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Friday, August 29, 2014

Uncle Wiggly Stories & Game (Giveaway)

I confess to only hearing about Uncle Wiggly just recently. My introduction came from Winning Moves who asked if I'd be interested in reviewing another of their products. I saw the Uncle Wiggily Game and thought the kids would find it rather cute. (They did. But more about that in a minute.) Then some friends mentioned that they were reading The Uncle Wiggly stories. Well then. Stories. I had to look them up.

At about the same time I decided to check out Uncle Wiggly, I started looking into Jim Weiss audio stories. I noticed that - in his vast collection of stories - he had performed Uncle Wiggly's Storybook which contains six stories. We snatched that one up on Amazon (MP3) and gave a listen. The kids absolutely loved Uncle Wiggly (and we have been very impressed with the reading performance of Jim Weiss). I plan on sharing more about Jim Weiss next week because we've really been enjoying him!

This post, however, is mostly about the Uncle Wiggily Game. Before I tell you about that, I have to tell you about the character himself just in case you are as new to him as I am.

Uncle Wiggly Longears is the creation of American author Howard R. Garis. He wrote stories about Uncle Wiggly every day for thirty years beginning in 1910. (Every day for thirty years, excepting Sundays!) Garis had 79 books published in his lifetime. Uncle Wiggly is the main character of these stories but there are a variety of animals who make an appearance. They are quite fun stories, simple but entertaining. As I mentioned, our kids have loved listening to them.

I withheld the game until we had become familiar with the characters. That was a good move and made playing the game much more interesting to them. However, you really don't need an in-depth understanding of these books to enjoy the game.


The game was developed in 1916 by the Milton-Bradley company, once Uncle Wiggly had endeared himself to American children. This game plays much like Candyland, which is not altogether surprising as the two games together are listed as American children classics. (However, The Uncle Wiggly Game appeared on the scenes about 30 years prior to the arrival of Candyland.) The Uncle Wiggly game was revised and updated several times, increasing in price no doubt also. In 1947 the game cost a whopping $0.67! You can find in Amazon now for $13.95.

The game itself is very simple and easy to play. Just like in Candyland, the players are each moving in spaces by the turn of a card. Instead of colors, you move by drawing a card and moving the appropriate amount of numbered spaces. Each card has a little rhyme on it, in keeping with the rhymes/witty statements at the conclusion of each story. There are traps for the animals causing you to have to fall back some spaces if you land on them. Every so often a card will pop up which will bring Uncle Wiggly to a rest so that he can enjoy a cup of tea and this card will also send your player back some spaces. On the whole, I think this game is very cute. Parents will be interested to note that it takes a total of 15-20 minutes to play.

This game is excellent for ages 3-7 and I think it's a pretty fun way to compliment the stories.

Happily, I have been given permission from Winning Moves to host a giveaway allowing one of you to win a copy of the Uncle Wiggly game. If you'd care to win, simply leave a comment below.

This contest is open to US Residents only and will be open through Friday, September 5th. Please do remember to leave a valid e-mail address in your comment!

Many thanks to Winning Moves for prompting me to learn more about this character in the first place, and for providing a fun and entertaining way to enjoy him more thoroughly with my kids.

I recieived a copy of this game in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are my own.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Story Cubes and the Art of Storytelling

I received no compensation whatsoever for this post. I'm writing it because I want to.

I am a big proponent of teaching children to read stories -  both to themselves and aloud - well, and to be able to make stories up on the fly. The ability to tell stories well is a dying/lost art and I intend to do my part in resuscitating it and then fostering its growth in the world at large.

I know that not every individual is skilled in this lovely art of story telling but I think everyone can reach a certain level of proficiency if they practice. I think it's important to do this for numerous reasons, each which would take a long post to describe and defend.

Some of my reasons are as follows:


  • Truth is very easily communicated through story. If you want to connect with someone to share a truth in a non-threatening way, try a story. They will usually listen longer.
  • In a Facebook/Twitter World where we are supposed to limit ourselves to 2 lines of text - (I have totally given up on doing that, by the way) - we have lost the ability to form cohesive, lengthy thoughts. It is a good habit to practice telling stories because it requires that you string together a variety of thoughts and ideas, while dropping in a smattering of facts and fancies, and still be able to tie things up neatly (and coherently) in the end.
  • In a world where we have ceased to communicate with others face-to-face, learning how to tell a story comes in handy because it helps hold a person's attention and fosters conversation. (Also learning to listen to stories is important for this purpose.)
  • History is passed on through story. We know what happened in the past because someone bothered to record the story of it. If you want future generations to remember you and life as we know it right now, learn to tell a good story. (Which leans in on the concept of living a good story also.)


“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
― Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works

It is my desire that all of our children are at least practiced in the art of story telling. I think it will make them better conversationalists and wiser people if they work at this a bit.

One of the tools I decided to try using to foster the art of storytelling, are the Rory Story Cubes. They come in three different varieties (and, I think, are rather reasonably priced):




I opted to start with the Voyages set (in part because it was cheapest and I'm experimenting). They look like this:


We've turned using these cubes into a game. We sit around in a circle and each take turns tossing the dice and making up a story using the pictures on the nine different cubes. We all take turns, including the three year old. (She's actually getting pretty good at this. I've been surprised at how well she weaves the main idea of her story into the big picture.)

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
― Willa Cather

I only pull these cubes out 1-2 times a week and always in the context of having a fun time and playing game so as not to spoil the effect that it is currently having on the children. (Those unsuspecting souls! Ha!) I did try dividing up the cubes and having us all create a tandem story but that met with cries of dismay. Apparently we all like to be the masters of our own stories. All of the time. (Ahem.)

I'd like to eventually pick up another cube set (or two) to add some variety to our story telling but since we're just getting started I think too many choices would overwhelm. Each roll of the dice produces a different combination each time. I liked the look of the Voyages set because it lends itself to more adventure/travel stories and I'm big on building up a spirit of adventure just like I am about telling stories to begin with. I think there is something to the idea of traveling the world, having adventures, and learning to share them with others.

I want my children to know that they need to tell stories - not just for themselves, but for the sake of future generations - and how to go about doing it so that the following will never be the case (I don't know who A.D.Y. Howle is but this quote produces a shudder.):

“Once upon a time, there was a story. But no one to tell it.”
― A.D.Y. Howle

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Harry Potter: My Conclusion

At first I was thinking that I'd write up individual posts discussing what I thought about books 5, 6, and 7. In the end, I decided I just couldn't do it. Part of the reason for that is that when you are reading through a series it starts to become difficult to pick up and leave off at the correct place for each book. The other reason is that I know that others out there haven't read this series yet and I don't want to spoil the greatness of it for them.

Yes, I said "the greatness." Those words actually came out of my mouth.

Basically my August was consumed with Harry Potter. After reading book 4 I couldn't rest until I had completed the series. That is the point in the series where things picked up for me and I became irrevocably intrigued. Jonathan gave up on me there for awhile. He told me that I really needed to go to bed at a decent hour when I was halfway through The Deathly Hallows (Book 7). (I love him, but some things you just cannot do.) I did make myself go to bed at midnight that night, but then I woke up at 6:30 and DEVOURED the ending before he had to leave for work. And then I was depressed for the whole of that day and the several which followed. I still haven't gotten my reading mojo back. I'm still recovering from Harry.

Now, those of you who know me and have tracked with me for awhile know that I didn't enter into this series with fond thoughts and hopeful expectations. The truth is, I rather expected to hate it. By the end of it, I didn't hate it, but I do retain some concerns. I think the concerns absolutely should not be ignored and should absolutely be considered if a person is thinking of reading these books for themselves. I would indeed offer a word of caution relating to the form of magic that is used but I also wouldn't suggest to anyone that it would be a sin issue to have read them. I would most definitely apply the concept of Christian Liberty to these reads and allow Christians to decide for themselves, as individuals, whether or not they should read them. Some will choose not to and I think that is a good choice. Others will choose to read them and I think that's also a good choice. You know yourself. Keep your conscious clean before the Lord. Understand what you are getting into and enjoy them if you are able. I discovered myself able and I in no way feel guilty.

Someone asked me if I plan on letting my kids read them. I wasn't sure what the answer was to that question when I first started reading them but now I would say that if my kids think that they can handle it when they are given the opportunity of reading it, then yes! I would love to read these books with them, discussing as we go. (And, who are we kidding? I would love to read them with them so that I can read them again!)

Post-reading of the books I spent a day reading articles and interviews online with the author, actors and actresses who brought the Harry Potter characters to life on screen. I watched the behind-the-scenes for the last movie and bawled my eyes out as the actors said their good-byes. (They were cathartic tears.) I even watched Oprah's interview with Rowling. (This is a marvel, considering my general distrust of Oprah's growing empire.) The interview is 45 minutes long but if you have the time, I rather recommend it. I found it both intriguing and insightful.



Harry Potter was a reading journey that had some unexpected twists and turns for me but ultimately I'm quite glad to have gone on it. I found it entertaining, enthralling and very thought provoking (even if I'm not hashing out a lot of thoughts on the last few books).

My most pressing questions were answered:

  Are the Harry Potter books like Narnia? No. Definitely not.

  Should/Can Christians read Harry Potter? Yes.

In answering these questions, I found myself delighted along the way. Win, win!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

What's On Your Nightstand - September

What's On Your Nightstand

Oh ho. Another month has gone by, lickety split! Looking back on my predictions for last month's nightstand, I find it to be something of a joke. I pretty much read absolutely nothing whatever on the list. However! I have a good excuse. I spent this past month flying through books 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the Harry Potter series. There went my reading time and, to be honest, I do not regret a moment of it. Loved every minute!

Here are some of my thoughts regarding why I think Christians should and shouldn't read Harry Potter.

As for me:



Since I was so successful predicting last month's reads, I was debating the purpose of writing up a nightstand post. But let's pretend that I'm the type of person who makes lists and then follows them and see what we might manage to accomplish, reading-wise, this coming month.

I am keeping up with my Bible reading. Still working through a One Year Chronological Bible.

I am also slowly still working my way through Remember, Remember (The Fifth of November): Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About British History with All the Boring Bits Taken Out. I am liking it. I would also really like to finish it up really quickly so that I can list it as "complete" on next month's nightstand.


My house is still filled with books that need my attention but I don't think that's ever going to change. I am most excited (at the present) to get through:

Redwall

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell (I picked up a copy at Barnes & Noble and it looks fun!)


Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey

I could list more but then it would only be a half hearted list. I'm afraid I'm still mourning the end of the Harry Potter series. I can't bring myself to pick up another book just yet so I may be something of a slow reader in September, I don't know. Time will tell.

Off to see what's on your nightstands next....

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

At the time of this writing, I have now read Harry Potter books one, two, three, four, five and six. (Links to past reviews.) Harry Potter fans will realize that this post is my "review" of book 4, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. (Actually it's like my complicated thoughts as relates to the series as a whole.) I'm way behind on writing out my thoughts on these books individually because they have become so exciting that I don't want to do anything (least of all blog) until I've finished the entire series. According to Amazon tracking, book seven should be arriving on my door step today. (I hope so. I really do hope so.)

I tried reading something else to pass the time while waiting for book 7 to arrive but nothin' doin'. I can't read about or think about anything else until I complete the series. (This is also the case because I am now terrified that someone is going to spoil the end for me before I get to it myself.) I decided that since I can't really think about anything else, I might as well write up my thoughts on the titles I've already completed.

As you might recall, I finished up book 3 with some concerns about the introduction of the subject of divination. My same concerns can be applied to every Potter book I've read since. The further along you read, the more they discuss the topic and the more the characters dabble in it. It's an inescapable "flaw" in my being able to relax with the books in total because the Bible is quite clear on the subject: it is not to be done. No ifs, ands or buts. You can't just ignore this issue in these books. You need to acknowledge it.

That said, I still want to finish this series because, (as I have explained), "people" keep arguing that if you like Narnia you should have no hesitations in liking Potter because, according to their arguments, both sets of books contain magic and therefore are the same. I finally gave in and began reading Harry Potter because I wanted to see and prove to myself that the magic is different between the series and to see what the hesitations in approaching Potter might be. Now, being in the sixth book, I would absolutely still say that there is a huge difference between the magic used in Narnia and the magic used in Potter. Absolutely there is some cause for thoughtful hesitation in deciding to read Harry Potter. I would also say that Rowling is a good story teller and she has completely sucked me in. (The initials "RAB" are currently BURNING IN MY BRAIN. WHOSE ARE THEY!?!?!?!?!? And don't you dare spoil it for me!!)

I think, for me now, my argument for using caution when approach Harry Potter is as follows:

1. As mentioned, the magic between the two series is quite distinctly different. In Narnia is there is "white magic" and "black magic" and never the two shall meet. There is a clear distinction between good and evil. In the Harry Potter series, there is only one type of magic but it is being used to different ends. The "good guys" use the same spells and curses against the "bad guys". It's not that their magic is different, it is that it is simply used differently.

2. In Narnia you know quite clearly who is good and who is bad. It is, again, very black and white. In Potter there is a question mark over any number of people's heads as to whether they have good intentions, or evil. (Of course, it adds to the cliffhanger effect which Rowling is remarkably good at writing out.)

3. It disturbs me that Christians say that you can read Harry Potter because of the "fact" that Rowling is a Christian too. To follow that argument, you would say that if something (anything!) is done by a Christian is must be good. First, I don't think Rowling actually is a Christian. (I've already argued that.) Secondly, a person's faith doesn't actually factor in to my decision over whether or not I would read any given book and I don't think it should factor into yours either.

I feel very strongly that Christians should not choose their reading material based on the author's personal faith. I know many Christians argue that you should only read books written by Christians - if you read anything other than the Bible at all! - and I think that's illogical and is not a requirement of scripture. I've run into many a Christian mother who loves that her daughter can read Anne of Green Gables because she assumes that Lucy Maud Montgomery was a Christian. (Montgomery wasn't one either. Sorry Happy to burst your bubble there.)

I do not believe that scriptures in any way argue that you can only a.) read scripture alone and/or b.) only read books written by those who share your faith. Certainly you are to be wise and discerning about what you read but truth can be found even in the works of non-Christians (as even a non-Christian is made in the image of God and has the ability to proclaim truth and beauty). This is a long(ish) argument to be making but I'd like to get to my main point so I'm going to wrap up this argument and say, "If you want to read Harry Potter - do. Go ahead. You are at liberty to do so if you so desire. Just don't do it because you think Rowling was a Christian. That shouldn't be the basis of your decision. Nor should anyone try to make Harry a Christian just to ease their conscience somehow. Like him as-is and in a truthful manner.

I don't think Rowling is a Christian. I can guess at what is going to happen and while it does have flickers of a Christian allegory it so most definitely is not one (failing all over the place if that was, in fact, Rowling's goal . . . which I do not think it was). I'm reading it now because I'm totally consumed by the story itself. I think Rowling developed her characters beautifully and is a humdinger of a story teller. She definitely has a captivating style and I'm reading for pure agonizing pleasure. Any Christian who picks up Potter should not read for anything less than that. (And I don't think you can read for anything more.)

The Goblet Of Fire is, perhaps, darker than the first three stories but it is the book which drew me in the most, launching me immediately onto books 5, then 6, with a hasty Amazon purchase of book 7. Since I'm hoping to read to the end of the series without anyone offering a spoiler, I'd like to be careful in my review not to mention anything which would ruin surprises for anyone else. I'll be very general in my remarks.

I liked this book better than the first three because Harry has a challenge which is quite beyond him. He is called on to do what is right, even if it proves hard, difficult and even deadly. He needs the help of his friends, now more than ever, to make it through this next stage of the journey. Parts of this book are unpleasant in what is required of Harry, but the right people rally 'round him and there is a small measure of success. Now, I don't think Potter is an allegory of the Christian life but every person on earth is able to communicate truths which we can see and learn from regardless of their personal faith. In the case of this book, I particularly enjoyed a statement which is made by Professor Dumbledore which is as follows:

". . . [W]e are only as strong as we are united, as week as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Difference of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts open."

We Christians know, of course, that we have an enemy who seeks to kill and destroy. Satan also knows that it is easier to destroy us as individuals and therefore is eager for us to separate ourselves from the Church (i.e., the Body of Christ). When we are alone, we are weaker than when we are surrounded by like-minded believers who can help encourage us, build us up, and keep us standing strong. This is not the point that Rowling was trying to make but it certainly does resonate as a great truth with me that the Body of Christ needs to stand together and work together, being ready to enjoy victory together. That was an encouragement to me amid the story itself.

You should know that this is a book series I am very much beginning to truly enjoy. I do not enjoy it because it is "like Narnia"  -- because it isn't that at all. I like it because it's a complex story with fantastic character development and a novel setting with an exciting plot line.

And I really, really, really need for the seventh book to arrive at my house. SOON.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

On Writing Negative Reviews




This is a post I've been thinking about writing for months now but I haven't been quite sure if it was a good idea to explain why it is that I sometimes write up a negative review of any given book. Obviously, if you are reading this it is because I found a way to try to express why I do what I do (when I sometimes do it).

In order to explain why I occasionally write up a "negative review" of a book I feel like I have to rehearse the reasons why such reviews bother some people.

1. Money is the obvious first answer. Publishers want to make it; so do authors. Authors who are still alive and having books published by publishers do not always take so kindly to you interfering with possible sales of their books. There is always the hope that when you write a book it will bring you some notice and some handy pocket change. If you say this is not true, I would merely point you to the countless live authors who have popped around to different blog posts to defend themselves and argue that you don't have a right to your opinion. Happens all of the time.

2. Negativity. Some people just feel like a negative review is filled with nothing but, um, negativity and they do not like anything negative touching their person at anytime. Some people dislike it so much that they will go to incredible lengths to pretend that nothing is wrong when things are absolutely falling apart. If an alligator were in the process of taking off their leg, they would sniff and swear that it felt like a mosquito bite. (I might over exaggerate. A little.) If there was a campaign against sending bad vibes out over the internet over the idea of writing a negative review of a book, these people would be behind it. "Just think of a wonderful thought! Any happy little thought?" (Reference anyone? Anyone?)

3. Ambivalence. We live in a society which says that "anything goes." If something feels right or looks right to you, go ahead and do it. There is a driving philosophy which pervades the land which just says we ought to "live and let live." If you don't like a book (or a behavior or attitude or whatever) just walk away. No need to point to it and examine it. Heavens to betsy, don't spend time thinking about it! To do so would make people uncomfortable. Let's just not "go there" with those naughty bad vibes, ok?

There are no doubt plenty of other reasons against the idea of writing up a negative review, but I'll stick with those three because I think they are the main arguments. Obviously I don't think that any of those reasons are valid because I'm writing this post.

I actually think that negative reviews are in the best interest of everyone. How so?

1. A memory is a beautiful thing to care for. I appreciate being warned against "dirty" reads. If there are sexually explicit scenes or a lot of foul language involved in the reading, I would really appreciate knowing about it before diving into the book! In the interest of developing and maintaining positive, happy thoughts I would rather not clutter my mind with bad words when so many good ones are readily available. I would rather not spend my valuable reading time with what could literally be a pile of trash and one which I will likely have a difficult time forgetting. It is my responsibility to protect my thoughts and my memories and to that end I would rather avoid books with sex scenes and foul language.

2. Money. Money is scarce and not to be taken for granted. When I do spend money on books I want to know that they are going to be reads that I will enjoy, but that my children might also enjoy. I want to purchase wonderful books which will be read over and over again! It's always a disappointment to have spent money on what turns out to be a dud of a book. Any tips that will point me in the direction of books I will love are very much appreciated.

3. Time. Reading time is so very valuable. (I cannot fathom that anyone out there would disagree with such a statement.) I want to spend what little reading time I have with fabulous books that I will love. There might be a lot of decent reads out there but I'm interested in the best for me and so a truly honest and "negative" review helps me to weed out books which might not necessarily be the greatest fit but helps me to use my time wisely and well.

4. Truth. This is the biggest one. In the past I have had the opportunity to review numerous books from a variety of publishers. These opportunities are still available to me but I tend to avail myself of such opportunities less and less. There are various reasons for this, one of which is that I know what the publisher hopes for is a positive review that will send others off rushing to purchase the same book. In the past I have written moderate reviews of books I really didn't care for all that much only to discover that a friend purchased the book based on my recommendation. There were two particular occasions when I discovered this was so. I will always remember and repent of those wishy-washy reviews. As a result of those two instances, I vowed never to write a review that is anything less than completely honest so as to avoid someone else going out on a limb based on a half hearted recommendation on my part. If I read a book and don't like it, I consider it a personal responsibility to state the reasons why as clearly as I can manage. If the publisher/author doesn't care for my honest thoughts then that needs to be their problem but not mine. Telling the truth is very important, even in a book review.

There are more reasons, of course, why I think that being willing to write up a negative review is important but these are the main reasons (for me).

That explained, please understand that I'm not actively seeking out books which will I know will likely result in negative review. (Although truthfully I find it very tempting to do so periodically.) As I've already explained, I'd rather spend quality time with books I enjoy, rather than ones I know I won't. This post is more just to explain why I would and will go on writing negative reviews if the situation demands it. It's not to meant to cause controversy or hurt feelings. It is just meant to keep me as truthful and honest as possible in all areas of life.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gone Readin'

You are not likely to find any book reviews here this week.

Why?

Because I'm reading. And reading. And reading.

Mostly I'm reading Harry Potter (sort of zooming through the end of the series here). And that explanation alone is enough to make some of you understand why I can't stop to write! :D

(No spoilers, please!!! I'm reading this series for the first time and part of the reason I'm trying to zoom through the end is so that no one will accidentally spoil it before I find out what happens for myself!)


Do you think Wilde was talking about Harry Potter? Hmmm.

I'm reaaaaaallly starting to care about what happens in these books!

But life is not just about Potter. No. There is some Dostoyevsky thrown into the mix. I'm reading a section of our bookclub book here and there and I find it intriguing. I'm glad to be reading it and it makes for a different sort of read alongside Potter (to say the least).

I'm also still reading books about England (specifically Remember, Remember).

And then my friend convinced me to read Agnes Grey this month. (It wasn't hard to convince me. More like, "Oh, twist my arm already." I'm an easy sell.)


So I'm busy reading. Which means I'll be back with a bunch of reviews shortly. Stay tuned.


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