Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: Lady Jane Grey

Well, my friends, I am excited to announce that Simonetta Carr has done it again. "What is it that she has done?", you may ask. She has written another excellent biography for children aged seven to ten. Although she has written four other titles in the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series, this is the first book in the series that is about a female, Lady Jane Grey.
Lady Jane Grey (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

For those who are unfamiliar with Mrs. Carr's biographies, the Christian Biographies for Young Readers "...series introduces children to important people in the Christian tradition..." and goes "beyond the simple story of someone’s life by teaching young readers the historical and theological relevance of each character." (From the series introduction)

Those who are familiar with these biographies will be delighted to know that Mrs. Carr's work continues to be characterized by a commitment to careful research. Lady Jane Grey features well-chosen, interesting photographs and artwork which aide in bringing history alive and "making it real" for the reader. Additionally, Mrs. Carr includes useful maps and a timeline to assist young people in putting details into their proper geographical and historical perspectives. Furthermore, she continues to write with a careful simplicity that enables young readers to understand what is occurring without "dumbing concepts down" unnecessarily. Most importantly, Mrs. Carr is committed to Biblical truth and communicating the Gospel to her readers.

Without further ado, here is a bit about the storyline:

Many significant lessons can be learned from the short life of Lady Jane Grey. Among these are:
  • the importance of "counting the cost" of following Christ (Luke 14:25-33) - Reminiscent of the saints who "...were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life" (Hebrews 11:35 ESV), Lady Jane "...wrote to her sister that she rejoiced because she knew that she would soon 'lose a mortal life' to 'win an immortal life' (pg. 51);

  • the importance of being like the noble Bereans who "...received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so"(Acts 17:11, ESV) rather than merely trusting the words of men - Lady Jane said, "I ground my faith on God's Word and not upon the church" (pg. 50); 

  • salvation in Christ alone - Upon her execution, Lady Jane said, "...I look to be saved by none other means but only by the mercy of God and the merits of the blood of His only Son Jesus Christ" (pg. 52).

Just as we see throughout Scripture and all of history in the lives of those believers who have gone before us, God's work in Lady Jane's life resulted in her faithfulness in the midst of challenging circumstances. May we be encouraged with the thought that "...the same God who preserved and strengthened Jane's faith until the end will do the same for all His children" (pg 54). Simonetta Carr's work is a helpful means to that end, and I highly commend it to you!

*Many thanks to Simonetta Carr and Reformation Heritage Books for providing me with a complimentary copy of Lady Jane Grey in exchange for my honest opinion!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Book Review: Big Truths for Little Kids

Big Truths for Little Kids: Teaching Your Children to Live for God

"...that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine...” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV).

One of our favorite and most utilized family resources is Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan Hunt and Richie Hunt. Consequently, I was delighted when Crossway requested that I share my thoughts with you all.

Susan and Richie have done parents a great service by dividing the First Catechism (a simplification of the Westminster Shorter Catechism) into smaller portions and suggesting a helpful procedure by which to memorize it with one’s children. Big Truths for Little Kids is comprised of 36 short stories. Each story is preceded by an average of five catechism questions and followed by several comprehension questions, a memory verse, and prayer suggestion. My children (ages 2-9.5) all eagerly anticipate reading the next installment of “Caleb and Cassie”, as they have come to affectionately call it.

Along with Caleb, Cassie, their parents, neighbors, and friends, children and parents alike can see how Biblical truth significantly and practically affects day-to-day life. One of the major strengths of Big Truths for Little Kids is how Susan and Richie utilize interesting stories to portray the sin and shortcomings of the characters and point them (and the reader) to the cross. For example, in story 18, Caleb is feeling grumpy because he is being mistreated by a non-Christian on a camping trip. As a result, he was mean to his sister, snapped at her, and hurt her feelings. When his dad spoke to him about his ungodly attitude, Caleb responded that he would try to do better. His dad's response is full of Biblical truth:
"I'm glad you want to do better, Caleb, but let me explain something to you," said his dad. "We can't do better. We are all sinful. We are ignorant of God's law, we break His law, and we are too weak to obey His law. We are no better than Scotty [the non-Christian kid]. But there is a huge difference between Scotty and us. We have the Lord Jesus living in our hearts. He is our prophet, our priest, and our king. He teaches us His law, He prays for us, and He gives us the power to glorify Him. We can't just try to act better. We must ask God to change our hearts" (pg. 80).

I don't know about you, but this response has much more depth than my typical response would have had prior to reading this book and is instructive for my parenting. Additionally, story 21 deals with Cassie allowing the desire for a new doll to become an idol. Her mother gently helped her to see her sinful heart attitude and the importance of not elevating things above people and, most of all, God. There are also stories in which the parents make bad decisions or have ungodly attitudes and apologize to the family (number 20 is a good example of this).

Sadly, growing up in church, I never knew about catechism (other than occasional references to Catholic catechism classes). I suppose the term “catechism” could be a bit intimidating. However, John Piper has written a short, thought-provoking article explaining the origin and importance of catechism. Simply put, to “catechize”: “means to teach biblical truth in an orderly way” (John Piper). He continues: “Generally this is done with questions and answers accompanied by biblical support and explanation.” Some would contend that it is better to simply memorize Scripture. However, Piper offers a number of reasons why a catechism is helpful. I’d encourage you to read his short article on the subject.

In short, a catechism is much like studying an organized systematic theology or Bible doctrine. Most would agree that there are many benefits to this type of study. Catechism is merely an introduction to the basic Biblical truths and is helpful for introducing all to the faith. Susan and Richie Hunt have made it easier for parents to do this with their children and have helped reveal how Biblical truths apply to day-to-day life through their engaging story format. I would highly recommend this for all families who are blessed with young children.

*One thing worth noting is that Big Truths for Little Kids is written from a Reformed, Presbyterian background so some may notice doctrinal differences. However, the format is such that it is very easy to either (a) skip those portions with which your family has significant differences or (b) use those portions as a discussion starter to explain differing beliefs in an age-appropriate manner. We have chosen to do the latter and have had fruitful discussions about what the Bible says about baptism and how different denominations interpret those Scriptures which pertain to it.

(Also, although I have linked to Westminster Books due to their lower purchase price, Amazon.com has a longer book preview for you to sample, if you are interested in learning more about this excellent, Gospel-centered resource.)

*Many thanks to Crossway for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion!