Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jacob's New Heart

Jacob’s New Heart, written by Barbara Sims, puts the transforming power of God’s word into a visual, kid-friendly story about an ugly caterpillar changing into a beautiful butterfly.

The story begins right at Jacob’s mountainside birth. He beholds a beautiful world and then is greeted by his pretty butterfly mother. In the midst of such loveliness, Jacob is shamed by his own drabness. His mother encourages him, telling him he can be transformed from the inside out when he gets to know God.

When Jacob asks how he can do that, she replies, “If you want to get to know Him, you’ll need to ask him to come into your heart.”

After Jacob does so, he hungers. Mom tells him that God’s word will make his heart grow. Jacob eats leaves that are full of Scripture verses, such as Psalm 119:103- “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth.”

Once Jacob is full of God’s word, Mom guides him to make a chrysalis and rest, stating, “Now that God’s word is inside you, it will change you.” Sure enough, after some time passes, Jacob emerges a beautiful butterfly too.

Following the story, the book includes enrichment activities. (Although this section is labeled as “Suggestions For a Bible Memory Chart”, numbers 9 and 10 are not part of the memory chart directions.) Black and white drawings are included to be used as templates for creating the memory chart.

Sheila Lenz Prusacki created the watercolor-and-pen illustrations for this book. (The ugly caterpillar is actually very cute!) Most pictures are dominated by bright green and pale blue colors. Action is limited; many illustrations simply show the mother butterfly talking to the caterpillar. Several illustrations are for a two-page spread, but there are several self-contained pages as well. Although it varies, in general there is a large portion of medium-sized text on each page.


What I Like: I think the idea of putting Scripture on a leaf to show how it “feeds” us is very clever, and that once we have that inside us, it changes us. I also like how the author took advantage of her teaching background to provide some ideas for extending the story.

What I Dislike: All the verses on the leaves were related to, in effect, hiding God’s word in your heart. While that’s a GOOD thing, the message was all the same. I would have liked some verses that targeted other areas of getting to know God, such as God’s great love for people, the fruit of the spirit… or what it means to be born again.



Also, I felt like the story very quickly brushed over the idea of salvation. While this does provide a springboard for an adult reader to talk about exactly what it means to ask Jesus into our hearts, it might leave those unfamiliar with Scripture asking questions.

Finally, the paperback is expensive. If you buy this book, consider the more affordable e-book.

Overall Rating: Good

Age Appeal: None listed-- maybe Kindergarten/ First grade crowd

Publisher Info: Westbow Press, 2014; ISBN: 978-1490847290 ; Paperback, e-book, Kindle, 38 pgs., $16.95.

Buy the paperback Now at Christianbook.com for $16.95 or the e-book for $3.99
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $15.95 or the Kindle Version for $4.99.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Nature Girl, A Guide to Going Green: A Guide to Caring for God's Creation


How green are you? Authors Karen Whitling and Rebecca White encourage everyone to go green. Their book, The Nature Girl, A Guide to Going Green: A Guide to Caring for God’s Creation, is packed with information about what it means to be green and how to do the best you can to help save our planet.

The 10 chapters in the book cover such topics as food, recycling, and being good to the earth, among others. Each chapter has applicable Bible verses sprinkled throughout the text, suggested activities and/or recipes relating to the chapter topic, a list of Eco-Careers that relate to the chapter topic, as well as a short quiz about the chapter. The end matter of the books contains an extensive list of resources the authors used when writing the book.

What I Like: Everything.

What I Dislike: Nothing.

Overall Rating: Excellent.

Age Appeal: 8-teens.

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2014; ISBN: 9780310725008; paperback, 170 pages, $7.99.
  


Special Info: Read our reviews of other books illustrated by Rebecca White .


Monday, June 22, 2015

Just Sayin': Write 'Em, Draw 'Em, Hide 'Em in Your Heart

For creative girls who love God and doodling, Carol McAdams Moore’s book Just Sayin': Write 'Em, Draw 'Em, Hide 'Em in Your Heart may be a perfect fit for a devotional tool. Consisting of 90 separate devotions, the book is not an in-depth study of the Bible; it’s more a series of exercises designed to lead a teen to explore her own thoughts and discover truths within Scripture in an engaging, imaginative manner. With that in mind, the book has a consistent set-up throughout: 
• Each devotion is a two-page spread 
• The spread is heavy on the visual and light on text 
• A short portion of Scripture is stated 
• The reader is invited to interact with that Scripture (make a list, doodle a picture, insert a picture, take a fun quiz, rate yourself, design something, respond to a prompt, etc.) 
• An occasional prayer is included or an encouragement to read more from a provided Scriptural reference 
 • Readers are encouraged to write directly in the book, making it almost like a journal or a collection of artistic expressions

Though this book is geared toward girls, the author provides a similarly artistic book for boys. It's called Dare U 2 Open This Book: Draw It, Write It, Dare 2 Live It.

What I Like:I am one of those people who love to doodle. Rarely does a piece of paper pass through my hands without some kind of embellishment added. So I was immediately drawn into (pardon the pun) the format of the book. So often, students are offered a left-brain approach to studying Scripture (or doing schoolwork for that matter). This right-brain approach is refreshing. I want to say, “Finally… a devotion geared for people like me… someone who colored the entire surface of her desk in second grade and turned in a cartoon strip for her final project in a college course (with the teacher’s consent).”

What I Dislike: The verses are presented raw, with little or no explanation or context provided. Therefore, I believe it may be best suited for those familiar with and well rooted in the stories of the Bible. Because of that, I think the book has a more limited audience than it might otherwise reach. (It can still work for anyone, but may leave some gaps for those new to the targeted Bible stories.)


Also, I am not one who likes slang, and the book uses a lot of it to make (I suppose) the writing “fun”. However, I think the ideas are creative enough that the slang isn’t necessary (and may go out of style, rendering the book outdated before its time). To me, the book would be just as enjoyable but have a longer shelf life if it used quality vocabulary!

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: 8-12 (although it may appeal to those older than designated age group)

Publisher Info: Zondervan, 2014; ISBN: 9780310742982 ; Paperback, 192 pgs., $9.99

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $8.19
OR Buy the version geared for boys, Dare U 2 Open This Book: Draw It, Write It, Dare 2 Live It, for $8.19
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $8.92.
OR Buy the version geared for boys, Dare U 2 Open This Book: Draw It, Write It, Dare 2 Live It for $8.82.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? That’s a question many young children might ask. The concept of Jesus being someone you cannot see but who is both God and man, forgives your sins, and lives in your heart is an abstract idea for kids. How can parents help children understand what Jesus is like and how he views people? How can children comprehend God’s love for them and recognize ways they can show God’s love to others? A good starting point for discussion is MaryAnn Diorio’s book Who is Jesus?


Who is Jesus? is not a typical storybook; instead it is set up in simple yet predictably structured sections. (In a way, it’s almost like a short devotional book for preschoolers by the way it is divided up.) First, the reader sees the same image as the cover asking, “Who is Jesus?” The next two-page spread shows pictures of a child with a problem (getting their toy taken, being laughed at, etc.) followed by a child receiving grace (having a toy shared with them, being comforted). The question-and-answer style text points out that Jesus won’t treat you in an unhappy way but in a caring way. After that, the author shares a Scripture that ties into the example. 

Take this four-page snippet for illustration: “Who is Jesus?”/ “Is he someone who yells at you when you cry?”/ “No, Jesus doesn’t yell at you when you cry. Jesus helps you blow your nose.”/ “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1. 


 Each page contains only a few lines of text and is accompanied by whimsical pen and watercolor creations done by award winning illustrator Kim Sponaugle. The pictures are brightly colored, packed with delightful detail, and visually alluring. Sponaugle portrays children from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

What I Like: I love the illustrations in this book. Even if the text was terrible (which it is not) I would probably still buy the book just for the pictures. The message is sweet and somewhat subtle too. It tells us how Jesus cares for us, but shows us through images what that looks like in everyday life. (Jesus doesn’t actually share a teddy bear with a friend as the text states, but his love is shown when a teddy bear is shared with a friend.) As a teacher, I also appreciate the pattern of the book, which young children seem to enjoy.

What I Dislike: It is a little pricey.

Overall Rating: Excellent

Age Appeal: None is listed, but I think it's best suited for the toddler/preschool group.

Publisher Info: TopNotch Press, 2014; ISBN:978-0930037154 ; Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, 48 pgs., HC $19.95, PB $ 14.95, Kindle $14.95
This book is not currently available at Christianbook.com.
OR Buy the hardback at Amazon.com for $17.98
OR Buy the paperback at Amazon.com for $13.47
OR Buy the Kindle version at Amazon.com for $9.95

Thursday, June 11, 2015

FaithGirlz Samantha Sanderson: Off the Record


FaithGirlz! Samantha Sanderson Off the Record, by Robin Caroll, is the third book in the publisher’s Samantha Sanderson series. Samantha, Sam as she is known by her friends, aspires to be a professional journalist when she grows up. Right now, she is on her middle school’s newspaper staff. She is working hard to be recognized for her talents.

In previous books, she has solved the mystery of who phoned in a bomb threat to a local movie theater as well as figuring out who the bully was in her school. In this episode, she enlists the help of her best friend, Mackenzie (Mac) to figure out who hacked into the school’s computer system and changed the grades on report cards.

Sam always strives for journalistic honesty and integrity, but sometimes she cuts the corners a bit when she feels she is hot on the trail of a particularly juicy story.

What I Like: This is a good story that illustrates how easy it is to jump to the wrong conclusions. It also teaches a lesson about loving your neighbor.

What I Dislike: There were several typos sprinkled throughout the text. Also, at one point in the narrative, the power goes out, but somehow the people are still able to use their dryer. Hmmm.

Overall Rating: Very good.

Age Appeal: 8-12.

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2015; ISBN: 9780310742494; paperback, 224 pages, $8.99.

 
 
Special Info: This is the third book in the Samantha Sanderson series. Visit the author’s website. Read our reviews of other books in the series.

The Berenstain Bears: God Bless Our Country

If you're looking for a book to introduce the idea of what the Fourth of July is about, The Bernstein Bears: God Bless Our Country may be a good choice. Written by Mike Berenstain, son of Stan and Jan Berenstain (who created the original Berenstain Bear books), this slim title covers the minimum children should know about Independence Day.

The book begins with the Bear family preparing for the Fourth. As Papa tries on his old army uniform (which he'll soon be wearing in a parade), Mama mentions that he wants to look his best for "the big birthday party." This catches the cubs' interest. How can a country have a birthday?

Papa explains that our nation was born when "the settlers who came here decided they didn't like being ruled by a king who lived in a faraway land." They made a decision to become a new country and wrote this on a piece of paper; the King didn't like it. A war broke out - but the settlers won.

"And thanks be to God!" Papa says. "We believe it was God's will that our new country came to be. And it gave folks from all over the world a place to go where they could be truly free." Mama adds that it was like the Bible says, "He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey."

The family attends the Fourth of July parade. Papa marches in his uniform. The flags and bunting Mama made fly in the air. The cubs win second place for their patriotically-dressed bikes. "Happy Fourth of July!" the mayor says. "God bless our country!" Papa says. "Amen!" say the cubs and Mama.

The book ends with three questions for discussion and two ideas for related activities. In addition, the book comes with a page of stickers, based on the patriotic pages in the book.

What I Like: My kids are always excited to read a new Berenstain bear book. I also appreciate that this book teaches young children the basics of what In Independence Day is about.

What I Dislike: I wish the author explained the reasons for the Revolution a better - but I admit that by not doing so, he leaves parents free to discuss the matter further, as the age of their child dictates.

Overall Rating: Very Good.

Age Appeal: About 4 - 8.

Publishing Info: Zonderkidz, 2015; ISBN 978-0310734857; paperback, 24 pgs., $4.99

Buy at Amazon for just $4.61
Or buy the Kindle version for $3.99

Or buy it from ChristianBook.com for $4.49

Friday, June 5, 2015

Leon's Share


In Leon’s Share, by Mabel Elizabeth Singletary, Leon lives with big brother, Derrick, and his grandparents. Derrick is a star student and athlete who gets lots of attention. Leon wants his share of attention, too.

Leon likes to crack jokes, and he decides the “best” way to get attention is to be the class clown. That works well some of the time, but when he tells a joke about his new friend, Autumn, not knowing she has a disability, Autumn’s feelings get hurt and Leon comes off looking like a bad guy.

What can Leon do to make things right with his new friend?

What I Like: This is a good story about the true meaning of friendship.

What I Dislike: The story is told from Leon’s point-of-view. Leon is in the fifth grade but the language used to tell the story is not appropriate for that age group, as fifth-graders don’t generally talk that way. I think using a third person point of view would have worked much better.

Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: 8-12.

Publisher Info: MabelSingletary.com, 2012; ISBN: 9780988655300; paperback, 132 pages, $9.99.

Buy now at Amazon $9.99! 
 
Special Info: This is the first book in the Young Conqueror’s Series. Visit the author’s website.



My Big Bright Bible Board Book

If you want to introduce your baby or toddler to some favorite stories from the Bible, Christina Goodings’ book My Big Bright Bible Board Book may be just what you are looking for. Built with a thick, soft cover and sturdy pages, the book covers stories of creation, Noah, Baby Moses, David and Goliath, Jonah, Baby Jesus, Jesus and the Children, Lost Sheep, and the resurrection. Stories are told over a two-page spread using generally only six lines of text. Each tale is accompanied by simple, bright illustrations done by Stephen Barker. The pictures are cute, and will appeal to young kids with their easily recognizable, child-friendly figures. All people in the book appear fair-skinned.

What I Like: I think this book will appeal to its intended target audience. It seems solid, the pictures aren’t too busy but still catch the eye, and the text is simple enough for the short attention span of a baby or toddler. This author also has a wide variety of other books for this age group, so if your youngster enjoys this book, you can easily find another similar book to expand your household library.

What I Dislike: If you are wanting the “full picture” of a Bible story, you won’t find it here. Due to their brevity, the stories have many informational gaps. That means a child who is unfamiliar with the Bible story will likely have many questions. Of all the stories, I think “The Way to Heaven” will be the most likely to cause confusion. As long as parents are ready to fill in the holes, they can still use this book as a springboard for discussion or introduction to a Bible story.

Overall Rating: Good, although sturdiness is Very Good

Age Appeal: Baby-Toddler

Publisher Info: Lion Hudson, 2014; ISBN:978-0745965253 ; Board Book, 10 pgs., $9.99

Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $8.19
OR Buy it at Amazon.com for $8.99.

Special Info: Check out CCBR reviews of other books by this author. You may also enjoy looking at these books by this author: My Little Bible Boardbook, My Look and Point Story of Jesus Stick-a-Story Book,My Look and Point Story of Jesus Stick-a-Story Book,My Look and Point First Christmas Stick-a-Story Book, Bible Stories for Girls, My Look and Point In the Beginning Stick-a-Story Book, Guess Who? Noah's Ark: A Flip-the-Flap Book, Hands-On Bible Craft Book, The Lion Book of Prayers for Me, My Very Best Bible Stories, or Bible and Prayers for Teddy and Me, just to name a few!

Friday, May 29, 2015

How to Survive Middle School and Monster Bots (A Howard Boward Book)

If nothing hooks you faster than humor, especially quirky humor, check out Ron Bates book How to Survive Middle School and Monster Bots.
Written in first-person, the story starts with an enticing tongue-in-cheek setup delivered by a highly intelligent and altogether nerdy middle-school-aged boy named Howard Boward. It goes something like this: Whatever you’ve heard all over the internet about the trouble at Dolley Madison Middle School, forget it. Howard is here to reveal the real story… but, just so you know, the robots started it.

The tale goes on to comically relay Howard’s struggles with bullies, his dealings with Stick (“For those of you who haven’t met Stick—and congratulations on that, by the way—he is my fifteen-year-old brother and the source of most of the misery in my world”), his one-sided rivalry with neighbor Gerald (Gerald is actually nice, but Howard sees him as a threat), a Winter Formal dance, and a robot building contest.

When Howard learns about the robot-building contest, he confronts two feelings. The first emotion is confusion over the fact that rather than striving to outdo each other, the sponsoring club members work together to help each other build their robots. It seems that winning is less important to them than collaborative effort! That idea is foreign to Howard, who has a tendency to be self-centered in his worldview.

The second sentiment he feels is determination to demonstrate his intellectual superiority. However, because of his unchecked pride, Howard messes with something from the first book in the series, a mysterious and dangerous “goo” that causes an evil robot to form overnight. Unbeknownst to him, the robot secretly begins to build an army of robots that eventually threaten to take over the town (or at least ruin the Winter Formal).

The book does not contain any overt references to faith or Christianity. Nevertheless, it carries a subtle lesson about not judging others by appearances and doing to others what you would have them do to you. Readers also see Howard transform (not fully, but steps in the right direction) from an amusing but egocentric (and somewhat unlikeable) character to one opening up to the idea that he can work with others and treat them with kindness and respect despite his circumstances.

What I Like: Except the bully situations, I enjoyed most of the humor in this book. Ron Bates has a background in comedy, and it shines through. The robots antics were amusingly crazy, and Howard’s constant conversation with the reader proved entertaining. I had several laugh-out-loud moments, which is rare for me (despite my love of humor). I also like how the members of the robot club value teamwork, encouragement of others, and general kind behavior, and that those concepts were rooted in their faith. Overall, the book held good, clean fun.

What I Dislike: As a public school teacher, I was a bit dismayed by the depiction of bullying in the book. While I realize it was played up for comedic effect, I don’t like readers finding humor in the mistreatment of others, nor do I like the stereotype that teachers or a school would not take steps to curtail such abusive behavior.

Keep in mind that the story revolves around Howard, and he is NOT a role- model for readers. (Rather, readers see the role in the somewhat minor characters of Trevor, Gerald, and science teacher Mr. Z, which is, I believe, a saving grace in the story.) Despite those criticisms, I still enjoyed this story. It was refreshingly winsome in style and delivery. Parents may just want to be aware of some of its limitations and address those accordingly.

Overall Rating: I waffled between Very Good (because of the bullying) and Excellent (because of the humor); in those cases, I give the benefit of the doubt: Excellent

Age Appeal: 8-12

Publisher Info: Zonderkidz, 2014; ISBN:978-0310736080; Hardcover and Kindle, 224 pgs., $12.99
Buy it Now at Christianbook.com for $9.99 (although Christianbook.com has the link in their system incorrectly, so I cannot attach it) or buy the e-book for $4.99
OR Buy the hardcover at Amazon.com for $10.61. or the Kindle edition for $4.99.
Special Info: Check out the first book in the series, How to Make Friends and Monsters.