Category Archives: Book reviews

Princess Prayers (Book Review)

We recently got a chance to review a new book, Princess Prayers by Crystal Bowman (inspired by Jeanna Young and Jacqueline Johnson).  This sweet, colorful board book with a padded cover is a great way to introduce little girls to the idea of praying throughout the day.  Each page features a simple rhyming prayer related to different parts of one’s day, followed by a related Bible verse.  The book starts with a prayer for first thing in the morning upon wakening and ends with “my nighttime prayer.”  In between, the prayers cover various topics like thankfulness, appreciating the beauty of God’s creation, trusting God when we feel afraid, and acknowledging God’s love and care.

This book is designed to draw in “girly-girls”.  From the hot pink spine, glittery cover, and fun illustrations featuring the characters from the Princess Parables series by Jeanna Young and Jacqueline Johnson, there is much that appeals to little girls like my 5-year old daughter.  The rhyming text by Crystal Bowman doesn’t refer to the characters at all, however, so even girls unfamiliar with the series can enjoy the prayers without feeling like they’re missing something.

Overall, there is much to love about this charming book of prayers.  My one criticism would be that tying it to the Princess Parables series results in a glaring lack of diversity.  (The series is about five sisters, so it makes sense that they all look fairly alike, but I wish there was more of an effort to show princesses from different ethnic backgrounds, especially in a book like this that doesn’t have a story about the family.)  However, aside from this issue, I recommend the book for anyone considering it for a little girl who enjoys colorful pictures, rhyming text, and of course, anything related to princesses.

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Jesus Storybook Bible Gift Edition (Book Review)

Chances are, if you’re the type of person drawn to my blog, you’ve already heard of The Jesus Storybook Bible.  This popular children’s book by Sally Lloyd-Jones is celebrating its 10th Anniversary with a new keepsake gift edition, which our family was blessed to receive in exchange for this review.

Although I’ve heard effusive praise from many people for this Bible storybook over those ten years, I’ve hesitated to get a copy for our family until now because of specific issues I’d read about in other reviews, though I love the overall idea of the book.  Now being able to read the entire thing for myself, I love its ultimate purpose even more.  In retelling these popular stories from the Bible, Sally Lloyd-Jones carefully and intentionally shows how each one points to God’s plan for salvation through Jesus.  “Every story whispers his name,” the title page proclaims, and Lloyd-Jones is diligent in revealing the connection to Jesus in each and every one, whether retelling Old Testament history, summarizing the message of one of the prophets, or presenting events from the life of Jesus Himself.  Each story can be read individually and ends with a paragraph or two that points to God’s “Secret Rescue Plan” or the “Promised One.”

I think it is crucial for all believers to understand the Bible as more than a series of disconnected stories, and so I applaud Lloyd-Jones for the charming way in which she presents the overarching story of salvation in a way even children can grasp.  However, the reservations that have held me back from using The Jesus Storybook Bible with my children remain, and there are certain stories I will most likely skip or edit when I choose to incorporate it into our family discipleship.

There are two main issues that trouble me.  First (and most disturbing to me), is the presentation of the Fall of mankind.  Rather than the problem being that Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s direct command, Lloyd-Jones presents the trouble as them believing “the terrible lie” that “God doesn’t love me.”  While I appreciate her description of the consequences of the Fall (“God’s creation would start to unravel, and come undone, and go wrong.  From now on everything would die–even though it was all supposed to last forever“), I want my children to know that the reason evil, sadness, and death exist in the world is because Adam and Eve made a choice to disobey God and trust their own wisdom rather than His instruction.  Reducing the Fall to them believing a terrible lie about God’s love (reiterated later when Jesus appears to the disciples after the Resurrection and commands them, “Tell them I love them so much that I died for them.  It’s the Truth that overcomes the terrible lie.“) misses a major theological point.

The other issue I have is that a great deal of license is taken with some of the stories that end up presenting an interpretation that is not necessarily in line with the biblical text. For example, when the Bible describes man being made in God’s image, I have always been taught that implies much more than a physical resemblance, but Lloyd-Jones has God stating, “You look like me,” like a proud father admiring family traits in his offspring. The Bible says that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah.  Lloyd-Jones tells her readers this is because Rachel was beautiful and Leah was ugly (whereas the Bible just says Leah had “weak eyes”).  In the story of Daniel, Jago’s illustration shows a lion lounging across Daniel’s lap, going beyond the Bible’s description of an angel closing the lion’s mouth.  When the magi come to visit the young Jesus, the Bible doesn’t specify how many there were, but Lloyd-Jones chooses to say there were three wise men, following tradition rather than Scripture.  The interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer strays a little farther than I am comfortable with, though that’s more a matter of personal taste.  I am grateful for the Bible references given for each story, and I would encourage parents to read (or reread) the Scriptures before sharing these stories so they can guide their children as far as knowing what’s actually a part of the Bible and what the author added or adapted in her retelling.

Overall, however, my impression of the book is mostly positive.  Lloyd-Jones’ poetic writing style makes The Jesus Storybook Bible far more pleasant to read than many children’s Bibles.  I loved this paragraph in the story about Noah and the Flood:

“The story was going to wash away all the hate and sadness and everything that had gone wrong, and make the world clean again.  God had thought up a way to keep Noah safe, but Noah would have to trust God and do exactly what God told him.”

This isn’t a storybook for toddlers or even most preschoolers, but I think most children from age 5 or 6 on up would enjoy listening to the stories and looking at the pictures.  The illustrations by Jago are quite distinctive.  I wasn’t sure I cared for them at first, but they grew on me, though I had issues with a few of them.  For example, none of the pictures of Jesus after his Resurrection show marks from the nails in His hands or wrists, even though the Bible is very clear that such wounds existed.

So did I change my mind?  Yes and no.  There is so much to love about The Jesus Storybook Bible, and I would hate to miss out on those aspects because of the issues I have discussed.  The introduction in particular is outstanding and a solid resource for introducing the idea of an overarching story of God’s “Rescue Plan” to children.  I plan to read the majority of it with our family, but I will definitely supplement it with readings from other Bible storybooks or Scripture itself.  In addition to the stories that contained too many liberties in their interpretation for my taste, Lloyd-Jones leaves such well-known and beloved stories as those Moses as a baby and Daniel’s three friends in the fiery furnace.  However, she also includes things often left out of children’s Bibles, like the story of Naaman and a summary of Isaiah’s prophecies.  Overall, children reading (or listening to) The Jesus Storybook Bible will come away with a better understanding of how every story in the Bible tells the message of God’s love and how much He cherishes relationship with the people He has created.  For that reason, I think discerning families will be blessed by reading and discussing it together.

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A Royal Christmas to Remember by Jeanna Young (Book Review)

I have seen “The Princess Parables” series by Jeanna Young and Jacqueline Johnson at various conferences and such, but I’ve only ever glanced at them without reading through a book.  When I was given a chance to review A Royal Christmas to Remember, I was more than happy to take a closer look.  My 5-year old daughter loves all things princess-related, so I knew she would enjoy it.

The story starts with the five sisters anticipating a beautiful Christmas with their father, the King.  Their main focus is decorating the castle, and their only concern is that they might need more space to store all the decorations in the future.  They go to bed on Christmas Eve thinking mostly about what they’re hoping to find under the tree in the morning, despite their father’s attempt to remind them of their many blessings and the gift of Jesus.

Everything changes when the princesses are awakened in the middle of the night as their father heads out to fight a group of evil invaders.  When dangerous men break into the castle, “their trivial thoughts of presents and Christmas decorations ceased to matter.” The princesses are not harmed, but when they learn that many in the village have been affected, they decide to share out of their abundance and learn the joy of giving to others.

The story was a sweet way to remind my daughter to turn her thoughts outward, especially at Christmas time.  She was drawn to the colorful illustrations by Omar Aranda, and I appreciated a book that acknowledges the true meaning of Christmas: celebrating God’s generous gift of His Son.

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The Pray-ers (Crew Book Review)

ctm-publishingI don’t often find the time to read fiction these days, so I was thankful for the opportunity to review a new book called The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles by Mark S. Mirza (published by CTM Publishing Atlanta).  I was intrigued by the premise of the novel, namely, the power of prayer in the lives of believers and the role of both angels and demons as they interact with the human world.  At 372 pages, I wouldn’t call this softcover novel a “light” read, but by using the medium of historical fiction, the author is able to convey a lengthy teaching on prayer in an entertaining manner without it getting dry.


the-pray-ers-book-coverThe Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles follows three mostly separate story lines, all taking place in different eras (although the same angels and demons are involved in each one).
In the 1st century, the book follows the journey of a young man named Thales, who is discipled by his uncle Epaphras (based on the biblical Epaphras, a leader in the church of Colossae), and those with whom he shares the good news about Christ.

The second story line follows the ministry of a 19th Century traveling preacher.  A Northerner who feels called to minister in the south, Alexander Rich devotes his life to prayer and ministering to the people around him, from Confederate soldiers in the beginning of the book, to his neighbors in a small town whose gossipy ways could destroy his ministry as the book progresses.

Finally, in the current day, the book introduces the reader to a college track coach named Dale, who also leads the men’s prayer ministry at his church.  He and his wife Margie have a powerful prayer life, and that guides them as they minister both in the church and at the college where they both work as they interact with students and other faculty.

The book jumps back and forth between these three eras.  Throughout all three stories, the reader is privy to the workings of demons and angels who are assigned to thwart or help the Christians in their work for the Lord (with the same ones being present in the lives of the main characters across the span of history).

What I thought of The Pray-ers/Book 1 Troubles

To be honest, I had a hard time getting into the novel.  The characters seemed exaggerated: the “Pray-ers” were too perfect to feel real, and many of the others they encountered seemed like caricatures.  Consequently it took me a long time to warm up to them.   By the middle of the book I was engaged enough to want to keep reading to find out what happened, though I found the ending lacking resolution.  (Perhaps this is because the author has written a sequel, which should be released in the next few months.)

I’m normally a fast reader, but I found a few repeated distractions that slowed me down.  The author, Mark S. Mirza, feels a strong conviction about not showing any respect to Satan or his demons, so he refuses to capitalize their names.  I appreciate the sentiment, but by ignoring the conventions of English, I felt like it not only made it more difficult to read smoothly, it actually called more attention to those characters, which I’m sure was not his intent.  I found myself skipping over (or at most, skimming) the passages about the demons because I prefer to read quickly and I found those sections frustratingly slow to get through because I had to really concentrate on where the names were.

The other thing I found distracting was the number of errors throughout the book.  I kept having to stop a re-read certain “sentences” because they didn’t make sense the first time through.  Most of the time when I went back over them I realized they weren’t complete sentences (or sometimes they were just phrased awkwardly or punctuated incorrectly).  With careful editing this problem could easily be remedied.

mark-headshot-authorThere were many things I enjoyed about the book, however.  I appreciate the Mirza’s use of fiction to share his message, and as long as the reader goes in knowing that this was his intent, the didactic tone will probably be acceptable.  Throughout the book there are footnotes containing Scripture references for those who want to see the biblical basis for what they are reading.  (That’s not to say I agreed with every bit of theology, but for the most part I felt comfortable with the Mirza’s interpretation and artistic license.)  His notes at the back of the book are also helpful for understanding both the characters and some of the thoughts behind the writing of the book.

Overall, I would say The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles encouraged me in my own habits of prayer by modeling a lifestyle of continual prayer through the characters.  It also reminded me to be more aware of the spiritual realm and the battle the is going on around us.  If you prefer to read fiction books and are looking to grow in your prayer life, you could find this book to be both enjoyable and helpful.

The Pray-ers / Book 1 Troubles
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Swimming With Faith: The Missy Franklin Story (Book Review)

With the Olympics in full swing, it seemed like a good time to review Swimming With Faith: The Missy Franklin Story by Natalie Davis Miller.  I appreciate finding books that help me introduce my children to public figures who use their celebrity as a platform for sharing about what God has done in their lives, so I was eager to dive into this book on a current Olympian.

Swimming With Faith is a detailed look at Missy Franklin’s life as a swimmer, starting back when she was just a small child who loved the water.  Although she played multiple sports growing up, swimming was her favorite, and the hard work required to becoming a world class athlete was driven by her love of the sport.  In junior high, on a retreat with her Jesuit school, Missy began a relationship with God, and ever since has made Him a part of every aspect of her life, including swimming.  After winning multiple medals at the 2012 London Olympics, Missy became well-known, and she publicly gave God the glory and resisted the temptation to accept offers of wealth to turn professional, knowing that at age 17, it was wiser to keep her eligibility to swim in college.  She continued swimming with her high school team after the Olympics and then went on to swim for UC Berkeley.

Through seventeen chapters, Swimming With Faith tells Missy’s story with black-and-white photographs interspersed throughout the book.  At the end there is a glossary of swim terms as well as an extensive bibliography.  With its detailed account of her career, the book will appeal most to 8-12 year old readers with an interest in swimming.  It’s not a sport I follow outside of the Olympics, so I was reading more to find out about her faith.  There was plenty of discussion about that mixed in, but I didn’t even bother trying to read the book to my kids because I felt like the book was primarily a pieced-together conglomeration of facts about her career.

For those who are more into the sport, however, I’m sure the book would be much more interesting.  Missy Franklin is a great role model with a heart for serving others and beautiful love for God.

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The Princess Twins and the Tea Party (Book Review)

In a house full of brothers, I try to find little ways to help my only daughter celebrate being a girl.  And what could be more girly than princesses and a tea party?  We were recently given a chance to review The Princess Twins and the Tea Party by Mona Hodgson.  It’s beginning reading book (I Can Read! Level 1) that hopefully Arianna will be able to read to herself soon.  For now, she was content to have me read it to her over and over.

Twin princesses Emma and Abby are having friends over for a tea party, and Emma is concerned about having everything “perfect.”  She checks up on the cook baking their treats, fixes the napkins that she doesn’t think were folded correctly, escorts the puppy out of the room, and worries about the name cards her sister is bringing.  Abby reminds her, “Only God is perfect,” and encourages her to just enjoy the party.  Fortunately, Emma takes her sister’s words to heart, and when things don’t go quite as planned, she’s able to laugh about it and have a good time anyway.

It’s a simple message, but such a great lesson to learn at a young age.  Having been a bit of a perfectionist myself, growing up, I still remember one of my teachers taking me aside to encourage me that sometimes I would have to let go of that need to be perfect or I would make myself miserable.  Her words have always stuck with me, and I think this charming little book will help teach young girls this important lesson in a fun way.

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Wonderfully Made (Book Review)

Wonderfully Made Review“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Psalm 139:13-14 (ESV)

This familiar passage is only one of the many from Scripture woven through Danika Cooley’s new book Wonderfully Made: God’s Story of Life from Conception to Birth.  I’ve never seen a book quite like it, and I wish I’d had it to read with my children through my past few pregnancies.

Wonderfully Made is told from the perspective of a mother teaching a child “how you grew inside of me,” starting with a brief, discreet mention of conception (see pictures below), and continuing with descriptions of a baby’s development.

Wonderfully Made Collage
The focus of the book really is how the baby is being knit together over the course of the forty weeks of pregnancy.  At the end, the actual birth isn’t really covered beyond saying, “Though it was difficult and painful for both of us, it was such a joy to see your face.”

However, Cooley doesn’t just stop once the baby comes into the world.  “Now you know how your body was born, let me tell you how your spirit can be reborn.”  On the last page, the mother shares with her child how to be reborn by repenting from sin and trusting in Christ.  She also talks about how we are adopted by God, so even though this book might not be a perfect fit for families whose children have come to them through adoption, I think it could be a good discussion starter, and this final concept would help tie it back in to their own family’s history.

The beautiful color illustrations by Jeff Anderson dominate each page, so my children all wanted to snuggle close to look at the pictures as I read.  It was little long for us to read all in one sitting (I had my three children from ages 4-8 with me), but there’s so much information I found it helpful to spread it out anyway.

Scripture cardsI have been a fan of Danika Cooley’s work ever since I discovered Bible Road Trip, her 3-year Bible survey curriculum for preschool through high school, and this latest offering has only reinforced my respect for her thoughtful, studious approach to teaching her children (and helping me teach mine).  I was impressed and blessed by this God-honoring peek into a mother’s womb.  Each page features a Scripture verse related to life before birth, and the book is a valuable tool for teaching children about how God values every life, no matter how small.  On her website, Cooley has even made posters, Scripture memory cards, and a lapbook available for free to subscribers to her blog.  Wonderfully Made is more than just a book of information about how babies develop in utero; it is a declaration of praise to the exquisite artistry of our Creator.


God Bless Our Country by Hannah C. Hall (Book Review)

Now more than ever, I want my children to come to love and appreciate America as a special gift from God.  I was excited to review God Bless Our Country by Hannah C. Hall, hoping it would teach them about patriotic symbols and what they tell us about America’s greatness.

The book wasn’t quite what I expected.  It’s more about celebrating summer time, with a nod to traditional 4th of July celebrations thrown in while not actually naming the holiday. One page talks about going on a picnic, watching the clouds, and ants heading off with apple pie.  Then it turns patriotic for a minute, speaking of raising the flag and thanking God for this land.  But then we’re back to digging in the garden and enjoying ice cream before watching a parade.  From that point on the text focuses summer activities (swimming, stargazing,playing hide-and-seek) and praising God for our country, while the illustrations show more picnicking, playing with sparklers, and finally a fireworks show.

Overall, it was was a cute book with colorful pencil illustrations of animal characters by Steve Whitlow, but I felt like it was lacking focus.  This sturdy board book will probably end up on the shelf in my 2-year old’s room rather than in with our other patriotic books.  He’ll appreciate the cute animal illustrations and it’s a nice introduction to 4th of July celebrations.

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Legend of the Easter Robin by Dandi Daley Mackall (Book Review)

Can you believe the Easter season is almost upon us?  My children have been asking for some of the books our family enjoys leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, we jumped at the chance to review a new addition to that collection.  They couldn’t wait to read The Legend of the Easter Robin: An Easter Story of Compassion and Faith by Dandi Daley Mackall.

The Legend of the Easter Robin points to Christ in numerous ways.  The overall story is about a little girl, Tressa, who delights in watching a family of robins from the time the parents build their nest until the little ones hatch safely out of the pale blue eggs.  She and her grandmother discuss different aspects of the experience along the way:

  • trusting the Creator to keep one safe
  • celebrating with Easter birds made from egg shells
  • the robin’s red breast reminding us of Jesus’ blood and sacrifice

Throughout the book, Tressa worries about the baby robins, but when they finally hatch, she is “sorry she’d ever doubted God’s care,” and she determines that whenever she sees a robin or feels worried, she’ll remember the legend of the robin who tried to spare Jesus the pain of his thorny crown.  The final page of the book tells about the history of the Pennsylvania Dutch legend of the robin’s red breast and the traditions discussed in the story.

Richard Cowdrey’s beautiful illustrations draw the reader’s eye on every page.  I especially like the black and white sketches of Jesus with the dramatic touch of red as his blood falls on the robin’s breast.  This book takes elements of “spring” that can often dominate Easter festivities and points to the true reason we celebrate.  It’s definitely going to be pulled out year after year as we look to remember Christ’s sacrifice.

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Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids by Sarah Young (Book Review)

I’ve discussed a few different children’s devotional books lately, but I couldn’t resist the chance to review one more.  Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids by Sarah Young (adapted by Tama Fortner) is due to be released February 2, but the publisher was kind enough to send me a copy a little early so I could share about it as soon as possible.

Sarah Young is best known for her book Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, in which she shares daily devotions written from her personal prayer time.  They are written as though Jesus is speaking directly to the reader, and this intimate style and the encouragement Young’s writing brings has made that book the #1 bestseller in Christian devotionals on Amazon.  I’ve been going through the kids version (Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions For Kids) with my children, so I was eager to get a glimpse at Young’s latest offering.

Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids shares many similarities with its predecessor.  It is a children’s adaptation of an adult devotional (Jesus Today: Experience Hope Through His Presence, ECPA 2013 Christian Book of the Year).  The bright, sturdy hard cover with a ribbon bookmark makes it practical for daily reading.  It continues Young’s signature style of writing, where each devotion is a personal message from Jesus, along with related Scriptures for each day.  The simplicity is what makes it profound.  My children really respond well to starting each day with a little note of encouragement and time in the Scriptures to give them food for thought.

There have been a few positive changes as well.  Rather than having a devotion for each day of the year, Jesus Today contains 150 numbered devotions.  I like this style better because then I don’t feel torn about what to read next if I miss a day.  Also, the Scriptures for each day are all fully written out in the newer book, which for our family ensured that they get read.  (We don’t usually look up the references at the bottom of the page in Jesus Calling.)  There’s also a Scripture Index at the end of the book to make it easy to see which passages were referred to throughout the book.

If you’re looking for a devotional that can help your kids connect with God in an intimate, personal way, Jesus Today: Devotions for Kids is definitely one you’ll want to check out.

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