12.01.2010

Hey y'all!

So I wanted to explain my hiatus...in the past few months my family of 3 traveled to Uganda, Africa, stayed there for nearly 6 weeks, and returned home as a family of 4! We've had a very exciting few months, and my blogging has simply not kept up with my reading as of late.

I do have 12, that's right, t-w-e-l-v-e posts in the works. And that might catch me up to my current read.

They're good ones, too. ;)
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8.09.2010

Exodus (Moses)

The second book of the Bible is overflowing with dramatic action and adventure. This is where we see the first example of prejudice (fear) as the Egyptian Pharaoh decides the Israelites can be a threat and therefore has them enslaved. This is where we see the story of Moses being chosen by God to lead the people out of Egypt. This is where we see them radically set free, only to step willingly into the trap of sin and greed.

I really love Moses, and have a long list of questions to ask him one day. Dude was not at all seeking a position of leadership of power. As a matter of fact, he was pretty much doing all he could to run far away from any chance of ever being in charge...even when the Lord God Almighty set a bush on fire right in front of his face, he tried to talk the God of creation out of using him to free the people! Serious self-image issues...probably owing to a prominent speech impediment he had. And yet he was the one God wanted to use. You know, that whole "qualifying the called, not calling the qualified" thing. 

So, once Moses realized he was not getting out of this gig, and that his little brother Aaron was also going to be a major player, he gathered up the elders and talked to them about God's mission to set His people free. 

I have never seen the old Ten Commandments movie with Charlton Heston, but it's enough a part of the 1950's pop culture that I can hear the "Let My people go" in that deep, sing-song voice. Even in other recreations of the exodus, the message to Pharaoh was always the line "let My people go." The actual statement from the Lord, repeated many times, was "Let my people go that they may serve Me." Hmmm. How many times do we celebrate and cherish the freedom we have, but we forget that the purpose for setting us free was that we would choose to serve Him? 

The plagues come to Egypt with ample warning from God through Moses. Pharaoh is a big fat liar, and he pretends to set the people free several times. Thus, the plagues. They were:
1. Nile turned to blood 
2. Frogs
3. Gnats
4. Flies
5. Death of livestock
6. Boils
7. Hail
8. Locusts
9. Darkness
10. Death of firstborn

Immediately before the last plague, in which the firstborn son of each household was struck dead, God gave Moses the instructions for the Passover. This was the event which every household still keeping Jewish traditions celebrates to this day. 

The most exciting chapters are as the people are truly, finally set free, and begin to pass through the Red Sea (conveniently parted by the Creator of the universe, thankYouverymuch), and the Lord begins to give them statutes and laws for their new government. In chapter 22 we see the Bible's first mention of the importance of caring for orphans. "You shall not afflict any orphan or widow" (22:22) There is a note in my Bible about this chapter that indicates that the Hebrew law is noted for its fairness and social responsibility to the poor. The heart of God is that we care for those who cannot help themselves! 

Once God gives instructions for the governing of the people, then He lays out in specific detail how the tabernacle is to be built. There are hundreds of verses about specifics that range from the loops on the curtains to the cups on the lampstand, and I had to ask the question: if God wanted it to be such an exact thing, why didn't He just give it to the people? He could have created it in a half a millisecond. BOOM, there's your tabernacle. The people would have cherished it even more if it had come straight from His hand. In talking with my husband about this, he clarified that this was mostly about an exercise in obedience. It took discipline and fortitude and courage and strength and faith to believe these instructions and to carry them out to the finest detail. And many of the callings God places on our own individual lives are very much the same: acts in obedience. 

There are even detailed instructions on the clothing that Aaron and his sons (the first high priests) were to wear. Jewels and breastplates and fancy cording with tinkling gold bells...beautiful! And then they have to go sacrifice and sprinkle blood all over everything. Ick! I know the significance of the sacrifices, atonement for sin and all that jazz, but somewhere there had to be some Hebrew chicks who were sad to see those robes get stinky animal blood all over them. 

Another notable moment in this book was that when God gave all these instructions to Moses, He had him up in the mountaintops with Him for like 40 days. Part of those instructions were about the importance of Aaron's involvement as a high priest. During that time, sweet little Joshua was waiting faithfully on the ground for Moses to come back. Aaron, though, was catching it from the people. They were doubting that Moses was coming back or that God cared about them, so they wanted an idol. Aaron, bless his heart, caved and made them one. Guess he was good at the public speaking thing but bad at the actual leadership thing. Anyway, so what I thought was amazing here was that even while Aaron was betraying the Lord by building an idol for the people to worship, God was planning Aaron's role as a high priest of the Israelites, one of the most reverent and trusted positions in the society. Wow, that is some serious grace!  

Exodus ends as the tabernacle is completed and all the priests are doing their thing. I loved the warm fuzzies given off by the last verse, which describe how the cloud (which was the glory of the Lord) covered the tabernacle tent, and remained with them throughout all of their journeys. Aaahhh....good stuff. The Lord might call us out to a wilderness and test our obedience but He will remain with us every single step of the way, even when we run from Him and try to convince Him of our unworthiness. Serious grace, I tell ya. 



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5 Love Languages of Children (Gary Chapman and Dr. Ross Campbell)

Many moons ago, my husband and I read Gary Chapman's 5 Love Languages as part of our pre-marital counseling. What a terrific resource for couples, by the way! We have shared it with so many friends and family members. As a matter of fact, where is my copy??? Hmm....

The theory of the 5 love languages is that every person receives love in a unique way. When you take the time to discover and to speak a person's love language, you can begin to understand them and love them in a more effective and meaningful way. With children, the point is that your kids may know you love them and not truly feel your love. Speaking their love language helps with that. Speaking their love language helps you better manage their behavior, understand who they are as a person, and parent in a more positive manner. Chapman's constant reference to the phrase "filling up their love tank" is so cheesy it makes me laugh out loud. But, it's true. When we make sure that our children have all that they need, from the clothes on their body to the security they feel in our love for them, the whole family is happier and more stable.

The 5 love languages are:
1. Service
2. Gifts
3. Words of affirmation
4. Quality time
5. Touch

Chapman and Campbell provide several practical tips for determining your child's love language, and then a thorough description of each language and how to speak that to your children. The week that it would take you to fly through this book will be time very well spent. My only criticism would be that the narrative examples of other parents' "love stories" can get rather hokey and seemingly exaggerative.

Our oldest child is still rather young and could develop a whole different persona in the next few years, but at this point, her love language is definitely Quality Time. When we pour quality time activities into her, like puzzles and art and games, her behavior is much more positive than when we have asked her to play independently. One specific example: bedtime is a nightmare around here. Yet, when we realized that if we target those hours before bedtime as opportunities for quality time, she feels secure and loved and has an easier time going to bed.

Every parent should read this book. Every teacher should read this book, to better understand and relate to the children in his or her class! Want to borrow mine? You are welcome to it...as long as I get it back. ;-)

5 Love Languages Website
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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

One word: ABSURD.

This book, a childhood classic and available for free download via Google books, Kindle book store, etc. is just. plain. weird.

Alice is a little girl who is minding her own business one day, when out of the blue she follows a talking rabbit into his hole. Thus begins the first of numerous wacky experiences for Alice, as she enters the mysterious Wonderland.

There is a preface that explains that Alice's story was created as an entertaining bedtime story for children. It definitely has that mindless, pointless but entertaining aspect.

What I found most troublesome was the common thread that every single person Alice met was so incredibly contrary and argumentative. Everyone was rather rude, and both insulting and easily offended. I have no idea if there is some worthy symbolism below that surface, but I found Alice, her talking rabbit and turtle and cheshire cat and pig-baby simply....weird.

At least I got it for free on my Kindle! :)


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7.29.2010

Masterpiece (Elise Broach)


This was a delightful children's novel about a beetle named Marvin and his friendship with a boy named James. Marvin and James have real problems in life, but none so serious as when they become involved in a carefully crafted art theft. Their friendship is tested many times, and at the end of the adventure, this bug and boy know that they are true friends.

Interspersed along the curiosities of beetle life in a human world, and  the friendship between Marvin and James, is very interesting information about true artists and their work. With short, suspenseful chapters, written on an upper 4th grade level, this book would be a wonderful readaloud for 3rd-5th grade students!
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Genesis (Moses)

As a part of a personal challenge from this book, I am currently reading through the Bible. There are, like, a gajillion different reading plans, which all seem wonderful; however, I do not like reading plans. Reading is my plan. Don't schedule my reading. I like reading at my own pace, pausing to ask and go back to find answers to my own questions. But thanks, all writers of reading plans. I'm sure your schedules are lovely and helpful and thorough and beneficial. My goal is to complete the Bible, reading from cover to cover, in 1 year. Hopefully I won't saunter too long through the Word and end up not making my goal. But honestly, is there such a thing as "sauntering too long in the Word?" As with other books I read, I'll be posting summaries/thoughts here, and will label each book with the Bible tag.

Anyway, here we are, beginning at the beginning.

Genesis is the first book in the Bible, composed of 50 chapters. The beginning of the world, and all of the subsequent drama, is included. People are created, their hearts beat about 5 times before they foul up a perfect world, but even in these earliest phases, the groundwork is laid for humanity's ultimate salvation, one so strong that not even we can mess it up. Many of the stories I've heard since childhood are found in Genesis, but there are also lots of insight and other interesting aspects to those stories that you gain when you actually put your eyes on the page and read it all word for word.

My favorite people from this book were Joseph and Abraham. Joseph experienced some pretty nasty stuff at the hand of his brothers. They picked on him, they threw him in a pit, sold him into slavery, lied to their father about what happened to him, and pretty much tried to forget he ever existed. There's no telling all the mean things they actually said to him when all of this was happening. Yet, he tells them that "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (chapter 50, verse 20). Because, as a result of their betrayal and abandonment of him, Joseph was relocated to Egypt, where God used him to foretell and prepare for a terrible famine that would have otherwise taken the lives of so many people, probably Joseph's entire family. It is a powerful thing to remember that sometimes what other people in our lives intend for evil, the Lord means for good. Remembering this will help us react differently when suffering comes our way. God made us, He is sovereign, and that is all that matters in the good, bad, and ugly of this life.

Abraham was the son of Terah, who descended from Shem, who was one of Noah's three sons. In chapter 12, verse 1, the Lord told Abraham (then, Abram...apparently name changes in the Bible were both common and significant) to "go forth...to the land I will show you; and I will make you a great nation..." God essentially told Abraham to do something that was sort of nuts. He told him to take his family and leave all that he knew, all that was safe, all that was comfortable, and to GO. He didn't tell him where, though, nor did He say how long it would be before He would let Abraham in on the plan. He just said to GO. And you want to hear what's even more nuts? Abraham did! He went! I wonder what Sarah (his wife) had to say about all of this. I can just hear people talking about how crazy they were, and how stupid it was to leave safety, and how unwise Abraham must be to take his family into the unknown, etc. Abraham and Sarah made lots of mistakes, but the most important great thing they did was to obey and to go.

And speaking of Abraham, it is in chapter 17, verse 10, when Abraham and his crew are settling down in the land of Canaan, that the Lord establishes a covenant with him that involves Abe and all his manfolk getting circumsized. I don't know about you, but I am thinking that Abraham probably responded with something like, "You want me to what?! You want me to cut off part of my what?!" And I wonder how the other guys, who had not heard this instruction straight from the Lord, reacted to Abraham when he started cutting off foreskins. Nevertheless, in verse 23, we see that Abraham immediately went and circumsized every male in his household. Between going and leaving all he knew, offering his son as a sacrifice, and getting circumsized, Abraham had this obedience thing down. Of course, he messed up lots of other times, but we can learn from those as well.

There are many more of these real-life encouragements and applications in Genesis. It made me sad to leave this book behind because there were so many significant people and events included. I loved every word of it. Next stop: Exodus.
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7.26.2010

Poppy (Avi)

Poppy is a tiny little mouse with a huge heart of courage. Part of an enormous family of deer mice, Poppy has grown up heeding the survival lessons taught by her father. The most important rule is asking permission from a huge forest owl, Mr. Ocax, before leaving their home to go to another part of the forest. Mr. Ocax is the villain we love to hate. He is the ultimate bully, and continually takes advantage of the mice. Eventually, brave Poppy learns that even Mr. Ocax has fears. 

This is the best children's fiction book I've read in a long while. It is suspenseful, witty, and would make a great readaloud for any 3rd-5th grade class.  

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7.25.2010

Kindle Convert

I have looked at these eReader devices for years, and kept changing my mind on what I thought about them. I love books, obviously, but I also love technology. You would think that blending these two worlds would be so exciting for me, but the truth is that for a long time I wanted nothing to do with eReaders. My hesitance has always been rooted in the fact that it isn't just that I love to read, I love the experience of reading books.

I like to feel the books in the store or library. I like to run my fingers across the front cover, and examine the pages for texture and weight. I enjoy using odds and ends for bookmarks...playing cards, pictures, receipts, actual bookmarks, etc. I like the smell of a new book, and I really love the crrraaack of a new book that has never been touched or opened or held by another person. Books are beautiful. They are my most favorite decorative accent in our home. Books are filled with descriptions of places I'll never see and people I'll never meet. They lead me to reconsider or affirm the way I think about things in the world.

I love the feeling of walking into Barnes & Noble, or a public library, or my school library. Each and every single time, there is a feeling that washes over me and I usually don't think about it but I know that I love it. Do you know what that feeling is? Potential. I love knowing that books change people's perspectives and enable us to evolve and grow throughout this life simply by what we learn from them.

Some impending travels abroad (the length of which we are not entirely certain) led me to seriously consider purchasing an eReader. For at least a year I've carefully been reading reviews, watching comparison clips, and talking to my Twitterverse about their experiences and preferences. Finally, one day it happened. I bought a Kindle. And a screen protector. And a cute little pink case to keep it in.

Here's what I think so far...

The Kindle, even right out of the box, is not difficult to operate. Finding books, buying them (or in my case, downloading the free ones), and reading them is snappy. As a friend put it, it is "dangerously easy" to buy books now.

At first, it seemed that the Kindle was almost too small. Too fragile. Too un-book-like. I missed the comforting swoosh of the turning page. Now, all I get is an ever so slight click when I press the "next page" button. The clicking bothered me at first, but I have grown accustomed to it. About a week into my new life as a Kindle owner, I was uber-excited just to have this awesome new device. About 3 weeks into it I really started paying attention to the bells and whistles of the Kindle interface, and began to have some questions about maximizing this resource as a Mega Reader. We're going on about 6 weeks of our new life together, and I'm ready to seal the deal and get her engraved. :)

My favorite aspects of the Kindle:
-ease in downloading books
-compact size
-l-o-n-g battery life
-easy on the eyes (I held out a long time for the iPad because I wanted a back-lit eReader I could use on the plane, in bed, etc. but I love that the paper-like display is much gentler on my tormented eyes than a computer-like device would be)
-seamless synchronization of my Amazon account across my Kindle, my computer, and my Kindle iPhone app. I can pick up on my phone where I left off on my Kindle, and vice versa.
-easy to search the full text of a book
-physically easy to read; you don't have to worry about losing your place (or losing the bookmark that is holding your place), and you also don't have to worry about propping up a heavy book or having the pages fall over if you're reading in bed
-global wi-fi and 3G
-faster reading
-dictionary reference
-books are cheaper than in print format (a typical new release might be $20 even with a discount in stores; from the Amazon Kindle store it is usually at least half that, sometimes less)
-you can easily view an indexed list of all your notes, highlights, and bookmarks. That is not something you can do with any printed book.
-you can easily share books with a fellow Kindle owner via your Amazon accounts

My least favorite aspects of the Kindle (and possibly of eReaders in general):
-there is no page number! All I get is a percentage, or a position (like 2345 out of 10976...Amazon should know that generally speaking, math is highly offensive to the community of serious readers). There are dots across the bottom which show me how far I am away from the next chapter, and I love that. Still. I want to know how many pages I'm reading. This is the one element I truly dislike, and I don't see myself getting used to it either. Page numbers, Amazon. Page numbers!
-it is not easy to make notes. Possible, yes. Easy, no. You have to depress each letter button at a time (not typing, more like texting), and entering a thought or a note requires some time and effort. I'd rather just write in a book.
-Amazon pushes through software updates wirelessly, and you aren't notified. About a week into it I grew a tiny bit frustrated because I could not navigate back to settings I remembered when I first explored the Kindle. Another friend was checking it out and asking questions that I thought I knew the answer to but suddenly could not find what I needed. I sent an email to the Kindle support team at Amazon, and they quickly responded that a software update had been pushed through, which had altered some of my options on the Home screen. Would have been nice to know...
-twice in the last month I've had issues with the wireless connection. I'm still trying to figure out if that has something to do with my settings or if it is a glitch. It's definitely time for another email to the Magnifico Kindle Support Team.
-when I highlight a note that extends to the next page, the cursor easily runs away from me, and usually only appears to highlight the last few words in the sentence, making me think I've skipped the rest by accident
-no color, no pictures other than black and white cover art
-you cannot borrow books electronically from the local library

The screen protection shield was the only $6 I regret from this purchase. It would never go on without leaving my screen filled with polka dot bubbles (and yes, I did follow the application directions), and I finally chucked it. The cute little pink case I chose is the leather one with a soft fluffy cushioned interior, and I think it grows even cuter and pinker every single day.

I strongly believe that printed books will always be a vital part of our society, but I like the option of having them in digital format. The debate should not be electronic or print. It should be the availability of electronic AND print. More on that another day.

I plan to add posts in the future that deal specifically with the Kindle and its relevance in the reading world.

For now...hi, I'm Michelle. And I'm a Kindle convert. :)


Considering an eReader? These sites helped me make my choice:

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7.24.2010

Things Hoped For (Andrew Clements)

In Things Not Seen, the prequel to Things Hoped For, a young adolescent boy (Bobby) suddenly, for no explainable reason, goes invisible. Eventually he returns to his normal self physically, but he is forever changed as a result of his time spent unseen.

Suddenly Bobby is 18 and now prefers being called Robert. His new friend Gwen has run into some massive trouble of her own. Her grandfather has suddenly vanished without a trace, and Gwen struggles with worrying about him and the pressure of her upcoming auditions for college music scholarships. She quickly learns that Robert is the best friend she can have when dealing with things not seen.

Another winner by Clements, but it's a bit more mature (not rated R or anything) than his previous works.
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7.23.2010

Beatrice's Goat (Paige McBrier)

More than anything in the world, Beatrice wants to go to school. Sadly, her west Ugandan family is too poor to buy her books and a uniform to attend. One day, they are given a goat, which changes everything for her family. The children have milk to drink, which makes them healthier. They are even able to make money by selling some of the goat's milk. The goat eventually helps Beatrice's parents build a newer, cleaner, safer place...and it also helps Beatrice achieve her dream of going to school. 






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The Lion and the Mouse (Jerry Pinkney)

I haven't come across any books as truly beautiful as this one in a while. Jerry Pinkney tried his hand at a wordless picture book and retelling an ancient fable, and he ended up with a Caldecott for his efforts. The setting is in Africa (he actually traveled to Kenya and Tanzania to see the African savannah), and every page is filled with the beauty and majesty of nature. In this wordless version, the images show the mouse running from a predatory owl and in her haste she scampers up the back of an enormous beastly lion. For whatever reason, he sets her free rather than having her for a snack, and she promptly returns to her nest and tells her babies what happened. We see hunters setting a large net trap, and the lion stumbling into it. He roars a terrible roar (sorry, that was Where the Wild Things Are) and the mouse hears his distress. She comes to his rescue, frees him from his trap, and they all lie happily ever after. In the gorgeous African grasslands. 

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I Stink! (Kate and Jim McMullan)


The "stinky" main character in this book is the garbage truck, who explains what he does and why he is so important to people. The dialog is a bit choppy at times (some pages have only "Hopper's full. Hit the throttle. Give me some gas. Rev me to the max."), but it would be great for boys, and for teaching kids about the importance of sanitation crews in our society. At one point, he goes through the ABC's of the garbage he gets to eat, which is filled with boy humor. (D for dirty diapers, P for puppy poo)

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The Fathers Are Coming Home (Margaret Wise Brown)

This simple picture book shows a series of fathers (a spider, bug, dog, fish, etc.) coming home to their children at the end of the day. Its predictive repetition and simplistic illustrations make it perfect for preschoolers and early learners. 

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Diamond Jim Dandy and the Sheriff (Sarah Burell)

         
One of the funnier books my daughter has chosen lately, Diamond Dim Dandy and the Sheriff has been at the top of the "Frequently Read" list at our house. Best read with an exaggerated Southern drawl, Diamond Jim is a great pick for preschoolers or readalouds in the school setting. On an ordinary, boring, "nothing ever happens in Dustbin, Texas" day, Diamond Jim the rattlesnake slithers into town. He does a great job of freaking out the Sheriff, whose job of course it is to keep out ragamuffin rattlers like Diamond Jim. Even though he wins the affections of the townspeople, the Sheriff remains skeptical of this friendly rattlesnake until the day he puts his rattles to good use for a special little girl in Dustbin, Texas. 



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7.22.2010

Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream (David Platt)

David Platt has thrown down the gauntlet to materialistic American Christians. American Christians who are among the wealthiest people in the world, who spend jillions of dollars on luxuries and worry about keeping up with the Joneses while millions of people starve to death every day, and most of those are going to Hell without knowledge or believe in Jesus Christ. He writes of his own experiences in some of the darkest places in our world today, and of people he met who go to great lengths just to read, hear, and be taught from the Bible. He also shares about friends within his church family who have had the same experiences, and of the steps some of them have taken to share their material possessions and their faith with people of this world who need them. This book is the best sermon I've ever read, and it will leave every reader with a jolt (not a stir) to immediate action.

The structure of the book is sheer genius. Platt begins with reminding us who Jesus is and that an obedient life of following Him can only be one of reckless abandon. "For when we abandon the trinkets of this world and respond to the radical invitation of Jesus, we discover the infinite treasure of knowing and experiencing Him." (pg. 18) He goes on to explain that the context of the American Dream is to depend on yourself alone for success. "As long as we achieve anything in our own power, we will always attribute it to our own glory." (pg. 46) That American Dream is also clearly present in the church community. "We have convinced ourselves that if we can position our resources and organize our strategies, then in church as in every other sphere of life, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to." (pg. 50) We are relying on ourselves, and that is probably why there are billions of people starving and hurting every day.

He writes about people in our churches, in our towns and cities, and across the world who are struggling to survive, and we could feed an entire family for a day or more on what we spend on a sack of french fries. He challenges us not to feel guilty for what we have, but to reconsider that maybe we have so that we can give.

I could not help but remember throughout this book that, regardless what many if not most Americans (especially here in the shiny gold buckle of the Bible Belt) believe, Jesus Christ was not a middle class white Republican. He lived for and among the most impoverished, most broken, most needy people of the world. He cared about and worked to actively serve those who had desperate physical needs, and He told us to do the very same. And not only that, His last words to us were not to sit on our hands in our multi-million dollar church buildings and hope people will come and hear about the gospel. He told us to GO and TELL.

Among the several other practical suggestions for revolutionizing the way we live to serve the poor and hungry in our world, there are steps Platt lays out for the reader to undergo the Radical Experiment. He is saying that maybe some aren't so sure about how this life will work, so he calls readers to give it one good try. One year of:

1. praying for the entire world "In a world where more than 4.5 billion people are without Christ and more than a billion on the edge of starvation, we have to begin somewhere."
"The multitudes are waiting to hear, and our most urgent need is to pray for the Lord of the harvest to send out Christians into the harvest field." (pg. 186-187)

2. reading through the entire Bible "If we want to know the glory of God, if we want to experience the beauty of God, and if we want to be used by the hand of God, then we must live in the Word of God." (pg. 192)

3. sacrificing money for a specific purpose "Our hearts follow our money...sacrifice every possible dollar in order to spend your life radically on specific, urgent spiritual and physical needs of the world."(pgs. 193 and 196)

4. spending time in another context "If we are going to accomplish the global purpose of God...it will happen primarily through giving ourselves. This is what the gospel represents, and it's what the gospel requires." (pg. 198)
"...Orphans are easier to ignore before you know their names. They are easier to ignore before you see their faces. It is easier to pretend they're not real before you hold them in your arms. But once you do, everything changes." (pg. 139)


5. and committing to a multiplying community "We will need to show one another [in the local church] how to give liberally, go urgently, and live dangerously." (pg. 206)

 All of this can be carried out however that practically looks in your individual family's life. One year of this radical life will likely lead to a lifetime of reckless abandon to Jesus Christ.


Do you see what I mean? It is impossible to read these 200 pages and not be overcome with the desire to do something, anything to get out of our selfish little materialistic bubbles and start giving of our resources and ourselves to those who need it for the ultimate glory of God.


http://www.radicalthebook.com/ 
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7.21.2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson)



Mikael Blomkvist is a reporter who has been convicted of libel. He has a hefty fine to pay and a gaol sentence to serve, but he is mostly concerned with saving his magazine, which is primed for closure given Mikael's conviction. Before he can work out his next moves, he is summoned by Henrik Vanger, who turns out to be the head of the Vanger family and CEO of the Vanger Corporation. Henrik has spent the last 40 years obsessing over the unsolved murder of his niece. He wants Mikael to comb through the files just one more time to see if he can uncover what really happened to Harriet. Mikael's venture into the questions that surround Harriet's murder, and the eccentricities which cloud the family gradually lead Mikael to uncover some of the deepest, darkest secrets beyond all the Vangers could have possibly imagined.

The girl who actually has the dragon tattoo is the most important part of this story. Her name is Salander, and though she seems a bit frightful, she has very good reason to be just that. Salander saves Mikael in every way one human can save another, and becomes an important part of his team.

There are several crucial pieces of the Dragon Tattoo pie missing here that would positively ruin a fantastic read if I were to share them. The first in a series of 3, and which already has a movie version out, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was a bit tedious at first but quickly escalated to one that I could not put down. The coarse language and descriptive chunks of vile s*xual crimes was at times oppressive, and I could definitely have done without so much of both. I had no idea that Sweden has such a dark history of violence against women, and this book definitely changed my perspective of that country as well.
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7.17.2010

So Long, Insecurity (Beth Moore)


The women's ministry at my church often meets to discuss books or Bible studies. Beth Moore is by far one of our favorite authors, primarily because not only does she consistently point readers to the Creator and true source of help/wisdom/healing/peace, she is also discerning, authentic, funny, and wise. Recently we read So Long, Insecurity. In this book, Beth tells us what security is, and what it is not.

It's no secret that largely because of the misery mainstream culture projects, many women are plagued with insecurity. It is downright scary, however, to read about and consider just how that insecurity manifests itself in our lives. It can lead to perpetual misery, a controlling nature, being a painful perfectionist, mistrust of everyone around you, rudeness, issues with intimacy, constant fear of loss, and so much worse. Insecurity affects the way you act with your spouse, your children, your friends, your co-workers, and even your acquaintances. Beth, who has devoted her life to serving and ministering to women, guides the reader to uncovering the source(s) of insecurity and dealing with it in order to reclaim a life full of true peace and liberty. She does delve into how men and their personalities/attitudes relate to our security, and she poses the interesting question of whether we have been and should be treating the men in our life as gods or as devils (the correct answer, by the way, is neither).

Every single chapter is brimming with note-worthy quotes, but one of my favorites was Chapter 15, titled "Looking Out for Each Other." In this section, Beth writes that oftentimes it is women who are causing insecurity in other women, leading to a deeper pit of insecurity. She calls all of us ladies to respect one another in unity and sisterhood, specifically to:
-Stop making comparisons.
-Start personalizing other women.
-Stop tripping another woman's insecurity switch.
-Be examples of secure women. She elaborates in Chapter 14 (my most favorite section) that for our own freedom and peace we should actively seek to be examples of secure women, but mostly for the sake of our daughters, nieces, sisters, cousins, and granddaughters. How much easier our little girls will learn to live a life of security if they see it demonstrated daily in our lives!

Reading through this book is a very unique and personal experience, and it can be rather messy. Discussing it in a group of women was not an easy thing, but the wisdom within brought healing to many.
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7.11.2010

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)


The 5 Bennett girls are looking for love. Their mother will stop at nothing to see her daughters happily (or, ok, maybe even just slightly comfortably) married. It's set somewhere in England around the late 1800's, so they can't text, tweet, or Facebook. Therefore, they spend the bulk of their days writing letters, reading letters, planning balls, and hashing over every single detail of every single moment they were in the presence of their potential suitors. They plot and plan and hope and wish, and everything in life pretty much is all wrapped up in the boys. It is definitely a story about girls who are trying to land husbands. The differences among the Bennett sisters and their respective characters/personalities/moral standards and convictions are vast and starkly contrasted. One sister (Jane) is so good-hearted that she can't bear to think poorly of anyone, even when she is given factual evidence which proves certain individuals are conniving/manipulating/lying dogs. Yet, another sister (Lydia) is considered quite the raucous hoodlum, and at one point spontaneously runs off to shack up with a soldier. My favorite sister is Elizabeth. She's respectable and honorable, considerate of her friends and family, yet she is not a girl who will be pushed around. She knows how to stand on her own two feet, but she knows how to do so in a bold yet well-spoken manner. I would like to be friends with Elizabeth. 

The boys, as it turns out, are for the most part fairly good guys. They are good to the girls, and usually all have their best interests at heart. The intertwining of the girls' varied match-ups (and failed match-ups), doused with the culture and society of the Victorian era, made Pride and Prejudice quite a story, and one in which you can't help but root for the girls to get their guys. 




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7.04.2010

The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella (Stephenie Meyer)

If you're a true Twilight fan, you've read all of the books in the series at least twice. Maybe three times. :) You've waited in line to catch the midnight openings of each movie, and probably giggled a little bit at the concession stand when you're getting your souvenir cup and the dude asked you, in a very cryptic way, "Which character do you choose?"

But do you have the foggiest idea who Bree Tanner is? Maybe you do, maybe you missed her brief encounter with the Cullens at the end of Eclipse. I actually did remember Bree Tanner but I didn't think about her very much. She seemed...inconsequential.

Bree Tanner is a 15-year-old runaway who had the distinct misfortune of being turned into a vampire solely for the purpose of serving as a soldier in Victoria's army of newborns. The title tells us that she has a short second life, because we already know that at the end of Eclipse, Bree Tanner is killed by the Volturi. (Spoiler-gasp.) She dies. We know this when we begin reading the 192-page novella that helps us better understand Victoria's strategy and process of creating this army of newborn vampires. Victoria, you see, is rather peeved that Edward killed her mate James (Now we are taking it old school, all the way back to Twilight.) She has tried and failed in other methods of trying to get her revenge on Edward by killing his beloved Bella, so this pack of newborns is her latest and greatest attempt. She wants Bella dead, and she thinks that if she uses a bunch of fresh, incredibly strong- even for vampires- run by her puppet/gopher boy Riley, then she can avoid Edward's pesky ability to read minds and therefore anticipate her attack on Bella.

So complicated. Isn't it ohsowonderful and ohsoexhausting?! I love these books.

So anyways, back to Bree. As it turns out, Bree was far from a mindless, blood-thirsty newborn vampire like the others Victoria was creating. She's likable, witty, intelligent, and scared to death, and as you get to know this young Bree Tanner, you begin to hope beyond all hope that somehow the ending that has already been written will change, that somehow her demise won't come as you've already read it in Eclipse. Poor Bree Tanner.

Her Second Short Life is fantastic, and really helpful in adding yet another dimension to the Twilight series. Her Second Short Life also proves yet again that no Twilight character is inconsequential.
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Miracles (C.S. Lewis)


I like the way C. S. Lewis thinks. I respect his reasoning. I admire his intelligence. I applaud his efforts at explaining the logic of the existence of miracles. I love several of his other books. I love the concept of miracles as they relate to the Christian faith, and have always found the specific miracles mentioned within the Bible most interesting. But this book, Miracles, as a whole really just stinks. I spent most of the first 142 pages of this book drowning in the confusing philosophy of naturalism, supernaturalism, pantheism, probability, propriety, something Lewis called red herrings, and something else he called horrid red things. It was miserable, to tell the truth. My curiosity and hope for some small morsel of comprehension was all that propelled me, and my efforts were indeed rewarded. There were a few such morsels which I am thankful for helping me think more deeply and carefully about the character of our God and what He has done for us. 
pg. 117 “He is the opaque center of all existences, the thing that simply and entirely is the fountain of facthood.”
The best chapter, by far, is 14, in which Lewis describes the miracle of the incarnation of Jesus in the flesh. This chapter makes the whole book worth reading. 
pg. 147-148  “...God descends to re-ascend. He comes down; down from the heights of absolute being into time and space, down into humanity; down further still...to recapitulate in the womb ancient and pre-human phases of life; down to the very roots and sea-bed of the Nature He created. But He goes down to come up and pull the whole ruined world up with Him.” Now THAT is good stuff. I have never heard the coming of Christ put so eloquently and poetic. It makes me want to see a painting created to depict such thought. 
There are some fairly interesting thoughts about death, some about which I continue to consider. 
pg. 166- “[Death] is Satan’s great weapon and also God’s great weapon: it is holy and unholy; our supreme disgrace and our only hope; the thing Christ came to conquer and the means by which He conquered.”
A thought about the comparison of miracles with fairy tales:
pg. 174-175 - “The fitness of the Christian miracles, and their differences from these mythological miracles, lies in the fact that they show invasion by a Power which is not alien. They are what might be expected to happen when she invaded not simply by a god, but by the God of Nature: by a Power which is outside her jurisdiction not as a foreigner but as a sovereign. They proclaim that He who has come is not merely a king, but the king, her King and ours. It is this which...puts Christian miracles in a different class from most other miracles.” 
Miracles has really done nothing to either deepen or alter my pre-existing sense of or belief in the occurrence of supernatural or miraculous events. I do reserve, however, that this book is likely just well above my realm of understanding and will probably be greater enjoyed by those who are much smarter and philosophical than myself. 


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6.28.2010

Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children (Grace Akallo and Faith McDonnell)








Grace Akallo is a young woman who was abducted from her school in the middle of the night to serve as a child soldier and sex slave of the rebel army known as the LRA (stands for Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony) in Uganda. She tells stories of the absolutely horrific things she saw, experienced, and was forced to do. This poor girl suffered hell on earth. The good news is, she lived through it, and is using her voice to spread the news of what is happening in northern Uganda. And the sad news is, we need her to keep doing it because it seems like the entire world is ignoring the atrocities that continue to plague the Ugandan people.

Faith McDonnell is an author and humanitarian who became interested in telling the story of the child soldiers in Uganda, and once she met Grace and heard her stories, it was decided that they would co-author this book, in which chapters alternate between Grace's narrative of actual experience and Faith's historical explanation of how these events came to transpire in Uganda. It's a beautifully written book that tells a very dark story, but again, it is one that will change your life forever. 

What I've learned is that in Uganda's history, the most powerful leader (or the one with the biggest army or the best guns) is who gets to be in charge. There has been a crazy, violent, twisted "king of the hill" tug of war for power since Uganda's establishment as a British protectorate in the 1800's. Right now, things are stable with the Ugandan government, but there are factions of rebel armies who roam the countryside and take their anger at not being in power out on innocent civilians. Most of those are children. 

What Grace tells us- from her own personal experience- is that the LRA would raid schools and villages in the middle of the night, when people are most vulnerable. They would abduct the children, and immediately begin the process of dehumanizing them by forcing them to kill a sibling, their parents, or another child. This tactic ensured the child would feel alienated from society and therefore would not attempt to escape. The manner in which the murders took place were the most savage, most violent possible. Smashing heads in, using a panga/machete to chop bodies apart piece by piece, stabbing with bayonets, beating with clubs, cutting lips and eyelids off with razorblades, stabbing through lips and pinning person to the ground with a knife, etc. Many of the killing methods I read about that these children were forced to carry out were so terrible that I have never even heard of them. So incredibly sad. These same methods were used to kill parents, teachers, or village elders who tried to protect the children. 

Once they had taken another life, then the children were trained to be killing machines. They were forced to walk for long distances with no shoes or food, carrying materials and weapons for the army. The girls were given to soldiers as "wives," which really meant that they were raped repeatedly. 

I found it interesting that the Islamic Sudanese were funding the LRA through weapons and militia. 

At this moment, Uganda is slowly recovering. Hundreds of thousands of Ugandan people, including those who were children who were forced to serve in the LRA and people who lost their land/homes/family/lives to the LRA, are living in refugee camps scattered throughout northern Uganda. That is a very slow start to the mountain of needs these people have. They have extremely limited medical care, no government protection, very little food, no access to education, and no clean water. 

Eventually Joseph Kony was driven to Sudan by the Ugandan government's troops. There are still divisions of the LRA who are in and active in Uganda. They repeatedly attack the refugee camps and burn families alive, demand food from the people, and continue to kidnap children. 

There are thousands of children who have been forced to become "night commuters," which means they literally walk up to 10 miles one way each day to make it to a shelter or hospital just so they can sleep without fear of being abducted in the middle of the night by the LRA. Rather than providing for these poor kids who are forced to take such desperate measures, it is reported that they are harassed by men and teenage boys along their route. Some girls have been raped. 

Then there are all the former child soldiers whose innocence was stripped away from them when they were forced to kill- violently. They are trying to re-enter a society which does not understand how to help them. The children's minds and hearts have been changed forever. There are organizations like World Vision who have a presence there in Uganda who have counseling centers to help rehabilitate the children back to a point where they can function within Ugandan culture. Slowly but surely, the country is trying to recover from such a nightmare. 

Included at the end of the book is an exhaustive list of resources for people who have been moved to help the Ugandan people after reading this story. It is wise for the authors to include this, because there is no possible way a person can take all of this in without being moved to action. 

Knowing these things leads me to pray more specifically and exhaustively for the Ugandan people. I am praying for resources and help to arrive soon for the refugees, for the Ugandan government to step it up in caring for these displaced people, for families to be reunited and restored, for physical, psychological, and emotional healing to occur for the people, for the former child soldiers to forgive themselves for what they have been forced to do, and of course for all the orphans left behind in the massacres of the Ugandan people. I pray that the Ugandan culture is restored, and that every orphan child has someone to truly love and care for them.

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6.23.2010

Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew (Sherri Eldridge)


This book is a truly helpful resource in helping adoptive parents understand some of the issues of grief and loss that their adopted children will face throughout their lives. Despite the fact that adoption is a great thing, and that healthy families are brought together and thriving through adoption, there are issues that many adopted children will face. It is their parents' responsibility to become knowledgeable about the issue, triggers that may set off sadness and anger for adoptees, and the important of validating their children's feelings and empathizing with their kids as they hurt. The adoptive parent must realize that even though the child is being welcomed into a loving and excited family, some type of rejection took place (almost always tragic circumstances or through a birth parent's inability to raise their child) first. Some adoptees struggle with this more than others. The most important thing is for the adoptive parents to realize that these feelings are legitimate, and to guide their child to grieve in a healthy way. The worst thing adoptive parents can do is to ignore or repress these feelings of sadness, grief, and loss. 

According to this book, written by an adoptee, the best things adoptive parents can do are to validate their children's feelings, frequently assure them in many ways that they are welcomed and worthy, and to recognize and honor the biological differences between them. Adoptive parents should also respect their child's confidentiality. They should talk to their child about how much information regarding their adoption should be shared, and to respect the child's boundaries and preferences in this. With transracial adoptions, the fact that they are adopted will be obvious to many. The adopted child, however, still should maintain control over the details that are shared about his or her adoption. 

The fact that this is written by an adoptee makes it the most valuable resource on this topic. I've read a lot of research about what scientists and child development specialists and child psychologists and pediatricians say about parenting a child through adoption. Listening to the voice of an actual adoptee carries much more weight. 

There are many helpful lists and suggested responses to children's questions and expressions of fear or sadness in this book, which make it a handy reference guide throughout the child-rearing years. 

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6.22.2010

Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin)

Greg Mortenson was a mountain climber. Not your neighborhood outdoor store brand of mountain climber either, a real mountain climber. In 1993 he visited the Pakistan Himalaya Mountains, specifically a summit called K2 in the Karakoram district, and set out to scale K2. Long story short, he failed. He came off that mountain lost and broken and near death, but was taken in by a local village called Korphe. They saved his life, and by the time he was well enough to realize it and head home, he had decided he would come back and help this impoverished group of people who had given so much to help him. That turned into a dream of building a school for the Korphe children. Greg raised enough money (in the most desperate, sad, and interesting ways) and returned to Pakistan to build the school. Long story short, he was able to build the school despite incredible opposition and numerous glitches.

Then, one school turned into another. And another. And another. And eventually Greg Mortenson was in charge of an organization called the Central Asia Institute building schools all over Pakistan. He dealt with many issues along the way, and nearly lost his life numerous times. Eventually he was able to build schools in Afghanistan as well. As far as I can tell, Greg Mortenson is still spending most of his time in Pakistan and Afghanistan, building schools. He learned the process of getting things done (usually the hard way) in Pakistan, and also was fortunate to receive wise counsel from some of his friends in Korphe. One mentor explained to Greg that to thrive there he would have to respect their culture, their ways. The first cup of tea he shared with a Pakistani was as a stranger, the second was as a friend and honored guest, and the third was as family member, for whom any of them would die. Greg Mortenson learned to share many cups of tea with his acquaintances in Pakistan.

Mortenson was in Pakistan on September 11, 2001. He made some foolish mistakes during this time, in my opinion, such as returning several times in the months following 9/11, remained in the country even after he was specifically told it was a very dangerous place for American citizens, and approached the Afghanistan border "just to see what would happen" (what happened was he lost his passport and had to waste weeks getting one back and explaining to the hyper paranoid Intelligence Agency what he was doing there in the first place-he was lucky he didn't lose his life). He had a front row seat to the events that occurred in the Middle East following the terror attacks on America. Soon, the motivation for building these schools evolved from merely wanting to return a kindness to wanting to help promote peace in the world through providing an opportunity for educating Pakistan's youngsters...an opportunity other than the Islamic Wahhabi madrassas, many of which at that time taught (and may still teach) militant jihadi Islam. "The madrassa system targeted the impoverished students the public system failed. By offering free room and board and building schools in areas where none existed, madrassas provided millions of Pakistan's parents with their only opportunity to educate their children." (pg. 243)

 Mortenson believed then, and continues to believe, that the most important and effective way to fight terrorism is to prevent future generations from being trained to hate. The schools built by the Central Asia Institute are traditional Islamic schools which honor the culture of this country, but without the harsh militant agenda. The more schools that are available for children (especially girls) to attend, the better a chance the people have at rising above the hate that spews from some of Pakistan's best-known inhabitants (the Taliban and al-Quaeda).

I thought the piece about how Greg met his wife Tara was super sweet, and sort of awe-inspiring. I was a little concerned that this book seems to imply that Greg was married to building schools in Pakistan and was involved with his family only a little the side, though. I certainly hope that isn't an accurate assumption. It would be sorrowful for a man to accomplish so much in the lives of other families while forsaking involvement with his own.

I learned so much from this book. I had no idea there were so many various people groups in Pakistan, nor did I have a clue about the way most Pakistanis felt/feel about the Taliban. I also learned quite a bit about the Pakistani government, and (from Greg Mortenson's point of view, anyway) the United States's great successes and great failures in the days following the September 11th attacks. It made me remember how scary and broken we all were in America on September 11th, but also to realize a new perspective on the events that took place in the years leading up to and following the attacks on the United States. It made me angry to read that the yellow humanitarian food packets that American military planes were dropping down to Afghan refugees closely resembled the bright yellow pods of unexploded cluster bombs. (pg. 279)

This book has been plaguing my life as a reader for well over a year now. As I have inched through it, it has taken up space in my bag, my laptop case, my backpack, my bookcase, basket of books, and my stack of books on the bedside table. I started it over a year ago, when it was first released in paperback. Everyone was talking about this book, and how I just had to read it. I'm a library girl, not much a book purchaser (except for my children's collection), but in this case I made an exception. I've read it on and off ever since then, frustrated because it wasn't a very friendly read. It was difficult, and sad, and did not truly catch my attention until about 180 pages in.

This is very unlike me. I believe life is too short to read bad books. I know there is great value in seeing a book through to the end no matter what you think about it. In this case, I never felt like Three Cups of Tea was a bad book, it just required a lot of effort to read. More so than just about any other book I've read. The names of the cities in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the unfamiliar names of individuals Mortenson encountered, and the ever-changing rules and politics were so confusing. There is a map included at the beginning of the book, and I wish I had remembered it was there to go back and look up the name of each city rather than relying on my mind's very abstract notion of where those cities were in relation to one another. There is also an index provided so that would also be very helpful to readers. Those are some mistakes I feel as though I made when reading this book. I underestimated it, I did not put forth significant effort to keep the people and places straight, and I did not use the index to refer to places, people, and issues. In essence, I'm saying that this book isn't meant to be read casually. It's meant to be studied and discussed. So I'm reiterating that Three Cups of Tea is not a bad book, it's just a difficult one. Approach with caution, handle with care, and for crying out loud, use the maps.

For more info, follow Greg Mortenson on Twitter- @gregmortenson

or see his website: http://www.threecupsoftea.com/ 
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6.20.2010

I Will Rejoice (Karma Wilson)


"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." ~Psalm 118:24

This verse was one of the first Scripture verses we taught our child, which makes this book one of our most treasured. A little girl goes throughout her day, from waking up to playing with friends to taking her nap to eating dinner with her family. As she moves from one activity to another, she repeats Psalm 118:24 and tells how she will rejoice throughout her day. 

Very sweet book! I love that it clearly illustrates this very important Bible verse, and helps younger children make a connection from the words they memorize to actions.  

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Alphabet Mystery (Audrey Wood)

What would we do if one of our alphabet letters suddenly went missing? The rest of the ABC's rally together to organize a search and rescue effort for a letter that suddenly vanishes into the night. The letters embark on an adventure, meet Mad Miserable M, and scurry to get their recovered letter back home before they are all turned into alphabet soup! ;)



Love this book! It's more than an ABC book, though children certainly get lots of exposure to all the letters. There is even one page (Mad Miserable M's treasure trove) where each letter connects with an item whose name (very cleverly) starts with that letter. Cute, huh? It also gives younger children the chance to connect letters with words and sounds.

Great book for preschool and primary school aged children!
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Let's Have a Daddy Day (Karen Kingsbury)

A dad explains to his children the fun day they might have together. He tells what might happen if they choose this activity or that, and explains that quality time playing together now will help them look back on their childhood and know that their Daddy loved them because they took the time to play.

Sweet book. The "maybe we'll play baseball, maybe we'll look at frogs" scenarios are underdeveloped, but it's a great book for dads and kids to read together!

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6.19.2010

There's a Princess in Me! (Sheila Walsh)


Shouldn't every girl feel like a princess? 

Gigi is a character who tells, via rhyme, all the ways that there is a princess in her...despite all her failings and imperfections. As she describes her mistakes, she also shares that her free gift is the promise of being a child of God's, of being His princess. There are verses included to explain these promises from the Lord. (Colossians 3:12, 1 John 3:1)

He looks past the mess.
He says she is precious.
He declares that there is a princess in her!

I think the nicest touch is the mirror on the front of the book, so that every little girl can see herself with the title There's a Princess in Me proclaimed over her face! 


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If You Give a Cat a Cupcake (Laura Numeroff)


Typical of the "if you give a ___" series, Numeroff's latest involves the cat who starts out with a cupcake, somehow ends up at the beach, then the gym, then eventually back at home with the cupcake. These books are awesome for younger school aged children primarily due to the extreme silly factor. Kids love seeing what the cat is going to come up with next. They are also powerful connections to illustrating the cause-effect relationship with younger students.

I think they're great, but also that they are very ADD-ish. Sometimes kids do need to focus on one thing at a time, and they do need to develop those skills of completing a task once begun. Shoot, sometimes I feel like the ADD cat as I start out taking the laundry to the washing machine, then get sidetracked to stop and pick up some of my child's toys so I can get the basket through the living room, then move on to loading the dishwasher, etc. 

But it sure is good to read a silly, funny book just for the heck of it! 

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Scarlette Beane (Karen Wallace)

Scarlette Beane is all about the vegetables.

Born to parents who love to garden, Scarlette has a face "red as a beet, and the ends of her fingers were green." She is constantly surrounded by carrots, parsley, tomatoes, beets, turnips, cucumbers, and onions. Even her baby mobile has veggies dangling from it!

Her mother tells her constantly that she will do something wonderful with her life. Sure enough, one day Scarlette wakes up and her garden has produced vegetables that are enormous enough to feed her whole town. She continues to grow giant veggies until she builds her parents a castle made of vegetables ("with turnip turrets, a drawbridge held by corncobs, and a cucumber tower on each corner") and her mother tells her that she knew all along that Scarlette was going to do something wonderful.

In this fast food nation we inhabit, it certainly is awesome to see a book about vegetables. When I watched Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution a few months ago, I was shocked that most children in that particular school district could not identify even the most basic vegetables. Scarlette Beane really does put a magical, positive spin on the world of vegetables. When I was reading this with my own child, her first comment after we closed the book was to ask for a cucumber...so there you have it!
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Just in Case You Ever Wonder (Max Lucado)


A mom and dad tell their daughter how much she means to them, and how wonderful they think she is. They tell her why she is special, that God looked and looked for just the right family before sending her to them, and that they will always be there for her. It is one of the best books a parent can read to his or her children!

My favorite page, which echoes everything I want my own children to treasure about themselves:
"The same hands that made the stars made you.
The same hands that made the canyons made you.
The same hands that made the trees and the moon and the sun made you.
That's why you are so special. God made you."

(sniff sniff)
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Red: Seeing Red All Around Us (Sarah L. Schuette)

This is a very basic book all about the color red. Several red items are shown, with simple sentences describing the red items (ex: Red has flashing lights and horns. -sentence describing a red fire truck). also on each page is a more in-depth explanation of the red things.

2 cool facts from this book:
-Strawberries are the only fruit whose seeds grow on the outside.
-Licorice candy is actually made from the root of a licorice tree.
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The House in the Night (Susan Marie Swanson)

This was the 2009 Caldecott winner. My personal thoughts on its selection were simply that it was undeserving. The illustrations are black and white etchings/penmarks with random items colored in yellow.  It is unusual, but not necessarily spectacular.

The story is rather vague and without any real purpose. There's an adult giving a child a key to a house, then describing the house with the light and a bed and a book and a bird and a song  that is all about the dark, then the story reverses until it ends back with the house in the night and a home full of light.

Yep, it's weird. I guess the "notable" portion of the Caldecott Medal can sometimes mean weird.
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Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (Simms Taback)

This story is about Joseph and his overcoat. His coat wears down, so he turns it into a jacket. When that wears down, he makes a vest, then a scarf, then a handkerchief, etc. At the end of the book, he loses the button that was covered with the last scrap of fabric. The last thing he makes is a story about his overcoat's journey, which shows that you can always make something out of nothing.

It isn't all that terrific a story, but the book is vibrantly illustrated. Each page is brightly colored with cutouts that help predict what and who might come next in Joseph's story.

The "making something out of nothing" connection would be easy with artwork, recycling, cause and effect, etc. There is even a song at the end of the book, written by Simms Taback himself.
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From Little Acorns...A First Look at the Life Cycle of a Tree (Sam Godwin)

In this brief book, two little squirrels help explain the basic concept of an acorn's development into a tree and the cycle of that tree producing more acorns.  It is fantastic for giving the first introduction to life cycles in general.

Interesting facts we learned from this book:
-It takes 30 years for an oak sapling to mature into an oak tree.
-It takes 40 years before the oak tree begins to produce acorns.
-The flowers on the oak tree, which produce the seeds, are called catkins.

At the conclusion of the book, the author once again provides a looped illustration of the life cycle of the oak tree, and also provides further resources for exploration on this topic. Great resource!
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I Love My Hair! (Natasha Anastasia Tarpley)

 This book is for every little girls of African descent  who wishes their hair was more like other ethnicities on the planet, which is apparently more common that I thought.

Keyana takes us through the process of her mother fixing her hair, including the soothing application of coconut oil and the harsh tugging and pulling of the comb. She describes how her mother can weave her hair into a soft, fluffy bun, she can let it be free, she can part and braid it in straight lines "like the way we plant seeds in our garden,"and she can braid it into tiny little sections with click-clacky beads on the end. Keyana tells about how she felt when other kids teased her about her hair, but that her parents assure her that her hair is a blessing, and to be proud of her hair means to be proud of where she came from.

 I love that this book can be used to help all girls, regardless of their race, remember that their hair makes them beautiful!

In the Author's Note, Tarpley tells readers about how she struggled with and against her hair for years, trying chemicals to straighten it and cutting it super short. Eventually she came to peace with her hair just as it was meant to be, which is what she passes along to other girls who want their hair to be something it's not, and was never meant to be.
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ABC Under the Sea (Barbara Knox)


My little one loves all things that have to do with ocean life. She also loves all things ABC, so this was in her mind the perfect book.

ABC Under the Sear is exactly what it sounds like. It's an alphabet book that describes a sea creature that matches its letter. Cool images and very cool info included! I loved that each page has the entire alphabet printed out (with uppercase and lowercase letters) and the letter of the page is highlighted. That is excellent for helping young readers maintain perspective on the relationship between each letter and the English alphabet as a whole.

My favorite "wow" facts were:
-There is a special starfish called the Chocolate Chip Sea Star, which really and truly looks like it has wee bitty chocolate chips all over it
-Jellyfish have no brain at all. That is somewhat amazing to me. I know all it does is pump water in and out of its body, but still. How does it even know to pump water in and out without a brain?
-Sea Turtles are unable to pull their head and feet inside their shells. Well, dang. That stinks for the sea turtles.


Definitely one of the best basic level ocean life trade books around. It's good for preschool kids just becoming acquainted with letters of the alphabet, and is also a reliable source of information for facts about rare ocean creatures. Every school library should include this one!
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Guess How Much I Love You (Sam McBratney)

A Caldecott book, this is one of the absolute sweetest children's books in existence. The Daddy rabbit (ahem, "Nutbrown Hare") and his little boy rabbit are going about their little rabbit day talking about how much they love one another. Such a precious story, and perfect for settling a little one into bed. The "I love you to the moon...and back!" line is enough to reassure any child of their parent's love.
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Papa, Do You Love Me? (Barbara M. Joose)

This is a wonderful and super sweet picture book about a father and his son, both of whom are members of the Maasai culture in African Kenya and Tanzania. The son is asking his papa questions, and the papa's responses are reflections of the tribe's way of life as well as very reassuring of his love for his son.  The illustrations appear to be done with water color, and are beautiful, but it seems to me that the father's features are rather feminine. On each page I wondered why the book wasn't called Mama, Do You Love Me?


The papa's words on the closing page are the sweetest.

"I'll care for you, love you, and teach you. Always. Because I am your papa, and you are my tender heart."

Great book for fathers to read with their children!
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6.17.2010

Ruby Holler (Sharon Creech)

Dallas and Florida are twins-brother and sister, misunderstood, orphans, and stuck in a terrible foster environment. They have been betrayed by every adult in their life, and have never known the privilege of a safe, stable family. One day they are sent to live with Tiller and Sairy, an older couple who live down in Ruby Holler. There in Ruby Holler, Tiller and Sairy peel back the layers on these twins until they are finally able to see them for who they are. In fact, Dallas and Florida come to help save Tiller and Sairy, even from themselves.

I loved this book, and count is as one of my new favorites! A discussion on each individual character would be very lively, no doubt. Ruby Holler is an easy read and relatively suspenseful. It would make a great read-aloud or book study for a 3rd or 4th grade class.
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Uganda: Enchantment of the World (Revised Edition, by Ettagale Blauer and Jason Laure')

My family and I are adopting a child from Uganda. For that reason, I have been on the hunt for all books Ugandan.

Of all the literature I have read about Uganda, this is my absolute favorite. It is the most thorough, comprehensive, and understandable. It has the best illustrations and resources. Every time I read a book about Uganda, I learn new things that I find interesting. This book, however, is filled with information that keeps making me think, I have to remember this for our child. The authors delve into great detail about plant and animal life, as well as famous women in Uganda's history.


Here are some of the highlights:
-Uganda has very, very fertile farmland. Even in the poorest days of The Great Depression, Ugandans could still grow crops to feed themselves. 
-The "kings" of Uganda are called kabaka (KAH-ba-kah). The President rules over the nation, but the kabakas are very important to the people as a figurehead and representative. The current kabaka (Uganda's 34th) is Kabaka Mutebi II, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. 
-Oil was recently discovered in western Uganda. Hmmm. It will be interesting to see how that will spark interest in this country, worldwide. 
-Uganda's terrain is diverse. There are vast grasslands, and there are mountainous regions. Margherita Peak in the Rwenzori mountains is the third highest peak in all of Africa. 
-The size of Uganda is 91, 111 square miles, which is comparable to the U.S. state of Oregon. About 15% of the total area is covered in water. This is probably why Uganda has such fertile soil! 
-The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest contains many species of animals, but is also home to the rare mountain gorilla as well as pods of chimpanzees. Those who have studied the chimps has noticed that mothers and sons remain in close relationships in the wold for over 40 years. Daughters leave their mothers when they are mature enough to start their own families. 
-The water hyacinth is a beautiful type of water lily that was brought to Uganda because of its beautiful flowers, but soon it grew so quickly that it began to choke up the waterways. Ugandans had to introduce a type of weevil which helps slow the hyacinth's growth. Pretty cool fact! I can't wait to see those water hyacinths myself when we travel to meet our child. 
-Princess Elizabeth of Toro was the first Ugandan woman to become a lawyer. 
-Coffee is Uganda's main agricultural export. Tea, sugarcane, and coffee are also produced in and exported from Uganda.
-There are about 20 various ethnic groups in Uganda. The largest is the Baganda. 
-Karamajong women make scar patterns with tiny cuts all over their faces. These marks are considered a sign of beauty. 
-There are over 2 million orphans in Uganda. These children have lost their parents due to war, death, and disease.
-Soccer, basketball, and cricket are the most popular sports in Uganda. 
-For women, the national dress of Uganda is the basuuti, which is a long brightly colored dress with a sash (called a kitambaala) to hold the dress in place. 
-Every year there is a special race called the Royal Ascot Goat Race. People push their goats along to the finish line, and prizes are awarded for the best costumes. This event takes place at the Royal Speke Resort in Munyonyo. 
-One of the most inspiring Ugandan athletes is Bashir Ramathan. He is a blind middle-weight boxer!


Uganda's history is detailed in this book. It is a relatively new country but with a long and dark history. The basic overview is that indigenous people inhabited the area until Europeans came looking for the source of the Nile River (which is Lake Victoria-in Uganda). Meanwhile, Arab traders and Christian missionaries were infusing into the region. It was at this point (1840's) that the Arab traders began to trade humans who had been captured by opposing tribes and sold into slavery. The Ugandan slaves were taken to Brazil and the Caribbean islands, and it's not stated but I'm sure some ended up in America as slaves as well. In 1894 Uganda was settled as a British colony/protectorate. Eventually the Ugandans got sick of Britain taking their tax money and not giving them any authority over their own country, and on October 9, 1962 Uganda finally gained its independence. It was the end of some troubles for Ugandans, but the beginning of many other troubles that came in the form of political factions and instability. Groups were vying for power in the country when Milton Obote took over by force. The Ugandan Parliament voted him out of office in 1966, but he again used the army to take direct physical control of the country. He suspended the constitution and implemented martial law. General Idi Amin was the most powerful military leader who assisted Obote with this take-over, and Obote continually grew suspicious of the amount of control Amin had. He was right to be concerned, because as soon as he left Uganda for a short trip, Amin forcibly took over reign in Uganda, and this began the darkest days of all in Uganda's history. Idi Amin was crazy, and extremely paranoid. He commanded the deaths of 300, 000 Ugandan citizens (men, women, and children) in the most heinous ways possible. Uganda has had a new, stable, positive President since 1986 (Yoweri Museveni), but in many ways the country continues to suffer from the attrocities of life in Idi Amin's reign. 

English is the official language, but there are many many tribal languages spoken throughout the country. Lugandan is the most popular of these, and we will be striving to teach our child some of these words and phrases from her birth country. So...

Webale (thank you) for reading this very lengthy post, and look for more books reviewed enkya (tomorrow)!
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