The Hairy Choose Balloons : a kids’ book review

I’m a fan of John Ortberg. I’ve listened to his sermons on the Menlo Park Church podcast and read several of his books. He is called, with affection, Dallas-for-Dummies for his ability to translate the writings of his late mentor Dallas Willard into the language of the people. Your Magnificent Chooser is a short children’s book designed to help kids understand how to make good choices.

978-1-4964-1742-8This is not a children’s story but a poem designed to teach kids. He explores the things we choose, what bad choices look like, and how God wants us to choose for ourselves. Illustrations by Robert Dunn personify (or creaturefy?) our Choosers as a furry balloon following us everywhere and into every situation. We learn, “a Chooser is a thing/ That is not just for you,/ Because everyone else/ Has their own Chooser too” (17). Ortberg helps children use their Choosers to love others, use  Chooser often and use it to make good choices (just like Jesus would).

Three of my kids are at an age where they appreciate this book (ages 6, 7.5, and nine). We’ve had several discussions since I first read it, on our Choosers and the importance of choosing wisely. They enjoyed it and got them talking. That strikes me as a good book.

I’ve tried to instill in my own kids the importance of good choices. I let them choose things (and sometimes suffer the consequences of poor choices) because I want them to learn to choose and choose wisely. Ultimately, I want them to choose Jesus. We talk often about what good choices are and the options available to them. Ortberg’s book provides a means to deepen and extend the conversation, towards the mundane and the sacred.

This book didn’t grab me the way some of our picture books do, but the kids really liked it.  As a parent concerned that our kids learn to make good choices, a book like this provides language to help kids think about, visualize and understand what good choices are. Therefore, I give this book four stars.

Note: I received this book from Tyndale Books in exchange for my honest review.

A Kid Friendly Pentecost: a kid’s book review

We are a couple of weeks away from Pentecost—the celebration of the outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh: wind and fire, young and old seeing visions and dreaming dreams, and women and men speaking with other tongues. Acts 2 tells the story of one-hundred-and-twenty disciples gathered and waiting, surprised and vivified by the Spirit’s presence, knit together as one family—the church—the body of Christ.

the-day-when-god-made-church-a-child-s-book-about-pentecost-4The Day When God Made the Church: A Child’s First Pentecost Book by Rebekah McLeod Hutto (illustrated by Stephanie Haig) provides a way for parents, educators and ministers to share the story of the Holy Spirit’s coming with young children. With Haig’s vivid illustrations, Hutto narrates the rush of wind, the crowds confusion and highlight’s from Peter’s sermon. She stresses the good news of Christ’s resurrection and the joy and new life given by the Spirit to all who respond to the good news of Jesus.

Hutto is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister at Brick Presbyterian Church where she serves as Associate Minister for Christian Education and Discipleship. She manages to tell the story of Pentecost in an engaging way that is simple enough for a three or four-year-old to apprehend,  and true enough to events that older kids and adults (big kids) will also find it instructive.  Haig’s artwork includes ribbons of color and fire, people, animals and symbols. There is a variety of skin tones included among Jesus’ disciples, signally the diversity of the body of Christ.

This is a short picture book (paper back, 32 pages long) but it captures well  the birth of the church. I recommend this book for parents, Christian education directors, Sunday School teachers who want to share the joy and Good News of the Spirit with their children. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

The Cross and the KEEP OUT SIGN: a ★★★★★ kids’ book review

I am a father of four kids eight and under. So I read to them a lot. As far as religious kids’ books, I like books that tell the old, old story well in a way that is both  age appropriate and compelling. The Garden, the Curtain, and the Cross is a great book. It gives kids age five to eight (my test group) a big picture sense of why Jesus died and rose again. Author Carl Laberton tells a story which is accessible for my kids and true to scripture. His story is beautifully illustrated by Catalina Echeverri’s stunning illustrations. On the first day I got this book, I already read it several times with my kids. It opened up a great conversation with my eight year old about what the Bible tells about sin and we loved talking about what was happening in the pictures.

t5garden_medium3d-g7wvjnz5osg52qzrnorvrq67frvh6m4zHere is a brief synopsis of the book [spoiler alert]: It begins in the garden where there was nothing bad, ever and there was no one sad. . . ever. And best of all God was there. Unfortunately the people did a terrible thing and decided they wanted a world without God in charge. Because of their sin, God sent them out of the garden and put warrior angels in front of it like a big KEEP OUT sign. People still kept sinning because they didn’t want God in charge.  God wanted to remind people how wonderful it was to live with him, so he had his people build a temple. In the center of the temple was the wonderful place where God was. But around that wonderful place was a curtain with pictures of warrior angels—God’s big keep out sign telling them that because of their sin, they couldn’t come in. After hundreds of years God sent his son as a person (Jesus) to open the way to God’s wonderful place. The people put Jesus on a cross. Jesus took all our sin—the bad things we do and the sad things they cause—and the curtain in the temple tore in two signalling God’s wonderful place was open again. Jesus rose three days later and welcomed all who trust in him back to God’s wonderful place.

I like this book a lot and my kids all liked it. It is a perfect book to explore the meaning of Easter with kids. Another plus for the book is that Jesus isn’t depecited as another blond haired messiah. He has dark hair and some color. The final pages depict the post-resurrection Jesus with bright face with a glowing white hair and beard nd a golden sash (see Revelation 1:13-16).I give this book high points for biblical and theological accuracy but it was the art work that initially grabbed me.  Below, illustrator Catalina Echeverri reads the story alongside her illustrations. This will give you something of a taste of what to expect. I give this book five stars. ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from the Good Book Company via Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for my honest review.



The Bible For Dragon Slayers: a kid’s book review

Sir Wyvren Pugilist, who’s name means Dragon Fighter, previously published Dragon Slayers: The Essential Training Guide for Young Dragon Slayers (Paraclete 2011). That book taught young readers how to battle the dragons in their life using insights from ‘the Ancient Manual,’ AKA the Bible. His new book, Secrets of the Ancient Manual Revealed examines the shape of the Biblical story: how we got in the mess we are in and what the Mysterious Three did to set us free. [Joyce Denham is the secret author but don’t tell your kids].

secrets-of-the-ancient-manual-revealed-every-dragon-slayer-s-guide-to-the-bible-27 Sir Wyvren’s guide is split into three sections called epeisodions. Epeisodion One describes the ‘Agreement Antiquatus’ (the Old Testament). Beginning with Creation, Sir Wyvren tells the story of Mighty One‘s grand plan. This isn’t a complete overview of the Old Testament. The focus is on the story of Genesis (chapters one through eight),  and Exodus (chapters nine through twelve). However chapters thirteen and fourteen give a nice overview of the story from Canaanite conquest to exile and chapter fifteen provides a summary of the entire ‘Agreement Antiquatus.’

Epeisodion Zero is a two page interlude which names the silence of God and the continued suffering of Israel at the hands of Greek and Roman oppressors.

Epeisodon Two, ‘The Agreement Novus Un-Parallelus,” tells the tale of Jesus, the chief dragon slayer, his great and final battle and the community of dragon slayers formed in his name. As with the Agreement Antiquatus, Sir Wyven’s treatment of the New Testament is not exhaustive but focuses on the historical books–the gospels and Acts–and the end (Revelation).

There are a plethora of children’s Bibles and kids’ devotionals on the market. Yet there are not many books which describe the Bible’s contents in manner accessible to children. Secrets of the Ancient Manual is just this sort of book and does it imaginatively. Our guide, Sir Wyvren, is a medieval-styled Dragon Slayer. Each chapter has words and phrases in bold, and underlined keywords. Sir Wyvren has his readers write down these underlined words to help unlock the secrets of the Ancient manual (a glossary in the back provides definitions of these key words).  This, combined with Sir Wyvren’s conversational tone, makes  this an interactive way to learn.

I think this is fun and entertaining way to learn the Bible. This is listed as a book for ‘all ages’ and indeed I enjoyed it very much and found it edifying. My own kids are between the ages of eight and one. My eight year old is entering the age where she can appreciate what sort of book this is. My five and six year old aren’t there yet. I give this five stars and recommend it especially for kids age eight to twelve.

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.


Living Lent With Children: a kids’ book review

Lent comes early this year, it starts on February 10th.  I’m already thinking about what my Lenten practices will be, but as a father of four I haven’t always done so well on opening up Lent for my kids. Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by religious educator and children’s author Laura Alary, explores Lent and Holy Week in accessible ways for young children.  Illustrations from Ann Boyajian adorn each page.

Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary and Illusrated by Ann Boyajian

Four headings guide kids toward a meaningful experience of Lent and Easter: Making Time, Making Space, Making Room and Holy Week. Alary begins with a description of how in the church, Lent is a season of waiting before whisking us off to the wilderness where Jesus made time to be with God. Likewise, she encourages kids to make time for God by reading the bible, wondering what God is telling us and asking ourselves probing questions about the life we are living (9). She then talks about Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom and what it means to make space for God in our life: Continue reading Living Lent With Children: a kids’ book review

Advent Family Story Time: a book review

You can get one of those Advent calendars with the worst-chocolate-ever but there are better ways to help your kids enter into the season of Advent. Arnold Ytreedie has authored a number of children’s books, including three other Advent devotionals. With Ishtar’s Odyessey he takes families on a journey from Persia to Bethlehem.

I9780825443930shtar was a young prince, the son of a wise man. he begins the story as a somewhat sheltered ten-year-old, fearful of life outside the palace walls and he doesn’t like his daily lessons. One night, reviewing the constellations he discovers a new star prophesying the birth of a king to the West. Honored for his discovery, Ishtar is compelled to accompany his father and uncles on a six month journey to pay homage to the new king. Along the way he meets new friends: Jotham, Bartholomew and Tabitha (all characters in Ytreeide’s other Advent devotionals).

Ytreeide weaves his fictionalized tale of the magi’s journey into daily readings for Advent. Each entry ends with a scripture and a short reflection on that part of the story. Ytreeide also suggests foods to enjoy on particular days of the week which correlate with the story and Advent customs to enrich and reinforce what children are learning through the story.

If your kids like stories, this is an interesting and engaging way to help them enter into Advent more fully.  At the beginning of the story Ishtar is a pagan (named after the Babylonian goddess of love), at the end of the story he worships Jesus, the Son of the one true God. I give this four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.









Tolstoy Retold: a book review

The great Russian Novelist, Leo Tolstoy, wrote long complicated novels like War & Peace and Anna Karenina. But Tolstoy was also known for his ideals, and his spirituality, and for preserving and retelling Russian folktales. In a short volume, three of Tolstoy’s tales are retold with notes and an introduction by Jon Sweeney (independent scholar, and author of more than twenty books).  Sweeney’s prose combines with Anna Mitchell’s illustrations to produce Three SImple Men & Other Holy Folktales. 

The stories that Sweeney retells are some favorites. The title story retells the story of the three hermits, who are visited by priests who judge them simple and shallow in their prayer life and try to instruct them. The priests somce to see that these simple monks are deep in communion with God when they see them walking towards their boat on the waves. Next Sweeney retells the Godson (rechristened The Godson Learns to Fight Evil) and   A Spark Neglected Burns the House ( new title: One Neglected Spark May Burn Down a House).

Sweeney’s retellings have some creative license. Tolstoy’s Three Hermits have no individual characteristics (they are simply, three hermits). Sweeney describes them individually as basket maker, a forager for food, and the thinker (3-4). Conversely The Godson learns to Fight Evil simplifies Tolstoy’s account, removing some of its preachiness and its magical elements (57).In One Negelected Spark, Sweeney adds a Tolstoy-esque element, the aging, ailing father streched out on the stove recovering from athsma (59). Despite some poetic license Sweeney is faithful to the plot of Tolstoy’s tales.

I don’t prefer these adaptations to the originals, but I enjoyed them. Moreover, the prose is simple enough that my eight-year-old daughter read them happily. I liked Sweeney’s introduction and his brief notes on each story where we reflects on what Tolstoy was trying to do as a storyteller. I i give this book four stars

Note: I received this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.