Culture > Books

Books: Childhood dreams

Books | Kiddie lit is a strong point in Christian publishing

Issue: "Postmodern politics," Sept. 12, 1998

If you are searching for good, sound, and entertaining books for girls, take a look at Julia Duin's Waiting for True Love. Her wonderful stories about "purity, patience, and faithfulness" are adaptations from a series of girls' books written by Annie Fellows Johnson at the turn of the century. Collectively they were known as the Little Colonel Books, and if that sounds familiar, it should: One was made into a Shirley Temple film. Miss Duin's mother passed on a set of the Little Colonel Books to her; she says they helped shape her. Each story focuses on a particular virtue; each begins with a Bible verse, and by the end of the story, the message is clear. This book doesn't shy away from unhappy endings-or rather, it recognizes that a tale ending in honor and obedience is far better than a tale that ends in the typical happily-ever-after scenario. The best example is a poignant story called "The Jester's Quest." A handsome, valiant prince went out to slay dragons and enemies, but he was injured horribly in a rock slide. A jester finds him and teaches him to show joy and mirth through his pain. And here's the thing: In the end, the youth doesn't marry his true love (though she was still waiting for him), he doesn't ascend to his father's throne, and he isn't healed in a magic brook. He takes the old jester's place and battles daily his pride and depression, until he dies. That's heroic. Another good children's book has an unpromising title: My Angel Named Herman. But Elmer L. Towns's novel turns out to be delightful. Herman is not a pink-cheeked cherub who pops in to do good things; instead, he's a God-sent messenger who appears to the boy in the book, Jacob, as a school janitor. And he uses Jacob's interest in astronomy to teach him about the love and majesty of God. There's plenty of good theology and good science in My Angel Named Herman, published by Tommy Nelson, the children's division of Thomas Nelson. And all too many kids will be able to identify with Jacob-a boy in a single-parent home who doesn't have a father to reflect the heavenly Father's light. Another new book, Jonah's Trash … God's Treasure, also from Tommy Nelson, is a hoot. Author Joel Anderson and illustrator Abe Goolsby are the real names of Mr. Grungy, who tells stories through trash. Each page is a scene from the story of Jonah, made completely out of trash. Jonah is an old electrical outlet with pipe-cleaner arms and a bottle-cap hat. Goldfish crackers swim in a cellophane sea, and a great fish made of spatulas and aluminum foil swallows the prophet. The only flaw in this book (which my two-year-old loves) is the verse; Mr. Anderson is careless with rhythm and meter, and that makes it ungainly. Reading lines such as "God sent a vine to grow over Jonah to shade his roasting cap/Jonah liked the cool shade it gave, and he took a little nap" is frustrating. A clearer, more careful iambic meter would have made the book easier to read aloud. Still, it's a fun book, and we can hope Mr. Grungy will go back to the landfill for another tale or two.

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