My girls and I finished our second chapter book of the month on Monday during our post-lunch read-aloud time. I wanted to share briefly about this book here at Hope Is the Word because this is a great chapter book for preschoolers. Elmer and the Dragon is the sequel to My Father’s Dragon (read my review here). Written by Ruth Stiles Gannett and illustrated by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (a stepdaughter and -mother team), Elmer and the Dragon picks up where My Father’s Dragon leaves off. Elmer Elevator and the baby dragon whom he rescued from Wild Island are making their way back to Elmer’s home when they are forced to detour to Feather Island. On Feather Island, they encounter the canary who first told Elmer about the dragon and Wild Island, and while they are there they help cure the King of the Canaries (King Can XI) who is “dying of curiosity.” This delightful book is full of gentle adventure that is perfect for preschoolers. My girls really got into this story, and Louise even named one of her stuffed animals “Sam XI” after King Can XI. What makes this story an especially good chapter book read-aloud is its brevity and the black-and-white illustrations. I was excited when I found this title at a children’s toy consignment sale. Now I just need to happen upon the third of the trilogy, The Dragons of Blueland.
Synopsis: Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada is not a book of deep theology, but a book of one (extraordinary) woman’s fascination with the “land that stretches afar.” Tada attempts to answer such questions as these:
- What’s so great about heaven?
- What will we do in heaven?
- Where is heaven and what is it like?
However, the strength of this book is in the encouragement is provides, not the theological and philosophical questions it settles. Tada writes with such warmth and enthusiasm that I could not help but long for heaven a little more after reading her book.
My Thoughts: I will be honest in saying that I probably would not have picked this book up (at least not a long while) on my own. I chose to read it as a part of the Semicolon Book Club. I had a nodding acquaintance with Joni Eareckson Tada and the dichotomous tragedy/triumph that is her life, but I had never read any of her books. I have a faint memory from my childhood of watching a movie about her life. I distinctly remember seeing her paint, paintbrush clenched between her teeth. Because I had never read any of her books, though, I did not know what to expect from this one. While I enjoyed the book from its beginning, I thought that it lacked organization early on. The first six chapters or so could’ve been shaken up together in a hat, and a paragraph from any chapter could’ve been drawn out and put in place of a paragraph from any other chapter with no discernible difference in theme. Again, this is not to say that I didn’t like it, but rather that I prefer books with a more obvious thematic thread.
A shift occurred in my reading of this book long about chapter seven. Chapter seven completely enthtralled me. Chapter seven, entitled “Heaven: The Home of Love,” begins with a fictional story illustrative of the Jewish custom of betrothal. Something about that story got me right in the heart. The point of chapter seven is that we long for heaven because, as the Bride, we long for Christ. The rest of the book focuses on this longing and the meaning behind pain and suffering. This part of the book really spoke to me because I figure if anyone understands pain and suffering, this author does. She writes about it with such clarity, like she really gets the design behind the trials and tribulations we humans face on this earth:
Nothing more radically altered the way I looked at my suffering than leapfrogging to this end-of-time vantage point. Heaven became my greatest hope. In fact, I wondered how other people could possibly face quadriplegia, cancer, or even a death in the family without the hope of heaven. It meant no more wallowing away hours by the farmhouse window, scorning Romans 8:28, and muttering, “How can it say all things fit together into a pattern of good in my life!” God’s pattern for my earthly good may have smelled like urine and felt painful, but I knew the end result in heaven would exude a fragrant and glorious aroma: Christ in me, the hope of glory. ( 180)
Her suffering has definitely been the gateway to her own close relationship with the Lord:
Now, I’m not one to pipe up and call myself a wise virgin. But, thankfully, I’ve got some help with this thing about spiritual intimacy. My wheelchair. I get exhausted after a long day of sitting in my chair, and so most evenings I have to lie down at around 7:30. Lying in bed paralyzed, I have all the time in the world to wait on Jesus, to focus the eyes of my heart on those heavenly coordinates. My bedroom is a quiet place and softly lit. No music. No TV. The clock ticks. If there’s a breeze outside, the wind chimes tinkle. Our dog, Scrappy, may curl up at the edge of the bed and softly snore. It’s a place where I cannot do anything,. . . I can only be. And I choose to be the wise virgin who pours my love into the marriage contract. (142)
Tada even offers a little bit of rebuke to the self-centered faith that is admittedly a large part of our affluent “Christian” nation:
Jesus is the Lord of heaven and earth.
We said it in our prayers, we sang it in our songs, and we would have sworn we believed it with a capital B. But it never really clicked for us. That’s because “us” kept getting in the way. All those years when earthly trials hit us hard, we burnt rubber in our brains trying to figure out what it meant to us. How problems fit into God’s plan for us. How Jesus could be conformed in us. Everything was always “for us.” Even Sunday worship service focused on how we felt, what we learned, and if the hymns were to our liking.
Why, oh why, didn’t we take the hint from Acts 17:24 [. . .”the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth”] and switch our attention off us and onto Him? Why didn’t we appreciate that God gave every trials, heartache, and happiness to show us something about Himself? [. . .]
We always marvel that God shows an interest in us, but in heaven it will be clear that every earthly thing happened so that we’d show an interest in Him. (156)
I love to read books that give me something to ponder, and this one does. I think Tada’s goal for this book would be for its readers to long for heaven with a fervency that they’ve never had before. I think this book does that. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Well, I suppose I really shouldn’t call this a “Kids’ Pick” because I’m the one who picked it. However, since my girls cannot read independently yet, they are subject to listening to whatever I want to read, and this is my pick just about every night. We have several different Bible story books, but The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago Silver, is my absolute favorite. In fact, I’m pretty sure we’ve been all the way through it at least three times in the past year or so that we’ve had it.
As the title of the book suggests, this Bible story book is all about how every story points the way to Jesus. Most of the major stories that usually find their way into a children’s Bible story book are covered in this one: Creation, Adam and Eve, the tower of Babel, Abraham and Isaac, the Exodus,David and Goliath, Jonah, John the Baptist, the Nativity, Jesus’ miracles, the Lord’s prayer, the crucifixion, the resurrection, Pentecost, Paul, and the Revelation, to name a few. What I love, though, is that these stories almost always get me right in the heart. In fact, I often end up with a bad case of the sniffles and teary eyes after reading the most unlikely of stories, just because Lloyd-Jones always throws in a really unexpected (but entirely appropriate) allusion to Christ at the end of the story. Witness this excerpt from the first story in this book:
You see, the best thing about this Story is–it’s true.
There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.
It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle–the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.
And this is no ordinary baby. This is the Child upon whom everything would depend. This is the Child who would one day–but wait. Our Story starts where all good stories start. Right at the very beginning. . .
Reading this book reminds me a little of reading the Narnia stories because while Lloyd-Jones does take some small liberties with the original stories (these are not word-for-word retellings of any particular version of the Bible, but instead a paraphrase–keep in mind the word storybook in the title), they always point the way to the bigger Story. They are not allegories, though, but just loose re-tellings. After reading a few of the reviews of the book on Amazon, I realize that for some people the “looseness” of the stories might be off-putting. I think I am so enamored of the overall feeling of the stories (and how they all point to Jesus) that I am not bothered by the looseness. After all, I don’t think this is the inspired Word of God, but rather, a tool to use to point us to the Word. Sally Lloyd-Jones writes in a fun, inspiring, and loving style, and I really believe the message of the Gospel comes through in this book. You can check out her interesting and eclectic blog to get a feeling for her overall style.
The illustrations in this book are fun, child-like, expressive, and joyful. Again, I know that some readers do not approve of “cartoonish” Bible story illustrations, but I think the playfulness of these illustrations really complements the style and feel of the book. You can see some of Jago’s work here on his blog.
Really, though, you have to read The Jesus Storybook Bible to understand what makes it so beautiful and touching and good. I just love the interconnectedness of it, as illustrated by the very end of the book:
It was hard to squeeze all John saw into words. And fit it onto a page. And cram it into a book. All the words on all the pages of all the books in all the world would never be enough.
“I am the Beginning,” Jesus said, “and the Ending!”
One day, John knew, Heaven would come down and mend God’s broken world and make it our true, perfect home once again.
And he knew, in some mysterious way that would be hard to explain, that everything was going to be more wonderful for once having been so sad.
And he knew then that the ending of The Story was going to be so great, it would make all the sadness and tears and everything seem like just a shadow that is chased away by the morning sun.
“I’m on my way,” said Jesus. “I’ll be there soon!”
John cam to the end of his book. But he didn’t write “The End.” Because, of course, that’s how stories finish. (And this one’s not over yet.)
So instead, he wrote: “Come quickly, Jesus!”
Which, perhaps, is really just another way of saying. . .
To be continued. . .
This is my kid’s pick because it is one I love to read aloud to my children, and they enjoy coming along for the ride.
My girls and I have just finished The House at Pooh Corner, and I wonder, how did I miss this growing up? Until I was a teenager, Winnie the Pooh was nothing more than a Disney cartoon character to me. By the time I was in my late teens, I had a nostalgic affection for Ernest H. Shepard’s artwork (called “Classic Pooh” in retail), and I even have checks printed with this artwork. For Pete’s sake, I even decorate Louise’s nursery in “Classic Pooh”! And I had never even read the books! For shame.
Really though, even though my girls did enjoy this read aloud a lot (“We’re on chapter ____!” Lulu would faithfully announce every time I got out the big blue book for our post-lunch reading session), I think it takes being a parent or at least a person who loves a little child to really appreciate Milne’s genius. I confess I was more than a little teary-eyed when I finished “Chapter Ten In Which Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There.” Okay, I was a blubbering, sentimental sap and my girls stared at my quizzically with little grins on their faces. I’ve always been saddened by the end of childhood, and of course, Milne’s take on it got me right in the heart:
Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”
“Yes?” said Pooh.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?”
“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
“Well, not so much. They won’t let you.”
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.
“Pooh, when I’m–you know–when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
“Will you be here too?”
“Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”
“That’s good,” said Pooh.
“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”
Pooh thought for a little.
“How old shall I be then?”
“I promise,” he said.
Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I–if I’m not quite—-” he stopped and tried again—“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”
“Where?” said Pooh.
“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.
See what I mean?
All sentimentality aside, though, this is good stuff. I couldn’t help but think as I was reading how each character in the story would come out if psychoanalyzed, not because I know much about such things, but just because the characters seem to lend themselves to it somehow. As it turns out, someone else already thought of that. I can just see Rabbit hurrying along to his next self-appointed assignment; Piglet and Pooh, hand-in-hand, off on another “expotition”; Eeyore lumbering along to discuss what he already knows is bad news; Tigger driving Rabbit to distraction; and Kanga, the consummate mother, keeping dear little Roo out of trouble. Truly, Milne’s characterization is impeccable.
I think A.A. Milne would have been an interesting person to have the privilege of knowing. According to the short biography included in The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie the Pooh, Milne was the son of two London schoolteachers and could read by the time he was two. From the time he was but a schoolboy, he was writing “verses, parodies, and short humorous pieces for the school’s paper.” In fact, he was to work as a writer for his entire life, even while serving in World War I. His play Mr. Pim Passes By was a financial success and gave the Milnes “financial indpendence.” Milne’s wife, Daphne, suggested that he write about a stuffed bear, tiger, pig, and donkey that belonged to their young son, Christopher Robin. The rest, to borrow an old cliche, is history. Milne had this to say about his children’s works:
If a writer, why not write
On whatever comes in sight?
So–the Children’s Book; a short
Intermezzo of a sort:
When I wrote them, little thinking
All my years of pen-and-inking
Would be almost lost among
Those four trifles for the young.
Of course, it is E.H. Sheperd’s illustrations that complete this equation; without them, the books would miss part of their lump-in-the-throat inducing quality, I think. Milne obviously thought so, too, for he wrote this tribute for the first edition of Winnie-the-Pooh published in the United States:
When I am gone
Let Shepard decorate my tomb,
And put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone;
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157). . .
And Peter, thinking that they are my own,
Will welcome me to heaven.
I really, really enjoyed reading The House at Pooh Corner aloud to my children. Although I missed reading Milne’s works as a child, I don’t think that hampered by ability to enjoy them as an adult one bit. In fact, my unfamiliarity with them quite possibly made them even more delightful to me. We read Winnie-the-Pooh sometime last year before my girls were quite ready for it, so I intend to go back and re-read it, as well as Milne’s books of poetry, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six.
Do you have fond memories of reading (or being read) Milne’s wonderful books as a child? Or did you miss them as a child and discover them an adult like I did? This Read Aloud Thursday is devoted to A.A. Milne and our tributes and remembrances of his fine works. However, if you have nothing to share about A.A. Milne, please feel free to link us to your blog page featuring your family’s read-alouds of the week. If you don’t blog, just leave a comment.
Note: Mr. Linky works with WordPress blogs, but only to a point. It will not make a list of links, but if you click on the Mr. Linky logo, a new page will appear on which you can type your link and all other links will appear. At least, I think that’s how it works. : )
Let me preface this post by saying that it is completely off-the-cuff. I do not have a children’s classic that I have recently read about which I can write (aside from the various read-alouds that we do together at the House of Hope, but of course, those already have posts dedicated to them). Instead, then, I am taking a stroll down memory lane to my own childhood and posting about an author whose books I still remember to this day (and I’m ahem approaching what might be called middle age).
I attended a small, private Christian school for a few years in upper elementary school. This gave me exposure to some authors that I probably would have never encountered otherwise. I enjoyed these books so much that I later sought them out, asking for them for Christmas, even ordering some of them myself as a sentimental, book-loving teenager. They still have a place in my home library. What are these books? They are wonderful stories written by Patricia M. St. John. Here are a few of the ones that really stand out in my mind:
Rainbow Garden is the story of lonely Elaine who goes to live with a Welsh family where she finds the true meaning of “fulness of joy.”
Set in North Africa, Star of Light is the story of a boy’s selfless love for his younger, blind sister.
Patricia M. St. John worked as a missionary nurse for many years, so she writes of different countries and cultures with an experienced hand. To my remembrance, each of her books presents a clear gospel message. The characters are very endearing and realistic. While I’m sure these are not children’s classics in the broad sense of the word, I do believe they have a prominent place in the sub-genre of children’s Christian fiction.
In writing this post, I have rekindled a long-dormant interest in these books. I think I might skim over one of these to determine if it is suitable for a future read-aloud for my own girls.
**Please note that the books linked here from Amazon are abridged versions, and I cannot speak for them.
***Also please note that I tried and tried in vain to reformat this post so that the books are not arranged in stair-steps. Forgive me.