Category Archives: Children's Books

The Secret of Indigo Moon by GP Taylor

The Dopple Ganger Chronicles: The Secret of Indigo Moon

by GP Taylor

291 pages

Tyndale House Publishers, inc

The Secret of Indigo Moon might have been better if I had read the first volume in the series The First Escape. Nevertheless, volume 2 in The Dopple Ganger Chronicles series of books was a quick, delightful read. I enjoyed it first to last and I am looking forward to reading the other volumes in the series.

This was a quick read for me. I read it in one sitting on Saturday May 14, 2011. The pace was brisk and the pages full of art/comic pages really helped keep the pace at that brisk level. This book is a combination of typeset pages and graphic novel and picture book. The pages are nice and thick and the hardcover book is sturdy and has a nice gloss to it. I especially enjoyed how some pages were white ink on black background and other pages were the opposite.

I like reading children’s literature. I have read the entire Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and the entire Harry Potter series (twice). I have also spent considerable time reading C.S. Lewis’s fiction (Narnia, Space Trilogy) so I’m no stranger to reading children’s fiction and enjoying it. The Dopple Ganger Chronicles is a fun idea and The Secret of Indigo Moon is a fun story.

In my opinion, this would be a good book to get into the hands of some junior high or advanced elementary school kids. Adults will find it predictable and will have very little difficulty figuring out what is going on from beginning to end, but that will not detract from the sheer enjoyment of getting lost in a story on a rainy Saturday afternoon. (And there is nothing wrong with adults reading children’s literature.)

The art is well done. It is not tacky and does not detract from the story but enhances it time and time again. There are some genuinely scary moments and even more genuinely funny moments. And there is a lot of action—from the first page to the last, the book is action packed. The characters hardly ever stop to breathe. There is suspense (is Miss Rimmer a ‘bad guy’? Who is the strange Lord Gervez?) All the elements that make a story compelling are contained within the pages and lead up to a satisfying, if incomplete, ending (there is already published a third installment The Great Mogul Diamond).

If I have a complaint it is this: Madame Raphael who is some sort of angelic being. It is very difficult to include angelic figures in literature (because we know so little about angels) and I am not, generally speaking, a fan of it. Frankly, we moderns (or postmoderns) know too little about angels who are, by biblical admission, ‘ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14). Is that enough information to cast them as characters in our fiction? From a strictly theological point of view, this (Hebrews 1:14) can mean one of two things. On the one hand, it could mean angels serve those who are already destined for salvation with no regard for those who are not ‘among the living’ just yet (that is, Christians). On the other hand, it could mean that angels serve even those who are not yet ‘in the camp’ but will be some day so that the angels are kind of leading them in that direction (that is, not yet Christians but soon or later will be).

I’m not a fan of angels being characters inside of fiction for this reason. It seems hopeful at best and misunderstanding at worst to pair them (angels) with characters who are not explicitly those who ‘will inherit salvation’. Yet maybe that is God’s prerogative.  Those who read books theologically (as I do) can sort of gloss over such things or re-interpret them through another lens. Children might not be so thoughtful. I might be over-sensitive on this part and perhaps I need to give the author a bit more poetic license; that much I will concede. For the sake of getting the book into people’s (children’s) hands, I suppose there has to be certain vagaries. My hope is that this ‘new C.S. Lewis’ will not always feel compelled to be so vague.

“Some people have a desire to search for the truth, and others do not. The Companion is all around us, yet many people go through life unaware of who he is” says Madame Raphael. That might be true, but I suppose as far as the Dopples and the Ganger are concerned, we will have to read other volumes to see how far they are willing to go in search of the truth—and what exactly the author perceives as the truth.

I recommend this book to advanced elementary students through adults.

****/5

Get the first chapter of The Secret of Indigo Moon

G P Taylor Official Website

The Dopple Ganger Chronicles

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Buy The Secret of Indigo Moon at Amazon

**To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, please mention as part of every Web or Amazon review that Tyndale House Publishers has provided you with a complimentary copy of this book or ARC.

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The Tales of Beedle the Bard: JK Rowling

tales-of-beedle-the-bard-cover

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, by JK Rowling

Children’s High Level Group, 2008

JK Rowling

I don’t know if JK Rowling is a Christian or not. There’s a part of me that really doesn’t care if she is or not. Neither would prevent me from reading her books. But, no, it’s not like that. Of course I hope she knows the wonders of salvation and the grace of Jesus, but, well, whatever. There’s not really a way I can explain what I mean by that without being proverbially damned if I do and damned if I do not. How about I say it this way: I am one Christian man who is overjoyed that JK Rowling wrote the Harry Potter books and and even more overjoyed at the lesser acclaimed The Tales of Beedle the Bard.

I know some people who would have never hired me to preach at their church if they had known about my cache of Harry Potter volumes that I so prominently displayed—after reading—on the bookshelves in my study or if they knew that I attended not one but two midnight release parties! It could be, perhaps, that it was those same volumes that caused some in my former church to cast a suspicious eye my way and, eventually, call for, and receive, my termination. I doubt it. I know what was in their houses too. (*Smile*)

Many who belong to the uber-conservative christian caste of the church are terribly critical of anything Harry Potter. The bible writer called James wrote that, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing” (James 3:9-10). And so, to paraphrase: “Out of the same mouth comes praise for Narnia and cursing for Hogwarts.” Eh. That’s all it is. No one likes magic if it comes from the pen of someone who hasn’t stood up on an altar and declared their allegiance to Jesus.

Frankly, I think that some were simply unhappy that children were actually, gasp, reading. Or maybe they were jealous that JK Rowling sold more books with hidden christian ideas than did Max Lucado with blatantly obvious christian ideas. After all, Rowling dared to talk about things like love, friendship, self-sacrifice, justice, righteousness, and, well, you get the idea. And kids ate it up by the book-ful as did many, many adults.

But this has all been hashed and rehashed a million times over on blogs and in books. This short post is about Beedle and the short collection of wizard fairy tales ascribed to his pen and in this particular volume translated by the esteemed Hermione Granger. The book contains five such tales and is a scant 107 pages and can literally be read in under an hour. The five tales are wonderfully written in Rowling’s ironic and cheerful voice, but they are not her voice either. They are told in the voice of Beedle the Bard. Interspersed between each tale is commentary written by Albus Dumbledore. Rowling herself has written some footnotes explaining to us Muggles some of the more complex wizarding history and practices.

It was in the introduction to the stories that I came across the point of the whole book, if, in fact, the ‘whole’ book (a collection of five tales) has ‘a’ point. There Rowling wrote:

Beedle’s stories resemble our fairy tales in many respects; for instance, virtue is usually rewarded, and wickedness punished. However, there is one very obvious difference. In Muggle fairy tales, magic tends to lie at the root of the hero’s or heroine’s troubles—the wicked witch has poisoned the apple, or put the princess into a hundred-year’s sleep, or turn the prince into a hideous beast. In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, on the other hand, we meet heroes and heroines who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do. Beedle’s stories have helped generations of Wizarding parents to explain this painful fact of life to their children: that magic causes as much trouble as it cures (vii-viii).

Isn’t this the truth? I know that I have personally been the victim of many a magic spell gone wrong. And, too, have I learned that there is no secret spell I can cast that will make this problem disappear or that blessing appear—as if magic spells and charms exist merely to serve my ends and means. There are plenty of times when we certainly wish that magic worked that way. I wish sometimes I could conjure of an invisibility charm and vanish from the world, but it has yet to happen.

In Dumbledore’s commentary on the fifth story The Tale of the Three Brothers he writes this:

But which of us would have shown the wisdom of the third brother, if offered the pick of Death’s gifts? Wizards and Muggles alike are imbued with a lust for power; how many would resist the “Wand of Destiny”? Which human being, having lost someone they loved, could withstand the temptation of the Resurrection Stone? Even I, Albus Dumbledore, would find it easiest to refuse the Invisibility Cloak; which only goes to show that, clever as I am, I remain just as big a fool as anyone else (107).

Sadly, while there may well be a Resurrection Stone and a Wand of Power, there is no such thing as the Invisibility Cloak. The one thing all of us would desire, to be hidden from Death and from others, is the one thing we cannot have in this life. It is a troubling fact of life that we cannot hide from anything. The Psalmist knew this: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139) For some reason God takes particular delight in forcing us to face all those people, place, and things that we would rather not face. He forces us to be seen and prevents us from being invisible. Oh, unhappiness!

I think it is easy to want to be invisible, to want to hide from everything. Sometimes, we don’t even want to hide from Death (recall Job who, so unhappy about his so publicly displayed suffering, wished he’d never even been born.) Sometimes we just want to hide from people for a while. What I truly admire about these stories and the stories of Harry Potter is that it’s often not magic that solves the problems or brings the blessings we seek in life. Often, more often than not, it is wisdom that is required, and this wisdom is only acquired by seeing and being seen in and by this world, by facing death a thousand times a day, and by continuing to live day in, day out, in all the strength that comes from being utterly helpless.

I recommend that you read this book because it is helpful for gaining some wisdom that will benefit you long before and after you reach the point in life where you realize that being invisible is simply not an option. Such wisdom is beneficial for those of us humans who realize that being seen is not only a privilege, but a responsibility.

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Hiroshima: Laurence Yep

Hiroshima

by Laurence Yep

Scholastic

Learn about Laurence Yep at HarperCollins: Yep

And also here: Laurence Yep

To learn more about August 6, 1945, go to Manhattan Project. You can also learn about the Paper Crane Club and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

“Rest in peace, for the mistake shall not be repeated.”

(Engraved on the Children’s Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, Japan)

Hiroshima is a novella by Laurence Yep. It’s only 56 pages and can be read completely in about 20-30 minutes. It is the story about the dropping of an atom bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

I have had conflicted emotions and feelings about August 6, 1945 (and its companion day, August 9, 1945) for some time. There’s a part of me that thinks some justification is warranted. There’s another part of me, perhaps a bigger part, that believes it was really, really wrong. When reading through a book like Hiroshima, I’m not really satisfied that the author has helped me one way or the other. I agree with all my heart with the author, “The atom bomb is too terrible a weapon. It must not drop again.” (49)

I agree that an absolutely insane amount of money has been spent on the cost of these weapons (40).

I agree that use of such weapons assures our mutual destruction and that no one on earth will survive to live any sort of meaningful existence (42).

But I also agree with Yep that there was an “historical context”: “Japan has built a new wing to the museum. The new exhibit includes Japan’s role in World War II and shows how the city of Hiroshima participated in the military effort. For the first time, the bombing is placed in an historical context” (45). His comment comes off as matter of fact, and he doesn’t seem to have an opinion about it one way or another.

So what do we, as humans—as people who have no control over what scientists and politicians set out to achieve—do? Do we have peace rallies? Do we elect them out of office? Do we put a ban on scientific practice? There are these lyrics to a song by Sting that go like this:

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world
You could say I lost my faith in the people on TV
You could say I’d lost my belief in our politicians
They all seemed like game show hosts to me

I never saw no miracle of science
That didn’t go from a blessing to a curse
I never saw no military solution
That didn’t always end up as something worse

Put an end to the military? Put an end to science? Put an end to politics? Put an end to religion? Sting says something about living by faith, but his ‘if I ever lose my faith in you’ contains just enough ambiguity to make one wonder in whom our faith should reside—or at least in whom his resides. Incidentally, I agree with Sting as much as I agree with Yep: I never saw no miracle of science that didn’t go from a blessing to a curse.

So Sting demolishes the notion that our hope, or faith, can be in science, progress, religion, politics, or the military. Yep demolishes the idea that any sort of mechanized weaponry is a good idea. Atomic energy, I suppose, could be a good thing, but like all things humans create in their own image, it is ruined in our hands. The heart is devious and deceitful above all things I read somewhere. We find ways to make the most innocuous things weapons, even Kool-Aid.

I would like to have an optimistic point of view about such things as peace. I sit each week in a graduate class where I learn about all sorts of behavioral and physical and mental and learning disabilities. There are more ways for a human to be broken than one can imagine. Yet week after week, as I listen to the professor go on and on about this fix or that fix or this study or this assessment or this solution, I just shake my head because I am not naïve enough to think that we have the solutions to the problems we cannot even understand.

Take war and peace for example. We don’t understand either. What sort of peace is achieved in the destruction of people? So what if we eliminate the people we think are wrong, evil, or otherwise chicanes to peace? And who’s to say when it will stop and whose words will define peace? Is there no other way? Is that really peace?

I like Yep’s novella. It is to the point, clean, crisp, and not overly dramatic. It’s a walk through that day with a young girl who experienced and lived through the explosion. And, to be sure, it forces the reader to ask all these questions and more. The effects of the atom bomb’s explosion over a hospital in Hiroshima in 1945 are still being felt in this world. I wonder if we need war and destruction to go one from day to day? I wonder if I’d want to live after such an explosion?

We are not capable of peace. We need help. We need someone who is and is not us.

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Paul Zelinsky: Rapunzel

Rapunzel

By Paul O Zelinsky

1997 Caldecott Medal winner

“About once every hundred years some wiseacre gets up and tries to banish the fairy tale. Perhaps I had better say a few words in its defence, as reading for children” (CS Lewis)

I am currently a graduate student at Cleveland State University. One of my classes this semester is Literature Based Reading Methods for Children (EDL 312/512). It is the best class I have had so far because it is about nothing but books. I cannot honestly say we have learned anything about methods, but we have learned a lot about books, primarily children’s books.

Every week we are required to read and annotate 20 books. These are mostly picture books so it’s not much of a chore, and it has, indeed, opened my eyes to the a wonderful world of books I knew existed but had long since forgotten to read. My children are nearly all teenagers now so of what use are children’s picture books to us? Oh, what a horrible mistake! These books are wonderful and how blessed are we to have them among us, us old people.

These books, I have discovered, remind us of simpler times and times when we were young. I love the line by Rich Mullins in his song “I’ll Carry On”:

But I’ll carry the songs

I learned when we were kids
I’ll carry the scars of generations gone by
I’ll pray for you always, and I promise you this
I’ll carry on ~ I’ll carry on.

That’s what these books are: The songs we learned as kids and sort of through neglect or through indifference or simply through intentionality forgot about. I am glad for this class I am taking because it is reminding me of all the stories I forgot and introducing me to new stories I had never heard.

These stories bind us together as a people. Not just or merely or even as Christians, but as humans—a people scattered across this land. I confess that a large part of my problem is that I get too caught up in the technological wonders of motion pictures and computer generated graphics of video games. The sensational is spectacular, but what about that which we can, and have to,  penetrate with our eyes, feel in our hands, and create in our own minds? What about the hours an author or an artist puts into creating a scene that we can smell? What about retraining children (and adults!)  to use their imagination instead of allowing others to do it for them?

How does one create the sense of loneliness on a painted page in a book? The same way Samuel Taylor Coleridge created stillness in his poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner: “As idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.” Paul Zelinsky creates loneliness by painting the tiniest picture of Rapunzel in the middle of a vast, open landscape featuring mountains and fully grown trees and a vast sky and towering cliffs. Poor Rapunzel is tiny; the world is huge, and she is alone in it while buzzards circle overhead.

The story of Rapunzel is known to most people so I need not rehearse it for you here. What is truly remarkable about this book is the Renaissance style artwork that Zelinsky painted to accompany the story. It is the artwork that makes this story new and fresh. It’s the way he paints love, anguish, fear, joy, grace, anger, sorrow, grief, selfishness, and happiness that makes this book worth taking the time to read. It is the way he mimics Raphael’s Madonna at the end of the book that makes one think: I am reading something more here than a fairy tale about Rapunzel. And, to be sure, someone else recognized his brilliant work by awarding his version of Rapunzel with the Caldecott Medal in 1997.

It seems to me that perhaps children’s books authors know a little something more than we have previously thought and that by keeping alive these stories in the minds of children they are keeping alive a spark of humanity that the Holy Spirit can still access. Perhaps it is these sorts of stories that keep us malleable and open to a work that Christ will do later. Perhaps.

These songs we learned as kids…we should remember them and pass them along to kids so that they too will remember them and pass them along. Rapunzel is a great story to read to children and Zelinsky’s version is a wonderful piece of art to hold in the hands and look at and smell and hear and feel. Most certainly you should read this book today.

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