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!

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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!

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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!

If this review was helpful to you, please give my review at a helpful vote! 

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!

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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!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Defying Isis, by Johnnie Moore

A Christian holocaust?  A group dedicated to eliminating Christianity altogether?  It sounds extreme and impossible, but that is the vision of ISIS.  In Defying Isis: Preserving Christianity in the Place of Its Birth and In Your Own Backyard, Johnnie Moore sounds the alarm: Christians, ISIS wants you dead.

Moore points out that the territories where ISIS is most active, parts of Iraq and Syria, played an important role in Old Testament history and in the early growth of Christianity.  I often focus on the sites of Jesus' ministry as the land of the Bible, and then I think of Christian expansion primarily to the west.  Moore reminds us of the history of the people of Israel, and points out that in the first half of Christian history, the eastern church was in many ways stronger and more advanced than the church in the West.

These historical reminders are important, but more important are the stories of Christians facing unutterable evil under ISIS.  Our brothers and sisters in Christ face a choice: convert or die.  Many are being martyred in a manner no less evil than the Nazi persecution of the Jews.  And like the Nazis, the ISIS aims to eliminate an entire religious group: Christians.  He challenges American Christians, especially Protestants, to expand our view of the Christian family.  Many of those being persecuted are Catholic or Orthodox, but are no less our brothers and sisters we worship with every Sunday.

On a couple of points I was left with questions.  Moore gives a nod to mainstream Islam.  He notes that Muslims make up the largest number of ISIS's targets, and that Muslims, Jews, and Christians must work together against ISIS.  But I'm not clear where he draws the line?  He gives dire warnings of ISIS adherents "in your own backyard."  While the internet provides the inspiration for extreme, violent actions, where do they get other inspiration?  Not at First Baptist.  So are these future ISIS extremists at the friendly local mosque?  How friendly are we supposed to be?

Further, while the threat of ISIS is clearly huge, and through social media and modern communication the threat is global, how effective are they really?  They kill Christians, Muslims who adhere to different beliefs, and Jews.  They have limited success in recruiting new members, and the rest of the world sees them as a scourge.  In my view, the potential for expansion is very limited.

None of what I said should be interpreted as my disagreeing with Moore, nor do I want to sound as if I'm minimizing the suffering of Christians under ISIS.  Moore is right: we in the West must not ignore ISIS.  If there's ever a time at which Western Christians need to pray for the persecuted church, this is it.  I appreciate Moore's work, compelling me to be aware and to pray.

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Conservatarian Manifesto, by Charles C.W. Cooke

Conservative icon President Ronald Reagan famously said, "The very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism."  Charles C.W. Cooke buys that view and develops the idea of conservatism and libertarianism blending together in The Conservatarian Manifesto: Libertarians, Conservatives, and the Fight for the Right's Future.  Using common sense and providing examples from a number of different policy areas, Cooke provides a framework for reviving conservative electoral hopes and popular appeal by drawing from libertarian thinking.

As a writer for National Review, Cooke's conservative credentials are solid.  As a Brit living in the U.S., he has a healthy outsider/insider perspective on American history and politics.  To him, a guiding principle of conservatarian thinking is decentralization.  "If there is a conservatarian ideology, its primary tenet should be to render the American framework of government as free as possible and to decentralize power, returning the important fights to where they belong; which the people who are affect by their conclusions and who are therefore best equipped to resolve them."

In "valuing the local over the national," conservatives and libertarians share common ground, echoing a federalist view.  Other than those few government functions that call for broad application, such as national defense, government at the local level is best suited to make decisions.  Should someone in Washington, D.C. make final decisions about the curriculum content of a classroom in El Paso?  About the type of fertilizer a farmer in Omaha uses?  About the price of gasoline in California?

In other area, such as civil rights, education, and government services, conservatives and libertarians can and should find common ground.  Cooke discusses policies with liberty as the bottom line, with an eye toward practical application.  He takes a traditionally conservative stance on abortion, as the taking of a  human life, but a more libertarian position on gay marriage, asking, Why not?  What's the big deal?  Drug legalization, he argues, is an issue best left to state and local governance.

A mistake that libertarians make is that "its adherents . . . pretend that they are dealing with a blank slate.  They are not."  If you've spent time around libertarians, you will certainly agree with this point.  There is a real detachment from the real world.  Cooke's approach is to look at the world as it is, and apply conservatarian principles in a practical way.

Cooke is insightful and engaging, and is sure to win some converts, or at the very least, spark some thinking and conversation.  I don't see many conservatives buying into gay marriage, but he makes a good point: that argument is already lost in the culture at large, and perhaps a better use of political capital would be to focus on abortion.  The current system that "has not just entrenched the right of a mother to kill her child, but given institutional succor to the idea that a life is only a life if the mother says it is a life."

The Republican Party and conservatism at large has long been suffering from a lack of principled arguments in favor of smaller government and more dispersed governmental power.  Although those in power, even so-called conservatives, are loathe to reverse course, one can hope that Cooke's voice will be heard among those who constantly seek to expand the power of the federal government.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Walk on the Wild Side, by Nicholas Oldland

When a bear and a moose and a beaver decide to climb a mountain, interesting things might happen. . . .  These three adventure-loving friends thought it looked like a nice day for a hike, and a distant mountain beckoned.  Nicholas Oldland tells the story of their adventure, through valley, field, river, and canyon, in Walk on the Wild Side.

Beaver proposed a race to the top, to make things more interesting.  Moose was in the lead, but tumbled over the side of the mountain.  Bear tried to save him, but he got in trouble, too.  Beaver came looking for them and saved the day.  They decided they had enough excited and took a more leisurely pace the rest of the hike.

I enjoyed Oldland's simple illustrations.  He conveys a love of nature and the joy of running in the mountains.  More than that, he celebrates friendship and looking out for each other.  Kids will like the story, and although there is some peril, I don't think it's scary enough to be a concern.  I would look forward to reading more adventures of the bear, the beaver, and the moose.

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

Jasper John Dooley: You're In Trouble, by Caroline Adderson, illustrated by Ben Clanton

Jasper John Dooley doesn't mean to be Bad.  But once he took a taste of the Bad drink after soccer practice, he couldn't help himself.  In the fourth book of Caroline Adderson's Jasper John Dooley series, You're In Trouble, Jasper accidentally gets his hands on a Torpedo High Energy Drink instead of the apple juice he selected.  Suddenly Jasper has more energy than ever, and he finds the thrill strangely addicting.

After a few sips, he hides the can in the back of the fridge.  Over the next couple of days, he sneaks sips.  He keeps coming back to it, even though he knows he shouldn't.  One morning when his dad asked him to get the milk, he tries to avoid it, knowing he would give in to temptation.  "If he opened the fridge, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from checking if the Torpedo High Energy Drink was still there. . . . He didn't want to drink it.  He didn't like that Bad drink anymore.  But he wouldn't be able to stop himself."

You're In Trouble is a crack-up.  I was laughing out loud as he got himself into all kinds of trouble.  On a deeper level, Jasper teaches kids that our actions have consequences.  As he tries to get himself out of trouble, or cover up what he's gotten himself into, sometimes he just makes it worse.  On an even deeper level, Jasper teaches all of us the dangers of addiction and the importance of fleeing temptation.  How many compulsions cause us to make horrible decisions?  And how many times to we put ourselves into a position where the temptations overcome us?

Hopefully Jasper learned his lesson about the Bad drink, and will think twice before submitting to the lure of Even Worse drinks and other Bad stuff that can wreck our lives.  In the meantime, I got a good laugh out of Jasper's antics.

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

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Killing Christians, by Tom Doyle

When I grumble about getting up on Sunday and getting my family to church, I need to think about my brothers and sisters in the Middle East for whom simply having a Bible study at home is a death sentence.  When I complain about government policies or social norms in the US that are biased against Christians, I need to remember my brothers and sisters who are given the choice of converting to Islam or being killed.  In Killing Christians: Living the Faith Where It's Not Safe to Believe, Tom Doyle reminds us that even though being a Christian in the West is quite comfortable, the church is suffering persecution.  Our family is under attack.

I read the stories in Killing Christians like a family album.  I've never met these family members, but I feel like I know them now.  I grieve with them in their suffering, but more than that, I am amazed and inspired by their joy and perseverance in the face of persecution.  Doyle writes the stories in the style of fiction, and he acknowledges that some of the conversations have been reconstructed and some descriptions have been modified, but these are real people in real places facing real persecution and martyrdom.  I personally like his decision to write in this style.  Historians may object, but I'm reading a family account here, not a history text.

Doyle focuses on the region in which he works, North Africa and the Middle East, so the persecution faced in Killing Christians comes from Muslims.  I know there are peaceful Muslims in parts of the world, and there are plenty of places where Christians and Muslims live in harmony.  These are not those Muslims, and these are not those places.  Christians here face murder, rape, disfigurement, beatings, and other forms of torture and abuse at the hands not only of strangers, but, in some cases, neighbors, friends, and even family members.  It's shocking, but true, that some Muslims would kill their own spouse or child as retribution for their becoming a Christian.

Besides the stories of Christians being beaten or killed, there are also stories of miraculous salvation, where Jesus physically intervenes to stop an attack.  Almost every story involves Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams, with very personal reassurances of their safety, promises for provision, or an invitation to follow him.  These are the kinds of things we read about in the Bible.  I've never experienced anything like it, and am so encouraged that people in these lands are experiencing Jesus in this way. 

Doyle does not call for Western Christians to send financial support, to go on mission trips, or to feel sorry for our brothers and sisters in these countries.  On the contrary, these believers pray for us.  They have much to teach us about living faithfully for Jesus.  Like Peter and John, "they have been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."  Doyle tells the stories of these believers who joyfully embrace martyrdom as a chance to be in the arms of Jesus, and asks his readers, "Are you willing to suffer for Jesus?  Are you willing to die for Jesus?"  I am humbled and inspired by these believers who answer without hesitation, "Yes! and Yes!"

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Book of Memory Gaps, by Cecilia Ruiz

One word that comes to mind in describing Cecilia Ruiz's The Book of Memory Gaps: melancholy.  Ruiz tells the tales, in a few short lines, of various individuals whose memories have failed them.  The dancer who had a fall, and is unable to perform.  The composer who continues to write songs that have already been written.  I was especially sad for Viktor, who "arrived home on the same shore, thinking that he had been at sea for months.  His wife would be there to welcome him, though he had left that same morning. Sadly for him, his wife's excitement could never equal his."
Not all of Ruiz's characters suffer chronic memory loss.  Some are nostalgic, are longing for something they have never seen but feel like they should have, or, like Natasha, "constantly has words on the tip of her tongue.  She keeps feeling she is about to remember, but they never come.  She spends her days searching for all of her missing words."

Ruiz's text is poetic and rich, telling powerful stories in a few sentences.  The illustrations have a dusky, dreamlike quality.  You might smile, laugh, or cry, but you will definitely remember.

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

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Red Bicycle, by Jude Isabella, illustrated by Simone Shin

What happens to that old bike you've outgrown or gotten tired of?  As Jude Isabella's story The Red Bicycle: The Extraordinary Story of One Ordinary Bicycle tells, it could transform a community!  Like many kids, Leo saved up for a bike.  He named it Big Red.  He loved it and rode it everywhere, but eventually outgrew it.  The owner of the bike shop told him he could donate it to be shipped to Africa.

In Africa, Alisetta picked out Big Red for herself.  She rode it all over her village in Burkina Faso.  With more efficient transportation, she was able to help her family, checking on crops, carrying harvest to market, eventually making enough extra money to send her siblings to school.  Later the medical clinic hooks a trailer to Big Red to use it as an ambulance.

Isabella's text tells the story well, adding in enough cultural and economic details to convey the importance of Big Red to those who use it.  Simone Shin's illustrations capture the simple beauty of life in Burkina Faso.  At the end, Isabella adds photographs of real people using their bikes in Africa, and explains how kids in North America can get involved by donating their bikes.

The Red Bicycle is a great story, made better by encouraging kids that they can make the story come true by donating their old bikes.

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

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Color of Grace, by Bethany Haley Williams

If true religion is looking after widows and orphans in their distress, surely the truest religion is looking after orphans of war who have been traumatized and victimized as child soldiers and sexual prey.  In her book The Color of Grace: How One Woman's Brokenness Brought Healing and Hope to Child Survivors of War, Bethany Haley Williams tells the story of her involvement among war orphans in Africa.

Dr. Williams, a psychologist and counselor, founded Exile International, bringing together her love of missions, her counseling skills, and her personal experiences overcoming trauma and grief.  Without being exploitative, yet without airbrushing their experiences, Williams introduces the children she has worked with and the horrors they have experienced.  Oftentimes, these children have no place to go after they escape or are rescued from the militias.  Girls who have been raped are shunned, sometimes by their own families.  Boys who have killed are often not welcomed back to their own villages.  The stigma they carry can be devastating.  Williams uses art therapy to encourage the children to communicate their pain and their stories.

I couldn't help but share Williams's awe at the children's resilience, hope, and joy, in light of their past and their poverty.  In her admiration for them, she takes some indirect jabs at Western Christians.  "The eyes of my heart began to see the spiritual wealth of my new friends in Africa and the spiritual poverty that so characterized the place I called home."  "As horrific as they were, they carried their burdens with a courage our culture can't imagine.  Our culture, which some consider easier or more inviting that this one, lacks the inner strength I witnessed here."  Their strength empowered Williams as she overcame trauma from her own life, which sprung from a failed marriage and associated issues.

I was moved by the powerful stories Williams tells of these children, and inspired by the way her programs lead to healing and hope for them.  I will admit that I got a bit bogged down in the first 1/4 of the book, as she told her own story.  I kept thinking, "When do I get to hear about the African kids and not this lady's issues?"  (Not very gracious of me, I know.)  That style, and the journal entries interspersed among the chapters, will appeal more to the female readers. 

The bottom line is a deep sense of humility in the face of these kids' strength.  No matter what trauma or struggle I may go through, I know that God's strength and hope, which is enough for these kids who have been brutalized, is more than enough for me, too.  I applaud Dr. Williams for using her experience to bring that strength and hope to them.

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Jesus Outside the Lines, by Scott Sauls

Pastor Scott Sauls attributes much of his formation as a pastor to Tim Keller, under whom Sauls served at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.  I don't know how much of Sauls's writing can be attributed to Keller, but they do share a style that is pastoral, thoughtful, and substantive without trivializing their subjects.  Sauls's new book Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides fits that description.

Sauls starts out with a few hot-button issues of Christianity, ones which divide Christians to an extent, but which especially divide Christians from secular culture.  He calls on Christians not to be sucked into an "us vs. them" mentality, but to, on the one hand, recognize that "we should feel 'at home' with people who share our faith but not our politics even more than we do with people who share our politics but not our faith." On the other hand, "if we want to follow Jesus, we have no choice but to follow him into the world and into affirming friendships with as many non-Christians as we can."

When thinking and living like Jesus, Christians will be slow to condemn, but quick to befriend and offer hope.  Sauls clearly upholds a pro-life perspective, but calls on Christians to value all of life.  As C.S. Lewis wrote, we never meet a mere mortal.  Every person has dignity and value, whether born or unborn.  Similarly, he does not condone homosexual acts or approve of gay marriage; he writes that "no counter-voice can be found in the Bible that suggests a favorable view of homosexuality."  Yet he calls on Christians and the church to recognize the struggle of those attracted to others of the same sex and to be a place where redemptive friendship can be found.

Sauls's approach to the Christian life embraces humility, does not condemn questioning, and recognizes how imperfect all of us are.  He calls for the church (and I do mean church; he's not a fan of the churchless Christian movement) to be a place where the grace and welcome of Jesus prevail, and where the categories we try to put people into mean less and less.  I appreciated his engagement with secular writers and culture, and his invitation for non-Christians to read and to come to his church.  I was also challenged by his reminder to pursue and value relationships with non-Christians not as projects or targets for evangelism but as friends and peers.

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Drop Box, by Brian Ivie and Ted Kluck

When filmmaker Brian Ivie read about a South Korean pastor who took in disabled children through a baby drop box, he knew he had found documentary gold.  He started out with the goal of shaking up the film world, but in the end it was his own life that got shaken up.  In The Drop Box: How 500 Babies, and Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever, Ivie tells the story of his interest in film-making, his trips to Korea to meet Pastor Lee and his household full of abandoned children, and how Ivie became a follower of Christ as a result.

Pastor Lee's story is remarkable.  He literally has a box on the side of his house, with a sign that reads, "This is a facility for the protection of life.  If you can't take care of your disabled babies, don't throw them away or leave them on the street.  Bring them here."  The box, lined with blankets, has an alarm which sounds inside when a baby is left.  Pastor Lee and his wife have taken in children with every imaginable disability, hundreds of children over several decades.  Ivie, moved by the story, e-mailed Pastor Lee, asking if he could come to Korea and film a documentary.  Lee agreed, a friendship was born, and an award-winning documentary was made.  The film will be released soon.

Ivie's book does tell Pastor Lee's story, but it's mostly about Ivie's story.  He began making films as a child, using neighborhood kids as the cast.  When he began work on The Drop Box, he was enrolled in USC's film school, but he admits when they arrived in Korea he was "totally unequipped to do what we were about to do, but somehow going to do it anyway."  They did have some good equipment; a crowd funding campaign and some great interest from connected sources made sure of that.

The main storyline of The Drop Box (the book) is Brian's conversion to Christianity.  His life turned around.  Film had been his religion, but through meeting Pastor Lee, Ivie met Jesus.  Ivie's enthusiasm and commitment come through loud and clear, but the story does meander, from his childhood of movie making and movie loving, too his film school experiences, his girlfriends, and, most importantly the film and the impact of Pastor Lee on his life.  If nothing else, it gives a back story to the Drop Box documentary which emphasizes the power of a great story.  The movie has permanently changed one life in a major way, before it was even complete.  May many more be changed.

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rodeo Red, by Maripat Perkins, illustrated by Molly Idle

As the Deputy of my territory here in Texas, I do declare that Rodeo Red is the real deal, a bona fide top dog story book for the cowgirl in all of us!  Maripat Perkins's cowgirl prose and Molly Idle's soft-hued illustrations lassoed me in from the get-go.

It seems that Rodeo Red's territory is getting encroached upon by Slim, a small interloper, all with the approval of the Sherrif and Deputy . When this newcomer swipes Red's best hound dog Rusty, it's going to get ugly.

Thankfully, Red didn't fall of the turnip truck yesterday.  With some quick thinking and a bit of good luck, she reunites with Rusty and keeps Slim happy at the same time.

I loved this book.  It captures the dynamic of big sister and the new arrival, playing together and sharing  versus delineating one's own space, the acknowledgment that mom is "Sheriff" and dad is her "Deputy," all in Red's cowgirl language and from her little cowgirl perspective.  Cowgirls and cowboys of all ages will enjoy Rodeo Red.

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