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Book Reviews, Children’s non-fiction

Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr.

by Kirsten A. Jenson 2017 / 40 pages Talking with our kids about pornography on the Internet is not a conversation any parent wants to have. But we need to do it. So when I saw this book online I ordered a copy, thinking it might make things easier. And it did. Once I put it to use. Amazon delivered it quickly, as is their custom, but then it sat on the shelf for probably half a year. I don't know why it took me so long, but this last week, I looked up from my computer one summer vacation morning to find all of my young charges in my office together reading. I love the company...at least when they are quiet. But this time around they were twitching and tapping and whistling and chatting, making my work impossible. It was either time to chase them back down the stairs or...time to read a book together. So, I finally got to it. Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. is best suited for children from 4 to 7. In my case, my audience consisted of one in that range and two above it, but it worked because the older two were just listening in. I had tried the original version intended for 8 and up (with the same title, but lacking the "Jr.") with my oldest, and found it really helpful, but on the long side. We'd gotten interrupted 15 minutes in, and only about a quarter into the book and we've never gotten back to it since. While I do intend to read it with her at some point, this picture book version of the same message was a good substitute for now. The book, after all, is just meant as a prompt for the discussion parents need to have with their kids. So as we read along, we all did a lot of talking. The book could probably be covered in just 5 minutes, but the discussion took at least another 15. First, we learned about how there are pictures all over, on our walls, on billboards, and on screens too. Some are good pictures, like pictures of puppies or family pictures or fun videos. "But some pictures," the author informs us, "are not good. They are bad for you." The definition given of a bad picture is very clear, and very G-rated: "Bad pictures show the parts of the body that we cover with a swimsuit. These parts are meant to be kept private." In response to this page, one daughter brought up a billboard, where the "lady wasn't wearing many clothes." We discussed how it was good to bring that up with mom or dad, and that we'd want her and her sisters to wear more clothes than that. It also gave me an opportunity to go over the book's helpful definition of bad pictures and how this example both kind of fit but kind of didn't. I'd recommend Good Pictures, Bad Pictures jr. for any parent, but note that if you don't already read to your kids regularly, don't launch into this one as one of your first. There was a reason I took so long to get to it: it is a weird topic. But what made it a lot less weird was that we do regularly read together, and talk about what we're reading. So if you don't already read with your kids, it's a habit worth starting now...as you wait for your Amazon delivery of Good Pictures to arrive. I give this a big two thumbs up for being a great tool to help parents with an absolutely vital conversation....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

God made me unique

Helping children see value in every person by Joni Eareckson Tada and friends 32 pages / 2019 Everyone is unique, but some of us are more unique than others. So how do we teach our children to embrace and include others who might act differently, or who might have different needs than their own? This little picture book could be helpful for parents and teachers by making the unusual less surprising. The book is set in a classroom right before a new student with special needs is going to join them. The class is already made up of students who have disabilities and challenges, and by showing some of the many ways we can be different from one another – a child in leg braces, one in a motorized wheelchair, another who is deaf, and one who wears headphones because she doesn’t like loud noises – our own children can get used to the idea that unique isn’t that unusual after all. But this title’s most important point, made repeatedly, is that we are all made in God’s image. Bright colors and rhyming text make this attractive for reading aloud with a class. I don’t know if it is the sort of book children will read repeatedly on their own, so that might make it more of a church and school purchase, where it can be borrowed, rather than something every parent will want to get....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

Yellow & Pink

by William Steig 1984 / 32 pages Sometimes one encounters a work of art, a poem, piece of music, figurine or painting which is so simple yet so perfect. Simplicity, you see, takes more talent, not less, to bring about. Sometimes these works come from unlikely sources too. Yet the masterpiece can be appreciated for what it is, rather than for who the artist is. Most people would not consider children’s literature to represent works of art, but of course, there are exceptions, and one such exception is a story called Yellow & Pink by William Steig. This story is so simple, the illustrations so charming, the whole so pregnant with meaning, that it merits the attention not only of children but also of their discriminating elders. The story involves two recently assembled wooden puppets laid out in the yard to allow their paint to dry. Suddenly aware of themselves and of their surroundings, they begin to speculate on where they came from. Pink declares that somebody must have made them. Yellow rejects this idea although he notes that they are “so intricate, so perfect.” He proposes time and chance as the preferred explanation: “With enough time – a thousand, a million, maybe two and a half million years – lots of unusual things could happen. Why not us?” Pink, however, declares that idea to be “preposterous.” Thus the puppets engage in dialogue. Yellow proposes hypotheses involving “natural processes” while Pink expresses skepticism in the form of further probing questions. The discerning reader will notice that Yellow’s hypotheses deal only with shape (form). They never deal with function or even the intricacies of form such as joints. Yellow continues his appeal to time and chance with speculations which become more and more improbable. Finally, he bogs down and appeals to mystery. This puppet is content, in the end, to say we may never know the answer, but he refuses to consider Pink’s suggested alternative. In the end, a man (whose drawing bears a striking resemblance to the book’s author and illustrator) comes along, checks the puppets’ paint and carries them away. Neither puppet recognizes that this is their maker. This simple story, illustrated with elegant line drawings colored pink and yellow, is an obvious analogy to evolutionary speculations. The appeals to time and chance to explain highly improbable events (such as hailstones of the right size falling repeatedly only in the eye sockets) have an all too familiar ring. This is like using time and chance to explain how a particular orchid flower ever came to resemble a particular female bee in appearance, texture, and smell. The author of this little story was a most interesting man. An artist by training, he had provided cartoon-like illustrations for The New Yorker magazine for almost forty years, when at the age of sixty he undertook to write and illustrate children’s books. Thus in 1968, Mr. Steig began a new, highly successful career, that would span a further twenty years. He favored stories that encouraged children to think. One device was to sprinkle big words into the text and another was to espouse unusual ideas. For example, in Shrek, he encourages his readers to value strength of character rather than conventionally attractive personal appearance. Thus it is in Yellow and Pink that he turns his attention to Darwinian speculations. Perhaps he wanted to encourage critical thinking. Whatever the author’s reasons may have been for writing this book, it conveys an important idea by means of an elegant and non-confrontational device – a children’s story. Buy the book because it is a discussion starter, or as a collector’s item, or just because it is fun to read....

Book Reviews, Lists

46 children's books to foster the love of reading and learning

We are "People of the Book" so reading should be, and is very important, to us. The goal of all reading is to become readers of the Good Book. It is not enough to teach our children the ability to read; we must also nurture our children to be aware that the content of books should lead us to the author of the Good Book. The following is a treasure trove of books that tries to help with attaining that goal. To make a list of favorite books is a daunting task. No sooner is the list completed and another treasure is found and could be added to the repertoire of great books. I hope you get reacquainted with some of your favorites and that your own list of great books will grow. Almost all of these selections are picture books that preschoolers and children in the early grades will enjoy, but there are several "chapter books" which are intended for children who are in at least Grade One or Two (these exceptions are noted in the reviews that follow). Happy reading with your children! OLDIE GOLDIES Some books are timeless gems. Even though they have been written many years ago, these classics have stood the test of time and continue to appeal to children today. On occasion these classics have been updated - “Disneyfied” - and have lost a lot of their substance, so make sure your read the original version. Make way for the duckling by Robert McCloskey Mr. and Mrs. Mallard are looking for just the right place to raise their brood of duckling in New York City. Caps for sale by Esphyr Slobodkina Some monkeys take on the saying of “Monkey see, monkey do” and get into monkey business with a hat peddler. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel Help is slow to come for a Chinese boy with a long name who falls into a well. Frog and Toad are friends by Arnold Lobel Get every Frog and Toad book in this series and you will not be disappointed. The story of Ping by Marjorie Flack First published back in 1933, this is the story of a funny duck and his misadventures living on the Yangze River. The world of Pooh by A.A. Milne Watch out for the many Disneyfied versions of this story, as only the classic original retains the author's lyrical charm. This is a chapter book, so it might seem to be something intended for grade school children, but even young children are likely to enjoy it. Joseph had a little overcoat by Simms Taback Joseph’s worn coat becomes smaller pieces of clothing until he makes it into a button that he then loses, but that is not the end for, “You can always make something out of nothing.” Stone soup by Marcia Brown When hungry soldiers come to a town of greedy inhabitants, they set out to make a soup of water and stones and the whole town enjoys the feast. The tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter Mrs. Rabbit tells her bunnies not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden, but Peter does not listen and gets into all kinds of mischief. BOOKS TO TICKLE THE FUNNY BONE We have all hear it at one time or another: “I don’t like to read.” One way to hook your reluctant reader is to start with humorous books. No one can walk away from a book that makes them laugh and humorous books will then help build bridges to other types of books. A book that tickles the funny bone will help the child who doesn’t like to read become one who loves to read. More parts by Tedd Arnold A hilarious book where a boy fears that the idioms he hears all around him (like "give me a hand") are to be understood literally. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs by Judi Barrett Imagine a town where meals rain from the sky! Disaster strikes when the town is bombarded with massive-sized portions of food. Knuffle bunny: a cautionary tale by Mo Williams A small girl, not yet able to talk, tries to get her father to understand that her beloved bunny has been left behind at the laundromat. The principal’s new clothes by Stephanie Calmenson This is a respectable twist on the Han Christian Andersen fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes. Hairy Maclary from Donalson’s dairy by Lynley Dodd A rhyming story about a cheeky little dog and his pals who gets into mischief. A FESTIVAL OF THE ARTS Can your child recognize the names: Beethoven, Bach or Brahms? How about Monet or Michelangelo? Even if you are not the artsy type once you read these tales you will have to admit these artists lead colorful lives that make great stories to read. Hallelujah Handel by Douglas Cowling Handel, living in the Charles Dickens era, uses his music to help some of the destitute homeless boys of England. This is 48-page book, so most suitable for children in at least Grade One or Two. Camille and the sunflowers by Laurence Anholt Based on a true story of a boy and the famous painter Vincent van Gogh. Berlioz the bear by Jan Brett A story based on the composer Berlioz and his strange sounding double bass. Linnea in Monet’s garden by Christina Bjork A young girl visits Monet’s garden in Paris. This book contains many pictures of Monet’s paintings, and also quite a bit of text, so it is best read to slightly older children. Katie meets the Impressionists by James Mayhew Katie visits the museum and becomes part of the famous painting of the Impressionists. The Farewell Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza Here is the story behind Joseph Hayden’s famous Farwell Symphony. This picture book has quite a bit more text than average so it is best suited to grade school children. SNOOZERS It is good to set aside at least one traditional time each day for reading. The best time to read to wiggly children is at night when they are tired and ready to go to bed. The snoozer books in this list deal with the ritual of going to bed and hopefully will help your active child relax and soon drift off to sleep. The napping house by Audrey Wood Grandma takes a nap and her grandchild climb on top of her, and then one thing leads to another, and disaster leads to delight. Goodnight moon by Margret Wise Brown A little rabbit is tucked in bed but he must say goodnight to everything in the room as it grows darker and darker. Llama, llama, red pajama by Anna Dewdney Baby Llama has a hard time sleeping and needs his mama’s assurance that, “She’s always near even if she’s not right there.” The prince won’t go to bed by Dayle Anne Dodds A little prince in a medieval world will not go to bed and nothing will help… except a goodnight kiss. Russell the sheep by Rob Scotton Even sheep count sheep when they can’t sleep. Goodnight, goodnight construction site by Sherri Duskey Even the equipment at the construction site needs to lie down and rest after another day of rough and tough work. Ira sleeps over by Bernard Waber A little boy must decide if he wants to take his teddy bear to a sleepover at his friend’s house. GIRLS WITH SPUNK I like girls with attitude - the right kind of attitude that is. I'm not talking about the kind of attitude that is obsessed with ones' self and with what's popular in the world. No, I mean the sort of attitude that is determined to learn what it means to be an image bearer of God. Here are some of those sort of girls. Fancy Nancy by Jan O’Connor Nancy is a girl who loves everything fancy; even the words that she uses are fancy. The courage of Sarah Nobel by Alice Dagliesh A young girl journeys into the wilderness, in this chapter book, and there overcomes her fears of wolves and savage Indians. Hannah by Gloria Whelan This 64-page chapter book is set in the pioneering days. When the new teacher persuades a family to allow their “poor, blind Hannah” to attend school, the young girl learns how to read and write. The story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles This is the true story of an American six-year-old girl who was the first black to attend an all-white school; it is a story of courage and faith. Ramona by Beverley Cleary There’s never been anyone quite like Ramona, a girl with boundless energy and mischievous antics. My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston Arizona was a girl who loved to sing, dance, read and dream of visiting faraway places, though she never did travel. Instead she became a teacher who influenced many children. The gardener by Sarah Stewart Set in the Depression era, a young girl is sent to live with her crotchety uncle because her family is struggling financially, and she tries to brighten the world around her. BOYS WILL BE BOYS Readers often make connections to what they are reading. Children will identify with and want to be one of the characters in a story, which thus becomes a role model for the reader. Therefore, what your child is reading is also developing who they are becoming as an adult. A good book should have characters that we wish our children to emulate. Here are some such characters. First flight by George Shea Young Tom Tate has volunteered to try out the Wright brothers’ first flying machine. Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown Stanley becomes flattened when a bulletin board falls on him and he discovers that there are some things only a flat person can do. The Kingfisher book of great boy stories This 160-page anthology includes passages from such stories as Winnie-the-Pooh, Flat Stanley, The Jungle Book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This is a great way to get a “taste” of children’s classic literature. Zella Zack and Zodiac by Bill Peet A zebra and ostrich help each other survive in this zany tale. ELDERLY HERO AND HEROINES As a doting grandparent I have learned there is a unique bond between the young and the elderly - both understand that the other needs special care and attention, and both are happy to reciprocate. The following books beautifully portray this loving relationship. So grandparents, find a great book, cuddle up with a child, and read. You’ll be surprised what you have in common. When lightning comes in a jar by Patricia Pollacco Grandma’s ritual of catching lightening bugs in a jar will be remembered for generations to come. Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox Young Wilfrid loves his friend from the nursing home because she has a long name like him, and he wants to help her find her lost memory. Grandfather and I by Helen Buckely Family life can be very busy. But Grandfather always has time to walk with his grandson and look around “just as long as they like.” The old woman who named things by Cynthia Rylant An old woman who has outlived all her friends is reluctant to become too attached to anything she might outlive. So when a stray dog starts visiting she certainly won't give it a name - she doesn't want to become attached! However, when it goes missing she has a change of heart... Grandpa’s teeth by Rod Clement It’s a disthasther when grandpa’s false teeth go missing. Mr. Putter and Tabby catch the cold by Cynthia Rylant I smile and chuckle every time I read a Mr. Putter and Tabby book. The Wednesday surprise by Eve Bunting A granddaughter teaches her grandmother to read. Now one foot, now the other by Tomi DePaola Grandpa teaches Bobby to walk when he is young, and later in life when grandpa has a stroke Bobby helps his grandfather....

Book Reviews, Lists

20 read-aloud suggestions…

I’ve been reading out loud to my girls since they were born, and now that they are older we're still reading, ending each day with a chapter or two of something. That means for years now I've also been on the hunt for that next great book to read, talking to others and searching their bookshelves to find out what their favorites are and what they might recommend. If you're looking for that next book too, or maybe the coronavirus quarantine has you thinking about reading to your kids for the first time, here are some favorites that our family and others have sure loved. Many of these can be checked out electronically from your local library. Otherwise, considering buy the e-book version of one of the chapter books – it's an investment that'll pay off in the hours you and your family can enjoy these stories together. While there are 20 recommendations below, some are of books series, so the total number of books recommended amounts to well over 100, and all of them fantastic! PICTURE BOOKS All of these have big bright pictures on every page, and the first three are rhymed, which makes it a lot easier for a beginning Dad to get off to a good reading-out-loud start; these will make you sound good! A camping spree with Mr. Magee by Chris Van Dusen – it has 2 great sequels The Farm Team by Linda Bailey – about a hockey-playing barnyard Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel  – a favorite of millions for the last 40 years Charlie The Ranch Dog by Ree Drummond – while the 10 sequels can't quite match the enormous charm of this, the original, your kids will love them too Don’t Want to Go by Shirley Hughes – Shirley Hughes has dozens of other wonderful read-aloud picture books The Little Ships by Louise Borden – this is a stirring WWII account suitable for the very young, about the bravery of ordinary folk James Herriot’s Treasury for Children – a big book with 8 sweet stories for animal-loving children Mr. Putter and Tabby series by Cynthia Rylant – an old man and his cat, and his wonderful neighbor and her trouble-making dog - 23 books in all. Piggie and Elephant series by Mo Willems – an Abbot and Costello-like duo of Piggie and Elephant getting into all sorts of antics. 29 books, most of which require from the reader only the ability to do just two different voices BOOKS WITH PICTURES There are pictures in these selections, but not on every page. These are slightly longer, more involves stories which your children will not be able to read on their own until the later part of Grade 1, or the beginning of Grade 2, but they’ll love to hear them a lot earlier than that. Bruno the Bear by W.G. Van de Hulst – one in a series of 20+ classic books that are impossible to find except here Winnie the Pooh & The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne – it’s worth getting the big collected treasury to read and reread again and again The Big Goose and the Little White Duck by Meindert DeJong – a gruff grandpa wants to eat the pet goose! Rikki Tikki Tavi by Rudyard Kipling – the gorgeous Jerry Pinkney adaption is the very best Prince Martin Wins His Sword by Brandon Hale – epic story, in rhyme - this is just so fun to read out loud, and there are 3 sequels! CHAPTER BOOKS Once the kids are hitting kindergarten or Grade 1 mom and dad can read books they might read for themselves only in Grade 5 or 6, or even as adults. That can make reading aloud more fun for parents, as the stories will be of more interest to them now. The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder – this is not the easiest read aloud – the sentences can be quite choppy – but girls everywhere are big fans, and there are 8 sequels The Bell Mountain series by Lee Duigon – only downside to this 11-book Christian fantasy series is that each title leads into the next; it’s one big story with no clear ending in any of the books. But we've read all 11 so far and are eagerly anticipating #12! The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson – A laugh out loud hilarious adventure for older children (maybe Grade 3 and up), with 4 main books, and then a book of short stories too. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien – much more of a children’s tale than Lord of the Rings and shorter too (maybe also best for Grade 3 and up) The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic by Jennifer Trafton - the author is Christian though that doesn't come up directly anywhere; it's just good silly fun Treasures from Grandma's Attic by Arleta Richardson – a clearly Christian grandma talks with her granddaughter, telling stories about way back when she was a little girl. This wouldn't work for boys, but our girls absolutely love it (and there are 3 sequels every bit as good). Innocent Heroes by Sigmund Brouwer – Brouwer has collected true stories about the amazing feats different animals managed while working in the trenches of World War I, and then told them as if they all happened in just one Canadian army unit. This is probably my wife's favorite book on this list, and the girls sure liked it too. There were one or two instances where I had to skip a few descriptive words, just to tone down the tension a tad - war stories are not the usual fare for my girls – but with that slight adaptation, this made for great reading even for their 5-9-year-old age group. Jon Dykstra, and his siblings, blog on books at www.ReallyGoodReads.com....

Book Reviews, Lists

5 powerful pictures book

Julia Gonzaga by Simonetta Carr 64 pages / 2018 This is another book in Simonetta Carr’s “Christian Biographies for Young Readers” series and it is once again a very well researched book with lovely pictures. Julia Gonzaga was born in 1513 into a wealthy nobleman’s family. She was married at age 13 and was widowed 2 years later. She never remarried but became a strong voice for the Reformation in Italy, and supported it financially. In the land of the Pope, the Reformation didn’t take place as it did throughout Europe. In 1542 the pope reopened the Sacred Office of the Inquisition, a court that put Christians on trial who opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Many believers were tortured and martyred. Italian Bibles were outlawed until 1769 when the Roman Catholic Church published a translation of the Latin Bible. I learned that education flourished in the Protestant countries making it possible for the common people to read the Bible. In 1861 only 25% of the people of Italy and Spain, predominately Roman Catholic, could read and write over against 69% in Europe and 80% in USA. Julia Gonzaga is not at all well-known making this book an asset to the many books written about the Reformation in Europe. For children ages 7-12. – Joanna Vanderpol God’s Outlaw: The real story of William Tyndale and the English Bible by The Voice of the Martyrs with A. Paquette 40 pages / 2007 We all have many Bibles in our homes, something we take for granted. But there was a time when no one had that wonderful gift, a Bible which they could read and use to instruct their children. William Tyndale (1494) was a very learned scholar and the reading of the Bible in the original languages was a life-changing experience for him which he wanted to share with all people “even a ploughman.” Against the wishes of the Church and King Henry VIII, he began this task. But soon he had to flee to Germany and from there his pamphlets found their way into the hands of the common people in England. The Church responded by imprisoning and killing many of them. In 1535 Tyndale was betrayed, refused to bow the knee before the church leaders and was burnt at the stake  Just before he died he prayed “Lord Jesus! Open the King of England’s eyes!” And two years later King Henry VIII decreed that the Bible should be available to all people. This book ends with some thoughts and questions for reflection. The pictures are bright and descriptive edging towards the graphic novel style. This is a good book for Primary school teachers to read to their class. This one is not widely available but can be found at Christianbooks.com. – Joanna Vanderpol Something from nothing by Phoebe Gilman 32 pages / 1993 This children’s book, winner of the Ruth Schwartz Award, has become my favorite book to read out loud to my grandchildren. It is adapted from a Jewish folktale and in wonderful, rhythmic language tells the story of Grandpa who lovingly sews a blanket for his newborn grandson to “keep him warm and to chase away bad dreams.” As the boy grows up, the blanket wears out and is altered into a jacket, which is altered into a vest, etc. The pictures are so delightful and add to the story. For instance, we see that mom is pregnant and then a few pages later a little sister appears in the story. A second wordless story takes place along the bottom of each page. Father and mother mouse set up house and as the little mice appear, use the scraps of material from the blanket that falls between the floorboards and make them into clothes for their family and also into blankets and curtains for the wee mouse house. This is a type of story where you want to take your little dear one onto your lap and just warmly snuggle and read, explore the pictures and find lovely little treasures. – Joanna Vanderpol God made Boys and Girls by Marty Machowski 32 pages / 2019 My not even six-year-old already knows that some people think girls can marry girls. And she knows God says that isn’t so. We haven’t had to talk – yet – about folks who think that girls can become boys, but when that time comes, this book will be a help. The story begins with a fast little girl, Maya, outrunning the boys…so one of them teases her that this means she’s going to become a boy. And that gets her worried. Fortunately, this little girl has a great instructor, Mr. Ramirez, who teaches the class that gender is a “good gift from God.” He shares how, if you are a boy, then you are a boy right down to your DNA. And the same is true for girls too. Mr. Ramirez then brings things back to the very first boy and girl, Adam and Eve, and how their Fall into Sin happened because they wanted to do things their own way instead of God’s good way. Today some want to do try their own way – not God’s way – when it comes to their gender too. One of the many things I appreciated about this book was how clear kids were taught what’s right, and then encouraged to act kindly to those who are confused. Finishing up the book are a couple of pages intended for parents, which, in small print, pack a lot of information on how to talk through gender with our kids. One caution: there is one depiction of Jesus, as a baby and with no real detail given, on a page noting that God the Son became a tiny speck inside a girl, Mary, and became a man. I don’t think this a violation of the Second Commandment, but maybe someone else might. The only other caution is in regards to what isn’t tackled in this story: gender roles. God made us different, and He also gave the genders some different roles and also gave us some different general tendencies. So yes, as the book notes, some boys do like dancing, and some girls like car repair…but that’s not the general trend. And because the general trend is never noted in the book, this absence could, if left undiscussed, leave young readers with the impression that no such trends exist. Then they would fall for a different one of the world’s gender-related lies: that other than sexual biology, men and women aren’t different at all. This is not a picture book you are going to read over and over with your children because it is more of a conversation starter than a story. But it is a wonderful help for parents in discussing an issue that none of us ever confronted when we were kids. It is a different world today, and we want to be the first to broach these topics with our kids. Reading and discussing a book with your little one is a fantastic way to do it. - Jon Dykstra Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat by Andrew Wilson & Helene Perez Garcia 32 pages / 2019 The story, written in engaging rhythm, opens with Sophie crying because her sister broke her dollhouse and Sophie, in anger, pushed her over and then yelled at her parents. As she thinks about what just happened and meditates on how bad she is, she looks out the window and sees the Heidelberg’s cat from next door.  Surprisingly, the cat asks her why she is crying and Sophie tells her sad story. He invites her onto the rooftop and as they walk along, they chat. At first I thought, oh no, this is not a Reformed story, as Sophie tells her story and how she tries to be so good but fails. But then the cat sets her straight by explaining that no one can be good because we are all sinful. There is only one person who is good and that is Jesus. Only He can free us from our sins. The cat then uses Lord’s Day 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism and comforts Sophie with the words that “I am not my own” but belong to Jesus.  This is a lovely book for ages 4 and up who can understand the concept of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus. – Joanna Vanderpol...

Children’s picture books

Sophie and the Heidelberg Cat

by Andrew Wilson illustrated by Helene Perez Garcia 32 pages / 2019 The story, written in engaging rhythm, opens with Sophie crying because her sister broke her dollhouse and Sophie, in anger, pushed her over and then yelled at her parents. As she thinks about what just happened and meditates on how bad she is, she looks out the window and sees the Heidelberg’s cat from next door.  Surprisingly, the cat asks her why she is crying and Sophie tells her sad story. He invites her onto the rooftop and as they walk along, they chat. At first I thought, oh no, this is not a Reformed story, as Sophie tells her story and how she tries to be so good but fails. But then the cat sets her straight by explaining that no one can be good because we are all sinful. There is only one person who is good and that is Jesus. Only He can free us from our sins. The cat then uses Lord’s Day 1 from the Heidelberg Catechism and comforts Sophie with the words that “I am not my own” but belong to Jesus.  This is a lovely book for ages 4 and up who can understand the concept of God’s love and grace in Christ Jesus....

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books, Graphic novels

Bolivar

by Sean Rubin 224 pages / 2017 New York is the busiest city in the world, and people there are simply too busy to notice much of anything going on around them. Except Sybil. Sybil is a little girl who does notice things. And she recently noticed that her next-door neighbor is, in fact, a dinosaur. Sybil keeps getting peeks at the mysterious, very large fellow next door. But try as she might, she can’t get the evidence she needs to prove his existence to anyone else. Her parents, her teacher, and her classmates all scoff. A dinosaur in New York? How ridiculous!  Now in a secular book that tackles dinosaurs, you might expect some sort of reference to evolution. But nope, there’s none of that. This utterly charming graphic novel is, in one sense, simply a chase story, with Sybil tracking her prey through New York boroughs, the museum, the subway system, never quite getting near enough for the perfect photograph. But the enormous size of this book – 1 foot by 1 foot, with 224 pages – also gives author and illustrator Sean Rubin an opportunity to show off a city he clearly loves….even as he gently mocks residents for their self-absorption. With a girl and a dinosaur as the main characters, this is a fantastic book for boys and girls from Grade 1 on up (I loved it!). This might also be the perfect book for a reluctant reader. The big bright pictures will draw them in, and the size of the book will give them a sense of accomplishment when they finish it, while the limited amount of text per page means this is a book they can finish. Bolivar is a gorgeous goofy adventure and I can’t recommend it highly enough! ...

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

Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914

by John Hendrix 40 pages / 2014 I was raised with stories of the Dutch Resistance and the Canadian liberators fighting against the brutal Nazis – war, it seemed, had clear villains and obvious heroes. Later, though, I learned that right and wrong in war can be far more confusing: for example, in recent years we’ve seen US-backed groups fighting other US-backed groups in Syria. John Hendrix’s Shooting at the Stars: The Christmas Truce of 1914 presents parents with a tool to give our children a more nuanced understanding of war. In a style that is halfway between realistic and cartoon, the author tells us the events of Dec. 24 and 25, 1914. On the day of Christmas Eve, 1914, all along the frontlines, the shooting slowed, and that night the Germans could be heard singing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht – “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Then the next morning, on Christmas Day, in spots up and down the frontlines, German, British, and French troops spontaneously came out of their trenches and celebrated Christmas together. The next day they returned to killing one another. Does that make this book sound anti-war? I’d say it is more an underscoring of just how horrible war is. Fighting is sometimes necessary, which is why we are grateful for the courage of the Dutch Resistance and the Allied forces in World War II, who understood that stopping the Nazis was worth risking, and even giving, their lives. We need to remember their sacrifice because it was noble, and selfless, and good. But if war gives us examples to admire and imitate, there is also much that is foolish, and which we must learn to avoid. To give our children a more complete understanding of war, we need to show them that there are those who, under the guise of patriotism, rush to war even though war should always be a last resort. There are leaders who do not treat their young men’s lives as precious, and World War One is an example of that right up to the last day when 11,000 soldiers died in fighting that occurred after the peace treaty was signed. Commanders who sent their men out on offensives on that last day – some from our side – should be remembered as murderers. Shooting at the Stars is a gentle way of teaching the ethical complexities of war. It is gentle in that no blood or gore is seen (making this suitable for maybe Grade Three and up). The most war-like illustration occurs on a two-page spread where we see three corpses, as soldiers on both sides work together to bury their dead. What is striking is simply that there were men on both sides who could praise God together one day and fight to the death the next. That is a shocking bit of history. And it needs to be remembered. Jon Dykstra and his siblings blog on books at ReallyGoodReads.com....

Children’s picture books

God made Me and You: Celebrating God's design for ethnic diversity

by Shai Linne illustrated by Trish Mahoney 32 pages / 2018 Reformed rapper Shai Linne has written a children's book about racism and God's appreciation for diversity. And it's really good. As those already familiar with his albums know, Linne loves to delve deep into God's Word, and his insights are not only profound, but he knows how to present them powerfully. This picture book is no different. In response to racism Christians typically talk about how we all come from the same two parents so there is, in fact, just one race – the human race. Linne builds on this point, even as he makes another – yes we are all alike in one way, but in others, we are wonderfully different. And as you would expect a rapper to do, he makes this point in rhyme. The book begins with a teacher arriving late to her class just as a couple of boys are making fun of other kids for their hair, clothes, and skin color. After telling the boys to ask for forgiveness, she teaches the class a lesson about how diversity is a testimony to God's greatness. She says: In Genesis 1, what we see in each verse Is God made a world that is REALLY diverse. The sun and the moon, the planets and stars, Saturn and Jupiter, Venus and Mars... Each one is different... Class, why did God make this? He made it to show off His beauty and greatness. And just as the variety and diversity in the rest of creation speaks of God's greatness, so too the diversity in Mankind. He gave some curly hair while others have straight. It pleased God to fashion each wonderful trait. Brown eyes and green eyes, hazel and blue, Each in their own way works of art we can view. Some that are deaf and some that are blind All have great worth in God's sovereign design. This is a morality tale, and sometimes this type of Christian books can be quite forced – more sermon than story – but the rhythm and rhyme of God Made Me and You carries us along. There so much to love in this fantastic book, from the much-needed message, to the bright colorful pictures kids will love, to the fun bouncing rhymes that make it great fun for mom and dad to read out loud. So two very enthusiastic thumbs up! Linne has released a children's album, Jesus Kids, along with the book, and one track shares the same title as the book. You can hear some of the song in the book trailer below. You can also check out a 10-page excerpt from the book here. ...

Book Reviews, Lists

4 picture books mom and dad won't mind reading

The Oxpecker and the Giraffe: I Need You and You Need Me by Patrick Fitzpatrick 32 pages / 3013 Giraffe is tired of his near-constant companion, the Oxpecker bird and wants him to go away. Or as he says it in the book: You're always climbing on my skin. Your company is wearing thin, You are nothing but a pest, Fly away and let me rest. But Oxpecker knows something Giraffe doesn't: "I need you and you need me." Oxpecker feeds itself by eating the blood-sucking bugs that want to take a chunk out of Giraffe. That keeps Oxpecker's tummy full, and also keeps Giraffe nearly pest-free! The author, a creationist, makes it clear that such interdependence should have us glorifying the God who made them both. Vibrant pictures and a nice rhyming rhythm to it make this a fantastic educational book. But evaluating it simply as a picture book – evaluating it on an entertainment scale – then it is good rather than great. Our under 6 kids enjoyed it, and we had a good talk about it, but they haven’t been as interested in re-reading it as some others. So this would be ideal for a school library, but for parents it might be better to borrow than to buy. Billy and Blaze by C.W. Anderson 56 pages / 1936 C.W. Anderson (1891-1971) was only a middling author, but a fantastic illustrator. He wrote 30 children’s books about horses, including a series about a boy Billy, and his horse Blaze The adventure starts in this, the first book, with the horse-loving Billy getting his birthday wish: his very own pony. If your children like horses even a little bit they will love these books, because every second page is filled with another illustration of a horse in action. Anderson's sketches are big, and detailed, and beautiful. The stories are straight out of a simpler time – Billy and his friends are respectful to their parents, and their adventures involve exploring, rather than troublemaking. So they are nice stories, but what really makes these books special are the pictures…and that there are 11 books in all. After all, when a parent finds a solid book our children love, we find ourselves wishing there were more to enjoy! Our local library has 10 of the 11 books and our four and six year old have really enjoyed them. After their dad reads it, they’ll look through them again, peering intently at the pictures. The only downside I can think of is that this will make a horse-loving boy or girl just a bit more "pony-crazy." But…oh well. Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick 56 pages / 2015 It turns out that Winnie the Pooh, a teddy bear who had fantastic and entirely fanciful adventures, was named after a real bear whose adventures were quite something too, and of the genuine sort. Just as Winnie the Pooh starts with a father telling his son a story, so too Finding Winnie beings with a parent telling her child a bedtime tale. In this case the storyteller is the great granddaughter of the man who gave the first Winnie his name. Harry Colebourn was a vet living in Winnipeg. When the First World War began Harry had to go, so he boarded a train with other soldiers and headed east. At a stop on the way he met a man with a baby bear. To make a long story shorter, this bear - named Winnie after Harry's hometown – ended up in the London Zoo where a boy name Christopher Robin, and his father A.A Milne came across him and were utterly entranced. This is brilliant, and a homage of sort to A.A. Milne's stories. It's true, so there is quite a difference between his Winnie tales and this author's, but the same gentle humor, the same whimsy, the same charm are present in both. This will be a treat for fans of Winnie the Pooh no matter what age. Winnie by Sally M. Walker 40 pages / 2015 In the very same year a second picture book came out about the bear behind the bear. Winnie: the True story of the Bear who inspired Winnie-the-Pooh is also very good, very fun, and different enough that after reading Finding Winnie it is still an enjoyable read as well. Compared to most any other picture book Winnie is remarkable - really among the best of the best - but it does lack a little of the Milne-like charm of Finding Winnie, and so ranks second among these two books....

Children’s picture books

Golly's Folly: the prince who wanted it all

by Eleazar and Rebekah Ruiz illustrated by Rommel Ruiz 36 pages / 2016 Inspired by the Preacher's denouncement that "all is vanity," this is the story of Golly, a prince who wants more and more and more, but finds that nothing satisfies. It's all done in rhyme, which along with the bright pictures makes this one that kids 3 and up will adore! Our story begins with Prince Golly looking to power as the way to happiness. He convinces his father to give up his throne, so Golly can be king. And he is happy...for a time. Next he turns to things, telling his trusted advisor: "I want flocks of animals, and a farm on a hill. Get some of all kind – what a thrill! Build lots of houses, find rings for my hand. Oh – and I'd like my very own band." But the buzz from all this stuff only lasts for a while. And so Golly turns to food, partying, knowledge, but none of it brings him happiness and contentment. In his despair, he starts to cry. And then his father comes by. (It is hard to write a review of a rhyming book, and not start doing it yourself!) In Ecclesiastes the world turns out to be vanity, but life under God is not. In this story Golly also learns the world is vanity, and he looks to find contentment in submitting to his father. In doing so the story almost presents "family" as the ultimate good and the one true way to happiness and contentment. But, of course, his father, King Zhor, is meant to point us to our Father in heaven. That analogy shouldn't be pressed too hard, though, because while King Zhor gives up his crown, our Father doesn't. Maybe, in this act King Zhor is more comparable to Jesus humbling himself in becoming man. But it's not a direct parallel – like any analogy, the connections are partial, and incomplete. It's the gist that matters – the world is not enough! – not the details. I read this out loud to my kids once, without the pictures, and they already liked it. And the pictures are so vivd, that makes it all the more remarkable. I'd recommend it as a fun one to read in a family setting with kids of all ages because Golly's Folly could be a great conversation starter on the topic of seeking happiness from what the world offers. You can get the e-book for free if you subscribe to the publisher's newsletter here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_IWHm-a3VU...

Book Reviews, Children’s fiction

3 fantastic books/free videos children will love

Dai Hankey has a great voice, and has paired up with a fantastic illustrator for his three books about Eric, and how this little fellow learns to say thanks, please, and sorry. Usually an author's voice isn't all that relevant, but in the three videos below we get to listen in as he reads his books (which can all be found at The Good Book Company). Fun stuff! ERIC SAYS THANKS 32 pages / 2016 In Eric Says Thanks this little boy models some fantastic enthusiasm as he learns Who to give credit to for the goodness he's been giving in his "brecky." https://youtu.be/qiAhf98SpuM ERIC SAYS PLEASE 32 pages / 2017 Eric wants to show he can do it all himself, but the little fellow soon learns that pride goeth before a fall...right out of a tree!  When Eric finally realizes he can't do it on his own, his grandfather points Eric to Who he can go to, to ask for help. https://youtu.be/P3X7uGzCKRI ERIC SAYS SORRY 32 pages / 2016 When Eric messes up he tries all sorts of way to get out of trouble, but lying, shifting blame, and coming up with excuses don't get him anywhere. But when his dad gives him grace - epic grace! - and pays for the broken pot, Eric gets a glimpse at the grace God gives us. We can't earn forgiveness. But we can ask for it. Parents with highly developed "arminian sniff detectors" might detect a hint of this theology in the author's commentary after the book concludes. But if it's there (and I don't know if it is) it certainly isn't anything that children will notice or be impacted by. And it doesn't come up in the book at all. https://youtu.be/yDV9-cUz40s...

Book Reviews, Children’s picture books

The Farm Team

by Linda Bailey 32 pages / 2006 The Farm Team is about a bunch of chickens, pigs, sheep, and one cow, who love hockey and want to bring the championship trophy back home. For the last 50 years, the Bush League Bandits have always come out on top, but this year the Farm Team has a great goalie and they think they have the right stuff to get it done. One problem: the Bandits are cheaters! When the score gets tight their porcupine drives for the net and punctures the Farm Team's porky goaltender. How's the Farm Team going to handle it with their best player injured? Never fear, coach Clyde (a Clydesdale) will think of something! Parents could use this book to teach children a little about sportsmanship – the Farm Team are great examples of hardworking and clean playing good sports. But the real value of this book is in just how fun it is to read out loud. There's lots of action, some good twists, and some very fun play-by-play dialogue to shout out. It's the kind of book that is so well written it made it easy for me to become quite the performer. My kids loved it, and even my wife, who was busy making supper as we read, really got into the action. So a good dose of Canadiana and a great big heaping of fun....