Saturday, October 28, 2017

"God Gave Us Family" by Lisa Tawn Bergren, art by David Hohn

God Gave Us Family is an adorable children's book with a great message--families can look different than your own, but they are all special and loved by God. The story is told from a wolf pup's conversation with its parents.

The types of family differences covered include family size (only child to many children), adoption, single parenting, and being raised by grandparents. It also talks about different ways lifestyles, such as raccoons staying out late at night.

It also covers the good (and not so good) aspects of the pup's own dealing with cousins that are sometimes annoying, but also enjoying their company to build forts and play hide-and-go-seek.

I love the message of this book that all families are unique and that's a good thing! This book tries to teach respect, understanding, and appreciation of families.

The illustrations add a lot of value to the story as well. They are beautifully colorful and artistically drawn so that you can see individual strokes, almost like colored pencil drawings. The wolf cubs are very cute and all of their play-time activities look very fun. I also appreciated the aesthetic of the inside of the front and back covers, which is decorated with a drawing of string lanterns.

The back of the book suggests that this book is age-appropriate for 3-8 year old children. It also lists other books in the "God Gave Us" series, including Thankful Hearts, You, Christmas, Love, Easter, and Sleep. This was the first book I've read of the series though.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

"The Proving" by Beverly Lewis

The Proving is a sweet tale of discovery for a young former Amish-woman, Mandy, who returns to run her family's bed and breakfast following her mother's unexpected death. her inheritance of the inn was conditional upon her running it profitably for one year. After being moved away for five years and having given up her Amish lifestyle, there was a lot of adjustments to be made. Most of all, the rift with her twin sister Arie would be impossible to ignore once she moved back.

Mandy quickly learns that the Amish community she left isn't so willing to help out at the B&B while she owns it, dressing and acting like an Englisher. Firing Arie so she didn't have to work with her caused further strife with extended family. Soon working all by herself trying to keep up the B&B, Mandy is incredibly overworked and stressed. Still, she does her best to keep everything running, while also not working on the Lord's day.

It's not long before a difficult guest, Trina, shows up, constantly complaining and driving Mandy crazy. Desperate for help to run the B&B though, Trina may just be the answer to Mandy's prayers.

I was not a fan of the way that Trina's story line was introduced. After 3 chapters about Mandy, all of a sudden the 4th introduced Trina, but didn't go back to her again until 30 pages later. By that time, honestly I couldn't remember who she was and had to go back and look.

I was also thrown off by the epilogue being in first-person from Mandy's point of view after the entire book had been from third person point of view. Not that I'm against switching things up since the epilogue is different, but I just didn't see the benefit of it. It would have worked just the same as being in third person, so it could have stayed consistent. If anything, it would have actually worked better because it just seemed less genuine.

However, those minor annoyances did not get in the way of my enjoyment of this book. The Proving is a novel full of faith, friendships, family, love, and work ethic. I especially liked the ways that Mandy learned more about how her mother ran the inn while she was away, and  how Mandy began to have similar methods. It was immersive to read of the day-to-day tasks of running the inn. It sounded like a place that would be lovely to visit--a meadow full of butterflies, incredible homemade breakfasts, and a host who cares deeply about her guests.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

"One Christmas Bear" written and illustrated by Anne Vittur Kennedy

"Two tiny mice get a ride, and off they go!
Two funny foxes making angels in the snow."

One Christmas Bear is a 20-page board book with a unique cut-out shape. Though it is a board book, it is not as thick as many others and the pages can still bend and flex. It is a counting book that follows a polar bear and other arctic animals participating in various snowy activities.

Each page features one sentence of text, which rhymes with the adjacent page's sentence. The spreads each have a large number in the bottom right corner that indicates the number. The number begins both sentences of the spread.

The last spread breaks the pattern with four lines of text on each page, but imparts the important message that "Little acts of kindness, our friends and families dear, Merry time together--gifts from God to last all year!" This is only part of the book that has directly religious content.

The illustrations are very cute and colorful--a difficult feat in a book about snow! My favorite illustration is of four jolly snowmen because each one is a different animal shape: bunny, bear, dog, and mouse. The caribou are especially well-drawn (and are wearing wreathes, bells, or scarves around their necks!).

On the cover of the book, the words and part of the bear's scarf are metallic red. The background around the pear is dusted in glitter. Those features, added together with a cute rhyming story of winter fun with lots of different friends, make this book a nice item to gift to a child this Christmas season.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Friday, October 6, 2017

"I'm Not a Scaredy-Cat: A Prayer for When You Wish You Were Brave" by Max Lucado, illustrated by Shirley Ng-Benitez

I'm Not a Scaredy-Cat is an adorable children's book about a skittish cat who has a prayer to repeat to help make it not afraid anymore. 

Written by Max Lucado, the text is funny and a joy to read. It follows several repetitions of the cat saying, "I'm not a scaredy-cat...except when:" and gives two examples of things that startle the cat, followed by a prayer. The cat's prayer is a child's version of Philippians 4:6-9: "God, you are good. God, you are near. God, you are here! And, God, you love me." 

I actually laughed several times reading this, including a fear that the cat had that seemed very familiar to me, as I have a scaredy-dog: "A leaf from a tree / Landed right on my knee. / I jumped with a bump, / fell down with a thump."

The illustrations, done by Shirley Ng-Benitez, are some of the best I've seen in children's books. The cat is so cute, with realistic fur and a cartoon face. The cat has so much personality, down to it's blue bandanna. There's also a fuzzy caterpillar that just has the best facial expression. I love the image chosen for the cover--the cat is afraid of the sprinkles on a donut. When you first open the book, the end paper is an adorable donut and sprinkle pattern.

Right after the end paper, there's a dedication page with to, from, and date, making this perfect for gifting to a child in your life. There's a letter to parents that talks about fears and how parents can help their children face their fears. I didn't find it particularly necessary or helpful. It did mention the goal of the book to instill a godly bravery in the heart of children. 

I love this book and would recommend it to anyone with children, especially those who also love cats or donuts!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

A Box of Awesome Things Matching Game by Wee Society

A Box of Awesome Things is a Matching Game for children ages three and up. It contains 20 pairs of "awesome things" to match during the game. The instructions are printed in easy to understand and explain language inside the lid of the box. It's just a normal matching game though, so the most complicated rule is that there is a blank card set that you can use to design your own "awesome thing" matching pair.

This game is a very cute idea, including little jokes about things that are not included because they're not awesome (cavities, garbage, splinters, flat tires, pink eye). The cards are sturdy cardboard and bright colors. The reverse side has a consistent white background with colorful shapes. My favorite cards were science, confetti, s'mores, trapdoors, and camouflage (truly awesome things!). I really like the way the confetti image partially obscures the word, as though it were real confetti. The camouflage card is pretty witty as well, with just a pair of eyes showing.
The back of the box says the cards are meant to spark conversation, but I found masking tape uninspiring, and also thought argyle would be a weird thing to try to teach a three year old. I was very disappointed in the picture quality of tacos and yellow. The taco is just a yellow semi-circle, with no colorful toppings or anything. Yellow is a weird half-yellow half-white box, which especially doesn't make sense when there's a pure yellow shape for taco.
I also think the box design is really poorly done. It is a flip top box, which means it would be horrible for travelling as well as would spill everywhere if it were knocked off a shelf, as a children's game is likely to have happen! The cards are snug in compartments in the box, so to get them out, you have to tip the box over, but then the divider of the box tries to come out, too.

Overall, I think it's a decent matching game and I particularly like the creative aspect of adding your own matching pair. However, I was pretty disappointed in the box design and the quality of the taco and yellow cards, specifically.

I received a copy of this game from the publisher, but was not required to post a positive review.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Picturing Heaven: 40 hope-filled devotions with coloring pages" written by Randy Alcorn and illustrated by Lizzie Preston

Picturing Heaven contains 40 hope-filled devotions with coloring pages, written by Randy Alcorn
and illustrated by Lizzie Preston.

Each devotion features a particular theme. On the left page of the spread, one or two Bible verses are followed by a paragraph of discussion. The right pages is a full-page illustration to color related to the devotion topic.

This book features a table of contents so you can seek a particular theme, or go through the devotions in order. The introduction explains the book's purpose, to develop a view of the New Earth God is preparing for us. The book is intended to serves as both a creative expression and a spiritual inspiration. In line with both of those goals, there is also a blank page provided for sketches at the end as well as a lined page for notes.

An example of a devotional is "Earth's present beauty: Just a hint of what's to come," which starts by quoting Isaiah 6:3, about the earth being filled with his glory. The devotional discussing is quite beautiful: "When we see a roaring waterfall, beautiful flowers, a wild animal in its native habitat, or the joy in the eyes of our pets when they see us, we sense that this world is--or at least was meant to be--our home. If we want to know what the ultimate Heaven and our eternal home will be like, the best place to start is by looking around us" (40). The accompanying picture is of waterfalls and intricately patterned mountain cliffs. It's actually a little hard to tell what it is without the context of the devotional and prior to color being on the page.

The coloring pages are ideal for those who love to color intricate patterns. Every image is made up a smaller shapes to color in. For example, even images of animals like elephants that are realistically much the same color are broken up into little areas to color. This allows for more imaginative color pairings and time to reflect upon the devotion as you color repetitive patterns. Every page also has some parts already colored in with a yellow-gold color. I'm not really sure why that was done this way, and I'm not a huge fan of it. The printed color stands out among colored pencils or markers as being unnatural.

However, the cover of the book features a gold foil filling in some of the images, along with printed colors fading to black and white illustrations. It is beautifully done and a very attractive cover. The book is also a nice square size, giving ample room for the illustrations.

My favorite pages are the ones with animals on them, as that it what I prefer to color. The devotions vary somewhat in terms of quality, but most are quite good. I see this book as a successful coloring devotional, but the stand alone parts aren't spectacular. This book offers a lot of opportunity for quiet reflection. I could see accompanying it with prayer as well.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher but was not required to post a positive review.