Joyful Inspirations (review)

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Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book: With Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your SoulJoyful Inspirations Coloring Book: With Illustrated Scripture and Quotes to Cheer Your Soul by Robin Mead

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Joyful Inspirations Coloring Book contains 90 square (8.75 x 8.75-inch) page spreads to color. The book’s heavy white paper is printed on both sides. Many of the pages contain inspirational quotes—most from the Bible and a few from famous people.

Though there is no formal index or table of contents, the book seems to sort itself into five sections:
1] Flowery creations.
2] Scenes with buildings—towns churches and cathedrals.
3] Scenes with children.
4] Creatures—birds, butterflies, fish, insects.
5] Landscapes—with lots of setting/rising suns and a nightscape or two.

The book ends with two pages of information: 1] a list of the artist’s favorite coloring products, 2] ten coloring tips.

The pictures are lighthearted, happy, and indeed inspiring. I noted that the black outlines of objects to color were heavier than in some adult coloring books and many of the objects not as tiny. That, together with the section featuring children, suggests to me this book might be a good choice for children as well as adults.

An adult friend who does a lot of coloring, especially while traveling, mentioned that the stiff binding of this and other adult coloring books was a drawback in that they tend not to lay flat. A coil binding would remedy that.

All in all, this is a beautiful book that promises hours and hours of inspirational coloring fun and relaxation.

I received Joyful Inspirations as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Sorry—I’m Not Sorry (review)

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Sorry I'm Not Sorry: An Honest Look at Bullying from the BullySorry I’m Not Sorry: An Honest Look at Bullying from the Bully by Nancy Rue

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When twelve-year-old Kylie, the leader of a posse of bullies, is summoned to the principal’s office of Gold Country Middle School one morning in June (along with her parents, her friends, and their parents), she’s not even nervous. That is, until she sees who else is there. Besides the principal, there is “Gingerbread,” the girl she and her friends have been bullying, and Lydia:

“…the Dwarf. Lydia Somebody. She was a weirdly short woman with too much hair who thought she could come in and stop it all” – Kindle Location 105.

The meeting that day begins a summer like no other for this privileged tween. Grounded from her cell phone and computer, she quickly loses power over Heidi and Riannon. She must also do weekly study sessions with Lydia and satisfactorily complete a project if she is to have any hope of returning to Gold Country and its cheer leading troupe in the fall. Part of the project turns out to be teaching a summer school dance performance number to a half-dozen klutzy elementary-aged girls—a real challenge for someone who is all about coolness and image.

Author Nancy Rue seems well informed about modern methods of bullying. She has the voice of a cocky tween down pat (Kylie tells the story in first-person). As the story unfolds and we work through Kylie’s issues with her, we begin to understand some of bullying’s dynamics. Kylie’s parents, with their permissive and inconsistent parenting style, may be part of the problem. And she also has some well-buried hurts and fears from early childhood that she hasn’t faced. Toward the end of the story Kylie has her own experience of being bullied, helping us experience bullying from both sides and making Sorry—I’m Not Sorry a great choice for pre-teen girls.

The Christian message is subtle. It mostly comes through Lydia who mentions, at one point, how she prays for wisdom before each session with Kylie, and models the listening ear, the love, and the firm direction that helps Kylie go from being a bully ringleader to an ardent member of the “Bullying is so not okay” movement.

I received Sorry—I’m Not Sorry as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Adam’s Animals (review)

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Adam's Animals - fun facts about God's CreationAdam’s Animals – fun facts about God’s Creation by Kimberley Payne

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Kimberley Payne has packed a lot into her 90-page children’s activity book Adam’s Animals.

The book begins with a simple explanation—this is a book about animals we’ll find in the Bible—and an invitation to get acquainted with them, as Adam did when he named them.

To help give kids categories for these many creatures, Payne includes the simplest of animal classifications, naming five families of invertebrates and four of invertebrates. She has also devised a symbol for each to help kids recognize them. For example, the symbol for “Birds” is a bird emerging from an egg, for “Mammals” a milk-filled baby bottle.

Thirty-nine two-page animal entries follow. A typical entry contains, on the first page:
– The verse in the Bible where the animal is mentioned.
– A brief explanation of what the verse means or its historical or regional setting.
– A “Did you know?” section with six facts about the animal.

The entry’s second page displays:
– An additional Bible reference where the animal is mentioned again, if there is one.
– A picture to color.
– A word search puzzle.
These latter two would need to be printed if the book was a digital file.

The animals are presented alphabetically. Sometimes several animals from the same family appear in one entry (e.g. Lion, Cheetah and Leopard). Other entries are titled with the names of the animal in both sexes and when young and mature (e.g. Lamb, Ewe, Ram, Sheep).

Puzzle solutions end the book.

What a fun way to study animals! Though not a thorough or complete animal study, it would be a great supplement to an animal unit in a Christian school, home school or even Sunday School setting.

Janis Cox’s line drawing coloring pages are a great invitation to break out the crayons and get to work. The word search puzzles are sure to keep a kid busy for a few minutes at least, as they search for words that nail down the animal facts and trivia mentioned earlier in the entry.

Even parents and teachers are bound to come away from Adam’s Animals knowing more about our fascinating creature neighbors. I discovered, for example:

“Crickets hear through their front legs” p. 54.
“Owls have three eyelids: one for blinking, one for sleeping, and one for keeping eyes clean” – p. 58.
“Slugs have green blood” – p. 74.

I received Adam’s Animals as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review.

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A Plague of Unicorns (review)

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A Plague of UnicornsA Plague of Unicorns by Jane Yolen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Cranford Abbey’s orchard of golden Hosannah apples are ravished annually by a herd of hungry unicorns, Abbot Aelian begins a search for a hero to best the beasts. Sadly that leads to nothing but an empty Abbey larder as hero after hero descends on the place with his retinue, only to fail.

Meanwhile eight-and-a-half-year-old James, son of the Duke of Callendar, lives in a castle 50 miles away with his mother, uncle, sister Alexandria and baby brother Bruce—his father having gone missing while on crusade. That means that James—who asks altogether too many questions, so many, in fact, that some avoid him—may become the duke sooner than expected. But he doesn’t yet have an education. So, shortly after his ninth birthday, he is trotted off to Cranston Abbey to learn languages, Bible illumination and all the other things one learns in an abbey.

Of course the unicorns arrive right on schedule and James, who is growing up and learning that questions not asked but pondered can produce a crop of their own answers, hatches a plan. Will he be another Abbey hero?

I loved the medieval monastic setting of this children’s chapter book by Jane Yolen.

The characters are delightful too, seen through the narrator’s and James’ points of view. I was especially pulled in by James and his misunderstanding of the adult reactions around him, like seeing his mother’s sending him away as proof that she no longer loved him.

The plot reads like an ancient folk tale complete with chapter titles that echo old books: “Chapter 1 – In which we are introduced to a short history of the Unicorn Plague,” “Chapter 7 – In which James finally gets to leave the castle,” etc. The black-and-white illustrations add to the book’s feeling of authenticity.

Yolen’s writing is perfect—simple yet profound:

“James went downstairs to the kitchen where Cook had a birthday cake all baked, and they shared it without questions, without answers. Because cake is like a stopper in a bottle. It keeps things corked up inside” – p. 93.

So why the four stars instead of five? Because despite all its good points, I missed a certain spiritual dimension that I have come to expect in books published by Zonderkidz. Oh, there is lots of religious content. We see the monks and James illuminating scripture, going for prayers, sprinkling holy water etc. but I didn’t pick up in James any sense of God or growth in his relationship with Him. The spiritual connection that there is, is between Sandy and the Unicorns:

“It was not the holy water on the ribbons nor the magic of the rowan boughs that called the unicorns in, but the song that Sandy sang.

James wondered, Is it magic? An incantation? A wizard’s spell?

… The stallion pointed his horn at Sandy’s chest but did not thrust forward. Nor did Sandy pierce him with the spear. Instead, hero and unicorn gave twin sighs and sank down together at the foot of the tree, the unicorn’s head resting in Sandy’s lap” – p. 176, 177.

And so the book’s spiritual message, subtle though it is, seems more like animism than Christianity—something which, as I said, surprised me in a book published by Zonderkidz.

I would still recommend this imaginative, gentle tale, with parents and caregivers using the portrayed spirituality as something to discuss with young readers.

I received A Plague of Unicorns as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Life Behind the Wall (review)

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Life Behind the Wall - Robert ElmerLife Behind the Wall: Candy Bombers, Beetle Bunker, and Smuggler’s Treasure by Robert Elmer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Life Behind the Wall is a collection of three novella-length stories for the YA crowd. Each is set in part of Berlin in a different time period between 1948 and 1989.

Book One, Candy Bomber, begins in the summer of 1948. Erich Becker, a 13-year-old Berlin resident, hates the Americans whose bombs wrecked his city and killed his father. He regularly prowls Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, sneaking into U.S. cargo planes in search of food for his hungry mother and grandmother. He meets U.S. soldier DeWitt who is a journalist, befriends Erich, and writes a story about the hungry children of Berlin. He comes around to Erich’s house with bags of treats like canned peaches and takes Erich and his cousin Katarina up in his plane to do some candy drops over Berlin neighborhoods.

Soon it becomes clear that DeWitt’s interest is in more than Erich. He wants to marry Erich’s mother and move the family to the States. Will Erich be able to forgive the Americans for what he holds against them?

Book Two, Beetle Bunker, begins in 1961. Its main character, 13-year-old Sabine, is a polio survivor who hobbles around on crutches. She lives with her mother, grandmother (Oma Poldi Becker), older brother Erich (from book one), Onkel Heinz, and Tante Gertrud in Oma’s crowded flat in East Berlin.

In this book we see the Berlin wall erected and are part of a daring tunneling attempt to escape from the East to West sectors of the city.

Book Three, Smuggler’s Treasure, begins in 1989. Liesl, the 13-year-old daughter of Sabine and Willi (from book two), lives in West Berlin. She tries to act cool the day she and mother are stopped at the checkpoint and thoroughly questioned on their way to visit Uncle Erich who still lives in the Communist side of the city. Mother and Uncle Erich are most upset when they find she has stuffed her stockings and clothes with slim Bibles. She gets into more trouble when she digs into the family history while researching for a school project and still more when she joins some older kids in a protest at the wall.

This part of the story sees the Berlin Wall come down and also reveals the mysteries surrounding Sabine’s father (Liesl’s grandfather).

These stories offer a great experience of another time in history. They show firsthand the poverty, bravery, resilience, and resourcefulness of the people of East and West Berlin during the Cold War era. They are also an example of how the divided city affected families.

The setting seems realistic with its atmosphere of suspicion and secrecy. Characters must be careful not to be seen with the wrong people or overheard saying the wrong things because they don’t know who to trust and who might be snitching on them to the authorities. Chapter numbers in German and lots of other German words and expressions sprinkled throughout also give a feeling of authenticity to these stories.

None of the main character kids in these books are content to sit around. The stories are fast-paced and filled with adventure and danger. The age of each of the heroes (13) tells us that these books will appeal to tweens and early teens.

The end of Book One has a “How It Really Happened” section that explains which events in that story actually happened. All the books conclude with a set of “Questions for Further Study” designed to deepen and broaden the reading experience for individuals or groups.

As well as giving YA readers three interesting and fun stories, this book would be excellent supplementary reading for home schoolers and Christian school classes doing a study of the Cold War period (all three books are written from a Christian point-of-view).

I received Life Behind The Wall as a gift from the publisher (Zondervan-Zonderkidz) for the purpose of writing a review.

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A Child’s Christmas in Saskatchewan

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It’s Christmas Eve, the time our thoughts turn to all things holy—and presents! How crass. But how real, especially if you’re a kid.

A few weeks ago when I was cleaning out some papers, I came across a picture book I wrote and illustrated way back when. It was one of my course requirements at UBC, (College of Education). It’s my memories of childhood Christmases on our farm in Saskatchewan. I hope you enjoy.

A Child's Christmas In Saskatchewan - Cover

A Child’s Christmas in Saskatchewan – Cover

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A Child’s Christmas in Saskatchewan – Page 10

Now a Merry Christmas to all who read here!

The 3 Js (review)

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The 3 JsThe 3 Js by Beverly Boissery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thirteen-year-old Jenn North is dreading Grade nine because it’s such an in-between and boring year. But even before school begins things start to liven up—though not in entirely good ways.

Her dad’s law practice takes him to Toronto, he and mom aren’t getting along and they’re thinking about splitting up, but at the last minute Mom decides to move east to give their relationship one more try. So Jenn will end up being a boarder at Primrose Heights School for Girls.

Once school starts there are more surprises. Mrs. Robinson, who has been at Prim Heights forever and whose Anne Frank assignment Jenn has all but completed over summer, isn’t going to be teaching Humanities this year after all. Dr. Collins is there instead and her assignment to research a relative’s life during the 1940s and make a joint presentation catches Jenn by nasty surprise. She feels a little better when she gets to work with her new best friend Jo, but then Jas, who she doesn’t like at all, gets assigned to their group too.

Beverley Boissery’s The Three J’s is YA fiction set in Vancouver amongst the upper income set, with a private girls school, tennis clubs, limos, exotic vacations, and a summer cottage at Qualicum Beach.

The book tells the story of part of the girls’ grade nine year. There are ups and downs as they get to know each other while dealing with the challenges of school life. For Jenn those include getting used to boarding, living without her family nearby, and becoming her friend Jo’s sidekick when the tennis movers and shakers try to get Jo to commit to their team.

It’s on a trip to the east over Thanksgiving that Jenn and Jo get to visit the National Archives to do research for their projects. What Jenn discovers about her great-great-grandfather has her wishing she could abandon the whole project.

That weekend she and Jo also do some sleuthing around to help Jas with her project. She needs help because her single mom won’t tell her anything about her estranged family. Their discovery gives the book an interesting secondary story.

Each of the girl’s final presentations about the ancestor they chose is told in fictional style near the end of the book, giving readers three different viewpoints of World War II.

Jenn’s first-person telling is the consistent viewpoint of the book. Her forthright personality comes out in her young teen voice, complete with pet names and abbreviations (she calls her grandmother “Attila-ess,” and Qualicum Beach “QBeach”). She is also typical in her interests—her appearance, friends, boys, and what’s happening to her family.

My favorite part was the telling of the girls’ three stories (fictionalized from real people and events). I especially appreciated what Jenn learned as she thought about her politician great-great-grandfather and how the views he held and the things he did in the 1940s would be looked at today. In her own words to the class:

“’I’ve really thought a lot about great-great-grandfather. He thought he was doing the best thing …. and it has made me wonder what we, our generation, are doing that our great-great-grandchildren will be ashamed of’” p. 192.

All in all The 3 Js is a great read for kids in about Grades six to nine, both for entertainment and a palatable serving of history.

The 3 Js was a finalist in The 2013 Word Awards, Young Adult category.

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