Monday, March 30, 2015

Running to the Fire, by Tim Bascom

Talk about a front-row seat for a revolution!  Tim Bascom reluctantly left Kansas at the beginning of his high school years to move with his family back to Ethiopia, where his father, a Baptist missionary, would serve as a doctor.  In Running to the Fire, Tim reflects, decades later, on his experiences there.  Living in Addis Ababa, going to a boarding school for missionary kids, he was somewhat protected.  Through the fence, though, and while on outings, he saw the fruits of the Marxist uprising in the checkpoints, the dead victims on the road, the changes in the streets.

Running to the Fire is a nice mix of Ethiopian history, reflections on the missionary life, and of coming of age as a Christian.  To Bascom, the verdict is mixed.  The Marxists were pretty bad, but in some ways the Orthodox church's persecution of other Christians was worse.  He appreciated his parents, the sacrifices they made, and seemed to admire their work, but he ponders Western arrogance and the sometimes negative impact of Western missions in the developing world.  And his own faith--well, it's clear that the legalism of his upbringing pushed him away.  He is still a Christian, but exhibits a healthy skepticism: "Skepticism sweeps over me when people seem to have an unwarranted conviction about what God wants--what exactly is God's desire or plan. . . . I continue to doubt when others act convinced by their own special revelation." 

I would encourage anyone involved in foreign missions to pick up Running to the Fire, especially if they have kids on the field, and even more especially if they are in a more legalistic, conservative tradition.  I'm not a missionary, but I appreciated his perspective as a teen in a rigorous religious tradition.  I want to encourage my teens to be involved in church, to practice spiritual disciplines, and develop their own faith.  I don't want my actions and words to lead my kids to say my encouragement "lowered the very  thing it claimed to elevate--shrank my eagerness into reluctant obedience" the way Bascom responded to one of the missionary school teacher's chiding him for missing morning devotionals.  Whether in a war zone or a comfortable American suburb, raising children to be faithful Christians can be a challenging adventure. 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Eat, Leo, Eat! by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Josee Bisaillon

Poor Leo.  When meal time comes around, he never seems to be hungry.  But after his Nonna tells the story behind the different shapes of pasta in each week's Sunday dinner, Leo digs in.  Caroline Adderson's text and Josee Bisaillon's illustrations reveal a nostalgic love for big family gatherings, the Italian countryside, and a loving, extended family.

Eat, Leo, Eat creatively teaches several different pasta shapes while telling a cute story and introducing several Italian words and phrases.  They include a brief glossary of Italian words, and an illustrated guide to the types of pasta.

I would love to join Leo for Sunday dinner at Nonna's!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jesus Without Borders, by Chad Gibbs

Chad Gibbs is a funny guy with a sense of adventure and a craving to experience culture and life around the world.  He pours all of that into his new book, Jesus Without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me About Jesus.  Having lived his whole life in the South, Chad decided he needed to spread his wings a bit and gain some perspective on global Christianity.

On one level, Jesus Without Borders is a funny, at times hilarious, travelogue.  Chad is not ashamed to admit his ignorance and provincialism, but his eagerness to try new foods and experiences is refreshing and contagious.  I enjoyed reading about his dealing with currencies, customs, language barriers, cultures, and menus. His gastronomic adventurousness had its limits; he does admit a "twinge of guilt eating American fast food in foreign countries."  He liberally injects his goofy humor throughout.  One example: upon arriving at Oxford, Chad stops for a cup of coffee.  He quips, "I studied the menu so that, like Jay Gatsby, I could one day tell people I studied at Oxford."

More important than eating at McDonald's around the world and encountering life in other countries, Chad expands his view of the church.  He quickly learns that "It's important to reflect on how much of my faith is shaped by where I live on a map."  Refreshingly, he never disparages the Southern, American, evangelical Christianity in which he was raised, but he realizes that his tradition "make[s] up a very small part of Christianity." 

That's the greatest strength of Gibbs's book.  Don't expect a detailed travel guide to any of the places he visits.  And don't expect deep theological reflection about comparative religion.  Gibbs's simple affirmation that the slice of American Christianity he has experienced most of his life is a tiny part of the body of Christ as a whole leads him to appreciate it even more.  American evangelicals in the Bible Belt never experience being the only Christian in our school or workplace, hearing the Muslim call to prayer in our neighborhoods, or meeting for Bible study in secret.  By visiting with Christians around the world Gibbs saw his "preconceived notions" disappear, his "prejudices, some [he] didn't even know [he] had, slowly melted away," and he began to see more clearly "a line out there between patriotism and idol worship."

It's a big world.  It's a big church.  Not all of us have the opportunity to travel the world as Gibbs has.  His first-hand accounts and perspective on global Christianity is one man's limited view, but it's a large enough view that all of us can gain some understanding, and because it's Chad Gibbs's view, enjoy a good laugh along the way.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Dirty Little Secrets for Getting Into a Top College, by Pria Chatterjee

Surely I'm not old enough to have a child who is ready to start thinking about college!  The reality is, I am that old.  There are a couple of other realities that I face: my son, a sophomore, is bright enough to have good college prospects.  Further, with annual tuition at many colleges exceeding my annual salary, I don't have the money to simply write a check for his college.

So I was very interested in what Pria Chatterjee might have to offer in her book The Dirty Little Secrets for Getting Into a Top College.  Chatterjee, a Harvard grad and college admissions counselor, has examined Ivy League admissions statistics over the last ten years, and has developed some guidelines that can help high school students as they develop their resumes and prepare for the admissions process.

Chatterjee starts with a holistic approach.  "Focusing on a bigger purpose--your best self--will help you realize your best college fit, and allow you to take greater control of your life and academic future."  Each student should find his or her "hook" that will raise him or her to the top of the stack of applicants.  There are many factors we can't change: race, geography, legacy, citizenship, income.  The top colleges would balk at saying they have strict quotas, but Chatterjee's numbers don't lie: certain demographic combinations of these five hooks stay consistent from year to year.  Given that a given student will fit a certain demographic basket (e.g., white, Southern, not a legacy, U.S. citizen, lower income), the student must distinguish himself within that basket with the other three hooks: academics, athletics, and activities.  No big surprise here.

Chatterjee's very specific advice for distinguishing oneself in the first A is practical and useful.  It goes without saying that a student will need top grades and test scores to be considered.  But colleges also look for course content.  Taking challenging and unusual courses outside of the core requirements speaks highly of the student's drive and ability.  For the other two As, I was a little less impressed with her take.  Her advice: win state and national athletic competitions.  Sure, a top-ten nationally ranked fencing champion will have a leg up on that soccer forward who plays second string.  But such a goal is not realistic for most kids.  Leadership positions in other activities, and awards for involvement or accomplishments are a bit more realistic, but still, Chatterjee seems too flippant about expecting such things.

I am definitely encouraging my high schooler to read Dirty Little Secrets.  There's good information here, as well as inspiration for the college-bound student.  I don't know if he'll even end up wanting to go to an Ivy, but, whatever he decides, Chatterjee can help him expand his options.  Better get started.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Uncomplicated Life, by Paul Daugherty

Sportswriter Paul Daugherty had a few choice words for God when he learned that his daughter Jillian had Down syndrome.  But he writes that the day of her birth "was the last bad day."  In An Uncomplicated Life: A Father's Memoir of His Exceptional Daughter, Daugherty writes about Jillian and his family's life together, living with a disability.

Daugherty's story is raw and personal, revealing the struggles that his family went through in Jillian's education and upbringing.  Yet above all he conveys a sense of hope and joy as Jillian's personality and cheerful attitude shine through.  Paul and his wife determined from the start that they wanted more for Jillian than the expectations of medical and educational professionals.  For too long, parents "had been told their kids with special needs could not achieve."  The Daughertys threw out that advice, educated themselves about laws regarding the education of special needs children, and fought for Jillian to be educated in a mainstream classroom.

I loved these chapters, as my family has been through the same trials: witnessing the horror of the self-contained classroom, convincing teachers that modification doesn't just mean crossing out a few questions, bringing legal pressure to bear on the district to simply follow the law.  Daugherty writes, "No parents of typical kids have to fight their school district for the right to have their children in a typical classroom."

Why is inclusion such an important issue to parents of children with special needs?  First of all, it's the law.  But more importantly, "If you want kids with disabilities to achieve beyond the norm, why would you put them in a segregated classroom, only with other kids with disabilities?"  Children should not be excluded from the overall educational experiences shared by their typical peers.  And as inclusion advocate (and Jillian's future mother-in-law) says, "There aren't special lines at the grocery store" for people with special needs.

The Daugherty's love for Jillian is overflowing in the pages of An Uncomplicated Life.  I'm sure they would say they simply love their daughter.  But Jillian is the kind of person whose love spreads around her wherever she goes.  As Daugherty's mother said, "Jillian is the best Christian I know. . . . She's kind.  She loves genuinely.  She gives.  She enjoys life. . . . She acts like the rest of the world should act but doesn't. . . . Those who know her are moved to do better, to be better.  To do good."  Daugherty himself writes, "Jillian is closer to perfect than anyone I've known."

An Uncomplicated Life follows Jillian's life from birth, through childhood, to college, and eventually to engagement to her "best boy."  Her story is a testament to the power of a family who chose to look not at what she couldn't do, but what she could do, who asks that we not merely look at Jillian, but see her.  Jillian's example will inspire many parents of children with special needs not to settle for less than what standards the world might hold but to "expect, not accept."  My daughter is 13, and has travelled some of the road Jillian has.  Jillian's story encourages me to continue to raise her like Jillian, who is aware of the "shackles" of her disability but didn't let them hold her back.  Thank you, Paul Daugherty, for sharing your beautiful daughter with us.

Thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Godzilla: Cataclysm, by Dave Wachter and Cullen Bunn

It's been many years since Tokyo was devastated by a giant monster battle.  The monsters haven't been seen or heard for a while, but the city still has not recovered.  A few survivors live among the ruins, scavenging for their daily needs and wondering when and if the monsters will come back.  Godzilla: Cataclysm, written by Cullen Bunn and illustrated by Dave Wachter, follows the story of some survivors who may have roused the monsters.  One of them even has some insight into what got them so worked up.
Lots of the familiar monsters return.  Godzilla's place as the king of them all is threatened, but fear not, Godzilla fans!  You won't be disappointed in their hero.  The story is thin.  A somewhat promising eco-monster is introduced.  What we really want to see is the monster fights, right?  And the monster fights are as epic as can be on the printed page.  Getting this one on film would keep CGI artists up nights!

This collection of Godzilla comics will please the fans.  I grew up watching the movies, and still enjoy the new ones when they are released.  Pick up Godzilla: Cataclysm for a bit of a fix until another Godzilla blockbuster movie is released.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Friday, March 20, 2015

AsapSCIENCE, by Michael Moffit and Greg Brown

Perhaps you have seen the clever, informative videos posted on AsapSCIENCE's YouTube channel. If not, look it up.  If there's an everyday science question you've been wondering about, perhaps they'll have the answer you seek!  If you're away from your WiFi connection, pick up Michael Moffit and Greg Brown's new book, AsapSCIENCE: Answers to the World's Weirdest Questions, Most Persistent Rumors, and Unexplained Phenomena.

You have always wondered, I'm sure, whether the silent ones really are more deadly (you know what I'm talking about).  And the ten second rule?  Here's the definitive answer.  And while they may not forever and always settle the debate over whether the egg or the chicken came first, this is the best discussion of the question I've seen in print!
Admit it.  You've always wondered about this. . . .
I thoroughly enjoyed the wit and simplicity of Moffit and Brown's explanations, but at the same time did not feel like I was being talked down to.  AsapSCIENCE is definitely for the layperson, but it doesn't shy away from introducing technical terms and difficult concepts.  This is the most fun you'll ever have reading a science book!

Which leads me to my biggest complaint.  Many of these topics are questions more often posed by children.  (Grown-ups don't tend to be as curious about eating boogers and hiccups and brain freezes.)  For the most part, this is a great book for kids to explore these questions, but then they thrown in a few chapters about some very adult phenomena.  Granted, older teens will be curious about some of these topics, but that doesn't mean I want to see them in a book that otherwise seems to be aimed at kids.  It's not graphic (or pornographic), but the chapters on hangovers and sexual topics could have been left out, or left for a different book.

The fun illustrations and conversational tone bring real science to everyday life in a way that anyone can understand.  Pick up AsapSCIENCE and put your curiosity to rest on these everyday subjects.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!