My conscience nudged me the other day. I need to make amends. I have not publicly acknowledged the talents and skills of Books 4 Christian Kids’ copy editor, Tom Hird.

Shortening sentences, moving sentences around so ideas flow more logically, inserting or removing commas, etc. may not seem necessary until … until you try to read writing that has not been polished in those ways. It can be a bumpy ride. So today I want to acknowledge and thank Tom Hird for lending us his talents and skills. His efforts help us to better communicate to you our love for books.

The Adventures of Pearley Monroe by Marci Seither (Sawmill Press, 2013) is a fun but also informative novel for upper elementary school kids. Pearley Monroe, who is about twelve years old, is an African-American boy living in California in the latter half of the 19th century. The novel gives young readers a glimpse of his family life and the small town of Coloma, California, where he lives. Most of the story takes place in the summer of 1880.

Gold was first discovered in California at Coloma in the winter of 1848, but by 1880 the wild mining camp has transformed into a small town with hotels, small shops, a school and at least one church. The town has its own sheriff, its own doctor and its own volunteer fire department. Pearley Monroe lives with his family on an 80-acre farm near town.

The prologue shows the arrival of Pearley, his father, mother and brother in 1870. They are met by Pearley’s grandmother, Miss Nancy. She came to California with her husband and their master before California became a free state. She has been separated from her son for twenty years. He was three years old then and a slave.

Pearley loves to hear Miss Nancy tell about coming to California and becoming free. He is fascinated when his friend, another African-American, tells him how his “grandfolks” escaped slavery on the underground railroad and made their way to California. Seither weaves these interesting bits of history and others into her story with skill. She shows us human beings involved in historical events.

The events, though, are only background for the day-to-day life of a boy living in a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Living in this place and time, Pearley has plenty of opportunity for small and large adventures–a swift river, a school spelling bee, stolen jewelry, a town fire, an angry bear. The adventures are often suspenseful. There are dangers involved, but they are not drawn out and children eventually receive help and support from adults. Pearley knows and interacts with people of different racial backgrounds. With one exception, and that character later apologizes, characters treat each other with respect.

The story of Pearley Monroe and his family is based on the life a real boy and his family who lived and farmed in Coloma. Seither has included a number of photographs to help the young reader visualize the time period.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  Her latest work is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel 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 Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White (Harper & Row, 1970) is a fanciful children’s book, full of loveable characters. Those who enjoyed Charlotte’s  Web will recognize E. B. White’s style: a child—this time a boy—in close relationship with an animal, and the animals talking and relating to each other in engaging and amusing dialogs. The animal in this story is a trumpeter swan named Louis.

The story begins in Canada, where Sam is vacationing in the wilderness with his father. While exploring, Sam happens upon a pond where a pair of trumpeter swans is nesting. At first the swans fear him, but when he rescues the mother swan from an attacking fox, they become friends. One of their cygnets, who is born without a voice, becomes his special buddy.

Back in Montana, where Sam is from and where the swans winter, Louis attends school with Sam and learns to read and write. With a slate and chalk hanging around his neck, Louis is able to communicate with people.

Father swan, who is prone to long, wordy speeches and is a little vain, nonetheless has a good heart. He realizes his son will never be able to woo a female swan without a voice, so he dives through a music store window and flies off with a beautiful small trumpet on a red cord. This, too, goes around Louis’s neck.

The rest of this fantasy relates how Louis learns to use his trumpet to delight both swans and people, and how he restores his father’s honor, which was besmirched by the act of stealing the trumpet.

There are nuggets of wisdom about love, marriage, parenting, honesty, friendship, and pursuing your dreams, all sweet as cotton candy. This book has no real sense of threat or serious danger. There are a few moments of aggression, concern, and evasion. There are many references to music and poetry, and lovely descriptions of nature and the changing seasons. Readers watch both Sam and Louis grow up and see their stories come to satisfying conclusions.

The 1970’s text is illustrated with black-and-white sketches by Fred Marcellino. His pictures capture the spirit of the writing. At approximately 250 pages, this book is a diverting, pleasant read for a young mind.

Available at libraries, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com. It can be purchased in book, e-book, and audio book formats.

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.

Mrs. Fujimoto has a collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge, available as an e-reader at Amazon. Find our review under “N” in the alphabetical listing: Titles We’ve Reviewed.

 

 

 

Ruth, written by Lori Copeland and published by Tyndale House (2007), will toss your emotions back and forth between laughter and suspense. Book 5 of Copeland’s Brides of the West Series, Ruth is set in the American West of the 1870’s. The series tells the stories of mail-order brides. In this novel Tom Wyatt, a despicable man, had tricked Jackson Montgomery into bringing a wagon load of brides from Westport, Missouri, to Denver City, Colorado. The young, orphaned women were told that fine, God-fearing husbands were waiting for them. But instead the girls were really being brought West to work in the gold mines. When the wagon master discovered the swindle, he, along with U.S. Marshal Dylan McCall, helped the girls get away.

The novel begins with Ruth’s attendance at the wedding of one of the rescued women. Ruth is also one of those who was rescued. Though she has escaped the hard labor of the mines, this spunky young woman has a new problem. A much older man, a miner, wants to marry her and won’t take no for an answer. Ruth, who has been living with the pastor’s family, decides she has no other options but to leave town. She has a cousin living in Wyoming, whom she believes she can stay with. Marshal McCall will be traveling to Wyoming on a job assignment. Trying to convince McCall to take her ends up with both of them engaged in an argument. They are both so pig-headed that neither one will give in. Dylan McCall says he wouldn’t take her with him if his life depended on it.

Ruth knows that he will be setting out early the next morning, so she decides she will follow him, staying enough away so that he doesn’t know she has come. She hopes that by the time he discovers she has followed him, it will be too late for him to turn back, and that he will have to take her with him the rest of the way.

After a few days, Dylan discovers what she has done, and decides to pretend he is leaving for good to teach her a lesson. She has her horse and only a small amount of food when she realizes he is gone. She almost despairs, but decides to head out and try to find him. Soon, she comes to a deserted wagon with a dead man, another man who is barely alive, and an Indian baby.

Ruth is a Christian. She knows she can’t abandon the man and the baby. As she turns the wounded man over to help him, she sees that he is none other than Dylan. Praying all the while, Ruth takes on the care of Dylan and the baby.

Ruth has recently been told by a doctor she will never be able to have children. She believes no man would ever want to marry her and assumes that she will remain single all her life. But now she finds herself taking care of a baby that she did not birth. She begins to love the child and names her Rose. Ruth finds a cow and so is able to feed Rose. Ruth takes care of Dylan who is in a coma for a few days. As she does, her heart softens towards him and she begins to love him as well.

Many more adventures are in store for this makeshift  little family before they finally settle down and realize they want to be together. Ruth and Dylan see how God has worked amazing miracles in their lives by saving them on numerous occasions and giving them a tremendous love for each other they couldn’t conceive of before.

They eventually marry and return to Denver City.  The novel ends happily. I enjoyed reading this fun, adventurous story, hanging on every word to see what would happen next.  I learned how the Lord uses trials to soften and mold us, and bring us around to His way of serving Him.

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.”

 

 

Reading The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford is warm and pleasant, like spending an evening curled up on a couch in front of a crackling fireplace.

While their family is overseas, three pets stay at the home of a family friend, John Longridge. The animals are Bodger, an old white English bull terrier, Tao, a feisty Siamese cat, and Luath, a golden brown Labrador retriever.

The cat and the bull terrier are friends, having spent many hours getting into mischief together. The retriever is aloof, trained to hunt with his master and not interested in the games the other two play or the affection they share.

John leaves on a fishing trip with his brother. Due to an accident of miscommunication, his housekeeper thinks he’s taken the animals with him. Luath urges the others to leave Longridge’s house and strike west, in the direction of their own home. Unfortunately, home is nearly three hundred miles away, across very wild and sparsely inhabited northern Canada, and the time of year is September.

This is a story of loyalty, perseverance, and hope. The personalities of the animals are charmingly drawn. Each is unique and very believable, as are the nature scenes painted for the reader. We meet bear, wolf, lynx, chipmunks, and birds. These encounters are sketched realistically. Interesting people also appear throughout the narrative.

The descriptions are artistically beautiful without being heavy or wordy. Mostly, the story is a brave adventure for some very likeable pets. To enhance the reader’s imagination, there are black-and-white drawings of pivotal scenes by illustrator Carl Burger.

There is such violence as occurs in nature, and the animals hunt to stay alive. Younger children may worry about the safety of the pets or feel sad about some things that happen. There is a little suspense, but it is of very short duration.

When John Longridge discovers the animals are gone and guesses their plans, he tells his friends with a heavy heart. What happens in the end will delight the reader.

First published in 1961, The Incredible Journey was marketed for ages eleven and up. I remember reading it when I was ten. It runs about 145 pages and is available at libraries, bookstores, Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, and Christianbook.com. It comes in print, ebook, and audiobook formats.

If your children (or you) enjoy a well-told tale of life-like animals set in a vast wilderness, you will want to read this book.

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.

Mrs. Fujimoto has a collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge, available as an e-reader at Amazon. Find our review under “N” in the alphabetical listing: Titles We’ve Reviewed.

Passover begins at sundown on Good Friday this year, 2015. Jesus Christ was killed during the Passover season. His sacrifice on the cross began a new passover. The angel of death now would pass over everyone who believed in Jesus as their Savior. Their souls would never again be separated from God. It was–it is–a new freedom that went deeper and wider than what God had done for the Israelites when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt.

I like knowing about the first Passover. It gives me a concrete picture of a rescue. It helps me grasp a little better the rescue God did of me when Jesus went to the cross.

Exodus, written and illustrated by Brian Wildsmith and published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers (1998) is a picture book for adults and elementary-school-age children. It tells the story of the Israelites from Moses’ birth to his death. The telling is quite abbreviated, but it hits most of the high points. The simple, direct language is easy to understand and follow.  Wildsmith’s  colorful illustrations, pen-and-ink and watercolor, are magnificent.

Using double-page spreads, he tells us visually that this event in history is of huge importance. The first pages depict the might and grandeur of Egypt and a question forms in the reader’s mind. How can anyone oppose such power? On subsequent pages we see mere men dwarfed in the presence of Pharaoh and his court. Only God, we realize, can accomplish the rescue of  the thousands and thousands of enslaved people. Further, only God can protect them, provide for them in the wilderness, and bring them to the Promised Land.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  Her latest work is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel 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.

God Gave Us Easter is another book in the series written by Lisa Tawn Bergren and illustrated by Laura Bryant. It is published by Waterbrook Press (2013).

Papa Bear surprises Little Cub when he says that Easter is better than Christmas. “Why?” asks Little Cub. Papa Bear explains that because of Easter we can go to heaven and be with Jesus forever.

On a walk Papa Bear and Little Cub discover all around them ways to better understand Easter. Papa Bear points out ordinary objects like a tree root or a pine cone, but then likens them to extraordinary things. When they come across an egg, Papa Bear explains that the chick cracking out of the egg is much like Jesus coming out of the grave and later rising again.

I really enjoyed these comparisons. Some of them, such as a tree root to the root of Jesse, deal with more advanced truths not usually mentioned in a children’s Easter book. Bergren tackles these difficult concepts but uses simple language in doing so. Older children can be led into some interesting discussions of Papa Bear’s teachings. Younger children will be satisfied to merely soak in the story. A possible drawback of the book is that the cross is not mentioned. Parents of older children will want to bring it up and discuss the importance of the cross.

Bryant’s watercolor and pencil illustrations display spring on each page.

Bergren shows that Easter is more than candy and Easter eggs. Easter is God’s forever love gift of His Son given to all who believe.

Carol Green, a graduate of Northwestern, is the mother of three adult children. Her five grandchildren affectionately call her “Grams cracker.” She is the published author of many poems for both adults and children; three coloring books: God Gave Me Five, ABC Fun Book, and Color God’s World Bright; and the picture book: My Mom Loves Me.

The joy of Easter is coming. Here are some of Carol Green’s picks for Easter books for little ones. — Nancy

Easter Surprise was written by Vicki Howie and illustrated by Moira MacLean. It was published by Concordia Publishing House in 2006.

This lift-the-flap book begins with two strangers coming to a farm house door. They ask to use a donkey. The child lifts the flap of a door. The strangers promise to bring the donkey home. Next the child travels to Jerusalem where palm branches are waving for Jesus, the King. Each page has an interesting reason for the child to lift a flap and see the surprise. The story progresses until Easter morning when Jesus is risen. The author handles the betrayal of Judas in a unique way.

The colorful illustrations realistically depict people of Middle-Eastern ethnicity, adding to the sense of accuracy in this telling of Jesus’ days from Palm Sunday until Easter Sunday.

Though a board book, Easter Surprise could be used nicely for family devotions during Easter week. Younger children will be excited to lift the flap while an older child or parent reads the page.

Note: Carol also likes three other board books about Easter–My Easter Basket: And the True Story of Easter, An Easter Gift for Me and The Easter Story. You can find her comments at Easter Books for Little Ones.

Carol Green, a graduate of Northwestern, is the mother of three adult children. Her five grandchildren affectionately call her “Grams cracker.” She is the published author of many poems for both adults and children; three coloring books: God Gave Me Five, ABC Fun Book, and Color God’s World Bright; and the picture book: My Mom Loves Me.

At my church a special discussion group for high school seniors is delving into the book Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. I think this is a wise choice. The approximately 200 page (printings vary) gem is an excellent sounding board for young adults who want to get a firm grasp on the core of their beliefs before leaving home for work or college.

There are two things that need to be said about the book. One, it was written in 1950’s England, so it reflects the language and worldview of that time and place. Two, its richness for the mind rivals that of flourless chocolate cake for the palate—one can savor only a sliver at a time.

Lewis touches on many topics that are essential to a believer’s perspective on life, as well as a believer’s attitudes about faith and practice. He asks decisive questions and does not shy away from complex answers. Among his topics are: Where does morality come from? Moral behavior within us, between us and others, and in relationship to God. Who is God and what is He like? Does God want to make me feel miserable? Why Jesus? The reason for the crucifixion. Explaining the Trinity. How does God work in my life? What is the whole point of being a Christian and not just a nice person? Choice. The role of sex. What happens to good people who never hear about Christ? Forgiving evil. The great sin of pride. Why suffering? Why doesn’t God just invade the world and wipe out all evil? Becoming like Christ—what does it really mean? What’s the point of all this?

Some readers may find Lewis a little conservative on certain subjects, others too liberal. But you don’t have to agree with his every opinion to benefit from the depth of his reflections.

Due to the nature of this book, it is best read slowly, a chapter or two at a time, then discussed. This could happen with a mentor or parent or in a class or youth group with a teacher to monitor discussion and explain harder concepts.

Reading Mere Christianity was a gift to my soul. A master storyteller, Lewis uses interesting word pictures to illustrate timeless ideas. Both adult and mature teen readers could benefit from a thoughtful tour of this compact presentation on the inner life of believers.

A classic in Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity is available at libraries, book stores, Christianbook.com, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.com.

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.

Mrs. Fujimoto has a collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge, available as an e-reader at Amazon. Find our review under “N” in the alphabetical listing: Titles We’ve Reviewed.

Dear Mr. Knightley, a novel by Katherine Reay and published by Thomas Nelson (2013), is more than delightful. It will keep you up at night, reading to find out what happens. This book is best read by women, eighteen and above. It is not recommended for high school students or younger as several parts of the story  touch upon the sensitive topic of child abuse.

The story is told through a series of letters written by a would-be writer in her twenties, Samantha Moore, to Mr. Knightley, the director of the Dover Foundation. The Dover Foundation has offered her full tuition to the master’s program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She knows that studying journalism is a stretch for her, but she decides to accept.

The one stipulation for Samantha to receive her grant is that she  write letters regularly to Mr. George Knightley, a pseudonym for the benefactor. He will not reply, but she must keep him informed of her progress and experiences during her time in the program. She agrees to this. Her letters reveal her character and amazing personality. The reader finds out everything that happens to her, how she thinks, and how she feels. Gradually her past unfolds as well.

Samantha was taken from parents when she was six, due to neglect and abuse. Every few months she was placed in a different foster home. For several years as a young teen, she lived on the streets. When she was fifteen, the police took her to Grace House where she met Father John. He saw that she had a gift for writing and encouraged her to continue.

Samantha, Sam, loves to quote characters from Jane Austen’s books as a means of hiding from her real self. She knows there is a better way to live, but it is slow in coming.

She struggles to trust people. Through a relationship fostered by Father John with a troubled teenage boy named Kyle, she tries to give of herself  and help him through similar struggles. Sam’s circle of friends grows while she is in the graduate program. After being attacked one night on her way home, Sam moves into an apartment closer to campus and becomes friends with the family that owns the apartment. She also makes friends at school and for about a year becomes romantically involved with Josh. Their relationship is fun for her, but it is very shallow, and she comes to realize that in time.

One day a well-known mystery writer, Alex Powell, comes to campus. The 29-year-old writer and the 24-year-old Sam hit it off right away. He befriends her and draws her into a world of literature that feels like it could come from one of her favorite books. She is hesitant to reveal the real Sam. Alex introduces her to the Muirs, a retired professor and his wife, who have adopted Alex as their very own son. His parents have always shunned Alex, so he often comes to Chicago to visit the Muirs. The Muirs like Sam and, after Josh breaks up with her, they let her stay in their house while they travel to Europe.

There is one very troubling area in Sam’s life. Dr. Johnson, her main professor, isn’t enamored with her work. He tells her she must find her voice and her passion. She is discouraged and considers giving up. One day she has to have an emergency appendectomy and goes back to Grace House to recover. Kyle, who was recently in a foster home where he experienced abuse, is there. Sam is angry because Dr. Johnson keeps threatening to dismiss her from the program. Kyle is angry about the difficulties foster children endure, so together they write an informative and passionate newspaper article about foster children.

Dr. Johnson loves Sam’s article and he encourages her to get an internship at the Chicago Tribune. She works there all summer and absolutely loves it. Alex, who lives in New York, is in Chicago for the summer, so they spend almost every day together. Their friendship deepens. In the fall he returns to New York and does not contact her. She is sad, but believes that they never had serious ties to begin with.

However, Sam’s relationship with Alex is not over. Reay’s plot twists and turns and Sam and Alex learn about trust and love.

During the course of the book, several people witness to Sam about their faith in Jesus. Alex and the Muirs believe in Jesus and pray for Sam. She has a hard time believing there is a God who could actually loves her. With her, it is a very gradual opening of her mind and heart. Dear Mr. Knightley ends happily, with Sam obtaining a new faith, family, and future husband.

I learned so much from this book about how people recover from abusive and difficult backgrounds. I loved Sam’s personality and felt like she taught me so much. I know that you, as well, will thoroughly enjoy reading and learning from this amazing story.

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.”

 

 

 

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