A Windy Spring Day is a gentle, sweet story with a big thought. Written by Wendy Dunham, illustrated by Michael Sparks and published by Harvest House (2018) this little (64 pages) book will charm 4- to 7-year-olds. (You’ll like it too. At least I hope so because I suspect your four-year-old is going to ask you to read it over and over and over again.)

This story which uses only animal characters reminds me of that classic for young readers–the Frog and Toad series.

Skunk, as the story begins, is huddled at the corner of his couch with his blanket wrapped around him, and he is afraid. It’s a windy day and the wind is shaking his house. He decides to phone his friend Raccoon who promises to come over despite the wind. He tells Skunk that he is bringing a surprise. There is a little bit of suspense as Raccoon packs up some items but doesn’t reveal what they are for.

When Raccoon arrives at Skunk’s, he asks if Skunk is still afraid. Skunk says he’s not now because his friend has come. Raccoon says the surprise is a kite. Skunk is intrigued, but he points out a problem. He doesn’t know how to make a kite. Raccoon says he will teach him. And he sets about it. Skunk, however, is not done with seeing difficulties. Raccoon meets the need and with gentle directness.

Kite made, they invite their other animal friends to join them kite flying. It’s a wonderful time for everyone, especially Skunk who declares he is no longer afraid.

The book ends with the scripture “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.” Psalm 56:3. It seems that Ms. Dunham has been telling us a parable. And in my opinion, she’s done it beautifully. You may need to help your child make the connection, but once there, I think the story will warm even more your child’s heart and deepen their faith in God.

The illustrations are colorful and child-friendly. I appreciate their simplicity. Most of the illustrations give us a spyglass picture, showing us only the character or the item, and leave out the background. This focusing helps children think about what is important on that particular page.

A Windy Spring Day is part of The Tales of Buttercup Grove series.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

 

Marigold and the Snoring King was written by J. D. Rempel and published by Halo Publishing International (2019). Put this picture book on your shopping list! It is a new story with a sweet and wholesome feeling. J. D. Rempel’s charming tale has the potential to become a classic.

King Reginald has a snoring problem that is becoming worse and worse. It is so bad that no one in the kingdom except the king is sleeping very well. So a decree goes out calling for cures.

A spunky little orphan girl named Marigold is sure her idea will work, but every day when she goes to the castle, she is turned away by a guard. In the meantime, powerful and smart people in the kingdom present their cures to the king, and he dutifully tries each one, no matter how hilarious. But his problem only gets worse!

Finally, the guard lets Marigold into the great hall to see the king and queen. What happens next leads to a very satisfying conclusion and a new family for Marigold.

Kim Sponaugle’s illustrations bring color and personality to Marigold’s story. The reader is immediately carried off into a land long ago. Our heroine’s sweet face on the cover makes you want to open the book. The lines of ZZZs flowing out of King Reginald’s mouth into the castle and beyond made me smile. One of my favorite bits is an illustrated warning on the title page “These remedies for snoring are fictional and should not be used.”

This picture book for four- to seven-year-olds is 30 pages long. It is available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook and can be ordered on Amazon.com.

Donna Fujimoto’s children love to read. She is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. Her collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge  is available as an e-book at Amazon. 

Notes from Jesus, subtitled What Your Best Friend Wants You to Know, is a little book with big thoughts. Written by Mikal Keefer and published by Group Publishing (2018), it will warm your kid’s soul with its direct, loving thoughts and its practical helps about how to get to know Jesus better. Though it’s a small book, 6.25 x 6.25 inches with only 63 pages, I think its pages will appeal to and be an especially rich experience for 8- to 12-year-olds.

Each spread has a Bible verse, (presented as a colorful graphic), something to know about Jesus and a suggestion for how to become better friends with Jesus. Each spread begins with “I [Jesus] want you to know . . .”  and then gives short, specific sentences on various topics and/or questions that kids (and even grown-ups) wonder (and worry) about. Topics include: “I love being with you;” “I’m not surprised when you mess up;” “We can laugh together;” “I’ve got your back;” “I made you for a purpose;” “Not everything you hear about me is true.”

The suggestions for becoming better friends with Jesus are many times suggestions to pray, but the author does not suggest the prayers. Instead, the child is asked to interact with the lesson and simply talk to Jesus. For example, on the pages, “. . . I made you for a purpose,” Jesus asks the child to tell him something “I did really, really well when I made you. And then thank me.” Children are encouraged to talk honestly with Jesus, about their lives, their dreams, their hopes, their worries, even their mistakes.

To expand a child’s relationship with Jesus even further, the last pages in the book offer more Bible verses which a child can turn to if they feel angry, lonely, tempted. etc.

I experience energy and excitement just looking at the book. It is appealingly illustrated with bright colors and bold graphics.

The back cover says Notes from Jesus is perfect for children starting a relationship with Jesus. It is. But I think even kids who have known Jesus for a while will, at times, love and need its directness. I think it’s one of those books that you could put out someplace where your child could easily see it, pick it up, and read a few pages (finding the vary topic that concerns him/her at the moment 😊). Just remember, if you borrow it some morning to start your quiet time with the Lord, be sure to put it back.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

The college students in your life are probably packing winter clothes in their suitcases and checking out the prices of the books they need to buy for their classes. It is–and how did it get here so fast?–that time of the year. A new school year is about to begin.

They are going to have to work hard. (They’re hoping not too hard.) There will be challenges of all kinds. They will meet them and succeed.

That said, you know (and they know it too) that there will be times when they will need a small break–an escape. Why not give them an escape that will not lead to a hangover or regrets!

Give them a good book–something uplifting (and something on which they won’t have to take notes). Wrap it up and put it on the passenger seat of their car or send it in a week or so (with chocolate chip cookies, of course, or candy).

We have some suggestions:

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness

Boys in the Boat, The

Christy

The City of Tranquil Light

Found in Translation

God’s Smuggler

Longing

Lost Castle, The

Love Finds You in Lahaina, Hawaii

The Maid of Fairbourne Hall

Oxygen

Pearl in the Sand

Peculiar Treasures

Sophie’s Heart

Sushi for One?

Thunder Dog

With Every Letter

Zookeeper’s Wife, The

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Hello Stars by young actress Alena Pitts and her writer mother Wynter Pitts will intrigue and delight preteen girls. This is the first novel in the Lena in the Spotlight series from Zonderkidz (2017).

Fifth-grader Lena Daniels enters a contest to be in a movie with her favorite Christian singer. And she wins! She wins despite a small problem in her video–she had a gummy goo between her front teeth the whole time. In her excitement to get the video sent, she sent it without first viewing it. Lena is completely mortified when she does see it.

This will not be the last time in novel when Lena feels completely embarrassed or inept. Preteens will cringe (and maybe laugh a little). And with Lena, they will be so relieved when they find out  that her mishap is not the end of the world–life happens. It happens even when you are making a Christian movie in California. God can still take care of it.

Lena’s mishaps become God-opportunities. She practices being thankful to God in less than perfect circumstances. Her family remind her that she is loved no matter what. As the story unfolds Lena learns more about God having a good plan for her life and how He is working it out. And she also gains a bigger understanding of how her choices can impact other people’s lives.

Making a movie is a heady experience, but it is also serious business. The reader gets a behind-the-scenes look at the time, effort and skill that goes into a film. I think preteens will be fascinated.

They will also learn that movie making requires sacrifices. Even though Lena is a kid she has to give up some normal kid activities—like leaving school before the end of term, getting up early during her summer vacation, not going away with her friend on a vacation. Spoiler Alert: Lena does make a selfish choice regarding her time with her friends, but she learns a lot from it. It will give pre-teens some food for thought.

The Daniels family is a Christian family and they talk the talk and walk the walk. The parents and the four daughters read from the Bible and pray each morning before they leave the house. The parents, in particular, pray about decisions. They encourage Lena and her sister to also seek God and His wisdom and comfort. As I wrote, Lena is not mishap-free and her parents counsel and comfort her, often pointing her to God.

I think preteens will enjoy this book. The story is fun and well-told. I think they also will come away from it with a greater respect for and pleasure in their own God-given talents and abilities.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

From Nancy–That we are recommending the following book at the height of summer may seem an odd choice. Summer is almost synonymous with page-turners and light reading. And yet . . . long, soft, star-filled nights can make a person’s heart yearn for more–feel that it’s possible to seek more. And so we offer this recommendation.

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction written by pastor, poet, scholar, and author Eugene H. Peterson takes a good look at discipleship in an instant society. It was first published in 1980 by IVP and is being issued by them in 2019. This commemorative edition includes an Anniversary Preface and various Psalms before each chapter. It seems to be a guidance book, great for all adults eighteen and over. It could also be used as a study guide for small groups.

There are 16 chapters and an epilogue in the book. Some of the areas it explores, and some of the names of the chapters, are: Discipleship (“What Makes You Think You Can Race Against Horses?”), Repentance (“I’m Doomed to Live in Meshech”), Providence (“God Guards You from Every Evil”),  Service (“Like Servants . . . We’re Watching & Waiting”), Help (“O Blessed Be God! He Didn’t Go Off & Leave Us”).  With wisdom, Peterson instructs us about authentic discipleship and helps us see the excitement of living lives fully devoted to Jesus. He also helps the reader consider what constitutes genuine spirituality.

The author implies that spiritual growth and maturity take time and were not meant to be obtained instantly, like many things in our society. In one chapter, Peterson quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, who wrote: “The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is…that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” Peterson states that the world does so much to discourage this long obedience.

Peterson further teaches us that following the Lord does not mean that your life will be void of problems, but that the Lord will be with you in all things.

This is a really meaty book, filled with deep spiritual insights that take time to digest. It makes you think about your own relationship with the Lord and how to improve it. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction encouraged my soul and I would recommend it to anyone who is seeking a deeper spiritual walk with the Lord. It was practical and helpful. I know you will enjoy it.

 

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

The Mystery Thief by Paul Hutchens is #10 in the 36-book series of the Sugar Creek Gang. This book, according to the copyright page, was first published in 1946 and times have definitely changed.

Bill Collins, the narrator, makes references to giving “lickin’s” to other boys in the past (perhaps in earlier books). In the first pages of The Mystery Thief he says that he and his father had spent some time in the woodshed. (I don’t think they were re-stacking the wood.) Later in The Mystery Thief, the boys get into a scuffle with an adult they believe is poaching and still later in the story their new teacher threatens the boys with a switching. These behaviors could—and should—disturb a contemporary reader. But they also make it a worthwhile read. As the story unfolds, you experience Bill’s unvarnished feelings and attitudes, then watch them change under the influence of his father, a wiser boy from the gang, and a godly older man.

Bill takes steps toward becoming a wise and godly man in the course of the story. He reconsiders the merits of fighting and giving vent to his emotions. He watches others show respect even when they don’t like the person and learns the value of it. He experiences the consequences of jumping to conclusions and begins to question that behavior. I want to underscore that Bill’s learning does not feel like the author preaching. The learning comes honestly. It feels like a real kid growing up and growing wise. OK, enough about why young readers should read it. Here’s why I think they will want to read it and keep reading.

The book starts fast. Bill Collins sees a mysterious man sneak out of the woods and shove a letter into his family’s mailbox. The unsigned letter is addressed to Bill’s father. The writer threatens Bill and calls him the worst “ruffneck” in a gang of “ruffnecks.”

On the way up the lane to Poetry’s, another member of the gang, Bill is attacked—shoved into a snowdrift—and his suitcase and the letter are stolen. The gang shows up and, because the snow is falling, they all quickly set off to follow the tracks of the assailant and to discover who he is. As they walk, they also try to figure out who may have written the letter.

A chance encounter with their new teacher adds drama to the search, but seems to twist the plot away from the mysterious stranger as the boys consider their previous behavior toward their new teacher and vow to behave better. Suspense mounts as the boys continue tracking the assailant. They spot a suspicious man and are certain he is the thief, but they are mistaken. The plot continues to twist and turn until, in a surprising way involving their new teacher, the boys solve the mystery.

I think boys in particular will find this book absorbing. There is a lot of action and some danger. But I also think the lives of the Sugar Creek Gang will intrigue boys. The Mystery Thief gives a glimpse of life in rural America of the mid-twentieth century. It is in some ways a harsh life. The boys in the novel are familiar with poverty and they have seen the effects of drunkenness in adults. Material wealth, even for the boys whose families are not just scraping by, is so much less than what children generally have today.

Yet these boys are not unhappy. They seem at home in their lives. They have each other and they accept each other and all the oddities that go with each individual personality. As a group, they are courageous and resourceful. They have an independence and freedom to move about that twenty-first century boys and girls will envy.

The novel is short and will appeal especially to boys ages 10 to 12 years old.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

A Place in His Heart, written by Rebecca Demarino, and published by Revell (2014) is based on a true story. Demarino’s mother’s eighth great grandfather, Barnabas Horton, left England and came to New England in the 1600’s. Much of his history is written about in this story. It is the first book in a series of three. This story is best suited to readers, ages eighteen and up.

The year is 1630. Barnabas Horton, a Puritan living in a community not far from London, has recently lost his wife Ann. As the story begins, he and his young sons, Joseph and Benjamin, are grieving her loss. A young Anglican woman, Mary Langton, has recently been left on the church steps as she was about to marry her intended, Nathan Cadwell. She has not heard from him since. Her father wants to protect her and have her marry a family friend from London, Robert Haskins. Mary is very close to her father and sister, and yet, she does not love Robert and wants to marry for love.

She soon meets Barnabas, who is a baker in their community. Barnabas, though still grieving for Ann, is very attracted to Mary and sees her wonderful qualities. He knows also that his two young sons need a mother. He feels conflicted.

Mary finds herself falling in love with Barnabas, whom she calls Barney. She also begins to love his sons. It is difficult, but she convinces her father to allow Barney rather than Robert to court her. Her father is concerned that Barney holds Puritan beliefs at a time when there is some persecution for those holding such beliefs. Barney is honest with Mary and admits he does not love her in the same way that he loved Ann, yet he admires Mary greatly, enjoys her personality, and believes she would make an excellent mother.

Barney has two brothers who are interested in traveling to New England, so they can worship God in freedom. One of them, Jeremy, has a ship called the Swallow. Early in the story he begins transporting people to the New World.

Barnabas and Mary become engaged and then marry. At the wedding it is said that Barnabas and his family will go to the New World. He says it is only a joke.

Mary really wants a baby, but she is having trouble becoming pregnant. She also feels a sense of loss, knowing her husband cares for her, but has not yet declared his love for her. She loves his boys, but the older one Joseph has trouble getting close to her. The younger one, however, considers her his mother and she is thankful for that.

Several years into their marriage, Barnabas does make plans for them to travel to New England. Mary is devastated about leaving her father, her sister, and her sister’s family. Yet she feels that she should support Barnabas, and she tries to be strong. She knows her husband believes that he is called to New England, and that there he and Reverend Youngs hope to plant churches in Massachusetts and Southold, Long Island.

The journey is difficult and lasts two months. Although the little family has their own stateroom on the ship, there are many struggles. Mary is often very sick and the food rations run short.

There is much rejoicing when they finally reach Massachusetts. They stay in a tent while Barnabas builds them a house. It is now about five years into their marriage, and Mary has still not conceived. Barney keeps saying that it will happen in the Lord’s timing.

This is a difficult time for Mary. She misses her family terribly. In about a year, she receives word that her father had passed away. She is heartbroken, but she realizes she must move on. There is much to do in this New World.

They soon move to Southold, Long Island in New York. Things are a little better. Mary makes some very good friends, Patience and Winney. Barney builds them a large house, and they feel a sense of community. Without giving away the ending, I will say that after several other struggles, the story ends very happily. There is much spiritual growth that has taken place in both Barney and Mary, and they are much more at peace than they ever have been.

I learned a lot from this story. I realized it must have been so difficult for the first Puritans, both crossing the ocean, and settling in the New World. Their faith was stretched, and mine was as well as I read their story. I hope you will enjoy this book as much as I did.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

 

Billy Sunday, Runner for the Lord, a student biography version, is  published by A Beka Book Reading Program (2nd edition, 1995). Though a short book, it’s a great read for anyone aged 11 and up.

William Ashley “Billy” Sunday was born on November 19, 1862. His early years were challenging and not without sadness and hardship.

He was born four months after his father enlisted in the army to fight in the Civil War. Billy’s father wanted to do what he could to help our country to be free of slavery, but he died of pneumonia on December 22 at the army camp in Patterson, Missouri.

Billy’s mother was heartbroken, but as time went on, she remarried. Billy had three brothers, Ed, who was four years older than Billy, LeRoy, and Albert. Albert was kicked by a horse and placed in a special home. Billy also had a half-sister Annie, who died from burns when she fell in a bonfire.

Because Billy’s stepfather deserted the family, Billy’s mother had to send ten-year-old Billy and fourteen-year-old Ed to the Soldier’s Orphans’ Home in Glenwood, Iowa. She had no way to feed them. Their grandfather owned a farm next door, but he barely had enough food to feed himself. Although it broke her heart, she felt she had no other choice.

Billy and his brother stayed at the orphanage for four years. Things weren’t easy, but they both learned a lot. Billy loved running and baseball. When Billy’s brother Ed was eighteen and too old to stay at the orphanage, he decided to go home for a visit. He told Billy he should stay and continue his education, but Billy, now fourteen, insisted on going with his brother. They arrived in Ames, much to their mother’s joy. She could not stop praising God for their safe return.

After visiting with their mother, brother and grandfather for a few days, the boys went to a neighboring town, Nevada, Iowa, to try to find work. Ed found work as a farmer’s helper, but there was nothing for Billy, so he went back and helped his grandfather on the farm. That worked for a few weeks, but after an argument, Billy decided to try for another job.

He worked at a hotel in Nevada. Then he met a man, who would eventually become like a second father to him, Colonel John Scott, former lieutenant governor of Iowa. Because Billy was late returning from a twenty-four hour leave to visit his mother, he was fired from his hotel job. He went to live with Mr. and Mrs. Scott. In exchange for chores, they provided him with room, board, attendance at a high school, and school clothes. He also received wages. He a got a job as a janitor at the school as well, so he could send money home to his mother.

As Billy grew, he excelled in everything he did. He loved baseball and played on the school team. He was the fastest runner they had.

When he was eighteen, he met relatives of Cap Anson, the Chicago White Stockings manager. They arranged for Billy to go to Chicago for an interview, and Billy won a spot on the team.

While there, he discovered he felt empty on the inside. He heard about a meeting called the Gospel Wagon. Here, he met Harry Monroe from the Pacific Garden Mission. Monroe worked with baseball players.

Although Billy was an amazing baseball player and fast runner, the Lord kept drawing him closer and Billy began preaching the gospel. He found he had a real talent to draw people in, using his running and baseball experiences. For a while he preached at the YMCA. He began drawing such crowds that he had to hire a team of people to help him with his evangelistic outreaches. His preaching was very athletic and he would run around making points, using his baseball experience to make biblical points.

At age 23, Billy met and married Helen Amelia Thompson. They had four children. Billy and “Nell” served the Lord together all their lives.

Billy was often away, preaching revival meetings. His meetings grew so large that often, spaces the size of a football field would have to be set up. Eventually, Nell came to help with the ministry. They would visit their children whenever time allowed.

Billy continued traveling and preaching until his death on November 9, 1935. He was devoted to the Lord’s work. His goal was to reach as many souls for Jesus as possible.

I enjoyed reading the story of his life, and I know you will as well.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her five children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

Confession time: I didn’t read mystery novels when I was a kid. I didn’t think they were IMPORTANT kinds of books. Yes, I know, really, really foolish. I missed out on a lot of fun.  But I also missed out on some other things. It turns out that reading mystery novels trains your brain.

Mystery novels are a lot about details. Good detectives notice details. When you’re doing a “ride along” in a story with a smart detective, you also begin to notice details. You read carefully, watching for clues. It’s exciting, rewarding, when you think you’ve spotted one. In time, you become a better reader of mystery novels and–shouldn’t be a big surprise–you may also begin to notice details in other kinds of writing and become an all-round better reader.

But that’s not all reading mystery novels does for your brain. Good detectives have to sort through the details they notice. They ask questions. They think critically about the details in order to verify or nullify them. They use information that they know and sometimes they do research in order to discover a missing important fact. The reader “riding along” absorbs this way of approaching unknowns and learns that it is good to ask questions, good to do research, and particularly good to test assumptions.

And that is still not all. Mysteries usually—I won’t say always because I’ve been reading some lately that don’t—have a clear sense that there is a right and wrong. A crime—an evil act—has been committed and it cannot be ignored. It is the detective’s job to discover whodunit and help restore the moral order. That there is a moral order and that there is right behavior and wrong behavior is very worthwhile thinking, especially for Christian kids.

Another Confession: I didn’t start writing mystery novels for the above reasons. I started writing them because I thought they were fun to read. But who knew?! It seems that books can be fun, and you can learn IMPORTANT things from them.

I’ve had another idea for having fun with mysteries. On my website I’ve put together some suggestions—food, games, tablescapes—for creating a mystery party. https://www.nancyellenhird.com/party The mystery readers in your life and their friends will love it. (I hope.) Even more—such an event could get you all thinking about starting a book club. We can recommend some books.  🙂 Go for it!

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

Book Reviews

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 106 other followers

Search Posts by Categories