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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

Lin Enger: IMG Knowing vs. Knowing



On a hot July evening years ago, my Toyota Tercel overheated on a flat stretch of highway north of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A steam geyser shot up from... Continue »

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Home School Book Review has commented on (387) products.

Andy Smithson: Disgrace of the Unicorn's Honor by L. R. W. Lee

Home School Book Review, October 13, 2014

What would you do if you had to make a choice between saving a kingdom and saving a loved one? Andy Smithson is a young lad, now just turning twelve and going into the sixth grade, who lives with his father, mother, and sister Madison, in Lakehills, TX. However, he is transported from time to time to the land of Oomaldee, a medieval, Arthurian sort of kingdom ruled by King Heraclon V who had murdered his older sister Imogenia to inherit the throne. Now a spirit, Imogenia is working with the evil Abaddon and his vulture-men warriors to get her revenge by putting a curse on the kingdom, and it is Andy’s job to find the ingredients which will break the curse. A wizard named Mermin, a brother to Merlin, and a dragon named Daisy assist.

In the first two books in the series, Blast of the Dragon’s Fury and Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning, Andy, with the help of his new friends Alden and Hannah, locates the first two items, six scales of the elusive red dragon and a vial of serpent venom. In book number 3, Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor, Andy learns from his parents about his mother’s past. Just what was her relationship to King Heraclon? And what does that make Andy? Then he returns to Oomaldee to find its people on edge after many citizens have been turned into vulture-people. Through his dreams, he knows that Imogenia and Abaddon are behind it. How will Andy unravel this mystery and retrieve the next ingredient needed to break the curse? Hint��"it involves the horn of a unicorn. And what will he do when he is told that breaking the curse could kill his mother?

King Arthur and the knights of the round table meet The Lord of the Rings. On their quest, Andy and his friends come across dwarfs, trolls, giants, and other such Middle Earth type creatures. Yet, while the plot is definitely exciting, there is more than just an adventure story here. The Andy Smithson books are an allegorical, middle grade fantasy series that not only entertains but also teaches uncommon, life changing principles. Andy is maturing, especially in learning how to deal with his conscience, and thus provides a good illustration to young people of developing wisdom to make right choices. As with the other two volumes, I really enjoyed the story. Book four of the series, in which Andy continues with more adventures to retrieve secret ingredients needed to break the long-standing curse plaguing the land of Oomaldee will be coming in the summer of 2015.
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The Amazing Adventures of Toby the Trilby by Mrs Angela Christine Castillo

Home School Book Review, October 1, 2014

Do you have any idea what a trilby might be? Twelve year old Toby was created by six older scientists who had taken refuge in an underground shelter during something called the “Great Calamity” which caused extensive devastation on the surface of the earth. These caretakers, or “grambles” as Toby calls them, were lonely and wanted a grandchild, so they strung together human DNA, added some cat DNA to fill in the gaps, formed him in a test tube, and brought him to life in an incubator. He has some characteristics of a cat��"ears, tail, and claws, but is mostly like a boy and can talk. They called him a trilby.

Toby has lived his entire life in the caverns and received an excellent education from the grambles. But as a result of his studies, he has a question which they can’t answer. Does he have a soul? Then one day he hears a mysterious Voice calling him to go into the outer world. There he meets a group of swamp people who worship a goddess Natura, and he rescues a girl about his same age named Mia whom they are going to offer as a human sacrifice. Toby’s hope is for Mia and him ultimately to return to the grambles and build a house near the cave. However, after they travel on a bit, Mia gets hit with an arrow shot by a man who is protecting his village. What happened to cause such a disaster on earth? Will Toby and Mia survive? And most importantly, will he ever find out if he has a soul?

The Amazing Adventures of Toby the Trilby is identified as “Christian Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Dystopian,” but don’t let the word “dystopian” turn anyone off. Much of the current dystopian literature for children is dark, gloomy, and often godless, but while Toby and Mia face many trials and hardships, this book is solidly based upon a Biblical worldview and offers glimmers of hope. It is such a refreshing change of pace for those of us who believe the Scriptures to read an adventure-filled science fiction/fantasy type of work in which someone seeks the “Soul Creator,” and in which there are no elements unsuitable for children. Also, Toby is a good role model for courage, perseverance, and kindness toward others. Author Angela Castillo has already written a sequel, The Further Adventures of Toby the Trilby in which a bright light falls from the sky and Toby finds himself on a quest to find the source of the light.
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The Terrible Two (Terrible Two) by Jory John
The Terrible Two (Terrible Two)

Home School Book Review, September 27, 2014

Have you ever pulled a prank on someone? Miles Murphy is having to move with his mother, Judy Murphy, from his old apartment in a pink building that was close to the ocean and his best friends Carl and Ben, to start a new life in sleepy, boring Yawnee Valley, where Mrs. Murphy will work in the Post Office but the main feature is cows��"as far as the eye can see. However, what Miles is most unhappy about is saying good-bye to his reputation as his school’s biggest prankster. He is now enrolled at the Yawnee Valley Science and Letters Academy, where he meets the overbearing Principal, Mr. Barry Barkin, and his bullying son Josh, makes friends with Holly Rash, and is paired with Niles Sparks who is the Principal’s main helper. Maybe Miles can become the biggest prankster in his new school.

But wait! On the first day of school, someone parks the Principal’s car on the front steps blocking the entry way. So it appears that this school already has a prankster. Who is it? Will Miles be able to overcome him? Or will he outdo Miles? Prankster against prankster--who will win the pranking war? And how? There is really very little that is overtly objectionable in the book��"just things like references to kids who’re allowed to see R-rated movies and cows that “farted.” Perhaps the most questionable element of a specific nature that I found was a statement, repeated a couple of times by Niles, that “sometimes it’s OK to do something wrong if it helps you to do something right.” Many of us might wonder if this is a message which we really want to resonate with our kids. It is certainly something that parents will need to discuss with their children if they read the book.

Also, some parents may not care for the way in which the pranksters, who flaunt authority, are presented as the heroes, whereas the ones in authority are pictured more as the bad guys, or at least in an undesirable light. This seems to be a growing theme in children’s literature today, and each family will have to make its own judgments on these kinds of decisions, but judged solely on the basis of the writing, plot design, and sustainability of interest, the book is not too bad. However, I will say that it doesn’t present anything of lasting value. It is purely a comic read, the middle grade literary equivalent of junk food. Twinkies are a nice treat once in a while, although I can’t have them any more because I’m a diabetic, but a steady diet of them would not be good and too many might even make one sick. Which brings me to my last point, and that is that this is apparently intended as the first of a series. So readers may look forward to more prank adventures of “The Terrible Two.” The book is due to be released on Jan. 13, 2015.
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Dandelion Seed #2: The Dandelion Seed's Big Dream by Joseph Anthony
Dandelion Seed #2: The Dandelion Seed's Big Dream

Home School Book Review, August 21, 2014

Do you consider the dandelion to be a flower or a weed? This second book in “The Dandelion Seed Series” follows the flight of a dandelion seed on its parasail from the countryside to the city as buffeted by the wind, caught in a spider’s web, and trapped in trash. All through its journey, it has a dream. What is that dream? And will it ever achieve it? Author Joseph Patrick Anthony and illustrator Cris Arbo are a husband and wife team. Their first dandelion book, The Dandelion Seed (1997) contains the messages of wonder, beauty, and acceptance. The two also collaborated on In a Nutshell (1999) about an acorn and the life cycle of an oak tree. Both are available from Dawn Publications.

The Dandelion Seed's Big Dream emphasizes the themes of courage, patience, and perseverance. Because the dandelion lives life fully, flies with beauty, survives storms, endures darkness, and never gives up, it is one of nature’s greatest success stories. Dandelions can grow where other plants cannot. And like dandelions, each of us can make the world a brighter place. The trick is to bloom right where we are. The “Explore More” section in the back includes further information about dandelions and suggested activities to help children understand, appreciate, and apply the story. I understand the problems that dandelions can cause in some people’s yards, but I happen to like the bright blossoms of the dandelion, and I also like this book.
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The Prairie That Nature Built by Marybeth Lorbiecki
The Prairie That Nature Built

Home School Book Review, August 20, 2014

Did you know that over one fourth of the earth’s land was once covered with grasslands? In North America, they are called prairies; in Africa, savannas; in Eastern Europe and Asia, steppes; in South America, pampas; and in Australia, rangelands. This rhythmic romp, in the style of “The House that Jack Built,” tells all about the critters that squirm in the soil, the diggers, the roots, the plants, the insects, the birds, the munchers, the hunters, the lightning that sparks a fire, and the rain, all of which make the wild prairie such a lively place. Can you name some of the burrowers, grazers, and predators that you might find on the prairie? Author Marybeth Lorbiecki grew up in St. Cloud, MN, a medium-sized town near America’s Midwestern prairie.

The publisher’s summary says, “Nature on the prairie, including both wildlife and wildfire, is a rich and closely knit ecosystem, as reflected in the interlocking verses of this simple story.” In addition to the rollicking, repetitious poem which describes the multitudes of animals and plants which live on the prairie in tune with the forces of nature and thus reinforces the richness of dynamic prairie life, the back pages contain “A Prairie Primer” with further information about the prairie in general, notes concerning the different kinds of species inhabiting it, and “Prairie Fun” with suggestions for activities, related games, and resources to give a fuller appreciation of this marvelous, disappearing habitat. Anyone who likes Little House on the Prairie will certainly enjoy this excellent means to learn more about the prairie that God built.
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