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Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Ant Story

by Jay Hosler 2024 / 158 pages This is as fascinating and creepy a comic about ants as you're likely to read. Ant Story is narrated by Rubi, an ant different from all the others in the colony in that she can talk. She also differs in that she is drawn rather "cartoony" while they are all quite realistic. It makes for a lonely existence, but being a talking ant means that Rubi can give us quite the inside look at her ant colony. As Rubi gives us the tour, we learn that there are about a "gajillion" ways for an ant to die, and we're shown one right off – an ant that Rubi was having a one-sided conversation with is suddenly slurped up by a "death tongue." Or, as we might describe it, a chameleon ate it. There is a bit of grim humor throughout, which will likely appeal to boys, with the main example involving Rubi and a friend. When Rubi meets what seems to be another talking ant – the first she's ever encountered! – she eventually discovers it isn't actually a talking ant, but is instead a talking parasitic phorid flea (named Miranda) that is growing and developing in the brain of this, now mostly "zombified," ant! That's grim, but realistically grim – these critters do exist, and do lay their eggs in ants, for them to grow and eventually burst out of. But I skipped ahead. Before we discover that Miranda is a phorid, and not just another talking ant, Rubi explains all sorts of ant basics, and we get to learn right along with Miranda. That makes this quite the educational journey. Cautions While the science, entertainingly told, is the reason to get this comic, it is that grim reality that makes for some cautions too. The parasitic phorid, and the predators Rubi and Miranda both evade, will raise questions which many younger readers may not know how to deal with, like: "If God created everything good at the start, why are so many predators so seemingly well designed to kill?" This secular book doesn't offer any answer, but we know it's due to Man's Fall into Sin. But to some, particularly this books younger target audience, that general answer might not seem to adequately account for the impressive design behind these killing machines. Death via something uncontrolled like a volcanic explosion seems easier to understand. That fits with the brokenness that came with sin – the volcano has broken loose! But precision engineering in murderous parasites is the very opposite of brokenness, so... what's with that? Thus this might not be a book for a tween or early teen reader, though it is one that a student in Grade 11 and 12 should certainly be able to contend with before leaving the protective environment of our school. Some answers on this front can be found here: Why did God make viruses? Did God create parasites? If your school library doesn't have any resources addressing the problem of parasites, then it should get something like Answer in Genesis's The New Answer Book (Vol. 1,2, and 3). Another caution concerns Jay Hosler's previous book about bees, which pushes evolution, and is not worth getting. Conclusion This is an absolutely fascinating read that will appeal to many a science-minded student. But the sometimes grim topic matter, and the complex theological issues that are tangentially touched on, mean this is one for high school and up....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Maker Comics: Survive in the Outdoors

by Mike Lawrence 2021  / 123 pages When mom and dad go off on a trip on their ownsome, Sophia and Alonso are driven to their grandpa's to spend the weekend fishing with him. Neither of them is wild about it, but thankfully they aren't bratty about it either: they do love their Grandpa, or Abuelito as they call him. When the kids get to their grandpa's house, it turns out the old man has a few tricks up his sleeve to build up enthusiasm for their outdoor expedition the next day: he gets them both doing a couple of fun projects. The first project has Sophia and Alonso building their own "buddy burner" – a candle of sorts that can be used as a handy fire starter, or even as a small camp stove in a pinch. To make it they have to melt wax and pour it around a cardboard spiral they cut out of a box. There are 8 projects in total, all described in detail so readers, with some parental supervision, can try them too. Some can only be done when you are actually out in the woods, but others can be practiced closer to home. Build a buddy burner Create your own compass Learn how to fish Start a campfire Cook a fish Learn some first aid basics Learn water purification basics Build a shelter After they get out in the great outdoors, their Abuelito twists his ankle, and they are forced to stay in the woods for the night and put these last three lessons to use. This is a survival 101 text disguised as a comic book, and author Mike Lawrence has done a good job of it – boys will be intrigued. Boys will also like a required bit of potty humor. To survive in the woods, you do need to learn how to do a #2 without a potty. Thankfully grandpa is up to the task of teaching how to do this right. I never knew there were so many different ways you can squat! The topic could have gotten distasteful easily enough, but this was done well. Cautions Cautions are limited to the other entries in this Maker Comics series. We liked Draw a Comic but there is definitely a woke edge to some of these others. So these two get two thumbs up, but the series does not. Conclusion Buy this one for your 10 to 12-year-old son, but only if you plan to put the lessons to use. Otherwise, it would be too much of a tease. All in all, a very fun, and very instructive introduction to surviving in the outdoors....

Animated, Movie Reviews

Animal Farm (1954)

Animated / Drama 1954 / 72 minutes RATING: 7/10 This is George Orwell's classic dystopian tale brought to the big screen. A farm setting is used to highlight a conflict between the "working class" – chickens, geese, cows, and pigs – and the wealthy, represented here by the farmer who owns everything. Orwell was anti-communist, but not blind to the problems of the arrogant elite who abused the poor, so his Farmer Jones here is a piece of work, shown whipping the animals in a drunken stupor. When Old Major, the most revered pig on the farm, calls a meeting, all attend. He gives a rousing speech, calling for solidarity against the oppressive farmer, and equality for all animals. But Old Major doesn't live to see the revolution he has called for – he punctuates his speech by collapsing at the end. But he has inspired action. The animals drive out Farmer Jones, and take over the farm for themselves. However, the animals soon learn the same lessons the poor Russians peasants learned when they overthrew the Tsar: being free of one tyrant isn't the same as being free. The pigs soon take the place of the farmer, because, after all, someone has to show some leadership. The pigs are soon eating the farmer's food, and sleeping in his bed too, even as the rest of the animals remain in the barn. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Caution The cautions are of two kinds. Parents could see the trailer and think this could make for a good family night flick. While the simple 1950s animation does mute some of the violence, there are still creature killed both onscreen and off. At one point it is a full out war between a dozen armed humans and all the animals. Not a lot of blood is shown, but way too much for children. That's okay though, because this really isn't intended for an audience too young to understand the moral to the story. The other concern is that teens, and even some adults, might miss some of the nuance here, in part because of changes to the film that aren't in the book. This is a more hopeful version of the tale that ends with the dictator pig, Napoleon, getting overthrown, trampled to death by the other animals. In the book, it ends with the pigs still in charge, now making deals with the humans, and it is getting hard to tell the humans from the pigs and the pigs from the humans. The film's more hopeful ending was likely made because the film was, in fact, produced by the CIA. They may have wanted it to end on a more "democratic" note, the people rising up against their communist dictator. But Orwell's unresolved ending was likely meant to highlight the growing communist encroachment even in the West. And viewers will not get that from the film. But both book and film do critique the abuses that can happen under the arrogant. Orwell wasn't saying that the West was perfect and that only communism was a problem; he was highlighting that communism wasn't a solution to the problems happening in the West, and would only make things worse. Conclusion This is not a film to watch for entertainment; it rates only middling on that scale. But it is a great presentation of one of the more important novels of our time. At a time when "equity" is thought to be the ultimate goal, it's important to teach the next generation where that road really takes us. So, this would be a great one for 12 to 112. You may also be interested in Animal Farm: the Graphic Novel. ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Stealing Home

by J. Torres and David Namisato 2021 / 112 pages During World War II, after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Canada rounded up Japanese Canadians living on the coast and shipped them away to abandoned mining towns further in the interior. To add to the horror, this "temporary measure" came with devastating permanent consequences: their homes and most of their goods were sold, and the money was used to build and maintain their internment camps. So when the war ended and they were released, these families couldn't go home. They had to start from nothing. So how could such a sad chapter of Canadian history get a gentle enough treatment to be suitable for this Grade-4-and-up graphic novel? By focusing on how at least some of these Japanese Canadians managed to overcome their mistreatment. For Sandy Saito, baseball was a big help. Even before the war, anyone of Asian descent didn't exactly fit in with the predominantly white population of Canada. But on the baseball diamond, it didn't matter what others thought; all that mattered was how you played. As we're introduced to Sandy we find out this young boy is a huge fan of the Vancouver Asahi, a local baseball team made up of Japanese Canadians. Because Asahi players were smaller than their opponents, they couldn't play bash ball; their game wasn't about hitting more home runs than the opposition. They, instead, played "brain ball" with steals and bunts. And it worked so well they won the league championship 11 of the previous 24 years. When Sandy and his family were sent away, he took his baseball glove, as did others. They had no insulation in their cabins, and families had to share space. There were outhouses instead of bathrooms. And they couldn't leave. But they could play baseball. I don't have any cautions to offer. The only critique I can think of is that in making this gentle enough for elementary students, the authors might have made a little too little of the horrible abuse that happened. My own fourth grader read this, and thought it was quite good, but it didn't disturb her like it did me. That's probably because I was reading between the lines, and she was just taking it as it was told on the page. As to audience, she didn't know if it would grab a fourth-grade boy's attention. I think she might be on to something. Even though baseball is central to the story, this isn't a sports book. We don't see any great plays, or tight games, so it doesn't have that sort of boyish pull. But for elementary-and-up kids with any interest in history, this will be a very intriguing read. And for adults like me, who never knew about these events, this is a must-read. If we want our government to act with restraint in the future, we need to remember the times when it didn't do so in the past. We need to know, and we need to share that history, lest in forgetting it, we have to live through it again. For a more brutal account of how the US treated Japanese Americans during the war, you'll want to read We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration....

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Keiko Kasza: All about cartoon critters

Author and illustrator Keiko Kasza was born in Japan and moved to the US for college only to meet and marry an American and then become American herself. On her website she shares the fun factoid that while her last name sounds Japanese, it actually comes from her husband, whose family has Hungarian roots. Kasza loves to people her stories with adorable furry and feathered friends, and illustrates in a somewhat cartoonish style, coloring characters in bright colors and surrounding them with plenty of bright white space. There's often a gentle moral shared, and of the sort that'd we'd appreciate, like: adoption is good, try to be brave, grandparents have lessons to share, and sometimes two disagreeing friends may discover they have both been a little wrong and a little right. There's a sense of playfulness to her work, perhaps because some of her books come off a little like a joke, the build-up leading to a satisfying punchline. And, at 32 pages each (and shorter for the board book), they are all pretty quick reads, which means you can share two or three at a time with your little ones. Sadly, some of her titles aren't readily available, so I've noted the ones that are easier to get by including a cover picture. But all twelve of the recommendations are worth putting in some effort to track down. RECOMMENDED (12) Silly Goose's Big Story (2012) Goose is so good at making up stories, his friends always ask him for more. But when the roles get handed out, his friends start noticing that Goose always gets the hero role. And they want a turn too. Goose isn't about to do that. Then a wolf interrupts things, swoops up Goose, and tells him, "So you're the hero, huh? More like a hero sandwich to me!" Goose can't get away. But he can tell a story. So Goose tells the most outlandish story about a wolf-eating monster that lives in the area. And who should be coming through the woods right then, but the monster himself! Wolf runs off, and we discover the monster is nothing more than Goose's three friends stacked atop each other. Goose gives them thanks, and notes that they are the real heroes! It's a sweet story, where friends fight, but figure it out... with some help from a wolf. :) Ready for Anything! (2009) Duck wants to go on a picnic, but Raccoon wonders, what if killer bees, or a terrible storm, or even a ferocious dragon make an appearance? In contrast, Duck is a glass-half-full kind of guy, and has his own what ifs to share: what if butterflies pass by, and what if the weather is warm and the breeze just strong enough to blow a kite? Raccoon agrees to go, but brings loads of gear – he’s ready for anything! – and actually saves the day when Duck forgets to bring their food. I loved that both friends learn a lesson: Raccoon learns not to obsess about the bad, and Duck learns that it’s not crazy to prepare for bad stuff, because it does sometimes happen. The Dog Who Cried Wolf (2005) When Moka's owner reads a book about wolves, Moka starts getting jealous. He wishes he could be a wolf. So the next day he takes off for the mountains. The only caution for the book concerns his celebration: "He ran. He jumped. He danced. And he peed where he wanted." That is, however, the only bit of potty humor. And soon after celebrating his freedom Moka realizes it isn't all that it is cracked up to be. He is soon very hungry, and he can't catch his dinner. Then, when he meets a pack of real wolves, Moka realizes that he never understood how good he had it back home. When he runs back, he's met at the gate by his master, her arms wide open to hug him – this could have been titled "The Prodigal Dog"! The Mightiest (2003) A lion, bear, and elephant happen upon a crown with an inscription that says it is for the mightiest. To figure out how should get it, they take turns trying to scare an old lady. Each, in turn, manages to "scare the daylights out of" the old lady. But then the three of them get scared themselves when a giant comes along and scoops them all up. "Help!" they all cry, and who should rescue them but the little old lady. She is the giant's mama, and since he's sure scared to disobey her, isn't she the mightiest of this whole lot? My Lucky Day (2003) A hungry wolf thinks it must be his lucky day when a delicious piglet, looking for his friend rabbit, knocks on the door. But as the wolf’s dinner prep begins, the piglet notes “I’m filthy. Shouldn’t you wash me first?” And so the wolf sets out to collect wood, start a fire, draw the water and give the piglet a wonderful scrub. As they head back to the kitchen the piglet notes, he’s quite small, and wouldn’t he be more delicious if the wolf fattened him up. Yes, the wolf agrees, and he picks tomatoes, cooks spaghetti, bakes cookies, etc. Piglet ends up having such a wonderful time that he thinks it must be his lucky day. And the wolf gets so tuckered, the piglet easily makes his escape. There is a sequel, My Lucky Birthday (2013), that's almost its match, marred by one use of “gosh.” Don’t Laugh, Joe! (1997) Joe is a young possum who can’t help but giggle. That’s fun for all his friends, but his mom is worried that it might give him away when danger comes – after all, possums evade danger by playing dead, and no predator is going to believe a laughing possum is dead. But with a little help from a grumpy bear, he figures it out… and helps the grumpy bear see the funny side of things too. A Mother for Choco (1996) A little bird looking for a mother finds a giraffe that’s the right color… but she doesn’t have wings. A penguin mother has wings, but doesn’t have Choco’s round cheeks. And so the hunt goes on. Finally she meets mother bear, who looks nothing like Choco, but wants to hug and kiss her like a mom would. And they decide that’s what matters. Choco heads home with the bear, and discovers she has other children that also don’t look like her: a pig, a crocodile, and a hippo. I think the point of this is to celebrate adoption, and it does a good job (though I would have liked it more if dad bear had shown up). Grandpa Toad’s Secrets (1995) On a walk in the forest, Grandpa toad shares with his little grandson three secrets to dealing with danger. The first is to be brave, and when a snake jumps out to eat them, Grandpa puts his advice into action. He puffs himself up, until he’s twice his normal size and shoos the snake away. His second piece of advice? Be smart! When a huge snapping turtle tries to eat them, Grandpa tells the turtle about an even tastier snack that just slithered by only moments before. Before he can give his third piece of advice, a monster grabs him. Thankfully, little grandson has been listening, and uses the first two tips to mount a very brave and very smart rescue of his dear ol’ grandpappy. A very fun story! When the Elephant Walks (1990) A scared elephant scares a bear, who in turn scares a crocodile, and so on, until we have a running raccoon accidentally scaring a mouse. Will it all stop with the mouse? Who would be scared by a mouse? Well... an elephant of course! So round we go once more. This board book is clever, but it is very short, taking just a minute to read. The Pig’s Picnic (1988) Mr. Pig wants to ask Miss Pig out for a picnic, and on the way to her house, he meets three friends, who all want to help him look his very best. Fox loans the pig his bushy tail, while Lion gives his hair, and Zebra shares his stripes. But with Mr. Pig now looking so very different, Miss Pig slams the door on him. And when he comes back looking like himself, she is happy to go on a picnic with him, and eager to tell him about the ugly monster that had visited that morning. The moral of the story is to be yourself, not someone else. The Wolf’s Chicken Stew (1987) A wolf anticipates eating a wonderful chicken stew. But before pouncing on the chicken, he leaves gifts of 100 pancakes, followed by 100 doughnuts, then a 100-pound cake, all in an effort to fatten the chicken up. When he finally thinks it’s time to pounce, he goes to her house only to discover a grateful brood of 100 chicks who have been enjoying his cooking. The newly minted “Uncle Wolf” gratefully receives their 100 kisses. TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT (1) Badger’s Fancy Meal (2007) Badger has plenty to eat in his hole, but wants something fancy. So he goes after a mole, rat, and rabbit, all of them escaping in turn by diving into the hole he just left…where they find what, in their eyes at least, is a fancy feast just waiting for them. When the Badger finally returns to his den he finds his food gone. All that’s left is a note, signed by three critters: “Sorry for dropping by uninvited. A nasty badger was chasing us and we had nowhere else to hide. The apples, worms and roots were delicious.” The bad guy gets what he deserves, which is good. But the reason I didn’t rate this higher is because as parents we also need to teach our children that we should be thankful that God is not giving us what we deserve. DON’T BOTHER (3) Finders, Keepers! (2015) A little squirrel in a bright red hat finds a big acorn and celebrates with a shout of “Finders Keepers.” He buries it for later, marking the spot with his hat, which is later found by a bird, who thinks it would make for a great nest and takes his turn at declaring “Finders Keepers.” And on it goes. This is a light-hearted tale but only because it completely ignores that finders keeping leads to losers weeping. We don't want our kids living out the moral of this story: instead of being keepers, finders should try to be returners. Dorothy and Mikey (2000) Two hippopotamus best friends share three stories here, all three of which center around fights. In the second, Dorothy pulls a trick on Mikey because he's being all braggadocios about how much better he is at their contests. She challenges him to a contest of standing on one leg with eyes closed to see who can do it longer. But once they start, she goes home and enjoys a nice cool lemonade while Mike continues standing on one leg in the hot sun for hours, thinking she is there too. This is just returning evil for evil, which God doesn't want us to do (1 Pet. 3:9). The Rat and the Tiger (1993) A little rat is best friends with a big tiger who isn’t always looking out for his little friend. For example, when they play cowboys, Tiger always gets to be the good guy, and Rat has to be the bad guy. After a lot of this, Rat gets fed up and won’t be friends with Tiger until Tiger gets a taste of his own treatment. But while Tiger was thoughtless, Rat treats Tiger badly on purpose. This is one to give a miss because as much as the world preaches it, we don’t want our kids to ever believe two wrongs make a right.  ...

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

by Nick Bertozzi 2014 / 125 pages Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton was obsessed with reaching the South Pole. He tried to be the first to get there, setting out on two expeditions that fell short when harsh conditions drove them back. Ultimately he was beaten to the Pole by a Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, who made it there in December of 1911. But if Shackleton couldn't be the first to the Pole, then he was determined to be the first to traverse the Antarctic from one side to the other. With this ambitious goal in mind, he set out with his crew on August 1, 1914. Shackleton would fail this time too, but in such a spectacular and heroic manner that the tale of his failure has been retold again and again in countless books and several documentaries. His ship sunk, his sled dogs were killed to be eaten for food, and his crew was stranded on an icepack that was constantly breaking up, the only solid ground being an island 100 miles away across the open water. Yet, somehow, Shackleton and his crew all made it home alive, more than 2 years after they left. Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel is one of the latest and certainly one of the greatest additions to the Shackleton canon. At times humorous – it includes a toga party and a stowaway who readily accepts that should food be in short supply he will be the first eaten – and gripping throughout. Bertozzi presents Shackleton as a man who would risk much, but who wouldn't throw away his men's lives to complete this goal. As obsessed as he was with the Pole, Shackleton was more obsessed about his men's well-being and he was determined to do whatever it took to get them back home. Cautions This does have some language concerns, but doesn't take God's Name in vain. "Damn" or "damned" occurs about a half dozen times, and also notable is the use of the word "bloody" which I understand is quite offensive among the British (but doesn't seem so bad to me) – it is used more than a dozen times. Conclusion I'd recommend this for any teens who might have a history project to do. They might not find it as gripping as the latest Marvel movie, but this is a pretty rollicking tale, and especially if they keep in mind that this is true, it really could grip them. Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey will also appeal to any adults who aren't embarrassed at the thought of being seen reading a comic....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Little Robot

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

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Fern and Otto

by Stephanie Graegin 40 pages / 2020 Fern is a bear, an author, an illustrator, and a best friend to Otto, the adventurous cat who shares her treehouse abode. Fern has authored a book, and naturally, it is about her best friend and the activities they get up to together, like eating lunch and napping in the sun. Otto likes napping, but he isn't wild about being immortalized in a book as a napper. He wants the story to be about something more adventurous. And that means Fern and Otto need to head outside and find excitement. So off they head into the woods, two friends looking for some sort of heart-pumping happenings. This already delightful book amps up the delight when Fern and Otto come across all sorts of fairytale events – they bump into the Tortoise and the Hare right as their race is about to start – only to have Otto insist they keep walking so they can find something more interesting. Kids will enjoy spotting familiar fairytale critters (like the Three Little Pigs shuttling their supplies) who show up in the background a few pages before Fern and Otto eventually bump into them. Fern and Otto are both clueless as they just miss one adventure after another, meeting Goldilocks, but leaving before the Three Bears show up, and walking with Little Red Riding Hood, but heading their own way just before she reaches Grandma's house. The Gingerbread Man, Hansel and Gretel, Chicken Little, and many more make quick appearances. It's only when the two best friends stumble across a witch that they realize that excitement isn't all it's cracked up to be, and home sounds pretty good right about then. The fractured fairytales are great fun, and I also appreciated this for the kid-level look it provides of the creative process – we get to see Fern write her book, work with feedback, and then rewrite it. Two thumbs way up!...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

Mooses with Bazookas

by S.D. Smith 2023 / 160 pages I liked this book so much that right after I finished it, I read it again, this time to my kids for bedtime. Like C.S. Lewis before him, S.D. Smith is a popular Christian author who had some curious correspondence land in his lap. In Lewis's case, it was serious stuff – he somehow got his hands on notes from a senior devil to a junior devil, instructing him on how best to tempt and devour people. Lewis later published this correspondence as The Screwtape Letters.  Smith got sillier stuff, but how he got his hands on these letters is every bit as mysterious. Eleven "jug notes" from one Wally Warmbottom, author, expert, and solitary shipwrecked resident of the deserted island of Peachpitistan, somehow floated across the ocean to Smith, who lives in the land-locked state of Virginia. Smith doesn't understand it, but he collected and has now published the notes. As Wally Warmbottom recounts it, his small island is full of peach pits and beach pits, both of which are tripping hazards. It also has a "story cave" with tales preserved there in jugs, written by, well, who knows? The stories didn't interest Wally, but he thought Smith could take a look, so the book includes, in addition to 11 letters from Wally, four of these short stories. What Wally missed, you will most certainly enjoy, as "Binsley Bustbocket burns the buns" and "Rocket and Elsie and Rocket" are a hoot! This is wonderfully stupid throughout, but I think I might have most enjoyed one running gag that pops up in a couple of Wally's letters, and also in the title story. Barry the Moose has been having quite the day: Fort Moosefort has been overrun by flame-thrower-wielding bears, Barry's lucky stick has been burnt to ash, and a bear bullet broke off a favorite bit of his antler. So now he's on the run, and who can this silliest of all creatures turn to when he's in desperate need? Well, Science of course. But when Barry invokes his god, it's always to no effect. "The bears started firing rocket launchers at the cabin. 'Trust in Science!' I screamed..." "I swiveled and saw a pack of wolves rushing at us with fully loaded shotguns. Were they locked as well? I couldn't tell. I didn't know if you could lock one or if you would even want to in a fight, because if it's locked, can you still shoot it? ...'Help me, Science!' I cried as I dove behind a skinny tree." "The wolves had abandoned the chase – or at least the chase of me. Maybe that was bad news for J. J. whathisname or whathisinitials, but for me, no loaded or locked gun would be fired or shot at me for a while. May Science guide you, I thought towards J.D., finally remembering his intials..." It's a joke that will breeze right over the kiddos' heads, but is there for mom and dad to appreciate. So, a silly goofy story, with some political subtext – what more could you want? Maybe the only critique I would have is that, other than this being both hilarious and clean, I wouldn't have had reason to suspect the author was Christian. That said, it might be hard to include God – Who appreciates silly, but is not at all silly – in such a deliberately insubstantial book. I'll rate this as a great one for everyone eight and up, so long as they can appreciate Dad-joke humor. For a good taste of the silly, check out the book trailer below. And if you like this, S.D. Smith has written a less silly but more adventurous series on "rabbits with swords." Check out our review of the first book: The Green Ember. ...

Family, Movie Reviews

My friend Flicka

Family 1943 / 89 minutes Rating: 7/10 All Ken wants is a colt of his own, and seeing as his dad raises horses, that doesn't seem an unreasonable ambition. But all Ken's father wants is for his son to start using his head, and he's not sure when or if that's ever going to happen. The boy's fifth-grade report card is impressive in the worst possible way – Ken managed to get a zero in English. He daydreamed his way right through the hour-long test and never even got started. So it's against his better judgment that stern poppa does indeed give his underachieving son his choice of a colt. But dad is left shaking his head once again when his son picks Flicka, a colt from the most "loco" mare on the ranch – Ken has picked a colt that may not even be tameable! And shortly after getting picked, Flicka proves just as wild as the father feared, running straight into a barbed wire fence. There is a silver lining – the injured colt needs attention, and Ken shows himself both willing and able. Might this daydreaming boy be on the way to becoming a young man? Cautions Parents will want to know that one of the horses, a wild mare named Rocket (Flicka's mom), dies suddenly midway through the film. I was surprised – I figured the horse was just stunned, and even reassured our kids it would recover. But nope. This was shot in World War II so I think the times may have resulted in kids then that were made of a little sterner stuff, so one horse getting killed might have been no big deal to them. But it might be a bit of something to some of our sensitive ten-and-under kids, who have grown up on children's fare where the peril never results in anything permanent. Rocket's death makes Flicka's own brush with death – at one point dad gives the order to put him down – much scarier than it otherwise would have been. Shucks, it seems like there's no guarantees in this movie about who is going to make it to the end. But parents can reassure their kidlings that Flicka will indeed make it. Language concerns are limited to a few "doggone it" and "gee whiz"s. Conclusion One modern-day reviewer celebrated this as a "great movie for kids with no... sex, drugs or cursing." It is that. But it is also an older film that doesn't have the frenetic pacing of most of today's kids' stuff. That means it might test some children's attention spans, but that could be a very good thing. I'd suggest it for 10 and over, but I'm not quite sure whether its hundreds of horses might make this a great one for horse-crazy girls, or whether the death of Rocket might mean they'd be the worst possible audience. I'll also note that in our family of five, three quite liked it, one fell asleep, and one was quite distraught over poor Rocket. So, if you're looking for a sure-fire bet for family movie night, this might not be it. But if you want something from a more decent time, this could fit the bill. It's full of characters with character, whether that's a stern but loving dad, a compassionate capable mom, respectful ranch hands, or even the son, a kid who isn't measuring up but wants to. Check out a brief clip below. ...

Articles, Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Mr Putter & Tabby: 25 sweet stories

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

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

The Boxcar Children: Great Adventure

1. Journey on a Runaway Train 2. The Clue in the Papyrus Scroll 3. The Detour of Elephants 4. The Shackleton Sabotage 5. The Khipu and the Final Key created by Gertrude Chandler Warner  2017 / 687 pages total The Aldens are four children – Benny, Violet, Jessie, and Henry – aged 6 to 14, who, after being orphaned, ran away and found an abandoned railway boxcar in the woods which they turned into their new home. The very first book in the series, The Boxcar Children, published way back in 1924 is all about how their grandfather searches for them, and how they hide from him, thinking him to be a mean man since he'd never come to visit the family when their parents were still alive. But, as so often happens in children's stories, this bad guy turns out to be not so bad after all: Grandfather Alden is actually a wonderful man (and rich too) who loves them very much. Eventually, all the misunderstandings are cleared away and the children go to live with him in his big house. To top things off Grandfather Alden has their boxcar brought to his house's backyard, so they can use it as their clubhouse. That first Boxcar book spawned 200 more, with this Great Adventure series published almost 100 years after the original story. Great Adventure is really just one story, 687 pages long, that's been divided into five books (each 129-145 pages) for the sake of making it a lot less intimidating for the intended 8- to 10-year-old audience. The setting is modern day, and the mystery that starts it all takes the children around the world to retrieve lost treasures. It turns out there are two groups after the treasures: a good "Reddimus Society" that wants to restore the items to the museums where they belong, and a bad Argent group that just wants to keep the treasures for themselves. The children are allied with the Reddimus Society and use the group's plane to fly from one place to the next. But somehow the Argents always seem to know where the Aldens are heading. Could one of their pilots be a traitor? And if so, which one? Cautions The main caution is God's complete absence. This struck me as a lot like a typical Christian kids' fiction series in how safe it is: a loving grandfather, his sweet grandchildren, and all sorts of other very kind people contend with villains who are most often misunderstood rather than evil. And unlike pretty much all the children's fiction published after 2020, there's no one here sharing their pronouns or any of that sort of wackiness. Safe. But that's not exactly a recommendation – to badly paraphrase Chesterton, it's good for children to read about evil, not to learn about its existence, which they already know, but for them to realize that evil can indeed be fought. At the same time, there is a time and place, so some nice safe books, in a moderate dosage, can be good too. It is that safety that makes these a favorite among Christian families (and even sold in some Christian bookstores).  But it struck me that in the stories themselves, there's not a Christian to be found anywhere. Nor is there any hint of Christianity – Sunday is celebrated as a day off of school when they can work on their projects. When the kids get into trouble, God's absence becomes all the more noticeable since the kids never think to ask Him for help. So, even though the first story was written a century ago in what was still a largely Christian culture, this is an entirely secular series. So, this 5-book series could be great fun, but you might not want your kids immersing themselves in dozens and dozens of books from this godless 200-book series. One other caution has nothing to do with these 5 books. If your kids want to check out more Boxcar, there are a couple of hundred others. However, while the original 19 books written by Gertrude Chandler Warner all seem similarly "safe," the 150+ books written after her death aren't always so. There's still no one offering pronouns (so far) but in one, Native spirituality is given a soft endorsement, and it might have been that same book where Man was presented as more an enemy of Nature than as the caretaker that God has charged us with being. So parents shouldn't presume that the whole series is reliably safe. Conclusion This 5-book set is just a fun, simple adventure that has enough suspense to keep its young target audience on edge. It's also a bit of an educational travelogue, with readers learning at least a bit about each country they visit, which includes Egypt, England, Italy, India, China, Thailand, and even Antarctica. For kids just learning to read, they'll feel a sense of accomplishment in tackling all five, and if a little one finds working through it a bit tough, the audiobook version is quite well done. Overall, this is a story that most boys and girls under 9 will really enjoy, whether it is being read to them, or they are tackling it themselves....

Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

God’s Daring Dozen: A Minor Prophet Series

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

Internet, Sexuality

…the Internet can pervert anything  

Parents need to know that, whether it's biblical fiction or a favorite boy band, innocent interests are being used to draw good kids into evil, dangerous corners of the Web **** Warning: the following addresses pornography and sexual content Born in 1998, I grew up in the generation when the iPod Touch and cellphones were starting to become more accessible to teens. This had a massive effect on my journey through puberty, my struggle to view sexuality in a healthy, biblical manner, my exposure to non-biblical perspectives and content, and my relationships with peers. This technology was new to parents as well, and many were none the wiser to what information and entertainment their children were suddenly able to access. Today, we no longer have that excuse; private, personal access to the Internet is here, and it is riddled with temptations and depraved content. Parents need to keep informed. No real limits, no oversight             At age 13, I was surrounded by classmates using the iPod Touch, which had all the features of an iPhone except the option to place calls or texts without Wifi. Any app could be downloaded, any website accessed, and any game played. I bought a second-hand iPod off of a classmate for $20, and a whole new world opened up to me; I could message my friends from home rather than having to call them on the landline! We could talk privately without being overheard, something that was of paramount value to awkward youths who had reached the age when nothing is more embarrassing than your parents overhearing you discuss crushes and the like. Just girls reading Old Testament fiction… Several apps began trending amongst my peers, one of which was an app and website anyone could use to write a book, and anyone else could use to read those books; all you needed to do was create an account. This was very popular amongst girls my age. A particular fictional favorite series in my class was set in Old Testament times; it was from a young woman’s point of view, and contained a fairly innocent love triangle. There was little harm in the series itself. But the app contained scores of books, accessible to whoever desired to read them, and as we all began exploring the app, we discovered something else entirely: erotica. I cannot count the number of poorly written stories I devoured. My parents had told me about the basics of sex, and about God’s design for it, but this new narrative was something completely different. It didn’t matter that I had been taught a biblical view of sex; I now had access to a different definition of it. Curiosity can fester into a full-fledged addiction. We see this with drugs, alcohol, money – all of which are things that children raised in a God-fearing home do not have unhindered access to, things that parents can monitor with relative ease. And it used to be simple to monitor your child’s access to pornography; it took bold action to get ahold of dirty magazines purchased at a corner store, and those magazines had to be hidden under a bed. Even when looking back on your lifetime to your own childhood, most if not all of parents would agree that children and teenagers did not have the same ready access to pornography then. Today is not the same. If your child has a device, they have the possibility to discover virtually thousands of corner store magazine racks. And all of this in the palm of their hand. Whether in the past or the present, children are not equipped with the discretion to navigate most conversations about sex, let alone sexual content and entertainment. By the age of 15, I had read hundreds of gratuitously graphic pieces of literary pornography; I was addicted. The majority of these consisted of “fanfiction.” … to erotic fan fiction Fanfiction is defined by Google as “fiction written by a fan of, and featuring characters from, a particular TV series, movie, etc.” To give some further context, the popular and sexually charged book-turned-film franchise Fifty Shades of Grey started out as a fanfiction of the popular young adult vampire series Twilight. There are different genres in fanfiction, one of which includes the “y/n” character, meaning “your name”; these stories are written as though from the reader’s point of view, and fuel fantasies in which the reader is inserted into romantic and sexual relationships with the characters from whatever story the fanfiction is inspired by. Young preteens can explore written fantasies in which they are the love interest of one or more of their favorite characters, fueling incredibly unrealistic ideals and twisted notions of healthy sexuality. Another genre of fanfiction that is hugely popular is where two characters who do not have a romantic/sexual relationship in the original canonical story are given a new storyline. The vast majority of these “ships” (the slang term for relationships) are not heterosexual. Preteens and teens are lured in by extra content about their favorite characters, while gradually being desensitized to sexually graphic content. They can take their pick from hundreds of smutty stories about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, Captain America’s Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, Harry Potter’s Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, Merlin and Arthur, etc. Even more alarming are the number of stories in which real people, generally celebrities, are “shipped” together. Does your child have a favorite secular music artist? Chances are, there are fanfictions out there about them. Most common among these are fanfictions about members of boy bands. There are stories in which two band members have a secret relationship behind the scenes, and fans don’t know; there are stories in which two band members – who live in an alternate universe and happen to be vampires, or rich CEOs of companies, or strippers, or baristas – meet and start dating. There are stories in which five plus members of a boy band are all members of a werewolf pack, and engage in polygamous sexual activities together. As PluggedIn’s article on fanfiction puts it, “a major draw for fanfiction writers and readers is usually the exploration of forbidden romance.” Maybe you have parental controls installed on your phone, and you think, “My child has no access to these sorts of things.” But fanfiction is literary, and it isn’t screened in the same way that visual pornography is. Children can access these stories by merely clicking “I accept” after reading a warning of graphic content. Boys and their cartoons… While I and many of my female peers were exploring these things, the boys were doing something similar. Many boys were watching “anime” on their iPods and iPhones. Anime is defined by Google as “a style of Japanese film and television animation, typically aimed at adults as well as children.” Just as with the content on my writing/reading app, some of these anime shows were harmless, and even contained messages of loyalty, friendship, and other important themes. If you’ve ever noticed your child watching an anime series, you may have thought it was merely an innocent cartoon, and not paid any further attention to it. But many anime series have overtly sexualized female character designs, with unnatural body proportions, and severely immodest clothing. Worse than that, many anime series contain graphic sexual scenes; there is even a category of anime geared specifically towards pornographic content. Male peers admitted to me in later conversation that it was through anime that they discovered pornographic websites. As young teens, they had no credit cards to pay for authentic, licensed anime streaming sites, and so they accessed their anime shows through illegal websites, many of which had flashing advertisements on every page. Nearly every boy in my class and wider peer group was watching pornography on a regular basis by the age of sixteen; some of us girls were curious enough to check it out, too. The pull parents didn’t understand Our parents tried to keep an eye on what we were up to. But it was easy enough to convince them that we were simply reading a harmless book or watching a harmless cartoon. For some of us, our parents set a boundary of not having our electronic devices in our rooms when we went to bed, but we still had access to these things in the bathroom, on the school bus, even in the foyer at school. If you passed by your child in the living room and saw them reading a paragraph or watching an animated show on their phone, how often would you sit next to them and see what they’re reading? Or, perhaps the more relevant question: what is the likelihood they would hide their screen immediately? Many parents today fall into one of two categories: they don’t want to invade the privacy of their teens, and thus leave them to their devices or they constantly demand to know what their children are up to, leading their kids to become more aloof and secretive. I remember being a young teen, and how I chafed against my mother’s occasional questions about what I was reading on my phone. I’d even blatantly lie about it for fear of the truth being discovered. I cannot imagine how much more I would have pulled away from her if she had badgered me about these things. Leaving our kids defenseless In Reformed circles, it is not uncommon for parents to refrain from teaching their children about sex before adulthood. In some cases, parents are so uncomfortable with this that they do not tell their children until they are preparing for marriage, or they do not tell them at all. Some parents, in contrast, give their children too many details at too young an age. I have peers who fall into all of these categories. Finding the balance in this seems very difficult. The biggest issue here is that, due to the prevalence of graphic sexual content available to today’s youth, many are learning about sex through erotic literature or visual pornography. Pornography is typically filmed by men, for men; erotica is typically written by women, for women. Men are creating a fantasy of what to expect from women in a sexual relationship, and women are creating a fantasy of what to expect from men in a sexual relationship. The result is an incredibly narcissistic view of sexuality, stemming from a focus on the reader or viewer’s satisfaction, with no consideration for the other party and no understanding of God’s design for sex and the expression of love it is meant to be. When a boy or young man watches porn, he is buying into a fantasy where he has ultimate power, and the woman’s presence is meant for his pleasure alone. When a girl or young woman reads erotica, she is buying into a fantasy where a man is so utterly consumed by his need for her that he will do absolutely anything for her, as he cannot resist her near-goddess status. (Most females depicted in these books do not believe themselves to be attractive, feeding everyday women the narrative that the most attractive men out there will be attracted to them, and they should not “settle for less.”) This sort of content creates a fantasy of self-worship. It teaches boys and girls to view sex through a greedy, twisted lens. And it’s not slowing down. Common Sense Media’s research report “Teens and Pornography” surveyed a demographically representative set of teens in the United States, and the collected data revealed that 72% of the teens surveyed they had seen pornography; of those, 54% saw it by age 13, including the 15% who saw it by age 11. I am a Gen Z’er. The Oxford Dictionary defines Generation Z as “the group of people who were born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, who are regarded as being very familiar with the Internet.” I would like to suggest a new definition: “The group of people born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s who have been, en masse, bombarded with pervasive, self-indulgent content – deemed acceptable under the label of expression – to the point that they have been convinced to take up the mantle of blurring the line between advancement and destruction.” Better to pluck out your eyes Roughly two years ago, I made the decision to leave social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, I deleted my accounts for all three. Very quickly I noticed an improvement in my moods, thought processes, and overall mental health. But today’s modern message of the importance of identity and sexual expression is everywhere. It’s on Pinterest, in the form of an advertisement under the search bar titled, “Beyond blue and pink - Breaking down the binary.” It’s on YouTube, in the form of reaction videos in which you, the viewer, watch someone else react to a video, typically of a third “someone else.” There is no end to technology’s primary narrative: “It’s all about you.” Youth today are growing up surrounded by a message that is directly contradictory to God’s Word. That’s just as true for the youth of the Church. Don’t be fooled into thinking your children are the exception; my parents did their best with what knowledge they had, but without directly monitoring my every move online, they had no way they could know the full extent of what I was accessing. As someone who grew up in the Church and in a Bible-teaching home, I could still write multiple articles on how today’s social environment and media made me question my sexuality, struggle with extremely low self-esteem, and buy into the notion that a message that contradicts Scripture is maybe not so harmful after all. By the grace of God, the worst of those seasons are behind me, but there are still after-effects that have repercussions on my day-to-day life. Many peers I’ve spoken to about this express the same sentiment. Not all e-books are harmful. Not all animation is harmful. In both categories, there are stories to be found with great messages. But they are the rare diamonds in a pile of coal, and parents must be made aware of the danger present in these forms of entertainment. On a broader scale, parents ought to know how many seemingly “harmless” things their children have access to, and the way it is affecting the development, lifestyles, and perspectives of youth across Western civilization as a whole. If you do not want your child exposed to the Internet or social media, but are looking for a smartphone alternative that offers calling and texting in case of emergencies, you can search for "dumb phone" offerings online (though you'll need to do your research as even some "dumb phones" still do have access to the Internet). Americans have a couple of options: the Light Phone (www.thelightphone.com) and the Gabb Phone (https://gabb.com)....

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

Dr. Seuss's "Horton trilogy"

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

Animated, Movie Reviews, Watch for free

The William Tyndale Story

Animated 32 min. / 2005 Rating: 6/10 "The Torchlighters" is a series of animated films created by Voice of the Martyrs to teach children from 8-12 about the many people who have been persecuted for their love of God. The animation is consistently solid, and while the topic matter – persecution – is somber, the depictions of torture are quite age-appropriate. This isn't a blanket recommendation of the series. Several of the other films in the series depict Jesus talking to one of the characters (Augustine, Perpetua) which skirts uncomfortably close to the Second Commandment, and in other cases the biographical target has significant troubling aspects to their theology (the Arminian John Wesley, for example). But the subject of The William Tyndale Story isn't troubling. The film is highly educational, and reasonably entertaining, or to put it another way children should see this, won't mind seeing it, but likely won't want to watch it again and again. So this is an excellent resources for Christian schools, but not ideal for the family video library. The strength of Tyndale is in the film's simplicity. The vast cast of characters featured in an earlier live-action version, God's Outlaw, is, in this animated retelling, cut down to only the half dozen most important. So now even children will be able to follow the story and learn about how Tyndale translated the Bible into English at the cost of his own life. Watch it for free below. ...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Little Red Riding Hood

by Trina Schart Hyman 28 pages / 1983 This is about a little girl and the big wolf that gobbles her up. If that is a bit of a shock to you, then the version you were told as a child was likely some modernized, bubble-wrapped rendition in which grandma is shut up in a closet rather than eaten, and the woodsman arrives before Red Riding Hood takes a trip down the wolf's gullet. But in Trina Schart Hyman's retelling we hear the traditional tale: first the wolf eats his fill; then he gets his comeuppance. So why is this traditional tale the better one? The peril is a key reason. Our world is not always a safe place, and to prepare our children for it we need to introduce them to the real world in bits and pieces. One good way to teach them about how bad the real world can be is by introducing them to some of that nastiness – in a measured dose – via fairytales. If you take the peril away from the story so that Red Riding Hood is saved before she is ever really in danger, you have a nice story for a two-year-old, but it is not a story that stretches or challenges anyone older. But what if, instead, the wolf "ran straight to the bed, and without even saying a good-morning, he ate up the poor old grandmother in one gulp"? That is scary.... briefly. Only a few pages later the woodsman comes to save the day and skin the wolf, so this is only a small dosage, but one that can serve to fortify children in preparation for the days ahead when they learn what the world is really like. The biggest selling feature is, however, Trina Schart Hyman's remarkable art – there is so much to see in each picture. And as a fun bonus, she has hidden Red Riding Hood's black cat on almost every page, there to be found by a sharp-eyed child. As for age recommendations, well, this is a story my two-year-old always enjoyed (but probably didn't fully understand - she liked looking for the cat) but it's one that my four-year-old needed to be in the right mood for. She found the wolf a tad on the scary side. I have but one caution: at one point the woodsman makes use of the word "jiminy" which some consider a "substitute oath." The woodsman isn't actually taking God's name, but is used this word in place of taking God's name in vain. I don't have a problem with this, but make mention because I know some readers might, so I want you to be aware....

Book Reviews, Graphic novels

Pea, Bee, & Jay #1: stuck together

by Brian "Smitty" Smith 2020 / 64 pages A bite-sized vegetable, a bug, and a bird wouldn't seem the most likely of friends, but hey, sometimes the oddest combinations just work, right? Pea is fresh out of the pod, and likes to roll. When he rolls right past the farm fence into the neighboring forest, the young-un gets a bit flummoxed, especially after a storm hits. Fortunately, he rolls right into Bee, a very smarter pollinator, who seems to be hiding from her fellow bees. That's odd, sure, but Bee is willing to help Pea learn the ways of the forest, and the two head off together. What's Bee's first lesson for Pea? To stay clear of birds because birds like to eat bugs and peas. Who do they meet immediately after? A blue jay, of course. But while Jay is indeed a bird, he's an unusual sort. First off, he doesn't fly. His nest fell out of the tree when he was but a lad, and he never knew his parents, so there was no one to teach him. Second, he doesn't seem to eat bugs or peas. This might be the beginning of a wonderful friendship! The three comrades go on to tangle with a hungry fox, three overzealous acorns, a host of loyal bees – it turns out that Bee is actually the queen of her hive, and as the adventure rounds up, it's time for her to head back to her royal duties. Cautions If there's a downside to the story, it'd be how Pea sets out on his adventure: he heads past the farm fence on a foolish dare from his "friends" to go check out a tree where he knows his momma wouldn't want him to go. But, at story's end, he does get grounded for it and mostly accepts that as a punishment he had coming his way. Added bonus: Pea learns to stop caring what these "friends" think. He was supposed to bring back a leaf to prove he made it to the big oak on the other side of the fence, but when he loses the leaf on the way back, Pea doesn't care, because even if he can't prove it, he knows he made it. Conclusion There are all sorts of farm-related puns in this one, whether it's raspberries giving raspberries, or Bee telling some of her subject bees to "buzz off." It didn't even hit me, but my kids all thought the PB&J combination of characters was super clever. There are six books in this series so far, and our family really liked the first three. In the second, Pea, Bee, & Jay #2: Wannabees, Bee's constant absence from the hive leaves an opening for a usurper named Lenny. Lenny goes over the top with all the trappings of royalty, arranging for a red carpet, trumpets-blowing sort of entrance wherever he goes. That's kind of annoying, but the other bees figure, well, at least he sticks around! Bee learns her lesson – her people need her to be dependable – and when she is able to prove that Lenny is embezzling honey, she's in again as Queen Bee. The third, Pea, Bee, & Jay #3: Lift Off, is still funny, but not quite as good, with Jay learning how to fly with a little help from his friends. It also has a passing mention of diarrhea that it could have done without. The last three didn't grab anyone. They weren't horrible, but certainly aren't worth recommending. In Pea, Bee, & Jay #4: Farm Feud, things take a turn as two of the friends are feuding for almost the whole book. Yes, they get back together in the end, but their constant fighting meant it just wasn't fun to come along for this ride. Pea, Bee, & Jay #5: Gotta Find Gramps starts with the three watching a professional wrestling match, and then discovering Grampa Pea used to be a professional wrestler too. Professional wrestling is often bloody and sexual, and while there's none of the sex here, it's just not a "sport" I want my kids to spend a lot of time learning about. Finally, Pea, Bee, & Jay #6: The Big Bully, is well-intentioned, tackling the topic of bullying. But I think it's also naive, encouraging kids to befriend their tormenter, because, after all, he's probably just been bullied himself. That might even be true sometimes, but other times the bullies are just bullies. Many kids won't have the smarts yet to tell one sort from the other, making this "befriending encouragement" unhelpful and possibly even harmful. So, three is company, and there's no need to get the rest. These would be great for Grades 1-3, though our older girls and their dad appreciated them too, as a quick light read....

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Science - Creation/Evolution, Watch for free

Secrets of the Cell with Michael Behe: Season 2

Back in 2020, Dr. Michael Behe produced a series of 5 short videos highlighting how, the closer we look at the inner workings of the cell, the more apparent the fingerprints of its Designer. While Behe is Roman Catholic, he didn't name the Designer, which is the big weakness of the series and a weakness of the Intelligent Design (ID) movement overall. ID is a "big tent" movement, welcoming Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Moonies and even agnostics who all recognize that creation gives evidence of a Creator. But who that Creator is, specifically, isn't said. So God isn't given His due. That said, after watching these films, you won't be able to help but praise Him for His genius. While the fifth episode was the original conclusion of Dr. Michael Behe's "Secrets of the Cell" series, it started up again 2 years later, with three new episodes so far. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Season 1 here and look for the first three episodes of Season 2 – all that are available so far – down below. Episode 6: Bacteria: Superheroes of the Microbial World (18 minutes) This time Dr. Behe highlights just how complex even a simple bacterium really is, doing naturally, what no scientists has been able to do via concerted effort, and computer-assisted design. There is, in fact, an astonishing factory – one that would "rival any modern-day fabrication plant" – at work in these small organisms. What's so fun here is the amazement evidenced by Behe in all that he shares. He's making an argument, one that'll put evolutionists in their place, but he's also enjoying himself peering closely at the wonders God has put on display on the microscopic scale. We should do likewise. Maybe the most interesting factoid this time around is, did you know that we have almost as many (generally helpful) bacteria residing on and in us as we have cells in our body? Roughly 40 Trillion, give or take a few trillion. But because they are so small, they cumulatively only weigh about 1/300th of an ounce. How's that for amazing? Episode 7: Blood clotting: the bodies emergency response team (16 minutes) In this episode, Dr. Behe highlights how the blood clotting system needs to work to save us from bleeding out due to minor cuts and scrapes. But it also has to work in delicate balance, because if it works too well, it could clot blood in the body, stopping the distribution of oxygen, or causing strokes. Behe also explores whether there are beneficial mutations. He notes that the answer is yes.... and no. Any advantages that do happen aren't the sort that would contribute to evolutionary progress. Episode 8: Information: the foundation of life (17 minutes) This time Dr. Behe is asking 3 key questions What exactly is information? Why are incalculable amounts necessary for life? Where does information come from? To produce even a "simpler" part of your body like the femur, all sorts of instructions are going to be needed for how to grow, not just in length, but in proportion to the bones that connect to it, and in parallel to your other femur.that will change and modify as a person grows and works out how to adapt to different workloads - if it routinely bears heavy loads it will need to widen to hold the weight how to repair if fracture or broken, when new bone cells will have to seal up the wound So, all sorts of instructions, even for a simple organ. Just imagine how many instructions are needed to make your whole body run. What size of instruction manual might that be! And, as Behe alludes, we know instructions have to come from an Instructor. Conclusion For more Michael Behe, be sure to check out his full-length free documentary Revolutionary: Michael Behe and the Mystery of the Molecular Machines, which is both an account of the man, and also a history of the Intelligent Design Movement. The film, and our review, can be found here. You can also watch the first five episodes of the series above - the first "season" – re-edited into one half-hour-long video....

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