Sunday, October 19, 2014

Book Review: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards (Illustrated Christian Biographies for Young Readers)Spiders. Native Americans. Wars. Illnesses. Adventure and danger abounded in early colonial America. In the midst of it all, God was still faithfully building His Church, calling people of every tribe, tongue, and nation to Himself. Jonathan Edwards is one man whom God used to encourage others to read and study His Word "at a time when many people were seriously questioning long-accepted ideas about the world, life, and God" (pg. 5). What types of questions were people asking in the 1700s? How did God use Edwards during this time? Why is Edwards's life relevant to us today? These are some of the questions that Simonetta Carr raises and answers in her latest addition to the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series, Jonathan Edwards.

The "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" is one of our family's best-loved church history series for children.  As I've written before, Ms. Carr is a very gifted author and one of my personal  favorite authors due, in large part, to her commitment to "...go beyond the simple story of someone's life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character" (from the Copyright Page). Simonetta's writing has a purpose and depth which exceeds that found in much of written material for children today. This is why I am, once again, excited that she has added another title to this fantastic series!

In her latest title, Jonathan Edwards, Ms. Carr introduces us to an intelligent man whom God used to proclaim His glory. During Edwards' early years, he sought to apply his father's preaching and make sure that his religion was more than mere words. As a result, he prayed five times a day and prayed and read the Bible with his friends. However, he became discouraged and quit trying for a season. (pg. 8). In time, God opened up His living and active Word to Edwards, enabling him to see God more accurately and to realize that "...God's decisions are all perfect and that it is a great privilege to know Him" (pg. 15). "He felt the Holy Spirit was filling his soul with a new sense of God's glory, wisdom, and justice" (pg. 15). This became a sort of turning point for Edwards; as he began to see God's glory, beauty, and greatness in everything around him, leading him to sing and rejoice.

Edwards had always been captivated by God's creation, and now, in light of God's greatness, he found it all the more entertaining and glorious (pg. 16). He had the unique ability to employ simile and metaphor, connecting God's work in creation with aspects of God's character and Biblical truth (pg. 12). God used this ability especially as Edwards sought to make God's character known to those he taught in his churches and, even more so, as he began to share the Gospel with the Native Americans using "images from nature that were familiar to them" (pg. 41). His message was consistently: "According to the Bible, God is in control of everything, and everything happens for His glory--and that's good news because He is also perfectly loving, and His glory means our happiness" (pg. 48). This message was in direct contrast to many (deists) in that day who thought that God was a distant God who set the world in motion and allowed it to carry on according to fixed laws rather than God holding all things together as the Bible teaches (Colossians 1:16-17). Today, people still debate these ideas, making Edwards's thoughts relevant to contemporary audiences. Resting in God's sovereign control over all things enabled Edwards to face rejection by his church, the loss of friends and family to illness, uncertainties during times of war, and much more. You can read all about these things and more in Simonetta Carr's lovely new book, Jonathan Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards is well-researched, informative, and interesting, much like the other books in the "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series.  Ms. Carr continues to include a map and timeline to aid the reader's understanding. Likewise, Matt Abraxas serves to draw the reader into the story through his detailed artwork, while Ms. Carr includes captivating photos to accompany her writing. Reformation Heritage Books has provided some sample pages which allow one to see the variety of images used to engage the reader.

The "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" series has a reputation for being high quality, hardcover books with thick pages and sewn bindings, making them sturdy, collectible titles that will hold up well to many years of enjoyment, and Jonathan Edwards continues this pattern.

Simonetta Carr's Illustrated Christian Biographies (Complete Set, 8 volumes)I highly recommend Jonathan Edwards and trust that many will be encouraged as they seek to behold and proclaim God's glory. I pray  that readers will also grow in their understanding of the importance and value of studying the saints who have gone before us as a result of this delightful title!!

You can find out more about Simonetta Carr's "Christian Biographies for Young Readers" here, including activity pages for several existing titles (Augustine of Hippo and John Calvin) and a study guide for John Owen.

*Many thanks to Cross Focused Reviews, Reformation Heritage Books, and Simonetta Carr for providing me with a complimentary copy of Jonathan Edwards in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Planning and Organizing Books

How I plan and organize resources for Tapestry of Grace...

I suppose I have four different steps (that probably make it sound more complicated than it is...hopefully, the pictures will help simplify). One's system does not need to be this detailed, but this is what works for our family. ;)

 First, at the beginning of a new year plan, I copy and paste the information from the "Order Form" view on Bookshelf Central into Excel. I add columns for other pertinent information such as "Weeks Used". (This helps me prioritize my purchase decisions later.) In order to procure that information, I read the excellent summaries at Bookshelf Central. Those summaries also include helpful information about which titles are easy to substitute, and I include an "Other" column where I make note of that type of thing. I also include a column in which I note whether I have the title or the library call #. This gives me my big picture overview for the whole year. (The chart pictured is all green because it is the Dialectic level and helps with advanced sorting later since I have all of the levels on the same chart.)

Second, I work through the "Reading Assignments Chart" and "Alternate" charts unit by unit. I keep a highlighter and pencil handy, highlighting resources we own and underlining the resources available at the library, using a pencil to note the Call # for easy reference later. I like to do this before I make my purchases because I often find that I or the library have alternate titles that can be used, reducing the number of primary resource purchases I need to make. If the exact title is not available but I see a similarly titled resource of comparable length while I'm doing my library searches, I usually make a note of this in pencil and place a question mark next to the resource so that I can check it out. As I go, I update the Excel spreadsheet that I started so that I have a better picture of which resources I actually need to purchase. Depending on how much time I have, I may search for key words in the "Threads" or "Weekly Overview" pages in order to find other possible library options. (Naturally, how much time one spends on this will correlate with how tight their budget is. It can be time consuming and time is worth money too.) When I'm finished looking at the whole week, I use a yellow sticky or an index card to write all of the library titles that we'll utilize that week, noting if it is a multi-week resource that I'll need to renew. This saves me time later as I can just grab my note and go to the library on errand day without having to double-check what we need.

Third, there is the actual organization of the books that we have. On the inside cover, I use a pencil to note which year, unit, and week the book is used and also the level and subject (ex. TOG Y1U1Wk1, LG-Lit). The least expensive sticky dots that I found were these. I use the appropriate color for the year plan and write the week used on the dot. Since I am teaching multiple levels, I also purchased these cute smiley stickers and place the appropriate color dot for the level resource. This makes it easy for each level student to find the appropriate resource for them. After I have those dots in place, I use packing tape to make sure they will stay in place for a while. :) I have one shelf for each unit and separate each unit with bookends, using the Tapestry binder as a sort of labeling divider.

Fourth and finally, I use software to keep a running list of the books in our collection, mostly for insurance purposes since our collection is so large.

This is probably the OCD version of book organization, but we are book lovers and have thousands of books, so I had to do something to keep it all together. Before TOG, I had lots of resources that went unused because I wasn't well organized. However, TOG has given me a great framework around which I can wrap my mind and organize our resources. I'm sure there are aspects of what I do that I've missed, but this is already approaching novel-length, so I'll end here. Please feel free to ask if you have questions. I'm happy to oblige if it seems like our wacky system might serve you.

Many blessings on your journey!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Book Review: Great Kings of the Bible

Great Kings of the BibleGreat Kings of the Bible by Deepak Reju is comprised six to seven mini-stories about Kings Saul, David, and Solomon. The stories have full-page illustrations, rich colors and large print to help keep young readers/listeners interested. I appreciate that this book, like many other CF4K titles for younger children, is printed on colorful, heavy-duty paper that is kid-friendly, aesthetically appealing, and  holds up well to regular reading.

Great Kings of the Bible accurately summarizes the Biblical accounts of Saul, David, and Solomon and does children an excellent service by showing them how each of these kings compare to the greatest King, Jesus Christ. Deepak Reju doesn't sanitize these Bible characters but shows how each of them was a sinner in need of a Savior, just like us and our children.

If you're looking for book to  gently introduce your young children to Saul, David, and Solomon, you will likely find Great Kings of the Bible beneficial. My children (ages 5 to 11) enjoyed this book.

Many thanks to Christian Focus Publications and Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!