Archive for January, 2009

Review of Breakfast Epiphanies, by David Anderson

Saturday, January 10th, 2009


Breakfast Epiphanies

Finding Wonder in the Everyday

by David Anderson

Beacon Press, Boston, 2002.  155 pages.

Finding God in the ordinary is a way of seeing the world.  It’s a willingness to suspect God when no other fingerprints match.  When we encounter the sublime, terrible, inexplicable, we can stop silent in our tracks and whisper the words of Jacob as he awoke from his ladder dream:  “Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it.”  Or we can shrug it off as a weird coincidence.

Here’s a little book of musings about everyday events and what they mean in the bigger picture.  I actually read this book over breakfast, one short chapter per day.

A nice opportunity to stop and think for a moment, instead of simply letting life rush past.

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Review of Your Life in Christ, by George MacDonald

Friday, January 9th, 2009


Your Life in Christ

The Nature of God and His Work in Human Hearts

by George MacDonald

edited by Michael Phillips

Bethany House, 2005.  261 pages.

I love George MacDonald’s writings.  His deep and abiding love for the Father shine through, and his encouragement is inspiring.

Here’s another collection of his writings compiled by Michael Phillips.  This book contains selections only from his nonfiction, with commentary on each passage from Michael Phillips.

Here are some quotations that blessed me from this book:

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Review of Greater Estimations, by Bruce Goldstone

Friday, January 9th, 2009


Greater Estimations

by Bruce Goldstone

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2008.  32 pages.

Starred review.

2009 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #3 Children’s Nonfiction

This book is fascinating.  I brought it to a staff meeting, and my co-workers couldn’t resist looking through the pictures.  I’d enjoy doing a program around this book.

Greater Estimations presents photographs of large quantities of things — rubber duckies, popcorn, parachuters, honeybees, plastic animals, and many other things — and shows the reader strategies for estimating how many there are.  The author also talks about estimating length, height (of buildings), weight (of dogs), area, and volume.

This book can capture your attention for a long time, and if it gets you curious about quantity, the author will have achieved his goal.  He also teaches you ways to satisfy that curiosity on your own.

I find myself wishing that Bruce Goldstone had placed some answers in the back of the book.  I do appreciate his point that estimation is NOT about getting exact answers.  But I do wish he’d given feedback on a few more pages to have some idea if my ability to estimate was improving as a result of his hints.

Anyway, in life you don’t get answers given to you.  This book gives you tools to help you figure out an approximate answer to numerical questions all by yourself.

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Review of Your Father Knows Best, compiled by Bob and Charlyne Steinkamp

Friday, January 9th, 2009

Your Father Knows Best

True Reports from Court of God Moving When People Are Praying

Compiled by Bob and Charlyne Steinkamp

Rejoice Marriage Ministries, 2003.  93 pages.

Rejoice Marriage Ministries was founded by Bob and Charlyne Steinkamp to minister to spread the word that God heals hurting marriages.  Twenty years ago, Charlyne divorced Bob for adultery and abuse.  But God spoke to her, asking her to pray for Bob and pray for their marriage to be restored.  And God did that very thing, after two years divorced.

This summer, when I got to visit a meeting of Rejoice Ministries in Florida, I told Charlyne about my upcoming court case.  It looked like I might get out of the November 5 trial if my husband and I reached an agreement about custody and visitation, but it was looking more and more likely that at the very least there would be a final divorce hearing on December 10. 

Charlyne, who is compassionate and kind and a radiant believer in the power of God, reminded me about their book, Your Father Knows Best.  I’d read the book before, but agreed that this was an opportune time to go over it again.

Your Father Knows Best is a compilation of true stories people have told to Bob and Charlyne about ways that God moved in surprising and miraculous ways in court cases.  This book is an encouraging reminder that God can still work, even when divorce has gotten to the final stages.

I could add my own story to a later version of the book.  A few days before our custody and visitation hearing, our lawyers came to an agreement that would settle matters between us.  I went to my lawyer’s office and signed my name or initials 300 times on 5 copies of two different versions of the agreement. 

A couple days later, I learned that my husband did not like the agreement and had a dispute with his lawyer.  It was too late to get another lawyer before the case came up in court, so he dropped it completely.  I am still married.

Now, my husband still fully intends to divorce me.  I was disappointed that this development meant no spousal support is forthcoming.  I’ve wondered if maybe I shouldn’t file for divorce myself to get things settled.

However, I prayed and asked God if I had really heard correctly and if He was still telling me to wait and pray for my marriage to be restored.  He answered swiftly and surely, yet again through a sermon the very next Sunday, a Christmas sermon not quite like any other I’d ever heard.

And God already did an amazing, unexpected and impossible thing by putting a stop to the divorce case this first time.  Who am I to say He cannot do this other thing of restoring and rebuilding our marriage?

Books like Your Father Knows Best remind me that mine would by no means be the first marriage God has miraculously restored.

A wonderfully encouraging book about God’s power.

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Review of Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon and Dean Hale

Friday, January 9th, 2009


Rapunzel’s Revenge

by Shannon and Dean Hale

Illustrated by Nathan Hale

Bloomsbury, 2008.  144 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #2, Teen Graphic Novels

I am a huge Shannon Hale fan.  So though I normally would not have rushed to buy a graphic novel, when I heard that she had written one with her husband (The artist, though having the same last name, is not related.), I simply had to buy it.

This wasn’t up there in the best-thing-I’ve-ever-read territory like her novels, but all the same, this book is completely delightful.  Though, come to think of it, it’s the best graphic novel I’ve ever read.  (Don’t tell my son!)

Rapunzel’s Revenge tells the tale of Rapunzel, set in the old West.  Rapunzel is no wimpy princess, waiting for a prince to set her free.  When she learns at twelve years old what “Mother Gothel” has done to her real mother, and how she terrorizes the countryside, Rapunzel confronts her.  She’s promptly placed in a tower made from a giant tree that Mother Gothel made with her growth magic.  The same magic begins to affect Rapunzel’s hair.

There are some fun things in the illustrations.  I love the three books Rapunzel has in the tower:  Girls Who Get Saved and the Princes Who Save Them, How to Make a Twig Bonnet, and There’s Always Bird Watching.

With nothing to do in the tower, she practices her lasso skills by using her ridiculously long hair, braided into rope.

Finally, after she turns sixteen, her hair is long enough for her to use it to escape her prison.  It’s after her escape that she sees a traveling adventurer who heard about the beautiful maiden in a tower.  She points him to the tower and tells him the maiden is slightly deaf, so he should be sure to yell as loud as he can.

On the way back to Gothel’s villa to rescue her mother, Rapunzel becomes a vigilante, helping people with her amazing lasso of hair.  She falls in with a rogue named Jack who’s been having some trouble with giants.  Rapunzel convinces Jack to help her rescue her mother and bring justice to the countryside, which has been sucked dry by Gothel’s magic.

Here’s a girl who doesn’t need saving!  This imaginative adventure has a heroine you can cheer for.

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Review of What-the-dickens, by Gregory Maguire

Friday, January 9th, 2009



The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy

by Gregory Maguire

Candlewick Press, 2007.  295 pages.

Dinah and Zeke and Rebecca Ruth are stuck in a disaster.  They are home alone in the middle of a storm of epic proportions with only their cousin Gage, who’s barely an adult himself, to look after them.

Gage decides to tell them a story, to take their mind off their hopeless plight.  He tells them about a skibberee, more commonly called a Tooth Fairy.

What-the-dickens was in a fix himself, from the moment he was born, not in a colony like most skibbereen.  He didn’t even know that the first words he heard weren’t intended to be his name.

After several adventures and narrow escapes that he doesn’t realize are narrow escapes, What-the-dickens meets a tooth fairy on a job.  Her name is Pepper, and she’s having trouble getting her license to become an Agent of Change.  She brings What-the-dickens back to the colony, but he doesn’t fit in very well.

With the dire situation of Dinah and her brother and sister, this book is a bit dark.  But the intriguing story gives you the feeling of a light in a dark place.

Definitely not your run-of-the-mill fantasy tale.  Ideal for upper elementary school readers who want to try something different.

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Review of Are You Ready to Play Outside? by Mo Willems

Friday, January 9th, 2009


Are You Ready to Play Outside?

An Elephant & Piggie Book

by Mo Willems

Hyperion Books for Children, 2008.  57 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Standout 2009:  #5 Picture Books

Geisel Award Winner 2009

Mo Willems is a genius.  I am currently reading several books that tell me it is not my circumstances that determine my happiness, but the story I tell myself about those circumstances.  I have heard sermons about contentment.  I have lectured at length to my children that complaining will only make them unhappy.

None of those things was remotely as effective as this book.  Not as funny, either!

Now, I was set up to enjoy this book.  The day before I read it, I was doing a quick run to the grocery store.  We had expected an ice storm, but instead we got nasty, cold, heavy, near-freezing rain.

I do not like rain in the winter.  I tend to think how much I would prefer snow.  Rain in winter is almost as cold as snow, but not as pretty, and not as fun.  It soaks into your clothes much more quickly, and doesn’t brighten a dark day like snow does.

As I came out of the grocery store, the fleeting thought crossed my mind that it was a shame I had to make a grocery run today.  Loading groceries into the car in the pouring, cold rain is not a fun thing to do. 

No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I looked up and saw a mother and son walking toward the store.  The mother had an umbrella, but the little boy, about three years old, wasn’t paying any attention to staying under it.  He was positively dancing with joy at being out in the rain.  His shiny yellow boots splashed the pavement with zest, and you could instantly see how excited he was about this wondrous chance to go shopping in the rain!

Kind of put things in perspective for me!

The next day, this book, Are You Ready to Play Outside? came to the library.

Piggie is so excited about playing outside with Gerald!  They will run!  They will skip!  They will jump!  NOTHING will stop them!

Then it begins to rain.

It pours.  Piggie is NOT a happy pig.

Gerald, an elephant, first tries shielding Piggie with his ear, but it is still raining.  Piggie doesn’t see how anyone could possibly play outside with all this rain.

Then they see two worms come out, exuberantly happy, splishing and splashing in the rain.

They decide to try it.  They run!  They skip!  They jump! 

Piggie decides he loves rain!  He hopes it rains all day!

Then it stops. 

Piggie is not a happy pig.

Fortunately, Piggie has an elephant for a friend, who has a solution.

Of course, once again, what makes this book a masterpiece is Mo Willems’ amazing ability to convey emotion with his simple cartoon drawings.  For example, Piggie’s frustration over the rain is palpable.  And I never imagined that worms could look so joyful!  Elephant and Piggie turning somersaults and kicking up their heels in the rain proclaim complete exuberance.  Add to that the suspense of the early-reader language and timing, with each expression and emotion getting full page treatment, and you have an utterly magnificent book.

It’s funny.  It’s emotional.  And it conveys a life-changing lesson in a way that sticks.

What more could you ask for in an easy reader?

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Review of The Scrambled States of America Talent Show, by Laurie Keller

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009


The Scrambled States of America Talent Show

by Laurie Keller

Henry Holt, 2008.  36 pages.

A picture book about the States performing in a talent show?  In her earlier book, Laurie Keller showed what happened when the States got mixed up and tried to find their places again.  The States had so much fun interacting, they decide to hold a talent show.

The result is simply silly, and I can’t resist laughing over it.  Along the way, all kinds of facts about the states are presented, along with lots of inside jokes.

The acts are many and varied.  Delaware names all fifty states in order of statehood while jumping on a pogo stick.  Michigan does a ventriloquist act.  Minnesota saws South Dakota in half (though alert readers will detect that the left half is the color of North Dakota), and Mississippi and Nevada dance the tango.  I especially enjoyed the State Impersonators.  Wyoming and Tennessee impersonated Oklahoma, and Colorado and Florida did a great Idaho impression.

Extra fun was found on the end panels, where Vermont goes around asking states their abbreviations, for example:

“Hi, Hawaii.  What’s your abbreviation?”


“Yeah, hello.  What’s your abbreviation?”


What can I say?  This book struck me funny.  A nice silly approach to learning facts about the states.

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Review of Audiobook Right Ho, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009


Right Ho, Jeeves

by P. G. Wodehouse

performed by Alexander Spencer

Recorded Books, 1997.  Originally written in 1935.  7 compact discs.  7.5 hours.

I still believe that the very best books for a tremendously long drive are the Jeeves and Wooster books by P. G. Wodehouse.  They are always tremendously funny and tell about how the young gentleman Bertie Wooster gets himself and his friends into trouble by trying to help out.  Then his gentleman’s personal gentleman, Jeeves, puts his brilliant brain to the task, and all is resolved.

I love reading the books, but it’s even more fun to hear them read in a proper British voice.  And what could be better for keeping you awake on a long drive than laughing?

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Review of Miss Alcott’s E-mail, by Kit Bakke

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009


Miss Alcott’s E-mail

Yours for Reforms of All Kinds

by Kit Bakke

David R. Godine, 2006.  255 pages.

Kit Bakke begins, “I was home alone, that rare treat for the working mother, when it occurred to me to write to her.  To Louisa May Alcott.  Why not?” 

She goes on to explain why writing to Louisa resonated with her life.  And apparently she pulled it off!

“I wish I could explain more about the mechanics of our correspondence, but I can’t, because, other than frying six surge protectors, I don’t know how it worked.  I sent my letters and chapter drafts to Louisa by e-mail from my Seattle living room, and she received them as handwritten ink on paper in her roms in Dr. Lawrence’s house in Roxbury, Massachusetts.  She once told me my handwriting was neat and extremely legible, so there was definitely something odd going on.  She wrote to me, using well-worn ink pens and paper, and they showed up in Times New Roman in my Outlook inbox.  I was grateful for the technology transfer, as her own handwriting was also less than copperplate.

“It’s one of those Internet Effects, I guess.  Or a Heisenberg thing, or Brownian motion gone amok.  I didn’t want to inquire too closely for fear the magic might vanish.”

What follows is a series of essays about Louisa May Alcott’s life and the parallels with Kit Bakke’s life in modern America, framed by letters (no, e-mails) purporting to be from Louisa herself.

I loved the idea of this book, because when I was a girl in 6th or 7th grade, I actually spent quite a bit of time daydreaming about bringing Louisa May Alcott into the present to show her all the advances women have made.  I don’t think any other author ever prompted such a reaction, but I distinctly remember thinking out what I would say to Louisa May Alcott if I could pull this off and meet her.  So imagine my delight, more than thirty years later, to learn that Kit Bakke in some sense managed to do what I daydreamed about as a child.

I think it was Louisa’s zeal for “reforms of all kinds” that prompts this sort of reaction from her readers.  We want her to know about the progress that was made, and about the good that came from her own efforts.  Kit Bakke did some work at reforms of her own in the sixties, so she tied those stories in with her thoughts about Louisa’s life.

This book is a fascinating blend of musings on life in modern America combined with historical information about Louisa May Alcott and her times, as well as the personal touch from imagining Louisa’s reactions.

This book will be most enjoyed by people who have read and loved Louisa May Alcott’s books, but there are millions such people out there.  For myself, I want to find a copy of some of her less-known books for adults mentioned, such as Work.  I will be able to read it with new appreciation into the background and what it meant in Louisa’s life and times.  Reading Miss Alcott’s E-mail reminded me of an author I loved in my childhood, and told me more about her work for adults, which I have yet to discover.

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