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The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story was written by Diane Ackerman and published by W. W. Norton & Company (2008). It has 349 pages and tells the true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Christian zookeepers in Warsaw, Poland, prior to and during World War II.

In 1929, Jan was given the position of director at the Warsaw Zoo.  Jan and Antonina were married in 1931 and began their work together at the zoo.

It is worth noting that prior to this time many zoos were private. Poland dreamed of having a zoo that rivaled that of Germany. The Warsaw Zoo, as part of its innovations, was one of the first to have enclosures similar to a modern zoo where animals are not kept in cages but rather are free to move about in enclosures.

In 1932, Jan and Antonina had a son whom they named Ryszard (Rys). He grew up in the villa on the zoo property where he learned to love and care for the animals, even walking a pig and a badger. Both Jan and Antonina took great pride in the animals and in caring for them.

Just before dawn on September 1, 1939, Antonina was awakened by the sound of engines. She and Jan soon learned of the German invasion. They fled Warsaw, leaving behind their animals. When they returned a few days later, they found most of the animals were dead or gone. On September 7,  42-year-old Jan was selected as an able-bodied man to join the Polish army at the northwestern front. All civilians were ordered to vacate the zoo immediately. Once again Antonina and Rys left the zoo, not to return until after the surrender of the Polish troops.

By March of 1940, Poland now under full Nazi occupation, Jan began a pig farm on the zoo grounds. Despite the rationing, Antonia was able to bake bread from the grain she purchased from her sister-in-law. By the end of spring piglets were born. Jan also became part of the Polish Resistance and Underground, smuggling weapons, people, and some Jews.

The Warsaw Zoo was near Old Town. Just beyond that was the Jewish Quarter where about 300,000 Jews lived in the thriving, then modern city of Warsaw.

During the 20th century antisemitism had grown in Poland and with the occupation a Department of Racial Purity was established. The persecution of Jews began with calorie counts, (Germans 2,613, Poles 669, and Jews 184). Jews were also forbidden to be in restaurants, public parks, or use public toilets and city benches. Each Jew was given a Star of David to wear on the their outer clothing; Jews in civil service were fired; Jewish lawyers disbarred; and, Jewish doctors were forced to stop practicing. Finally the Jews were ordered to the north section of the city and into the Ghetto.

In the summer of 1940, Jan began to accept Jews to stay at the zoo.  Some stayed only temporarily and some stayed for years. The old animal enclosures provided a place to hide the Jews. In addition other “guests” stayed at the zoo including Jan’s mother, friends, and Irene Sendler.

As the war pressed on, Jan and Antonina did what they could to save their family, preserve the spirit of the zoo, and show respect for animals and for people of all races. The book tells of the challenges they faced and overcame living under the fearsome German occupation.

This book is written by a naturalist who has a different writing style and perspective than a historian. However, as a historian, I think this book is well written and a good story about life at the Warsaw Zoo before, during and after World War II. The Zookeeper’s Wife does have some details that might need to be discussed with an adult. I would recommend this book for upper level high school students interested in World War II history and adults interested in World War II. In the back of the version I read are discussion questions which could be used by a reading group or by a parent and teen reading the book together.

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

 

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The time between Christmas and New Year’s is a lovely time for the kids to unwind and savor the goodness of God. Here are some book suggestions that might just be the right thing.

For your YA:

The Boys in the Boat— the true, inspiring story of the young men, who to everyone’s surprise, won Olympic gold in rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

A Christmas Gift for Rose–an uplifting story about God’s provision and care. A young Amish woman discovers the story of her parentage.

First Date–a contemporary novel with small nods to the story of Esther from the Old Testament. Teenage American girls in a  beauty pageant compete for a first date with the President’s son.

Found in Translation–a humorous and heart-warming novel of a young woman’s adventures and misadventures on her first short-term mission trip.

God’s Smuggler–a true and thrilling story of Brother Andrew, who smuggled Bibles into countries closed to Christianity.

Oxygen–science fiction, a space crew traveling to Mars suspect that one of them is a saboteur.

Thunder Dog— the story of  Roselle, the guide dog who helped the blind Michael Hingson and those who were with him escape the plane-struck Tower 1 on 9/11.

For middle schoolers:

Anne of Green Gables–classic for girls, with a number of books in the series

Callie–a book for emerging independent readers about a finding a home for a cat

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–the thrilling first book of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia

Full Metal Trench Coat–first novel in a series for elementary school children, especially boys

Nick Newton Is Not a Genius–fun, wacky characters in a steampunk setting. An average kid with a lot of grit finds adventure when he tries to put together a clockwork bird.

The Pilgrim’s Progress–Christian classic, an allegory on the Christian life that comes in several versions

The Prince Warriors–a Christian allegory for boys and girls based on using the armor of God

Sarah, Plain and Tall–historical fiction about life on the American prairie of the 19th century

Scout— a boy’s adventures with a lost dog

The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed–historical fiction, a sea adventure for boys and girls set aboard a 19th century whaling ship

We All Get a Clue–a contemporary mystery/adventure, second book in the two-book series about pre-teen detectives in Edinburgh, Scotland

 

Working in youth ministries, my heart squeezes with sorrow and fills with compassion as I see all of the things our youth face today. They are surrounded by the world’s standards and expectations, and put into highly stressful situations. I try to encourage the young ladies in our youth group, but there is only so much I can do because of their busy schedules and limited time.

ADORED: 365 Devotions for Young Women is a quick devotional which provides sound biblical doctrine, and is relatable to today’s young women. Geared toward teen girls, it emphasizes how they can strengthen their relationship with God through reading and studying God’s Word. It also shows them how they are adored daughters of God, how important and valued they are. The author illustrates to the reader that God made them with special gifts and talents and how they can contribute to the heavenly kingdom.

The devotional speaks in a gentle and conversational manner without being preachy. It challenges the reader to think about what it means to be a child of God and to be adored and loved by Him. It encourages young women to make wise, godly choices. Topics include modesty, self-esteem, idols, serving in the church, being yourself and not following the crowd, working hard, following through with commitments, friendship with the world and many more.

I was so excited that it touched on so many problems and issues our teens go through. I would have loved to have read this devotional when I was their age, but I enjoyed reading it as an adult and learned some things myself.

Each daily devotional takes about a minute to read. Beginning with a verse, it leads into the subject which is covered in a few paragraphs. The author makes a statement or asks a question, gives the reader the biblical answer, and then shows them how to apply it to their lives. It also includes space for journaling and has many Scripture references. The cover art and page edging is charming and attractive with a blue and gold design.

Adored: 365 Devotions for Young Women would make a lovely gift for the teen girl or even the college-age young woman in your life. It is written by Lindsay A. Franklin and published by Zondervan (2017).

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

 

From Nancy –

October 31, 2017, Tuesday, is Halloween here in the States. It is also the 500th anniversary of what many people consider the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, so it has been said, on the eve of All Hallows (All Saints Day) attached a document with 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg church. Everyone had to attend church on All Saints Day, so Luther, a university professor of biblical studies, tacked up his theses expecting people to read them, to consider them and even to debate them. From what I’ve been told, he didn’t expect an upheaval or a radical change in the culture. However, that is what happened.

Luther was an interesting, complex man. His life and times were both exciting and challenging. Donna reviewed a book about him. She thought it a good read. I think she’s right. I’m re-running her review below in case you missed it.

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When Lightning Struck: The Story of Martin Luther was written by Danika Cooley and published by Fortress Press (2015). This historical novel on the life of Martin Luther, the German theologian credited with starting the Reformation movement in the 1500s, is impressive. Danika Cooley works hard to combine storytelling with historical fact, weaving period details into narrative and quotes from historical documents into dialog. The book does an excellent job of making history accessible to the reader.

It begins when Luther, on his way to law school, scurries under a large tree for protection during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes the tree, raining down fiery debris around him, and Luther vows that if he survives he will become a priest.

Martin’s father, a successful businessman, is a strict man whom Martin equally fears and loves. His mother tells him tales of superstition and myth. His father has sent him to school to become a lawyer so the boy will be able to support them in their old age.

When Luther tells his family and friends that he is changing professions, they are stunned and angry. They try to dissuade him, but Martin enters a monastery. He works his way up, through study and self-discipline, to priest, Doctor of Theology, and university professor.

Luther is pursued by a sense of guilt and the fear of an angry God. He fasts himself into gauntness, sleeps on the cold stone floor of his cell, and confesses sins constantly. He is consumed with hopelessness at his inability to shorten the time after death that he expects to spend in purgatory before entering the realm of heaven.

A mentor gives Luther a copy of the Bible. In it, Martin Luther begins to see glimmers of God’s love and grace. He spends hours studying it and teaching from it to his students.

Sent on a trip to Rome, Luther is shocked by the sin and luxury he sees among the priests and nuns there. He also finds little comfort in the holy sites he visits and the holy relics he views.

After this he discovers in scripture that salvation comes by faith alone. He also begins to see God as a source of love. He teaches this “New Theology” in his classes and writes about it.

When the buying of indulgences to shorten one’s time in purgatory or to purchase forgiveness from sins begins to empty the pockets of his poor neighbors, Luther writes a list of objections to their sale and posts it in his town—Wittenberg—for local debate. A printer makes copies and sends them far and wide, creating shock waves across the Roman Catholic Church.

Luther tries to bring change within the Roman Catholic Church, but arguments between him and its leaders become so strident that Luther and the leaders break with one another. The Protestant Reformation begins with sweeping changes to the priesthood, to forms of worship, and to theological teaching across Germany. Luther’s personal life is transformed as he works out what biblical teachings mean for himself and the society in which he lives.

This dramatized biography describes a man who transformed Christendom by his teaching, writing, Bible translation, song compositions, and the very force of his life. Yet it also paints a picture of personal struggles and flawed character. It shows the life journey of one trying to balance the spiritual and secular powers of his time, as we all do.

Approximately 250 pages, this book is best for Young Adult readers. It is sold on Christianbook.com and Amazon.com in hardcover and e-book formats.

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Nancy here again – A few weeks back I caught a docudrama on PBS, Martin Luther: The Idea that Changed the World. I thought it was thoughtful, informative and well-balanced. It was worth my time watching it. There may be a  re-broadcast in your area. A DVD of it will become available through Amazon. com, but not until November 21.

 

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.  The Shining Orb of Volney, a science-fiction novel, is her latest title. 

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.

 

 

 

Brush of Wings, written by Karen Kingsbury and published by Howard Books (2017), will be very difficult to put down. It is suspenseful and exciting in many ways. High school students and adults will want to keep reading to find out what happens in this third and final book of the Angels Walking Series. (The second book contains some material related to gang violence and may not be suitable for young teens.)

In the series four angels, Beck, Jag, Aspyn and Ember are commissioned to keep two couples and their future children alive and well. There are forces at work trying to break up these couples and destroy their friendships and relationships with each other. There are even threats to their lives.

One of the angels’ most serious assignments is to make sure these young people marry and have the children whom God has ordained will someday be great servants in His Kingdom. Throughout the books, the four angels come alongside these characters, praying and often intervening as helpful citizens.

Sami Dawson and Tyler Ames are introduced in the first book, Angels Walking. Tyler is a major league baseball player until he is injured. Through his life experiences, he returns to the Lord and to his high school sweetheart, Sami.

In the second book, Chasing Sunsets, Tyler’s friend and LA Dodger pitcher, Marcus Dillinger meets Mary Catherine Clark who is Sami’s roommate. For both Marcus and Mary Catherine, it is love at first sight. However, they are both reticent to become involved. Mary Catherine knows she has a heart condition and will someday need a valve transplant. Marcus admires Mary Catherine and is very attracted to her, but he is involved in a relationship with his coach’s niece, Shelly. Tyler, Sami, Marcus and Mary Catherine are involved in a local youth center. They want to help young people involved in gangs, hoping to keep them out of prison.

Lexy, whose mother is in prison, is one of the young women who comes to them for help. She is the girl friend of the gang leader of the West Knights, Dwayne Davis. Lexy wants to leave the life of gangs, but she is afraid that if she does they will hunt her down. Through her grandmother’s admonishment, Lexy seeks the Lord and accepts Mary Catherine’s offer to mentor her. Lexy’s boyfriend Dwayne ends up in jail. Before she is fully ready to surrender to the Lord, she begins a relationship with another gang leader, Ramon.

Marcus soon breaks up with Shelly who is quite young and very shallow. He admires the spiritual depth he sees in Mary Catherine. She relates well to young people and leads them to the Lord.

Mary Catherine’s story is at the center of the third book. She has dreamed all of her life of working in an orphanage in Uganda. Her doctor is against her pursuing that dream. Her heart functions too poorly. She needs a heart transplant, not a heart valve as was formerly thought. She promises him she will tell those in her family about the true condition of her health and that she will return as soon as she feels worse. Mary Catherine is determined to spend whatever time she has left serving the Lord. Her roommate in Uganda, Ember, turns out to be one of the angels. (When the angels show up in the lives of the young people, the young people don’t guess that they are indeed angels.)

In this book Lexy moves in with Sami while Mary Catherine is in Africa. In this way, Lexy hopes she can separate herself from the gang and from Ramon. Lexy has become pregnant by Ramon. She has the baby which she has decided to give up for adoption.

Mary Catherine does not follow through on her promise to her doctor. Several months into her trip, Ember is very concerned. Mary Catherine is getting much worse. Finally she sends her former roommate, Sami, an email, disclosing the truth about her condition. Sami alerts Marcus right away and he flies to Uganda to bring Mary Catherine home. She is  ready to come home. The trip is difficult, but the angels’ prayers are constant, and the Lord is with them.

Mary Catherine realizes she has made a grave mistake by taking her life and decisions into her own hands, against the advice of others. The angels work overtime to keep her alive. She is admitted to the hospital, and the doctor introduces her to a devise he has just discovered. It is called a LVAD–Left Ventricular Assist Device that can act as a mechanical heart in place of her own, which is rapidly giving out. She is intrigued and agrees to the surgery. She will need to charge the devise daily and be a little more cautious than usual. Her parents, Sami, Tyler, Marcus and Lexy are all there to support her. She apologizes for not being honest with them, and all is forgiven.

There are more events and exciting happenings in this final book of the Angels Walking Series, but I will leave you to discover them on your own. I really enjoyed this series, and was more thoughtful about how angels really do intervene in our lives. It is a blessing to know the Lord and His Angels are always watching out for us. His will shall be done in His way and for His glory.

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.”

 

Are you trying to keep up with a voracious reader? and losing?  Are you feeling left out–in the dark–about the books your kid’s carpool buds are talking about? Do you need more info about the books your child will be reading and discussing in school this coming year?

Plugged In, on the Focus on the Family website, is not just about films and TV. Info on the site says they have more than 6,000 reviews of entertainment media– books, films and TV programs. I was told that the number of reviews/reports on the books grows by three books a week.

The books are listed alphabetically by title. Click on the title and it will take you to the report/review.

The info in the report/review is different from the usual info found in a review. Reviewers of books for Plugged In don’t give an approval or disapproval rating. A report/review offers a plot summary and then goes on to cover Christian beliefs (if there are any), other belief systems, authority figures, profanity, violence, kissing, sex and homosexuality. A link on the page will take you to discussion topics and questions especially created for that particular book. (I like this last feature a lot. Talking through a book with a child develops a child’s critical thinking skills.)

Here at Books 4 Christian Kids we love recommending books. We love imagining a young person discovering a terrific, uplifting book and being blessed by reading it, all because we let you know about it. We love being part of that chain. We strive to find and point you to worthy books; we recognize that a young person’s time and your money are limited. But we also recognize that there are a vast number of books available for children/young adults/new adults. I can imagine that you want more info. I think the Plugged In site will help.

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 just came in from a walk. Some of the neighbor kids were also out walking. Today is the first day of their summer vacation. It’s exciting for them; an adventure is about to begin. But I also got the impression they are little bit at loose ends. They’re missing their friends. And this might sound weird and totally improbable, but I think they miss being at school. School can be fun. (Yes, it can and sometimes they will even tell you that it is.) At school they learn new things and kids like to learn. They are all about growing.

Reading good books is one way for them to grow well. It is one way for kids to go on an adventure. We have created lists of books (select Book Lists found on the menu at the top of the page) that we think are interesting and fun. More than that we think they will bless a child or a young person. If you select the title, it will take you to the review. We don’t think our lists are the last word, but they might be a good place to start.

Just a thought, consider reading a book together as a family. Sharing a worthwhile story can be an enriching experience. It’s warm, friendly; it can build community, and reading aloud helps you to listen to each other.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue.  You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

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

 

 

What Do You Do With An Idea?, written by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom, published by Compendium, Inc. (2014) is a picture book, but not one for small children. Its thought-provoking, life-enriching big idea will resonate better with older children and adults. If the YA people in your life can get past that it has illustrations, What Do You Do With An Idea? may find a place in their hearts as well.

The story is told from the point of view of a young boy. He says he had an idea. (The idea looks like an egg wearing a small crown.) The boy doesn’t know what to do with the idea and so, like many of us when we get an idea, he walks away from it. But the idea follows him on its chicken legs.

With the honesty and simplicity of a child, the boy tells us of his fears and his joy as he and the idea spend time together. He realistically tells us of his struggles as they continue their friendship. The story ends happily. The ending is a little over the top, but when we consider that this is a picture book, we can forgive it for its big happily-ever-after moment. (And who knows, some “ideas” do have this kind of ending.)

The illustrations are active and evocative. While full of energy, they also manage to have a thoughtfulness about them that perfectly suits the fable. There is a really interesting use of color. In the beginning it is used sparingly. The world is gray except for the yellow egg. As the boy and the idea become friends, more color enters the boy’s world. Vibrant color erupts and spills out onto the last pages as the story reaches its exciting ending.

Adults will be touched with compassion for the boy and his idea and remember with tenderness their own experiences with new ideas. Elementary school children will find themselves in this story and be encouraged.

What Do You Do With An Idea? is a great book. I think writers, artists, scientists and other dreamers should have it on their book shelves and take it down and read it when necessary. And there will be days when it will be necessary.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

 

 

 

Awesome! I recently received an email from Focus on the Family full of good news. They are going to be publishing Brio again, a magazine for girls, ages 12 to 17.  It will be published 10 times a year.  The advert said they will do inspiring stories, profiles, practical helps, fashion, etc. The first issue will be out in May. Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty and Dancing With the Stars fame is on the cover. If you subscribe before March 31, you can get a year’s subscription for $10.

OK, I am being a little shameless in promoting this magazine, but I love Christian magazines for kids. And I think Focus on the Family does a terrific job with the ones they produce.

Magazines for kids are, I think, good value for  your money. The stories and articles are short, timely and age-appropriate. They appeal to kids, even those kids who struggle with reading.

While I’m on the subject of magazines for teens, I want to remind you about  Girlz 4 Christ.  Several of us at Books 4 Christian Kids looked at it last year and liked it. You can find out more about this quarterly online magazine at http://www.girlz4christmagazine.org

Teen girls today are bombarded with voices that promote destructive values. The stories and articles in Christian teen magazines point girls toward godly values, helping them to grow  into God’s women. So I’m celebrating that Focus on the Family is again going to be publishing a magazine for teens. It’s great news.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. It is the second book in the series that began with I Get a Clue. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

A couple of weeks ago I suggested some books you might consider as gifts for middle schoolers. I promised some suggestions for YA. Here they are:

The Boys in the Boat— the true, inspiring story of the young men, who to everyone’s surprise, won Olympic gold in rowing at the 1936 Olympics.

A Christmas Gift for Rose–an uplifting story about God’s provision and care. A young Amish woman discovers the story of her parentage.

First Date–a contemporary novel with small nods to the story of Esther from the Old Testament. Teenage American girls in a  beauty pageant compete for a first date with the President’s son.

Found in Translation–a humorous and heart-warming novel of a young woman’s adventures and misadventures on her first short-term mission trip.

God’s Smuggler–a true and thrilling story of Brother Andrew, who smuggled Bibles into countries closed to Christianity.

In His Steps–the Christian classic that asks the question “What would Jesus do?” and then shows how various people who ask the question.

Oxygen–science fiction, a space crew traveling to Mars suspect that one of them is a saboteur

The Shining Orb of Volney–a deep, fantasy/science fiction novel with a strong story world that is rich in detail and realism. The female characters are strong and resourceful.

Thunder Dog— the story of  Roselle, the guide dog who helped the blind Michael Hingson and those who were with him escape the plane-struck Tower 1 on 9/11.

The above are just a few of the books we have liked and written about. You can find titles of other books by selecting Book Lists on the menu above. Titles link to the reviews. Or you can use the drop down feature to your left. Select YA  and then scroll down through the reviews.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest work for children is We All 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.

 

 

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