The Axe Man: a kids book review

Ever wonder where Christmas trees came from? Claudia Cangilla McAdam’s Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree describes the story:

It was Christmas Ekristoph-and-the-first-christmas-treeve in the year of our Lord, 722,  Kristoph, an orphan boy, went with missionary priest, Boniface through the countryside, hurrying to reach the village before nightfall. They  come upon a group of people in the forest worshiping an oak tree, . There is a boy bound in their midst. Boniface intervenes, the pagan worshippers sneer. To prove that the oak was powerless and that Boniface’s God was not, Boniface fells the oak with a single stroke of his axe. The sacred oak was destroyed, but inside its trunk was a fir tree as big as man.  Boniface called it “the tree of the Christ Child,” and instructed the men to bring this tree into their home, warning them “it will not shelter evil deeds, loving gifts and lights of kindness.” He chops down the fir tree with a single stroke of the axe, and the men carry it away. Boniface, Kristoph accompany the rescued child, the son of a Chieftain, to his home with the promise of Christmas dinner awaiting them. They find another evergreen along the way, and cut it down for their celebration. This time it takes three whacks for Boniface to fell the tree. The decorate the tree, topping it with a beeswax candle.

This is the stuff of legend. There really was a Saint Boniface who led the Anglo-Saxon mission to Germania. He really did fell a Great Oak tree worshipped by the land’s pagan inhabitants (somewhere near Hesse, Germany). Did Boniface cut it down with one axe strike? Was there a fir tree growing from the stump? Who’s to say? I wasn’t there.

McAdam’s telling of the story is a fun folk tale for children, accompanied by Dave Hill’s illustration (Hill was the illustrator for the brilliant and beautiful Hildegard’s Gift). The story is entertaining for kids of all ages. The book closes with a prayer of blessing for a Christmas tree based on St. Boniface’s words. I give this four stars! ★ 

Notice of material connection: I received a copy of this book from Paraclete Press in exchange for my honest review.

Where’s Mikey? a kids book review.

I have heard the stats that only two in ten millennials attend church regularly. Why? I blame Martin Handford, creator of the Where’s Waldo series (Where’s Wally in the UK). Because of him, a generation of kids, in the late 80’s and 90’s, stopped looking for Jesus and instead asked ‘Where’s Waldo?’ It was more detrimental to childhood faith development than Bill Nye the Science Guy explaining away theism.

978-1-4964-2243-9Thankfully, we now have Bible Sleuth: New Testament. Mike, an adventure-loving little boy, sporting an orange and red painter’s cap, a red and white striped t-shirt and yellow overall shorts (an outfit which was last seen in 1991 worn by R&B sensations TLC) explores the New Testament. Unlike Waldo, who trekked across the globe, urban centers, and visited other cultures, Mike restricts his exploration to Bible Stories alone. So when you hunt for Mike and other figures in each scene, you are sure to only learn the Bible and not any new, subversive ideas. Doesn’t that sound much safer?

I’m kidding. There are tons of kids’ search books of a wide variety, and Bible Sleuth stands in a long tradition of Christian children’s books making use of the same idea. Bible Sleuth illustrator, José Pérez Montero has previously illustrated Seek & Find Bible Stories (Zonderkids, 2008, with author Carl Anker Mortensen) and I have reviewed similar kids books here before (see here or here).

Here is the thing though, when it comes to kids book reviews, my critical faculties pretty much go out the window and I end up saying things like, “My kids like it, so I like it.” And this is true again. My oldest, who is nearing ten, my seven-year-old, my six-year-old all enjoy it. My two-year-old likes the pictures though hasn’t demonstrated the patience required to find everything (though he is really great at Where’s Elmo).  All of us get annoyed that invariably one of the people we are looking for in the picture is barely cresting out from the center crease. But such is life.

But one of the things I always try to pay attention to in Children’s Bible books, “How white is everybody?” I remember a friend observing that Jesus’ family once hid in Egpyt, so you know he must have had some color. And yet Little Mike and his pasty legs blend in pretty well to these pages, because of how white all the middle Eastern Palestinians seem to be. At least Jesus has brown hair and not blonde locks, that is until he is surrounded by a crowd of ONLY white people in John’s Revelation 19 vision (and the final scene in the book). Hair color throughout ranges from red, to brown and blonde.[The Tyndale site identifies the author of this book, as Scandinavia Publishing House, which may explain some this].

My kids like it and that means something, but on cultural accuracy and sensitivity, I find this book wanting. I give it a middle of the road review. -3 stars.

Notice of material connection:  I received this book from Tyndale 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.

Crazy Making Bible Stories: a kids’ book review

Bible Stories Gone Crazy! is a Where’s Waldo style kid’s book which pictures Bible stories all wrong Noah’s Ark has a sizable, modern construction crew. The parting of the red sea depicts surfers and other water enthusiasts.  The destruction of Jericho has a big bad wolf, a wrecking ball, lego blocks and KISS.  The David and Goliath story has water guns a hotdog stand, and a world war II plane, The angels in the lion’s den with Daniel are circus trainers and the lion are engaged in a range of recreational activities. Jonah and the Monster fish,  the feeding of the five thousand and the paraplegic man let down through the roof have equally ridiculous depictions. And of course each of these stories have teddy bears hidden in the scene.

Josh Edwards and Illustrator Emiliano Migliardo have teamed up to help children learn about the Bible stories in this activity based kids book. Each picture has stuff to find, (i.e. different animals, people, activities) and fun things to look at. They also include the scriptural references to each story so that you can talk to your kids about what is right about the picture and what is just plain silly.

I have three kids that have enjoyed this book. My four-year-old likes to look at the pictures and find stuff; my six-year-old is better at it and likes to talk about is off about the pictures. My eight-year-old enjoys the book but was initially disturbed that the author and illustrator could mess up these stories so completely. All and all the kids like and it is a fun, non-serious way to get them to engage with the Bible. The illustrations are cartoony and fun and another plus is the durable glossy pages which thus far have survived my seven-month-old. I give this four stars.

Note: I received this book in exchange for my honest review from Kregel Publications and Candle Books.

Spider Theology: a kids’ book review

Jonathan Edwards is the great American theologian. He was pastor in Puritan New England and a key player in the first Great Awakening (c.a. 1730’s-40s).  Yet outside of the ‘Reformed crowd,’ Edwards is  no longer a household name. Reformed Heritage Books’ Christian Biographies For Young Readers series has released a new book to introduce the Edwards legacy to children.

Jonathan Edwards by Simonetta Carr covers the whole of  Edwards life. It tells the story of:  his childhood, his education and marriage to Sarah Pierpont, his early days as a pastor, his pastorate at North Hampton, his friendship with Whitefield and his part in the revival,  his dismissal from North Hampton and his Stockbridge years, his last days and death at Princeton. This is a children’s book, and short, so not a comprehensive treatment of Edwards. Carr points to episodes that would be of interest to young readers. She is an award winning biographer and has written quite a few biographies for young readers.

Carr’s Jonathan Edwards is beautifully illustrated by Matt Abraxas as well as maps, photos and Library of Congress stock images. There is even a portrait of Edwards from my favorite über-Calvinist theologian/portrait artist with a philosophical bent, Oliver Crisp. Crisp, who is a noted authority on Edwards, also read through Carr’s manuscript and helped answer some of Carr’s questions regarding Edwards.

The cover of the book, one of Abraxas’s illustrations, depicts the teenage Edwards dangling a spider from a stick.  A sketch from Edwards’ journal (12) reveals that Edwards once dangled a spider from a stick and made several illustrations of it dangling from it’s web. Carr comments on the time that Edwards devoted to observing the natural world, which is one of the aspects I most appreciate about his writings. Readers of his most famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, will also recognize the image of the dangling spider.

This is a good biography and presents Edwards in a way that is accessible for chidren. Because this book is written for young readers, Carr does not wrestle with the ambiquities of Edwards legacy (i.e. he like many in Puritian New England, was a slave holder). It also doesn’t explore the nature of Edwards struggle with the difficult youth of his church (such as his strong words against ‘bundling‘).  This is a favorable presentation of Edwards  and I think a good introduction for youth.

My seven-year-old stalled on reading this somewhere in Edwards college years. I think this book is probably best for readers slightly beyond her level. Perhaps children in the 8-11 range. I especially think kids will like the ‘Did you Know?’ section at the end of the book that shares trivia about the Edwardes and their time period. I give this book four stars.

Thank you to Reformation Heritage Books and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Reading the Bible with Women’s Eyes: a kid’s book review

Let me tell you about a great new children’s Bible book.  Margaret McAllister, author of the Mistmantle Chronicles, has written a book called Women of the Bible. It is beautifully illustrated by  Alida Massari and profiles eleven women of faith described in the Bible. These include:  Mother Noah, Rachel, Miriam, Ruth, Mary of Nazareth,  Mary and Martha, The Canaanite Women, Lady Procula, Mary of Magdala and Lydia.  While the Bible is full of stories about men and boys, this collection explores the perspectives of these women, peppered through the biblical narrative.

But this is not a simply a collection of the ‘girl’ stories. This is an imaginative retelling of some of the Bible’s best loved stories.  Noah was a righteous man who heard from God and built an ark in obedience to Him. McAllister retells the story from the perspective of Noah’s wife (Mother Noah) and the stress and strain from caring for animals on the ark.  Her profile of Rachel retells the Jacob story from the perspective of his beloved but suffering wife.  The story of Miriam describes the young Hebrew girl who cared for her baby brother, Moses.  Ruth is told from the perspective of Naomi (as retold from the perspective of Ruth and Boaz’s child).

The New Testament stories continue this imaginative exploration. The nativity story is retold in Mary’s voice as she, the humble peasant girl, uses symbolic objects to illustrate the journey from her Annunciation to Epiphany. Martha and Mary of Bethany reflect on Jesus’ visit and the the responsibility of being the host versus sitting at Jesus’ feet. McAllister does not typecast Martha–she is ever bit as eager to choose the ‘one thing that matters’ but felt prevented by her obligation to feed her guests. We hear more of the story of the Canaanite women and the love she has for her daughter and we see the crucifixion through the eyes of Pilate’s wife and the resurrection from the perspective of Mary Magdalene.  Lydia closes the collection by recollecting Paul’s mission to Philippi and all that happened to him there.

McAllister doesn’t rehash a Bible story, simplify it and slap a moral on the end of each tale. She expounds on and explores the biblical narrative by shifting the narrative voice. The result is that you hear the story in some fresh ways. What better way to enter the story than to imagine it from the perspective of someone who was there. Sometimes these women are central to the action (i.e. Miriam, Mary, Martha and Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene), at other points these women are eye-witnesses to  significant events (i.e. like  Lady Procula, Lydia).  I absolutely loved this!

I read this book to my  little girls. My six-year-old enjoyed this book a lot (my four year old is still in the ‘picture book stage).  I think this book is better for a seven or eight year old (as far as reading level) but since some of these stories are familia r my daughter liked reading them with me.  I will happily re-read this book with them (or give it to them to read) later.

The art work by Alida Masarri makes this a beautiful book.  The cover depicted above, is Ruth.  The women profiled are all beautifully painted in scenes from the stories they inhabit. For artwork alone, this book is well worth it!

This is a book I plan to read and re-read with my children.  I enjoy as much as them. I give it five stars: ★★★★★

Thank you to Paraclete Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Beyond the Sticker Shock: a kids book review

When I opened up the David Sticker Book with my daughter she was initially disturbed. Here was a book where people, animals, and various objects weren’t properly colored (while the rest of the book was). I showed her the stickers at the back of the book intended to fill in the blanks in the story. For the next several minutes she was consumed by finding the right sticker for the right blank. Some were easy for her (people in the foreground objects, etc), but there were also butterflies and birds that blended into the background. All and all, completing the pictures was a fun experience. When we were done, we read the story of David which included his anointing, his fight with Goliath, his serenading of Saul and Saul trying to kill him. The book itself covers 1 Sam 16-19 but the last page reveals a glimpse of David as King.

The David Sticker Book by Karen Williamson, Illustrated by Amanda Enright

This book is listed as being for children “3 & up.” I did the stickers with my five year old. My three-year-old may have done it, my five year old was better at it (all the stickers are in the right place).  My three-year-old wasn’t too disturbed by the fact that I didn’t  read it for her. What I was more interested in was would either of them find this book interesting when the stickers were all placed? I think that Karen Williamson and Amanda Enright did a good job making the Biblical story accessible for children. However the novelty did wear off a little. When I was looking for this book to post my review I found it wedged underneath the couch.

However my three-year-old happily had me read it to her when I pulled it out.  I personally enjoyed this and loved how much my kids liked the stickers. What fun.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.