“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” A Review

Frog’s Rainy-Day Story and Other Fables by Michael James Dowling; 72 pp; © 2019; Carpenter’s Son Publishing; Illustrations by Sarah Buell Dowling

“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” presents fun ways to teach family values and lessons about life. Kids are familiar with animals like frogs, rabbits, foxes, crickets, beavers, owls, and all the other creatures who are the characters in this book. Through the animals’ conversations in each tale, children can learn how to interact with the world and one another.

Mrs. Dowling creates beautiful drawings of animals and simple scenery. I especially liked their expressions and how understated the color is. Rather than being in bold colors, the artwork doesn’t distract from stories that are meant for learning. That’s not to say the stories aren’t fun. They are. But the simplicity adds to the tone of the book.

Some of the lessons include being kind, making choices, generous or selfish attitudes, and spending money. Since the reading level is second grade, most children will understand, especially since the book provides a glossary at the end.

“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” also welcomes families to dig deeper into the lessons by using their “Burrowing Deeper” study and questions on the website. The stories, used in this way, can help children with personal reflection and help families find a way to make family devotions fun.

When parents explain how the story relates to their child’s life, they’ll probably need to draw from their own knowledge of the Bible. Each of the eight stories ends with a comparison of worldly wisdom to biblical wisdom. These are helpful, but I sometimes didn’t see how the story depicted what the author was hoping to express. Most of them, however, have obvious morals.

This husband and wife team has a winner here. Not only is the book useful and fun, but it’s a quality publication. The size of the book gives it a typical children’s book feel and the fact that it’s a hardcover means it should last for years.

In addition to finding the book for purchase at the authors’ website, you can find it at Christianbook.Com and on Amazon.

This review is with thanks to Book Crash and the authors for providing a reader’s copy.

“Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo” A review

Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo by Shelly Roark; Illustrated by Simone Kruger;  36 pp; Little Lamb Books; copyright 2019

Gracie Lou has a pet turtle, George. But she wants even more pets. Because her family lives in an apartment, each time she asks her parents for a new pet, they tell her “no.” It’s no wonder; the animals she wants require some pretty special circumstances. She asks for a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant.

Dad reasons with her, telling Gracie God has a plan for her, even if it means she wants a zoo. Nevertheless, she has a tantrum and complains to George as she crawls into bed.

That night, Gracie’s wish comes true. She now has a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant. But at what cost? The presence of them all proves to be more than she expected.

The illustrations in “Gracie” are fun and colorful with even the insides of the front and back covers featuring cute animals. “Gracie Lou” is long enough to tell a good story, and short enough to fit into a bedtime ritual. Gracie’s experience can help moms and dads explain why kids don’t always get what they want, and that God has a plan for them if they will be patient and see the wisdom in waiting.

In looking up the title on a couple book websites, I didn’t find a suggested age group for “Gracie Lou,” but would suggest ages 2-6.

I think one of the best parts of the book is watching the animals. George smiles and blinks in response to Gracie Lou. The giraffe eats potato chips as he sprawls on the couch with the TV remote. A rowdy monkey flings books from the bookcase. The purple elephant raids the fridge. Clever framed “photos” on the walls in the apartment add to the scenery.

Shelly Roark is the award-winning author of “The Bubble Who Would Not POP.”

Bookcrash provided a copy of the book for review.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John 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, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may 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.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

“Fruit Flies in Our Faith” a Review

Fruit Flies in Our Faith by Annie Paden; Angel Faith Publishing; copyright 2018; 188 pp.

 Through a look at the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, Annie Paden teaches how to both nurture and share love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Her premise is simple: we all need a close relationship with God to let the Spirit work in us to develop the fruit. We, however, will resist the teaching or experience trouble, which distracts us.

Through personal stories and opportunities to reflect on our lives, the author shows us how we can better see what God has in store for us as we grow in grace. The persistent and pesky “fruit flies” will submit to pest control when we submit to the leadings of the Spirit.

Each chapter describes the various aspects of one fruit, helping us to understand how God will use it and refine it in us. She starts with an anecdote related to, for instance, kindness. She leads us into “Nurturing Fruit,” with examples of ways to grow by applying what God is saying to us.

In the “Sharing Fruit” section of each chapter, Annie’s ideas for working with others describe ways to put feet on our faith. They’re simple ideas that anyone can carry out. In each section, she supports her ideas with scripture.

Finally, each chapter includes questions for reflection and study.

Fruit Flies in Our Faith is targeted to women and both new believers and mature believers can find support and maybe even new ideas for growth. I think she does a good job of encouraging women in a way that’s relatable. Used as a study guide, it could provide an opportunity for a group of women to honestly share the challenges, struggles, and joys of producing fruit.

4 of 5 stars

This review was requested by the author in exchange for a contributor copy.

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.

 

 

“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.

“Two Scoops of Ice Cream…Wait, I Mean ‘Grace’: a Book Review

In her book, “Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top,” Jeanette Levellie wants us to know right up front that God is a gracious God. He’s perfect, but not a perfectionist. He watches over us, but not with an abacus on hand, ready to count our failures. Her stories, told in devotion style, could be read one a day (so you can savor them slowly) or as many as you like at a time.

She’s an expert storyteller so it may be hard to put this one down. One thing I will say, Jeanette has a keen wit. It’s a gentle and kind wit. And it’s most often at her own expense because she’s learned to laugh at herself. She’s a mother of two children and a pastor’s wife. She has bright red hair which she claims can be as unruly as she is. That’s another thing about Jeanette, she’s honest about her failings as much as she is about her love for God. If I was a betting kind of gal, I’d bet she has oodles of friends who love being in her company.

In addition to the delicious fact that there’s ice cream on the cover, the book is full of stories to which we can relate. Even if we’re not a pastor’s wife or have children. Even if we’re brunettes or silver-haired beauties. I’m guessing the target audience is women.

But when you know men who occasionally wonder whether God is really there for them; whether His grace can forgive the messes they make; if the dreams they dreamed will ever come true; or the future holds any promise–Two Scoops of Grace is a book you might want to recommend.

Inside are 72 story devotions ranging from Drive-by Diapers, Culture Shock, A Pitiful Piece of Pie, and From Hair to Eternity. While the author insists we be gentle with ourselves and laugh a lot more, she also uses her stories and the Word of God to help us remember the path we’re called to walk. The devotions are comedic and convicting at the same time. And that can be refreshing.

The words ‘grace’ and ‘chuckles’ had to be in the title of this delightful book. Because, in this life, we desperately need them both.