"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

27 November 2011

Shadow Walkers

Hartinger, Brent. Shadow Walkers.Woodbury, MN: Flux, 2010.

Zach lives with his grandparents and younger brother on a small island off the coast of Washington state.  Without much to do on an island, most of Zach's time is spent online.  When his brother Gilbert is kidnapped one day, Zach resorts to desperate means, using astral projecting in an attempt to locate his brother before it's too late.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. Really, I did. But the astral projection stuff just got a bit too weird for me.  Zach bought some special incense in order to leave his body and find his brother, so most of the book involves Zach zipping around like a ghost, discovering what's happening with his brother, and then trying to invent a plausible reason why he'd have that information so the police would follow up on his leads.  Someone else might find this book fascinating, but I had to put it down.

25 November 2011

The Borrower

Makkai, Rebecca. The Borrower. New York: Viking, 2011.

Lucy is a children's librarian at a small public library.  She enjoys suggesting books to her young patrons and chatting with the "regulars" as they appear for the weekly Chapter Book Story Hour.  The mother of Ian, one of her young patrons, expresses some concern over her son's choice of books containing witches, magic, or "girly" themes. Lucy has to walk a fine line between honoring the mother's request and honoring the First Amendment. Soon she discovers that Ian is being required to attend an ex-gay youth group.  Ian chafes under his parents' rules and decides to run away ... to the library.  When Lucy puts Ian in her car on the pretense of taking him home and ends up running away with him, she soon has to decide whether it would be easier to keep running away or to run back home.

I found the beginning of this book to be very interesting.  I enjoyed the chapters where Ian would sneak books out of the library and when he bored his babysitter by playing a very slow, very old computer game.  I appreciated all the references to classic children's and YA literature.  However, the last third of this book went very slowly.  I was disappointed not to discover what happened with Ian once he returned home.  This book suffers from a horrible case of bad end-game.  It's worth checking out of the library, but I only recommend the first 150-200 pages.

23 November 2011

Wild Things

I volunteer at a local elementary school, reading stories to preschool children once a week.  My co-volunteer and I alternate weeks, so half of the time I get the privilege of pretending that I am a child and just enjoying a story that someone else is reading.  This past week was one of those times.

The book of choice this week was Where the Wild Things Are, an award-winning story with memorable illustrations and a fairly simple story line.  This story stands out in my mind, not due to any warm and fuzzy childhood memory, but because when I was in college it was set as an example of dangerous literature.

Dangerous, you might say; what could possibly be dangerous about a children's book, and a well-known one at that? I was taught that this story is problematic because Max, the protagonist, disobeys and disrespects his mother, and then instead of being properly contrite and facing his punishment, disappears from his room into a fantasy world.  When he returns to his home after his adventures, he finds that his punishment - going to bed without supper - has been reversed and a hot meal is waiting for him.  Clearly this book teaches children to disobey their parents and that actions do not really have consequences.

As I listened to this book being read aloud, I listened to this story with new ears and I began to wonder about the validity of the objections to this classic children's story.  When I listened this time I heard the story from a very different perspective.  I heard a story of a small boy who disobeyed and was punished, to be sure, who entered a fantasy world where he was king of all the land and had wild adventures, but who came back home because he missed the one "who loved him best of all."  He came home to find his supper waiting for him, a clear indication that all was forgiven and that the one who loved him best of all was ready to forgive, forget, and move on.

Seen through this lens, this story sounds more like the biblical story of the prodigal son and less like an author's attempt at corrupting the youth. This sounds like a story of grace and mercy, things that I think are important to God.  This sounds like a story of a boy who was dearly loved, since he knew exactly where to go when he was homesick.   This sounds like a story of a parent who knew her child's frailties and loved him anyway.  This sounds like the story of God, who loves us in spite of our weaknesses, who is ready and waiting to take us back when we realize how homesick we are and how we want to be with the one "who loves us best of all," who is willing to offer us forgiveness and a hot meal.

21 November 2011


Lenahan, John. Shadowmagic. London: The Friday Project, 2008.

This book is billed as "A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different."

Conor thinks his dad is a bit odd for forcing him to learn swordfighting and teaching him Ancient Gaelic, that is, until two people on horseback break through the front of his house and take him to Tir-Na-Nog, an ancient Celtic "neverland" of sorts. Conor and his father are soon involved in an epic battle involving an ancient prophecy and family secrets long hidden. 

This was a fun story.  It was exactly like its description - like Lord of the Rings, only shorter, funnier, and completely different. I enjoy fantasy, and any story that involves imps and banshees and trees with personalities is right up my alley.  I will probably finish reading the sequel, Prince of Hazel and Oak, sometime tonight, and I eagerly await the next installment in the series.

19 November 2011

A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie

Blackstone, Matt. A Scary Scene in a Scary Movie. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2011.

Rene is a high-school freshman with OCD.  He passes up face-down coins, smells his left hand when he's nervous, and doesn't do anything when the digits in the time add up to thirteen.  He is trying his best to survive high school and keep his English teacher from leaving, while becoming friends with Gio, the cool new kid at school. 

Unfortunately, folks, this is where the plot ends.  Actually, there isn't much of a plot.  It's kind of sad. Books about teens with disabilities or different abilities are quite popular, and I've read several interesting YA novels featuring teens with OCD.  This novel, however, has no plot.  The cover is interesting, the title is interesting, but the book is just not interesting at all.

17 November 2011

Annie on My Mind

Garden, Nancy.  Annie on My Mind. New York: Ferrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007.

Liza met Annie at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Though they attended different schools and lived in completely different neighborhoods, Liza was enchanted.  She and Annie quickly became friends, and as they spent time together, their friendship blossomed into love.  However, as Liza school is facing a possible closure, the reputation of every student soon becomes very important.  When her classmates find out that Liza is a lesbian, the school's reputation and Liza's relationship with Annie are on shaky ground.  Liza has some rocky ground ahead of her as she tries to choose between what is right and what is easy.

This book was originally published in 1982 and caused no small amount of controversy at that time.  Obviously if Liza and Annie had met each other in 2011, things would have been different and hopefully much better for them.  Annie on My Mind opened the door for more LGBT lit to be published, reaching teens across the spectrum and helping those who love them to understand where they're coming from.

15 November 2011


I borrowed this picture for an earlier post when I reviewed the book unChristian.  I have found it fascinating that the fundamentalist churches in general place much emphasis on confronting others with their sins, on apologizing for sins against other Christians, and on making things right with Christians, but that we don't, as a whole, apologize to the world at large when we screw up.  And let's face it: when the church screws up, it screws up loudly and enthusiastically.

A friend recently issued an apology on her blog based on the choice of Bob Jones University to keep Chuck Phelps on their board of directors.  I have to say that I wholeheartedly agree with what she has said.  Although my views on many things have changed drastically from the time I was at Bob Jones University, I am more than willing to allow that God has enough grace to cover their beliefs and mine, even if we approach the same book and come away with very different answers.  There are many areas where I am more than willing to "agree to disagree" and continue to be grateful for the lessons I learned and the friendships I formed at my alma mater.

However, this blatant expression of ungrace, of anti-testimony, is exactly what drove me away from fundamentalism in the first place.  Jesus placed a high priority on loving our neighbors and showing His love to the world.  When we shelter ourselves from the outside world, when we "close ranks" and attempt to hide the sin in our camp, this is exactly when we become an anti-testimony.  Instead of drawing people to Christ's love, the church is giving the rest of the world yet another reason not to ever darken its doors. I've met too many people who have been pushed out of church by the hate they saw there.

I echo what Rachel said on her blog: I am sorry.  I aligned myself with a group whose reputation for ungrace has reached monumental proportions.  By my silence I consented to their actions.  For many years I also taught numerous children of various ages and in various schools, Bible clubs, Sunday schools, etc.  In each of those cases, I mindlessly parroted the party line, thus ensuring that the next generation will also be well skilled in demonstrating ungrace and will believe that they are doing right, as an authority in their life told them this was correct.  James rightly warned against the dangers of being an educator; not only am I responsible for my actions, but I have spurred further actions in the hundreds of children who passed through my classroom doors.

I was a jerk.  I supported jerks in my silence.  I taught others to be jerks as well. 

13 November 2011

Tamar and Tina

The sex abuse scandal at Penn State has been in the news and  flying around Facebook and the blogosphere recently. More than a few people, especially in Christian circles, have compared this scandal, and the fallout thereof, with the Chuck Phelps scandal that came to a head earlier this year.

For the most part I've chosen not to read the posts, follow the links, or involve myself in the discussions.  I've dealt with sexual abuse in a far more personal way for long enough this year, and, quite frankly, I don't like thinking about it.  There are times when this issue rears its ugly head and I find myself unable to think about or deal with anything else, but lately this hasn't been a problem.

This Sunday, though, as I flipped through my Sunday bulletin before the service began, I discovered that we would be reading 2 Samuel 13, which is the story of the rape of Tamar.  This is not a Bible story I ever look forward to hearing.  I hate how Amnon plots to rape his half-sister, how his friend encourages him to do it and even helps him come up with a plan, and how Tamar's father, King David, doesn't seem to care that his daughter has been raped.  This is not a pleasant story, and it's one that I have skipped or skimmed in the past.

My brain was just about to take a nosedive into survival mode, which means my heart was racing, there was a rushing sound in my ears, and while I was sitting very, very still, my brain was frantically calculating the distance to the nearest exit and the likelihood of my egress going unnoticed.

Then something happened that I never would have expected: My pastor gave the congregation permission to not pay attention.  She warned us that the topic was likely to be difficult to digest and that it was okay for us to choose to tune out, to make use of the finger labyrinth [pictured below] provided in our bulletin, or even to get up and leave if we needed to.   Having this permission - a "get out of jail free" card, if you will - made me feel safe enough to keep listening.

What we discussed about the rape of Tamar and the scandal at Penn State was exactly what had bothered me so much about all of these abuse stories.  In each case there were adults who knew what was going on and chose to ignore the situation, or worse, to blame the victim.

And I learned something important: in the state of Indiana, every single person is considered a mandated reporter. This means that no one's off the hook - we are all responsible to make sure the children we encounter are safe.  We are all required by law to report any abuse or suspected abuse.

If there's anything I've noticed about Jesus by reading the red parts of the Bible, it's that Jesus always rooted for the underdog, the outcast, those who slipped through the cracks of society. If anyone can be defined as an outcast or an underdog, an abuse victim certainly can.  God and the state of Indiana both agree that we need to help those kids who cannot help themselves.

By the time they turn 18, one in four girls and one in six boys has become a victim of abuse.  Let's stand up for the Tamars and the Tinas of this world until we can truly see that it is "one in four no more."

11 November 2011


Card, Orson Scott. Pathfinder. New York: Simon Pulse, 2010.

Rigg has a special talent: he can see the paths that people and animals have made as they walk.  He knows where people have gone, how long ago they were near, and how to find animals in the forest. Rigg's father has been trianing him to use his talents.  When a tragic accident in the forest takes his father's life, Rigg sets out on his final mission: to find his sister and his mother.

Meanwhile a man named Ram is on the first ship to jump into hyperspace.  An inexplicable accident causes his ship to become nineteen separate ships, all traveling in different folds of time but all heading toward the same planet.  Ram, the only human not in stasis on this ship, must decide what needs to be done in order to save those on the ship and to complete their mission.

I love books by Orson Scott Card, and I especially love YA fantasy, so this book was a perfect combination for me.  The story was interesting, if predictable, and Card employed a strategy similar to what he used in Ender's Game: each chapter starts with a snippet from one plot, then the rest of the chapter is told from a different perspective.  These two bits helped me to piece together what was going on and to enjoy the fantasy aspect even more because of what happened in the sci-fi sections.  Stop by your local library and check this book out if you have a chance.

07 November 2011


McCormick, Patricia. Cut. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Callie is a cutter: in order to avoid other issues in her life, she chooses to cut herself.  She has been sent to a residential treatment facility, but she is choosing not to speak, not to cooperate, not to heal.  Eventually Callie finds her voice and makes a choice for healing.

This is a short book, and a good book, but not an easy book to read.  Again, as a former English teacher, I would place this book on my classroom shelf, if I had a classroom or a shelf.

05 November 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester

Zielin, Lara. The Implosion of Aggie Winchester. New York: Penguin, 2011.

Aggie is a Goth girl.  Aggie is also the principal's daughter, and those two things don't always mix well.  Throw in a best friend who is pregnant, a mixed-up prom election, and a breast cancer diagnosis for the principal, and Aggie's got more than she can handle.  Aggie spends much of this book attempting to do the right thing, failing miserably at it, and trying to discover who she really is.

I enjoyed parts of this book.  I liked how Aggie was trying to do the right thing, even though she often made mistakes in doing that. I liked that she was (usually) very honest with her family.  I very much appreciated the ending of this book.  What I didn't like was the fact that Aggie often attempted to tell her parents the truth and was not believed.  Perhaps the author added this element to induce the frustration that Aggie likely felt in these discussions with her parents.

01 November 2011

Evolving in Monkey Town

Evans, Rachel Held. Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010.

Rachel Held Evans's memoir should be a part of everyone's home library.   Evans describes the unique position the Millennial generation of Christians is in: being educated in the fine art of defending one's faith, more so than our predecessors, but also more connected to people globally than ever before.  It is entirely possible that Evans and her peers could defend Christianity in a discussion with a Muslim, but it is also highly likely that they have all had personal contact with a Muslim through work, school, or the internet.  Evans defines the perspective of Millennials and also takes the reader through her life story, showing how Evans herself learned to ask hard questions and not to be afraid of not having all the answers.  This book will be going on my shelf, very near to Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God.