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Captivated by His Beauty

The sermon at my church this morning was a Biblical exposition of this hymn, Hast Thou Heard Him, Seen Him, Known Him?

My pastor spoke of the worth of knowing Jesus, of the worthlessness of idols, and of our joy and responsibility to “crown Him (our) unrivaled King.” I was reminded of this poem, Barter by Sara Teasdale:

Life has loveliness to sell,
All beautiful and splendid things,
Blue waves whitened on a cliff,
Soaring fire that sways and sings,
And children’s faces looking up
Holding wonder like a cup.

Life has loveliness to sell,
Music like a curve of gold,
Scent of pine trees in the rain,
Eyes that love you, arms that hold,
And for your spirit’s still delight,
Holy thoughts that star the night.

Spend all you have for loveliness,
Buy it and never count the cost;
For one white singing hour of peace
Count many a year of strife well lost,
And for a breath of ecstasy
Give all you have been, or could be.

Of course, it’s not for the creation that I am willing to give all that I “have been or could be.” Those intimations of joy found in the appreciation of the Creator’s handiwork are only shadows of the Creator Himself. It’s Jesus himself who is worth all that I am.

“But what, in conclusion, of Joy? To tell you the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian….It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the point naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods, the sight of a signpost is a great matter….But when we have found the road and are passing signposts every few miles, we shall not stop and stare. They will encourage us and we shall be grateful to the authority that set them up. But we shall not stop and stare, or not much; not on this road, though their pillars are of silver and their lettering of gold. ‘We would be at Jerusalem.'” ~C.S. Lewis

I am also reminded of Jesus’ parables: ““Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13:44-46 (NKJV)

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life’s trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One gliimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.
~Esther Kerr Rusthoi

Saturday Review of Books: July 4, 2015

“What do we, as a nation, care about books? How much do you think we spend altogether on our libraries, public or private, as compared with what we spend on our horses?” ~John Ruskin

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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.

Biographies for the Fourth of July

I have always enjoyed the Childhood of Famous Americans series of biographies of great Americans. These stories are somewhat fictionalized and usually focus on the childhood and young adult years of the well known person who is being written about. I found a few of these (ex-library copies) at a recent book sale:

Tom Jefferson, Boy in Colonial Days by Helen Albee Monsell. Tom’s father tells him, “Just to be strong is not enough. You must also have a trained mind in your strong body.”
Stephen Foster, Boy Minstrel by Helen Boyd Higgins. Did you know that Stephen Foster was born on the Fourth of July?
Walter Reed, Boy Who Wanted to Know by Helen Boyd Higgins. Walter Reed is inspired by the long illness and slow recovery of a friend to become a doctor and help others who have yellow fever and other diseases.
Woodrow Wilson, Boy President by Helen Albee Monsell. There’s an encouraging story in this book about young Tommy Wilson, age nine, struggling to learn to read.
Noah Webster, Boy of Words by Helen Boyd Higgins. “The day Noah was accepted at Yale College, the Websters were the proudest family in the whole of Connecticut.”
Nathan Hale, Puritan Boy by Augusta Stevenson. Nathan Hale was one of seven boys in the Hale family with only one sister, Elizabeth.

Interesting facts and stories like these are embedded in a narrative that engages young readers and inspires them to emulate the heroes’ good qualities while also reading about the youthful mischief and mistakes that even heroes can make.

I already had several of these biographies in my home library:
Lucretia Mott, Girl of Old Nantucket By Constance Burnett.
Thomas Edison: Young Inventor by Sue Gutheridge
Robert Fulton: Boy Craftsman by Marguerite Henry.
Oliver Hazard Perry, Boy of the Sea by Laura Long.
Jim Thorpe, Olympic Champion by Guernsey Van Riper.
Davy Crockett, Young Rifleman by Aileen Wells Parks.
Benjamin Franklin, Young Printer by Augusta Stevenson.
George Washington, Young Leader by Augusta Stevenson.
Molly Pitcher, Young Patriot by Augusta Stevenson.
Myles Standish, Adventurous Boy by Augusta Stevenson.
Will Rogers, Young Cowboy by Guernsey Van Riper.
Martha Washington, America’s First Lady by Jean Brown Wagoner.
Betsy Ross, Designer of our Flag by Ann Weil.
Annie Oakley, Little Sure Shot by Ellen Wilson.

I’ve read most of these, and I find them delightful. The reading level and the content are appropriate for ages seven through eleven. If a child prefers books about “real people”, these stories would be great beginning chapter books to steer them towards.

A lot of these old biographical stories have been weeded out of the public libraries, but you can still find some of them in paperback reprint editions at the bookstore or in the old hardcover editions at library book sales. I think they stand the test of time for a young reader’s introduction to historical heroes. Even as an adult, I can read them with enjoyment, and they make me curious to read more about the subject of the biography. What more can one ask from a junior biography?

Question of the Week and Reading Slump

I posted this question on Facebook, but I thought I’d try it here on the blog as well. What is your favorite Bible verse or your “life verse(s)”? Has God given you a verse or passage that is especially meaningful to you? If you comment and tell me, I will mark your verse in my Bible as a reminder to pray for you.

I’ve already enjoyed marking several verses for friends who commented on Facebook. I shaded the verses and wrote the person’s name beside the verse. That way whenever I read that particular verse, I will pray for that person. So far the verses that people have shared are: Jeremiah 29:11, John 1:4-5, Psalm 1, Isaiah 41:10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Matthew 11:28-30, Psalm 91:4, I Peter 4:10, Philippians 4:8, Philippians 4:13, Psalm 121:1-2, Colossians 3:23-24, Job 13:15 (mine) and John 6:68 (mine, too).

As for reading and blogging, I’m in something of a slump. I’ve pushed my way through several books in the last couple of weeks, but nothing has really grabbed me. I have been reading a lot in my Bible: Philippians, Nehemiah, and Numbers. Now that’s an interesting combination.

I have stacks and lists of books that I want to read or plan to read or need to read, but everything feels disconnected and a bit dull. Any suggestions? Have you ever dealt with a reading slump? What did you read or what did you do to reignite your interest in books and reading?

I have been watching the K-drama Heirs. It’s rather soap opera-ish, and I’m not sure it’s doing my reading blahs any good.

Finishing Stats for 48-hour Book Challenge

So, I read for a total of 14.5 hours.

I blogged (wrote reviews) for a total of 3 hours. It takes me a long time to write a simple review/reaction to what I read.

I read five books and reviewed four of the five.

I read a total of 1211 pages of children’s and young adult fiction.

My fifth book for the reading challenge was The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I think I have something to say about that book, but right now I can’t remember what I wanted to write.

Anyway, thanks, Mother Reader, for hosting the challenge. It was real. It was fun. Real fun.

Can you tell I’m a little fried right now for some reason? It wasn’t the reading challenge. Life keeps happening while I’m trying to read.

Some Kind of Magic by Adrian Fogelin

Book #4 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
223 pages, 3 hours

The last summer before high school. Things are changing for Cass, Jemmie, Justin, and Ben, and some of them are ready for a change while others just want to keep things the way they have always been.

The four friends, plus Ben’s almost seven year old little brother Cody, discover an old hat that might be magical and an old abandoned building that seems to be just the right place to spend their summer before high school. As relationships between the four friends and others in the neighborhood shift and change, Cody has to figure out what the hat is telling him and whether to listen. And Justin must decide whether to try to think and speak for himself or give up before he ever gets started. Cass has to learn to accept the changes that are inevitable. Ben needs to deal with the restlessness inside him. Jemmie just wants to enjoy the summer and then head for high school, new people, and new adventures.

I liked this book a lot. I’m not sure the pacing is just right for some readers. The book sort of moseys along like a long, hot summer. And the way it’s arranged in chapters from different characters’ viewpoints made it hard at first for me to keep the characters straight. The chapters from the point of view of the teens–Cass, Jemmie, Justin, and Ben—are written in first person, and the chapters told from Cody’s vantage point are all in third person. Because Cody’s so young, only six years old, and couldn’t really “tell” his parts of the story in a mature voice? Anyway, the shifting voices and the slow pace might throw some readers off, but I didn’t have any trouble sticking with it and becoming engrossed.

Ben is reading To Kill a Mockingbird for summer reading, and there’s a bit of a TKAM feeling to this story: a neighborhood story with kids trying to figure out an old mystery from way back, family history, serious stuff going on under the surface of a summer’s recreation. The neighborhood setting is in Tallahassee, Florida, where the author herself resides. And although one of the young people in the story, Jemmie, is black, there’s not really a hint of racial tension in the story, unlike TKAM.

However, I looked up the author, and learned that Some Kind of Magic is the sixth and final book in a series of books about the same neighborhood, called appropriately enough, The Neighborhood Novels. And the first book in the series, Crossing Jordan, is about Cass and Jemmie when they first met, and it definitely deals with racial tension and bridging the gap between white and black residents of this multi-racial neighborhood. I am really interested in reading the first five books in this series so that I can get the backstory of these characters and of other residents of The Neighborhood. Maybe that backstory would have helped me keep the characters straight as I began to read Some Kind of Magic. Still, I recommend this book on its own, and on the basis of having read this one, I also recommend that you look up the other books in the Neighborhood Novels series:

Crossing Jordan
Anna Casey’s Place in the World “Anna Casey must deal with the loss of her family and adjust to living in a foster home. Feeling abandoned and alone, Anna turns to her closest companion, her explorer journal.”
My Brother’s Hero “When his aunt and uncle win a Christmas cruise Ben and his family are off to watch their marina in the Florida Keys. This is Ben’s chance to live aboard a boat, swim and snorkel, fish for the big ones, and have some adventures for a change.”
The Big Nothing “When everyone in his life lets him down, Justin Riggs discovers something inside himself—a hidden talent that helps him survive.”
The Sorta Sisters “Anna and Mica have the same problem. They’re both lonely. Although separated by the entire state of Florida, they keep each other company through the exchange of letters and strange and sometimes mystifying objects.”
Some Kind of Magic

Yep. Gotta add these to the TBR list.

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The Faraway Lurs by Harry Behn

Book #3 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
190 pages, 2 hours

First of all, what are lurs? A lur is “a Bronze-Age musical instrument in the form of a conical tube that is roughly S-shaped, without finger holes. It is end blown, like a trumpet, and sounds something like a trombone. Lurs often come in pairs, so they are often referred to in the plural.”

The Faraway Lurs, published in 1963, honored by ALA as a “notable book”, is a book I read back in the day when I was a teen. I didn’t remember much about it, but I did think it was notable in my reading past as a story with a different setting and feel from most historical fiction set in the distant past. Most fiction based on ancient history is either set in Egypt, Palestine, Greece or the Roman Empire. This one has an early Bronze Age setting in Denmark, about 3000 years ago.

The romantic protagonists are Heather Goodshade of the Forest People tribe and Wolf Stone, a young chieftain’s son from the tribe of the invading Sun People. A Romeo and Juliet story ensues, as Heather and Wolf Stone fall in love and try to bring their two very different tribal cultures together in peace so that they can be together as man and wife. Wolf Stone’s people are savage savages, worshippers of the Sun God and very warlike and violent both within the tribe and toward outsiders. Heather’s people are more gentle savages, but still the ending of the book demonstrates that even Heather’s gentle forest tribe is in cruel bondage to the whims of their “gentle” gods, an ancient Tree and a whispering Spring.

Of course, Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, and The Faraway Lurs, drawn from the discovery of a burial mound for a young beautiful Stone Age/early Bronze Age girl, ends in tragedy, too, as any reader who read the introduction, where Mr. Behn tells about the discovery that inspired his novel, would know. The girl in the burial mound died young, and so does Heather Goodshade. How that tragic ending comes about is the hook upon which the novel hangs, so I won’t tell you any more.

This book would be good for teens who are studying ancient history, lending to that study a different perspective and a different cultural understanding. The ancient world wasn’t all pharaohs and Roman legions. And it would be to pair the novel with a viewing of Romeo and Juliet and then a comparison of the two stories. There’s nothing sexually explicit in the novel, and the violence is mostly off-stage or described in unobjectionable but straightforward language. The presentation of the tribal cultures themselves would lend itself to a discussion of the need for all humanity in all its tribes and cultures to be redeemed, saved from our propensity toward sin, brutality, and idolatry. Particularly, as I compare Behn’s story with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and with the recent event of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, I am reminded of how human sin and prejudice is only covered over by civilization with a very thin veneer. Our idols continue to betray us; our desire for both power and safety continues to lead us into sin and tragedy; and our separation from God continues to play out in divisions between the people He created as we do violence to ourselves and to others in futile attempts to heal the breach or destroy the other.

May God have mercy upon us all.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

All the Answers by Kate Messner

Book #2 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
246 pages, 3 hours

Ava Anderson finds an old blue pencil in her family’s junk drawer. I doesn’t look special, but it is. Ava’s pencil can answer written questions with an audible voice that only Ava can hear. And the pencil always provides the right answer! The pencil can’t or won’t predict the future, but its answers to factual questions are uncanny in their accuracy. But does Ava really want to know all the answers to her fears and worries? What if the answers are scarier than the questions? What if the answers only create more questions?

I really enjoyed reading about Ava and all her worries and her magic pencil with almost all of the answers. I thought the pencil magic was timely in its similarity to the way we all turn to Google for all our answers these days. The pencil was a little more all-knowing than Google, but it still couldn’t predict the future or lay to rest all of Ava’s worries. I am as guilty as the next person of wanting to find someone or something that will answer all my questions and give me some concrete advice about what to do in sticky situations. But the truth is that only God is omniscient, and since He is, He probably has good reasons for not showering all the answers on us.

The book mentions prayer. Ava has a praying grandma. Ava herself learns to trust a little in her own bravery and competence and a little in the care and goodwill of family and friends. Near the end of the book, she does pray with her grandma, but it’s not a big epiphany or turning point in her growth as a character. Mostly the book is about learning to let go of your worries and fears and trust something. That “something” is never really defined. It’s about learning to live without all the answers, a feat we all need to accomplish, but one that is very hard to do without believing in an all-powerful, all-knowing, good God who has not only the answers but also the ability to work all things together for His glory and our good.

Anyway, there’s lots to discuss here, and the author in her acknowledgements even recommends a self-help book for kids who worry too much: What To Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner. I’ve not seen the self-help book, but it might be worth a look if you or your child is a worrier. Or you could just follow the guidance in this hymn, like Ava’s grandmother: take it the Lord in prayer.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.

Saturday Review of Books: June 20, 2015


“Let us read with method, and propose to ourselves an end to which our studies may point. The use of reading is to aid us in thinking.” ~Edward Gibbon

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 Island by Gary Paulsen

Book #1 for the 48-hour Book Challenge
202 pages, 2.5 hours

I’ve never read Gary Paulsen’s Newbery Honor young adult novel, Hatchet, although I have read a lot about it and seen it recommended frequently. It’s a survival story, about a boy who grows into manhood by surviving in a harsh natural environment. According to Wikipedia this “coming of age by surviving in the wilderness” theme is a frequently repeated one in Paulsen’s more than 200 novels:

“Much of Paulsen’s work features the outdoors and highlights the importance of nature. He often uses “coming of age” themes in his novels, where a character masters the art of survival in isolation as a rite of passage to manhood and maturity.”

The Island tells the story of Wil, a teen who, with his parents, moves to a rural area of northern Wisconsin near a lake, Sucker Lake, with an unnamed island in the center of the lake. Wil sees the island while riding his bike, and he also finds a small rowboat conveniently abandoned on the shore so that he is able to row out to the island by himself. On the island, Wil discovers something about himself and about the world that he tries to put into writing, or into drawings of wildlife on the island, or into words of explanation for his parents and for his new friend, Susan. He is somewhat successful in his writing and drawing, less so in his verbal explanations.

The Island is an odd little book. I can see myself recommending it to teens who are adventure and nature lovers and also quite thoughtful, even philosophical. I’m not sure how often that combination of characteristics coincides. Not much happens in the novel; there’s a lot of description of the natural environment and quite a bit of philosophical musing. I would think the pace of the story would be a bit slow for many young adult readers. There’s a hint of romance, but it’s not really developed. The characters themselves, Wil and Susan, nip any budding of romance, in the bud so to speak, since Wil is on a quest of sorts to know and understand the natural world and himself. He doesn’t really have time for romance.

I enjoyed reading about Wil and his search for understanding and enlightenment. The spirituality or philosophy in the book felt rather like Buddhism or nature worship, even though religion is never mentioned nor is any deity invoked. I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, but for discerning readers there might even be some nuggets of truth. The natural world is given to us to point us to the Creator. Wil doesn’t have any experience of God, but he does begin to understand himself and his place in the world of The Island. Perhaps that’s a start.

Footnote: My mass market paperback copy of The Island is autographed by Gary Paulsen “for Kelli”, and the book itself is dedicated to Mike Printz, the librarian whose name adorns the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.