Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Enoch Walked With God

Enoch. No, that's not a punch line to a knock-knock joke... it's the name of a man who lived before the flood and Noah's ark. He was one of the few men in the Bible who did not see death. Instead, he was taken directly to heaven by God.

The book Enoch Walked With God by Larry Hunt speculates on the life of this man and the manner in which his devotion to God manifested itself.  The book begins by quoting the three lines of Scripture that mention Enoch. Then, though not described in the Bible, the book paints a picture of a gentle, peaceful Enoch who played with children, showed kindness, planted seeds and harvested a field for a widow, and spoke with wisdom.

 The book is written in rhyme and capped off with the title words as a refrain. The meter is even and well constructed, giving it a gentle, sing-song feel. The text is large-sized with only a few lines per page. Illustrations are done in a two page spread. These are quite simple in presentation, and slightly cartoonish in look for some of the characters. Though they hold few details, the colors are bright.

What I Like: The rhyme in this book works, which is refreshing. The repeated refrain will appeal to younger readers, who can anticipate (and recite!) the words. And, though plain, the illustrations work fairly well to complement the text.

What I Dislike: As I mentioned, much of what is described as Enoch's life in this book is speculative. However, because the book holds no historical background information or author explanation for how Enoch's actions were discerned, it reads as fact. In other words, one could easily believe that playing with children, plowing widow's fields, and so on came directly from Scripture... and they don't. So, while I liked the idea of the story and appreciated the construction of the poetic elements, I wish that the speculative aspect would have been made clear.

Overall Rating: Good. However, had the author clarified where his ideas came from, I probably would have ranked it as very good. In other words, if you are a parent willing to take a moment prior to reading the book to explain to your child how you think the author likely developed his ideas, I think it's worth looking at.

Age Appeal: None is given, but I recommend younger ages, likely the preschool- kindergarten crowd.

Publisher Info: Eastern Gate Press, 2014; ISBN: 978-0615850559; Paperback and Kindle, 38 pgs., $9.00

This book is not available at Christianbook.com.
Buy the paperback at Amazon.com for $10.79  or the Kindle version for $2.99.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The God Squad in an Episode of Misson Him-Possible the Distorted Mirror

The book The God Squad in an Episode of Mission Him-Possible the Distorted Mirror by Darlene Laney features six teenage girls (ages 12-15) of varying ethnic backgrounds that all attend  Carver Preparatory School. These once rough-edged girls have all bonded together as friends through their faith and desire to share their faith with others. They even came up with a name for their group: the God Squad. (The God Squad gives a nod to the inspiration for its name, The Mod Squad, a 1960-70s iconic counter culture television series about hippie undercover cops.)

As the girls' mentor, Ms. Foster not only counsels and guides them, she also gives them missions. In this book, the mission is to befriend a new student named Kelsey who has two issues to deal with. First, she is obsessively focused on looks and struggling with her self image. Second, she is making poor choices in order to fit in with the "popular" crowd. The girls aim to help her accept who she is in Christ.

The book begins with a short introduction from one of the characters, a girl named Mia, who says she will be the narrator for this episode. (Note: In actuality, she only narrates between chapters of the books, and not the actual story itself, which is told in third person.) In between chapters, Mia "converses" with you, the reader. On the about three-quarter length page, Mia invites you to reflect on times you have faced a similar situation, how you felt about it, and encourages you to visit the website and post your thoughts. These short interludes are very much like the commentary from a character following an Adventures in Odyssey program.

After that brief introduction, the reader meets all the six main characters-- seven if you count Ms. Foster-- and is given a glimpse at their meeting place (called the sanctuary) and their mission. We then meet Kelsey and see some of her inner struggle. From then on, the story follows the girls attempts to welcome Kelsey. Kelsey finds herself drawn to the friendship they offer, but at the same time not wanting to associate with them because she wants to hang with the "popular" crowd.

Things come to a crisis in the middle of the night, with Kelsey feeling cornered at a drunken Frat party and wanting a way out. In desperation, she calls Mia.

Mia and her friends come to the rescue, putting on their armor to go to battle for their lost pal. Each God Squad member goes into action. Mia uses the Sword of the Spirit to cut through the darkness (the frat halls) to get to Kelsey. Eve puts on the Shield of Faith to put out fiery darts of doubt and despair. Jade puts on the Hemet of Salvation to block their minds from fear and lies. Angel, Chris, and Sadie wear the Shoes of Peace, the Belt of Truth, and the Breastplate of Righteousness to go with Mia into the frat house to retrieve Kelsey.

After that incident, Kelsey realizes the follies of her choices and finally takes her life in the right direction.

What I Like: I appreciate how this book is supported by outside perks. First, readers are encouraged to become members of the God Squad. They can write via snail mail (an address is provided in the book). It also has a website. Finally, readers can visit the Facebook page to get daily G.E.M.S (God's Empowering Moments). I think that's a great way to connect with the reader and encourage them in their faith.

I also thought some of the questions Mia asked at the end of each chapter would make great talking points for a small group of readers or thinking points for a single reader to reflect on. The author seemed to have a good understanding of some of the conflicts and issues teen girls face. Plus, the overall idea of finding our worth in God and accepting ourselves for the way He made us is clear.

Finally, I appreciated how often the girls cooperated, supported each other, encouraged each other, and turned to the power of prayer. What great messages for teens!

What I Dislike: For me, there are a few minor dislikes I feel I should mention. First, the pictures are cute, but cartoonish, and a bit like a clean version of the Bratz dolls. I feel like they are a little immature for the teen target audience.

It's a little pricey for a paperback.

There are also at least Four catch-phrases in the book. Mission Impossible. SGF (Special God Force). God Squad. Prayer Power. I would have preferred the author pick one and stick with it.

Technically, I found several punctuation errors in the second half of the book.

UPDATE: Since publishing this review, CCBR heard from the author, who stated that the punctuation errors had been corrected in the latest version of the book. Yay!

Finally, much of the story structure is spent in a tedious cycle:  An event would happen that involved one or a few of the main six girls... and then all the girls would get together, and the event would be retold again. So you get a little bit of action and then a rehashing of all the action you just read about. Sometimes during these discussion sessions, a verbal response was given from each character. Here is a sample of what I am talking about from the epilogue (in response to a question from Ms. Foster asking how the girls were doing):
"Great," Mia chirped. /"Good," Eva added. /"Fine," Sadie supplied. /"Fantastic," Angel replied./ "Okay," Chris supplied. /"So-so," Jade replied.)

For me, that made the story stagnate.

Overall Rating: Good.  However, to be fair, I can envision some readers giving it a "very good" rating because of the opportunity to interact with the characters and the author online. That's a big bonus!

Age Appeal: None listed, but I recommend ages 8-12.

Publisher Info: Halo Publishing International, 2014; ISBN: 978-1612442976; Paperback and Kindle, 134 pgs., $13.95

This book is not available at Christianbook.com.
Buy the paperback from Amazon.com for $12.56 or the Kindle version for $6.95.

Special Info:  Laney also offers a book called God's Special Forces: A Manuel for Becoming a Young Woman of Quality.

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.