NOTE: Taken from the 2/09 issue of Biblical Homeschooling, a free e-mail homeschooling newsletter ( firstname.lastname@example.org or http://groups.yahoo.com/group/biblicalhomeschooling ).
(Note on language levels: 1. Nothing objectionable; 2. Common euphemisms; 3. Some cursing or profanity; 4. A lot of cursing or profanity; 5. Obscenity or vulgarity.)
Barrow, Haliyma. Sammy the Panda’s World of Colors and Shapes (Published by Author House, 2008; Related websites: www.sammythepanda.com – book, www.authorhouse.com – publisher). Little Sammy Panda is sad. His cousins Milly and Tilly have misplaced the different colored shapes of his favorite toy set, "The Ship of Shapes." His Mommy seems to know what will cheer him up, so she helps him look for the one gold star, the two green triangles, the three orange circles, and so forth. Will they find them all? And will Sammy be happy again? What a neat idea! My wife and I have homeschooled our children, and when they were little we were always looking for fun and colorful tools to help them learn their numbers, colors, and shapes. Whether you plan to homeschool your toddlers or prepare them for traditional school, this book is a great resource for accomplishing that very purpose. With striking full-color illustrations on every page that youngsters should find appealing, this is probably one of those books that they will ask to be read to them over and over. Parents who are interested in developing bilingualism will appreciate the added benefit that the text at each opening is in both English and Spanish. I give this book two thumbs up! Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 4-6. EXCELLENT.
Beaton, M. C. Agatha Raisin and the Case of the Curious Curate (published in 2003 by Minotaur Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Ave., New York City, NY 10010). Agatha Raisin is a mid-50ish divorced woman who has retired from public relations, now lives in the Cotswold village of Carsely, and helps to solve mysteries. The new curate in the village, a devastatingly handsome single young man named Tristan Delon, is murdered, and the suspicion falls on the local vicar, Alf Bloxby, who was reported to be jealous of Tristan’s charm. Mrs. Bloxby is one of Agatha’s best friends, so Agatha agrees to look in on the case to help clear Mr. Bloxby. However, the police do not always appreciate her interference. I enjoy classic English detective mysteries, such as those by Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, P. D. James, P. G. Wodehouse, and Edith Pargenter, so when my father gave me this one, I looked forward to reading it. Well, ahem, let the reader beware–especially if you like good (emphasis on GOOD) English detective stories. The Buffalo News said, "The Miss Marple-like Raisin is refreshingly sensible and wonderfully eccentric." I have read every Miss Marple mystery and enjoyed them all. Agatha Raisin is NO Miss Marple. Jane Marple, and her creator Agatha Christie, had some scruples. Agatha Raisin, and one would assume, by the writing, her creator M. C. Beaton, apparently do not. While there is no graphic sex portrayed, the book is filled with sexual references, such a local woman’s gentleman friends (some of whom are married), a woman who is an "easy lay," getting "sexual vibes," and such like. In fact, the whole plot revolves around whether Curate Delon was "gay" or not; he apparently "came on" to both men and women. Someone remarks that if he is, "There’s nothing wrong with that." Furthermore, the language is quite raunchy, with frequent cursing, profanity, taking God’s name in vain, and vulgar terminology (the word p*n*s even appears once). Plus, there are plenty of references to drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and gambling. It is a very racy book. If you like mystery stories with all these worldly features, then you may enjoy the book, but I certainly did not and would not recommend it at all. This is the thirteenth Agatha Raisin book. It is going in the trash, and I have no desire to read any of the others. Language level: 5. Ages: for adults only! NOT RECOMMENDED.
Caterine, Linda R. The Adventures of Songha, The Amazing Savannah Cat (Published by Author House, 2009; Related websites: www.authorhouse.com – publisher, www.savannahcat.com – more about Savannah cats). Songha is a Savannah cat, a relatively new breed that is part African Serval Wildcat and part domestic cat. Her temperament is basically that of a traditional domestic cat, but her restless wildcat blood drives her to seek out adventure. The book relates how her father was brought from the Kalahari Desert in Africa and how she was taken from her father to live with her new family in Las Vegas, NV, that not only includes her masters but their children and two other cats, Simba and George. Told from Songha’s own viewpoint, the story explains how, disappointed about being kept inside the house, she longs to go outside and roam free, so she begins to search for ways to escape for just a while. Will she make it? If so, what might the results be? And what happens when a Savannah cat meets a coyote? Linda Caterine and her husband, who live in the Las Vegas area, became interested in Savannah cats a few years ago and now breed them. After acquiring Songha, she felt that the cat’s experiences would make a wonderful children’s story. The Walkers are a family of cat lovers, so this book is a hit at our house! Linda’s portrayal of Songha, who considers herself the "African Leopard Queen" not only of the house but of the entire neighborhood, is in perfect keeping with the typical cat personality. The importance of family and the virtues of courage and bravery are emphasized. Each chapter ends with a poem summarizing its contents. As this is the first ever children’s book about Savannah cats to be published, the reader cannot help but learn a lot about this rare breed and be amazed at their antics. This book is definitely a keeper! Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 9-12. EXCELLENT.
Cote, Jenny L. The Ark, the Reed, and the Fire Cloud (Published by AMG Publishers, 2008; Related website: www.maxandliz.com ). Max is a Scottish terrier who lives a quiet and peaceful life in the glen, but one day he hears the voice of the Maker speaking through a mysterious humming of the reeds telling him to follow the fire cloud. On the way, he meets Al, an Irish cat, and Kate, a West Highland terrier from another part of Scotland, both of whom have also heard the voice of the Maker. After they cross the English Channel, they meet up with Liz, a French cat, and several other animals who are following the fire cloud too, while animals from all over the world have been called as well. The fire cloud leads every one of them to a place in the Middle East where a man named Noah is building a big boat. I shall let your imagination figure out the rest of the story, except to say that during the voyage there is much mystery afoot in that someone aboard the ark is causing trouble, and attempts are made on both Max’s and Noah’s lives. Will Max and Liz be able to find out who is behind the plot and protect the humans? What an ingenious and attention-catching way to tell the story of Noah and the ark, giving the viewpoint of the animals! The book is identified as "Juvenile Fiction-Fantasy." One would almost hesitate to call it "fantasy" because there are those of us who believe that the basis of the story, the Biblical account of the worldwide flood in Genesis, was a real event, but, of course, animals do not talk and exhibit human emotions. A note at the beginning says, "This is a work of fiction based on truth." The author wrote, "You may think I’ve taken great liberties with the Noah story, and I guess I have. Could God have transformed the ark into the natural habitats of the animals? Of course, but did He? Who knows? It’s fun to think about what could have been, while holding true to what we do know." This book is well written and easily kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. In addition to being a fun story to read, there are important character traits exhibited, such as loyalty to friends, overcoming fears, exhibiting courage in the face of danger, and trusting in God, as well as an underlying depiction of the battle of good versus evil in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and would recommend it highly to everyone. It is the first book in "The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz" series. The author is already writing the second volume, The Dreamer, The Schemer, and the Robe, in which Max and Liz return to help Joseph. Future books are planned which will take Max and Liz to important events in both Biblical and world history. Children who like stories about animals, and anyone who likes good fantasy fiction, especially something based on Bible stories, should appreciate this book. Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 8 and up. EXCELLENT.
Dasef, Marva. Tales of a Texas Boy (Published by Texas Boy Publications, 2007; Related website: http://marvadasef.com/ ). This book is a collection of twenty stories told by Edward Perkins (Eddie) who lived during the Depression with his Pa, Ma, younger sister Dorothy (Sister), and little brothers James and John, on a 640-acre farm near Hereford, TX, in the panhandle of the state. It gives a picture of days when life was simpler as viewed by an eleven-year-old boy, whose experiences are reminiscent of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Tom Sawyer. A note in the front of the book says, "All characters and events in this book are fictitious." However, a note on the back cover says, "The author’s father is the real Eddie narrating the stories inside this book." In fact, at the end of one story about how Eddie’s Pa asked a fairly well known amateur detective named Frank Norfleet to help find a con man who had cheated him, a note says, "Frank Norfleet and Burke Mathes were real people. Eddie and his father did not actually meet them. In other words, this is a Texas Tall Tale." Thus, we may conclude that the stories in the book are perhaps based on some real events but many have been fictionalized. I found the book to be very entertaining. Children, and adults too, should get a lot of laughs out of reading all about Eddie and his exploits–whether they are from Texas or not. Parents who try to be careful about the language in the books their children read will just want to be aware that the "d" word is found once in a story where a stranger uses it to describe his daughter who had tried to steal something from Eddie and his Pa on a trip, but Pa soundly criticizes him for saying it and it is very minor. Tales of a Texas Boy is a lot of fun. So you are invited to sit down, take your shoes off, and hear all about Dad Boles with his tame bear Sophie, Bucephalus (Beau) the jackass, skunks in the corn patch, the mammoth bones at Clovis, the rather strange Luck twins, Cage McNatt’s prize sow, Mae West, and many others. Language level: 3 (unfortunately). Reading level: ages 9-12, Senior Citizens too. EXCELLENT.
Jeffers, Sunni. A Puzzling Occurrence (published in 2007 by Guideposts, 16 E. 34th St., New York City, NY 10016). This is another in the "Mysteries of Sparrow Island" series about Abby Stanton, an ornithologist who returns to Sparrow Island where she grew up to live with and help take care of her wheelchair bound sister Mary. In this book there are actually several mysteries. What is causing the suspicious noises in the bed and breakfast owned by Chinese immigrant friends Martin and Terza Choi? Why does Mr. Clark, one of the Choi’s guests who seems to be very secretive, disappear in a freak winter snowstorm? Who is the other, rather rude guest that seems to know all about Mr. Clark but says that he does not actually know him? And how do the jade tiles, some of which have been left in a room at the Choi’s house and others arrive through the mail, fit in? During some of these problems, Martin Choi seems to return to the old pagan superstitions, but ultimately his faith in the one true God overcomes. It is always nice to read books that, instead of glorifying worldliness or exemplifying secularism, demonstrate people’s living their everyday lives with faith in God. Aside from the mention of a few religious practices with which those of us in churches of Christ would disagree (instrumental music in worship and using the church building for social functions), these books are wholesome, and in fact, the end of this volume is one of the most heartwarming conclusions that I have read in a while. Language level: 1. Ages: suitable for anyone but probably of most interest to women and older teen girls. EXCELLENT.
Krause, Gayle C. Rock Star Santa (PUBLISHER: Scholastic Inc., 2008). "’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…," except…. Donner is playing an electric bass, Dancer is doing hip-hop, Dasher croons into the mikes, and Cupid jingles jazzy kisses, all of which serve as the opening act for the main event. Santa Claus, whose snow white hair is pulled back in a pony tail, comes out, grabs the mike, takes a step back, and POOF! The Christmas stage goes black. Was the boy just dreaming about the Christmas concert and then woke up, or did something really happen? At this point Rock Star Santa is not available through bookstores or online. It is a Scholastic Book Club selection and a seasonal purchase that is available from October to February each year. Perhaps a number of the young people who get Scholastic Book Club books, and probably a lot of their parents too, have been to rock concerts at one time or another. If rock music is your thing, then you will undoubtedly like this children’s picture book by Gayle Krause and its humorous take on Christmas Eve. Those who don’t care much for rock music may not appreciate it. But I suspect that a good number of people will find the story, with the caricature type drawings of Will Terry, quite funny. In fact, "head-bangers" (and I do not use this term in a bad sense but just mean folks who really enjoy rock music), and others too, may want to make reading it a holiday tradition in their houses. LANGUAGE LEVEL: 1. READING LEVEL: age 1.5. FAIR.
Lundquist, Sue. I’m Thankful: A Collection of Thoughts for Bedtime, for a Lifetime (Published by Halo Publishing International, 2008; Related websites: www.ImThankful.com – author, www.halopublishing.com – publisher). This unique little book is exactly what the title and subtitle say that it is. The author, who is a wife, mother, and charity advocate, asks two questions, "What was your favorite part of the day?" and "What are you Thankful for most" then makes several observation likes "I’m thankful I have my toys." These questions are adaptable to any situation in life and can be adapted in a car, at the end of a football game, or whatever. Next, she provides two or three pages on which the reader can journal his thoughts about the question or statement and also gives some good advice for maintaining a positive attitude. Encountering some very challenging situations in her life, Sue wondered how to maintain gratitude through stressful times and how to teach her children fortitude. She hopes that these questions and statements will be a staple in mainstream family communication, saying, "I initially created this journal to instill values in my children….The I’m Thankful Journal is a teaching and sharing experience for everyone." It is very easy to grow up being selfish, so as parents, we want to raise our children to be appreciative. This journal can serve as a great tool for parents and children to sit down with each other at the end of the day (or at any other time which is convenient), think of things for which they can be thankful, and write them down together–or draw pictures, or do whatever will remind them of their blessings. It is designed to facilitate quality conversations between parents and children as opposed to mere yes and no answers. The adorable black and white photographs, mostly of children engaged in various activities, should assist in stimulating such thought and conversation. Hopefully, this practice will instruct individuals from a young age about the importance of compassion and gratitude beyond "please and thank you." I highly recommend the book. Language level: 1. Reading level: both children and adults. EXCELLENT.
Magi, Toula. What Can We Do Next?: The Adventures of Lexie and Lolly (published by Outskirts Press Inc., 2008; Related websites: http://www.ToulaMagi.com – author, http://www.outskirtspress.com – publisher). If you are an adult, can you remember back to those days when you were a kid and it was raining so you could not go outside to play? What did you do to entertain and amuse yourself? Lexie is a little girl who finds herself in that very situation. She remembers that her Mommy once told her that she had an imaginary friend when she was a little girl and they did all kinds of things together. So Lexie decides to use her imagination to create a little friend of her own. Her friend fits into the palm of her hand and wears many colors. She names him Lolly because his different colors remind her of lollipop flavors. What will Lexie and Lolly do? Where will they go? This picture book for children is a wonderful reminder of how imaginative kids can be when given the freedom to do so, and thus will serve as a great encouragement for them to conjure up their own fun at any time and in any place which they choose. Oh yes, there are television and video games, but sometimes it is actually more fun just to pretend. The author says that she was inspired to write the book when watching her daughter, named Lexie, play with her own imaginary friend. The colorful illustrations will be very helpful in enabling children to visualize the story. What Can We Do Next? is truly a keeper! Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 4-8. EXCELLENT.
Menge, Dawn. Queen Vernita’s Visitors (Published by Outskirts Press Inc., 2008; Related website: http://outskirtspress.com/DawnMenge ). Vernita is the Queen of the Oceaneers Kingdom and lives in a beautiful castle. She has many wonderful friends from the land of Quails but has not seen any of them for a whole year and misses them. So she invites twelve of her good friends to visit her for one month each. Debbie comes in January, Tommy comes in February, and so forth. Vernita and her monthly friends do something different each day of the week, but everything that is done is related to the season, such as snowball fights in the winter, miniature golf in the spring, sleeping outside in the summer, and picking apples in the fall. The author has a Masters Degree in Special Education and has worked with the severely handicapped population. The story is woven around her own friends and family. This is a great tool for parents or teachers to use in helping students, perhaps even including many with various kinds of learning disabilities, to understand the months of the year, the days of the week, and the seasons in a fun way. The sumptuous, full-color drawings are eye-catching and help to illustrate the action of the story for the reader. All children should love it. Even my twelve-year-old found it appealing. I give it a high five! Language level: 1. Reading level: first and second grade–independent readers; preschool and kindergarten–read to. EXCELLENT.
Morris, Eileen (Ei). The Original Shnoozles Starring in "And Next Came a Roar" (published by Shnoozles LLC, 2005; Related websites: www.shnoozles.com , www.shnoozlesedu.com ). "Shnoozleland is not too far from anyone you know. It’s up a hill and down a spell from anywhere you go." Shnoozles are these incredibly cute little creatures who will appeal to kids everywhere. In "And Next Came a Roar," the Shnoozles are playing ball after school near the big apple tree, which was next to the barn which was used as third base. Whenever the ball is hit into the nearby forest, it comes back in half and red hot with flames. They are down to their last ball and Bubu hits the ball into the forest again. This time they go to search for it and find it in front of a cave with a sign that reads "Bud." All of a sudden, the Shnoozles hear a loud roar! What will happen next? This is just a really fun picture book for children to read or have read to them, but it also extols the beauty of friendship and demonstrates the need for children to learn about being inclusive in their play. It won the "Benjamin Franklin Award" from the Independent Book Publishers Association. At the end, there is an interactive "Scavenger Hunt" to help use the book as a teaching tool. "And Next Came a Roar" is available both in printed format and also on a CD that includes the theme song and can be done as a read-along adventure. In addition, you can visit http://www.shnoozles.com to download free pages with follow-up activities. I imagine that most all kids will surely enjoy Shnoozles. I know that I did. Language level: 1. Reading level: read-to-ages 3-5, reading ages 6-7. EXCELLENT.
Rahaman, Eden. Our Brother and His Chair (published by Xlibris Corporation, 2008; Related websites: http://www.Xlibris.com/OurBrotherandHisChair.html – book), http://www.Xlibris.com/EdenRahaman.html – author). Put a little boy in his roller chair. What can he do? Where can he go? This picture book, with full color photographs, some of which include the little boy’s older sister and brother, is a recollection of the joys of childhood and a chronicle of family love. Small children are absolutely fascinated with looking at even smaller boys and girls, whether in person or in picture, whom they can view as "babies." It is fun for them to see a baby do the things that they used to do as babies–eat, drink, play, ride, and so on. The photographs are quite good, and the text, while simple, is appropriate for the targeted age group. Who can resist such a cute smile? This would make an excellent book for a parent and a small child to sit down and look at together. Language level: 1. Reading level: Ages 3-6. EXCELLENT.
Pagratis, Maggie. You’ve Got Me Wishing for Wishes Again (published by Athse Publishing, 2006; Website: www.athsepublishing.com ). The lyrical message and the soothing illustrations of this book combine to remind us that while we may face many situations in life that could work to take our dreams or hopes away, the very first step to any kind of success, freedom, or healing is daring to wish. The young boy who is pictured in the book’s illustrations and who says, "You’ve got me wishing again" about rainbows and stars and other things, reflects the desire for thoughts of goodness and love today and for a better tomorrow with love, family, and freedom. Children who are growing up in a world where, unfortunately, everything is not always as we should like it to be certainly need to be encouraged in their wishes and dreams for the future. However, those of us who are older can use some encouragement for our hopes as well. You’ve Got Me Wishing for Wishes Again offers this kind of encouragement for children and adults alike and even points us to sources where we can find such encouragement. I especially like the picture where the boy is hugging someone whom I assume is his mother. This book is a keeper. Language level: 1. Reading level: ages 2 to 8, but anyone can enjoy it. EXCELLENT.
Warren, Susan May, and Downs, Susan K. The Sovereign’s Daughter (published in 2005 by Barber Publishing Inc., P. O. Box 719, Uhrichsville, OH 44683). Set during the Russian Revolution of 1917, this book tells the story of Olga Nikolaevna Romanov, daugher of the Imperial Tsar Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov, who escapes from Alexander Palace at Tsarkskoe Selo, just south of Petrograd, disguised as her look alike chambermaid Oksana Nikolaevna Terekhova. Her father trusts that God will protect her, and the Russian ruler assumes that she has a better chance of survival than he and others in his royal family from overzealous revolutionaries, especially the Bolsheviks, but he still fears for her life. In order to keep her and her secrets safe, he asks a Mennonite merchant named Anton Johannovich Klassen to escort her to a safe haven. Although the task is dangerous, the young Mennonite accepts the assignment that he hopes will bring honor to him and his family. However, dangerous adversaries seem to know where Olga/Oksana is and make efforts to capture. To protect her, the two decide that they will marry, in name only, with the intention to annul the marriage when they are safe, and Anton hides her inside his family’s South Russian farm. However, the insecure young man from the steppes Russia’s Mennonite farmland is no match for enemy forces, who stop at nothing to seek out and destroy his charge. Only faith in the promises of God can save the sovereign’s daughter and those responsible for her safekeeping. Will the two actually escape, and if so can they learn to love one another and make their relationship a true marriage? The book is historical fiction, but as the authors observe in their end note, "This is a story of ‘what if,’ not ‘as was’–not a chronicle of history but a fictional parallel to historic events. In all likelihood, the real-life grand duchess Olga Nikolaevna Romanova died with her family in the Yekaterinburg cellar of the house where they spent the last three months of their captivity. However, many rumors and theories abound concerning the purported escape plans hatched to save the tsar and his family." It is well written and filled with sufficient mystery and suspense to keep the reader’s interest at a high level. There is nothing objectionable, and in fact the hero and heroine exhibit the highest degree of moral character, and faith in God is emphasized throughout the story. However, it is probably not suitable for small children. There is one episode where Yulia, Olga’s travelling companion and servant, is raped–nothing graphic or detailed, but it is there. Both of the authors are familiar with Russia. Susan K. Downs has frequently traveled to Russia as an adoption coordinator. Susan May Warren served with her family as missionaries in Khabaraovsk for past eight years; she is also a homeschooling mother of four children. There are four sequels in the "Heirs Of Anton" series: Oksana, which continues the story of Olga and Anton; Marina, about their daughter who was widowed and pregnant as Hitler’s Third Reich invaded Russia; Nadia which takes place in 1970, when former CIA spy Nadia "Hope" Moore must sneak behind the Iron Curtain, spring her estranged husband from a Russian gulag; and Ekaterina, who boards a plane to Russia, her ancestral home, to seek some answers while she must flee the Russian underground. The Sovereign’s Daughter is still available, but the others are listed as "Out Of Print (Limited Quantity Available)." Language level: 1. Ages: adults and older teens. EXCELLENT.
[Note: Many of my book reviews can also be found at http://storiesforchildrenmagazine.org and http://homeschoolbuzz.com .]