia's pay rate, this is an old book. It was first published back in 1963, so even though many more books have followed, the whole series has an old-fashioned feel and appeal to it. For example, Encyclopedia often has run-ins with the Tiger gang, but this is very much a 1960s sort of boys' gang - they run minor scams, try to trick kids out of their allowance, and might even start a tussle or two, but the very worst that would result is a black eye or fat lip. Cautions In a nod to the sort of feminism that says women are only equal to men if they can do anything men can do (rather than because we are all made in God's Image - Genesis 1:27), the author gives Encyclopedia a girl bodyguard. Sobol makes Sally Kimball tougher than any boy, able to beat up even Bugs Meany, the leader of the Tigers. The problem here, I explained to my girls, is that boys need to have it drilled into them that they can never hit girls, even at 10, because whether or not they're already stronger than girls, they soon will be. Thus girls have to be taught never to take shots at boys because if those boys are raised right they won't hit back, and it is just cheap to hit someone who can't fight back. While Kimball's unrealistic pugilistic prowess makes for some comedic moments at bully Bugs Meany's expense, thankfully her bodyguard role is only a focus in a few of the mysteries. The other caution is that, even as this series is sold in some Christian bookstores, God is absent. That's a minor concern if our kids are reading other books too. But if our kids get a steady diet of stories where God is treated as irrelevant to our daily lives, then that's teaching our little ones quite the lie. Conclusion I read these as a kid and loved the mini-challenge of each mystery. I was happy to see the series was still in print and that author Donald Sobol (1924-2012) had come up with a dozen more since I'd last read them. But I did notice that in one of the later ones – Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs – two of the ten mysteries required the reader to know something that wasn't included in the story (for example, "The case of the giant shark tooth" could only be solved if a reader knew that sharks constantly replace their teeth). So the earlier titles are just a bit better than the most recent - no outside knowledge needed. There are 28 official books in all: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (1963) Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again (1965) AKA Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (1966) Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (1967) Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (1968) Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1969) Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day (1970) Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down (1971) Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way (1972) Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case (1973) Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (1974) AKA Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other Mysteries Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor (1977) Encyclopedia Brown Carries On (1980) Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace (1981) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints (1985) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt (1988) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (1990) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies (1995) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo's Nose (1996) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander (2000) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs (2003) Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case (2007) Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth (2009) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFOs (2010) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime (2011) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme (2012) If that isn't enough for your child, there are a few others titles associated with the Encylopedia Brown brand. One of the extra ones is a mystery/cookbook, with all the stories related to food, and each includes a recipe in the solution – it's called Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake (1982). Then there are a couple of true crime collections that I haven't been able to track down, but at least one of which my middle daughter has read and really liked: Encyclopedia Brown's Book Of Strange But True Crimes (1992), and Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Wacky Crimes (1984). All the main characters but one are boys, so these are clearly intended as boy books. That said, all my girls have enjoyed them as much as I did. They are great for anyone, boy or girl, who likes wrestling with problems, and while they are best suited for the preteen set, they'll offer a challenge to mom or dad too, which makes them good fun to read to your kids. And teens and parents who find these too easy can graduate on up to Donald Sobol's similar but more challenging Two Minute Mysteries series....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

God's Smuggler

by Brother Andrew Autobiography 1967 / 288 pages This is an amazing true story about God’s miraculous interventions to get Bibles to his persecuted Church in both Communist countries and Muslim ones. There are miracles all around us, but the rising sun, our pumping hearts, and babies’ wriggling toes do their thing with such regularity as to seem ordinary to us – we take them for granted. Not so the miracles in God’s Smuggler. Here “Brother Andrew” (1928- ) relates one extraordinary answer to prayer after another: a needed cake delivered by an off-duty postman, money of the right sum arriving at just the right time, the instant healing of Andrew’s crippled ankle. Then, in his work smuggling Bibles behind the Iron Curtain, this Dutchman came to rely on the extraordinary becoming regular. Border crossings into Communist countries were always tense, but each time Brother Andrew would ask God to “make seeing eyes blind” and again and again God would do so. The same border guards who had just taken apart the car in front of them would simply wave them through or, if they did inspect their cargo, the guards would completely miss the Bibles crammed in everywhere. It was through these regular miracles that God used Andrew and his coworkers to deliver His Word to millions in the persecuted Church. I'll share one of his miraculous accounts, which I also shared with my children, about Andrew on an early smuggling trip, this time to Yugoslavia. "The roads in Yugoslavia were extraordinarily hard on cars. When we weren't climbing fierce mountain trails, we were fording streams at the bottom of steep valleys. But the worst threat to the little VW was the dust. Dust lay over the unpaved roads like a shroud; it sifted in on us even through the closed windows, and I hated to think what it was doing to the engine. Every morning in our Quiet Time, Nikola and I would include a prayer for the car. 'Lord, we don't have either time or the money for repairs on this car, so will you please keep it running?' "One of the peculiarities of travel in Yugoslavia in 1957 was the friendly road-stoppings that took place. Cars. especially foreign cars, were still such a rarity that when two drivers passed each other, they almost always stopped to exchange a few words about road conditions, weather, gasoline supplies, bridges. One day we were dusting along a mountain road when up ahead we spotted a small truck coming toward us. As it pulled alongside, we also stopped. "'Hello,' said the driver. 'I believe I know who you are. You're the Dutch missionary who is going to preach in Terna tonight.' "'That's right.' "'And this is the Miracle Car?' "'The Miracle Car?' "'I mean the car that you pray for each morning.' I had to laugh. I had mentioned the prayer in a previous meeting; the word had obviously gone on ahead. 'Yes,' I admitted, 'this is the car.' 'Mind if I take a look at her? I'm a mechanic.' "'I'd appreciate it.' I had put gasoline in that engine, and that was literally all since I had crossed the border. The mechanic went around to the rear and lifted the hood over the motor. For a long time he stood there, just staring. "'Brother Andrew,' he said at last, 'I have just become a believer. It is mechanically impossible for this engine to run. Look. The air filter. The carburetor. The sparks. No, I'm sorry. This car cannot run.' "'And yet it's taken us thousands of miles.' The mechanic only shook his head. 'Brother,' he said, 'would you permit me to clean your engine for you and give you a change of oil. It hurts me to see you abuse a miracle.' Gratefully we followed the man to his village a few miles from Terna. We pulled behind him into a little courtyard filled with pigs and geese. That night while we preached he took the engine apart, cleaned it piece by piece, changed the oil, and by the time we were ready to leave the next morning, presented us with a grinning new automobile. God had answered our prayer." Cautions While reading this to my girls, I told my children we shouldn’t understand the many miracles Andrew experienced as evidence that he was always acting wisely and praying as he should – he himself acknowledged that God honored one of of his prayer requests despite how he prayed. There's an instance or two early on that reminded me of the old joke about a man caught up in a flood who had to take refuge on his roof and prayed for God to save him. As he was praying a boy rowed by in a boat and asked if the man wanted to join him but the man replied that he didn't need the boy's help because God would save him. Then a helicopter came, the pilot offering a lift, only to get the same response. Eventually, the waters rose and the man drowned. When he got to heaven the man wanted to know why God didn't save him, and God told him He had, sending a boy in a boat and a pilot in a helicopter. Similarly, Brother Andrew turns down offered help (for a needed cake), only to later receive help of an even more miraculous sort (a cake, unsolicited, arriving in the mail, just in time). I don't think that we have to take all of this prescriptively, as what we also should do – we can get in the boat or helicopter, or take someone up on their offer to bake a cake, and not wait for even more miraculous intervention. But we should most certainly take it descriptively as evidence of God’s great love for his persecuted Church. And, when we understand God's great love for His children, and His great power, then we too may be willing and eager to risk much to show His love to others. Conclusion We can also appreciate how aware Andrew was of his complete reliance on God. We all are, all the time, but when times are good we so often forget. Living his life in danger so much of the time, Brother Andrew wasn’t nearly so forgetful. This would also be a valuable tool to impress on a younger generation that while in their lifetimes it has primarily been the culture that has been the biggest enemy of God’s Church, in many places, and at many times, it has been the government. I would recommend this primarily for adults, because it does take some discernment to think through where Brother Andrew is relying on God in ways that we too should imitate, and where he might be getting close, or even crossing the line, into testing God. For a younger audience, just read it to them and discuss afterward. Then it could be good for as young as 8. This is one of the books I read for RP's 52 in 2022 challenge....

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews, Music, Teen non-fiction

Does God listen to Rap?

by Curtis Allen 2013 / 99 pages "Why wouldn't He?" That's the answer the author gives to his title question. Whether you agree or don't might depend on what you think of Rap's sinful origins. In chapters two and three, in the space of just 25 pages, author Curtis Allan gives an authoritative, detailed account of these beginnings. He explains it started back in the late '60s, and that even though some earlier innovators tried to use Rap to promote a social consciousness, it was the pimp/drug dealer-glorifying "Gangsta Rap" that ended up dominating the genre. The genetic fallacy Allen then investigates whether its sinful origins are reason enough to dismiss Rap. If they are, what then, he asks, are we to do with music itself, which seems to find its origins in the sinful line of Cain (Gen. 4:21). A good point, but I think a stronger argument should have been made with more examples, since this is a key point. It is a fallacy – the "genetic fallacy" – to condemn something simply for where it comes from. We don't do that with classical music composed by immoral composers, or foreign foods from pagan cultures, or anything else, so why would we do it with Rap? One very large issue that is left unexplored is whether the driving beat of Rap impacts its appropriateness for conveying Christian content. That is a significant omission, since this is the question for some Reformed Christians. Allen describes the lyrics as the content, and the music as the context. And to him it seems it is only the content that matters. The context - the music - seems to be almost a neutral aspect. Is music neutral? But this overlooks the way different sorts of music can impact us in distinct ways. For example, the thumping beat of Rap conjures up very different emotions than the rising swell of the string section in an orchestral piece. The beat might spawn feelings of aggression. This is the sort of music we would warm up to for a basketball game, or might want on our iPod when we go running - it drives us. Some orchestral music can tug at the tear ducts, bringing moisture to the eye of even the most stalwart of men. So music is far from a neutral, unimportant aspect of Rap – it brings the power to the words. I would suggest that there is a reason that Rock and Rap, with their thumping beat, are closely linked with sex, drugs and perversions of many sorts: the beat does get us aggressive, it does get us riled up, and if that energy isn't put to good use, it will be put to bad. God calls us to self-control That doesn't mean Rock and Rap are inherently bad – aggression is not an inherently bad emotion.  But Rock and Rap are known for encouraging people to "lose yourself in the music" while God says we must instead be controlled. So we need to be aware of the emotions Rock and Rap can stir up, and ensure that they are properly channeled and directed. We need to ensure these emotions are constrained and controlled. There is a reason that the Billboard Top 100 is filled with sexually perverse songs – this is the aggression unrestrained. However, this aggression need not be unrestrained. A songs lyrics can do a lot to properly direct and control the emotions the music stirs up. But if we are going to control these emotions, we have to understand that the music – the context – is far from neutral or insignificant. It is the music that brings the power to the words. So this is a topic that should have been explored. However, the book is just 99 pages, so, clearly, it couldn't cover everything and what it does cover is well worth reading. In fact, it is worth buying for the historical background alone. This review first appeared on ReallyGoodReads.com....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Last Disciple

by Sigmund Brouwer and Hank Hanegraaff 2004 / 428 pages It’s the year 65 AD, and Gallus Sergius Vitas is one of the last principled men in Rome. He’s also a confidant of Emperor Nero which means his daily life is conducted on a knife’s edge: indulging the emperor’s perverse demands might keep Vitas safe but would compromise the man that he is; yet to openly oppose the emperor would lead to his immediate introduction to the Coliseum’s lions. Our story beings with Vitas attempting this balancing act once again. Nero has dressed as a beast, his outfit comprised of lion and bear skins, complete with collar and a chain held by a servant. His night’s entertainment is to terrorize a group of prisoners while playing the part of a beast. Enjoying their fear, the emperor quickly works himself into a killing frenzy. Vitas sees this all from the shadows and can’t let it happen, knowing, though, that to oppose the emperor is to die. So Vistas yells at the chain-holding servant instead: “If the emperor knows you are involved in illegal torture, he will have you destroyed!” It is, as Brouwer writes: “an all-or-nothing bluff, pretending that he did not know Nero was inside the costume. Trusting that Nero would be too ashamed to admit it. Now. Or later.” Vitas’ bluff works, but not just because of his daring. An earthquake sends Nero scurrying away, convinced that the shaking ground is a sign of divine judgment. It’s a great opening, highlighting the depth’s of the emperor’s perversity, the heights of Vitas’ courage, and the certain presence of God even in these pagans’ lives. In less talented hands, the earthquake’s unlikely timing could have come off as cheesy, since in real life God more often uses “ordinary means” (like doctors’ talents or wise friends’ advice) than miracles to accomplish His ends. But miracles do occur, and Brouwer makes it believable. It’s a good thing too, as this is but the first miracle in a story that’s all about how God used miraculous means – the prophetic words in the book of Revelation – to warn his Church to flee the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD. What Brouwer and his writing partner, theologian Hank Hanegraaff, have done here is write an alternative to Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ popular Left Behind series. Where Left Behind places the beast of Revelation 13 in our near future, Brouwer and Hanegraaff place him in the first century, in the near future of those who first received John’s letter. And they identify the beast as Nero and the bloody empire he led. This “partial preterist” (partial past) interpretation of Revelation holds that the book was written before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and the city’s fall is a partial fulfillment of much of the prophecy in Revelation. This, then, is fiction meant to teach as well and entertain, and it does both brilliantly. Brouwer has crafted a story that takes us all around the Mediterranean, with Jews, Romans, and even troubled Christians wrestling with the question of “Who is Jesus?” There’s also political plotting, assassination attempts, sieges, gladiators, and just a touch of romance. The slowest bits are when theologian Hanegraaff has characters take a page or two to teach Vitas and others what a particular passage in Revelation means. If you’re reading it only for the story, these sections might drag, but they are well spaced out. And if you’re interested in learning about the partial preterist interpretation of Revelation, these will be your favorite passages. Cautions One caution: Nero’s depravity, though described with restraint, still means this is not a book for younger teens. If The Last Disciple series has you eager to read more of Sigmund Brouwer’s work, be aware that he is a proponent of theistic evolution, and also an Arminian. That doesn’t come up in this series (or his best book, Innocent Heroes, a treat for kids, teens, and parents alike) but it does come up in some others. Finally, readers should be aware that partial preterism probably isn’t the majority view in Canadian Reformed churches (though I’m not sure what the majority view might be, as Revelation seems to be only rarely discussed). Some do hold it though, and it's also held by Reformed pastors outside our circles such as RC Sproul, Douglas Wilson, and Jay Adams. Conclusion The Last Disciple is a great book, kicking off a great series. The cast of characters is large, so if you’re like me, make sure you get the whole trilogy – The Last Disciple, The Last Sacrifice and The Last Temple – right away, because if you wait too long between books, you may start forgetting who is who. I’d recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction – Sigmund Brouwer has got skills. And if you’d love to have partial preterism explained, well, this is the most entertaining way you could ever learn about it!...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Evening Star

by Sigmund Brouwer 2000 / 317 pages Set on the 1870s American frontier, this might at first glance seem to be a Western. But there a good deal of mystery novel here too – from the moment Sam Keaton steps into the town of Laramie he’s confronted with one riddle after another. It all starts with an Indian that Keaton saves from a vicious beating. This good deed puts Keaton behind bars. Before he can engineer his escape, the town's Marshal, a mysterious sort himself, sends Keaton off to find out about some gold that may, or may not exist. While mysteries abound in this very fast-paced book, what sets it apart is the growth Keaton goes through. Early on, he's trapped in his tiny jail cell facing a very large, very angry man who has been sent to kill him. Staring down the wrong end of a shotgun barrel changes Keaton. Soon after, when a pretty, and very willing young woman throws herself at him, Keaton turns her down, but finds himself, "... wondering why I had not pursued the company she had been offering.... Because of that shotgun I could not deny the nagging feeling that I was missing something, that life had to be bigger than finding ways to satisfy the varied demands of my body. I could not escape the feeling that deep down, I'd always known life had to be bigger, but along the way I had always chosen whatever distractions it took to keep me from wondering about God. Except now, try as I might, I couldn't ignore what some certainty told me was beyond. If I turned my back on whatever instinct now pulled me to seek answers, if I chose distractions like this Suzanne, I would have to fool myself real good not to find those distractions sour and hollow." Keaton isn't done with his spiritual wrestling by the end of the book, but he has made a good start of it. But while there is a lot to love about this book, it is worth noting that there is some adult material here – there is some grit. One example: Keaton recalls a time when he was seduced by a "wild" woman. It never gets lascivious but Brouwer does describe sexual temptation in a pretty frank way. So this is a book I would recommend for adults and older teens only. While every author works hard polishing their writing, most stop once the book goes to the printer. That's not the case with Sigmund Brouwer who has revised several of his published works, creating, in one instance, three separate versions of the same story over the course of 20 years (Magnus 1995 ⇒ Wings of Dawn 1999 ⇒ Merlin's Immortals series 2012-2014). That can make for some confusion, and the possibility of mistakenly buying the same story twice. So for clarification, Evening Star had an earlier iteration, first appearing as Morning Star back in 1994. There are three other books in the series, including at least one other, Silver Moon, that was first published under another title: Moon basket. The earlier version was called the Ghost Rider series, while the revised and more recent is Sam Keaton: Legends of Laramie and in order the titles are: Evening Star Silver Moon Sun Dance Thunder Voice I've only read the first, but it has me looking forward to checking out the next three!...

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

David Wiesner: weird and wonderful

Super creative? Ultra creative? Mega creative? Every good picture book author is imaginative, but somehow David Wiesner (1956- ) manages to be all the more so. His living clouds, flying frogs, and artistic lizards always provide a surprise – a reader starting one of Wiesner's stories will never be able to predict how it is going to end. That's a joy for parents to experience right along with their kids: a children's story that isn't predictable! And since several of Wiesner's works are wordless, they can also be great books for reluctant readers to tackle alongside mom or dad. Wordless doesn't mean it's an easy "read" but together parent and child can put their detective skills to work to figure out all that's going on! What follows are my family's recommendations – our favorites – and then a few that we've read but which for this reason or that, I'm not going to recommend like the rest. Finally, there are three that really aren't worth bothering with. RECOMMENDED Free Fall 1988 / 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. Hurricane 1990 / 32 pages Two brothers are worried about a coming hurricane. But when the lights go out, and the family is still together, the boys realize it's not so bad after all. It even gets quite good the next day, when they discover a huge fallen tree in their neighbor’s yard. In the days that follow the huge trunk becomes their spaceship, and the branches a jungle, and the both of them together a pirate-hunting sailboat. Tuesday 1991 / 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. Sector 7 1999 / 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 appear to ask the boy to draw them up some alternatives. And what fun to see clouds mimicking the sea creatures he draws! Eventually, the rambunctious cloud returns the boy to the Empire State Building, but his visit to Sector 7 might have some lasting impact, as the clouds quite like being fish-shaped. This is another of Wiesner’s wordless books and another one that parent and child will have pouring over to see all that the pictures have to say. The Three Pigs 2001 / 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. Art & Max 2010 / 40 pages This might be my favorite picture book. It involves just two characters, which makes this one easy to read out loud to the kids, and there’s so much energy on each page that performing it becomes so easy to do. Art knows how to paint, and Max desperately wants to learn. (Both are lizards, but aside from the fun way they look, that doesn't really matter.) But who should Max paint? When Aurthur suggests himself, Max literally starts to throw paint on Art. And that’s when it gets wacky! As Max tries to clean the paint off Art, he starts to clean all the color off him. Art is see-through; he’s just lines! Then, when that line starts to unravel, Art becomes just a scribble. Fortunately, his friend Max is on it, and proves, as he turns that scribble into a work of Art, that he has some mad skills too. I Got It! 2018 / 32 pages Once again David Wiesner lets the pictures do (almost) all the talking, When a long flyball is hit into the outfield, a boy declares, “I’ve got it!” which are the only words in the story. But does he really have it? One dropped ball is followed by another, and it’s almost like there are obstacles (getting bigger and bigger) just reaching out to trip him up. His repeated drops have his teammates moving in closer to catch it for him, since he can’t. But then, in one last stretching leap, our boy in red jumps past the obstacles and beats his teammates to the ball for a wonderful game-winning catch. This is a very fun story, but I could see some kids needing a little help to understand what’s going on. But hey, reading together is fantastic! TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT The Loathsome Dragon 1987 / 32 pages An evil queen/stepmother casts a spell which turns a princess into a loathsome dragon. Along comes a brave prince who has to kiss the dragon three times to break the spell. The only twist in this tale is that the brave prince is her brother, and not a husband-to-be, but that’s not enough to make this seem fresh. I should add that while I was unimpressed, my girls liked this a lot more than I did. June 29, 1999 1992 / 32 pages A young girl, Holly, sends vegetable seedlings into the ionosphere for her science project just to see what might happen. Soon after giant vegetables – house-sized and bigger! – start floating down from the sky. But wait! Some of these vegetables are not the sorts that she sent up. So where did those come from? At book’s end we discover the giant vegetables came from a giant alien chef accidentally losing his ingredients while flying above Earth. Very fun to see the giant vegetables all over the landscape but I think it would have been better without the aliens tacked on at the end. Flotsam 2006 / 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 more still 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. DON'T BOTHER Mr. Wuffles Tiny tiny aliens have landed, but unfortunately for them, their ship attracts the attention of Mr. Wuffles, who thinks it’s one of his cat toys. To repair their ship the little aliens recruit help from ants and bugs – their treasure trove of lost marbles, pencils, loose change, and paperclips turn out to be just what the aliens need to fix things up. There's some vague religious-type imagery written by the bugs on the house walls that, along with the aliens, makes this one I'd rather just skip. Fish Girl Wiesner’s only graphic novel is the story of a mermaid girl kept captive in an aquarium by the owner who she believes is the god Neptune. It’s odd all the way around, and that she is swimming around topless for most of its 192 pages (though always with strategically placed hair, or fishes) makes this another good one to skip.  Robobaby Robots get their babies in a box, with some assembly required. This story has its quirky charm, but when Mom and Dad, Uncle Manny, and even the Robobaby tech service can’t assemble Junior properly, but the child amongst them knows just what to do, this become just one more adults-are-dumb-and-kids-know-everything story that we can really do without (Prov. 20:29, 22:15). CAUTIONS David Wiesner is an incredibly imaginative picture book author, which makes him very fun to read, but it's that same active imagination that seems to lead him into a bit of over-the-top weirdness now and again. I couldn't figure out what Wiesner's worldview/philosophy is, and it'd be a bit much to conclude he must not be Christian just because he features aliens on occasion, though aliens (at least the intelligent sort) would seem to be incompatible with Christianity (but demons masquerading as aliens would not be). However, there's nothing in his books that would give us reason to conclude he must be Christian. In lieu of evidence one way or the other, that's good reason for parents to approach his future output with some caution. CONCLUSION If you have a creative kid, Wiesner's best could be just the spark they need to think bigger and bolder. And if you have a not-particularly-creative kid, Wiesner might be an inspiration for them too, showing them how there are all sorts of possibilities to explore and fresh ways of looking at things. Finally, if you have a reluctant reader, Wiesner's wordless books – Freefall, Tuesday, Sector 7, and I Got it! – might be an encouragement for them to page through, especially if mom or dad comes alongside....

Culture Clashes

How the Bible made the world a better place

Though most wouldn't want to admit it, the Bible has made the world a better place even for those that don’t believe it. How can that be? Well, it was the worldview taught in the Bible that led to the development of modern science and all its benefits. It was the same worldview that led to the dramatic expansion of educational institutions, as well as the greater political freedom and economic prosperity we enjoy. Most people today enjoy higher standards of living and better medical care simply because the Bible influenced Western culture in a particular direction. Vishal Mangalwadi, a Christian intellectual from India, explains all this in his 2011 book, The Book That Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization. Mangalwadi was born and raised within a culture dominated by Hinduism, and this experience gave him special insight into the effects of Christianity on the world and particular nations. So what are some ways a biblical worldview makes the world better? Monks at work As a basic principle, the Bible promotes a strong work ethic. The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 that “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” While there are probably hard-working people in every culture, Mangalwadi explains that Christianity places a unique emphasis on work: “The God who liberated the Jews worked for six days and commanded human beings to do the same. That is the opposite of Hindu tradition, which conceives of God as a meditator or Yogeshwar (‘god of yoga’).” The biblical emphasis on work inspired Christian monks to use their time well. Saint Benedict, who is known as the father of Western monasticism, supported a strong work ethic and wrote that “Idleness is an enemy of the soul.” Christian monks in Europe were important to the early development of technology, some of which we still use today. They were, Mangalwadi writes, “the first to begin the widespread use of the watermill for grinding and for developing power machinery.” Clocks and eyeglasses Another important example is the invention of clocks. As one scholar, David Landes, has argued, “clocks were invented because monks needed them.” They had set times for prayer and for particular jobs that had to be done. After sunset, the sundial was of no use. The need for proper time management drove the quest for something reliable, and clocks were the solution. As Mangalwadi explains, the impetus for creating clocks resulted from a specifically Christian worldview: “The Bible-shaped culture made time management an aspect of establishing human dominion over the physical universe because the Bible saw time as a part of physical reality. By contrast, in Indian culture, time was perceived either as an eternal but terrible god (Kal) or as a part of the cosmic illusion (maya).” Besides clocks, Christian monks also had a role in the invention of eyeglasses. They spent lots of time reading and studying, but that became more difficult as they got older and their eyes became weaker. Eyeglasses dramatically improved the ability of older monks to read and work on manuscripts. Of course, other religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism also have monks, but it was the Christian ones at the forefront of technology. As Mangalwadi puts it, “Christian monks were different because the Bible gave them a different worldview.” Lots to learn People who believe that the Bible is the Word of God will be greatly motivated to read it. Thus, especially after the Reformation, there was a strong impetus to increase literacy in Europe. In other words, Christianity was the main driver for the expansion of literacy and education. According to Mangalwadi, the Bible directly inspired the creation of the first 123 colleges and universities in the United States. But it wasn’t just Christian countries that benefited from this educational impulse. As missionaries took the gospel to countries throughout the world, they also promoted literacy and education so that people could read the Bible and improve their lives overall. As Mangalwadi writes: “They birthed, financed, and nurtured hundreds of universities, thousands of colleges, and tens of thousands of schools. They educated millions and transformed nations. This gigantic, global mission was inspired and sustained by one book—the Bible.” Looking for scientific laws The scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was launched by men who had been strongly influenced by the Bible. The biblical worldview provided the philosophical basis for their quest. In contrast, other worldviews see life and reality in ways that often discourage scientific pursuits. There were, of course, many intelligent and capable Hindus and Buddhists. However, they did not have the philosophical motivation to pursue scientific knowledge. As Mangalwadi explains: “A culture may have capable individuals, but they don’t look for ‘laws of nature’ if they believe that nature is enchanted and ruled by millions of little deities like a rain god, a river goddess, or a rat deva.” In short, people live according to what they believe, and if they believe an erroneous worldview, they will be limited in what they set out to achieve. In contrast to the Hindus and Buddhists, the “pioneers of science believed that the material realm was real, not magical, enchanted, or governed by spirits and demons. They assumed it was understandable because God created it as rational, ordered, and regulated by natural laws.” Early in the history of India, a certain degree of medical technology developed. In fact, there were people in India who were medical geniuses. However, medical technology could only go so far in India because of certain cultural limitations. For one thing, special knowledge was considered to be something to keep secret, not something to share with others. Besides that, the Hindu and Buddhist concept of “karma” helped prevent the spread of medical care. Suffering was considered to be punishment for deeds committed in a previous life. Suffering, in this sense, was a form of justice. It was widely believed that alleviating someone’s suffering now would only increase it later, so it was better to leave them to suffer now. As Mangalwadi summarizes, “my ancestors did not lack intelligence, but our genius was expressed in a philosophy that taught us to worship nature instead of establishing dominion over it.” Honesty Mangalwadi tells an especially interesting story that illustrates the power of the Bible. Once when he was visiting the Netherlands, a Dutch friend took him to get some fresh milk. They drove to a dairy farm familiar to the friend. They walked into a building with a large tank containing milk. The friend opened a tap and filled a jug he had brought with milk. Then he put some money into a nearby bowl containing cash, and they left. Mangalwadi was shocked by this transaction, telling his friend, “if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money!” However, the Dutch dairy farmer knew that he could trust his neighbours to be honest about paying for the milk they took. Thus they could come and go at will, taking what they needed and leaving an appropriate payment. It was all based on trust because the people were trustworthy. Later, Mangalwadi recounted this experience to a conference in Indonesia. An Egyptian conference participant told him that an Egyptian would not only take the milk and the money, but also the cows! In many countries of the world, a dairy farmer who wanted to sell his milk directly to customers would need to hire a cashier because he wouldn’t be able to trust his customers. As a result, he would have to charge a higher price for the milk to pay for the cashier. But if the customers could not be trusted, neither could the dairy farmer himself. So the customers would want the government to hire inspectors to ensure that the farmers were not adding water to the milk. Therefore, taxes would need to be collected to pay the inspectors, increasing costs even further. The bottom line is that an economy in a culture that produces generally honest citizens can operate more efficiently and at lower cost than one in a culture of dishonesty. If producers and consumers can trust each other, the cost of doing business is much lower. Such a situation, of course, contributes to overall economic prosperity. With this in mind, Mangalwadi asks what made the ordinary people of the Netherlands so different from people in India and Egypt? “The answer is simple. The Bible taught the people of Holland that even though no human being may be watching us in that dairy farm, God, our ultimate judge, is watching to see if we obey his commands to neither covet nor steal.” Corruption A German organization called Transparency International creates an annual ranking of countries to compare their levels of corruption. The ranking is called the Global Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), with the least corrupt countries listed at the top, and the most corrupt at the bottom. Countries heavily influenced by Protestantism dominate the top ten. In the 2021 CPI, the only non-Protestant countries in the top ten are Singapore at number 4 (where there are more Buddhists than Christians), and Luxembourg at number 9 (which is predominantly Roman Catholic). As Mangalwadi explains: “The CPI confirms what I saw in Holland—that the Bible is the only force known to history that has freed entire nations from corruption while simultaneously giving them political freedom. The most secular nations—that is, the ex-communist, atheistic nations, which teach that when no man or machine is watching you, then no one is watching you—are among the most corrupt nations, not too different from Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim nations.” The CPI provides empirical evidence that the countries most influenced by the Bible in the past are the least corrupt. Friedrich Nietzsche Nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a critic and opponent of Christianity. He saw that Christianity helped the weak and downtrodden to survive and thrive, and didn’t like it. In his view, the survival of wretched and downtrodden people weakens society. It would be better for them to perish so that only the fittest would survive, creating a society of strong, able-bodied people. As far as Nietzsche was concerned, Christianity had undermined the strength of the West. Interestingly, Nietzsche’s critique can actually be seen as a back-handed compliment to Christianity. As Mangalwadi points out, Nietzsche was essentially correct about the effect of the Bible on history: “It drove the movement for the abolition of slavery and promoted care for the weak, such as widows, orphans, the handicapped, and leprosy patients. From liberating and rehabilitating temple prostitutes to reforming prisons and bringing sanity and morality to wars, the biblical tradition has been the most powerful civilizing force.” Conclusion The Bible has done much to make the world a better place. Even people who reject it benefit from its effects. The Bible introduced a worldview that initiated technological development, the spread of education, and economic prosperity. Christian missionaries have done much to improve the lives of people in many countries of the world. And these are just some of the material benefits that resulted from the Bible. Even more importantly, it shows the only way of salvation through faith in Christ. There is nothing like the Bible....

Articles, Book Reviews

20+ Christian fiction suggestions for your 10-15-year-old boys

I was recently asked for some reading suggestions for boys aged 10-15. This is when boys can sometimes stop reading, so I didn't want to pitch them run-of-the-mill material. Nope, I wanted to hit them with the best of the best, so what follows are my top suggestions. Each includes a short description, and, in most cases, clicking on the bold title will take you to a longer review. We'll start with a classic: Lord of the Rings might be a bit much to expect for this age group, but The Hobbit is a shorter, easier entry to Tolkien's Middle Earth, and after that taste, who knows but that they might continue. My favorite fiction author Sigmund Brouwer happens to be a theistic evolutionist and Arminian, which occasionally comes up in some of his fiction. But not in these two fantastic titles: Innocent Heroes: Stories of Animals in the First World War are all true tales, but lightly fictionalized in that they now all take place in just one Canadian battalion. Everyone in our family love, love, loved it! Wings of Dawn is older and might be hard to find but is worth tracking down. It's a medieval setting with what seems like magic all around, but the magic is actually just new (to the time) discoveries like gunpowder and kites. Very clever! Douglas Bond is another favorite, and decidedly Reformed. While I wasn't as captivated by his early books, he keeps getting better. All four of these are really great reads: War in the Wasteland is a fictional account of C.S. Lewis's time in World War I's trenches back when he was still an atheist. The Revolt is about John Wycliffe (a Reformer who died more than 100 years before Martin Luther nailed up his 95 theses) and his times. It's books like this that make learning Church history a joy. The Thunder is a fictionalized biography of John Knox. Bond helps this Reformation giant come alive Hostage Lands is really two stories in one, with the first about a boy who doesn't want to learn Latin, but discovers a tablet in Latin telling a story going back to when Rome still ruled the British Isles. Some favorite series include: Andrew Peterson’s The Wingfeather Saga is a 4-book series that has recently been expanded with a short story collection by the author's friends (and the books are now being turned into an animated TV series). Jonathan Roger’s Wilderking Trilogy is another family favorite, inspired by, but not trying to be, the story of King David. S.D. Smith’s The Green Ember has 9 books in the series so far – 4 big and 5 smaller – and I got my kids interested by starting with one of the smaller ones, The Last Archer. That's out of order, so I had to share a little bit of the backstory to clue them in. All it amounted to was telling them that the rabbits were preparing for war, and there had been a traitor in a prominent rabbit family, the Longtreaders, so the rest of the rabbits were suspicious of the whole family, even though the rest were not traitors. That was enough to get my kids started with this smaller, action-packed volume, which they all loved (and which we've read 3 times now). Stephen Lawhead’s In the Hall of the Dragon King is a trilogy. Also good is his Song of Albion trilogy, though it is a more magical series. The inclusion of magic in fantasy fiction can be fun, because it allows for normal rules (like gravity) to be broken. But it is limits that keep a story grounded and connected to the real world, so if a fantasy author doesn't write with some restraint – if it is just magic, magic, and more magic – things can quickly get nonsensical and just plain weird. In Lawhead's Song of Albion there's more magic than In the Hall of the Dragon King, but still tight constraints on it. Those constraints fell by the wayside in Lawhead's later books, which became increasingly odd. So this is not a recommendation for everything he wrote. Piet Prins' Wambu is a 3-book series about a cannibal boy who turns to God, and then returns to his family (who might eat him!) to share God's good news. This is an older series that might be hard to get. What follows next is just a potpourri of individual titles: Dangerous Journey is a retelling of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress with modernized text suitable for teens, but pictures only suitable for boys (there are some grim ones!). Gary Schmidt's Pilgrim's Progress is a retelling that might also be good for this age, or for the ambitious, there is the lightly modernized (but to great effect!) edition edited by C.J. Lovik. Anne DeVries' Journey Through the Night tells the story of the Dutch Resistance during World War II. This is a great book, but it's older, which means it might take a little prodding from Mom or Dad, maybe reading the first chapters together, to help your son get interested. Ethan Nicolle's Brave Ollie Possum is not nighttime reading, tackling, as it does, the things that go bump in the night. But many a teen boy will love it. Jonathan Renshaw’s enormous Dawn of Wonder is astonishing, but it is also only the first book in an as yet unfinished series, so here's hoping the sequels don't ruin it. Douglas Wilson’s Flags out Front might seem a bit old for this group, set, as it is, on a Christian college campus. But for 14 and 15-year-olds, beginning to anticipate life after high school, this will show them how, to glorify God in battle, Christians don't need to seek out fights, but just have to be willing to fight the ones that God sets before us. Finally, I'll include some graphic novels suggestions that aren't all fiction, and some would say, are not novels. But this age group will appreciate them: Luther: the Graphic Novel is the Reformer's story told with Marvel-level artwork Luther: Echoes of the Hammer was put out by the Lutherans, and if it is a little less entertaining than the previous suggestions, it is the more educational. The same group also created a graphic novel on his wife called Katie Luther. Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel is the true story of a  group of German students who stood up to Hitler and paid the price for it. The Hobbit: the Graphic Novel is a work of art, and if the original novel is a bit much for a boy, this graphic novel version might be a good alternative. I'll conclude with a great series – the Narnia seven – that most everyone has already read so I can point to a lesser-known imitator worth mentioning. Canadian author John White has written a good, if not quite up to Lewis-level, 5-book series called The Archives of Anthropos. It is good, and some kids eager for more Narnian tales will devour this reasonable facsimile, but it isn't the sure-fire bet that some of the other offerings here are....

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

Corrie ten Boom: the courageous woman and the secret room

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

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Scout: The Mystery of the Abandoned Mill

by Piet Prins 1982 / 127 pages Piet Prins' Scout: The Mystery of the Abandoned Mill is a book for all ages. It's the sixth in a series of seven Scout books written by the Dutch author soon after World War II. It tells the story of three teen boys and their trusty canine Scout, a smart, loyal, and strong companion. In this particular story, the boys are trying to find a lost treasure, hidden from the Nazis during the occupation of the Netherlands, in order to return the treasure to its rightful owner. But they are competing with a ruthless villain who wants the treasure for himself. What I love about reading the Scout books (I read it aloud to my eight-year-old son, who begs me each night to please, please, pretty please keep reading just one more chapter?!) is that not only are they great page-turning adventures, they are also saturated with Christian references: going to church on Sunday, praying at mealtimes, thinking about God's oversight and providence, praying to God when afraid, being ashamed for prideful actions, etc. Each of these references become an easy opportunity to pause and discuss with my son these concepts. So, I recommend this book to dads or moms who want a good book for – and good discussions with – their 6-12-year-old children....

Adult fiction, Book Reviews, Teen fiction

Shane

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

Book Reviews, Teen fiction

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

by Andrew Peterson 284 pages / 2008 My wife hasn't read this book, but she enjoyed it too. As I made my way through I couldn't help but read whole chapters to her, or, if she wasn't nearby, the next time she came by I'd update her about all the wackiest bits. And there are a lot of wacky bits. The "Dark Sea of Darkness" in the title gives a clue right off as to Peterson's goofy sense of humor. The subtitle is even better: "Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the fearsome toothy cows of Skree." While I read the first three chapters to my wife I'll restrain myself here, and pass along only the first few lines of the opening which is titled: "A Brief Introduction to the World of Aerwiar." Peterson wants us to know this takes place on an entirely made-up world so he begins with his own creation story: The old stories tell that when the first person work up on the first morning in the world where this tale takes place, he yawned, stretched, and said to the first thing he saw, "Well, here we are." The man's name was Dwayne, and the first thing he saw was a rock. Next to the rock, though, was a woman named Gladys, who he would learn to get along with very well. In the many ages that followed, that first sentence was taught to children and their children's children and their children's parents' cousins and so on until, quite by accident, all speaking creatures referred to the world around them as Aerwiar That gives a good taste of the fun that is to follow. The heroes of this epic tale are three siblings: Janner and his little brother Tink, and their littler sister Leeli. The villains are the Fangs of Dang, under the direction of the "nameless evil...whose name was Gnag the Nameless." Our story begins nine years after the Fangs sailed across the Dark Sea of Darkness and conquered the lands of Skree, and it is in a little cottage, in this conquered land, that the family Igiby resides: the three children, their mother, and their grandfather. The Fangs are cruel, bureaucratic, and they look exactly like "...humans except for the greenish scales that covered their bodies and the lizard-like snout and the two long venomous fangs that jutted downward from their snarling mouths." Oh, and they have tails. And worst of all, they think the Igbiy's have the lost Jewels of Anniera! Janner, Tink, and Leeli don't know anything about any jewels, but they're curious sorts, and they are eager to find out all they can. So Peterson is writing not just a fantasy, but also a mystery, and certainly a comedy. And he's managed to slip in a really good chase film too. Caution A word of warning might be due as far as the comedy is concerned. Some of it could be described as juvenile: no potty humor, but Janner does, at one point, discover a candle made of "snot wax." Peterson peppers the book with footnotes and for the candle he has this entry: 1. Snot wax is too repulsive a thing about which to write a proper footnote. Then there are the vile Fangs of Dang. Their name gives a good indicator of the line that Peterson draws: it leaves no doubt that they are a vile bunch, but Peterson isn't going to use vile language. And yes, the Fangs like to eat brown lettuce, maggot-loaves, and anything that wriggles, but this humor is all of a sort that will appeal to boys, gross out their sisters, and leave parents largely untroubled. Conclusion But what mom and dad are sure to love is the prominent place that parents have in Peterson's story. In most teen fiction parents are either dead or dumb; the teen hero is either an orphan or wishes he was. Here we have a well-respected mother and a grandpa who is doing what he can to fill in for the sibling's long-dead father. So when Janner makes a big mistake and doesn't know what to do he is smart enough – and he loves and respects his grandpa enough – to know he should go to the old man for help. This might be where the author's Christian faith most comes to the fore. Andrew Peterson is better known as a Christian songwriter, and while this is not a specifically Christian fantasy, the virtues lauded in this book are of the sort found in Philippians 4:8. These three siblings know they can look to their grandpa for guidance, for love, and to see what sacrificial leadership looks like. So I'd recommend this as a very fun and positive book for fathers to read with their boys 10 and up, or in some cases maybe even a couple of years younger if they can handle battles and lizard-like villains. This is a fun one that will have both dad and son laughing, and turning pages quickly. I'm learning too, that while there are some notable distinctions between "girl books" and "boy books" if a dad really loves a book, his daughter is quite likely to love hearing him read it. So this could be a very good dad/daughter book too, maggot-loaf aside, with little Leeli giving daughters someone to cheer on too. This was so good I was thankful to discover there were three more titles in this wild and wacky series, plus a short stories collection! The series has been republished now, with new covers and extra pictures inside, so be sure to get the newer version. It's also being turned into a TV series, and a sneak peek is available below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction, Teen fiction

The Bark of the Bog Owl

by Jonathan Rogers 2014 / 248 pages Our hero, Aidan Errolson, is a medium-sized twelve-year-old with dreams that are far bigger. When we join his story he's just putting the finishing touches on a letter: My Dearest King – You will be glad to learn that I am still available for any quest, adventure, or dangerous mission for which you might need a champion or knight-errant. I specialize in dragon-slaying but would be happy to fight pirates or invading barbarians if circumstances require. I would even be willing to rescue a fair maiden imprisoned by evil relatives. That would not be my first choice, since I am not of marrying age. Still, in peaceful and prosperous times like these, an adventurer takes whatever work he can find... For Aidan, it's all that peace and prosperity that's the problem. While his father was a great warrior, and his grandparents carved out a settlement on Cornwald's wild eastern frontier, Aiden's only excitement comes from the imagined foes he fights in defense of the flock he's been tasked to tend. However, things quickly take a turn. First, Aidan hears the bark of the Bog Owl, a creature that has never been seen. Then the Bog Owl turns out to be one of the feechiefolk, who are no less the stuff of campfire stories, akin to impish elves, or fierce boogeyman, and like them both, entirely made-up. But this feechie boy is anything but... and he wants to wrestle. Second, Bayard the Truthspeaker makes an unannounced stop at the Errolson farm to see, so he says, the "Wilderking of Corenwald." And Bayard declares that it is none other than little brother Aidan. That's quite the surprise, and quite awkward too, because Corenwald already has a king, and the Errolson family are his most loyal supporters. Now, if you're a bit quicker than me, this last bit might be ringing some bells, reminding you of Samuel's visit to the house of Jesse (1 Sam. 16). This is where my middlest caught on, but I needed several more chapters. I finally figured it out when Aidan fights a giant. With a sling. And five stones. In my defense, this is only very loosely based on David – Aidan has to deal not only with a giant, but cannons too, and there's no feechie folk in the original either. That it is inspired by, but does not pretend to be, the story of David is part of what makes this so intriguing. While there'll be no confusing the two tales, Rogers' account will have you reflecting on what a tough position David was in, the king not yet crowned, loyal to, and yet chosen to replace, the failed king. Requirements I usually list any possible cautions for the book being reviewed, but there are none for Bark so I'll list one requirement instead: this absolutely needs to be read aloud. The feechie folk dialogue, as it is paced and misspelled, will have you speaking with the most delightful accent, without even trying. Jonathan Rogers makes it easy for a dad to sound good. Conclusion I really can't praise this one enough. I started reading it on my own, and had to stop midway and start again with my girls because this was simply too good not to share. The Bark of the Bog Owl has been compared to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, not so much for story similarities, but because both are clearly Christian and utterly fantastic fantasy. Bark of the Bog Owl is a book that, if you do read it to your children, you can be sure that one day your grandkids will hear their own parents reading it to them too. The two sequels – The Secret of the Swamp King, and The Way of the Wilderking – complete the story. This is really one epic tale split into three parts, so be sure to buy the set. You can preview the first 2 chapters here. And for a second opinion, read Hannah Abrahmason's take at Reformed Reader....

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