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Divination and Prophecy in the Harry Potter Novels (Part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis is the third and final article in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this third installment of the series, I try to answer some objections that might arise in relation to the place of divination in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter: Divination and Prophecy

At this point in the series, someone might object that while I have dispatched the general problem of magic in these children’s books—magic is just Rowling’s metaphor for spiritual power—there is still the whole issue of divination, which the Bible explicitly forbids (as I noted in “The Harry Potter Controversy”). After all, Harry and his best friend Ron take divination class for several years from the divination teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney. How can this not be worrying for Christian parents? Doesn’t it cast the occult in a positive light?

There are several reasons I think parents should not be worried about the place of divination in the Harry Potter novels. First, Continue reading →

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Allegory in Harry Potter (Part 2)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis article is the second in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this second installment of the series, I make the positive case for Christian allegory in Harry Potter.

Allegory in Harry Potter

In making a case for allegory in Harry Potter, my point is that certain characters and events in these books stand as symbolic representations of central characters and events in Christian theology. Continue reading →

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Harry Potter: Controversy (Part 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. RowlingI have a confession to make: I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  Prior to last summer I had been enjoying each of the Harry Potter movies as they were released, but I had yet not read any of J.K. Rowling’s children’s books.

However, last summer, right before my family and I went on an extended road trip, my wife, Angela, and I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which covers the story through the sixth of the seven Potter books.  While we enjoyed the movie, it left us desperate to know what happens next (as those of you who have seen the movie know, it ends on a more mysterious and fraught note than any of the others).  So, we checked the seventh and last book in the series out of the library—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling—and took it on our road trip, reading it aloud to each other in the front seat (while our kids watched DVDs with headphones on in the back seat; at six and eight, they’re still too young for Potter, but their time will come…). Continue reading →

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Easter Stories for Children: Petook, by Tomie dePaola, Caryll Houselander

Petook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaolaTitle: Petook: An Easter StoryPetook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaola
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Author: Caryll Houselander
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Picture Books

Creating good traditional Easter stories for children is difficult for a couple of reasons.  First, the traditional story is quite violent, so a graphically illustrated version of the story could be quite shocking or disturbing for a young child.  Second, the deep significance of the story can be pretty complicated for a young child, and so creating a picture book that tells the story in a way that is both true to New Testament theology and understandable for a young child is challenging.

Some picture books navigate these challenges by simply presenting the text from one (or several) of the Gospels along with illustrations that are not overly detailed.  I think Easter: The King James VersionEaster: The King James Version, by Jan Pienkowski, by Jan Pienkowski is a tasteful example of this approach.  As the title suggests, Pienkowski just presents relevant parts of the King James text, which she illustrates using silhouettes so the pictures are not too gory.

However, as I see it, the trouble with Easter stories for children that take this approach is that Continue reading →

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The Egg Tree, by Katherine Milhous: Easter Picture Books

The Egg Tree by Katherine MilhousThe Egg Tree by Katherine MilhousTitle: The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous
Author: Katherine Milhous
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Easter picture books

Easter is coming, and so I’ve been planning to review some Easter picture books.  However, when I started looking around online and in the library for good titles, it seemed there really weren’t that many.  Either I found a lot of “cute” but shallow books about eggs and bunnies—which I liken to marshmallow Peeps: sweet but not very nourishingThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous—or I found illustrated versions of the New Testament text.  Now, don’t get me wrong: marshmallow Peeps and the New Testament have their place; my kids will likely get a dose of both this Easter.  However, in my view, neither make for particularly good picture books.

Now, thankfully there are a few good picture books for Easter out there, two of which I’ll share with you in this and the next post.  The first one—1951 Caldecott Medal winner The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous by Katherine Milhous—is only loosely connected with the biblical Easter tradition, as I will describe.  In the next post I will review Petook: An Easter StoryPetook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaola by Caryll Houselander and Tomie dePaola, which has a more direct connection with the traditional Easter story.

The Egg Tree, by Katherine Milhous: Summary

The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous by Katherine Milhous is set in the Red Hills of Pennsylvania, in a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community.  The picture book opens with two young children—Katy and Carl—spending their first Easter on their grandmother’s farm, along with four of their cousins.  The children wake up early for an Easter egg hunt, but Katy can’t seem to find any eggs in her unfamiliar surroundings.  Feeling discouraged, she makes her way up into the attic and, to her surprise, Continue reading →

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Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint PatrickTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Title: Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Author: Tomie dePaola
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Picture books

If you are looking for a story for children about Saint Patrick to help explain the significance of St. Patrick’s Day to 6-to-8-year-olds, Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick is a great one.  This children’s book is a brief, charming biography of St. Patrick, with the added bonus of several interesting legends about Patrick appended after the strictly biographical part.

Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Summary

As dePaola tells it, Patrick grew up in Britain near the Irish Sea during the late 4th- and early 5th-century CE, in the twilight of the Western Roman Empire.  One night warriors from Ireland landed on the shores near his home, raided local farms, and took many people into captivity, including the teenage Patrick.  Patrick was sold into slavery, and was forced to Continue reading →

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When You Reach Me: Summary and Review

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Title: When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Author: Rebecca Stead
Age Category: 9 to 12 years +
Genre: Middle-grade Fiction

When You Reach Me: Summary

Miranda—the protagonist of the 2010 Newbery Medal-winning juvenile fiction book When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead—is a twelve-year-old latchkey kid living with her single mom in New York City in the 1970s. She’s smart, she’s funny, and she reads only one book: A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle by Madeleine L’Engle.  Her mother—a would-be lawyer with a keen sense of justice—was forced to drop out of law school when she had Miranda. Now she works unhappily as a paralegal and dreams of winning the game show The $20,000 Pyramid so she can quit her job.

Miranda has lost her best friend, Sal, who lives in her apartment building. One day, while the two of them were walking home from school, a neighborhood kid named Marcus punched Sal, and from that day on Continue reading →

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

diary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Author: Jeff Kinney
Age Category: 9 to 12 +
Genre: Comic Juvenile Fiction

With the March 19th release date of the movie based on Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney fast approaching, I thought I would write a review of this madly popular book.  Although it was first published in 2007, it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List (for children’s series books) and has been there for 57 weeks (!).  In this review I will take a somewhat contrarian view of the book: I do not like it as much as it seems most everyone else does.  “Why,” you ask? Read on fair reader.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney is the first in a growing series by Jeff Kinney.  In the book we get collected episodes from a year in the tragicomic life of the book’s protagonist—Greg Heffley—presented in journal form (Heffley: “First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary”). Continue reading →

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Illustrations in Children’s Books

This is the fourth in a series of posts on how to choose children’s books.  If you want to read from the beginning, Click here for the first article in the series, “How to Choose Children’s Books”Last time, in “Choosing Children’s Books with Age Appropriate Themes”, I talked about how to choose children’s books with appealing themes.

In this post I will discuss how illustrations in children’s books make books appealing to children, and I will try to give some guidance on what to look for with respect to illustrations in children’s books.  However, I should say up front that there is a lot of room for difference of opinion over what makes for attractive illustrations in children’s books, so take my guidance as applying only “for the most part”; there will be many exceptions to it, due to a certain amount of subjectivity inherent in any aesthetic judgments.

Illustrations in Children’s Books: Very Important!

My central point: The illustrations of a children’s book are perhaps the largest part of what makes the book attractive to kids, especially for children younger than eight years old. Continue reading →

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The Lion and the Mouse, Caldecott Medal Winner

picture books the lion and the mouse caldecott medal Jerry Pinkney
Title: The Lion & the Mousepicture books the lion and the mouse caldecott medal Jerry Pinkney
Author: Jerry Pinkney
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Picture Books

The Lion and the Mouse Book

Jerry Pinkney’s 2010 Caldecott Medal-winning picture book, The Lion & the Mouse,picture books the lion and the mouse caldecott medal Jerry Pinkney is a retelling—or, rather a re-showing—of Aesop’s traditional fable by the same name.

As the story is traditionally told, a mouse is caught by a lion and pleads for her life by arguing that one day the lion might need her help. Although the lion scoffs at the thought that a tiny mouse could ever help such a mighty beast as a lion, he releases the mouse. However, the lion subsequently gets caught in a hunter’s net, and the mouse—hearing the lion’s distressed roar—ends up freeing the lion by nibbling a hole in the net. The traditional moral: “Little friends may prove great friends.” Traditionally, then, the story is meant to embolden the meek (“You may be a great friend one day!”) and to encourage the proud to look out for the little guy.

However, in Pinkney’s picture book, the moral is not so tightly constrained, largely because the only words Pinkney uses are onomatopoeias—i.e., words that Continue reading →

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Multicultural Children’s Books by Ezra Jack Keats

In this post I will highlight the work of one of my favorite children’s authors, Ezra Jack Keats.  In particular, I will focus on a six-book series of multicultural children’s books by Keats that features a single character—a boy named Peter—and that includes two of Keats’s most celebrated books, The Snowy Daymulticultural children's books and Whistle for Williemulticultural children's books.  All six of these multicultural children’s books are appropriate for 3-to-5-year-olds.
multicultural children's booksmulticultural children's books
Title: The Snowy Daymulticultural children's books
Author: Ezra Jack Keats
Age Category: 3 to 5 years
Genre: Picture Books

Life of Ezra Jack Keats: Multicultural Children’s Books Author

The following brief account of Keats’s life and career is excerpted from the website for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation:

“Ezra Jack Keats was born on March 11, 1916, to impoverished Polish immigrants of Jewish descent in East New York, which was then the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn, New York. He was the third child of Benjamin Katz and Augusta Podgainy, and was then known as Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz.”

From early on it was evident that Keats was gifted as an artist.  He won several awards for his art in junior high and high school, including a national contest run by the Scholastic Publishing Company.

“Keats entered the service of the United States Army on April 13, 1943…After World War II, he returned to New York… Two years after the war, Jack, in reaction to the anti-Semitic prejudices of the time, Continue reading →

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Choosing Children’s Books with Age Appropriate Themes

This is the third in a series of posts on how to choose children’s books.  The series starts here with “How to Choose Children’s Books” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in “Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal”, I argued for the crucial importance of choosing children’s books with subjective appeal, i.e., books that a child will like, and not books that are merely good for a child in some way.

Themes in Children’s Books

In this post I will begin discussing the considerations that make up the subjective appeal of children’s books.  Specifically, I will discuss the role of a book’s themes in rendering it appealing to a child, and I will try to give some specific guidance on what to look for in the themes of children’s books.  In particular, I will try to give some guidance on choosing age appropriate children’s books.

What do I mean by the “themes” of a children’s book?  By “themes” I mean the specific content of the book, or what the children’s book is about.  For example, in a science book about snakes, the theme might simply be snakes.  Or, in a book like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the themes might include coping with loss, or finding one’s purpose in the world (click here for our review, “Juvenile Fiction: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick”).  In a children’s book like Martin’s Big Words, the themes might include justice, equality, and love (click here for our review “Children’s Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Martin’s Big Words).

The key to choosing a book with themes that will make the book appealing to a child is Continue reading →

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Children’s Book Awards: 2010 Caldecott, Newbery, King, and Geisel Winners

A quick post to announce the winners of several prestigious awards for children’s books, revealed today on the American Library Association (ALA) website for children’s book awards.  I aim to review many of these children’s books in the weeks and months ahead.

Children’s Book Awards: Caldecott

children's books caldecott medal newbery medalchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medalchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal
First, the 2010 winner of the Randolph Caldecott Medal is The Lion & the Mouse illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney (click here to see our review, “Picture Books: Caldecott Medal Winner, The Lion and the Mouse).  Two Caldecott Honor children’s books—think “runners-up”—were also chosen: All the Worldchildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal, illustrated by Marla Frazee and written by Liz Garton Scanlon, and Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colorschildren's books caldecott medal newbery medal, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski and written by Joyce Sidman.  The ALA website for children’s book awards states the following of the Caldecott Medal:

“The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” Continue reading →

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Children’s Books on Martin Luther King Jr: I Have A Dream

children's books I have a dream speech martin luther king jrchildren's books I have a dream speech martin luther king jr
Title: I Have A Dreamchildren's books I have a dream speech martin luther king jr
Author: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Foreword: Coretta Scott King
Age Category: 9 to 12 years +
Genre: Picture Books
Our Rating (out of 5): children's books I have a dream speech martin luther king jr

This post is a review of the second of two books I recommend for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  Click here for “Children’s Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Martin’s Big Words, my review of the first book.

I Have a Dream Speech: Martin Luther King Jr.

The idea behind this children’s book is simple: publish the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech—delivered in the 1963 March on Washington—accompanied by illustrations by fifteen African-American artists whose work has featured in children’s books that have received the Coretta Scott King Award or Honor.  The result is a moving and beautiful remembrance of this historic moment in the American story, a worthy tribute to the visionary Dr. King who delivered the speech, and a powerful call to renew the work of forgiveness, justice, and love that Dr. King pushed forward so forcefully in his day.

I Have a Dream: Subjective Appeal

Two things will draw young readers to I Have A Dream.  At the top of the list, of course, is the power of Dr. King’s words.  At least three things moved me in re-reading these amazing words.  First, King’s laser focus on Continue reading →

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Children’s Books on Martin Luther King Jr: Martin’s Big Words

children's books for martin luther king jr day, Martin's Big Words
Title: Martin’s Big Words
Author: Doreen Rappaport
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Historical picture books
Our Rating (out of 5):

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day—coming up on January 18th—we will be featuring some children’s books about Dr. King and others who have contributed to the long and continuing fight for the equality of African-Americans in the United States.  The first book is Martin’s Big Words, the Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King award-winning book by Doreen Rappaport (illustrations by Bryan Collier).  The book tells the story of Dr. King’s life and work in a brief accessible format.

Martin Luther King Children’s Book: Subjective Appeal

This compelling children’s book about Martin Luther King Jr. will appeal to kids in several ways.  First, the moral themes of justice, equality, and love on which the book focuses connect with the process of moral formation occurring in 6-to-8-year-olds.  Children at this age are developing instincts about right and wrong, and good and bad, and Martin’s Big Words will engage children in this part of their experience.

Second, the simple disarming style of the book draws the young reader into the story.  Although the themes that Dr. King’s life and work evoke (e.g., rights, freedom, justice, equality, etc.) can be somewhat abstract for children, Martin’s Big Words portrays them in an accessible way.  For example, this children’s book opens with the following line: “Everywhere in Martin’s hometown Continue reading →

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