OK, they or events–you decide–cancelled summer this year. Or did they? We can still go camping or have picnics (if only in our backyards), sip lemonade, ride bikes and daydream summer dreams. Summer fun and adventures are still open.

You and the kids can still go places. Think of it. You can go to Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or visit Prince Edward Island with Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. Or if you dare, what about going to Ireland in the days of the Vikings, Raiders from the Sea? You could choose your own sea adventure: Journey under the Sea or you could visit a small town in the woods of California’s  Sierra Nevada: The City Bear’s Adventures. How about solving mysteries in Botswana?  The Great Cake Mystery is the first one in that series for young readers. Or if you want a cooler climate you can help solve mysteries with Libby and her friends in Edinburgh, Scotland: I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue. (Get your umbrellas out of the closet and keep them handy. It rains in Scotland even in the summer. :))

Those are just a few suggestions. We have others. Here’s some more. (Titles are linked to our reviews.) Let the adventures begin!

The Avion My Uncle Flew
Chancey of Maury River
Cheaper by the Dozen
Escape from Warsaw
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition
Horse to Love, A
In Grandma’s Attic
The Incredible Journey
Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion
Little Lord Fauntleroy

McKenna
Meet Josephina
Meet Kaya
Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West 
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius 
Pollyanna
Running with Roselle
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Scout
Secret Garden, The
The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets
The Trumpet of the Swan

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

And while you are at it, maybe you would like an adventure–that is, after the kids are in bed. (Or maybe you could read your book sitting next to them while they are reading theirs. It’s a good thing for them to see you reading–so say some studies.) Take a look at the list for College Age/Working Person under Book Lists. Ah, an adventure in England! Ah, the American West! Hawaii, anyone?

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, thing from of old–
what we have heard and known
what our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from the children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. ” Psalm 78: 2-4 (NIV)

In the previous post I wrote about A Life Intercepted. After I had posted, I felt drawn to read it again. I don’t usually do that. But as I  re-read, I saw that I had missed something.

It was utterly important that the QB, Matthew, continued to encourage and train the young would-be QB even though Matthew’s own life and his world had unraveled and was threatening to become more so.

God was whispering to me about my life.

Though we are, these days, sometimes overwhelmed by the circumstances of our own lives, we must continue to encourage and train the next generation. We cannot wait for easier times.

What kids and young adults read now, matters! I know you believe this and you are pointing your loved ones to books and materials that will feed their souls and their faith in God, not their fears. Keep on doing it. Keep on. God is smiling.

If you need some more suggestions of worthy reads check out Book Lists in the menu at the top.

I like A Life Intercepted by Charles Martin and published by Center Street (2014). I like it a lot. I’ve read it twice. Curiously, I read it the first time a few weeks before all our lives were intercepted. The book resonates with me.

The title comes from the statement a father makes to his pre-teen son whom he is teaching how to be a quarterback (QB). During one of their practices, the boy asks about being intercepted. The father counters. It is not “if,” it is “when.” You will be intercepted. “Might as well get over that right now. . . . What matters is what you do when you get the ball back in your hands.”

The novel opens with a prologue. A sixteen-year-old boy and an older woman are viewing and studying the game films of a QB nicknamed “Rocket.”

The book then flashes back thirteen years and the protagonist, Matthew Rising, “The Rocket,” begins to tell us his story. Matthew, a QB with considerable talent and skills is about to sign with the NFL. He has led his high school and college teams in championship seasons. He is a two-time Heisman trophy winner and he’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. His wife loves him, his teammates trust him, his hometown idolizes him and his many fans across the country adore him. And despite all the fame and adulation, he is a nice guy. A man with integrity.

He doesn’t see what is coming next.

The novel fast forwards and he is and has been in prison for twelve years, a convicted a sex offender. He never played pro-ball. Now he is being released on parole. Electronic anklet and the knowledge that his activities are henceforth strictly regulated, he returns to his hometown. He is a pariah. Almost everyone has turned against him, believing him to be guilty. He tells the reader without bitterness that even he, after seeing the video tapes presented at the trial, would have doubted his innocence.

His best friend and former center, Wood, lets him live in a cabin on a property outside of town. The cabin is just far enough away from a Catholic high school to satisfy the requirements of the law. The property also borders a massive junkyard that was a kind of playground for the boys when they were teens.

Climbing up the Bucket, a mound of old cars, Matthew can see the high school football field of the Catholic school where he and his dad practiced and where he played football in high school. He watches a young player who has a throwing problem. Ray, a friend of Matthew’s and a former coach, tells him the high school’s present coach is damaging the teen’s considerable natural abilities.

The next evening the young player, Dee, asks Matthew to coach him. Matthew refuses. By law he’s not allowed to be near anyone under 18. If he does and he is caught, he would be sent back to prison.

Audrey, Matthew’s wife, whom he has not seen in ten years, comes to the cabin in the early hours of the morning and demands that Matthew coach Dee. Matthew’s dreams she says are dead, but this motherless, abandoned kid could still fulfill his. Because of his love for Audrey, Matthew agrees to secretly coach the teen.

But can he help Dee undo the bad coaching? Can they accomplish it before it is discovered that Matthew has been helping a minor and violating his parole? Will Audrey let herself love Matthew again? And what really happened on the night that the video was made?

Martin is a great storyteller. His characters are complex and human, his world imperfect. His plotting is often unexpected, and he moves easily between the past and the present, telling us only what we need to know in the moment and holding back, like in a mystery, what is still being played out. The novel is well-paced. Quiet scenes of training and instruction are counter balanced with intense scenes of the mounting threats that would derail Matthew’s and Dee’s goal.

Martin will keep you reading even if you don’t know a thing about football–or care–because the novel is about more than the sport. It is about life. And because Martin is a Christian with a Christian worldview, I found God showing me truth, even though the author does not mention His name.

Take the football term “audible.” Most people know what it is, but I didn’t. It’s when the QB who has called the play in the huddle, sees that defense is preparing for just that play and calls a different play at the line of scrimmage. That an audible might be called means that the QB’s team members must be listening for the QB. Christians do this all the time in life. We call it prayer and, in this season when the defense seems formidable, we need, I need, to be listening for the audible that our QB is calling.

I am not going to recommend this novel for most high schoolers. There are several mentions of nudity. The scenes are not graphic, and I don’t think they are gratuitous, but sex scenes effect teens differently than they do adults so, consider prayerfully whether this is a book for your junior or senior high schooler.  Also, Matthew, though innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, is still breaking the law by training Dee. Spoiler Alert: He is found out, but he is the one who “outs” himself and he does go back to prison. That’s all I’m going to tell you. Except that it doesn’t end there, and it all ends happily.)

I won’t end this review without telling you what Matthew’s father did next after telling Matthew that he would be intercepted. “He [his father] waved across our imaginary opponents, chuckling. ‘They can’t beat us.’ A smirk. ‘They’re good, but they ain’t that good.’”

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.

Strong: How God Equipped 11 Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Power (and Can Do the Same for You) was written by Catherine Parks and published by B&H Publishers Group (2019).

Have you ever wished the boys in your life had more good men to look up to? Catherine Parks has put together a collection of stories about eleven godly men to serve as examples for young men and boys. Although most of these men are clearly heroic, she emphasizes how the character traits they embody can become part of any boy’s life. Her message is that their strength comes from God, and is available to any boy who wants to put God first.

Here is a list of the men featured, along with a corresponding character trait:

Alvin York—Generosity

George Muller—Faith

Dietrich Bonhoeffer—Courage

Brother Andrew—Obedience

Elka of the Wai Wai—Standing Alone

Erik Liddell—Knowing What Matters

John Newton—Godly Ambition

William Carey—Humility

George Liele—Compassion

Jim Elliot—Sacrificial Love

Jackie Robinson—Endurance

 

Suited for ages 10-14, Strong is laid out like a chapter book. Each chapter begins with a black and white drawing of the featured person and a quote from them. Each story is followed by suggestions on how a boy might incorporate similar character into his daily life. Then, there is a list of questions. At the very end of the book is a 1-page summary of each man’s story.

These men come from different times in history, different nations, and different ethnicities. Each one faced hard choices in his life. You may not agree with all of their decisions, but their struggle to do what was right will stimulate both thought and discussion. For example, you may applaud Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s courage to speak out against Hitler’s policies, but wrestle with Bonhoeffer’s involvement in a plan to assassinate him.

You might want to read through the stories first yourself to see what you think about the appropriateness of the subject matter for the intended reader. These true stories about men of good character and faith who lived in extraordinary circumstances will help young men to think deeply about how to live out their own beliefs in everyday life.

Strong by Catherine Parks is 224 pages long, available in paperback and e-book. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.com. It can give a boy in your life food for thought about what it means to become a strong man for Christ.

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. 

Escape from Camp 14, written by Blaine Harden and published by Penguin Books, (Reprint edition, 2013) is one man’s remarkable odyssey from North Korea to freedom in the West.

The man, Shin Dong-hyuk was born in a political prison camp in 1983 and escaped when he was 23 years old. This story is stark, harsh, and heartbreaking in parts. It is not a story for everyone. It is written for adults.

The reason I am writing a little about it is that I was unaware until now about what really goes on in prison camps in North Korea. I didn’t realize that so many of the people are starving and that prison camps this horrible actually still exist. I am writing because this story put a profound burden on my soul to pray for the people of North and South Korea. I didn’t really have this burden before I read the book, and I feel that others should be aware, so they can pray. I know prayer is powerful, and I believe God can work miracles through our prayers.

A very telling quote from the back cover of this story states, “North Korea’s political prison camps have existed twice as long as Stalin’s gulags and twelve times as long as the Nazi concentration camps. These camps are clearly visible in satellite photos, yet North Korea’s government denies they exist. No one born and raised in these camps is known to have escaped. No one, that is, except Shin Dong-hyuk. In Escape from Camp 14, veteran reporter Blaine Harden unlocks the secrets of the world’s most repressive totalitarian state through the story of Shin’s shocking imprisonment and his astounding getaway.”

My reason for mentioning this book is so that more people will become aware of the truth of how some people are made to live in North Korea and that many would increase their prayers on their behalf. I know the Lord will bless your prayers and concern for these dear people.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her six 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. She and her husband 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.”

 

Through Waters Deep (Waves of Freedom) was written by Sarah Sundin and published by Revell (2015). Sundin is well-known for meticulously researched World War II Christian romance novels. This one is particularly intriguing for two reasons. First, it is set in early 1941, before America entered the war. Second, it is a full-blown mystery. The reader has multiple issues to explore and that complexity keeps those pages turning.

Mary Stirling is a secretary at the Boston Naval Yard, excelling at her job. She is terrified of calling attention to herself, believing it to be wrong. At a ship launching, she runs into Jim Avery, who is from her home town in Ohio. Recently graduated from the naval academy, Jim is now an ensign assigned to the USS Atwood, a Greaves-class destroyer. He likes the navy but he is not ambitious. He doesn’t want to make decisions that might harm those under his authority.

Jim asks Mary to take him and his best friend, Archer Vandenberg, sightseeing. He is tired of being a third wheel with Arch and his lovey-dovey girlfriend. Readers get a fun view of historic Boston. Jim and Mary begin to appreciate each other.

Sabotage at the navy yard awakens the Nancy Drew mystery-loving side of Mary. She begins to record everything she sees and hears that might provide clues. Jim and Arch ship out on escort duty for British convoys across the Atlantic. When sabotage erupts onboard, Jim gets drawn into Mary’s detective work. Together they are determined to solve the mystery.

Then Quintessa—Mary’s best friend and Jim’s high school crush—moves to Boston, and things that looked so easy suddenly get complicated.

As events heat up, Mary struggles to learn the difference between prideful self-promotion and the willingness to live out fully God’s purposes for her life. Jim learns more about the true nature of leadership and how to be honest in his personal relationships.

There is a great cast of characters, among them roommates, shipmates, navy yard personnel, and church choir members. The list of potential saboteurs is long. If you love Boston or the navy, there is enough fun stuff for either enthusiast. Mystery, danger, faith, romance, and nostalgia—it’s all here. The story builds nicely and has a satisfying conclusion. This book, at nearly 400 pages, is written for the adult audience, but it is suitable for college and high school-aged readers.

Available in paperback or as an e-book, you can find Through Waters Deep on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.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. 

 

Don’t Forget to Remember by Ellie Holcomb, illustrated by Kayla Harren and published by B&H Kids (2020) is a board book that your kids will want you to read again and again. Holcomb is  Contemporary Christian Music singer/songwriter Ellie Holcomb and her joyful, insightful book will bless you and the kids with each reading.

On the opening spread, Holcomb tells us that the creation is giving us clues “so you won’t forget to remember what’s true.” I love it that she uses the word “clues.” It tells the reader that they have to notice and consider. They have to look and make the connection. And it’s there.

What’s true is that God is present and He cares for each of us and all of us–always. Sunshine, rain, the ocean, birdsong, spring flowers, stars, they can remind us of His love, His care and His guidance. For example,  “And just like the birds/ who keep humming their tune,/ Remember God sings songs/ of joy over you!” The book ends with the truly awesome statement—”And even on days you/ forget what is true,/ Don’t forget to remember. . ./ God won’t forget you.”

Kayla Harren’s illustrations sweep across each spread and as you take in the vibrant colors you may feel like you are there in the scene. You can almost feel the wind moving across the fields in one illustration and in another you will be certain that saltwater just splashed in your face as the sailboat flew by. The pictures are wonderfully filled with children and animals playing and enjoying God’s creation. A rabbit flies a kite on the beach along with other children. On another spread a little girl is under a large tree having a tea party with a giant panda.

Amazon lists Don’t Forget to Remember for ages baby-4. It is available for your Kindle as well as in print.

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.

We don’t usually direct you to other blogs or other websites. But today I am. I’m putting up a link to an author interview on Heart Soul Mind because Nancy Ellen Hird (me–or should it be I?) is the author being interviewed.

I think John and Jenny Fulton did an awfully good job. They asked me some thoughtful questions about writing I Get a Clue and We  All Get a Clue.  You might find the interview good reading. I hope  so.

Welcome Wednesday: Adventures in Edinburgh with Nancy Ellen Hird

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.

“God is our shelter and strength,
always ready to help in times of trouble.
So we will not be afraid, even if the earth is shaken
and the mountains fall into the ocean depths;
even if the seas roar and rage,
and the hills are shaken by violence.” Psalm 46:1-3

Don’t you just love it that these verses say that God is always ready to help in times of trouble? He wants to walk beside us and help us. It doesn’t say that there aren’t going to be troubles. It says there can be horrendous troubles–life happenings way beyond our control, but even then we need not dwell in fear. Even then. He is with us.

I don’t think it says that we will not have moments of fear. We just don’t have to live there. Like Psalm 91 says, we can dwell in His fortress.

I think some of the ways we dwell in His fortress are to fill our minds with His loving word and live in obedience to His laws; rely on His strength and the certainty of His power to protect and provide; and to enjoy media and other activities that speak of His presence and His care.

The last is the reason for this blog. We want you to hear about books that will uplift you and and the kids. We want to help you tell your beloved children that God is, that He is good, and that He can and does save.

Book Lists in the menu at the top will take you to titles we recommend. Books are divided by the age of the expected reader and whether the books are non-fiction or fiction.

You will notice that I have not started with our long list of picture books recommendations. You might wonder what I did with it. It’s still there. I moved it to below the list of books we recommend for college/working people. I thought, at this time, you might need recommendations for elementary, middle school, high school, college and young working people more. Also books for those age groups are more often available as e-books.

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.

On This Foundation, by Lynn Austin and published by Bethany House Publishers (2015), is the third book in The Restoration Chronicles series. It is a fictional account of the Bible story of Nehemiah. Many of the details and side plots are fictional, but the Bible verses and basic story are true. The novel contains drama, mystery, spiritual depth, growth and joy in the Lord.

The story begins by delving into the past and present of the main character, Nehemiah, who appears to be in his thirties. He is the cup bearer for King Artaxerxes, in the citadel of Susa, one of the capitals of the Persian Empire. Nehemiah’s job is to oversee the food and wine brought into the Citadel. He is responsible to see that the king’s food and wine are safe to eat, often tasting them himself. He also secures the Citadel from vendors who themselves might pose a threat to the king.

Nehemiah takes his job very seriously. He knows that living within the walls of the Citadel provides only a measure of safety for its occupants. The king’s father, Xerxes, had been murdered in his own bed chamber by one of his own courtiers.

Nehemiah’s parents had also been murdered though living in the Citadel. Twenty-eight years before, when Nehemiah was only eight, his father had opened the door of the family’s sleeping quarters to an acquaintance. He and his wife had been killed. Nehemiah and his younger brothers had hidden behind furniture and survived.

As this novel begins, his brothers, who have been living in Jerusalem and whom he has not seen in nearly thirteen years, arrive in Susa to speak with him. Hananiah, or Hanani, works as a scribe as their father had. He and Ephraim have come with a delegation from Judah. The delegation is seeking a reduction in the taxes they are paying to King Artaxerxes. Many of the Jews in Judah are destitute. There is a drought that has lasted two growing seasons.

In addition, the walls of the city of Jerusalem are still broken down though it has been more than a hundred years since the Babylonians captured the city, demolishing its fortifications and burning its gates. The city’s inhabitants are vulnerable to attacks and robberies. The Temple is unprotected. The Levite guards have been unable to protect the temple treasury.

The Jews are also hated by their surrounding neighbors, the Samaritans, Edomites, Ammonites and Arabs. Nehemiah is told that some years previously the Jewish community had attempted to rebuild the wall, but the enemy nations had gotten an edict from the Persian king, forcing them to stop. If they were to attempt to fortify the city and rebuild the walls now without the permission of King Artaxerxes, it would be seen as an act of rebellion. They are hoping their brother Nehemiah can help them with all these issues.

Nehemiah’s brothers leave after four months even though their petition has not yet reached the king. The Lord begins speaking to Nehemiah’s heart. He knows that if he speaks about anything to the king without his permission, he could lose his life. In time, Artaxerxes asks him why he appears so sad, and he explains the entire story. The king grants permission for Nehemiah to go and rebuild the city walls and gates.

It takes Nehemiah several months to arrive in Jerusalem, but first, he stops in Samaria to present the king’s decree, along with his commission to Governor Sanballat, a Samaritan, Tobiah the Ammonite and Geshem, the Arab leader.

In Jerusalem, Rebbe Ezra, the retired governor, instructs Nehemiah not to listen to these Gentile leaders. He tells him to ignore these men and do what God has called him to do. Nehemiah knows that it is God’s will for the city to be rebuilt, and desires to bring glory to Him through this project.

Many exciting plot twists, intrigues and events happen in the rest of this story. Sanballat and Tobiah are Nehemiah’s constant enemies, doing whatever they can to hinder God’s work. Yet, God is in control and causes the people to unite to finish the walls and improve conditions in the city.

Other characters and side stories are introduced. In the end, all turns out for the best and God is glorified through the work of Nehemiah and other godly leaders. There is much spiritual growth. Nehemiah’s dedicated group of workers finish the wall in two months, and they all have a dedication ceremony. Nehemiah encourages all the people to dedicate their entire lives to God and obey His commands. This is the path to true happiness.

Even though On This Foundation is over four hundred pages, it did not take me long to finish it. It is compelling, exciting and very uplifting. I felt strengthened by the Lord after reading it. There is a beautiful bible verse that expresses the theme of this story, “So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: See, I lay in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed,” Isaiah 28:16. Nehemiah and all the people learn that the Lord is our Cornerstone and we must all build everything we do on Him. I know you will love this story as I did. It is best for readers eighteen and above.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her six 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. She and her husband 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.”

Book Reviews

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