Posts Tagged ‘childrens books’

Due to my fondness for the Artemis Fowl series, I decided to give this book a shot. Unlike Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, this book is a single novel; since there isn’t a large commitment, those of you who are reluctant to invest in a new series can get away with a nice, shorter read.

Story overview:

The setting is modern day Ireland. We begin with a fourteen-year-old girl (Meg Finn) who breaks into an old man’s (Lowrie McCall) home to steal his retirement money. She is accompanied by the troublesome Belch Brennan and his vicious dog. Unfortunately for them, Lowrie meets the robbers with a gun. Unfortunately for Lowrie, Belch’s dog was able to move faster. Meg stops Blech from killing the old man, but this caused the boy to turn his anger on her instead.

The result was the death of both Meg and Belch (and his dog). Belch inadvertently merges with the body of his dog as he is hurled to the fiery pits of Hell. Meg on the other hand, with her final act of goodness, finds that she is inbetween both Heaven and Hell. Because of this she is given the opportunity to go back to earth as a ghost and try to make things right. By doing so she would offset the balance and be allowed to enter the gates of eternal paradise.

Satan has another thing in mind. His subordinate sends the dog-boy version of Belch back to the land of the living to stop Meg from achieving her goal, and thus, send her to Hell. What was the goal to be exact? To help Lowrie (the old man she tried to rob, but ended up saving) accomplish his Bucket List before his heart gives out. With odds against her, Meg does all she can to fulfill a dying man’s dream, and Belch does all he can to stop her.

My thoughts:

Eoin Colfer is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. His use of wit, quality of writing, and dynamic range of characters are refreshing and a joy to read. I love the subtleties and character conversations in The Wish List. It’s a satisfying story with a satisfying ending. Well worth a read.

Things to consider:

The first thing I want to make clear here is that this is a work of fiction. The description of Heaven and Hell (and how one gets there) is not meant to be taken theologically. Every author runs the risk of stepping on toes when writing on such a topic, but Colfer gets by with this because he lightens the tone. The story is not meant to be taken literally, but figuratively. With this in mind, as a parent, be sure to explain this to your children; just in case they don’t understand the difference. There are a few disturbing scenes that may bother younger children, but overall a fairly clean tale. No sexual content, extensive foul language, or excess of violence. Great for preteens plus, and equally targeted to both girls and boys.

Opportunities for discussion:

This was a hard one for me because I’ve gone back and forth with trying to decided if I should (1) approach the issues Christians will have, or (2) address the true meaning behind the story. So I will briefly attempt to do both. First, this story makes it sound like a person is measured by their deeds, good and bad, and is then sent to Heaven or Hell based on which they did more of. In a theological sense, we know that even the best of deeds is not good enough. It would be like arguing that $100 for a Lamborghini Reventon is better than $0.50. Both fall far short of the $1,600,000 price tag. As a believer, the only way we can afford the cost of an eternal paradise is to accept it as a free gift. Anything else would only be an insult to the giver.

Secondly, there’s a powerful message of redemption in the story. Even though one’s passage to the “pearly gates” is not defined by deeds, we are called to be people of a certain sort. That is, people who seek to do good rather than wickedness. Both Meg Finn and Lowrie McCall discovered this when finalizing the unsolved areas of their lives. One of the primary being that vengeance does not lead to life; forgiveness does. In a biblical sense, we are told that for us to acquire forgiveness from the Father we must also extend it to our fellow man. Be sure to talk to your kids about these things after they read the story. We don’t want them to miss out on the great messages behind the text.

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Gahoole_Capture_b1In my search for popular children’s books I came across the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. Currently, it appears there are fifteen books and a September 24, 2010 movie scheduled to be released.

The author, Kathy Lasky has written more than fifty fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults. She is quoted as saying, “I want young readers to come away with a sense of joy for life. I want to draw to them into a world where they’re really going to connect with these characters.”

For the most part she achieves this with The Capture.

Story overview:

A young Barn Owl named Soren finds himself falling from the warm nest of his parents only to land at the bottom of the tree. Unfortunately for Soren, his parents were out hunting for food. Only his little sister, unhelpful (& deceiving) brother, and blind snake-servant remained.

Soren is captured by an Owl patrol and taken to St. Aegolius’ Academy for Orphaned Owls. It did not matter that Soren wasn’t really an orphan because, as he discovers, the Academy’s true aim is to conquer the Owl kingdoms. Soren learns of the true horrors of Moon Blinking—which destroys an Owl’s free will—hard labor, punishment for asking questions, and the terror of Owls who yield to Vampire Bats.

With the help of his Elf Owl friend named Gylfie—and a few un-blinked Owls at the Academy—Soren escapes. They are joined by a male Great Grey Owl named Twilight, who helps both Soren and Gylfie to find their homes, but unfortunately they have been deserted. Now a new and greater adventure lies ahead.

My thoughts:

There is a slight Redwall‘ish feeling to this tale; if you like one you may like the other. For some odd reason newly born Owls have an instant British vocabulary, but overall it is a cute and charming adventure. Personally, I got bored with it. My attention kept dropping off and the events seemed to drag on longer than I would have liked. However, I think the right audience would love it. Particularly those who are between 6 to 12 (six to twelve) years old.

Things to consider:

As mentioned under my thoughts, I think this is appropriate for children between six and twelve, and for both girls and boys. Note that any youth beyond tweens runs the risk of becoming bored with it. However, I do want to caution that there are a few disturbing situations that may be considered frightful to some children. Off the top of my head these are: vampire bats drinking the blood of willing Owls, a few violent deaths, and a horrific act of Cannibalism. Overall this is a clean story, and is free from any sexual references or profanity.

Opportunities for discussion:

The theme of brainwashing is fairly dominant here; such as moon blinking and the restriction of asking questions. Yet belief is also mentioned (in a positive way) when talking about the legends of Ga’Hoole. It is easy for the world to relate Christianity to brainwashing, and granted in some cases there are brainwashed Christians, however this is not the intended path of believers. Brainwashing comes from conforming without testing or questioning, but it is the job of the believer to understand where he or she stands. We believe in individuality, not conformity. We all have unique gifts, personalities, and ways of looking at things. This is why the Bible talks about people being a different part of the same body. A discussion topic for your child would be to ask them what they believe makes them unique. Ask them what beliefs they hold onto, and then ask them if there are any questions they would like to share with you. Then be willing to listen and respond (non-condescendingly.)

The Mouse and the MotorcycleSince reviewing Redwall I was reminded of one other story containing talking mice, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”.

For me, this one goes back a long time. In the early 90s my mother used to take me with her to “Burlington Coat Factory” as she shopped for clothes. Yes, for a twelve-year-old boy this was not the most exciting experience, particularly since my mother was not the fastest person in the fitting room. Still, there was a small shelf towards the entrance of the shop filled with children’s books,  and among these were “Ralph S. Mouse”. If I was fortunate, my mother would buy me one of them.

Just recently, my wife, who is a “thrower”, encouraged me to thin down my book collection by donating a huge portion of it to her Godson’s (gymnastics) fund raiser. I reluctantly agreed, after all we will need more space now with a kid on the way and I am happy to help him out, but one of the books I kept was “The Mouse and the Motorcycle”. This was always one of my favorites of the bunch, particularly now that I drive a motorcycle myself, and one I hope to read to my daughter one day.

Since it has been close to twenty years, before doing a review, I decided to read through it again. I was amazed at how much I remembered, such as the “dust mice” under the bed, how the motorcycle was powered, and the kindness of the young boy, Keith.

Story overview:

One day, in an old fashioned and unfrequented hotel, a family shows up. The mother is not the most thrilled about the idea of staying at this place, and keeps on insisting that there are probably mice living there, but there were no other options (they had driven for many hours and everything else was full). Her and her husband stay in room 216, but their son, Keith, is allowed to have his own room next door in #215.

The boy pokes his finder in a hole only to find, to his disappointment, that there’s nothing in there. Little did he know that it was the entrance to the home of Ralph, a young and mischievous mouse who is always giving his mother reasons to worry; particularly on this day when he climbs up a phone cord to look for leftover crumbs.

Unfortunately for Ralf, the boy’s mother is overly clean and there were no leftovers, however what he saw was something he desired even more than food: a motorcycle.

Ralf sits on the motorcycle and accidently rolls off the table, falling into a waste basket, where he is discovered by the boy, Keith, and they become good friends. The two have a lot of fun together until one day–due to Ralf’s carelessness–the hotel finds evidence of mice and so Ralf and his family take refuge. Thankfully for the mice, Keith brings them enough food to eat, but one day the boy becomes ill and Ralf finds himself on a mission to help find him some medicine.

My thoughts:

Extremely charming, this book had me turning the pages. The fonts are big (at least in my edition), so it’s easier for children to read, and the illustrations (though sometimes not quite accurate) do a good job of painting a visual picture to the words. As an adult, I still really enjoyed reading this again, and will probably go back and read a few more “Ralph S. Mouse” books before too long. 

Things to consider:

Keep in mind that this book was written in 1965, and there are some really dated expressions and items, but being from the 60s, and for children, I think it safe to say that this can be read to just about any age. It seems to be targeted more towards boys at around five years old, but I can see girls easily enjoying it too. No cursing, no violence, no sexual situations. Just nice, clean and entertaining reading.

Opportunities for discussion:

Good things to discuss with your children are: the importance of keeping a promise; the consequence of jumping into a situation without first taking the time to learn it properly; how growing up means becoming more responsible; and, Ralf was a little conceited at first but he learned that doing kind and sacrificial acts are more important than his own enjoyment.