In Peculiar Treasures by Robin Jones Gunn and published by Zondervan (2008), quirky, red-headed Katie Weldon is finishing up her junior year of college at Rancho Corona. Her best friend, Christy Miller, is recently married. Katie is in a dating relationship with Rick Doyle, the boy she has had a crush on since high school. As she works to define her relationship with Rick, another guy whom she nicknames “goatee guy” arrives on the scene and challenges Katie’s perceptions.

Struggling with finances, Katie is given a new job as a resident advisor in the dorm, but it takes her away from Rick. Their efforts to draw closer seem to push them further apart. As Katie juggles her responsibilities of work and school, her relationship with Rick becomes a roller coaster.

Other troubles arise as she adjusts to her new job and the conflicts it brings. Katie realizes she must learn to forgive others in order to receive into her heart the peculiar treasures God has given her.

Peculiar Treasures is the first book of four in the Katie Weldon series. I enjoyed this series because it realistically portrays how God works in someone’s life. It showed how God prepares you for the things He wants you to do by weaving the desires of your heart into His plan. And even when things don’t seem to work out, there is a purpose for them in your life which can help you grow. Also, Katie and Rick’s relationship in the stories provides a good, Christian model to follow.

We are recommending Peculiar Treasures for older teens and college-age students. It is categorized as a romance, but it is not a typical romance.  The series continues with On a Whim, Coming Attractions and Finally & Forever.

Books 4 Christian Kids also reviewed two other books by Robin Jones Gunn Summer Promise and A Whisper and a Wish . These novels follow Katie’s best friend, Christy Miller.

J. D. Rempelhttps://jdrempel.com/ , is a graduate of Simpson College. She is endeavoring to pen a YA science fiction novel and an adult fantasy series. Currently, she is seeking a publisher for her middle grade fiction novel. J. D. loves to read, work with her husband in youth ministry, and play peekaboo with her turtle, Applesauce. 

 

 

 

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A Horse to Love written by Marsha Hubler (Keystone Stables) and published by Zonderkidz (2004, 2009) is a page-turner.

Skye Nicholson is a troubled teen. When the novel opens, her life is at a crossroads. A judge is about to sentence her to a juvenile detention center. Though only thirteen, this is not Skye’s first run in with the law. She already has a criminal record and the attitude to match. But God sees beyond Skye’s past and beneath her anger. He steps into her life in the form of Eileen Chambers, her husband and their special needs dude ranch. The Chambers offer to be Skye’s new foster parents.

At the dude ranch Skye learns to ride and care for a Quarter horse—Champ. Skye’s growing love for Champ and the horse’s affection for her have a positive effect on her. She decides to keep the rules that the Chambers have laid out because it means that she can be with Champ. But it is not only the horse that helps Skye grow and change.

The Chambers, a Christian couple, respect and encourage her while still being clear and firm. Morgan, another foster child living with the Chambers, also helps Skye see the world differently. Despite being in a wheelchair and abandoned a number of years ago by her mother because of her disability, Morgan is determined to make the most of her life, to have dreams and to follow them.

Skye’s changes do not come effortlessly–for anyone. She has been hurt and she is on the defensive. There are strong temptations for her; and there are missteps. Readers (I think it is best suited to readers, 11- to 13-year-olds) will root for Skye, watching her wrestle with her decisions, struggling with her, and hoping that she will find a way to accept and embrace the better life that is being offered to her. (FYI: the novel does end on a high note.)

This is the first novel in a series of eight. I think if your child enjoys this novel, they will want to read more books in the series. Reading the blurbs on the other novels, I see that the child-characters often deal with issues that are quite serious. This type of “realistic” writing is very, very popular in the secular market. This might concern you. You are not alone. It troubles me. Kids, in my opinion, are being inundated with books that portray some of the more extreme elements of teen life. The kids are not prepared emotionally or psychologically to deal with this flood. I think we would be wise to be choosy about how many and which books we promote to the kids.

That said, I am impressed with the way that Marsha Hubler handles the problems of a troubled teen. Letting the reader see God in action was thrilling and uplifting. I expect that other books in the series will also help young readers know something of life’s harsher experiences, but not frighten them. In the stories they will see that He is with us.

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.

Happy Easter!!!!

From Nancy —Spring Break is upon us in some parts of the country. I think a good read, an escape from school work, is definitely called for. And for teens and better upper elementary school readers, what could be more inspiring than Ben Hur? Here’s Donna’s review of this great classic.

Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace, is a much beloved and acclaimed story read by millions. It begins with a retelling of the nativity of Christ and then moves into the life of Judah Ben Hur, a wealthy young man living in first century Jerusalem. Messala, his boyhood friend and a Roman, returns from soldiering, changed in his view of the world. When he cannot convince Ben Hur to embrace his cause, Messala betrays his friend, sending him on a journey through trials and victories. Eventually the two men face each other once more, meeting as opponents in a high-stakes chariot race.

Now also a man, Christ re-enters the narrative. His gentle influence has a profound effect on Ben Hur. Wallace illustrates how choices for good or evil, when fully embraced, mark a person’s life.

The author tells a compelling tale, particularly in his ability to define the inner journey, not only of the hero, but also of a large cast of supporting characters. Vivid scenes stay with the reader after the book is closed. However, the style of writing reflects the tastes of Wallace’s time (1880s). By current standards it may seem wordy and slow. The point of view is omniscient, which is rarely employed in contemporary books. Although historical and political details are meticulously researched, personal and cultural descriptions seem more imaginative than realistic.

Another feature distinguishing Ben Hur from modern novels is the explanation, once conflicts are past, of what happens to characters followed faithfully through its pages. Ben Hur, rather than leaving the reader wanting more, offers satisfaction that the story is complete.

Donna Fujimoto is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. She has published both devotionals for adults and short stories for teens. Her children love to read.

The World Is Awake: A Celebration of Everyday Blessings, is written by Linsey Davis with Joseph Bottum, illustrated by Lucy Fleming and published by Zonderkidz (2018). This picture book will bless you and your child. It will lift your spirits as you read it together. It calls us to joy and it helps to open our eyes to the goodness God has provided for us.

This is a happy book. It begins with “This is the day the Lord has made,” and then invites us to awaken to the everyday wonders around us. The book emphasizes the variety in nature: trees, birds, insects, fish in a pond, rainbows, fields of flowers. All these speak of God and His grace. We are invited to notice His creation. We are invited to enjoy, to come out and play.

A trip to the zoo broadens our vision of God’s creation and we encounter a diversity of animals and enjoy their antics. The day continues with a stop at the market and a range of good food that is available–“for God always provides us with wonderful treats.” It ends soothingly with nighttime sounds (“I hear God’s love in the sound of the breeze”) and prayers, making it a terrific bedtime book.

With a naturalness that is refreshing, The World Is Awake goes beyond nature, animals and food in celebrating the diversity of God’s creation. The main characters, a little boy and a little girl, are African-American. The people at the zoo are old, young, and many races. In an interview Ms. Davis said she purposely wanted to create a book in which her son could see himself. (She said when he saw the illustrations he became very excited because he thought they were of him.)

The illustrations by Lucy Fleming are colorful, active and child-friendly. There’s a joyfulness to them that invite us into that world. The text which is rhythmic and in rhyme is easy to read and will be fun to listen to. The World Is Awake will, I think, best appeal to children ages 3 to 7.

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 Parable of the Lily by Liz Curtis Higgs, illustrated by Nancy Munger and published by Thomas Nelson Publishers (2007) is a picture book. On the surface it tells a simple story—a child’s rejection of a gift. But The Parable of the Lily  has a deep truth to share. The story may help your child connect on an emotional level with Jesus and the Easter story.

On a cold, snowy day a little girl receives a letter that a gift is being sent to her. Maggie eagerly waits for it. Finally, it arrives. But it surprises and disappoints her. How Maggie discovers the gift’s value and her response to her discovery is the rest of the story.

Bible verses on each page-spread link Maggie’s story with the story of Jesus and His resurrection. This simple story depicts the emotional responses of the people of the first century to the Father’s wonderful gift of Jesus. But the story does not just show the responses of people long ago. People today still reject God’s gift.

The watercolor and pencil illustrations are colorful and gently evocative. Important emotions and actions are vividly portrayed. Munger has also added sweet, humorous touches to her pages by depicting friendly animals that watch the actions of the main characters and sometimes even participate in the unfolding story.

Books 4 Christian Kids has other suggestions of Easter books that you might want to share with your dear ones.

God Gave Us Easter
Easter Surprise
My Easter Basket: And the True Story of Easter
The Easter Story
An Easter Gift for Me
The Legend of the Sand Dollar

I also like the magnificently illustrated Exodus which tells the story of Passover. The drama of God’s deliverance of the Israelites will capture the imaginations of older children. When they learn in Sunday school or from you that it is linked to the Easter story, their faith in God and His love will also grow.

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.

 

7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness was written by Eric Metaxas and published by Thomas Nelson (2016). In this book, best-selling author Eric Metaxas tells of seven men who allowed God to use them as a vessel to do great things. Some changed the course of human history; some stood up when no one else would; and, all made a sacrifice for faith. The seven men are George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, Pope John Paul II  and Charles W. Colson.

George Washington, refused the temptation to become king of the United States, after the American colonies defeated the British during the Revolutionary War. At the time, the young nation was vulnerable, and most likely would have accepted a king. Instead, Washington retired from military service. He was selected to represent Virginia at the Constitutional Convention, where he was elected as the convention president. Later in 1789, he was voted in as the first president under the Constitution.

William Wilberforce was partly raised by his Methodist aunt and uncle. They introduced him to the teachings of John Newton, a former slave trade captain. While serving as a member of the House of Commons, Wilberforce experienced a revival of the beliefs and teachings he knew as young boy. He made it his personal mission to get the House of Commons to pass a law banning the slave trade in the British Empire.

Eric Liddell was born to British missionaries serving in China. Though it might mean that he would lose his chance to win an Olympic gold medal, he refused to go against his religious convictions of observing the Sunday sabbath. He also became a missionary to China during the 1930’s and 1940’s. When others left that war-torn country, he did not.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German theologian. He believed the Jews were God’s people. He gave up safety in the United States to go back to Germany, to stand up to the Nazis and to speak out against the their treatment of the Jews. He was arrested, imprisoned for some time and later executed.

Jackie Robinson was born to sharecroppers in Georgia. A few months later his father left. Jackie’s mother saved money to move her family to Southern California where the children grew up. The Robinson boys were active in sports and grew up with the Bible. A Methodist preacher led Jackie Robinson to the Lord.

It was discovered as time passed that Jackie was a great baseball player. If he had been white, he would have been drafted, but at the time there were no African-American players in the major leagues. All of that changed when Robinson met Branch Rickey, who would sign him to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie was selected because Rickey saw him as a Christian and a man who could hold his silence, letting the crowd not get to him.

In spring of 1946, it was official–Robinson would play in the major leagues in the Dodgers organization. He played and remained silent despite the mean words said. Within a few weeks the entire Brooklyn team was on Jackie’s side.

Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla) grew up a Polish Catholic. During the first part of the German occupation of Poland, he worked in the industrial labor field to make a living for himself and his elderly father. One day he came home from work and found his father had died. Devastated, Karol prayed all night. Out of the sad events he realized his true calling and decided to enter the priesthood. This was a great risk during the Nazi occupation. Twice during these years of studying at secret seminaries he almost lost his life.

In the summer of 1978, now a cardinal, Karol Wojtyla voted in conclave for a new pope, but he never thought he would become pope as well. Within 33 days of that election, another conclave was called as the new pope had died. Cardinal Wojtyla had no idea that he would face a decision that would change his life. He was elected pope. He said “It is God’s will, I accept.”

Charles W. Colson, as a young man, worked hard to get Richard Nixon elected. After the election of 1972, it became evident that the White House was involved in a scandal. Colson was charged with obstruction of justice, plead guilty and was sentenced to prison. Prior to entering prison he had an encounter with God leaving him praying for his salvation. In prison he began to lead Bible studies and prayer groups. When he was released, the prisoners said do not forget us. He did not. He founded the ministry Prison Fellowship.

Each of these seven men God used to change the world. Merely ordinary men, all answered the call when God used them to influence history.

I encourage you, high school boys, to read 7 Men, discuss your own interests, and consider how God can use you to do amazing things. Who knows, you might be in a history book one day. Even if you are not, God would like to use you in many good ways.  For me the verse that comes to mind when writing this is Jeremiah 29:11.

Kristina O’Brien is the mother of three children, an avid reader, and a credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.

Ten Little Night Stars, written by Deb Gruelle, illustrated by Gabi Murphy and published by Zondervan (2018) is a bedtime book. It is also a counting book. Easy to read aloud, this rhyming book for children two- to five-years-old cleverly keeps you turning the page to complete the rhyme. And guess what? A number (from one to ten) is the word that completes the rhyme. Small children will love anticipating the number, saying it with you and then counting the stars shining in the window on that page.

Murphy’s illustrations are colorful, sweet and child-friendly. Animal mommies and daddies and their young child perform bedtime activities such as brushing teeth, saying prayers, reading a book, wriggling into jammies. The animals shown are friendly, happy monkeys, lions, bears, hippos, elephants, etc. As I mentioned above, the number of stars shining through the window into the animal-child’s room correspond to the number on the page.

Ten Little Night Stars will sweetly help both child and parent unwind from their day. The book has just enough anticipation and surprise to keep it fun and interesting, but not so much that it will excite and stir the child up. The text and the pictures gently lead the child to bed and to rest.

Books 4 Christian Kids has looked at other bedtime books and so I am listing a couple of them. A child often wants more than one story at bedtime, right?

A Night Night Prayer

God Bless You & Good Night

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.

When Patsy sent me her review of A Whisper and a Wish, it jogged my memory that Kristina had reviewed the same book sometime back. I was going to call Patsy and say sorry, but then I began thinking maybe one our readers has been looking for just such a book. (God moves in our lives in mysterious ways and He doesn’t clue me in on most of His plans.) So . . . I posted both Patsy’s review and Kristina’s. As you will see, while Patsy and Kristina each love the book, they each come at it a little differently. — Nancy

A Whisper and a Wish, written by Robin Jones Gunn and published by Focus on the Family Publishing, will delight and entertain girls, ages 12-16, while teaching them valuable lessons about living for the Lord.

Fifteen-year-old Christy Miller is thrilled when her family decides to move from Wisconsin to California. She has already spent the summer with Aunt Marti and Uncle Bob, who live in Newport Beach. She has made friends and even met someone special, Todd.

Unfortunately, even though Todd’s dad is in Newport Beach, Todd is going to Florida for the year to stay with his mom. That is one of Christy’s first disappointments. Another is  learning that her family will not be living in Newport Beach, but in Escondido which is more inland and farther away.

She makes a few friends, Brittany and Janelle. They introduce her to a young man, Rick, that they admire. Christy keeps running into Rick, but always in embarrassing situations. She still likes Todd, but he has not written to her once.

Christy is a Christian and wants to follow the Lord, but she is finding that as things come up,  she isn’t always sure how the Lord would want her to respond. She keeps praying, asking the Lord for help, yet one of her new friends brings her some trouble that leads to a run in with the police. More challenges come her way. This story is full of subjects young women can relate too, including peer pressure and wisdom in dating relationships. (Christy’s parents won’t let her date until she is sixteen.)

Christy is learning that God wants her to whisper an important word to Him. She needs to stop worrying so much about what she should say no to, and think more about saying yes to the Lord and all the things He has in store for her. She learns that spending time with other Christians is important as well as reading God’s word and attending church. In the end, she learns that God has a very special plan for her life and brings her a friend who wants to encourage her in her faith and follow Him 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 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 32 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.”

 

A Whisper and a Wish by Robin Jones Gunn is volume 2 in The Christy Miller Series. It introduces Rick and Katie as friends of Christy. Both will help shape Christy’s life in her high school years. At the end of the first book Christy thinks about her experience in California and knows she wants to come back for college or a visit one day. Christy discovers that she will be moving to California sooner then she expects. She thinks she will be back with her beach friends in Newport. She is a little disappointed to learn she will be two hours away in a small town not near the ocean.

As school starts Christy is excited to be seen with the popular crowd. Everything seems to be going well for her and her friends. Brittany is a popular girl who seems nice. However, she has some secrets that will cause trouble for Christy. At a sleepover party with her friends Janelle, Katie and Brittany, Christy finds out that Brittany is making herself sick whenever she eats. She later finds out Brittany is taking prescription diet pills prescribed for Brittany’s mother. Christy also discovers that Janelle and Katie are new Christians and attend a local church. The girls quickly invite Christy to attend the youth group on Sunday morning. At the youth group Christy meets Rick.

Christy is invited by her aunt and uncle to visit Palm Springs with them for an extended weekend, and they allow her to bring two friends. Brittany and Janelle are delighted to go and everything seems perfect until Brittany drags both Christy and Janelle into her problem. Christy learns quickly that she must rely on God for wisdom.

A Whisper and a Wish is a great help to parents. The story reminds teenagers to choose their friends wisely. Christy learns about the serious issues of appearance and what some girls will do for attention. In recent weeks there have been reports on the news about prescription drug abuse. Many teens say it is easy to get drugs from the medicine cabinet. Also parents need to know the warning signs of eating disorders which could lead to serious health problems or death.

This book is for teenage girls 13 -17. Christy is 14 in Book 1 and is 17 at the end of the series.

Kristina O’Brien is a mother of three, an avid reader, and credentialed teacher. She has taught both middle school and high school history.

In a gallery I recently saw the work of Hilda Robinson. Her vibrant, impressionistic oil pastels totally captivated me. Her paintings are collected into the picture book, Didn’t We Have Fun!  The book is published by Crickhollow Books (2012) with text written by Jeff Kunkel.

The book invites you into the world of Robinson’s childhood. The place is Philadelphia, probably during the late 1940’s. It is a time before television and computers. Family life, reading, radio, movies, picnics and church are the sources of Robinson’s pleasure and delight.

Her world is that of a large African-American family and a tight-knit urban community. In this world there is love, respect, self-worth, fun, and beauty. There is hard work too and the picture of her mother asleep after a long day is unforgettably touching. At the end, Robinson says of her childhood (by way of Kunkel’s text) that they didn’t have a car or much money, but “we had parents who loved us, a good home, plenty to eat, . . . . Best of all, we had each other.” Her colorful, lively paintings beautifully illustrate and celebrate this life.

Each of the paintings is accompanied by a page or two of text. The text is direct, with short paragraphs, and easy to read aloud. It describes the activity shown in the picture and often expands on it, filling in the reader on such things as the games children played, listening to the radio when Joe Louis boxed, going to the park and church life. Some of the sections are: The Six of Us, Home in Philly, All Dressed Up, Homework, Cuddling, The Park, Church, Rollerskating.

Didn’t We Have Fun! is appropriate for children 4 to 8. I think you and your children will enjoy spending time in this lovely book. Saying that it is educational is an obvious reason for reading the book; it depicts a different time and perhaps a different culture than what your children now experience. But I think it is the energy and joy in the pictures that will keep you and your child wanting to look at and read the story again and again. Who knows, but Didn’t We Have Fun! might provoke a conversation with your child about your childhood and the kind of fun you had.

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.

 

Because I know you value reading and because I know you want your kids to enjoy good books, I thought you would want to hear about a recent article in Practical Homeschooling. Written by the editor, Mary Pride, More Books in Your Home = Higher Education Level for Your Kids appeared in the November/December, 2017, issue.

In the article she summarizes and quotes from a study, “Family scholarly culture and education success” that appeared in a 2010 issue of Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. According to Ms. Pride the study included 70,000 cases from 27 nations and defined “scholarly culture” as “the way of life in homes where books are numerous, esteemed, read, and enjoyed.” (It sounds like your home, doesn’t it?)

She begins by stating that “a number of studies have shown children with books in their homes have a serious advantage when it comes to learning to read.” She continues, “It turns out books in the home have an even more powerful effect on educational achievement—one that works independently of a country a child lives in, its governmental system, the parents’ income level, or whether they went to college or not.”

Quoting from the abstract of the 2010 study, she explains, “Children growing up in homes with books get 3 years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents’ education, occupation, and class.”

She goes on to say “what the authors [of the study] call a ‘book-oriented home environment’ can make a difference in ‘vocabulary, information, comprehension skills, imagination, broad horizons of history and geography, familiarity with good writing, the importance of evidence in argument’ and more.”

So did you and your child read today? I bet you did. Give yourself a smile.

BTW: Practical Homeschooling which is published five times per year has many more helpful ideas for parents, even if you are not homeschooling.

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

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