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book reviews

     For a number of years now, I have been reviewing books, mostly children’s literature.  This began when we had a few bad experiences with our children’s reading books that had been recommended by others but which we later found were inappropriate by our standards.  Therefore, I determined to preview what they read.  I have also reviewed other books related to homeschooling, parenting, apologetics, and similar topics.  Most of these have been posted to various e-mail lists.  A few have even been published in some homeschooling magazines.  However, all of them are published each month in my monthly homeschooling newsletter, Biblical Homeschooling.  Anyone who is interested may receive it by sending a blank e-mail to biblicalhomeschooling-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and following the instructions that will be sent in response or by subscribing on the web at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling/

     Here are some of the reviews from the Sept., 2007, issue.

     Davis, Bryan. The "Dragons in Our Midst" series (published by Living Ink Books, an imprint of AMG Publishers, 6815 Shallowford Rd., Chattanooga, TN 37421)–Raising Dragons (2004), The Candlestone (2004), Circles of Seven (2005), and Tears of a Dragon (2005). In Raising Dragons, Billy Bannister is a typical teenage boy–until he starts having extremely hot breath and learns that his father was a dragon who became human and passed on his firebreathing trait to his son. Billy then finds out that his friend from school Bonnie Silver is also the child of a dragon (she has wings) whose mother had been slain, but they learn that their new principal, Dr. Whittier, is actually a dragon slayer named Devin who is after them. With the help of Mrs. Bannister, Billy’s friend Walter, Walter’s family, and their teacher Charles Hamilton (who is actually a descendant of Merlin and agrees to homeschool the three young people), they escape the clutches of Whittier/Devin, who is imprisoned in a mysterious stone called the candlestone, although Billy’s father is shot by Devin and returns to his dragon state. In Candlestone, Bonnie and Billy are persuaded by Bonnie’s father and his assistant Ashley to enter into the candlestone, ostensibly to rescue her mother but actually to allow Devin to escape. In Circles of Seven, Billy and Bonnie must descend into a multi-dimensional domain of evil, navigate seven perilous worlds, and free a group of prisoners held by an evil sorceress (Morgan le Fay). In Tears of a Dragon, Billy and Bonny lead the dragons and remnant of wise humans known as friends of the dragons into war with the Watchers, demonic beings led by Morgan that were accidentally unleashed by Billy from the underworld. In the end, Billy and Bonnie must make a decision whether to keep their dragon traits or turn to normal human life. Although contemporary fantasy, the books draw on the old Arthurian legends and are based on a solid Biblical worldview that expresses complete trust in God’s control over the universe. Some may not agree with all the theological assumptions underlying Davis’s picture of what happens after death, the spirit realm, etc., The first book is good fantasy, and the second book is more science fiction adventure but the third and fourth books may sometimes appear kind of "weird." However, if one understands that this is pure fantasy, I do not see any real problem. A lot of fighting and killing take place, so the books may not be appropriate for young children, but I found them easy yet exciting reading that was hard to put down and I appreciated the strong good versus evil theme. There is some sadness in the end, yet the conclusion was very satisfying to me. Davis now has come out with a series that begins where the "Dragons in Our Midst" books leave off but apparently goes back to explain things that went on before them. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: 12 and up (in Tears of a Dragon, the author says, "This book is for every boy, even those who are now wrinkled and gray, who feels his heart race and his spine tingle every time a sword is drawn to conquer an enemy….This book is for every girl, even those who have given birth to boys and girls of their own, who feels her heart swell when she mends up her wounded man and sends him back out, fully charged and ready to battle for the sake of righteousness"). EXCELLENT.

     Haddix, Margaret Peterson. Among the Free (published in 2006 by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). This is "the long-awaited conclusion to the ‘Shadow Children’ series." In the first one, Among the Hidden, we are introduced to Luke Garner, a twelve-year old third-born child in a restrictive society that allows only two children per family. In the ensuing volumes, Among the Impostors, Among the Betrayed, Among the Barons, Among the Brave, and Among the Enemy, Luke risks his life to come out of hiding and with his friends and other third-borns fights against the Population Police laws. In this final book, Luke, who with other third-borns, has infiltrated the Population Police headquarters, accidentally sets off a rebellion that sweeps the country, overthrows the government, and ousts the Population Police from power. The people are now free. However, will their new freedom be everything that they had hoped for? And who is in charge? Luke is in the unique position to know that the new regime is just as corrupt as the old one and he may be the only key to true freedom. Is there anything that he can do? If so, what is it? And will he have the courage to do it? Some people do not like all the deception that is portrayed in these books, and while I do not countenance any outright dishonesty and lying, even in literature, I do believe that there are times when desparate situations call for desparate measures. There are two things that I do like about all these books. First, they show the dangers of propaganda and demagoguery in a way that is more appropriate for middle school age readers than say Brave New World or even 1984. Second, all one has to do is substitute "unborn babies" for Haddix’s "third-borns" and you have a perfect parallel to a similar situation in our society. This book is definitely an exciting page turner! Besides, there are no objectional features such as bad language or sexuality. I really enjoyed reading it. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: 8-12 . EXCELLENT.

     Hill, Grace Livingston. Beauty for Ashes (published in 1935 by Grosset and Dunlap Publishers, New York City, NY). Grace Livingston Hill is one of my wife’s favorite authors. She wrote what would be called "Christian romance" but it is certainly nothing like the trashy, tawdry, almost pornographic books euphemistically called "romance" today. Gloria Sutherland had been raised in a very wealthy household and was engaged to her neighbor, Stan Asher, but just a week before the wedding he and a one-night-fling were shot to death by the girl’s jealous boyfriend. Gloria’s father takes her to his hometown to recover from the shock. After her sister Evangeline (Vanna) joins her, being sent by her mother in an attempt to get Gloria to return home, they fall in love with a couple of neighborhood young men who are also very religious and lead the two girls to the Lord. Most of us guys don’t "do romance," but this book is more than just a "love story." There are some excitement and adventure as Vanna is pursued by her "ladies’ man" boyfriend, who in essence kidnaps her and thereby helps her to see the vanity of her former lifestyle, and from whom she must escape. I enjoyed the book. The plot is well organized, and the style of writing makes it hard to put down. Dave Pratte in Family Reading Booklist gave this a three-star (very good) rating and said, "A young woman learns to face the tragedy of the death of her fiance shortly before their wedding. Shows the advantages of an honorable life rather than high society. Rebukes drinking and smoking. Encourages faith in God. Karen did say that in some of Hill’s later books there is a little bad language. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: upper teens and adults. GOOD.

     Osborne, Mary Pope. Night of the New Magicians, Blizzard of the New Moon, and Dragon of the Red Dawn (published 2006-2007 by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House Inc., New York City, NY). These are Nos. 35, 36, and 37 of the "Magic Tree House" series. The first 28 of these books were primarily historical in nature, where Jack and Annie are sent back in time to experience various events and meet famous people by using a magic tree house belonging to Camelot librarian Morgan Le Fay (most other Arthur-related books that I have read picture Morgan as an evil sorceress). My biggest complaint is that the author seems to accept "multiculturalism" with its assumption that all cultures, including pagan ones, are just as valid as Western Culture that is based on a Judaeo-Christian worldview. Some people may not like the references to "magic" but if that part can be understood as purely fictional, the history is interesting. However, volumes 29-37, called the "Merlin Mission" books, tend to blend in a lot more mythology with the history and to me are not as good. In Night of the New Magicians, the children travel to the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 to see Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Pasteur, and Gustave Eiffel (this one has the least magic and mythology in it). In Blizzard of the Blue Moon, they go to New York City in 1938 to rescue a unicorn who has been trapped in a painting. And in Dragon of the Red Dawn, they go to 17th century Japan where they meet the famous poet Basho and help a cloud dragon put out a fire. Language level: 1. Ages: 8-12. FAIR to GOOD.

     Ottolenghi, Carol. Rip Van Winkle Retold (published in 2004 by Brighter Child, an imprint of McGraw Hill Children’s Publishing Company, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies, 8787 Orion Place, Columbus, OH 43240). We have a paperback copy of Washington Irving’s story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow taken directly from his Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. I wanted to read Rip Van Winkle to the boys too, so I went to Barnes and Noble’s website to see if they offered just a copy of it. They did, and thinking that maybe it was like the one of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow that we had, I ordered it. Well, it was listed on the website as Rip Van Winkle by Washington Irving with Carol Ottolenghi illustrator. However, it was not the original story but was "retold" by Carol Ottolenghi (with another illustrator)–in fact, Irving’s name is not found anywhere in the book! I was disappointed. This version is all right and perhaps useful for small children, but I prefer to read originals rather than retellings. Other titles in this "Brighter Child" series include Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Paul Bunyan, Little Red Riding Hood, Johnny Appleseed, The Gingerbread Man, The Three Little Pigs, David and Goliath, Noah’s Ark, Rapunzel, John Henry, The Little Red Hen, Jonah and the Whale, and The First Christmas, all retold by various individuals. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: 4-8. GOOD.

     Paul, Donita K. Dragon Fire (published in 2007 by Waterbrook Press, 12265 Oracle Blvd., Suite 200, Colorado Springs, CO 80921, a division of Random House). This is volume 4 of the "Dragon Keeper" series beginning with Dragon Spell about Kale, Bardon, their friends, and the dragons who live in the fantasy land of Amara. After Kale and Bardon free Paladin’s knights, the two were married and spent three years in the Bogs where Kale develops her wizard abilities. However, during that time, two evil wizards, Crim Cropper and Burner Stox, along with the evil Pretender, Lord Ire, have been using dragons to wreak havoc on Amara. Kale’s responsibility is to find, hatch, and train an army of dragons with her dragon-keeper father whom she has never known, and then participate in the fight against evil. The ending certainly leaves room for another volume, but I really like these books, especially with the Biblical worldview intertwined in the plot and the definite good versus evil theme. Each one is exciting. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: grades 4-8 (but the books say, "A fantastic journey of discovery for all ages). EXCELLENT.

     Steer, Dugald A. The Dragon’s Eye (published in 2006 by Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02140). Oh no! Another book on dragons. In addition to Eragon and Eldest by Christopher Paolini, the "Dragon Keeper" series by Donita Paul, the "Dragons in Our Midst" series by Bryan Davis, and the "Dragonslayer" trilogy by the late Dave Marks, now we have this Volume I of the "Dragonology Chronicles." Dragons are obviously a popular subject for youth fiction! In 2003, Dugald A. Steer (is this a real name, or is it something like "Lemony Snickett"?–the back cover says, "Dugald A. Steer lives and writes in London, under a variety of assumed names") published a book entitled Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons, followed by two companion volumes, Dragonology: Teaching and Taming Dragons, Vol. 1, European Dragons, and The Dragonology Handbook: A Practical Course in Dragons, all purportedly written by the fictional Dr. Ernest Drake, a supposed nineteenth century English dragonologist. The Dragon’s Eye, which I think Karen bought through a book club, is "a full length fire breathing dragon adventure from the creators of the runaway New York Times bestsellers Dragonolgy and The Dragonology Handbook." Set in England in 1882, it tells the story of how twelve-year-old Daniel Cook and his sister Beatrice become Dr. Drake’s helpers to keep evil dragonologist Ignatius Crook from stealing the Dragon’s Eye jewel in his attempt to become Dragon Master. The story is well written and interestingly told. I had trouble putting it down. My only objection is that there is a lot of emphasis put on studying the writings of Charles Darwin to learn the principles by which dragons are said to have evolved over millions of years (as though evolution were an established fact), when even atheistic scientists are now abandoning Darwin in droves. If you can overlook that, this is an easy but exciting read for middle school aged children. Language level: nothing objectionable. Ages: 10-13. GOOD.

One thought on “book reviews

  1. I use variety of assumed names as the different "authors" of the Ology books (e.g. Dr. Ernest Drake in Dragonology, Captain William Lubber in Pirateology, Lady Hestia Evans in Mythology)… but Dugald A Steer is my real one. Thanks for the review!

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