Saturday, June 30, 2012

Award Winners: Worthy Reads?

When I was a child, I remember reading many Newberry Award winning and honor books.  I loved Cynthia Voigt's books, including Dicey's Song which won the Newberry Award.  But, I lived a life very different than the one my children are living.  I was public schooled, watched television (which at the time wasn't filled with crass humor and cuss words as it is today), read books new and old alike, and grew up.  For some reason, I gravitated even then to older books. I loved the Nancy Drew books, Anne of Green Gables series, Betsy book series (both the series by Carolyn Haywood and the other series by Maud Hart Lovelace).  I read a few Sweet Valley High books, but read more Canby Hall books, which weren't as caught up in the popularity and romance parts of high school.  My mom didn't filter what I read.  Unfortunately, my grandmother introduced me to adult fiction books as a teenager that I shouldn't have read.  The likes of Danielle Steel and Barbara Taylor Bradford are ones that I never want my girls to read and expose their minds to.

I don't consider myself that extreme when it comes to what my children read, but I know I am concerned that they read things that are encouraging.  Bob Jones Press is often seen as extremely conservative.  But, I think it's wise to think critically and listen.  I received an email this week from Bob Jones with a review of the latest Newberry Medal winner.  Here's a link to the review:  I was struck by several things about this review.  The writer mentions the review being subjective, but there were several things she mentioned that would have alarmed me no matter what.  She mentions that there is crass language in the book.  She also mentions that the young boy's lying and disobedience isn't directly addressed.  Is this important?

Let me a share a story from our local paper a few weeks ago.  9 year old boy dies due to fatal gun shot from his 8 year old brother.  The boys had found a gun in a neighbor's shed a week earlier.  They snuck out without their grandparents permission and went to find the gun because they were curious.  The death was ruled accidental, though the younger brother accidentally shot his older brother with the gun.  Gun play is a serious deal.  In this novel, Dead End in Norvelt, the main character shoots his father's gun at the drive-in screen.  He wasn't supposed to be playing with the gun.  You can read the scene on Amazon in the preview.  
Rather than take another reviewer's word, I wanted to read it for myself.  There isn't any consequence. His mom corrects him--barely.  She's more concerned about his nose bleed.  And his working for the old lady down the street has nothing to do with the shot.  No consequence.

Would I want my children to read this book?  Nope.  Would I recommend it?  Nope.  There are so many good books out there, but I don't think this book is one of them.  I enjoyed Joey Pigza swallowed the key by Jack Gantos (the author that wrote this book).  I think it gave a lot of insight into an ADHD child and as a teacher it helped me better understand one of my students.  But, this book is of a different vein.  I don't see the value in it.  One of my friends who taught middle school English (she was a wonderful teacher!) once said that Goosebumps and the likes were not allowed in her classroom.  She didn't just want kids to read something, she wanted them to read some thing Good!  

When I was growing up, I always thought that the Newberry Award winnng books were reliable, good literature.  As I've watched what books have won the award and been honored over the past fifteen years, that confidence I used to have has diminished.  Just because a book wins an award, doesn't mean that it's worth reading.  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Be Careful Who You Read

Be Careful Who You Read...

I was reading the introduction to a book tonight online because I wanted to know what it was about.  I was trying to give the author another chance.  I'd read a book by him a few years ago and had a pretty severe reaction to it.  Well, actually, it was more than severe.  It made me very upset!  The book was one that several friends at the time agreed with and so I wanted to read it as well.  I remember reading the first page, literally, and the hairs on the back of my neck standing up on it!  There did happen to be a personal connection to the information on that page.

I had just completed a semester teaching at a homeschool high school.  It was the only job that I have ever sort of been fired from.  I wasn't actually fired.  I quit.  "I resigned" would be a kinder way of putting it, I suppose.  The principal of the school stated that she had no education training, or any education administration training.  She also stated that she had no intention of pursuing any or that she needed it.  That principal did not back me up as a teacher and I realized that there were significant challenges that she faced because she lacked such training.  She didn't have the skills to manage the conflicts between her parents and staff.  Well, on the first page of this book, the author said the same thing--that he had no formal training as a school administrator, didn't any, and wouldn't pursue any.  So, of course I reacted.  I still read the book, but it was difficult for me.  I've tried to forget that book.  I even tried to give it a second chance when I met other people that liked it.  But, I had the same reaction again and set it down.

Recently, a few friends have been reading other books by this author and his wife.  I was curious to see if his views had changed--if he had softened.  I wondered if maybe it was just that particular book and my experience that affected my view of it.  Unfortunately, I didn't find that.  The first paragraph of this book made me cringe.

The story told in the first paragraph reminded me of why it took me so long to find a book about submission that I felt comfortable recommending.  (I did finally find one--Dancing With the One You Love by Cindy Easley.)  The story the author told in the first paragraph was of speaking to a group of teachers at the church's school.  He told the teachers that the young girls in the school would be teachers in that school in a few years.  Then, he went on to say that the young boys would soon become lawyers, doctors, and airplane pilots.  He told the story with the intent of making an impact--causing the teachers to realize how important it was to help the boys grow into strong men.

I look at my girls and I do not know what God has for them.  I hope for them to go to college and pursue careers.  Parents fall in all sorts of camps on this issue of the roles and responsibilities of men and women (girls and boys).  It is a difficult and often controversial issue.  In my case, I fall somewhere in the middle towards the conservative side.  I do not want to belittle the differences between men and women or their roles.  I believe God did create us differently.  This doesn't mean that women are of less value than men, but simply that God created us differently than men.  But, I also don't believe that it is wise to pigeon hole women into this tiny box that the author talks of--that they must only be teachers or mothers.  What of women that never get married?  Does that make them less valuable in any way?  I don't believe so.  I have watched my single friends struggle with this issue.  I have one friend who is a career woman and would love to be married--but so far God hasn't had that for her.  She and I both trust the Lord's will for her life.  She is not a teacher.  She is good at what she does and ministers to the people she works with.  

I do also believe though that the world tells women a lie "a woman should be able to have it all--family, children, career, achievement".  No one can.  There is simply not enough time in the days or weeks of our lives.  

So, that's where I stand.  

But, back to the book.  After reading the introduction, I stepped back and began trying to figure out who the author was.  Where did he preach?  What does his church believe?  What does his denomination believe?  Often I have found this information to be very helpful.  It has helped me to know how his church interprets scripture and even their view of authority and men and women's roles, etc...

I know you might wonder who the author of these two books is, but that is where I struggle as a book reviewer.  It is easy to write positive reviews, but far more difficult to give negative ones.  So, rather than giving a detailed review of this book, I'd simply give a caution.  If someone recommends the book "future men" to you by Douglas Wilson, read the preview online first and then read several of the reviews.  Unfortunately, negative and positive reviews are not always written tactfully, but they will often tell you about what's in the book and any potential landmines you may come across.

Douglas Wilson seems to be a lot like the Pearls.  He's pretty extreme in his views.  Sift what you read and see what sits in your heart and with what your husband and you believe about how you should raise your children.  Take what you read back to the Word and pray.  That is what I try to do.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sometimes it's better the second time around

Last year, I read a book titled Chasing Sunsets by Eva Marie Everson.  My review is here.  I was impressed that the author would engage with me about her book and discuss my concerns about the content of her book. She brought out points that I hadn't considered as I was reading and reviewing the book.  After the discussion, my mind had not changed about her book (though I definitely understood her points), but I did want to read the second book in the series.

A few weeks ago, the second book in Ms. Everson's Cedar Keys series arrived.  Waiting for Sunrise.  I was excited to see what it held in store for me.  It was a huge improvement over the first book in the series for me.  My concerns with the first book centered primarily on some of the language she used to describe the relationship between the main characters.  It went much more into the realm of Harlequin romances than I think is wise for Christian fiction.  This second book didn't go there at all and I am so glad!  I really liked it.  The story and writing are interesting and keep you engaged.

This story centers on a young woman, Patsy, and her life as a teenager, young woman, and then mother and wife.  There is a great deal of pain in this woman's life that is dealt with and not glossed over in the story.  Alongside this story, the story of her mother and brother Billy continues to be told.

As I finished the book, I was struck by several thoughts.  Often when I read Christian fiction novels, it feels as if the relationships between men and women are idealized and unrealistic.  But, over the past two years, I've had the opportunity to watch my mentor's husband love her well as her body quickly succumbed to Alzheimer's.  He loved her well--he loved her the way Gilbert loves Patsy in this story.  Not every marriage is like this one and I'd even daresay that not many are, but there are some.  I have been blessed to watch my friend's husband love her so well and stand by her.  The way he has lived his life has been such a witness to me about what it really means to love one's spouse well.  If you read this novel, I hope you will feel that challenge as well as I have.  If your spouse were in Patsy's shoes, or maybe they are already in them, can you love him or her for better or for worse?

I was also struck by Patsy's feelings towards motherhood and her mother's experiences.  This story reminded me of my firm resolve to love my children well and protect them if anyone tries to harm them.  There are times when I want to check out because I'm tired, but somehow this book reminded me of how important it is not to check out.  

Would I recommend this book?  Definitely.  Will it be an easy read?  It's a like a drama movie, so there is some heartache and pain in the course of the story.  But, it also has a good ending rest assured.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell books for review.