What’s in the Board Books (and Coloring Books too)? a kids’ books review

Once upon a time (circa 1989), Phil Vischer with his Big Idea entertainment created the epic Christian kid’s show VeggieTales. It became wildly popular in the next decade. But after declaring bankruptcy in 2003, VeggieTales has fallen out Vischer’s creative control, now owned by DreamWorks (still employing Vischer as a writer and voice actor on a contractual basis). So well there have still been great Veggie Tales programs since Visher (that my kids love), there has also has been utterly inane versions of the original show, such as Netflix,”VeggieTales in the City.”

In 2008, Vischer returned with a new show and network, Jelly Telly and “Buck Denver Asks, What’s in the Bible?” The show is sort of a variety puppet show that explores the books of the Bible. It is thoughtful Christian children’s entertainment—packed with lots of Bible Quiz factoids, good humor, and interesting characters. Recently JellyTelly press (a new imprint of Faith Words) launched a book series based on the show.

Children’s author Hannah C. Hall and illustrators Greg Hardin (another BigIdea alum) and Kenny Yamada, have produced several new board books based on the characters “Clive & Ian” from What’s in the Bible?  These include:



These 4 books are perfect for a Toddler or Preschooler (and my special needs 4-year-old). One of the things I really appreciate about them, is that these books focus on the specialness of God’s creation, that he created such a wonderful world, and that he created us. I am suspicious of kids books that are moralistic, but this just talks about the goodness of God and his creation. These board books don’t really get farther into the Bible story than Creation, but they do illustrate it’s meaning well for young minds.

In addition to the board books, there are a couple of other new JellyTelly Press titles, like these Buck Denver’s Bible Coloring Books

Buck Denver's Bible Coloring Book New Testament Stories
Buck Denver's Bible Coloring Book Old Testament Stories

The coloring books depict scenes from the Bible, and occasionally characters from the What’s in the Bible TV show. This is a good resource to have on hand for days when you have your kids with you in the worship service Sunday morning or on rainy days. Fun stuff for the Christian kid. And not too preachy. These are great resources to have on hand.

Thank you Hachette Press and Faith Words for the opportunity to review these products. (These books are available from the publisher (see links above), from Amazon, or wherever fine Christian books are sold.

Stretch Your Attention: a book review

I am a distracted man and I live among a distracted people. Our electronic devices buzz and chirp. Our online worlds provide portholes to cat pictures, news (real or fake), click-bait quizzes and a nearly endless supply of slideshows on what celebrities wear (or whatever else they do). We work and care for our families. Duty calls and we plod through it all, but feel pulled away by every-little-thing. Is it any wonder we have little sense of God’s presence in our lives? Laura Davis Werezak has written Attend: Forty Soul Stretches Toward God to help us cultivate a greater awareness of God (and everything else). This is a semi-autobiographical exploration of the spiritual practices Werezak has found helpful. She invites us to incorporate these stretches into our own life and faith.

attendlargeWhat does attend mean?  Attend means to be present (as in ‘attending class’). It can also mean ‘to serve’ and ‘to wait’ (59).  The word literally means “to stretch toward”(2).  So these stretches are designed to help us as readers attend well to the condition of our soul and  to the relationships of those around us, as we stretch toward God.

These forty stretches are organized under four headings taken from Isaiah 30:15, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” So it’s organized as follows: I. Returning, II. Rest, III. Quietness,  and IV. Trust. This provides the flow for the stretches which Werezak describes: We return (or turn) our attention to God by learning to pay attention to life; we rest in the Lord, learning to enjoy His presence; we cultivate our ability to hear him the quietness and risk discovering what it means to trust in the Lord in our actions. Werezak begins by describing the practice of opening a window (physically and spiritually) and allowing  fresh air to blow in and ends with a call to plant a seed of peace through the work of justice.  Between these two practices there is not a sequence but a series of interconnected stretches which aim at helping us to attend well.

One of the things I really enjoy about this book is the scope of the practices which Werezak describes. These practices are spiritual (e.g. ways of prayer and mediation), relational (e.g. writing notes, playing with a child, reconnecting with a friend, listening to others), sensate (lighting candles, watching sunsets and sunrises, breathing, writing down five-sense experiences), and mundane (e.g. making your bed, setting tables). She reveals how we can develop our attention to God in all of life (even if it means unplugging from something for a while).

I always have two questions I ask whenever I read a book on spiritual practices. First: is this book just another Christianized version of a self-help book?  Certainly there is overlap being what Werezak calls attentiveness and the concept of mindfulness borrowed from Buddhism and slapped on the cover of every pop-psychology, business and personal growth book. Indeed I think if you practice many of these stretches, you’d be more mindful, aware, more present, and more appreciative of what you have in life. Making your bed, setting the table, cleaning, cutting an onion à la Robert Farrar Capon and watching a sunrise will help you become aware and intentional. Also, Werezak’s stretches are helpful for getting us pay attention to our relationships.However this isn’t just a self-help book because ultimately her hope is that we stretch our attention to God and his place in our lives.

Second: Is there an ecclesiology here? Books on spiritual practices often lack corporate dimensions. Even influential books like Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines lack a developed ecclesiology. And yet our experience of God is fundamentally shaped through our participation in church. Werezak  focuses her stretches on the personal dimension, emphasizing embodying our attention to God; however she does connect her experience to the wider Body of Christ.  She shares about finding a home in Anglican liturgy and delving deep into Christian tradition. She draws insights from mystics and the weird old prayers of the Book of Common Prayer.  She connects her personal  attempts to pay attention to God with the corporate practices of confession, praying written prayers, saying a creed out loud, listening to some else read the Bible for you, etc.). She sees deep connections between her experience, the church and the world and she connections her practices to the church’s Sacraments (44-45, 65, 80). But the strength of this book is how rooted these stretches are in Werezak’s own experience. These stretches are practices which have nourished her and her  own relationship to God.

Because this book features 40 stretches, this is an excellent devotional reader for Lent (coming up March 1), or as something substantive to read if your church is embarking on one of those forty-day extravaganzas. Certainly this book can be read by yourself (as I did) but books on spiritual practice are often more fruitful and fun if read with a friend. There is enough meat here for some good discussion and it is more fun to do stretches and work-out with a friend. Or with a small group. This book is a worthwhile read. I give this book four stars.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

In the interest of full disclosure, Laura is a friend of mine. We attended the same Christian grad school, had class together, were once neighbors on the University of British Columbia campus and  we were, together with our spouses, in the same justice-themed-small group. These days we catch up occasionally via Facebook. I know Laura to be a smart, reflective woman with a vibrant faith which comes through beautifully in her prose.

Baxter and the Shackster: a book review

The Shack was a literary phenomenon inspiring a whole slew of theological reflections on blogs, in articles and in full length monographs. Books like Finding God in the Shack by Roger Olson, or Finding God in the Shack (what can I say, catchy title!) by Randal Rauser read Young’s novel with a sympathetic eye affirming much of its content. Others are more scathing in their critiques (see for example James DeYoung’s Burning Down the Shack).

The Shack Revisited: There is More Going on Here than You ever Dared to Dream by C. Baxter Kruger

What sets C. Baxter Kruger’s The Shack Revisited apart is his glowing endorsement of The Shack’s overall theological vision (the other authors  above each register points of critique). As a friend of William Paul Young and an early endorser of the novel, he describes the emotions he felt when first reading it in  a deer stand while  hunting. Kruger was overcome by Young’s depiction of the Triune God and the way He (She? They?) dealt with the brokenness of Mackenzie (Young’s protagonist).  Young himself writes the forward and commends it to all who read and valued The Shack“If you want to understand better  the perspectives and theology that frame The Shack, this book is for you (ix).” This makes C. Baxter Kruger the author-approved theological interpreter for his book.

Kruger is no theological-light-weight. He has a Ph.D in philosophy  from Kings College, Aberdeen where he studied theology under James Torrance. He has also written  influential books of his own on Trinitarian theology. However, he has chosen to use his gifts in service to the church rather than academy. He is the director of Perichoresis Ministries an international ministry which proclaims the gospel of the Triune God.  In many ways Kruger’s emphasis in theology dovetails well with The Shack making this a good vehicle to proclaim his Trinitarian theology.

The Shack Revisited divides into three parts. In part one, Kruger explores the image of Papa in The Shack. He gives a good apology for Young’s depiction of the Father as an African-American woman. God defies the images we construct of him and pastorally, this sort of revelation of God was exactly what Mackenzie needed. In part two Kruger widens his theological circle to reflect on the nature of the Son and the Spirit and their relationship with the Father.  Like Young, Kruger eschews any hint that Jesus died to appease the wrath of the Angry God; Rather, the Trinity acted in Christ to restore those of us who were lost and broken. He quotes extensively from the novel and praises Young for the way he depicts the Spirit and the way the Godhead relates to one another.  In part three Kruger expounds on ‘Papa’s Dream’–namely, our full inclusion and participation in the life of the Trinity.

Those who are critical of The Shack will likely also be critical of this book. Kruger adds some theological meat to Young’s story but he does not allay every concern. I am a sympathetic reader of The Shack but I don’t agree with every emphasis I read in Young’s prose. My biggest problem with The Shack is Young’s anti-institutional/anti-church bent (he can’t help it, he’s a Boomer).  This is somewhat softened in Young’s follow up novel, Cross Roads ,
but it remains a concern for me. Kruger doesn’t make much mention of this aspect of the novel.  Other’s will be bothered by Kruger’s and Young’s inclusivism. For both these authors, every person no matter how twisted and broken, somehow participates in the divine life of the Trinity and are ultimate recipients of Jesus’ saving work on the cross. With all the hoopla these days about universalism, this will remain a sticking point for many readers.

For my part, I enjoyed this book but found it slow reading. Kruger uses the story of the Shack as a springboard for theological reflection. That means he swings between describing pieces of the story and the characters, quotations and his own theological musings. This book made me want to read another book by Kruger and perhaps The Shack again, although it may be a while be for I revisit these pages. I give it 3 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.