I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh and Richard H. Schneider

I Dared to Call Him Father: The Miraculous Story of a Muslim Woman’s Encounter with God by Bilquis Sheikh and Richard H. Schneider

I read the 25th anniversary edition of this classic testimony of a well-to-do Muslim Pakistani woman, Bilquis Sheikh, who came to faith in Christ at the age of sixty-five through a series of dreams and visions and through comparison of the Koran to the Christian Bible. Bilquis’ study of the Bible was very confusing to her, but her breakthrough came when a Catholic nun suggested that she talk to God “as if He were your father” and ask Him to show her the truth. She did, and she sensed the presence of God as she prayed.

“‘I am confused, Father,’ I said. ‘I have to get one thing straight right away.’ I reached over to the bedside table where I kept the Bible and the Quran side by side. I picked up both books and lifted them, one in each hand.’Which, Father?’ I said. ‘Which one is Your book?’

Then a remarkable thing happened. Nothing like it had ever occurred in my life in quite this way. For I heard a voice inside my being, a voice that spoke to me as clearly as if I were repeating words in my inner mind. They were fresh, full of kindness, yet at the same time full of authority.

In which book do you meet Me as your Father?

I found myself answering: ‘In the Bible.” That’s all it took. Now there was no question in my mind which one was His book.”

Bilquis went on to leave Pakistan and travel around the world, telling people of how God had spoken directly to her to lead her to Christ. It is an inspiring story and would pair well with Nabeel Qureshi’s Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus which tells about a more intellectual route to faith in Christ for a Muslim seeker. The two converts have in common, besides their Muslim background, their great devotion to family and the deep pain of estrangement from family that their conversion cost them. However, both Mr. Qureshi and Bilquis Sheikh write that Jesus is worth the cost, that following Him and living in His presence is the ultimate treasure.

Diamond Boy by Michael Williams

When fifteen year old Patson Moyo and his family head for the diamond fields of Marange in eastern Zimbabwe, Patson is sure that his family’s fortunes are about to change for the better. Even though Patson’s father plans to teach school in diamond country as he always has, Patson knows that there are diamonds for everyone in Marange. As soon as Patson finds his girazi, that special, costly diamond that everyone is looking for, he and his family will be set for life.

If you just read the article on Wikipedia about the Marange diamond fields, you will know that Patson’s story probably won’t have a happy ending. In fact, although the events in the course of Patson’s adventure are harrowing, violent, and frightening, the story does contain more hope than perhaps the facts warrant.

From Wikipedia and linked sources:
“The government launched police crackdowns against illegal miners and smugglers several times since December 2006. Up to 150 of the estimated 30,000 illegal miners were shot from helicopter gunships.”
(2009) “The Zanu-PF government has mulled plans to forcibly move nearly 5 000 families from Chiadzwa area to facilitate the plundering of diamonds. The families are to be dumped at an Arda farm in Odzi as the President Robert Mugabe-led government intensify looting of the precious minerals.”
“The BBC, the British state broadcaster, claims Zimbabwe’s security forces have a torture camp in the Marange diamond fields; methods include severe beatings, sexual assault and dog mauling according to alleged victims.”
“A 2012 study . . . found that operations at the diamond fields are releasing dangerous chemicals into the Save River.”
“Human Rights Watch says while it has seen an improvement in Marange, it also believes questions remain over who is involved in running these mining companies.” CNN, 2012.

Author Michael Williams, a South African writer and Managing Director of Cape Town Opera, has already written one book set in Zimbabwe, Now Is the Time for Running. Diamond Boy is a sort of companion novel to that earlier book, and some of the characters in Now Is the Time for Running show up in minor roles in Diamond Boy. As I intimated, Diamond Boy is a fascinating but shocking look at life in Zimbabwe, particularly the appalling effect of the possibility of sudden riches in a country filled with poverty and not much economic opportunity.

The ending to the story is unrealistic, but maybe necessary to make up for the unrelenting gloom, greed, and cruelty of the preceding pages. This book is not for younger teens, nor will it be for all readers, even if they have the maturity to handle the subject matter. No, the author doesn’t use graphic language or lurid description, but the events themselves are disturbing enough. Sensitive readers will be haunted, as I am, by the thought that the greed and brutality of man is still making life a living h— for many children and young adults around the world, even if, possibly, improvements have been made in operations at Marange.

Yes, I recommend this book for those who are interested in knowing about one of the horror stories of the twenty-first century, but I suggest you enter with prayer and exit with renewed compassion and more prayer.

Butterfly Counting by Jerry Pallotta

Jerry Palotta’s ABC and counting books have been favorites of mine and of my children for quite a while, so when I was offered a review copy of Mr. Palotta’s latest, Butterfly Counting, there was no hesitation on my pat in saying “yes!”.

ZERO
“This Emperor penguin has never seen a butterfly. Butterflies live in North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa–but there are not butterflies in Antarctica. Zero is a number, but it has no value.
Let’s learn what butterflies are called around the world. A butterfly in Italy is called a farfalla.

So, in this butterfly counting book, readers get facts about butterflies, beautiful pictures of different kinds of butterflies by illustrator Shennen Bersani, and about twenty different ways to say “butterfly” in twenty different languages. The book would make a wonderful read aloud book in a butterfly-themed story time. Wouldn’t it be fun to have the children repeat back the words for butterfly in different languages and see if they remember any of them at the end?

I wish I had all of these books in my library, but I do suggest that if you purchase any of them, buy the hardcover edition, or the board book that some of them are available as. I have a few paperback versions of Pallotta’s books, and every one of them is losing pages and coming unglued. I don’t know whether to attribute that to overuse or poor quality glue, but I’m happy that the review copy of Butterfly Counting that I received is “reinforced for library use.”

Jerry Palotta’s Alphabet Books: (*means books that I own)
The Airplane Alphabet Book
The Beetle Alphabet Book
(There are Beatles song titles hidden in the artwork of this book. Fun!)
The Bird Alphabet Book
The Boat Alphabet Book
The Construction Alphabet Book
The Desert Alphabet Book
The Dinosaur Alphabet Boo
The Extinct Alphabet Book
The Flower Alphabet Book
The Freshwater Alphabet Book
The Frog Alphabet Book
The Furry Animal Alphabet Book
The Icky Bug Alphabet Book*
(Mr. Pallotta’s second, best-selling alphabet book)
The Jet Alphabet Book
The Ocean Alphabet Book*
(Mr. Pallotta’s first book)
The Sea Mammal Alphabet Book
The Skull Alphabet Book
(All 43 presidents are hidden in the illustrations for this book.)
The Incredible Crab Alphabet Book
The U.S. Army Alphabet Book
The U.S. Marines Alphabet Book
The U.S. Navy Alphabet Book
The Underwater Alphabet Book
The Vegetable Alphabet Book
The Yucky Alphabet Book*
The Yummy Alphabet Book

Jerry Pallotta’s Counting Books:
I think these are all great for primary math instruction, “living books” for math.
Count to a Million
The Crayon Counting Book
The Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar Fractions Book
The Icky Bug Counting Book
(also a backwards alphabet book)
Icky Bug Numbers
Adding Fractions
Pizza Fractions
Weights and Measures
Ocean Counting: Odd Numbers
(The 50 state capitals are randomly hidden in the pictures in this book.)
Sharks: Big, Bigger, Biggest
Underwater Counting: Even Numbers

More hidden secrets in Mr. Pallotta’s books.
About Jerry Pallotta, who was an insurance salesman before he began his second career as an author f children’s books:

I wrote my first book in 1985 when I was 32 years old. I came up with the idea, wrote it, designed it, researched it, edited it and my cousin illustrated it. I published it myself under the name of Peggotty Beach Books. What fun! It was first printed on July 7, 1986. I’ll never forget that day. The book eventually became the #1 best-selling book at the New England Aquarium. I was afraid that only my mother would like it. Teachers and kids told me they really liked my book.

I really like his books, too.

Saturday Review of Books: May 2, 2015


“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.” ~William Faulkner

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 Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks are back! And the focus in this installment is Batty, who has grown to be a mature and thoughtful fifth grader, but still shy and retiring, and still quite musically talented. Her life’s motto is: Musica anima mea est (Music is my life).

Two more children have been added to the Penderwick clan: Ben, the sisters’ seven year old stepbrother, and Lydia, their two year old sister, born of the marriage between Mr. Penderwick and the next-door neighbor, Iantha. Ben’s passion is rocks. He digs for them, collects them, and studies them. And Lydia’s passions are princesses, crowns, flowers, dance, escaping her crib—-and big brother Ben. “Lydia loved everyone she’d encountered in her short life—never had a Penderwick been so pleased with the human race—but she loved Ben most of all. This was a burden no boy should have to bear.”

The older girls are back too. Rosalind is away at college, but not too far away to come home for visits frequently. Seventeen year old Skye is absorbed in her beloved math, still friends with Jeffrey, but decidedly not his girlfriend, “among all the Penderwicks, . . . least likely to want to discuss grief or any other emotion.” Sixteen year old Jane is still writing stories, trying to speak French, and presiding over the gang of boys who for some reason like to come over to the Penderwick home and devour pretzels and hang out.

Batty becomes unwillingly involved in and affected by the teen and grown-up problems of Skye’s love life, the Penderwick family’s money problems, and some misunderstandings about the family’s history. On the surface, it might seem that having Batty become entangled in such adult issues would be a mistake for a children’s book, but Batty comes at the problems from her own eleven year old perspective, and all is resolved and made right in the end. And the truth is that children are impacted by the problems and concerns of their older family members, so showing Batty dealing with her own issues in response to those of her older siblings and her parents is realistic without being too heavy.

Because the Penderwicks, like the Quimbys, are a happy family, nothing gets so broken that it can’t be mended in this story of misapprehensions, dealing with grief and fear, and clashing personalities. Lydia provides comic relief, a la Ramona the Pest, and Batty grows up just a little. But no one is so grown up that there can’t be a fifth (and final?) Penderwicks book, something I heard is in the works. Long live the Penderwicks!

If you haven’t read the first three Penderwick books, I highly recommend them, and then this fourth one. They keep getting better.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2006.
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street.
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette.

Beneath by Roland Smith

So, first I thought the premise of this young adult novel was intriguing:

“Exactly one year to the day after my brother, Coop, ditched me, I got a package in the mail.
It came to the school, not our home.
The secretary handed me the package with a warning that I was never to use the school as my personal address.
I was going to tell her that I hadn’t when I saw my name: Pat Meatloaf O’Toole, scrawled in Coop’s familiar handwriting.
Meatloaf is not my middle name.
I told her that I would never do it again, grabbed he package, locked myself in a restroom stall, and tore the box open.
Inside was a handheld digital voice recorder, a supply of memory sticks, and a note written on a greasy hamburger wrapper.”

As the story continued, and Pat began to fill in the background about himself and his runaway older brother, Cooper, I began to think the details were a little corny. Coop is an oddball, to say the least. He sleeps in school and stays awake all night. He spends his nights either digging tunnels or tap dancing on bridges and overpasses. The entire family is odd. Mother, a former astronaut turned astrophysicist, and father, a molecular biologist and Nobel laureate, are somewhat uninvolved parents–but loving, nonetheless. The boys have identical twin nannies who speak only Spanish and can’t be distinguished from one another. It was all just a little too quirky, but still intriguing enough to keep me reading.

Then, Pat goes to New York City to look for Coop, gets involved with a homeless community of underground dwellers, and goes from danger into disaster. Maybe I’m easily amused and easily befuddled, but I didn’t see the twists and turns coming. I enjoyed the “thriller” aspects of the novel, and I was able to suspend disbelief, even though the whole story is pretty unbelievable.

Throw in murder, terrorism,, a love interest for Coop (nothing explicit), sophisticated criminal activity underneath the sidewalks, homes and buildings of NYC, and a couple of brothers who are the only ones between those master criminals and the destruction of great swaths of the United States. It was a fun ride, and there’s a set-up for a sequel. However, the ending was satisfying, not frustrating.

Recommended for those who like this sort of story (maybe fans of Kiki Strike or of Carolyn Cooney and Margaret Peterson Haddix) –ages twelve and up.

)

The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville

Fairy tale meets Gothic romance in this tale of recent graduated she-bear Ursula Brown, governess to young Teddy Vaughn, the only living child of the rich and well-regarded Vaughn family, who live in a manor house in the woods near Bremen Town. The imposing manor is fondly nicknamed The Cottage in the Woods. As Ursula takes up her duties in the Vaughn household she is frightened not only by the high expectations of Mr. Vaughn, but also by the uncanny footsteps she hears in the hallways of the manor, the inexplicable enmity with which she is regarded by Teddy’s old nurse, and the impending danger that seems to hang over nearby Bremen Town. This novel is more than a re-telling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears and better than a take-off on Jane Austen’s and Charlotte Bronte’s classics. Hostilities between humans and “the Enchanted” (talking animals) provide the story with a theme and a moral, but the preachiness is decidedly Victorian in tone and so entirely palatable, indeed inspiring.

This 389-page tome was a delight from start to finish. Anyone familiar with Gothic novel tropes will enjoy finding them embedded in the story, and children who are not yet readers and fans of Austen and Bronte will find The Cottage in the Woods a gentle introduction to the genre. The bears worship and pray and sing hymns without apology or embarrassment, and it’s all very Victorian. Yet the fairy tale element adds a whimsicality to the story that will appeal to older children, especially girls. Oh, and there’s a wonderfully crochety and sarcastic Magic Mirror who never manages to answer a single one of Ursula’s questions with any hint of helpfulness or straightforwardness.

I think my girls, ages sixteen and thirteen and fans of both video versions of Pride and Prejudice and also avid viewers of the TV series Once Upon a Time in its first season a couple of years ago, will enjoy this amalgam of folk tale characters, Latin aphorisms, sophisticated vocabulary, and 19th century romance. I certainly did.

Birthday Watch: April 27th

Samuel Morse, b.1791. Mr. Morse was a painter and an inventor, and he developed both the telegraph system in the United States and the Morse code that was used in sending telegraphic messages, the primary language of telegraphy in the world.

Journalist and writer Maurice Baring, b. 1874. Baring was a close friend of Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton. Has anyone read ony of the following works by Baring?
Passing By (1921) novel
The Puppet Show of Memory (1922) autobiography
C (1924), novel
Cat’s Cradle (1925) novel
Daphne Adeane (1926) novel
The Coat Without Seam (1929) novel
Robert Peckham (1930) historical novel
Have You Anything to Declare? – collection of notes and quotes
In My End is My Beginning – novel & biography about Mary Stuart

Ludwig Bemelmans, b.1898 “In an old house in Paris, that was covered with vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines… the smallest one was Madeline.”

What is a Living Book?

“Living books” is a big buzzword in homeschooling these days. What does it mean? Really, living books are just good books, books that engage the reader and make the subject “come alive” in one’s imagination. But I realize that definition or re-statement rather begs the question.

The difficulty lies in the eye of the beholder, or in this case, the reader. The books that make history or science or imagination come alive for me might not be the same books that do the same for you and your children. However, there are a few characteristics that at least indicate that a book might become a “living book” in your pantheon of well read and fondly remembered books:

1. Books that tell a story are to be preferred over books that recite facts. Some children sometimes can enjoy books that have little boxed facts grouped around the perimeter of the page or textbooks that just give the facts, m’am—for a while. But a dry recitation of tiny packets of information, even if it’s spiced up with pictures and fancy fonts, isn’t going to hold anyone’s attention though an entire book, or engage them to want to read more. We need and crave story. Tell me that bees live in hives with workers, drones and a queen bee, or tell me the story of a hive of bees with its queen that is about to become the victim of CCD (colony collapse disorder). Tell me the story of how, almost overnight, the worker bees disappear, and no one knows why it happens or what to do about it. In other words, tell me a bee story, true or fictionalized, and I will remember and be interested and engaged.

2. With the exception of picture books, which are a special case, books that emphasize printed narrative are to be preferred over books that devote most of their space to pictures and graphics. Unless the book is meant to introduce children to art and the rich world of artistic story, the books that you choose to read should be rich in narrative, painting pictures with words. And even picture books or wordless books should tell a story, and in in quality picture books the story and the illustrations work together to create a captivating narrative.

3. Living books are usually written by one author who has a passion for his subject or story, not by a committee. Books by committee, textbooks or compilations, are not useless, but they are usually ineffectual for the purpose of introducing a subject or arousing the reader’s passion and curiosity for learning more.

4. Books that appeal to the imagination and nourish passionate relationships with the subject of the book are to be preferred over books that simply provide pieces of information without giving readers a reason to desire that knowledge. Nowadays, one can turn to Wikipedia or other internet sources to get basic information about anything from kite-flying to welding. Sometimes, after a person has already developed an interest in a subject, knowledge intensive books are just what is wanted. However, “living books”, what Charlotte Mason called “ideas clothed upon with facts”, are what is needed to inspire interest, engage the imagination, and speak to the soul of a reader, giving him reason to remember the knowledge that can be acquired from books and from other sources.

5. Living books ask questions or create questions in the reader’s mind. Instead of telling a child that 3 x 4=12 (memorize it!), a living book might ask what would happen if we arranged twelve marbles into sets of four? Or sets of three? Or it might tell a story about how multiplication is used in the real world, or about the beauty of mathematics. Yes, there is a place for the memorization of multiplication tables and of other facts, but it is much easier to memorize or to get children to memorize when the facts that are being committed to memory are perceived as important and valuable.

6. Living books inspire rather than depress the mind and the spirit. Living books create a deep sense of hope in the reader, not by ignoring the sadness and and sin in the world, but but by showing that there is also beauty, hope and redemption to be found. Modern books tend to either end in near-despair (Hunger Games, other post-apocalyptic and dystopian young adult books) or deal in false hope (put on a happy face! follow your dream! you can succeed if you try!). If any book old or new is frightening your child (deeply, not deliciously) or leading them to despair, don’t read it, no matter how classic or beloved the book is.

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. Philippians 4:8

Learn more about living books and about libraries that seek to preserve living books for all of us to enjoy:
Liz Cottrill and Emily Cottrill Kiser talk about their library, Living Books Library in Virginia.
Toward the Definition of a Living Book by Colleen Manning at Ambleside Online.
How a Library Was Born by Michelle Miller: Children’s Preservation Library in Michigan. (Old Schoolhouse Magazine)
How Can I Know if a Book Is Living? by Michelle Miller (Old Schoolhouse Magazine).
Our Good-Book-Collecting Journey by Michelle Miller (Old Schoolhouse Magazine)
Information about my living books library, Meriadoc Homeschool Library, in Houston, Texas.

Saturday Review of Books: April 25, 2015


“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom in learning from books as well as from nature. If you never ask yourself any questions about the meaning of a passage, you cannot expect the book to give you any insight you do not already possess.” ~Mortimer Adler, How To Read a Book

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.