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.”

 

 

 

Longing, Karen Kingsbury’s novel, is the third book in her four- book Bailey Flanigan Series, entitled, Leaving, Learning, Longing and Loving. The publisher is Zondervan (2011). Although I have only read Longing, I enjoyed it immensely and would recommend it to women 18 and above.

Bailey Flanigan comes from a solid Christian home and has dreams of dancing on Broadway. Although she spent many years dating Cody Coleman, a young man who is very close to the Flanigan family, she now begins to change and draw closer to Brandon Paul. He is her one-time Hollywood co-star, who recently came to know Christ through her influence. Bailey and Cody have been broken up for awhile, but when they see each other, strong feelings remain.  Bailey is dancing in a Broadway show.

Cody now coaches football in another town and is dating a young woman named Cheyenne, who lost the love of her life in the war. Cheyenne is also recovering from a serious accident. She is in a very close relationship with Art’s mother, who considers her a daughter.

Cody’s work coaching a small-town football team brings him and his players national attention. They play a game the day after Thanksgiving in Bailey’s hometown and Bailey comes to watch. At one point, they spot each other, their eyes meet, and they realize there are many unresolved feelings between them. Cody comes to visit her that night and she questions him as to why he has always run from her. He admits his fear of losing her has kept him from giving his heart fully to her, and now their lives are more complicated with Brandon and Cheyenne in the background. They are willing to let go and see where the Lord leads them both.

Bailey returns to New York and the Broadway show she has been . dancing in. She reaches out to her unsaved cast members through a Bible Study she begins. Several are searching and they have many questions.

I have been involved in theater for many years. Bailey’s actions made me remember the times other cast members and I gathered to pray for our productions and everyone in them. My husband has been an orchestral conductor for many community productions. One night he joined a prayer circle of actors, where the lead actor broke down crying, stating that night was the first in five years that he prayed, shed his bitterness toward God, and returned to Jesus. I know these prayers and groups can be very powerful in the lives of all those involved.

Similarly Bailey shares her faith and several cast members come to know the love of Christ, seeking him above the glory and glamour the world offers. Two others accept Christ close to Christmas time. This thrills Bailey. It also thrills Brandon who has been in New York for awhile, attending every one of her performances. His movie contract will soon begin in California. He and Bailey are praying about where the Lord is leading them.

Cody is also experiencing a season of spiritual growth. His girlfriend, Cheyenne, develops brain cancer and goes through treatment. Cody cannot share this information with the Flanigan family, as she has asked him to keep it secret. He is crushed, yet the Lord teaches him so much through this experience.

Bailey’s show on Broadway suddenly ends and although she is disappointed, she sees it as a stepping stone to her probable future with Brandon. She comes home for a few weeks to prepare for her next stage of life–a stay in California, with Christian theater friends, Dayne and Katy. While Bailey is staying in her hometown, she and her family learn of the seriousness of Cheyenne’s illness. When Cheyenne passes away, Bailey delays her trip to California for a few days out of respect for what Cody is going through.

Cody and Bailey talk and realize that even though God does not have them in a serious love relationship, He has called them to be friends and support each other when they are able. She expresses her sorrow over his loss. They experience some cleansing, and a new beginning on a different level of Christian care.

Bailey flies to California and stays with friends. Although Brandon is ready to propose to Bailey, he takes Dayne’s advice to wait, allow Bailey time to get settled, and see what the Lord has in store for her. She struggles with all the paparazzi surrounding Brandon. Yet, she sees God’s leading and is willing to trust Him.

The novel ends and the reader is expected to move on to the book Loving to discover what the final ending will be. I am certainly looking forward to that and I know you will be too. This book has taught me a lot about growth, change, and how all things, even the heartbreaking ones, work out for good in His plan.

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.”

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be adopted from a country on the other side of the world—whisked from poverty to riches, from friendship to strangers, from fluency to barely understanding the language, all while interpreting life through a lens as different from your new family’s as can be imagined?
Carol Antoinette Peacock in Red Thread Sisters (Viking Juvenile, 2012) finds an authentic eleven-year-old girl’s voice in which to tell this moving story.

Abandoned at age five by her own mother, Wen is befriended by Shu Ling. Slightly older, artistic and nurturing, Shu Ling is ignored by potential parents because of her clubfoot. Both girls are rapidly “aging out” when Wen’s dream of having an American family comes true. Promising to find an adoptive family for Shu Ling, Wen leaves the orphanage behind. But leaving does not give her the feelings of freedom and happiness she expects.

Although her American family is kind, they do not understand her like Shu Ling did. Her new mother and father look so different from anyone she’s ever known, and though her little sister looks Chinese, she acts completely American. Wen is grateful for the luxury of her own room, beautiful clothes, and lots of food to eat, but she is constantly fearful of doing something wrong and being sent back to China. When her mother is a few minutes late picking her up from school, the fear of being abandoned comes back to haunt her. And getting along with American girls is so confusing!

Slowly, Wen settles in to her new environment and plans to ask her family to adopt Shu Ling. They have so much she feels that they can afford to share it with one more child. Then her father gets laid off from his job and Wen’s plan is in ruins. She learns there are websites for Americans interested in adopting children from China. With help from her mother she starts a campaign to let people know what a wonderful daughter Shu Ling would make.

Wen spends so much time trying to get her old friend to America that she upsets her new friend Hannah and her little sister Emily, who want to spend more time with her. Wen tries to make amends, but is frightened because time is running out for Shu Ling. Though suspense mounts, the two girls see each other again at last, after Shu Ling is adopted by an American family. Wen is finally able to shake off fears of being abandoned and tell her new mother “I love you.”

For sensitive readers, this book will stir up concern for the poverty, hunger, and sadness described in the Chinese orphanage. Although written gently, it is still clear that these little ones suffer, that some die. The “Aunties” in the orphanage are kind but overworked women with few resources for so many children. Such narratives may cause readers to count their own blessings and make them more compassionate toward newcomers.

In America, Wen meets people of all kinds, but generally good, caring individuals, including her new grandmother and Nancy Lin the “adoption lady.” The confusion of adjusting to American life and Wen’s fear of losing her best friend are both resolved victoriously.

Approximately 230 pages long, Red Thread Sisters is suited for middle school children. I found it at a school book fair, but it is also available at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Christianbook.com in both print and e-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.

Tiny Bear’s Bible (Furry Bible Stories) was written by Sally Lloyd Jones, illustrated by Igor Oleynikov and published by Zonderkidz (2007).

Jones begins her book with: “Before time began God had a great plan … He painted the sky. He lit up the sun … Yes, Tiny Bear, God made us too.” What a great way to introduce a toddler to the Bible! Jones’ rhyme flows with God’s love as she retells eleven stories from the Bible. Some of her story titles from the Old Testament are: “God Keeps Moses Safe,” ” David Fights a Horrible Giant” and “God Protects Daniel in the Lion’s Den.” From the New Testament she has: “Jesus Is Born,” “The Lord’s Prayer” and “God Makes Jesus Alive Again.”

I give Tiny Bear’s Bible (Furry Bible Stories) high marks for its freshness and family friendliness. It’s unique how Jones is able to capture many difficult bible truths with her poetry and economy of words. Throughout she emphasizes how God keeps His promises and is always with us.

The illustrations by Oleynikov are colorful and child-friendly with a touch of whimsy. Each story includes some actions of Tiny Bear, yet still holds true to the basic Bible story. Including illustrations of Tiny Bear allows the toddler to feel apart of the story and to better understand the focus of the lesson. The adult reader will feel like a child again, gaining new insight into the fact that Bible is God’s love letter to us.

This book could be read at any season but what a perfect way to start out the new year.

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.

 

Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West was written by Marguerite Henry and illustrated by Robert Lougheed. First published in 1966, it is the absorbing account of “Wild Horse” Annie’s fight to save the American Mustang.  This true life story of Velma “Annie” Bronn Johnston is fictionalized by the children’s novelist famous for such titles as Misty of Chincoteague and King of the Wind.

Since early girlhood, Annie loves horses. She and her father work together with them at their home in Nevada. There are close family ties between mother, father, and grandmother. When a little brother comes along, things shift a little, and then change entirely when Annie gets polio. The treatment her parents find to cure Annie leaves her permanently disfigured, and her little brother dies from polio while she is in the hospital recovering. Although this is a painful time, Annie learns huge life lessons from her suffering and is soon embracing the beauty of nature and the joy of working with horses again.

Annie feels that God has a special purpose for her life. After she marries, she and her husband take up the cause of the wild Mustangs. With camera and pen, Annie documents the torturous airplane and truck roundups that bring the herds in for sale to pet food factories.

Although Annie doesn’t feel qualified to pursue this cause politically, she gets help and advice from her father and respected politicians. With the support of her husband, community leaders, and grass roots campaigns started by horse-loving children, Annie takes her fight to the highest levels in Washington, D.C., to win legislation protecting the wild horses.

This book is a good read for middle grade children who love horses. (Adults may also find it interesting; I found it hard to put down.) Rural children may be more aware of the issues of life and death surrounding animals than urban children. There is violence against one dog and many horses by unfeeling people in this story. There are a few swear words in idiomatic phrases. Annie’s romance is very mild—shared friendship growing into a life-long commitment. In the epilogue, we learn of the death of both her husband and her father.

Mentoring and community are repeated themes. The book demonstrates the value of perseverance, encourages hope and shows the glow of the human spirit. It offers the belief that there will always be American Mustangs roaming free.

The story is told in the first-person. It is cheerful in tone, but engrossing. Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West has lively line drawings by Robert Lougheed. The book runs over 200 pages.

This book is currently available at stores, libraries, and online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and Christianbook.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.

Do you need a little R&R? Patsy has a fun suggestion for our women readers. — Nancy

The novel, Sisterchicks on the Loose, by Robin Jones Gunn and published by Multnomah Publishers (2003), is a fantastic and funny read for women in their late thirties to late sixties. It encourages us to look outside of our normal day-to-day world for ways we can grow and change, growing closer to the Lord in the process.

The main characters are Sharon Andrews and Penny Lane. They have been friends for many years, although at the moment, they live in different parts of the country. Penny is the one with the outrageous ideas, and this time she has offered to take Sharon on an all- expense-paid trip to Finland. Penny has very little family, both her parents have passed away and she wants to reconnect with her mother’s sister who lives in Finland.

This story is the hilarious and profound tale of their trip, and the experiences they encounter. They meet relatives, make new friends and have some fairly wild adventures.

After connecting with Penny’s Aunt Marketta in Finland, Penny decides they should end their stay in Finland early and spend a few days in England, visiting Marketta’s daughter and Penny’s cousin, Elina.

They encounter a bit of a rough start at Elina’s house, where she reveals some family struggles and her recent bout with depression. They convince her to come traveling with them. She agrees.  The manager of the hotel where they stay turns out to be a lady they met on their initial plane flight. She offers to pay for their dinner one night. Sharon wants to surprise Penny and take her to Liverpool and the famous street, Penny Lane. They enjoy their time there, taking many pictures and delighting in God’s goodness and creativity.

The trip turns out to be enlightening for both Sharon and Penny. They encourage each other to live the second half of their lives, drawing closer to their Lord and to their friends and families. Sharon also becomes aware of some unhealthy patterns she had settled into and seeks to change them. She begins having a vision for a ministry with young mothers and their babies. Penny feels a renewed sense of peace and family connection. She is more able to move on with the ministries the Lord is opening up to her in the area of hospitality and encouragement.

I was challenged and cheered by this story, and I know other women will be 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.”

May you grow wealthy in God’s wisdom in 2015. But more than even that, may you experience abundantly His love and care. Happy New Year!

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