Picture Book Bonanza!

Our 9-year-old is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. Mother wit is not her strongest suit (we’re working on that), but she was blessed with a hefty bit of cognitive fire power.

I don’t just say that about all of my children. We tend to be very open and honest about gifts, talents, abilities, and how the Giver of all gifts does things the way He does for a reason. There’s a point to this particular line of thought, and it is wholly centered around books.

During our recent trip to the library, the kid surprised me by making a beeline for the picture book section. Since she has read chapter books alongside picture books from the time she was 6 or 7,  I figured she might find picture books less worthy of her time and attention. It turns out that a full school year of reading great literature, even though enjoying it,  gave her a craving for some light-hearted, brightly colored picture books.

After readng them to herself, and reading them with her 11-year-old sister, she wasn’t quite read to return them to the library until she’d had the pleasure of my voice reading them to her. I am very glad we took the time to do that, because these were all very enjoyable books:

 

phobe sounds it out

The fun thing about these books is that they were books I would never would have chosen on my own, since none of them meet the standard guidelines I tend to use when picking out children’s books.

The other interesting thing I noted was how often she gravitated towards boks with characters who looked like her. Although only two of the books listed here met that criteria, she looked at quite a few.

The lesson I took away from this excursion was that no matter how “advanced” kids are, they’re still kids, and they like kid things. Such as brightly colored picture books!

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Life at the Bottom

life at the bottom book

Life at the Bottom, Kindle Edition, by Theodore Dalrymple. Originally published in 2001. Print edition: 263 pages.

I became interested in this book solely on the force of Thomas Sowell’s recommendation of it. I didn’t know anything about Theodore Dalrymple, but Sowell’s endorsement was enough to intrigue me. His concise description of the book was as follows:

An incisive and brutally honest eye-witness account of the social degeneracy created by the welfare state among the white underclass in Britain– remarkably similar to the social pathology in American ghettos but without such supposed causes as slavery or racism.

Indeed, Dalrymple himself made it clear very early on in this book that his frame of reference was separate, distinct, and unrelated to the perception of lower socioeconomic life commonly held by average Americans. In fact  his documented experiences were relegated almost solely to Britain’s white underclass with a small percentage of Muslim immigrants.

Before buying this, I read the Amazon reviews of “verified purchasers”. Very few of those who reviewed this book liked it. However, the tone of the negative reviews almost immediately indicated that I might like this book for the same reasons that Thomas Sowell recommended it. It wasn’t politically correct, and it summarily dismissed poverty alone as an excuse for bad behavior and life choices.

Many of the stories Dalrymple recounts from his years of practice in the London’s tougher neighborhoods are heart rending. His attempts to offer help and counsel to those who repeatedly make terrible decisions bear no fruit most of the time.  He points out that what we consider poor is hardly poor when compared to those in less developed parts of the world:

“This underclass is not poor, at least by the standards that have prevailed throughout the great majority of human history. It exists, to a varying degree, in all Western societies. Like every other social class, it has benefited enormously from the vast general increase in wealth of the past hundred years. In certain respects, indeed, it enjoys amenities and comforts that would have made a Roman emperor or an absolute monarch gasp. Nor is it politically oppressed: it fears neither to speak its mind nor the midnight knock on the door. “

The result?

“It is the prerogative of the unthinkingly prosperous to sneer at the bourgeois virtues.”

The people who reviewed Dalrymple’s book negatively accused him of blaming the poor for their plight. In reality, his book did no such thing. While it is true that Life at the Bottom repeatedly notes that many of the perils of Dalrymple’s patients are a result of their own poor decisions, in the end, he places the ultimate blame elsewhere:

“And if I paint a picture of a way of life that is wholly without charm or merit, and describe many people who are deeply unattractive, it is important to remember that, if blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They should have known better but always preferred to avert their gaze. They considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas. I know of no egotism more profound.”
I agree with him.

Grade: B-. The content is good, but the writing is a bit disjointed.

 

Swoon

 

Swoon bookSwoon: Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau. Published in 2013. 288 pages.

I don’t know if Thomas, the man whose return slip indicated he checked this library book out before me, is the same reader who rudely took notes inside the book, but if he is, I can’t help but wonder if he found anything within its pages that might help him on whatever quest inspired him to check it out in the first place.

Swoon, Great Seducers and Why Women Love Them, by Betsy Prioleau is a long-winded journey on the road to a well-known conclusion. Namely, that when it comes to being popular with women, some men have “it”, others don’t, and the characteristics of the men who do have it are too widely varied to be easily quantified. In other words, there was no new information to be found here.

That isn’t to say that the book wasn’t filled with interesting or even fascinating historical references and narratives of men throughout history who were known to be famously, and sometimes infamously, “popular”. Some of them in our modern age would defy credulity, such as Benjamin Franklin. Others, such as Casanova, hardly need to be explored as their stories are so familiar.

The one thing this book made perfectly clear however, and I tend to agree with the author on this if not much else, is that the men who have the greatest success with women tend to be men who genuinely like women, finding us fascinating and interesting, even if they are well acquainted with our flaws and weaknesses. Interestingly, despite a questionable encounter with a woman which might call into doubt Prioleau’s analysis, the late Sam Cooke, whose music I enjoy listening to for hours on end, was seducer for whom this author had little to offer other than glowing praise.

What I didn’t like about this book was born entirely of my own moral code. Despite my usual ability to set aside any demands that an author acquiesce to my view, it bothered me Prioleau offered no moral judgement –only awe or praise ever- against the character of men who used their *gift* for swaying women in questionable ways. She seemed convinced that the fact that they were often amiable, likable men absolved them of responsibility for the way they plowed through women. Pun fully intended.

To her credit she noted, and there is a strong ring of truth here, that those men who are honest about who and what they are with the women in their single lives are usually just as honest, faithful and true in the event that they decide to settle down. And some of them do.

In the end, this book was more historical references smattered with opinions than anything offering insight. There was never an answer which indicated *Why* the men in her book elicit the titular female reaction, which is fitting. What’s more, there was a wholesale dismissal of men such as rappers, gamers, or others she deemed low class as well as the types of women who respond to them. The implication was that they are an almost sub human class of people not numerous or smart enough to be included as real samples in her exploration. The lady doth protest too much, or perhaps is just a snob.

Men whose seductive prowess are wielded in ways which didn’t offend her sensibilities are good and worthy to be emulated, regardless of the lack of character their behavior implies. Others, not so much. The veneer of subjectivity Prioleau attempted to portray here is wafer thin, and doesn’t hold.

The end effect of Prioleau’s approach to the subject is a book which is at times entertaining, but is sunk by her intellectualism, inability to set aside her class biases, and honestly discuss the things about women that make them susceptible to certain kinds of men, whatever their social strata or background.

This book never provides a sufficient rejoinder to the subject its author promises the reader she will demystify.

Grade: C, and that because there was some entertainment value in it.

The Hiding Place

hiding place cover

The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. Originally published in 1971. 241 pages.

This review, like the one before it, is of a book one of our kids was assigned as a part of a literature and writing course. I was already very familiar with Corrie ten Boom’s -and her family’s- story. So familiar in fact, that it had escaped me all these years that I had never actually read her story. Her memoir, recounting the story has inspired countless Christians since she originally penned it with the help of authors John and Elizabeth Sherrill, who learned of her while writing about another Dutch Christian, Andrew van der Bijl.

Here is the Cliff’s notes version, for those who may not have heard the story. During WWII Corrie ten Boom, along with her entire family and at great personal risk and cost, opened their homes up as a hiding place for the Jews who were being rounded up after the German invasion of Holland in 1940. As a result of their efforts, they themselves were rounded up, imprisoned, suffered many hardships and suffering. Corrie’s father, and later her sister, both died in German prisons before Europe was liberated and the war ended.

The real story here, for those who’ve read the book (or seen the movie), is the depth of the Christian faith and resolute foundation of God’s word on which the ten Boom family was built long before the war began. It was this faith that permeated the entire story, moved the ten Boom family to compassion rather than hatred of their invaders, and catapulted Corrie and her story into the history books.

Our daughter has decided that Corrie ten Boom is an inspiration and someone whose faith she would do well to emulate. I wholeheartedly agree with her sentiments. However despite the fame and accolades that were poured onto Corrie as a result of her survival and story being retold, there is plenty of faith, love and hope to be found not only in Corrie’s story, but in that of her brother, father, extended family, and most of all her sister Betsie with whom Corrie served most of years of hard labor in the German prison.

It would be nearly impossible for me to do this memoir the justice it deserves in the contest of a 50 word book review, and to add anything more would be to risk politicizing or trivializing a moving and compelling book; one from which the love of Christ, far more important than the details of the occupation, drips from every page. I highly recommend this book, and although I wish I had read it sooner, I’m happy to have read it late than never at all.

 

 

 

Grade: A

 

The Samurai’s Tale

samurai's tale

The Samurai’s Tale, by Erik Christian Haugaard. Originally published in 1984, 256 pages.

This, like many of the books I’ve read over the past several months, is a book I only read becuase it was assigned to one of our children as a literature assignment. It has been a pleasure to read these book in a way that does not describe the books our public schooled middle schoolers were assigned to read. This year has been one filled with books which fully meet the standard of C.S. Lewis’ famous quote about stories worth reading.

The Samurai’s Tale is a novel set in feudal Japan, and begins when our hero Taro, is a four-year-old boy whose powerful samurai father, along with his mother and brothers, are killed by a rival samurai in the fierce struggle for Japanese power. His mother, before her death stripped Taro of his costly, regal clothing, dressed him up as a servant, and concealed him in a box. Her aim of hiding the truth of his lineage in an attempt to spare his life was successful. The warlord, amused by Taro’s mettle as he rushes out to defend his home, takes him under his wing as a servant.  So begins Taro’s long, tumultuous journey as the vassal and liege of the powerful samurai Lord Akiyama.

Reading along as a witness to the tale Erik Haugaard has woven was at times sad, and others harrowing, but was never boring. The realism of the story was refreshing as well as unsettling.  Many wrters would have Taro grow up under Lord Akiyama waiting for the day that he could avenge his family’s death. Haugaard however, offers us a more true to life scenario, one in which Taro’s loyalty to Lord Akiyama increases the longer he is with him and he grows into a faithful young samurai warrior to his liege lord.

The Buddhist religion loomed large throughout the book, and was another angle that offered opportunity to explore and compare belief systems. Haugaard offered an interesting aside concerning different competing sects within the religion which to us sounded eerily familiar to the kinds of schisms and battles which take place in Christianity as well.

Our daughter found that the book moved too slowly for her at times. The overall narrative was interesting to her and several of Taro’s experiences motivated interesting conversations. It was not her favorite of the books read this year, but neither was it her least favorite.

I liked it, but I concede that it would likely have been a less than exciting book for me to read when I was 11 years old. I was impressed with the issues and writing she produced from the reading given the fact that she was less than enamored with the book. The grade being offered however, is based on my review. I’ll add hers as an addendum.

Grade: B+ (the kid gave it a ‘C’)

Content advisory: war and violence.

Age range: 9+ (or 5th grade and up)

 

 

A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.