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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Home Team, by Clint Archer

I haven't been accepting many books for review of late for a myriad of reasons, one main one being that I don't necessarily feel like there is much discretion on the part of publishers as to what they publish. It is feeling more and more that anything can and will be published just 'cause. It seems to me that there are an awful lot of poorly written or just plain "meh" books published that probably shouldn't have been. It doesn't feel as if very skill is required of authors or readers these days! I can't prove these things beyond a shadow of a doubt, of course, but I feel them. Therefore I've made a personal decision to heavily scale back on accepting books for review. My reading time is as valuable as any one's and I want to spend time with good books that will prove a great benefit to myself and my family.

Honestly, there are only three Christian book publishers that I trust to produce quality Christian non-fiction anymore. One of those is Shepherd Press. When I saw the title The Home Team pop up, I was instantly curious and wanted to give it a read. Shepherd Press offered to send me a copy for review purposes and I was delighted to dive into this one. I was very happy to have given it some time and attention.

In our family, we talk a lot about being a team and that's the first reason this particular title caught my eye. We talk about how we all have to work together to accomplish things and to enjoy life. When any one of us are fighting with another, we stop and remind ourselves that we were placed together for a reason and a purpose and so we need to keep on working hard to stick together. Don't get me wrong - it is hard work! But it is good work and it offers great rewards. We like our team and are always interested in learning how to make it a better and stronger one.

Author Clint Archer definitely likes sports and so there are a great many sport-like analogies and stories told to communicate his key points. If you are not a "sports person" don't fret; I am not a sports fan and I had no troubles whatsoever with his stories. I never felt like he was "going off" about a game but skillfully used games and certain athlete's performances to teach how each family member ought to act to benefit the whole unit. His sports analogies/stories were short, to the point, and directly applied to the information that he was trying to pass along. Absolutely do not let the idea that this is a book about sports turn you off. By the later half of the book, he rarely mentions sports at all!

The Home Team: God's Game Plan for the Family is meant to be used as a tool to reformat the family, if you will, into a unit instead of a diverse group of people who just happen to live in the same household for a time. One thing in particular that I found interesting was Archer's admissions that this is a subject he has been and is still growing in. He is quick to say that he is not an expert on family, that he struggles sometimes in his role of providing spiritual headship, and that he still has much to learn. His humble admissions keep the reader asking questions of themselves because if you know the author doesn't necessarily have it all together then it's easier to dialogue and question your own motives and methods as you proceed in building your own family.

On the heels of that last paragraph, it should be quickly noted that his humility doesn't degrade the book into uselessness. Archer is still learning but he has learned and what he shares is practical, useful and is an encouragement to others. He definitely takes a "traditional" (and I would say biblical) approach to the family in holding to the position that the husband is the head of the house and the wife is the helpmeet. I have no issues with this as I believe this to be according to God's complimentary design. While his approach is certainly "conservative" and "traditional", he deviates from many modern conservative Christians in saying that this book is not meant to be a rule book or to provide some sort of checklist for "How to Build Family." He says quite plainly in the Introduction:

". . . [B]efore you read another paragraph or turn another page, please consider Jesus. Do not read this book for another list of ways to do marriage and family better: it's not intended as a rulebook or a checklist. If you read it like that, you will get frustrated and fail. You cannot accomplish any of these principles in this book apart from the Spirit of God applying grace to your failing heart. So seek Jesus and His grace. Then read on." (Introduction, page 11)

In other words, he isn't giving you a How To. He merely intends to lead the family to the Bible to learn what it is that God said the family was supposed to be.  Then, by God's grace and gift of wisdom, you need to make personal decisions for your own family which possess the ultimate goal of following God and bringing glory to His name. There is no checklist because we aren't cookie cutter humans. Our families cannot look the same.  However, if we are doing it right we are all doing it with the same goal in mind. I see no reason to avoid a similar end. even if the particulars in how we get there look a bit different.

Ultimately, the purpose of Archer's book is to remind us all of our families' goals and purpose in life. That is? To bring glory to the Lord. If we operate by God's "play book" then we will find life more easily enjoyable but not completely devoid of trials either. Focusing our eyes on the Lord and seeking His wisdom is certainly in our best interest and the end result is something to look forward to instead of dread.

I'll let Archer end my post by sharing a quote that I found particularly meaningful as it reminded me that while our families may look different , we each need to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The details all don't matter all of the time but certain details do. (Did you track with that?) Going back to scripture and the Creator of Family is the only way to make things in our individual households work properly. If that is all this book manages to help you remember, then it is a worthy read.

"Define your goals according to God's original design for the family and His specific calling for your family. Then you can work together as a team, depending upon the Holy Spirit to energize and bless that work. You can also judge your successes or failures according to God's standards rather than according to human wisdom, which may change with every generation. You can even enjoy the work of glorifying God as part of the family team, receiving the blessings that come from belonging to and participating in a God-glorifying family." (Chapter 2, Team Basics, page 36)

This one will remain on my book shelf for a re-read.

Many thanks to Shepherd Publishing for sending this book my direction in order to facilitate this review. I received no additional compensation and all opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Princess and the Goblin :: RtK Book Club

Reading to Know - Book Club

Better late than never, right? Here is the introduction post for this month's book club read of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. Rebekah from BekahCubed is leading this month's discussion. Below are her opening remarks.

*****

He influenced C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle - but I'd never heard of him until I saw him mentioned by Michael Phillips, who I knew from such great literature (okay, maybe not) as The Secret of the Rose and The Journals of Corrie Bell Hollister.

Even having heard of him, and knowing that he influenced one of my favorite (at the time) authors of historical Christian fiction, I still didn't read any George MacDonald until my mid- to late-teens, when I found The Princess and the Goblin available for free on Project Gutenberg. Those being the days before e-readers, I printed off a copy on the dot-matrix printer my family had for the children's use, tore off the endless row of perfectly punched edging, and laboriously three-hole punched my copy to put in a 3 ring binder. I was entranced.

When Carrie asked me again this year whether I'd like to participate in the Reading to Know classics book club, I knew for sure that I would - but also knew I'd like to go for something a bit lighter than what I chose last year. Knowing that we were hoping to start a family this year, I started to think of fairy tales I'd like to introduce my children to someday - fairy tales that I could introduce to my children earlier than I myself was introduced to them. George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin fit the bill.

I look forward to re-reading this classic fairy tale - and discussing it with all of you!

*****

Reading along with us this month? Drop a note and let us know! I've started reading it aloud to my own kids and they are enjoying it - especially Bookworm2 (age 5). We hope you'll give it a go!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer

Well, I didn't exactly mean to take last week off from blogging, but that's what happened. We were enjoying family time away and had relatives visiting and so, well, there's that! I think that the addition of the fourth child into our family and all that that entails has definitely slowed my reading down! I find I do not regret it at all but am content to blog when I can find the time without sacrificing my family's needs in order to do so. I still enjoying blogging so much that I can't imagine ever stopping. If I disappear for a bit, assume I'm busy but that I'll be back as soon as I can be!

On this month's Nightstand post I mentioned that I had picked up a copy of The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell and was hoping to get to it this month. At the strong suggestion of one reader (heh) I went ahead and picked this one up first.

The premise of The Wishing Spell is awesome. It tells us the story of twins Alex (female) and Conner whose grandmother gives them a very special family heirloom: a book of fairy tales. Alex and Conner have grown up being read these stories and they are delighted to be in possession of this book of treasures themselves. However, they are greatly surprised when the book seems to come to life and, ultimately, sucks them into the pages (quite literally) and into a fairytale world. The Wishing Spell is the first book in a series of "Land of Stories" books, all of which I assume chronicle the adventures of Alex and Conner as they navigate their way through fairyland on a quest to return back home.

You'll note that I said I assumed that all the rest of the books in this series tell of us Alex and Conner's quest. I wouldn't know for certain and I have no intentions of finding out for myself. I couldn't quite finish this first book.

As I mentioned in my Nightstand post, I picked up this book series at Barnes & Noble on a whim. It was in the middle grade fiction section and I thought I'd give it a chance. The book's description most definitely caught my attention and Middle Grade fiction is, I've found, usually clean, good fun. As you are generally talking about ages 8-12 I can't think why this classification of fiction should be anything but clean, good fun. If The Land of Stories spells the future of middle grade fiction, I'm inclined to be quite hesitant to purchase any new works of it. My hackles are definitely up.

The story started off fine. The twins' dad dies and that sets the scene for grief and a desire to escape into a different world. Then they arrive in the fairyland and begin meeting all sorts of fun magical creatures and famous characters we are all familiar with: Rapunzel, Red Riding Hood, Jack of Bean Stalk Fame, etc. I didn't think the writing was that great but I did think the idea for the story was so I was inclined to read to the end. Then came a couple of descriptions which I did not care for one little iota.

The twins are looking around Red Riding Hood's castle for the room where she keeps all of her baskets. There are portraits of Red Riding Hood (who is quite the vain character) lining the walls.

"Let's find the entrance and retrace our steps to the throne room - " Alex began, but Conner interrupted her.
"No need. The baskets are in there," he said, and pointed to the door beside them.
"How do you know?" Alex asked him.
"Because I remember that portrait of Red being next to the basket room, "Conner said, and pointed to a portrait where Red Riding Hood was barely clothed, with only a wolf-skin to cover her.
Alex gave Conner a really dirty look.
"What?" Conner asked with a smirk. "It's memorable."

Yes. Yes, it most certainly is. Question: why do we want our eight to twelve year olds remembering it? But that was only the first thing I found (on pages 226-227). I grimaced, but hoped that would be the end of it. Unfortunately, Chris Colfer couldn't resist from writing such descriptions for our young people and publisher Little Brown didn't seem to see the need to clean it up. What is the harm in allow our young people to remain innocently imaginative beyond the ripe, old mature age of seven? Is that the new cut off age for childhood innocence?

The second instance had me howling at the moon and vowing that if this new series marks the future of middle grade fiction, we will stick with classic stories of which there are - thankfully - plenty to choose from and fully enjoy. In the Land of Stories, Jack of the Beanstalk and Goldilocks are in love but some event happened which has caused Goldilocks to become a fugitive from the law. Jack is desperate to be with her but she is keeping herself away from him in order to protect him. The following interchange takes place between the two who are standing on opposite sides of a gate:

"I love you," Jack said. "And I know you love me. You don't have to say it back. I just know.
"I'm a criminal, and you're a hero," Goldilocks said with teary eyes. "A flame may love a snowflake, but they can never be together without harming the other."
"Then let me melt," Jack said. He reached through the gate and pulled Goldilocks close to him, and they kissed. It was passionate, pure, and long overdue." (p. 234)

And then I was done. Aside from the fact that the "let me melt" line is eye-rolling and cheesy, I find it - along with the passionate kissing - completely inappropriate for the age group this story is marketed to. No thank you, Little Brown. No thank you. If this is what you intend to dole out to my kids and others, then we'll ignore your future works and stick to older tales which leave off the half clothed females and love making. That's completely unnecessary in the telling of a good story for adults and the idea that you would think this is descriptively good for our children is ridiculous.

If you think I'm going to quietly purchase this fiction and feed it to my kids without thinking about the implications then I have a smirk to throw back your way.

Think again please, Little Brown.

In case anyone is wondering, I regrettably purchased this book for myself. I'm linking to the publisher because I think it should be noted who intends to peddle this stuff off to the young reading public. 

Friday, September 05, 2014

My Bookish Wishlist

I have a wishlist of bookish things I would love to own/wear/look at. :) I assume all book lovers do.

Because I still can't get over Harry Potter enough to pick up anything else and read it yet (seriously! This is becoming so frustrating to me . . . in some ways) I thought I'd share some of the things I think are super cool.


from REDBUBBLE


Also from REDBUBBLE


From AngelCities on etsy


From OrchardHouseSigns on etsy


From TresAudra on etsy


USAopoly Chronicles of Narnia Monopoly


Oh yes, I would.

from Nerd Alert Creations on etsy


Printable!

From Punkalunk Printable on etsy

And we'll end with this one, which I feel is appropriate:


from LePetitPanda on etsy

Do you have bookish items on your wishlist that you would love to someday own? Care to share? Leave a link in the comment section to the item you are currently eyeing. Or write up your own blog post and share a series of things! (Only don't. I don't think my own list needs to be any longer and what if you share something that I really like?!! Gaah!)

Please note: this list is meant to be fun. Just wanted to share things I think are pretty and would be fun to "play" with!


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Book Club "Stuff"

You'll probably have noted (with a sigh, perhaps) that we are officially into the month of September. For book club purposes this means we ought to have already wrapped up our discussion of The Brothers Karamazov and have introduced the read for this current month - The Princess and the Goblin.

Reading to Know - Book Club

#1 - The Brothers Karamazov. Yes. Well. I didn't make it very far. I "blame" Harry, but not really. Shonya also wasn't able to finish the book due to regular life activities. So we're falling down on the job for August.


I will plan to finish this book by the end of this September and present an opportunity for those who read it to share their thoughts. In the meantime, if you'd like to read a positive post from someone who really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, please GO HERE and read my friend Heather's post. (I actually read her post to be able to understand the book better for myself and my own reading purposes. Thank you for that, Heather!)

#2 - The Princess and the Goblin - Intro post forthcoming, but don't let that stop you from getting started reading! I started it with my kids yesterday. The language might be a tad bit on the archaic side and a bit over their heads, but they understood enough of it to ask me to read an additional chapter so we shall press on! I fully expect to enjoy this one.

Also, note that you can grab a copy of The Princess and the Goblin on Amazon for less than $5 in paperback from. (You can also nab it for free on the Kindle.)


It might feel like we are dragging our way to the finish line on some of these books, but we will get there. We're pressing on! Hoping you'll join in and read along this month if you are able.

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
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