“Science” does not occur in a vacuum; it’s the product of human minds and ambitions, tossed into a whirlwind of human activity. The “For Kids” series published by Chicago Review illustrates this principle with a running account of the scientist’s life and times, accompanied by activities and thought experiments that make it a bit easier to follow Einstein’s reasoning. Complex ideas are as clear for the target age group (fourth through sixth grade) as they can possibly be. The narrative doesn’t shy away from Einstein’s personal tangles, such as his divorce from his first wife, but doesn’t go into detail—and it puts Einstein’s famous comment about God playing dice in its proper context.
Thomas Foster follows up his popular literature book for adults with this slimmer version. His chatty style is appropriate for seventh and eighth graders who are wondering why they have to know about any Homer other than Simpson, but he doesn’t talk down to them. He may open their eyes with his evaluation of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas as a quest narrative, or with his definition of irony (when “what you think is going to happen, doesn’t”). Every student must learn to explore literature for himself, but travel guides like this can be helpful—although parents should be aware of brief discussions that link sex with death and with vampires.
Parents who are wondering how to pass on an appreciation for Shakespeare should peruse this book, even—or especially—if they possess little appreciation themselves. The author, himself a playwright, makes up any lack of enthusiasm with his own. He presents here the equivalent of a crash course in Bardophilia: a guided tour of the plays, tips for memorization (“the key to everything”), suggested passages to memorize, a list of favorite resources, and personal anecdotes and reflections. Rather than a series of lesson plans, it’s a rambling journey through one man’s experience that may, in the end, be the best way to “teach” Shakespeare: a passion caught rather than taught.
This oversize (13¾" x 10"), full-color, handsomely bound volume is not comprehensive, in the sense that not every nation on earth receives equal attention. Such prioritizing indicates that the world actually means something besides a glorious hodgepodge. Beginning with the perspective of Genesis 1:1, the text spotlights Canada, Mexico, and the USA, then goes on to selected nations—six each in Europe and Asia, two in South America, and three in Africa. An overview for each continent lists all the countries and explains the outstanding geographical features and points of interest, especially relating to Christian history. Though the text sometimes transitions awkwardly between paragraphs, the presentation is attractive, informative, and eminently browse-worthy.
Secular book reviewers are rapturous about Rapture Practice, the coming-of-age memoir by Aaron Hartzler, oldest son of a fundamentalist Baptist preacher from Kansas City. After a happy childhood, young Aaron discovers during his teen years that (1) he can’t relate to his father’s God, (2) he can’t help loving forbidden music and movies, (3) he’s probably gay, and (4) he can no longer lie about all these things. What sets Rapture Practice apart from similar leaving-the-faith accounts is the lack of bitterness. Hartzler fondly recalls certain aspects of his evangelical upbringing and fully credits his parents’ sincerity and love for him. The final pages are unexpectedly touching—and heartrending. It’s every Christian parent’s nightmare: What if my child rejects the Lord, after all my efforts to nurture faith? Hartzler’s memoir offers them no comfort, but may raise questions about the mystery of faith and sovereignty of God that are worth pondering. —J.C.