Saturday, August 16, 2014

Riley Mae and the Ready Eddy Rapids (Faithgirlz! / The Good News Shoes)

"Running for your life is not as exciting as it looks in the movies."

With that opening line, author Jill Osborne's second book in The Good News Shoes series entitled Riley Mae and the Ready Eddy Rapids launches into a new adventure starring twelve year old Riley Mae. The story starts on a private jet ride with Riley Mae trying to digest all the shocking information she discovered on her last adventure (in book one). Little does she know, but there are still some lingering issues she must deal with.

But, issues aside, there's a reason for the private jet. Riley Mae isn't your typical tweenager; she's a shoe model! And in order to get just the right photo in just the right setting, she and her photography team fly out to Montana in style. Once there, Riley must learn how to ride the rapids like a pro... while pausing between plunges for a smile at the camera.

Sounds simple enough, but it's a bit more complicated. When someone sabotages a photo-shoot, throwing Riley out of the raft and into the churning waters of the river, she discovers there is still another mystery to solve. Add in a young boy battling cancer, a new friend searching for her birth mother, and an angry bear, and you'll see Riley's got a surprise waiting for her around every bend!

The story entertains with a balance of tension and humor, but still carries a few gentle spiritual treasures for the reader. For example, the cancer victim (named Sunday) has such an amazing, uplifting, and inspiring attitude, and such a pure love of Jesus, that you can't help but be drawn to and want to embrace that kind of faith. Plus the story references sponsoring needy children, a great life lesson as well. In many places, our main character turns to God in prayer when struggling to understand what is happening in her life.

On a side note, be aware that some of the story deals with death threats and abandonment by a parent.

What I Like: I appreciate how the story shares the Christian faith without being preachy. The moral lessons are so well woven into the story, they don't feel artificial. The characters are likable too, especially Sunday, who melts your heart. It's a good, clean adventure. I also love the artwork on the cover. It's very visually appealing.

What I Dislike: This book makes a TON of references to events that transpired in book one. Therefore,  if you haven't read book one (as I didn't),  parts of the story will be confusing. A short prologue summarizing the first book would have been tremendously helpful. I'd go so far as you warn you not to read this book until you've read the first one, so I included a link for it as well. It's called Riley Mae and the Rocker Shocker Trek, and it rings in at Christianbooks.com for $6.29 for paperback, Amazon.com at $7.19 for paperback or the kindle version for $4.27.

Second, there were also a few events in the book that I felt were unnecessary. For example, one entire chapter was devoted to Riley playing a tough game of ping-pong with her photographer. It was pleasant enough, but did not advance the story. (It actually could have been removed from the book without making any impact on the plot.) However, that is a minor annoyance, and it's very likely that young readers will take great delight in such scenes just because it gives them more time to hang out with the storybook characters.

Overall Rating: Bear with me on this. As a stand alone book, I give it a VERY GOOD because the references to the first book left too many unanswered questions in the plot. However, as a series book read IN ORDER, I give it an EXCELLENT rating. In other words, fill in the holes, and I'd "rapidly" be caught up in Riley Mae's world.

Age Appeal: 8-12 years

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz , 2014; ISBN: 978-0310742999; Paperback/Kindle/MP3/Audible book, 251 pgs., $7.99

Buy the paperback NOW at Christianbook.com for $6.29, the ebook for $4.99, the MP3 CD version for $8.99
OR Buy the paperback at Amazon.com for $7.19, the Kindle version for $4.27, the MP3 CD version for $10.07, or the Audible audio version for $13.12.

Special Info: The third book in the series is also available. Find the paperback Riley Mae and the Sole Fire Safari at Christianbook.com for $6.29 or at Amazon.com for $7.19.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Why All of God's Children Eat Cereal

Many kids love cereal. Dr. Phillip J. Finley's book Why All of God's Children Eat Cereal is based on that very idea. Over the course of 28 pages, Finley celebrates the world-wide appeal of this food.

Though not written in poetic form, many of the lines do, in fact, rhyme. Here is a sample (in paragraph form, as was presented in the book):
"Whether your eyes are blue, black, hazel, or brown, I know you have eaten a bowl of cereal in a container whether square, rectangle, or round. Some eat it slow, some eat fast. Some carry it in a backpack as a snack, 'cause it will last. It will last in a bag, it will last in a container, or on the cover of a box with the face of a dancer, or a driver, or some famous entertainer."

The amount of text per page varies, as does the font size. Most pages contain four lines of text, but some have seventeen.  Illustrations cover a two-page spread with bright, vibrant color and whimsical cartoon characters from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

What I Like: The illustrations in this book were simple, but absolutely adorable. Black did an excellent job of making his characters seem joyful, playful, and full of energy.

What I Dislike: This book is more about the glory of cereal than the glory of God. Several pages are devoted to just plain cereal: who eats it, how they eat it, how they pour it out, how many teeth the cereal eaters possess, how cereal is stored, names of specific people from specific countries who have eaten cereal... you get the idea.

The rhyming but not-quite-a-poem format makes for very awkward wording as well. The cadence of the text-- whether it be prose or poetry-- doesn't flow. This makes it difficult to read out loud, and disjointed when read silently.

Some Scriptural quotes are thrown into the mix, but they spill right into the regular non-poem rhyming text, making it confusing to the reader. For example, on one page, the author states, "Thus says the Lord, the earth is mine and the fullness thereof." But then it goes on to list all the other things God gives us... including a backpack... still using the "I gave, I made" format. It then ends by stating, "Oh how I love cereal with milk, which is nourishment for my soul." So... this, coming off "thus says the Lord", makes it sound like God himself is up in the heavens enjoying a big bowl of Froot Loops.

After focusing so much on cereal, perhaps the most confusing thing to me was the line at the end of the book that read, "Take a moment to thank God by closing your eyes, and folding your hands, because now you understand, that's God's perfect plan." I had to think.... Wait... what?

Overall Rating: Poor. As much as I want to like this book because of the precious illustrations and because I am sure the author has an earnest heart, I just can't recommend it.

Age Appeal: The publisher suggest ages 1-10. However, I recommend children ages 4-8 years.

Publisher Info: Finley Publishing, 2014; ISBN:  978-0996033626; Hardcover or Kindle, 28 pgs., $12.99

This book is not available at Christianbook.com.
Buy the hardcover at Amazon.com for $11.69 or the kindle version for $3.99.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Bible Stories for Boys/Bible Stories for Girls


Bible Stories for Boys (written by Peter Martin) and Bible Stories for Girls (by Christian Goodings) are a beautiful set, nicely illustrated by Simona Bursi. Each tells a handful of Bible stories, re-written for children and punctuated with lots of illustrations to help hold their interest.

Bible Stories for Boys includes the story of Old Testament Joseph and his difficult relationship with his brothers; Gideon, the reluctant solider; David and Goliath; Jonah; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; the parable of the rich and poor man from Luke 16; Zacchaeus; and Paul in prison.

Bible Stories for Girls includes the story of young Miriam; Deborah and Jael; Naomi and Ruth; Esther; Mary and Martha; the parable of the widow and the judge from Luke 18; the parable of the foolish bridesmaids from Matthew 25; and Lydia.

What I Like: The illustrations are appealing, and I love the fact that Bible Stories for Girls includes some stories my daughter - who is intimately familiar with a wide range of Bible storybooks - didn't know, like the story of Jael. (Which, admittedly, is pretty violent, although the author doesn't go into grotesque details.)

What I Dislike: My children are really familiar with Bible stories typically told to children, and as I read these books, they were constantly asking, "Does the Bible really say that?" Most of the time, my answer was "no," because these books are so full of extra-biblical information. That is to say, they take creative license and tack on information about what people were thinking or what they said that simply isn't in the Bible.

Overall Rating: Good.

Age Appeal: 5 - 9.


Publishing Info: Lion Hudson, 2014; ISBN:  978-0745963709 (boy's), 978-0745963716 (girl's); hardback, 48 pgs., $13.28

Buy Bible Stories for Boys at Amazon for $13.28
OR buy it at ChristianBook.com for $11.99

Buy Bible Stories for Girls at Amazon for $13.49
OR buy it at ChristianBook.com for $11.99

Great Kings of the Bible: How Jesus is greater than Saul, David and Solomon

Author Deepak Reju succinctly reveals the purpose of his book through its title, Great Kings of the Bible: How Jesus is greater than Saul, David, and Solomon.

In fact, on page one, Reju gets straight to the heart of the matter... that while we can study and gain inspiration from the three greatest kings of Israel, their lives pale in comparison to the only one true king, Jesus Christ.

In the book, Reju  uses straightforward, kid-friendly language, but he doesn't skimp on the details. With uncompromising honesty, he highlights each kings' heroic deeds and their tragic flaws. In that way, the reader somehow experiences rich, full-bodied history in an almost Willie Wonka complete-meal-in-a-stick-of-gum manner (only without the dire consequence of turning into a blueberry at the end).

The book starts with a one page introduction followed by three major sections devoted, in order, to Saul, David, or Solomon. Each section is further divided into smaller, bite-sized chunks and ends with a summary that compares each to the perfection of Christ. In that way, Reju clearly demonstrates how, no matter how incredible these men where in the eyes of the world, Jesus surpassed them all.

The text is accompanied by lifelike, "old-school" illustrations that are simply packed with detail, from tiny weaving patterns in the clothing to pollen on the plants. (Note: I have a soft spot for this style of illustration since it's reminiscent of the 1970 Sunday School papers I read as a child.)

What I Like: I appreciated the way Reju provided a balanced look at the pros and cons of each man's life, and how, with laser focus, he redirected the readers to the book's theme: Christ is our ultimate king. The book lends itself well to family-style devotions. It also makes an easy Sunday School lesson. Best of all, it's got a great price point for a hardcover book!

What I Dislike: Although the author remained faithful to Scripture, I still would have appreciated Scripture references; there are none in the book.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: 5-9 years

Publisher Info: CF4Kids, 2014; ISBN: 978-1781912911; Hardcover, 48 pgs., $9.99

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $8.19
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $8.65.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Bob Hartman's More Bible Tales: The Unauthorized Version


Bob Hartman's More Bible Tales: The Unauthorized Version, written and illustrated by Bob Hartman is the third book in the author’s series of Bible tales. This one is a collection of Bible stories told from unusual perspectives. For instance, the story of Noah’s ark is told from the perspective of Noah’s dog, and the story of Judas is told by his nephew.

The word “unauthorized” in the title refers to the opposite of the word “authorized” or “official”. These are stories that are told from the point of view of someone (or something) that is not mentioned in the Bible.

As can be expected from such a collection of stories, there is humor involved. As the author says in the Introduction to the book, “I tried to tell the stories in a way that would be true to the original, but also in a way that would bring out the humour in them.”

The pencil sketched illustrations are cartoonish in nature, but they are very expressive and work well with the text.

What I Like: I like reading stories like this, being able to hear a well-known story from a different character’s point of view. It provides a whole new perspective to the story

What I Dislike: Having said that, some readers might see these stories as being irreverent. I don’t believe that is the author’s intention, but you might feel otherwise.

I had read one of Hartman’s earlier books in the series, Bob Hartman’s Old Testament Tales, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I liked most of the stories in this edition, too, but not all of them. The one about Noah was told from the point of view of Noah’s dog. That’s not a problem. But, according to the dog, the ark hadn’t even been built yet (the story took place before the building began), but at the end of the story, the dog gets on the boat. How could he do that if the boat hadn’t been built yet? Little inconsistencies like that in a story bother me.

Overall Rating: Very good.

Age Appeal: Ages 8 and up.

Publisher Info: Lion Children’s Books, 2013; ISBN: 9780745964355; Paperback, 95 pages, $8.99.


 
Special Info: The book was published in England so the text reflects the British way of spelling and speaking. For instance, “humor” is spelled “humour” and “Mom” is known as “Mum.”


Friday, July 18, 2014

Brother Hugo and the Bear

"It befell that on the first day of Lent, Brother Hugo could not return his library book."

So opens Brother Hugo and the Bear, by Katy Beebe... the rather humorous tale of a young monk whose borrowed book-- the precious letters of St. Augustine-- were devoured by a bear (who found the words of the saint to be far sweeter than honey).

To rectify the loss, Brother Hugo is charged with the rather overwhelming task of traveling to a neighboring monastery, retrieving another copy of the letters,  and then making a new manuscript. The process of creating a replacement includes stretching and scraping sheepskin for a cover, gathering and preparing parchment, making a quill and ink, and then painstakingly copying the manuscript by hand, line by line, letter by letter! Luckily, Brother Hugo is aided in his endeavor by other friendly monks. Unluckily, while he works, Brother Hugo can hear the bear, who perpetrated the whole thing, snuffling outside the window... hungry for more!

Although some of the telling holds very modern language ("Your library book is due today"), the book is peppered with enough archaic-sounding phrases, such as " return the book thither" and "he sorely sighed and sorrowed in his heart"and "he walked very quickly indeed", to give it a medieval feel. This impression is further supported by the full-page ink and water-color illustrations, beautifully done by S. D. Schindler. These pictures accompany the text perfectly with rich (yet whimsical) detail and soft earthy hues.

At the end of the tale, the illustrator describes his artistic process and the author provides more information, including the fact that the story is loosely based on an actual historical event! In addition there's one page with historical notes that relay a similar bear encounter by Peter the Venerable. It also contains a one page glossary to help the reader better understand words associated with a monastery, like "cloister". These added bonuses are sure to please young readers whose curiosity is pricked by the amusing adventure.

What I Like: I thought the pictures were delightful. That was one of my favorite aspects of the book. I also appreciated the underlying humor in the story, some of which was almost tongue-and-cheek. The book accurately highlighted the painstaking process of creating a manuscript (who knew so much work went into it?), which I found interesting. The information that followed the story seemed especially enlightening, and was a very welcomed addition.

What I Dislike: I don't dislike the story, but it's not a story that has a lot of Christian take-away value per se. It's amusing and fun, and, I think, meant to be taken as such and little more. However, if a Christian message is a must on your list, astute readers can pick out some good moral ideas if they are so inclined: Cooperation and helping others (as shown by the monks), accepting responsibility (by Brother Hugo), and honest speaking.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: 5-9

Publisher Info: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2014; ISBN: 9780802854070; Hardback, 34 pgs., $17.00

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $12.49
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $12.68.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ellie

Their dress makes them noticeable, as does their dedication to faith,  their rejection of modern forms of transportation and comforts, and their close-knit communities. But for some of us, the Amish lifestyle is still an enigma. A book like Ellie, by Mary Christner Borntrager, gives the average reader a more detailed glimpse into Amish life, and helps us understand their customs a little better.

The book follows the life of an Amish girl named Ellie Maust from early school age to adult. Over the course of her life, we see her struggle with temptation, do a multitude of chores, make friends, and face her fears. Rather than follow a "hero's quest" type of plot, the story reads more like a retelling of a series of short events in Ellie's life. The story pacing is slow and leisurely, with some neat details (like the bedding and outhouse) woven into it.

A majority of the chapters are spent on specific moments in Ellie's childhood, whereas the teen and early adult years fly by in a few quick chapters, making the book slightly unbalanced in development. Other than the cover, there are no illustrations. This is the first book in a series. Some other titles are listed below. This book was originally published in 1988, which is the version available on Amazon. The newer 2014 version I read may be listed soon.

What I Like: I appreciated getting a glimpse of the Amish lifestyle. From sunup until sundown, we see how the family works together to care for each other and the household. Chores include milking the cows, canning food, caring for siblings, tending a garden, and making their own straw mattresses. Children are taught responsibility and duty. I had no idea how very little playtime the children get, so that was an eye-opener too.

What I Dislike: Unfortunately, I have many dislikes with this story, but let me pinpoint  two. First, I was bothered by the way those outside the Amish community were portrayed. For example, the public school children tease and shun Ellie, and her teacher isn't very understanding. (Is it so hard to believe there are wonderful Christian students, administrators, and teachers in the public schools who would reach out to a person in a situation like Ellie?) Later in the book, the children of a former classmate visit Ellie. The children are ill-mannered, ungrateful, and whiny, and the mother-- who is herself lazy and self-centered--yells at them (I'm going to kill you!), which makes Ellie oh-so-glad for her Amish upbringing. (Again, is it so hard to believe there are wonderful Christian families with well-mannered, respectful children outside the Amish community?)

Second, I was bothered by how those within the Amish community were portrayed. After pointing out how horrible the general public treated Ellie, I expected to see the beauty of the Amish community highlighted. Instead, when Ellie travels to the comfort of her Amish church... wow, the Amish children tease and shun Ellie, same as the public school kids! Not only that, but Ellie's father comes across as unforgiving, judgmental, and surly. Perhaps worst of all is an Amish girl they hired to help the family, who went out of her way to mistreat Ellie. That character came across as spiteful and vindictive (though the father seemed to applaud her strong Amish sensibility). I was hard pressed to find a likable Amish figure in the story outside of Ellie.

Overall, I had hoped to see the enactment of the powerful Christian faith I always associated with the Amish, but instead I saw a faith based not on grace but on works, rules, forced obedience, and superficial piety. I started the book wanting to like the Amish people, but found myself disappointed by their seeming hypocrisy. Luckily, outside experience has taught me otherwise. I hold a great respect for the Amish people and their way of life.


Overall Rating: Ho-hum for me. However, to be fair, those with a greater interest in Amish communities might rate it higher. I also suspect some of the other books in the series might prove to be stronger.

Age Appeal: 8 and up

Publisher Info: Herald Press, 2014; ISBN: 978-0836134680; Paperback, 193 pgs., $8.99 (Note: This information comes from the advanced review copy I received. The one currently available on Amazon has the same ISBN except the last digit is "1" instead of "0", and it only has 168 pages.)

This book is not available at Christianbook.com.
You can buy it at Amazon.com.

Special Info: Other titles in the series include:MandyAndyDanielRebeccaRachelReuben, and Sarah



Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Gift of Values: A Resource for Family Devotions, Volume Two


The Gift of Values: A Resource for Family Devotions, Volume Two, is as the title suggests, a great resource for family devotions. And, as it suggests, this is the second title in the series. The first one was so popular author Rosie Boom decided to write another one.

The values addressed in this volume are: generosity, encouragement, self-control, compassion, patience and forgiveness, with one chapter devoted to each value. Each chapter consists of a brief introduction, several stories relating to the topic – some fiction and some nonfiction - and sections called “Boom Clip”, “Something to Do”, “Think About It”, “Words to Live By”, “So Said”, and “Dig Deeper”. Most of those section titles are self-explanatory, but “Boom Clip” refers to a short story about a member of the Boom family and “So Said” is a list of quotes applicable to the topic.

What I Like: Just about everything. The book is packed with good stories that illustrate the chapter’s topic. There are also tons of ideas for things to do and ways to explore the topic further to reinforce it.

What I Dislike: The only thing I saw that I didn’t like were a couple of layout issues. That’s it.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: For the whole family.

Publisher Info: HSM Publishing, 2008; ISBN: 9781921161162; Hardcover, 197 Pages, $20.00.


Special Info: Read our reviews of other books by Rosie Boom. Read about the author at SmashWords .