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Drama, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

A Vow to Cherish

Drama / Christian 1999 / 84 minutes RATING: 8/10 John and Ellen Brighton are a 50-something couple living a blessed life. They have two children, one grown up son, just heading to college, and a daughter finishing off high school. John runs a successful business, and Ellen is a much-loved elementary teacher. The only turmoil in their life comes from John's brother and business partner Phil, who has never settled down, and seemingly has a new live-in girlfriend every month. But then Ellen faints, and the diagnosis is Alzheimer’s, and their trouble-free life is falling apart. This is an explicitly Christian film, and a cut above most such movies. It was produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and they did it right, with talented actors, and solid cinematography. And the script here is realistic enough that I thought it might be a true story. Ellen has to struggle with confusion, and the anticipation of all she'll lose, but as dementia takes over, John faces a very different battle: the burden of so many responsibilities, increased in now caring for his wife, and doubled in that he no longer has her to help him with his family responsibilities. His business starts to suffer, and John needs someone he can talk to. He finds that in a woman he meets while he's out jogging, who is a willing ear... but not a great idea for a confidant for a married man. Cautions This interaction with another woman doesn't go far, but it does go on for a while. That, and the emotional ups and downs make this one too much for younger audiences. Because this was produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, there are a few whispers of Arminianism, but it's nothing substantial. Conclusion The film begins with a scene years earlier, when John and Ellen's grown son was just a boy, and his appendix had burst. John prays and believes his prayer is answered when the child recovers. But when his young wife is swiftly struck with Alzheimer’s and soon cannot even recognize him, does it mean that God is no longer listening to John’s prayers? And what exactly does it mean to vow to be with someone “until death do you part” in health, and in sickness? Those are questions to bring to God even now, in the good times. That's what makes this a film that every couple should watch together. You can watch it for free online, but you'll have to follow this link to see it on YouTube. I've included the trailer below, but at 3 minutes long, it really hits a lot of the key plot points, so you may not want to watch it. And for a wonderful true story about a husband and wife struggling with Alzheimer’s, you'll want to check out Robertson McQuilkin's biography: A Promise Kept: the Story of an Unforgettable Love, ...

Family, Movie Reviews

Back of the Net

Sports / Family 2019 / 86 minutes Rating: 7/10 Cory Baily is an American teen science nerd whose next stop is a semester-long trip on a research ship departing from Sydney, Australia. But after arriving at the Sydney Airport, she boards the wrong school bus, and ends up on the wrong campus. Now instead of spending a term studying aquatic life, she's at a soccer academy. And she's never played before in her life. Adults are going to be able to predict where this is going right from the get-go, but no worries mate, because they aren't the target audience. And the pre-teens this is aimed at are going to enjoy Cory's fish-out-of-water experience. This is really just a light feel-good film, with Cory going from friendless to gaining a bunch of bosom buddies. There's also a charming jock who doesn't really get science, but can appreciate Cory's passion. The Australian accents and scenery also add to the appeal. There is a villain, of course, but even rich girl Edie isn't all that nasty. She's really just misunderstood, don't you see? Cautions The cautions here are mostly of the too-good-to-be-true nature of the story. Cory might have been a fish-out-of-water to start, but by film's end, everything has turned up roses, and in every possible way. Adults will know this isn't realistic, but the pre-teens might need a reminder that even as confidence can often be key, "believing in yourself" isn't some kind of miraculous guarantee of victory. Another concern is the budding romance between Cory and a very nice boy. While there's just one peck on the lips exchanged (and another attempted kiss) Cory's friends do a fair amount of "ooooh"ing to tease Cory. Sure, it's funny, but parents may want to point out that it's also just plain silly: these kids are too young to be thinking of marriage, so they don't need to (and shouldn't be trying to) contend with all the drama that comes with dating. The only other cautions include three instances of "Oh my gosh," and a beach scene in which two boys are shirtless (though in long shorts). Conclusion Back of the Net strikes me as a cross between one of the better Hallmark films and an old-school Disney TV movie, or in other words, a sweet if predictable story, with decent production values and pretty good acting. Pre-teen girls will love it, and the rest of us won't mind it. ...

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

The Battle for Seattle

by Douglas Bond 2016 / 303 pages Even Canadians have probably heard of Paul Revere’s daring midnight ride to Lexington, Massachusetts…but have you heard of the “Paul Revere of the Puget Sound”? That’s who we meet in Douglas Bond’s book Battle for Seattle, where we experience the conflict between the American settlers and the Native American tribes of the Puget Sound, which is an inlet off the Pacific Ocean in northwest Washington State. This historical fiction follows the life of William “Bill” Tidd, one of the early settlers of area. Although some local Native tribes are friendly towards Tidd and the others settlers, not all are as amiable. Tidd begins hearing rumors of a coming war between settlers and Natives. In an attempt to stop this war before it can begin, Tidd joins up with a local group called the Eaton Rangers who are tasked with capturing the warring Native chief. After being betrayed by one of the Rangers and ambushed by Natives, Tidd must ride through danger to ask for backup, beginning his role as a dispatch rider in the Puget Sound Indian War. Although Tidd had his fair share of daring rides during the war, the title of the “Paul Revere of the Puget Sound” does not fall to him. I’m not going to give it away; you’ll have to read Bond’s book to find out who really holds the title.  The reader is able to follow Tidd in more than his adventures as a dispatch rider, but also in his internal struggle with faith. After the deaths of his parents, Tidd slammed the door on God, but due to the evangelism of some close friends, we see that door starting to creak open.  Although Bond does a terrific job weaving a cohesive narrative of William Tidd, it must be noted that this is a fictional novel and not a history. The major events are true but much of the narrative and some characters have been imagined to allow this story to be told....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Don’t let the Pigeon drive the bus!

by Mo Willems 2003 / 40 pages Pigeon desperately wants to drive the bus. But the bus driver, who has to leave for a little while, tells readers before he goes, “Remember, don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!” Pigeon isn’t going to make it that easy though – for the rest of the book he asks, begs, pleads, whines, and sulks about wanting to drive the bus. The drawings are pretty simple cartoons, but the artist lets us see all Pigeon’s emotions in his body language. Pigeon uses every excuse you’ve ever heard a child use: “I never get to do anything!” “What’s the big deal?” “I’ll be your best friend!” “No fair!” “I bet your mom would let me.” That, of course, is the point of the book, that no matter how inventive a child’s questioning – his whining – might become, no is still going to be no. That’s an important lesson for any child to learn, and this is a fun way for them to learn it. Parents will enjoy reading the book out loud, mimicking Pigeon’s angst and frustration, and kids will enjoy just how silly Pigeon acts. And it will only take a little prodding from mom or dad to have junior realize that sometimes he acts silly too, just like Pigeon. I’d recommend getting the hardcover version of this book because I think your children will ask you to read it again and again. And that’s not too bad, because it is a fast read – there are only about 175 words in the whole story, which means this review is actually a bit longer than the book! There are also seven sequels, and with that abundance comes a warning. While Mo Willems' Elephant & Piggie series can be enjoyed with or without mom and dad's involvement, there is a real sense in which these Pigeon books should be rated PG for Parental Guidance. A somewhat bratty bird in a very limited dose is one thing, but with repeated readings, and with 8 books in total, parents will need to make sure their kids understand we are actually laughing at Pigeon’s ridiculous behavior, and shouldn't be looking to copy it. The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! (2004) – The Pigeon finds a hotdog but also meets a Duckling who has never had a hotdog. What's a self-absorbed, but not utterly selfish Pigeon to do? Don’t let the Pigeon stay up late! (2006) – Parents will love this for how it gives them a term for their kids can't-we-stay-up-5-more-minutes? pleas. “That’s enough guys,” I’ll tell them, “You’re being pigeons and it is time to stop.” The Pigeon wants a puppy! (2008) – This could be inspiration for parents who wonder if their kids really want a pet and the responsibility that comes with it. Pigeon gets a brief test drive with a puppy and changes his mind (now he wants a walrus). The Duckling gets a cookie!? (2012) – The Duckling reappears, this time to ask us, the readers, to give him a cookie. Pigeon wonders why Duckling gets one, and doesn't. The main message kids will get is that Pigeon has never asked... at least, not politely. The Pigeon needs a bath! (2014) – Pigeon hates bathes but once he runs out of excuses he gets to have some wonderful wet fun. The Pigeon has to go to school! (2019) – Pigeon shares his worries – in his usual bombastic way – about going to school for the first time. Reading this with a child who has their own concerns could be a great conversation starter. The Pigeon will ride the roller coaster! (2022) – Pigeon imagines the roller coaster will be exciting... but it only sort of is. This one struck me as only okay, and I'd ranked it 8th out of 8. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Hippopotamister

by John Patrick Green 88 pages / 2016 Hippopotamister isn't strictly a comic or a picture book – it is as much the one as the other – but regardless, it sure is fun. Hippo and Red Panda live in the City Zoo, which is falling down around them. Not only are the gates and habitats falling apart, the lion's mane "wasn't very regal" and "the walrus's smile wasn't very bright." So Red Panda decides to leave the zoo and get a job among the humans. And every now and again he comes back to the zoo to tell Hippo that "Life outside the zoo is great!" An observant child is going to notice that while Red Panda is always enthused, he's also always holding a different job whenever he reports back. It turns out, as we learn when Hippo finally decides to join him on the outside, that Red Panda is great at lining up new jobs, but not so great at holding on to them. So every day it's a new job and a new hat, and a new and funny way for Red Panda to mess up and get himself and Hippo fired once again. Hippo, though, turns out to be quite skilled at all sorts of jobs, and after trying on all sorts of hats, realizes that he might be just what his failing zoo is looking for. Maybe he can run it! The story concludes happily, bringing Red Panda back home, too, with a job that suits his own unique talents. CAUTION The only possible caution I can think of is that at one point Red Panda, instead of catching fish, ends up with a topless mermaid, with arms strategically crossed (see the picture). This is the only picture that is even mildly risqué. CONCLUSION Hippopotamister is a sweet funny story that any child in the early grades will enjoy, and it might be just the thing for a reluctant reader. RELATED REVIEWS: more picture book/comic book crossovers A great riff off of Abbot and Costello's famous routine Who's on First? I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy the Elephant and Piggie series Mo Willems has another fun one with Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus ...

Adult non-fiction, Book Reviews

Worship Matters

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

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Mo Willems' "Elephant & Piggie"

From about three years old and up, my daughters and I have all loved Elephant and Piggie and their whole 25 book series. When I'd bring a new one home from the library often times my littlest would squeal with delight – before having kids I always thought that was just an expression but now I know better. They are great books for preschoolers and also very fun for first graders just learning to read, and even for third and fourth graders to act out. Piggie is the more expressive of the two friends, but Gerald the Elephant can get bouncy and loud too. It's one adventure after another for two very good friends who are thoughtful, fun-loving, curious and most definitely loud (it's no coincidence that nearly every book title is capped off with an exclamation mark!). My daughter loves the stories because the drawings and the characters are just so energized! The plots are simple enough for her to follow, and bring up situations that she understands like dealing with a friend breaking a toy, learning to throw a ball, and cheering up a sad elephant. All of the books are full of silly fun, and most of them teach simple moral lessons without being obvious about it. For example, in Listen to My Trumpet, Piggie's performance is so bad, Elephant doesn't know quite how to tell her. So he praises her for what he can: her trumpet is shiny, and she can play it loud, and she holds it very well. But when Piggie insists on hearing his opinion of her playing, he is honest. Fortunately, it turns out that Piggie wasn't trying to play music, but was instead trying to sound like an elephant, so it all works out in the end. What a great lesson in, and example of, honesty and tactfulness! Another feature I appreciate is that the stories are generally limited to two characters. That makes it a bit simpler to handle giving them different voices. I can go with a high voice for the girl Piggie, and low for Elephant, and that's pretty much the limit of my vocal ability - if a third character shows up they are stuck with my normal voice. And I love that there are 25 of these. When I would eventually get tired of one book (long before my daughters) I could bring home another one from the library, to her squealing delight! They are recommended for 3-9, but nostalgia has even our older kids looking at them now and again. The following are short reviews of each title, by publication date (2007 to when he stopped in 2016). in alphabetical order. These come in durable hardcovers, with each story at 50+ pages, and the whole series has now been collected in 5 "biggie" books for a pretty thrifty price. Today I Will Fly! You may think pigs can't fly, but when Elephant tells Piggie that, it doesn't discourage her in the least. And, with a little help from a friend, she does get off the ground! My Friend is Sad When Elephant is sad Piggie decides to cheer him up by dressing up as a cowboy, then a clown and finally a robot. But he still doesn't cheer up. Why not? Because he is sad that Piggie wasn't there to see them too! One caution: parents may want to note that while friends are a blessing, they are not everything. I Am Invited to a Party! When Piggie is invited to a party, she turns to Elephant to figure out what to wear because "he knows parties!" Good clean silly fun! There Is a Bird On Your Head! Piggie gives the moment by moment commentary as first one bird, and then two, land on Elephant's head, build a nest, and have eggs that soon hatch. Complete nonsense, and lots of fun. I Love My New Toy! Piggie has a new toy she really wants to show Elephant. But when she shows it to him, he accidentally breaks it. Piggie does not deal with this very well, even though Elephant is very sorry. But when it turns out the toy isn't really broken after all, Elephant shows Piggie where her priorities should have been: "Friends are more fun than toys." I Will Surprise My Friend! After Piggie and Elephant see two squirrels having fun jumping out and surprising each other they decide to try it too. They agree to meet at a the big rock. But when they both arrive on opposite sides of the rock, and thus don't see the other, each begins to wonder what happened to the other. The humor here comes in the contrast: Gerald wonders if Piggie might have fallen off a cliff, or been abducted by a giant bird, or whether she might be fighting a scary, scary monster right now while Piggie wonders if Gerald might have gone for lunch. Funny, but Gerald's wondering made this a bit borderline for my three-year-old, making this the only book in the series I wouldn't read her right before bedtime. Are You Ready to Play Outside? Piggie want to play outside. She really wants to play outside. But then it starts to rain. What's a pig to do? Maybe a change of attitude, and a good friend, can help her have fun no matter what the weather. Watch Me Throw the Ball! Elephant is very good at throwing a ball. Piggie... not so much. But she sure has fun trying! A caution I might add for this one is on boasting. All of it is done in fun, but there sure is a lot of it here! Parents will want to point out that boasting in our strength, if we actually mean it, is disgraceful (Prov. 11.:2). Elephants Cannot Dance! Elephants cannot dance – it even says so in a book! But as Piggie reminds her friend, that doesn't mean you can't try! And while Elephant is not very good at doing most dances, he can do a very good rendition of "the Elephant dance." This is a title that, with some parental guidance, can be used to teach children that while they will not be good at everything, they can still try to improve, and they have their own unique talents and abilities. Pigs Make Me Sneeze! Is Elephant allergic to Piggie? Could his best friend be making him sneeze? Or might there be another reason for why Elephant is sneezing all the time? More silly fun! I Am Going! Piggie is going, and Elephant is having a hard time dealing with it. I was hoping this one could be used to teach my daughter how to deal with the "It's time to go home now" situation, this title would just exasperate the drama. Elephant just cannot stand being apart from Piggie, and, it seems, he never has to be. Though I love the series, this is one isn't all that good. Can I Play Too? Elephant and Piggie are going to play catch, but then Snake asks if he can play too. But Snake does not have arms, so how can he play catch? After a few misadventures Piggie, Elephant and Snake figure out how to play the game so then can include everyone. With a little commentary from mom or dad, this is could be a great way to teach kids about thinking of others, and include others in what they do. We Are in a Book! Piggie and Elephant discover that they are in a book. They then have great fun when they realize they can get the reader to say whatever they want (and they really want the reader to say "Banana"). But when Elephant discovers that, like all books, this one is going to end, he and Piggie figure out a way for the fun to continue - they ask the reader to read the book again! This is an inventive book, but a tad taxing if daddy wanted to read just one more book. I Broke My Trunk! This is a laugh-out-loud story for both parent and child. How did Elephant break his trunk? Did balancing a hippo and rhinoceroses on it have anything to do with it? Nope. Or at least, not directly. This is my favorite in the whole series. Should I Share My Ice Cream? Elephant wants to be a generous soul. But share ice cream? It's so yummy! Elephant spends so much time wrestling back and forth that by the time he finally decides to share, his ice cream has melted! But don't worry – Piggie sees that her friend is sad, so, to cheer him up, she offers to share her ice cream. Happy Pig Day! It's "Oinky Oink Oink!" (that's pig for "Happy Pig Day!") and Elephant feels left out – he doesn't have a snout, or hooves, and he is not pink! But then Piggie explains that "Happy Pig Day!" isn't just for pigs; it is for anyone show loves pigs! So that certainly includes Elephant! Listen to My Trumpet! When Elephant hears Piggie playing her new trumpet he has to figure out a nice way to say she is very, very, very, very, very bad! He does a good job, which makes this a fun and instructive book. Let's Go for a Drive! Elephant wants to go for a drive. And if you are going to go for a drive you need lots of stuff, like maps, sunglasses, umbrellas and luggage to carry it all. Fortunately his friend Piggie has everything they need. Or does he? Lots of fun repetition in this one that your child will catch on to quickly and be able to shout out along with you. A Big Guy Took My Ball! Elephant is incensed at the injustice of it all when Piggie comes to him for help, because "a big guy took my ball!" But then he finds out the big guy is really big – he's a blue whale! Fortunately he's a gentle giant, just looking for a friend. I'm a Frog! When Piggie says he's a frog, a surprised Elephant believes him... only to find out that Piggie is just pretending. When this was written in 2013, there was no transgender angle, but now it could be used to highlight how, just as Piggie was never actually a frog, other sorts of pretending also don't make it so. My New Friend Is So Fun! When Piggie makes a new friend, Elephant gets a more than a little insecure. But Elephant eventually realizes he can make new friends himself and still be best friends with Piggie. Waiting Is Not Easy! Piggie has a surprise for Elephant... but he has to wait for it. A looooooooong time. And Elephant is not so good at waiting. Fortunately, the surprise really is worth the wait. I Will Take a Nap! In one of the more surreal episodes, Elephant takes a nap... and dreams about taking a nap. I Really Like Slop! Piggie's slop does not look good. But he likes it a lot, and want Gerald to give it a try. Gerald finds the flys a little off-putting, but after some persistent encouragement from Piggie he gives it a tiny try. And lives to tell the tale. Oh, the things we do for our friends! The Thank You Book In their last book, Piggie wants to be sure to thank everyone who's been involved in the series. But he almost forgets one very big thank-you. Thankfully Elephant is there to help....

Adult biographies, Book Reviews

My Father’s Journey

by Harry Kleyn 2022, 411 pages A few years ago I was asked to teach a North American church history course at Covenant Canadian Reformed Teachers College. As part of that, I spent some time teaching about the history of Dutch immigration to Canada. That’s always interested me, especially because of the stories I’d hear from my Opa Bredenhof. While I don’t think he ever regarded Australia as an option, many others did.  I’ve often wondered: what if…? That’s part of what made Harry Kleyn’s My Father’s Journey such a fascinating read for me. Being familiar with stories of post-war immigration from the Netherlands to Canada, I was really interested to hear what it was like to migrate to Australia. Working with interviews, diaries, and other sources, Kleyn pens a compelling story of the challenges before, during, and after immigration. Lived through two world wars, a Great Depression, and a Liberation We hear the story of his father’s life and family background in the Netherlands. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but it’s surprisingly intense. Having been born in 1913, Cornelis Kleijn also lived through the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. All of those world events figure into the story, but especially the last one. Being of working age, and having served in the Dutch army before the invasion in 1940, Cornelis Kleijn was exactly the kind of man the Nazis wanted to send to Germany as slave labour. How did he escape? Read the book to find out. These were also eventful years in church history. In the middle of the Second World War, a doctrinal and church political dispute was playing out in the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. Calls to set the dispute aside until the end of the war were ignored by those in power. This led to the Liberation (Vrijmaking) of 1944. We read of how Cornelis Kleijn and his wife Willempje found themselves with that Liberation. After the Second World War, the Netherlands was a disaster zone. The economy was in shambles. The Dutch government urged citizens to migrate overseas to reduce the pressure. Countries like Canada and Australia were eager to receive Dutch immigrants.  Canada was out of the question for Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn – too cold!  South Africa was considered, but Australia was for them the best option. Our author relates the story of packing up, saying good-bye, and enduring the long sea voyage to Fremantle, Western Australia. New country, climate, and language, same faithful God Having arrived in Australia, there were new challenges to overcome. There was a new culture, a new language, a new work environment, and a new climate. Many families, including the Kleijns, experienced setbacks. There were various difficulties in church life and Harry Kleyn is forthright about them, but in a respectful manner. In later life, the elderly Cornelis and Willempje Kleijn continued to experience various adversities in their family. The whole story is one of trying times. I remember visiting with an elderly parishioner once who told me he was so thankful because there’d never been any deaths in their family and never any serious illnesses or problems. Everything had gone smoothly in life.  That’s not the Kleijn family as described in this book. This is a family who experienced real hardships. But more than that, what stands out in the story is how God carried them through. With his Holy Spirit, he sustained their trust in him. This is a story of how God lifts up his people in their faith and brings them through the fires. One final thing I appreciated about My Father’s Journey: even though the focus is on Cornelis Kleijn, his wife Willempje isn’t just in the background. Her diary entries and letters are often quoted (in translation). We hear of her frustrations at trying to master English, something she was never able to do. We hear of how hard it was to give birth in a hospital in a foreign land. We hear of the difficulties in keeping a house and raising children when your husband is gone most of the day trying to earn a living. It’s good to hear more about the experience of women in post-war Dutch immigration, especially via first-hand accounts. This is a well-written and well-researched family biography. I highly recommend it, not only for those with an interest in the history of Dutch migration, but also for anyone who just wants to read an encouraging story about how God upholds his people through the toughest times. Even though it’s not a short book, I read it in just a couple of days and I’m sure you’ll find it to be just as captivating as I did. My Father’s Journey is available through most major online retailers....

Drama, Movie Reviews

The Hobbit: the film trilogy

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY 2012 / 169 min (also a 182-min version) Rating: 8/10 THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG 2013 / 161 min (also a 186-min version) Rating: 8/10 THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES 2014 / 144 min (also a 164-min version) Rating: 7/10 Bilbo Baggins was quite content puttering around his garden, sitting in his armchair, and reading his books – he wasn’t looking for adventure. But then a tall wizard and a dozen dwarves asked this small hobbit to come help them battle a huge dragon. It was the sort of offer any respectable hobbit would refuse...and Bilbo did. “An adventure?.... Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner….We do not want any adventures here, thank you!” But something was stirring inside this quiet soul. Might he be an adventurous sort after all? The next day Bilbo surprises even himself by taking the dwarves up on their offer. Off he goes, on a long journey to the Lonely Mountain where the fearsome dragon Smaug guards his stolen hoard of treasure. On the way the company meets trolls, giants, horse-sized spiders, orcs – lots and lots of orcs! – and a kingdom’s worth of elves. But why did they want this little hobbit to come with? The dwarves don’t know; they agreed because the wizard, Gandalf, insisted. And Gandalf isn’t entirely sure himself. The is the best explanation he can offer: “I don't know. Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I've found it is the small things; everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay... simple acts of kindness, and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid... and he gives me courage.” Book to film This is the second time that director Peter Jackson has adapted a J.R.R. Tolkien story to film. The first, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, was one of the few movie adaptions to live up to its source material: three exceptional books became three of the best movies ever made, even as they remained quite loyal to the original story. This time around a great book has been transformed into three films, and while the films are quite good, they hardly resemble the book. Oh yes, all the major plot elements are still there, but because Peter Jackson had to stretch the book into three films he added lots of extra bits. A few of those bits are sweet like a love story between elf and dwarf, but most are violent: two enormous battles have been added and numerous skirmishes. The Hobbit was a children’s tale, a sort of kinder, gentler version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings adventure. But there is nothing kinder or gentler about this film version – children shouldn't see it. So anyone loyal to the book will have good reason not to like the films. But if we forget the book they came from, and think of these films simply as adventure movies, then they are rollicking tales! Cautions The biggest caution concerns the violence because there's lots of it. It is mostly of a bloodless sort, which is why, despite the films’ enormous death toll, they still managed a PG-13 rating. But there is just so much of it! Fearsome villains are one reason this is not a film for children! Very little of it is realistic – it struck me as being video game-ish – but the most disturbing aspect is when it is played out for comic effect. When the this band of brothers fights because it must, that is brave and heroic, and we can cheer them on. But what are we to think when Gandalf slices through an orc’s neck so cleanly his head remains in place? We get a quick look at the orc’s confused, distressed facial expression before Gandalf gives his head a tap to send it rolling off. This is meant to get a laugh, but it just gave me the creebles. Death as comedy? I should also note that while I haven’t watched the extended versions, I have heard that the violence in the extended version of the last film, The Battle of the Five Armies, would be enough to get it an R-rating. I could add some cautions about the occasional bit of juvenile humor (there are a couple of snot jokes, etc.) but since no child should be watching this anyway, and teens and adults aren’t going to be impacted, that will suffice. The only other caution concerns the magic that pops up throughout the film. Some of it is of the dark sort. The villain behind the scenes, causing many of the company’s problems, is the Necromancer, who had nine undead soldiers doing his bidding. He is demonic-looking. Now God condemns witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Leviticus 19:26, 20:6) and the casting of spells, so it’s not a big deal to show a villain making use of magic – they are supposed to be bad! More problematic is when the heroes do it too, and a lot of them do, with Bilbo Baggins even dabbling in what seems to be the dark arts after he finds a magic ring that turns him invisible but which also whispers wickedly – once the ring even tries to convince Bilbo to murder someone! So what should we think of heroes who use magic? That would be a discussion worth having with your kids. Bilbo's use of the ring highlights the dangers of dark magic - in The Hobbit we get only a glimpse of the sort of temptation this ring will pose in the later Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it's enough to know this ring is not some cute play toy but rather an ever-present and enticing lure. Conclusion There is also a lot to love here: the company is courageous, and Bilbo Baggins grows in bravery through the film. Our heroes are quite heroic! Many of the themes are admirable, and even biblical, like: money can corrupt a man has no greater love than that he is willing to lay down his life for another loyalty doesn’t mean blindly following love can require us to confront a friend vengeance can blind us bravery doesn’t mean not being afraid A small weak fellow putting bigger stronger sorts to shame (1 Cor. 1:26-29) It wouldn’t be hard to find many others. So overall I’d rate this as an above-average action-adventure that isn’t suitable for children, but might be enjoyed and discussed with older teens. For a film version of The Hobbit that you can share with children, consider the animated one which I review here. ...

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The Privileged Planet

Documentary 60 minutes, 2005 Rating: 8/10 This hour-long documentary makes a compelling case that we live on a "privileged planet." If the Earth was a different size, or in a different location, or if the moon’s orbit was to shift ever so slightly, then many of the most important scientific discoveries we’ve made about space could never have happened. For example, it is because our moon is 400 times closer to us than the Sun, but also 400 times smaller than the Sun, that allow us to study the outer corona of Sol during solar eclipses. And did you know that our large moon - one quarter the size of the Earth – helps stabilize the tilt of our orbit, giving us our seasons? We are the right distance from the right kind of Sun, with just the right type of internal liquid iron core to generate a magnetic field to protect us from the Sun's most harmful rays. All this is just the way it needs to be! Want to learn more? Well, you'll have to watch the video. But the point is, that the Earth has been clearly designed for life, and it has also been equipped for that life to discover what's going on in the Solar System around us. Now, like many an “Intelligent Designer” presentation, this doesn't specifically credit our Triune God, and that's a shame. But Christians viewers will know Who to praise for the astonishing engineering evidenced not only on our planet, but in our placement in the Universe. Stunning graphics accompany a strong argument, and it sure doesn't hurt that John Rhys-Davies (Gimli, in Lord of the Rings) narrates. This is a superior documentary that will appeal to anyone interested in the way God has designed the solar system, the Milky Way, and our planet Earth. It's available on DVD, some streaming platforms, or you can watch it for free (in 12 parts) below. ...

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

7 (or is it 8?) great board books!

If you want to foster a love for reading in your children, it's never too early to start reading to them. Even newborns will tune in when a parent cracks open a book – a baby doesn't need to understand the story to appreciate mom or dad's calming voice. And if they get to hold the book in their chubby little hands, all the better! The ingredients for a good board book are pretty simple. The most important is probably that it have no sharp corners and be printed with lead-free paper because this is going to be as much a food item as anything else. Eat books, we are told, and babies do! Next, it should be a book parents won't mind paging through again and again. It's on this point that repetitious "classics" like Goodnight Moon and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom have been disqualified. Loved by children though they may be, I know I'm not the only dad to begrudge even one more reading (strangely, I've yet to meet a mom who has the same strong feelings). On a more serious note, board books have become the latest front for our cultural war, with Anti-Racist Baby, Woke Baby, A is for Activist and Feminist Baby in the mix on your local bookstore's board book section. On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative commentator Matt Walsh decided that he'd also entered the board book marketplace. His Johnny is a Walrus is about: a kid who "identifies" as a walrus, the mother who takes him way too seriously, and the doctor who suggests a surgery that turns "feet into fins." Walrus is a satiric take on transgender nonsense, and, in what might be a demonstration of our Sovereign God's sense of humor, it actually ended up on the top of Amazon.com's LGBTQ bestseller list. Really! But whether it be left or rightwing, the point is, politics have invaded even the board book section, so be sure to read before you buy. And, fortunately, with board books that'll only take you a minute. Now let's return to children's fare. The 7 suggestions below are arranged by age, with the first ones best for the very young, and the later ones with material that older sorts can enjoy. Peak-a-boo! by Janet and Allan Ahlberg 1997 / 32 pages The setting is England, and it appears to be right around World War II (judging from the daddy's uniform). The "plot" is very simple – the story starts with a baby in his crib, waking up in the morning and looking around to see what he can see. We follow him through the day, always seeing through his eyes, until his day ends and he heads to bed. It's the book's construction that fascinated my daughter. On the first two-page spread the baby is in her crib on the left-hand side, and the right page is all white, but with a large round hole cut through it so that we (and the baby) can "peek" to see what is on the next page. Once we are done peeking, we can turn the page, and look at a full page of activity – illustrator Janet Ahlberg fills her pictures with layers of detail. There is so much to see Daddy doesn't even mind paging through it again and again and again! Readers get to play peek-a-boo five times, peering through each hole to see what comes next. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle 1969 / 22 pages It's over 50 years old and as popular as ever. The plot is summed up by the book's title: it is about a very hungry caterpillar who eats and eats and eats for a week, and then builds a cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly. There are two different aspects of this book that made it one of my daughter's favorites: First, the inside pages are very easy for little hands to turn because they vary in width. On Monday the caterpillar eats through one apple, and the page with the apple is only a fifth as wide as the rest of the book; on Tuesday he eats through two pears, and that page is two fifths as wide, and so it continues with three plums (three fifths as wide), four strawberries, and finally five oranges. Second, the page covering what the caterpillar eats on Saturday is a two-page spread of colorful cake, ice cream, cheese, sausage pie, watermelon, and more, and it looks good enough to eat. Our little ones liked to turn to this page first, and flipped back to it again and again and again. But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton 1984 / 14 pages Hippo doesn’t seem to be included in much of what her friends are up to. For example, we learn on the very first page of this board book, that “A hog and a frog cavort in the bog… but not the Hippopotamus.” On the next page, it's more of the same: “A cat and two rats are trying on hats… but not the Hippopotamus.” Poor Hippo! She is always being left out. After a few more pages of forlorn Hippo looking wistfully at what others are up to, (and the repeating refrain, “…but not the Hippopotamus”) the rest notice how neglectful they’ve been, and invite Hippo to “come join the lot of us!” Now as we all know invitations are nice, but sometimes people turn them down, even when they really want to go. So we are in suspense as shy Hippo ponders what to do: “She just doesn’t know – Should she stay? Should she go?” So it is with joy that we turn the page to see her exclaim: “BUT YES THE HIPPOPOTAMUS!” That is not, however, the end of the book. One line follows: “…but not the armadillo.” This small creature is staring sadly after Hippo as she joins the group. It is a great end to a remarkable little book. Yes, it is full of fun rhymes, a great rhythm, and has friendly engaging pictures too, but it is this final line that really sets it apart. Here we see that not only should we include others in our groups, but even when we do step outside ourselves, and make that invitation, doing it once, to one person is only a start. There are still others who are being forgotten and could use a friend. And if your son or daughter is in Hippo's position, a different sort of lesson can be taught, to show them that they have to seize opportunities when they come. Poor Hippo would still have been lonely if she had said no. Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann 1994 / 36 pages When a zookeeper does one last walk-thru before heading for bed himself, he says "good night" to each animal, starting with the gorilla. But as he visits each animal in turn, there is a little gorilla and his mouse friend, trailing behind, and unlocking all the cages. Eventually, a whole train of critters follows the keeper to his house and right into his bedroom. It's only when his wife says "good night " to him in the dark, and gets a chorus of "good night"s from all around the room, that the gorilla's entourage is discovered. But it seems the weary zookeeper has dropped right off to sleep, so it's up to his wife to lead all the animals back to the zoo. Well, not all the animals. As she makes her way back home we see that she has some quiet company – the gorilla, and his little mouse friend, won't be left behind! You Are Special by Max Lucado 2000 / 28 pages Punchinello is a wooden "Wemmick" living in a town of other wooden people. These Wemmicks have made a habit of placing stickers on one another, gold stars for good, gray dots for bad. The pretty ones and talented ones always got stars..." but not poor Punchinello. When he tries to jump or run like the others, he trips. And then the others give him dots. "Then when he would try to explain why he fell, he would say something silly, and the Wemmicks would give him more dots." It gets so bad that he doesn't feel like going outside, and he starts to believe what the other Wemmicks are saying about him, that he deserves these gray dots. Things turn around when Punchinello meets a Wemmick, Lucia, who doesn't have any stars or dots. They just don't stick to her. Punchinello wants to know how he can be like that. Lucia tells him to go visit Eli the woodcarver who tells Punchinello that he matters because Eli, his maker, thinks he matters. And the dots and stars won't stick if Punchinello remembers that. Parents will understand that Eli is to Punchinello as God is to us, but some children may need some help understanding this metaphor. This is a great book that older kids can benefit from, perhaps while reading it to their younger siblings. School can be such a battleground, even at a Christian school, with so many children trying to get ahead by putting others down. Parents will appreciate the impact this book's message could have for their children if they really understand that it doesn't matter what others say about us, because we are God's own children, made in His own Image. The one danger here is that the lesson could be readily misunderstood by a child as countering what others think by elevating the child, rather than countering what others think by elevating the thoughts of God. That's a bit of a fine point, but one that parents can help their children understand. This is available as a board book or a slightly bigger picture book, and it is worth getting the one, and then the other as your child ages. Your Personal Penguin by Sandra Boynton 2006 / 21 pages This is my favorite board book of all, but that might be colored a bit by the fact my wife gave it as a gift when we were dating. But what cemented it as a favorite for our kids is the free sing-a-long song you can download for it. Davy Jones of The Monkees does a fantastic job with this little ditty. The tune is memorable, which meant that even I could do a pretty decent rendition singing it to our kids. It's about a penguin who loves a hippo and has a proposal: I want to be your personal penguin I want to walk right by your side I want to be your personal penguin I want to travel with you far and wide... Sanda Boynton has many other great board books including The Going to Bed Book, Fifteen Animals, and Barnyard Dance and while I haven't run across any that aren't great, I did just notice that she's started listing her personal pronouns as "she/her" which is better than going with "he/zer" but still shows she's bought into this "more than two genders" nonsense. So, again, read before you buy. You can check out the Your Personal Penguin song (and other Boynton hits) here. Goodnight Mr. Darcy by Kate Coombs 2015 / 20 pages This is a gimmick, but so brilliantly done it deserves a spot on this list. As you may have already deduced from the title, this is a mash-up of the board book classic Goodnight Moon and a classic of another sort, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  As stated earlier,  I am not a fan of Margaret Wise Brown's 1947 Goodnight Moon. I could handle it once or twice, but the simple repetitions started driving me a little batty even going on thrice. So when I saw this, in the same coloring, and a similar rhythm, but much more clever, I thought it might be the perfect substitute. And it was! Here's a little taste: In the great ballroom There was a country dance And a well-played tune And Elisabeth Bennet – This really is intended for adults, but the rhythm and rhyme will grab your children's interest too. This is not the only board book version of Pride and Prejudice, but as the others lack the same charm, be sure if you have the right author....

Drama, Movie Reviews

Hidden Places

Romance / Drama 2005 / 86 minutes Rating: 6/10 In the Depression of the 1930s, the young widow Eliza Wyatt is trying to help her father-in-law keep their orange farm going. But when he dies suddenly of a heart attack, Eliza doesn't know what to do. She has two children to support, and her only other help is her Aunt Batty. But between the four of them, there's just too much work, too little time, and too pressing a deadline, with a mortgage payment coming due. Then along comes Gabe, a First World War veteran, wandering the rails and backroads of the country, heading away from his home, but towards nothing in particular. They can't afford to pay him. But he ain't looking for much more than a roof above his head. Based on a Lynn Austin novel of the same name, this is a pretty typical Hallmark film, different from the others primarily in that it does have some Christian overtones. I liked this more than my wife, and I think that might have been the orange grove setting, and learning a little bit about how they brought the harvest in way back then. Caution Like many a Christian film, the source of hope and security in this film doesn't seem to be God, but faith. Am I splitting hairs? I don't think so. Even as God is referenced repeatedly – the family reads the Bible together, and Gabe leads them in a prayer – when anyone speak of the importance of "having faith," it seems to be more about keeping up the positive self-talk than an encouragement to put their trust in the almighty Creator of the universe. Conclusion If you're looking for a "safe" film, this fills that bill, but it isn't a keeper. I picked this up on DVD for a couple bucks at the local Christian thrift store, I got my money's worth, and now I'll be donating it back. The trailer below hits the plot points, but I will note that the fast cuts, and the peppy music, might have you thinking Hidden Places is something other than a leisurely-paced film. ...