Archive by Author | Sherry

Saturday Review of Books: September 5, 2015

“Let books be your dining table,
And you shall be full of delights;
Let them be your mattress
And you shall sleep restful nights.”
~St. Ephraem Syrus

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

A couple of years ago I made a “bliss list” of 52 subjects that hook me into reading and enjoying a book: everything from community to eccentricity to Winston Churchill. Number 3 on that list was “insanity, mental illness, and mental differences and disabilities. Everything from schizophrenia to autism to deafness and blindness and how those affect perceptions and ideas.”

All the Bright Places certainly taps into that particular fascination, even though Finch, one of our two protagonists, doesn’t like labels and refuses to think of himself as bipolar or mentally ill. Finch refuses to be characterized by his illness, doesn’t believe that he is the “freak” that the other kids call him, but he definitely isn’t quite normal. He thinks about death and suicide nearly 24/7—until he meets Violet Markey at the top of the school bell tower where he talks her down from the ledge. Everyone else thinks it was Violet who talked Theodore Finch, the Freak, down from jumping off the bell tower, but Violet and Finch know the truth. And now Finch is fascinated with Violet, and vice-versa.

I liked the book, sort of. Ms. Niven did a good job of showing the quirky thought processes of boy who, whether he wants to be labeled or not, is dealing with serious mental illness. And I liked the way the book shows that Theo Finch is actually a real person, not defined by his mania or depression, but definitely becoming more and more enslaved to the sickness as the story progresses.

That said, I had issues with some of the plot and characterizations in this book. Theo’s family is a joke. His father is alternately abusive and absent, and his mother is . . . out of touch? She doesn’t feel like a real person. Theodore lives in a closet half the time, and his mother doesn’t do anything at all. He doesn’t sleep, and he goes out running at all hours of the day and night, and mom is oblivious. He disappears, and she still doesn’t do anything. Do these kind of people exist? Maybe, but I don’t get it.

Then there’s the financial aspect of the story. A lot of YA fiction seems to be written by people who are unaware or actively ignoring the financial realities of middle class life. Theo has a car (why?), but no job. I couldn’t see how he managed to pull twenty dollar bills out of his pocket to pay for books, or keep his car gassed up, or buy gallons and gallons of paint, or buy a huge bouquet of flowers for Violet. His dad didn’t seem like the type to chip in any funds, and Theo’s mom worked two part time jobs, one of them at a bookstore. Violet, too, has all the money she needs to eat out, travel around exploring Indiana with Theo, and do anything else she happens to want to do. Violet also has no job. And both Theo and Violet have the excruciating problem of simply deciding which university they want to attend, with no discussion or consideration of cost. This lack of financial limitations seems to be the case in a majority of YA novels. It only matters which university sends you an acceptance letter; money is no object for these basically middle class teens.

Lastly, All the Bright Places almost glamorizes suicide. Yes, we need to be sympathetic and offer help and not stigmatize those are mentally ill or those who are victims of their own suicidal thoughts. However, the other extreme is to make suicide look good, so cute and quirky. Theo is so creative and intelligent. He’s romantic, even in the throes of suicidal compulsions. He’s the only one who understands Violet. He manages to make his bipolar ravings sound like some kind of esoteric wisdom. SPOILER ALERT: Theo dies, but Violet halfway believes that “[p]eople like Theodore Finch don’t die. He’s just wandering.” At the end of the book, Violet writes an epitaph for Theo: “I was alive. I burned brightly. And then I died, but not really. Because someone like me, cannot, will not die like everyone else. I linger like the legends of the Blue Hole.”

I wanted to say, loudly, to whomever might read this book:

Suicide is NOT glamorous.

It hurts (you and other people).

You won’t linger like a legend.

At the end, you really do die.

Warnings: mild language, and of course, obligatory YA sex.

Saturday Review of Books: August 29, 2015

“Every night, after supper, we read some part of a small collection of romances, which had been my mother’s. My father’s design was only to improve me in reading, and he thought these entertaining works were calculated to give me a fondness for it; but we soon found ourselves so interested in the adventures they contained, that we alternately read whole nights together and could not bear to give over until at the conclusion of a volume. Sometimes, in the morning, on hearing the swallows at our window, my father, quite ashamed of this weakness, would cry, ‘Come, come, let us go to bed; I am more a child than thou art.'” ~Jean Jacques Rousseau

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday

The Envoy by Alex Kershaw

The Envoy: The Epic Rescue of the Last Jews of Europe in the Desperate Closing Months of World War II by Alex Kershaw.

On Saturday morning, I went to this protest at Planned Parenthood, Gulf Coast, the site of the largest and most lucrative abortion facility in the United States. On Saturday afternoon and evening, I read The Envoy, the story of the final months of World War II in Hungary and the genocide organized by Adolf Eichmann as a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” in Hungary. Even though, as Jen Fulwiler writes in this piece, the analogy between the Jewish Holocaust of World War II and the abortion holocaust of the United States (and much of the developed world) is not complete or tidy, the parallels are obvious and undeniable. In both cases, a class of people were/are “dehumanized”, spoken of and then treated as less than human, unworthy of basic human rights and protections. (Bob DeGray on The Christian Response to Dehumanization)

The more I read about World War II or about Hitler’s Holocaust, the more I realize that I have huge swaths of ignorance about what took place during that time. Did you know that during the summer of 1944, when it was becoming clearer and clearer that the Germans were losing the war and that the Russian army was headed toward Budapest, Eichmann insisted upon continuing his program of exterminating the Jews of Hungary? During that summer, from May to August, over 500,000 Jewish men, women and children were transported to Auschwitz, mostly from Hungary’s provinces, outside of Budapest itself. The deportations were suspended in late August because the Romania had surrendered, putting the Russian army only weeks away from Budapest. However, after the Germans blackmailed Hungary’s puppet regent, Miklas Horthy, into resigning by kidnapping his son and holding him hostage, the Arrow Cross, Hungary’s viciously anti-Semitic Nazi party, took over the government. “The pogroms began that evening. Hundreds were pulled from their homes or off the streets and slaughtered in plain sight in the first hours of the Arrow Cross regime.” (p.160)

Then, Eichmann returned to his pet plan for liquidating the Jews of Budapest. When he couldn’t get trains to transport the Jews to Auschwitz, he forced them to march to the Polish border on foot, by the thousands. Many died on the way, and others were killed as soon as they reached Poland. Even though Eichmann (and everybody else) knew that the Russians would soon take Budapest, he was intent on killing as many Jews as possible before the Nazis were defeated.

All these details were things I didn’t really realize about the Holocaust, not set in context as they are in The Envoy. I had heard of Raoul Wallenberg; I read an account somewhere of his using his Swedish diplomatic immunity and his ingenuity to save Jews. However, The Envoy puts Wallenberg and his heroic work to rescue the Jews of Budapest into perspective. I was amazed at Wallenberg’s courage and that of many others during the latter half of 1944, and I was surprised and saddened to learn of Wallenberg’s fate after his work in Budapest was over. Probably, Wallenberg never knew that many of the Jews he rescued with fake diplomatic protection did survive the war, and he may very well have thought that no one knew or cared about his attempts to rescue at least a remnant of Hungary’s Jewish population.

Reading the story of Raoul Wallenberg and the Jews of Budapest made me remember that many of us, maybe most of us, will never know in this life the results of our attempts at kindness, courage, truth-telling, and goodness. Sometimes those actions bear fruit many years later. Sometimes Satan deceives us into thinking that our actions don’t really matter, that no one is listening, nothing is changing, no one cares, and evil wins. But God wins, and goodness outlasts and extinguishes evil, and our actions, for good or for ill, do matter. One man, or even a group of men, may not have been able to save all the Jews from the evil that was Hitler’s and Eichmann’s final solution, but one man and his co-conspirators made a difference. And I am determined to use my one voice and my one life to do whatever I can to make a difference for truth and justice, too.

Junior Scholastic Magazine Gold Seal Award

The Junior Scholastic Gold Seal Award was given by Junior Scholastic Magazine to those juvenile books “that are considered to be an enriching experience in the lives of young Americans.”
The first Gold Seal Awards were given in 1942.

1942 Paul Bunyan, by Esther Shephard, illustrated by Rockwell Kent. (Harcourt) Subtitled “Twenty-one Tales of the Legendary Logger,” these stories are written in dialect, which charmed some Amazon reviewers and annoyed others. You can take a look at the 1985 reprint edition at Amazon and see which group you’re in. I thought it looked like a winner.

Indian Captive, by Lois Lenski. (Stokes) I’ve read Indian Captive (a long time ago), and I have it in my library. It’s one of a number of popular “Indian captive” stories that were popular back in the day, but would probably be politically incorrect these days. However, I think “politically incorrect” is just another way of saying “ripe for discussion”, so I’d recommend it.

Citadel of a Hundred Stairways, by Alida Sims Malkus. (Winston) A Peruvian boy and an American boy spend a summer together in the Andes Mountains, exploring the ruins of Macchu Picchu. It sounds good, and I think I’ve read other books by Ms. Malkus.

The Mayos: Pioneers in Medicine, by Adolph Regli. (Messner)

Shooting Star: THe Story of Tecumseh, by William E. Wilson. (Farrar & Rinehart) I don’t know if this biography is any good or not, but someone wants $149.00 for a first edition copy of it on Amazon.

I Have Just Begun to Fight: The Story of John Paul Jones, by Edward Ellsberg. (Dodd)

Adam of the Road, by Elizabeth Janet Gray. (Viking) Newbery Award winner. I thought this story was great, but the pacing is a little slow for readers who are movie and TV-bred.

Goethals of the Panama Canal, by Howard Fast (Messner) Mr. Fast seems to have been a fascinating man. Via Wikipedia:

Fast spent World War II working with the United States Office of War Information, writing for Voice of America. In 1943, he joined the Communist Party USA and in 1950 he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities; in his testimony, he refused to disclose the names of contributors to a fund for a home for orphans of American veterans of the Spanish Civil War (one of the contributors was Eleanor Roosevelt), and was given a three-month prison sentence for contempt of Congress.
It was while he was at Mill Point Federal Prison that Fast began writing his most famous work, Spartacus, a novel about an uprising among Roman slaves. Blacklisted by major publishing houses following his release from prison, Fast was forced to publish the novel himself.

Snow Treasure, by Marie McSwigan. (Dutton) “This amazing book, continuously in print since 1942, tells how brave schoolchildren outwitted the invading Nazis. To keep their country’s gold out of Nazi hands, the children sledded thirteen tons of gold bricks down the mountain to a waiting ship.”

Dragon Ship: A Story of the Vikings in America, by William S. Resnick. (Coward-McCann)

1943 Tom Whipple, by Walter D. Edmonds. (Dodd) “Tom was a real venturesome young Yank, determined to see something of the world, so passing through New York on his way back from Washington, he left his Mother and signed up for sea-duty — anywhere. He finds himself on a cargo boat bound for Russia, where he made up his mind that he would see the Emperor.” Kirkus review. Mr. Edmonds’ book, The Matchlock Gun, won the Newbery Medal in 1942, but it’s out of favor nowadays because . . . guns.

Gift of the Forest, by Reginald Lal Singh and Eloise Lownsbery. (Longmans) This one seems to be an animal story set in India, although Mr. Singh was born in British Guiana (?) and lived in the United States–if the author is the same Reginald Lal Singh who later became an actor and Hollywood technical advisor.

Struggle Is Our Brother, by Henry Gregor Felsen. (Dutton) Felsen’s most famous book, Hot Rod (1948), was based on a tragic car accident that had occurred in Iowa and was about the dangers of “hot-rodding”. It looks as if Struggle is probably more of a war book.

Walter Reed: Doctor in Uniform, by Laura Newbold Wood. (Messner)

We’ll Meet in England, by Kitty Barne. (Dodd) Ms.Barne won the 1940 Carnegie Medal for British Children’s Literature for her book, Visitors from London. Set in Sussex, it features preparing for and hosting children evacuated from London. We’ll Meet in England is another WWII story, about the escape from Norway of two children of English-Norwegian parentage.

Submarine Sailor, by Gregor Felsen. (Dutton.) Another war story from the prolific Mr. Felsen.

Hosh-Ki the Navajo, by Florence Hayes. (Random) A Navajo boy goes to “white man’s school” in the 1940’s.

1944 Yankee Thunder: The Legendary Life of Davy Crockett, by Irwin Shapiro, illustrated by James Daugherty. (Messner)

The Good Ship Red Lily, by Constance Savery. (Longmans) I’ve read and heard good things about British author Constance Savery’s historical fiction. This one is set in the 1600’s about a Puritan family’s flight form England to escape persecution in the New World.

Giants of China, by Helena Kuo, illustrated by Woodi Ishmael. (Dutton) Ms. Kuo was a Chinese-American journalist, broadcaster, and translator.

1945 Nathan Hale, Patriot, by Martha Mann, (Dodd) A fictionalized life of patriot and spy, Nathan Hale (since, as I just read in David McCullough’s 1776, nobody knows much about the real Mr. Hale).

The Land of the Chinese People, by Cornelia Spencer. (Lippincott) Probably a bit dated, even though a revised edition was published in 1960.

Sentinel of the Snow Peaks: A Story of the Alaskan Wild, by Harold McCracken. (Lippincott) McCracken was an American author, Alaskan grizzly bear hunter, biplane stunt photographer, cinematographer, producer and museum director, also a noted explorer. (Wow!) Kirkus called this book “a true nature adventure”.

1946 Justin Morgan Had a Horse, by Marguerite Henry. (Wilcox & Follett.) Newbery HOnor book about a horse named Little Bub in Vermont in the 1700’s.

I only found information about this award in one book online, Literary Prizes and Their Winners, published in 1946 by R.R. Bowker Co. I doubt the award was given after 1946, or at least I can’t find any evidence that it was. The titles in bold print are the ones I’m familiar with and have in my library. Are you familiar with any of these books that were given a “gold seal” by Junior Scholastic Magazine in the 1940’s during World War II?

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler by Phillip Hoose

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose.

The Newbery honor and National Book Award winning author of Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, Phillip Hoose, has chronicled the fascinating true story of a group of Danish boys who jump-started the resistance to the Nazis in Denmark during World War II. Knud Pedersen, a pastor’s son, joined with his high school buddies to harass and subvert the Germans who were occupying Denmark. They stole guns, burned German vehicles, confused signage, posted graffiti,and cut phone lines, among other acts of sabotage and resistance. And they acted when almost no one else in Denmark was resisting the Germans at all. Pedersen says they did it because they were ashamed of Denmark’s easy capitulation to the Nazis and the collaboration that characterized the Danish response to the German occupation.

“I kept asking myself: How on earth could I lie on the beach sunning when my country had been violated? Why were we not as brave as Norway? Had Denmark no pride?”

Eventually, the boys, who after all were just boys with no military or resistance experience, were arrested and imprisoned. But they became an inspiration to the adults of Denmark who began their own resistance movement. Mr. Hoose credits Knud Pedersen and his Churchill Club with “setting the ball in motion” and making Denmark “a hotbed of resistance.”

I would have liked to have read more about the religion “ghosts” (hints about a religious or Christian influence that aren’t fleshed out) in this story. Pedersen’s father was a pastor, but we are never told what denomination or what that fact meant to Knud Pedersen. Pedersen tells how the boys decided that they would have to be willing to kill Germans in order to form an effective resistance cell, but he never says anything about how they reconciled the violence they were willing to commit with their Christian background or faith. In fact, it is hinted, but never stated, that perhaps Knud Pedersen and his brother, who was also involved in the Churchill Club, didn’t have much faith or Christianity to reconcile. However, perhaps they did, but the author doesn’t tell us about it. Pedersen is filled with hatred: for the Germans, for the Danish collaborators, and for his jailers. A struggle with what to do with such hatred in a Christian context is never mentioned.

Religion ghosts in the text:

“Holy Ghost Monastery . . . would host Edvard Pedersen’s Danish Folkschurch and provide living quarters for the Pedersen family.” Folkschurch?

Most of the boys of the Churchill Club attended Aalborg Cathedral School, presumably a Christian private school?

Knud Pedersen: “Each Sunday morning Jens and I practiced shooting the guns in the gigantic open loft at the top of the monastery during father’s church services. We would lie on our stomachs, waiting for the music to swell, and when it did we’d blast away, firing at targets positioned in the hay on the other side of the loft.” So the boys didn’t attend church services?

Pedersen on Christmas in prison: “I wanted to cry, but I had forgotten how. I finally discovered that by softly singing Christmas songs in my cell at night I could make the tears flow down my cheeks. I sang every song I knew and wept the whole next day.”

Knud Pedersen, describing the end of the war for him: “Father distributed hymnals. I ended the war at the monastery chapel just a few meters away from the room in which the Churchill Club was born–singing hymns with the men of my K Company group. I was eighteen.”

Knud’s brother, Jens, “struggled with depression.” “He died in a hospital after a very unhappy life.”

After the war, Knud Pedersen wrote a memoir about the Churchill Club. His father, “Edvard Pedersen, arranged to have a secretary type the finished manuscript, but—unbeknownst to Knud and his club mates–he had the typist cross out all the curse words just before publication. This angered the group when they finally saw the book.”

These ghosts/hints are interesting for what is not mentioned: no prayer, no consolation from remembered Scripture or Biblical truth, no Christ or Christian commitment. Judging from a quick skim of his blog, Mr. Hoose himself seems to have Buddhist sympathies, so it’s understandable that he would not be as interested in the Christian underpinnings or lack thereof of the Churchill Club and its members. But I was. Unfortunately, since Mr. Pedersen died in December of last year, 2014, I can’t ask him whether he rejected or found strength in the faith of his parents or what exactly that faith was.

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler is a book about teen heroes, young men who decided that if the adults wouldn’t do anything for the honor of Denmark and the confusion of her enemy, the German invaders, they would. As such it’s an interesting and exciting portrait of youthful zeal and even foolhardiness which can sometimes trump an adult over-abundance of caution and planning. I just would have liked to know more about the boys’ foundational thinking, about what motivated them and sustained them, or didn’t sustain them, through prison and life after the war.

Saturday Review of Books: August 22, 2015

“My general idea, as I look back through the long years, seems to have been, ‘If you see a book, read it, especially if it is poetry!’ My education would seem to stand on a solid foundation of fairy stories, romance, and poetry, with more or less history tucked in here and there by way of mortar.” ~Laura Howe Richards

SatReviewbutton

Welcome to the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. Here’s how it usually works. Find a book review on your blog posted sometime during the previous week. The review doesn’t have to be a formal sort of thing. You can link to your thoughts on a particular book, a few ideas inspired by reading the book, your evaluation, quotations, whatever.

Then on Friday night/Saturday, you post a link here at Semicolon in Mr. Linky to the specific post where you’ve written your book review. Don’t link to your main blog page because this kind of link makes it hard to find the book review, especially when people drop in later after you’ve added new content to your blog. In parentheses after your name, add the title of the book you’re reviewing. This addition will help people to find the reviews they’re most interested in reading.

After linking to your own reviews, you can spend as long as you want reading the reviews of other bloggers for the week and adding to your wishlist of books to read.

You can go to this post for over 100 links to book lists for the end of 2014/beginning of 2015. Feel free to add a link to your own list.

If you enjoy the Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon, please invite your friends to stop by and check out the review links here each Saturday

Down Ryton Water by E.R. Gaggin

Down Ryton Water is a 1942 Newbery Honor book about the Pilgrims–published back when children’s books were really meaty and challenging reads. It’s 369 pages of pilgrim wanderings and family building and moving and rearranging and traveling and birthing and marrying.

The (sainted) Pilgrims come across as real people with personalities and foibles and humor and salty language (nothing that’s shocking for nowadays) and full lives. The book focuses on the Over family: Mother Orris Brode Over, a gardener and herbalist; Father Matt Over, a farmer; Young Matt, five years old as the story opens in Scrooby, England; and baby Remember, “the damp woman child” as Young Matt calls her. The family soon grows: Young Matt’s young uncle John Brode, an adopted orphan child named Winifrett, a new baby boy born in Holland and named for the Dutch St. Nicholas, and later a young Native American teen named Wisset, all join the Over family.

It’s a book about family and about continuity of that family amidst pilgrim upheavals and separations and reunions. I found it encouraging and full of wisdom nuggets:

Orris to Young Matt upon the occasion of the Overs leaving Scrooby for Holland: “Strangers and pilgrims on the earth. That’s what we are . . . Because pilgrims, my lad, are strangers in a strange land. And so will we be–and my poor simples! Pilgrims wander about the earth in search of the blessed vision that keeps ever out of reach, just ahead of them. . . . Our vision is a place to live where we may have freedom to think, freedom to worship, and freedom to dig in the muck once more.”

Uncle John, when the Pilgrims are leaving Holland: “Freedom must be earned; it must first be understood and then fought for. It must be forever guarded, lest it slip away. It is the most precious thing in life.”

William Bradford at the first Thanksgiving: “We have been in a race for life. But a halt must be made in such a race sometime. A halt to consider what has been accomplished with God’s help, and to give thanks to Him for His blessings. A halt for–for–well, for laughter and feasting and pleasantry. Both young and old need a bolus of merriment now and then to keep them in good health.”

When Young Matt is building himself a house, his uncle John tells him: “Get some beauty into the design! No dwelling is too simple for beauty! There’s a correctness for every need. In building, as in garments.”

This fictional family of Pilgrims, the Overs, shows young (and old) readers the vicissitudes of life in colonial America as the first Europeans came to settle in the New World. It would make a good November read aloud book for upper elementary or even middle school children. And for skilled readers in that age group who are interested in history, this book would also be a fascinating and challenging independent reading choice. The book is long and descriptive passages abound, so patience and a tolerance for such is required. I found it a good antidote to the internet-based reading that I often get accustomed to and have to wean myself from in order to read deeply and enjoy fully the reading that I do.

1776 by David McCullough

I feel as if I learned a lot about the first year of the American War for Independence while reading this book, and I did enjoy it. However, all I can really remember right now is a few broad impressions.

The war went really, really badly for the Americans right up until the crossing of the Delaware and the Battle of Trenton at the very end of the year. This defeat of the Hessian troops left there to “guard” Washington’s army was such a great victory because the year up until the day after Christmas was such a disaster.

Washington’s greatest attribute was perseverance.

“Above all, Washington never forgot what was at stake, and he never gave up. Again and agin, in letters to Congress and to his officers, and in his general orders, he had called for perseverance—for ‘perseverance and spirit,’ for ‘patience and perseverance,’ for ‘unremitting courage and perseverance.'”

And he needed that character attribute. He also needed it in his soldiers and officers, who would have been praiseworthy in the eyes of many, including their own friends and families at times, to have given up and gone home. I wonder if the United States of America produces men, and women, nowadays like those who persevered and fought in the grandly named, but not so grandly supplied, Continental Army of 1776.

The war in 1776, for enlisted men, was 95% slogging through forced marches and living in destitute conditions while not getting paid and worrying about your family back home. Communications were poor; disease was endemic; and if you made it through the actual shooting part of the war, you were only marginally likely to survive the other part in which sickness, starvation, and privation were daily dangers.

Several times during the battles and retreats of 1776, God seems to have saved the Continental Army, by His mercy providing a concealing fog or other helpful weather conditions or human intelligence that just came in the nick of time to preserve the army from certain destruction. At the end of 1776, when a great part of Washington’s army had their enlistment time ending and when a goodly number of them were sick and tired and ready to go home, Washington offered a bounty of ten dollars to those who would stay for six more months and managed to talk many of them into reenlisting. General Nathaniel Greene said, “God Almighty inclined their hearts to listen to the proposal and they engaged anew.” (p.286)

I do think that God had a hand in creating and preserving this nation, and I do wonder if He has finished with us —as a nation. I pray not, but we heartily need Washington’s perseverance and God’s mercy and provision now more than ever. And how many of us are praying and looking for His hand in our history?

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

Circus Mirandus is the best children’s fantasy I’ve read in a long time. How do I love this book? Let me count the ways:

1. Circus Mirandus is magical. When Micah realizes that the stories his grandpa Ephraim has been telling him all his life about the Circus Mirandus are real, Micah is sure that the miracle that Grandpa Ephraim has saved up to claim from the circus performer called The Lightbender will also become real.

“Magic is . . . the parts of you that are just too big to keep just to yourself.”

2. At Circus Mirandus, seeing is believing, and believing means seeing. Micah has a friend, Jenny Mendoza, who has a natural explanation for all the magic of Circus Mirandus. But it’s Jenny’s “scientific” explanations that don’t seem very believable or real. The magic is inexplicable, and if one believes in it, it becomes real.

“When you try too hard to hold on to something, you break it. Sometimes, we need to let go so that other people can have their chance at the magic.”

3. Grandpa Ephraim and Micah have the best grandfather/grandson relationship ever. I had grandmother like Grandpa Ephraim, minus the circus, and I’ll bet many of the children who read the book will identify with Micah and his grandfather and their close relationship.

“Grandpa Ephraim was always saying things that sounded so important Micah wanted to wrap them up in boxes and keep them forever.”

4. Circus Mirandus doesn’t shrink away from the hard stuff. The hardest stuff of all is death and dying, and I love Tolkien for making Frodo’s return to the Shire difficult and insufficient because that’s how things really, truly are on this earth. I like the events in Circus Mirandus (which I’m trying not to spoil) for the same reason that I like the ending of Lord of the Rings, because sickness and consequences and incompleteness are a real part of the world we live in. And children can deal with that if it’s presented well.

“Father would want me to do the right thing, he thought. Even if it hurts.”

5. Circus. Magical knot-tying skills. Bird-woman. Flying. Invisible tiger. Treehouse. Danger. Friendship. What more could one ask for?

“Just because a magic is small doesn’t mean it is unimportant. Even the smallest magics can grow.”

P.S. Look underneath the dust jacket.