“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.

“Avengers: Endgame” A Review

“Avengers: Endgame” 2019; Marvel Studios; Directors Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson

I was excited, looking forward to sitting in one of our local theaters for three hours to watch “Avengers: Endgame.”

I woke up yesterday feeling under the weather, and even though my symptoms calmed down an hour or so before show time, I hoped I’d be able to sit three hours watching the endgame unfold and experiencing again the Avengers team’s responses to crisis.

I made it. I couldn’t eat popcorn (I know, how did I resist theater popcorn?) nor did I purchase a drink from the concession stand. My reward for going the length of the entire movie without leaving my seat was a free trip to the ladies room afterward.

One piece of advice. In my opinion, having watched all the films and most of the associated Marvel television series, it would be to your advantage to watch “Avenger: Infinity War” before seeing this one. It will help keep in mind all the action that preceded the “endgame” Doctor Strange referred to at the end of “Infinity War” and some of the motivations of the characters.

This probably is, in fact, not a review at all. I will have to let you know how I liked the movie when I’m done weeping. Not really. But there are some sad parts in this story along with all the anticipated action and the typical Marvel humor.

“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.

 

Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday

During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…

I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.

A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”

The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?

In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”

How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?

The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”

The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?

Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?

I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)

Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen

Gathering Courage: A Book Review

By T.A. McMullin, copyright 2015, Gathering Courage Media, 200 pages

This is the story of Terry, born Kaysia, who overcame blindness, dyslexia, and the pain of abandonment. McMullin hopes, through her memoir, to support people who share some of her experiences. Anyone who struggles in life, Terry believes, can acquire a can-do attitude.

Terry, who goes by T.A., begins the story with her birth and ultimate adoption. She talks a lot about one of her passions: animals, especially dogs and horses. When T.A. felt the most disheartened, it was God and her loving pets to whom she turned.

The family dynamics she met in each foster care home seem to be the same. Rejected from the first adoptive family, her self-esteem plummeted. She struggled in school and early in life. She wore a brace because of back problems. Ultimately, she became legally blind.

But her story isn’t all sadness. Because of her faith and her tenacity, she had success and experienced love from people who, she says, never gave up on her. She attended a major university, achieving two degrees.

Gathering Courage most certainly tells the story of a woman who triumphed over adversities. Her story is interesting and inspiring as she hoped it would be. T.A. tells her story in chronological order of events, which makes sense in this case. She includes photos of some of the pets and locations she is most fond of. Gathering Courage attempts to humbly show the courage of its author. The story will also inspire us to be the best we can be despite the problems we may encounter.

However, I think the handling of the content suffers. The book could have been shorter and it needed professional editing or the hand of a skilled ghost writer. While these considerations don’t detract from the story, they’re noticeable enough to have made the story go slowly for me.

A mentor and teacher, the author is committed to helping others like her “To Make Life Better.” It’s her vision and heartfelt desire.

T.A.’s memoir may be found at Gathering Courage Media or on Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher through the Bookcrash program in exchange for an honest review.

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.)