Author Archives: Amy

The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith

I picked up The Mystery of the Missing Lion by Alexander McCall Smith at the library because of its tagline:  A Precious Ramotswe Mystery for Young Readers.  I love the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, so how could I not check out this short chapter book? This particular story has her traveling to the northern part of Botswana to visit her Aunty Bee who lives at a safari camp.  Precious travels north riding in the back of a neighbor’s truck along with other people from their community.  When she arrives at the safari camp she learns that the exciting event that Aunty Bee had hinted at in her letter was the filming of a nature-based movie at the camp.  That meant that Precious would have the opportunity to “meet” Teddy the lion, one of the actors in the film.  When Teddy comes up missing, it is up to Precious, the budding sleuth, to solve the mystery.

I read this one aloud to my girls, thinking that it might be a good fit for them and the DLM.  Actually, I think the ideal age for this book is somewhere in between:  the DLM, at almost five, wasn’t terribly interested in this gentle story and usually wandered out of the room while I was reading it, and the girls, at ages eleven and nine-and-a-half, probably wouldn’t have complained if I had quit reading it in the middle.  LIke its adult counterparts, this novel is light on the mystery and heavy on the description and characterization.  I, for one, love this sort of story, but I’m not sure it translates very well for children expecting a real mystery.  Also, because of its brevity, it’s hard to feel like you’ve gotten to known the young Precious Ramotswe or her African home.  For those of us familiar with the original stories, we can appreciate the many similarities:  the wonderful descriptions of beautiful Botswana; the wisdom of the culture; the community; etc.  With the right preparation, I do believe children could find enjoyment in this short novel.  However, without adequate preparation the story falls a little flat due to its lack of excitement.  I will say that one thing it has going for it for sure are the interesting illustrations by Iain McIntosh.  In addition to plenty of lovely illustrations, there is also a good bit of helpful backmatter:  a page of information about the geography and people of Botswana; a reader’s guide; and curriculum connections for teachers. I do wonder how this one would translate to audiobook.  We’ve enjoyed quite a few of his other children’s stories in audiobook format, so maybe it was my reading that made it fall a little flat.  I still think it might work better for just the right age child, too.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one and would definitely read the others in the series (there are three more so far) myself, whether my children wanted to go along for the ride or not.  :-) (Anchor Books, 2013)

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Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

I’m late to the party on Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin, and even though Carrie, Barbara, and numerous others have already reviewed it, I can’t resist sharing just a few thoughts here to document my reading of this book. Women of the Word is succinct and inspiring.  Wilkin bases her approach on five Ps:  purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer.  She explains each one thoroughly and gives very specific examples of how this works in real life.  The only thing I see lacking in this book is instruction on how to find the time to delve deeply into God’s word, but then again, Wilkin even provides encouragement about the different seasons of life.   I have a somewhat unique perspective on this book because of my role as Assistant Teaching Director at our local Community Bible Study class.   Much of what Wilkin teaches through this book–a Bible study stystem that, as the subtitle indicates, teaches How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds–is very similar to the training I’ve received through CBS.  Reading this book over the past month or so has been a nice and encouraging refresher for me, especially as I begin to think about preparing for next year’s study.  The first book we’ll be delving into next year is Philippians, so I’ve begun reading this short letter over and over.  This is something Wilkin recommends–to become immersed in the scripture itself, not dependent on others’ intrepretations of it.  If you’re looking for a book to help you go deeper into God’s Word, this is it.  Highly Recommended, and many thanks to Carrie for sending this book my way!  (Crossway, 2014)

Today is Wednesdays with Words at Ladydusk, which I participate in as often as I can.  Today I’m sharing a passage from the very end of Women of the Word because it so beautifully sums up the why of in-depth Bible study:

We become what we behold.  Do you believe that?  Whether passively or actively, we become conformed to the pattern we spend the most time studying.

Upon what is your gazed fixed?  Your bank account?  Your bathroom scale?  Your child’s next accolade?  Your dream kitchen?  The latest blockbuster TV series?  Your phone?  It is the nature of this life that we must fight daily to make room in our line of sight for that-which-transcends.  Many things hold a legitimate claim on our attention, but when our eyes are free from the two-year-old or the spreadsheet or the textbook or the dinner dishes, where do we turn them?  If we spend our time gazing only on lesser things, we will become like them, measuring our years in terms of human glory.

But here is good news:  the One whom we most need to behold has made himself known.  He has traced with a fine hand the lines and contours of his face.  He has done so in his Word.  We must search for that face, though babies continue to cry, bills continue to grow, bad news continues to arrive unannounced, though friendships wax and wane, though both ease and difficulty weaken our grip on godliness, though a thousand other faces crowd close for our affection, and a thousand other voices clamor for our attention.  By fixing our gaze on that face, we trade mere human glory for holiness:  “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18).  (150)

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Over the Hills and Far Away: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes

I’m always looking for good nursery rhyme books.   I’ve yet to find one that lives up to my memory of my beloved childhood collection of Mother Goose rhymes (number two here), but I think this one might be one I can love almost as much.  Over the Hills and Far Away:  A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes is a collection by Elizabeth Hammill.  Two things make this collection unusual:  first, it is a collection of nursery rhymes from around the world.  The U.S. and England (which is where most of the nursery rhymes I know by heart come from) are well-represented, but so are African, Latino, and Asian cultures.  The other thing that makes this book an unadulterated delight to me is that each nursery rhyme is illustrated by a different children’s book illustrator; over seventy artists’ works are showcased here.  See that beautiful cover art?  It’s by none other than Pamela Zagarenski.  Other artists whose works appear in this volume include Eric Carle, Lucy Cousins, Shirley Hughes, Pat Hutchins, Jerry Pinkney, Chris Raschka, Mo Willems, and Ed Young, just to name some of the ones more familiar to me.  I should probably admit that this book hasn’t been an easy sell to the almost-five year old DLM.  I want to read him nursery rhymes because I know how valuable they are (and I was the Nursery Rhyme Queen back on the scholars’ bowl team in my high school glory days 😉 ), but he’s not so convinced.  I managed to hit upon a winner last night with “Jack and Jill” (illustrated most fetchingly by Helen Craig of Angelina Ballerina fame), and tonight I was able to read quite a few more before bed.  I do think the variety of illustrations, from photographic collages to comic strips and everything in between, serves to pique even the most resistant listener’s curiosity.  We give this one a Highly, Highly Recommended and look forward to adding it to our own collection.  (Candlewick, 2014)

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The Noonday Friends by Mary Stolz

The Noonday Friends by Mary Stolz won a Newbery honor in 1966, and that’s the reason I read it aloud to my children–for May’s Newbery Through the Decades Challenge.  I actually didn’t plan to read it aloud, but then I realized that with all the hectic stuff going on here at the House of Hope lately (we’re moving, y’all), that was my best chance to actually read it. (I might not read for my own enjoyment when things get wild and crazy in my life, but I still read aloud.  Forever and ever, amen.)    I also had some vague memory of perhaps having read it as a child, but now that I’ve read the whole thing, I think I can assume that I was either thinking of another book or this one just didn’t stick with me like I thought it had.  Either way, I’m glad to have read it this time around, and I’m glad to have shared it with my girls.

The Noonday Friends is a simple story plot-wise.  It’s the story of Franny Davis and her family, which consists of her artist father, her longsuffering mother, her twin brother Jimmy, and their five year old brother, Marshall.  Most of the story revolves around the fact that Mr. Davis cannot keep a job; he is the stereotypical “dreamy” artist type who loses the jobs he gets because his head is in the clouds most of the time.  It’s partially a family tale and partially a friendship story, though the lines are blurred because Franny has a good bit of home responsibilities which prevent her from being totally immersed in the world of school and friends.  This is a story with very little action; most of the story is about the relationships, though there is a bit of action revolving around Mr. Davis’ job as shoe salesman, his losing of that job, and finally his finding of another, better job through a very fortuitous turn of events.  I would definitely call this a character-driven story, and Stolz really shines at giving each of the characters a very distinctive voice and personality.  The writing is just lovely (I shared a sample here).  One thing that struck me as I was reading this is that this is the first of the Newberys I’ve read for this challenge that focuses heavily on emotions and relationships.  This book is a little bit heavy in that regard.  The Davis family faces some pretty difficult things–poverty and the stigma attached to it; accepting the faults of one parent; even race issues.  I think this is because we’re moving through the decades, and the sixties (which is the decade for May) is when that sort of thing becomes prevalent in literature, etc.  I don’t know that this is true–it’s just a thought.  At any rate, I’m very glad to have read this book, and I think we’d all give it a Highly Recomended.  I look forward to reading more of Mary Stolz.

newbery through the decades

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