John's #2 - The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

In a culture filled with reality TV, Twitter, and endless sarcasm an adventure tale like the Hobbit stands out as refreshing and timeless.

I won't go into the plot here, as you have either:   - already read it - are interested and should read it for yourself - or have no interest in dragons, hairy footed little people and awesomeness.  A plot summary would serve none of those groups.

Suffice it to say that I enjoyed reading the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and company far more than I did those of his younger cousin, Frodo.  The Hobbit was much more action packed and the smaller scope allowed me to invest more in the characters.  I also appreciated the lighter diet of Middle earth songs and poetry, which in The Lord of the Rings can sometimes go on for pages.

Here's hoping that the transfer of this superior Tolkien adventure to film is as succesful as that of The Lord of the Rings.



JRF's #48 - The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul

Yes, I know this is a children's book. But its by R.C. Sproul so that's got to count for something right?

But seriously, as I am a new proud papa I find myself reading many kids books these days, screening them for my daughter.  I try to use Biblical discernment about what I read for myself, why wouldn't I want to do that with what my daughter will read or have read to her?  So this review represents all the kids books I have read this year.

The King Without a Shadow is a beautifully written and even more beautifully illustrated story about a King who seeks to answer a little boy's question about where shadows come from and how to get rid of them.  His search takes him to the halls of wisdom as well as the cave of a prophet.  It is here in the prophet's cave that he hears of the King Without a Shadow, the one whose Light exposes the shadows of all other souls.

While I definitely recommend this book as a wonderful way to talk with your children about God's holiness, and I look forward to doing so with my daughter, I have two caveats:

1.  The Gospel is skipped over in the story.  The closest thing to the Gospel here is when the King explains to the boy that when he dies and goes to heaven, "then on that day, the day that I see Him, my shadow will leave me forever.  God will take away all evil from my heart...He will make me holy just as He is holy."  That statement seems to make justification from sin something that just automatically happens when we die, not something that is accomplished by the Death of God on the cross and applied to us through faith in Christ alone.  I know the last thing Sproul would want to do is confuse the Gospel but unfortunately here I think a wise and faithful parent needs to expand on what is said in order to make the Gospel clear to a child.

2. This is a much lesser point of concern which I am still working out, and it applies to other Christian Children's classics (think Narnia):  What is the role of using fantasy to teach truths about God to children?  Surely children's fairy tales are great ways to teach morals to kids.  But what is the cost of trying to teach kids about the Living True God who has made a way for salvation from their very real and very present enslavement to using fairy tales?  I grew up loving the adventures of Narnia and thought Aslan was cool, but until I was chased down by the real Lion of Judah, the death and resurection of Aslan only served to help me keep the Gospel in the realm of fairy tale in my mind.  Like I said, I am still working through this question, and I think a lot will depend on who your child is and how old she or he is.

Did I mention the illustrations were beautiful?  Liz Bonham fills each page with color and light in a style that reminded me of one of my favorite childhood books, Dinotopia.


Mark's #50 - Dandelion Fire by N. D. Wilson (466 pages)

In this sequel to 100 Cupboards (see my previous review here), 12-year-old Henry York decides to set off on another adventure through the cupboards in search of his birth parents.  Though the results of his last adventures in the cupboard were treacherous, this time things would get much worse for him, his cousins, his aunt and uncle, and others. Nimiane the witch has risen and has taken possession of a wizard named Darius into which the cupboards lead to an alternate world. This story is meant for older kids (12+), with many dark scenes and scary moments.  It is a very creative storyline, though it was a bit convoluted at times, even for me.  This made it difficult for my daughter Zoe (age 7) and my adopted daughter Rebekah (age 13), who is still trying to grasp the english language, to follow along with the fast moving flow of the storyline.  I persisted in reading this lengthy book because I like the vocabulary and sentence structure that my daughters were exposed to, and the fact that if forced them to work hard to use their imaginations to follow along. I was happy to see the author tie up the loose ends of all the confusion toward the end of the book.

Though I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, I imagine that this book, and the others in the series, is a bit like a mix of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and Lord of The Rings all together.  Henry's adventures into the cupboards sets off an epic battle of Faeries, wizards, and men in place with names like Faeren Hall, Badon Hill, and Hyfling castle.  It's a story of good versus evil, forgiveness, redemption, struggle, perseverance, finding your purpose, and sacrifice.  All these themes are richly woven into the story.

I'm guessing boys would enjoy the series the most, though there are plenty of valiant and heroic female characters throughout as well.  If you want to read highly imaginative book, or if you have some teenagers who would benefit from reading some good fiction, I would recommend this series.