Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dr. Oma

16th century Countess Juliana von Stolberg is called the Queen Mother of the Netherlands. In Dr. Oma by Ethel Herr, we learn she was also a Godly woman who encouraged everyone to read the Bible, a herbal healer, a teacher, and a mother to 17 children - including Willem van Orange, whom Herr calls "the George Washington of Holland."

Dr. Oma is told from Juliana's granddaughter's point of view. At age 11, Maria is taken away from her place in the court of Duchess Margaretha of Brussels to live with her father, who wishes to protect her from his enemy, King Philip of Spain. Maria is at first frightened because the Duchess warns Maria of dangers in her father's house, where the Bible is regularly read. "Only heretics read the Protestant Bible!" the Duchess says.

But Maria makes quick friends with her grandmother, Oma (Juliana). Oma explains why Maria's father is in danger: King Philip does not want common people reading the Bible or worshiping in ways different from his own. Oma also teaches her there is nothing wrong with reading the Bible. It isn't, as Maria was taught, only reserved for priests. God wants everyone to read his Bible. Oma teaches Maria other things, too, like how to manage a household and use the healing properties of herbs for the benefit of the entire village.

When Maria's father goes to war with her uncles, Maria watches as Oma handles her fears and sorrow by willfully making herself trust in the Lord. And when Oma dies at a ripe old age, Maria, now 21, is glad to have known and learned from such a great lady.
What I Like: The author does a good job of keeping historical details about van Orange's struggle for religious freedom simple and interesting. The character of Oma offers us much historic detail (like how the Bible was available only in Latin - the language of scholars and priests - before Martin Luther translated it) and wise council (such as how important it is to trust in God for everything) without being preachy.
The theme of the book (summed up by Psalm 56: "I will put my trust in Thee. In God whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.") is well discussed in throughout book. For example, van Orange tells Maria before he goes into battle: "No man can go into war without fear. Nor can we learn to trust God without going forward - even when great fear clutches at our hearts...Am I afraid? Yes, very much afraid in some of the places deep inside of me. But, also, I go, expecting to learn to trust God in ways I've never yet had to trust."
In addition, the author offers useful notes about the accuracy of her novel, a few questions to spur homeschooling projects, and a glossary of unusual terms.
What I Dislike: Although this isn't a badly written book, a stronger author could have made much more of this true story. The plotting isn't strong, and I found myself wondering why Maria, after years of living with Oma and reading the Bible daily, seems to understand God as little as she did when she first arrived at her father's castle. It isn't until after Oma dies that the reader gets a glimpse at how spiritually mature Maria has become. The book also lacks focus. Is it about Oma? Or about Maria? Sometimes it is difficult to know.
Overall Rating: Good.
Age Appeal: 8 - 12.
Publishing Info: P & R Publishing, 2006; ISBN: 0875526411; paperback, $11.99.
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Special Info: Although most of the characters in this book are Protestant at a time when Catholics and Protestants strongly believed each other morally wrong, none of the characters indulge in Catholic-bashing. In addition, parents should know that during the course of this story, Maria's stepmother becomes pregnant with another man's child and is found guilty of adultery. No lurid details are given, although both the stepmother and her lover are thrown into the dungeon for their crime.

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