“The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man” a Review

“The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man” by Michael Chabon; Balzer and Bray; copyright 2011; 40 pp.

It doesn’t hurt that “Astonishing Secret” is written by one of my favorite authors. It doesn’t hurt that it’s about a superhero. I love superheroes. It doesn’t hurt that it’s funny. I love to laugh. It doesn’t hurt that it’s fun to look at the pictures.

 

We’re supposed to guess Awesome Man’s secret identity and along the way, if you’re paying attention, you’ll figure it out. He tells us about his awesome powers, but confesses he smashes into things—and sometimes on purpose. Because “When you are a superhero like me, sometimes you have to smash into things.”

 

He has a Fortress of Awesome, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, and an arch nemesis–the Flying Eyeball. If he gets into trouble and his powers get away from him, he retreats and gets all ‘positronic’ again.

Chabon has captured the essence of comics with sound effects in humongous letters: “Skreech” “Sklurp” “Ska-runch.” Hey, it also doesn’t hurt that the author has had a love relationship with comic books his whole life (almost). Jake Parker’s illustrations couldn’t be cleverer. He works wonders with bold colors, also reminiscent of comic books.

Awesome Man puts me in mind of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and his alter-ego Stupendous Man. Except I don’t think Calvin, erm, Stupendous Man can hug mutant Jell-O.

The clues are there, but even if you figure out Awesome Man’s secret identity early in the story, I bet you’ll want to read it again, even if your child doesn’t ask you to.

But I bet he will.

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Days With Frog and Toad: A Review

What a cool relationship Frog and Toad have. They remind me of an amphibious odd couple. Their personalities are different as well as their skins. Frog seems to be always upbeat and Toad seems to have a tentative attitude toward things. And then there’s the Toad-is-brown and Frog-is-green thing going on.

Kids learning to read will have fun with “Days With Frog and Toad” because Frog and Toad help each other, play together, relax together, and obviously care about one another.

Each of the five stories—“Tomorrow,” “The Kite,” “Shivers,” “The Hat,” and “Alone” are comical and sweet. Each contains a lesson that parents can discuss with their child. The stories are a fun way to learn about helping, being persistent, being responsible, and appreciating people.

The frog and toad stories remind me also of “The Wind in the Willows” because of the characters’ particular species. Arthur Lobel has done a fine job with the I Can Read Book, with engaging stories and simple illustrations to go with the simple sentence structure for beginning readers. The I Can Read series is explained as “a perfect bridge to chapter books” with “high-interest stories for developing readers.”

 

“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.

Because He Lives: A Book Review

Because He Lives by Jennifer Flanders; 205 pp; Prescott Publishing; copyright 2018

While the subtitle of the book is “a devotional journal for Easter,” this uniquely formatted book serves a Christian for any occasion, any time of year.

Flanders compiled each chapter to reflect various aspects of God’s nature, his miracles, and his love. The author says Because He Lives is a “celebration of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.” The meditations are meant to get the reader thinking about the life and work of Jesus, especially his Passion week.

Different from any devotional I’ve seen, this one presents a coloring book style. I believe that Flanders creates her journals this way to make the act of meditating on scripture more engaging. As with her other works, the daily readings are mostly dependent on scripture, basing the message on Christian creeds.

While engaging in the scriptures offered for reflection, readers may want to write prayers, poetry, experiences related to the reading, prompts from the Holy Spirit, or anything God brings to the mind and heart. There seems to be a completely gentle way of helping Christians speak on paper the influences of God’s grace in their lives. I found it refreshing in its simplicity.

I enjoyed Flanders’ inclusion of prophesies fulfilled, the various episodes of God’s goodness in Jesus’ ministry, scriptures related to living a life dedicated to Christ, and remembering the eternal perspective that we should always keep in mind.

The journal is certainly slanted toward the Easter season, but even though the title suggests that, I’d recommend it for any time of year. The artwork is borrowed from paintings and graphics we’re familiar with and, as I said, are suitable for the person who enjoys using markers and colored pencils as personal expressions. The book would make a nice gift for any occasion, reminding us that we are who we are ‘because he lives.’

BookCrash provided a complimentary copy of Because He Lives in exchange for this review.

 

 

“Don’t Close Your Eyes”: A Review

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Bob Hostetler, Illustrated by Mark Chambers; copyright 2019; publisher Tommy Nelson; 20 pages; $9.99 US/$12.50 Canada

Bob Hostetler writes a “silly bedtime story” that is charming and sweet featuring baby animals with their moms and dads. Mark Chambers’ illustrations create the right atmosphere for a lovely bedtime story.

In a simple rhyming scheme, the story tells little ones that it’s time to go to bed. But the 20-page poem invites sleepy children to not close their eyes. Rabbits and foxes, owls and deer, and birds and bears have flown, buzzed around, and played all day. They’re ready for bed after a day of romping just like the child in Mommy’s lap.

If I had small children, I would hope they’d want me to read “this one” “again, Mom.” While the message repeated throughout is “Don’t close your eyes,” it’s meant to quiet a child until they can’t keep those little peepers open. Sounds to me like the perfect book to prepare a child for sleep after the bath and bedtime prayers.

The story’s short and easy to read. The binding is solid. The pages are constructed from cardboard and polyester foam so those chubby fingers can handle the book easily. Also a smart move as far as helping the book to last.

Parents might want to make the story interesting and give that little sleepy head something to do. There are mice on a few of the pages and bugs all over the place. An age-appropriate game might be to ask them to look for the bugs or the mice and count them as they “read along,” making sure of course that they “don’t close” their eyes.

So be sure they don’t pay too much attention to the droopy eyelids on those critters. You might just get a sleeping child who only needs a kiss and the light turned out.

Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author, pastor, speaker, and blogger. His 50 books include “The Red Letter Life,” “The Bone Box,” and a devotional, “The Bard and the Bible.” He lives in Ohio with his wife, the lovely Robin.

Mark Chambers is an award-winning illustrator of children’s picture books and youth fiction. His work includes “My Hamster is a Genius,” “Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet,” and “Spider!” He currently lives in the U.K.

 

“The Bard and the Bible” A Review

Perhaps you’ve read some of William Shakespeare’s plays and thought “Hey, that line sounds like it could have come from the Bible.” I know someone who has thought it. And he took his love for all things Shakespeare to write a devotional based on the Bard’s plays and God’s Word.

Each of the 365 devotions begins with a line from a Shakespeare play, noting which one it’s taken from and the act, scene, etc. Following that is a scripture that coincides with it. For instance:

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” The Merchant of Venice, V.i.90

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16″

Hostetler provides a narrative explaining how the words of each player relate to truth expressed in the Bible. This portion of each devotion includes encouragement and application ideas for the reader. Then the author presents a challenge to act out that truth in daily events.

One of the best things about these devotions, in my opinion anyway, is the final section of each one. Hostetler shines here with his knowledge of the Bard and his works. He obviously enjoys sharing little tidbits with us.

His book “The Red Letter Life,” is also worth a read. Hostetler is an award-winning author and, so far, I have all kinds of reasons to see why.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am”- A Book Review

By Reverend James O’Leary, copyright 2002, Battle Creek Area Catholic Schools, 180 pages

Here is a book with a title that, if you cannot relate to it, you only need read a few of the short essays and you soon will. These “pastor’s thoughts” wake you up to just how good life is even if a few bad moments come in an otherwise pretty good day.

When Father Jim O’Leary first released the book, I was so happy to see it. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing first-hand his words of wisdom, humor and kindness. Reading the book again after many years, I hear his voice and see that twinkle in his eye.

Father Jim shares insights into Catholic traditions, travels in Europe associated with his calling, missions trips, parenting, growing up in Michigan, and eventually serving there. He tells stories about simple living and what he learns from everyone he meets. While he may have rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, it’s obvious he’s energized by conversations with folks like you and me.

Each essay is a reflection of Jim’s heart. Like this:

“Our world is so full of people who are planning to change the world. They are simply waiting for the right time. I do believe that I must include myself in this group. We wait and wait and the right moment never comes, and we never make our contribution to the improvement of our world. Opportunities to serve people surround us. The right time is now. Always, the time is now.”

I haven’t met many people as humble as Jim O’Leary. Of course, he’d get a sour look on his face, glance at his feet, and shake his head if he heard me say that. And that’s because, as I knew him, he really was a self-effacing man.

One day, during one of our brief meetings, I wanted to get a rise out of him. “Jim,” I said, “since I’m not Catholic, instead of calling you ‘Father,’ can I just call you ‘Dad?’”

He did laugh. “Just don’t call me what my parishioners call me,” he said.

“What’s that?”

In a matter-of-fact style and with a straight face, he said…No, I better not. It wasn’t a nice name. But I’m sure he was joking with me as well. That twinkle in his eye, you see.

“I Think I Am Happier Than I Think I Am” is filled with stuff like this. No, not bad words. But his way of seeing things. His constant love for God and for people. His explanations about Jesus and His earthly ministry. Metaphors for life derived from everyday observations. Father Jim doesn’t try in his book to convert anyone, but it’s plain he hopes you’ll believe in the One who was born, preached the Good News, and died to save us from ourselves. Jim always admitted that he needed saving from himself and his stories reveal his gratitude for God’s mercy.

The essays are gleaned from his columns originally published in the weekly St. Joseph Parish bulletin. Jim was a priest in the Battle Creek parish where I live. He was not my priest; as I mentioned, I’m not Catholic. But he was a good friend. The last time I saw him, we were both at a local American Cancer Society Relay for Life. Both cancer survivors, we met on the track and shared our news, chatting like old friends do.

I’m so glad I read the book again. It feels like we’re having another of those chats. Gosh, I miss him.

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

“Three Simple Rules” A Review

“Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living; Rueben P. Job; copyright 2007; 77 pp.

The book is based on Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.”

I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline. Epigraphs for each of the chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

The book can be read in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader can chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and believe it or not, the musical rendition of “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley.

“Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler'” : a Review

Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl; copyright 2016 Dorothea Wollin Null; First Steps Publishing

 

While reading Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl, I had to keep reminding myself of whom I was reading. The story put me in mind of All Quiet on the Western Front. When Dorothea speaks of “the enemy,” she’s talking about the Allied countries fighting Germany. That’s because she was a German girl during WWII. It gives one a different perspective when one isn’t German.

Her story begins with a short history of how the Reich and Hitler took power and a description of family members. It’s written almost chronologically, although she sometimes backtracks to memories of better times when there was fresh food to eat, a warm place to sleep, and family outings.

Probably the most nightmarish segment of her memoir is the descriptions of, as refugees their escape from Germany where bombs destroyed the cities, and they retreated from the oncoming Russian army. Most of Europe was somehow affected by air strikes, and she describes the hardships of traveling hundreds of miles through cold mountainous regions to escape the bombings on their way to Czechoslovakia.

Dorothea blends her story of fears and pain with mentions of her faith that God got them through the hard times. She believes that many of the hardships and disappointments––like her father’s disqualification from being able to emigrate to America––were actually blessings in disguise. Separation from her father as he served in the German Army was one of the difficulties; they never knew where he was or if he was alive. But they kept moving.

The author is indeed blessed to have a small cache of photos which she shares, probably because her mother was so diligent in holding fast to the big black handbag which held their official papers. The photos lend a lot to the story and help us to see the family as “not” the enemy. They were unknowing victims of Hitler’s tyranny as much as anyone.

Dorothea’s writing isn’t eloquent or lyrical, although some passages and specific sentences made me stop and take notice.

“In retrospect, I am astounded at how tough I was, how tough all the children were to survive those terrible times. Of course, if we children hadn’t been so resilient, generations would have been wiped out, and I wouldn’t be here telling my story.”

Her empathy for other children and her ability to see both evil and goodness give her a leg up in telling a story unique to its genre. Again, in the vein of All Quiet on the Western Front, a true story by someone who was there says, “war is wrong, devastating and leaves scars that can last a lifetime.”

However, Dorothea Wollin Null is a witness to her faith in God and leaves us with hope for eternity.

The book is available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy from Book Crash in exchange for an honest review.