Monday, September 22, 2008

Retiring This Blog

This blog has been mostly abandoned for a few months now. (Except for the occasional original post now and then.) And I've decided to make this blog officially abandoned. I've got several blogs which I can refer you to...

Becky's Book Reviews
Young Readers
Operation Actually Read Bible

Any reviews that would have at one time been published here will now go to one of those three.
The first is my main site. And I'll be reviewing Christian fiction there occasionally. The second is my for reviews of kids books--aged zero to ten. So the few Christian picture books I review will be featured there instead. The third site is relatively new. I'm hoping to make it into something. But readership is nil at this point. Here is where I'll venture into Christian non-fiction reviews (I hope to have one or two per month). Here is also where I'll be keeping track of my bible reading, sermon listening, and generally personal stuff. :)


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Road of Lost Innocence

Mam, Somaly. 2008. The Road of Lost Innocence: The True Story of a Cambodian Heroine.

Powerful. That is one of the best words to describe this heartbreaking memoir of Somaly Mam. Here is how it begins,

"My name is Somaly. At least that's the name I have now. Like everyone in Cambodia, I've had several. Names are the result of temporary choices. You change them the way you'd change lives. As a small child, I was called Ya, and sometimes just Non--"Little One." When I was taken away from the forest by the old man, I was called Aya, and once at a border crossing, he told the guard my name was Viriya--I don't really know why. I got used to people calling me all sorts of names, mostly insults. Then, years later, a kind man who said he was my uncle game me the name Somaly: "The Necklace of Flowers Lost in the Virgin Forest." I liked it; it seemed to fit the idea of who I felt I really was. When I finally had the choice, I decided to keep that name as my own. I will never know what my parents called me. But then I have nothing from them, no memories at all." (1-2)
The book is compelling, gripping, raw and intense, straightforward, and above all else heartbreaking. Her story is powerful in that she survived despite it all; amazing in that she had the courage and strength to go back, to face her demons; inspiring in that she had the determination and heart to do something--to make a change, to become a hero, to take a stand.

Hers is the story of an unloved child. A child broken, beaten, abused and misused in countless cruel ways by the adults in her life. The story of how she was raped, sold into prostitution, endured the unimaginable--years of prostitution against her will, thousands of rapes, thousands of beatings, unimaginable punishments by the brothel owners if she didn't "perform" to their satisfaction. A story that is heartbreaking not only for what she endured, but for what everyone around her endured as well. She was not the only one. She wasn't one of few. This treatment, this abuse, this cruelty, this horror is common. Her story highlights just how abominable and cruel and evil humanity can be. The lack of humane treatment. The lack of justice. The lack of compassion. The lack of human decency and respect.

"It's still happening, today, tonight. Imagine how many girls have been raped and hit since you started to read this book. My story doesn't matter, except that it stands for their story too, and their stories are why I don't sleep at night. They haunt me." (61)

Somaly Mam was able to escape her life of prostitution--though it wasn't easy, though it left her scarred emotionally and psychologically. And after a time--with a little help and support, with some training and a boost in confidence--she was able to face her past and make the decision that would change lives. She'd return (with her husband) to her home country to make a change. To seek out those girls that just like her were sold into prostitution, that were abused daily, that were unloved, unwanted by their families, their society.

"I don't feel like I can change the world. I don't even try. I only want to change this small life that I see standing in front of me, which is suffering. I want to change this small real thing that is the destiny of one little girl. And then another, and another, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be able to live with myself or sleep at night." (129)

This book is heartbreaking to read, but I feel it is important. Definitely recommended.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Safe in the Arms of God

MacArthur, John. 2003. Safe in the Arms of God.

Written for those that have lost children (either in or out of the womb), Safe in the Arms of God seeks to expand John MacArthur's theology of "Instant Heaven." It's a question he (and many other pastors and believers in general) have been asked. What happens when a baby dies? His response is and always has been "Instant Heaven." He says this not because he wants to give false assurance to grieving parents and their families, but because he believes that this is what the Word of God teaches.

Theologically, the question is what happens to those who die at an age that they are unaccountable. To those that mentally (physically, emotionally, psychologically) are unable to comprehend the gospel message, unable to have the faith to believe. In other words those that can neither receive or reject the gospel truths. (And when you think about it, there is a lot to grasp. The awareness of sin. The separation from God. The need for a Savior. The realization that Jesus, the very son of God, bridges the gap between sinful man and a holy God. The acceptance of Jesus as your Savior, as your Lord.

John MacArthur's answer may shock some. (It may not shock others.) Some may feel that the 'soul' of the baby is dependent on the faith of the parents. But MacArthur asserts that this just isn't so. He believes, and he argues within these pages, that each and every baby (and/or young child) that dies is welcomed by God into heaven. This is irrefutably good news for believers that have experienced loss in their lives. For the believer, the reunion is just a matter of time. You will see your child again. In the meanwhile, while the loss is difficult to accept, there is much comfort to be grasped in the knowledge that their child is in fact in heaven.

The book also highlights how tremendous a place heaven is. While parents may be sad, there is confidence that their child is anything but. It may sound trite, but heaven is a wonderful place. A place where there are no tears, no sadness, no pain.

Using the Bible as the basis for his theology, MacArthur argues his case quite well.

On a slightly related note, I'd suggest musically listening to "With Hope" by Steven Curtis Chapman from the Speechless album. And "Lullaby" by Andrew Peterson from the Walk album.


Friday, September 05, 2008

The Light of the World

Paterson, Katherine. 2008. The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children. Illustrated by Francois Roca.

What I liked about this one? That it begins with the beginning. "The Bible tells us that in the beginning, when God created the heavens and earth, there was nothing but darkness until God said: "Let there be light." And there was light." But it doesn't stop there, it continues, "Many years ago, the prophet Isaiah lived in a dark time for his country. The wise king of Judah had died, and powerful enemies threatened to destroy his tiny land. But Isaiah believed in God's promise that the people who were living in darkness would someday see a great light. This is the story of light coming into the world." I think this is important, significant, that the life of Jesus is grounded in the Old Testament. Even though this is a book for children, it builds on a foundation, a crucial foundation. It is hard to read the New Testament, understand the New Testament, unless one knows at least a few foundational basics from the Old. For one, Jesus, was the child, the man, of prophecy. His coming, his life, his death, had been foretold for hundreds and hundreds of years.

The life of Jesus--from birth to ascension--is told simply and clearly. It's also told in a non-threatening, matter-of-fact way.

It is interesting to see which elements of the story Paterson chooses to focus on, and which elements she skips altogether. However, I don't know that I'd envy her the task of choosing. It's a simple fact--one I understand--that she simply couldn't mention every sermon, every teaching, every parable, every miracle, every confrontation, every event. And I think most of her choices were made to suit her audience. For example, the Slaughter of the Innocents and Jesus' flight into Egypt is passed over. Herod's threatening opposition not making the cut. Also missing from The Light of the World is the story of the twelve-year-old Jesus visiting the temple and astounding those teachers.

The Jesus presented in The Light of the World is wise, kind, compassionate. He's a good man. And he is referred to as the Son of God. But the Jesus presented also lacks confrontation. This Jesus doesn't mention sin. Doesn't mention the fact that all men are sinners and in need of a Savior. In fact, The Light of the World doesn't focus at all--not even a little bit--on the fact that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to call all men to repent and to follow. Call all men to believe. This Jesus doesn't focus on the hard sayings of Jesus. The difficult bits that might make children and adults squirm a bit. Jesus' teachings to love one another, to be kind, to be generous, to be merciful, to be good, are not at all hard to accept. Everyone likes the treat-others-as-you-want-to-be-treated philosophy.

It's not that anything in Paterson's text is inaccurate. It's just that it is incomplete in many ways. It is far from offensive. Far from abrasive. This one really lacks the ability to rub people the wrong way. This is a very non-threatening Jesus. A Jesus that asks only for people to be good, kind, and loving towards one another. A Jesus that calls for peaceful-loving-happy feelings.

If you're looking for the gospel, you won't find it in The Light of the World. The basics of the gospel--let alone the details of this 'good news'--is not what Paterson has chosen to focus on in her book. Her book is the life of Jesus as separated from the gospel message. Again, it's not that what she says is inaccurate. It's just that it is a very small, very focused fraction of what could have been said.

Is it worth reading? Perhaps. The art by Francois Roca is beautiful. I just can't help thinking that a book that focuses on the life of Jesus should in some way or another explain why he died. This one doesn't. We hear only that he made people angry. Not even the exact reasons why he made people angry. That we're still in the dark about. So we don't know the details of why those men, those leaders wanted Jesus killed. And we don't get the details on why Jesus's death (and I would even go so far as to mention his life and resurrection) matters to us today. All we're told in that respect is that "the light of the world" can continue to shine in believers today when they're good and kind and loving and compassionate and merciful, etc. And it is good to show the love of Jesus, the love of God to others. It is important to minister to everyone--in all the small ways that make a difference--through living a life of love. It is by our actions we are known. So again, it is not that it's inaccurate. Just incomplete. Jesus didn't come to earth so we'd love each and be good neighbors. So we'd all be like Mr. Rogers. That wasn't the purpose. If that was the purpose, then Christians would have never been persecuted then or now or in all the centuries in between.

Still, if a child has parents or grandparents to fill in the missing elements of the story, this one could be worth it.

According to the publisher's site, this one has earned stars in Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly. And that is saying something. So whether you love this one or are only luke-warm about it...I think it depends on your expectations and your needs. Obviously, those not judging it from a theological aspect will find it to be of greater quality. Speaking just on literary merits alone, it is well done. And like I said, the artwork, the illustrations, are good--very beautiful, very effective.


Voting Time

The finalists have been announced over at My Friend Amy for the Book Blogger Appreciation Week. You can vote here. Only one vote per category, so you might want to take a few minutes to consider all the nominees before you commit to choosing "the best." Unsure of who you want to vote for? Never heard of any of the nominees? The links to all the finalists' sites are here. Three of my sites have made it to this finalist stage--but the competition is so tough--I'm not even cheering for myself.

Best Kidlit Blog
A Patchwork of Books
Christian Children's Book Review
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Well Read Child
Young Readers *(that's me!!!)

Best Christian/Inspirational Blog
A Peek at My Bookshelf
Becky's Christian Reviews
Books, Movies, Chinese Food
Free Spirit Blogs
Relz Reviewz

Most Eclectic Taste
Becky's Book Reviews
Books on the Nightstand
Mary's Library
OCD, vampires, and amusing rants, oh my!


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

When God Created My Toes

Mackall, Dandi Daley. 2008. When God Created My Toes. Illustrated by David Hohn. Waterbrook Press.

When God Created My Toes is a sad attempt at a picture book. The problem? It suffers from forced rhyming. First of all, because it follows the rule that everything must rhyme no matter what, the rhymes lack both sense and naturalness. Second, the text lacks rhythm. There is no natural beauty, no natural flow; nothing poetic about it. Lest you think I'm picking on it because it is a Christian book, let me say this. The mistake of When God Created My Toes can happen in Christian publishing or mainstream publishing. I've picked on quite a few other picture books that suffer from this malady that were published by traditional, mainstream publishers. If I could, I would release this book from the shackles of its rhymes and set it free. It's not that the concept is a bad one. It's just a somewhat stunted concept.

Here are a few examples,

When God
my toes
Did he make them wiggle?
Did he know I'd giggle?
Did he have to hold his nose
when God created my toes?

Not a bad start really. Toes wiggle. Tickles cause giggles. Toes can sometimes stink. Nothing "zah?" yet.

When God
my knees
Did he put bones in'em?
Did he know I'd skin'em?
Did we sing our ABCs
when God created my knees?

It's beginning to lose me at this point. I'm not completely checked out yet. But what do ABC's have to do with knees? And there's just something off about the whole thing.

When God created my hip,
Did I hear him say,
"Hip, hip, horray!"?
Did we do a double flip
when God created my hip?

See here is when I knew that this one just wasn't going to work for me. There are some better verses up ahead. But nothing that personally redeems it (for me) from its mediocrity.

The illustrations. I would say that I thought the illustrations were better than the text. I actually preferred the "kid-drawn" sketches that appear on the left side of some of the spreads to the other more polished illustrations. The kid-drawn art has a certain charm that I enjoyed. The other illustrations weren't bad, but they had a cartoon-feel to them. Not bad. Very adequate. My least favorite part of the illustrations were the white cat. There was just something that bugged me about how that cat was drawn. I don't know why. And I'm sure it's just me.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

God Loves Me More Than That

Mackall, Dandi Daley. 2008. God Loves Me More Than That. Illustrated by David Holm.

God Loves Me More Than That is much much better than When God Created My Toes. (In case you're wondering.) What is it about? It's about illustrating how infinite God's love is towards us, his children. "Infinite" is not an easy concept for young children "to get." (Adults can sometimes have a difficult time with it as well.) Yet in God Loves Me More Than That, God's love becomes tangible or easier to grasp. Here is how it begins:

How much love does God have for me?
More than the letters between A and Z.
More than the bumbles in a bumble bee.
God loves me more than that!

It continues,

Tell me, please, is the Lord's love high?
Higher than the moon
in a starless sky!
Higher than a space shuttle flying by.
God loves me more than that!

High, deep, wide, loud, soft, etc.

I didn't love this one. I liked it though. It still seems to fall into the Christian-and-dinky category. Meaning that while the message and intent are good, there are just a few things about the illustrations or the text that limits it from being great. So for the Christian audience, obviously, this one might be well received. And I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to Christian parents. But as someone who has read hundreds of picture books, this one falls a bit short of being great on its own merits. Again, I'm not saying it's bad.


Monday, September 01, 2008

God Gave Us Heaven

Bergren, Lisa Tawn. 2008. God Gave Us Heaven.

God Gave Us Heaven is the newest in the "God Gave Us..." series by Lisa Tawn Bergren. I haven't read the previous titles, God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Two, and God Gave Us Christmas. But I'd be curious to read them now after reading this one. The books feature a polar bear family, a Christian polar bear family of course. And I would imagine that they all share one thing in common--though again it's pure speculation on my part--a curious cub that just happens to ask important questions. I'm not complaining. I tend to ask a lot of questions myself. Some deep, some not so much.

Here's how it starts:

"Papa, what's heav'n?"
"Why, heaven is God's home...
the most amazing place we'll ever get to see."
"More amazing than Glacier Bay?" Little Cub asked.
"Glacier Baby is the best place ever."
"Yes, Little Cub. Even better than Glacier Bay."

I liked this one. I did. Yes, it was cutesy. But it worked. It was informative, descriptive, and sound--theologically sound that is. Not that it goes into every single detail that is in the Bible. Not that it goes into theological matters on an adult level. We're talking basics, the essentials, and this one does get those right. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this one to Christian parents.