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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four children's books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Finding their way," Oct. 8, 2011

Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story

Sally Lloyd-Jones captures in this simple story the wonder of Christ's birth in a way that children can understand. "It's time! It's time!" the rustling leaves, whispering winds, shouting sky, thundering seas, roaring waves, and drumming stallions proclaim. Finally a lion roars "it out to the empty wilderness ... 'The Mighty king! The prince of Peace!'" Then the scene shifts to the stable, where "a tiny cry rang out in the cold night air." And then "the whole earth and all the stars and sky held its breath ... 'The One who made us has come to live with us!'" Brightly painted animal illustrations fill the pages of this lovely picture book.

Made by God: Curious Creatures Down Under

This paperback I Can Read book, published by Zonderkidz, combines terrific animal photography, fun facts, and a theocentric worldview. It is part of a series meant for early readers who are ready to move on to slightly more difficult words and sentences. The book begins, "God made everything everywhere." It describes four animals from Australia, including the koala, kangaroo, echidna, and platypus, and offers information kids love: "Echidnas are not like a hedgehog or porcupine for a big reason. Echidnas are mammals that lay eggs and make milk for their babies." Or "God gave the male platypus a small spike on his back ankles. It is poisonous and helps him protect himself."

A little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young

Reading aloud poetry is one of the best ways to foster a love of reading. Danish poet Halfdan Rasmussen wrote humorous Mother Goose-type rhymes, and in this collection they are coupled with Kevin Hawkes' charming watercolor illustrations, which serve as visual punchlines. Here's one stanza from the title poem: "The little bitty man bought a little bitty house for a little bit of little bitty money. The little bitty lady grew very, very big with a little bitty baby in her tummy." Fair warning: One of the poems has a little potty humor, with Rasmussen imagining a little cloud on a walk across the sky, and in the third stanza writing, "Couldn't hold it anymore, didn't have a potty. Let it drip down on the road, knew that it was naughty."

Naamah and the Ark at Night

The rhythmic lines and lovely pictures make this a terrific bedtime book. In it, Noah's wife, here called Naamah, roams through the ark at night, soothing Noah and her three sons, their wives, and all the animals with a lullaby. The book is a ghazal, an Arabic poetic form. It begins, "As rain falls over the ark at night, As water swirls in the dark of night, As thunder crashes the seams of night, As Noah tosses in dreams of night. ..." Holly Meade's illustrations, fashioned in watercolor collage, convey animals being calmed by Naamah's song, until they sleep peacefully with their mates. Finally, at the end of the book, Naamah yawns and lies down beside the sleeping Noah, and the ark sails on.

Spotlight

The Family Illustrated Bible (New Leaf Press, 2011) previously appeared as The Children's Bible, published by Dorling Kindersley. The DK roots are apparent in the nice page layouts and illustrations, and the reference pages filled with photographs of artifacts, maps, and archaeological sites. This children's Bible does a good job retelling individual stories from the Bible, but it fails to tie those stories together into a grand narrative of redemption.

The beautifully packaged Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Zonderkidz, 2010) offers simpler stories that are accompanied by gorgeous illustrations from an international group of artists. Each story leads to a simple prayer. The story of Moses and the Burning Bush leads to a prayer for courage. The story of Esther leads to the prayer, "Help me to protect my community." The stories are well-told and the prayers are fine, but together they lead to a sense that the Bible is a collection of unrelated stories meant primarily for moral uplift.

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