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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.”

It is important for young people to think deeply as they encounter the issues of our time. Parents and grandparents want to see these children and young adults develop good character. But how can books help?

Catherine Parks and her publisher, B&H Kids (2019), have taken on this challenge with Empowered: How God Shaped 11 Women’s Lives (And Can Shape Yours, Too). Written for girls and best suited for girls, ages 10-14, the book has an interesting design.

Each chapter begins with a black-and-white drawing (Breezy Brookshire, illustrator) of the person portrayed, captioned with a quote. Then there is a story about the woman’s life, emphasizing one of her character traits. After the story, Parks explains how this trait can show itself in the everyday life of the reader, followed by a list of questions to encourage thought and discussion.

The women come from a variety of ethnicities and nationalities and from different eras of history. Here are the eleven women she includes, each with her outstanding character trait:

Esther Ahn Kim: Strength

Sophie Scholl: Justice

Corrie ten Boom: Loving

Betsie ten Boom: Gratitude

Pandita Ramabai: Fear God, not Man

Elisabeth Elliott: Obedience

Phillis Wheatley: Using Your Talents

Joni Eareckson Tada: Living Abundantly

Fanny Crosby: Kindness

Charlotte Forten Grimké: Godly Ambition

Annie Armstrong: Working Faithfully

These women are good role models as they pray and make decisions to the best of their abilities. The reader can see how each woman looked through the lens of faith to make their choices. Some women experienced tragedy and loss; some lost their lives. If you have a younger, very sensitive child, you may want to read these stories aloud to her and choose the ones you think are best for her to hear.

Since the character trait showcased is only one aspect of a complex life, this kind of presentation could encourage readers to explore longer biographies. Having a godly example can give young women courage to follow God more closely. In this book, ordinary people do extraordinary things because of the power of God in their lives, not because they are superheroes.

These stories, presented in this format, can help girls think through how to turn the truths of their faith into a lifestyle that honors God.

Empowered is 224 pages long and available in both paperback and e-book forms. You can find it on Amazon, Christianbook.com, and Barnes & Noble.

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. 

Cottage by the Sea, written by Robin Jones Gunn and published by Howard Books (2012), is a spiritually insightful look into the care of ailing parents. It is very helpful for someone who is or will be in that season of life. The theme of Cottage by the Sea is based on a verse from Isaiah 45:3,” I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel who calls you by name.” The story contains spiritual depth, humor, drama, joy and struggle.

The novel begins with Erin Bryce, who is married to Mike and has three grown sons, Jordon, Joel and Grant. She has just opened a small bridal business with her best friend, Sharlene.

On the first day of working from home with Sharlene on the new business, The Happiest Day, Erin receives a call from her father’s new wife, Delores, that her father has recently had a stroke. Erin is filled with worry, and is struggling with her dislike of Delores, which began when her father married her.

With encouragement from Sharlene and her husband Mike, she travels to the small coastal Oregon town where Jack and Delores now live. This is the first time Erin has been with her father in eighteen months. When she was growing up, her father was the teacher and coach with whom she never felt fully approved. Her mother was more encouraging, and Erin adored her.

When Erin arrives, she is greeted by a cool but concerned Delores, who is not a friendly person by nature. Erin struggles with resentment toward Delores.

Over the course of several days, the doctor determines that her father is all right and that Erin is free to return home. Jack is very proud of the work he and Delores have done on the cottage by the sea. He introduces her to some of his friends during her visit.

Erin speaks to Delores in private, who informs her that if Jack’s health fails, she will not stay with him. This is a shock to Erin, but only seems to add to her dislike of Delores. Erin is also struggling with the fact that her younger brother, Tony, and her father are estranged and have been for many years.

Erin returns home, and life resumes its normal pace.  Her son Jordan becomes engaged to a delightful young lady named Sierra. Since Erin is in the wedding planning business, she and Sharlene are able to help the young couple. Erin’s father and brother are invited to the wedding, but neither one shows up for the big day.

The day after the wedding, Erin learns that her father has had another stroke, paralyzing half of his body. She speaks to Delores on the phone who insists her father did not want to spoil the wedding by revealing this information. She and Mike decide to drive to from their home in California to Oregon.

When they arrive, they find a distant Delores and an emotional Jack. Erin and Mike help care for him for a week and consider moving him down south with them. Jack can’t speak, but has other ways of communicating with Erin that begin to assure her of his love and acceptance.

After about a week, Mike and Erin discover that Delores has left. They are upset, but not surprised. They communicate this to her father, who is sad, but seems to understand. His daytime caregiver, Marge is very helpful.

Mike needs to return home, but Erin stays with her father. Even though she has been doing some of the work for her business via her computer, she knows that her absence is putting a huge strain on her friend Sharlene. Sharlene suggests that she should buy Erin’s half of the business. Erin agrees, even though it is an added heartbreak.

The Lord is speaking to Erin about many things during this time, one being her resentment towards Delores. She knows that in order to be at peace with the Lord, she is compelled to forgive Delores. Erin is finding treasures in the darkness and riches in secret places as she experiences these trials with the Lord by her side. She knows she can trust him and feels that she is doing His will by staying with her father during his last days.

Several other plot twists occur, but in the end, all is happy and well. The Lord rewards Erin for her faithfulness to Him and to her father.

I think that readers eighteen and above will enjoy this story, and particularly, those who are caregivers. I found it encouraging and helpful. The Lord will help us to do His will, no matter how challenging that may be.

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. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

A Lady like Sarah, written by Margaret Brownley, and published by Thomas Nelson (2009), will keep you reading till the last page. Filled with suspense and action, it will entertain you. You will also see how amazing God’s grace is. He will save everyone who comes to Him in humility, regardless of their background or past mistakes.

The story begins with Reverend Justin Wells on his way from Boston to Texas with his mule and his horse. He was forced to leave his pastorate in Boston when a woman accused him of impropriety, all because he rejected her. He did nothing wrong, but the congregation believed her false story, and he was sent to pastor a church in Rocky Creek, Texas.

On his way there, Justin finds two people passed out on a trail in Missouri. He also finds a horse. The man’s name is Marshal Owen, who has a bullet stuck in his shoulder, and the woman is Sarah Prescott, who is being escorted to Texas to hang for murder. Justin tries to remove Marshall Owen’s bullet, but Sarah insists she can do a better job. She removes the bullet, but after a day, he still dies. Sarah has never killed anyone, but she did go along with her brothers, George, Jed, and Robert when they robbed stages. She decides she will run and escape from Justin as soon as she gets a chance.

It doesn’t take Sarah long to escape, but the next day, Justin finds her stuck in a muddy pit from which she can’t escape on her own. He rescues her and puts handcuffs on her. Sarah tells him her story. As children, she and her brothers lost their parents and have been on the run ever since. She never actually robbed any stages, but went along with her brothers, knowing they were her only family. None of them ever killed anyone, but they were falsely accused, and there is a warrant for their arrest.

In a few days of traveling together, Sarah and Justin become very drawn to one another. He tells her the story of Jesus dying for her sins, and she feels completely unworthy. Soon they come upon a small wagon train that has been attacked by an Indian who lays dead close by. The only living person is a very young mother who is dying. She insists that after she is gone, Justin should baptize her two-month-old baby, Elizabeth. Justin prays for the young mother, and when she dies, he enlists Sarah’s help with the baby.

There is no milk anywhere in sight, so they both pray for some provision. Sarah is out washing clothes and finds a goat. She sees this as a miracle from God to keep Elizabeth alive. She is beginning to believe He answers prayer. She still insists she will not stay and go back to Texas with Justin.

Sarah, Justin and Elizabeth all become very close and Sarah’s attitude is beginning to change. Justin realizes he has feelings for Sarah and prays for her diligently.

The story continues and many exciting adventures ensue. You find yourself wondering what will happen and how it will all work out. Everything ends happily, and you feel blessed and relieved that God will help anyone who calls upon Him, regardless of a spurious past.

I really enjoyed the adventure of this story. I fell in love with all the characters.  I think you will enjoy it as much as I did. This story is recommended for readers 18 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. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

Book Reviews

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