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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
by Barbara Robinson
Most people enjoy a good Christmas story. For example, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is emblematic for many of the Christmas spirit of generosity that we would like to see year round. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another story that has captured the imagination of readers of all ages. A humorous children’s chapter book, the story tells of the year the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide they want to be a part of a church’s annual Christmas pageant.
The narrator’s mother directs the pageant for the first time, and we experience her determination, kindness, and patience as she explains the story of Jesus to the unchurched Herdmans. We are also treated to a new, unsanitized view of the nativity story. One of the Herdman clan indignantly wants to know why Joseph didn’t tell the innkeeper who Jesus is. Another finds it strange that they tie the baby up in wadded up clothes and put him in a food trough. The Herdmans plot revenge on the wicked Herod; the Angel of the Lord, as played by Gladys, the youngest Herdman, comes down from above like a superhero from a comic book.
Appealing to children and adults alike, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever might well become a Christmas tradition in your family. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, and other parts will give you pause. It has been made into a movie and a play, but I can’t imagine anything better than cozying up with the family and sharing the book together.
Category: Children’s Fiction
Notes: Interest Level—all ages
Intended Reading Level—Grades 3-7; Ages 8-12 years
Publication: 1972—Scholastic Inc. (Harper Collins)
Most of us spent all week in school being pounded and poked and pushed around by Herdmans, and we looked forward to Sunday as a real day of rest.
Mother said…“Why, it’s going to be the best Christmas pageant we’ve ever had!” Of all the lies she’d told so far, that was the biggest, but you had to admire her. It was like General Custer saying, “Bring on the Indians!”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get in a fight, and Mary runs away with the baby.”
The Oceans Between Us
by Gill Thompson
A very good storyteller, Gill Thompson discovered a story that needed to be told and related in such a way that it reached past the bare facts. In The Oceans Between Us, she has done just that.
I was pulled into the story relating to each of the characters as we explored them and their part in making history. Molly and Jack are British mom and son separated when a wartime bomb is detonated destroying their home. They end up oceans apart and although the thread flowing through the book is their longing for each other, their lives continue on with highs and lows. Other themes are institutional abuse and racial discrimination. Those are hard and cold terms that come alive as we watch them played out in this story. The events are a part of history I was unaware of. You’ll want to read this book to see one author’s view of how it may have played out on a personal level and discover if justice was actually ever served.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Headline for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Historical Fiction
Publication: March 21, 2019—Headline
Everything seemed out of kilter. Like when she’d tried for hours to do a jigsaw here at Warlingham, only to realize half the pieces came from another set.
Jack was a frozen child, forever trapped in her mind in his five-year-old body. Molly could no more imagine him at eighteen than she could fly.
But the lawyer in him resisted the child. He couldn’t risk his career before it had started. Bindoon had given him brawn but it hadn’t robbed him of a brain. Besides, you didn’t fight violence with violence. You fought it with cunning.
Empty Nest, Full Life: Discovering God’s Best for Your Nest
by Jill Savage
Parents, but mothers in particular, spend almost twenty years preparing their children to fly out of the nest and into the world of adulthood. It turns out that the releasing can be as hard as the preparation. There are issues of control, especially if you have boomerang kids. Mothers are good at piling guilt on themselves when things don’t work out perfectly or as expected for their kids. Grandkids are a blessing, but they come with their own set of issues. The list goes on and on.
Jill Savage, a speaker and teacher of the Bible, who has endured her own personal trials, shares Biblical wisdom and personal anecdotes to illustrate her viewpoints on various subjects related to the “empty nest” in Empty Nest, Full Life. The first half of the book is entitled “Let Go!” and discusses the problems encountered during the empty nest season. It speaks of letting go of expectations, guilt, opinions, traditions, your child’s problems, and your own idols (the things that steal your attention away from God, the things you use to identify yourself). Part Two is called “Hold On!” and within that section lie ideas for what to actually do during that season of the empty nest. Savage encourages you to grab hold of a new mission field, passions, and friendships. She encourages you to revitalize your marriage and your relationship with God.
Each chapter closes with a truth from the Bible, an action step, and a prayer. The book itself ends with encouragement for the next season, a list of questions to help you identify current or past baggage that has affected your marriage, reference notes, and a discussion guide for a leader to use in a small group setting.
My personal nest has been empty for a number of years so I am not approaching or in the middle of an empty nest crisis. I would imagine, however, that this book would be helpful for those wondering how to deal with their new found “freedom.”
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Moody Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Parenting and Family
Publication: August 6, 2019—Moody Publishers
Expectations will get us in trouble every time. They set us up for disappointment and leave us feeling disconnected.
Studies indicate the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of twenty-five. Yes, that means that our kids are now setting their own priorities when they’re not actually fully equipped to do so.
My friend Becky says that when she’s tempted to address something with her adult son, she tries to think of how she would address it with a friend. Most of the time she realizes she wouldn’t address it with a friend at all! This helps her find self-control and pray instead.
Goodness, Grace, and Me
by Julie Houston
Complicated relationships are at the center of Julie Houston’s Goodness, Grace, and Me. Harriet (Hat) has been best friends with Grace since they were eleven, and they both idolized Amanda who along the way picked up the title “Little Miss Goodness.” Twenty years later, Grace and Harriet assume they are rid of her influence when she suddenly re-enters their lives. Despite all warnings, Harriet’s husband Nick becomes involved in business with Amanda’s husband and thus Amanda. Grace’s brother continues to be under Amanda’s spell.
Life is not easy for Harriet, mother of three, who had to return to teaching because of economic problems. Also Nick’s mother has come to live with them. Although her situation is complicated, Harriet pushes hard for stability for her family.
This is my second Julie Houston book to read and I like it much better than the first. The main character is strong, likable, and has moral character. There is a subplot involving Harriet’s mother, possible dementia, and a secret. I wasn’t sure how the plot would sort itself out, but it did and I enjoyed watching it happen.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Aria for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Women’s Fiction
Notes: Includes some British vulgarisms but they are not terribly offensive compared to those found in Julie Houston’s Coming Home to Holly Close Farm.
Publication: February 19, 2019—Aria
I can only ever sulk for a maximum of five minutes, by which time I’ve usually had enough of giving the cold shoulder treatment and need to start talking again. Life is just too short to spend it in silence.
Admittedly, I did most of the hard graft but I lightened the proceedings by blasting out T.Rex’s “I Love to Boogie”, so that even Kit forgot he was a fully paid up member of the moody brigade and jitterbugged round the furniture with the Hoover.
…wrapping a duvet around her against the almost damp cold which had settled in the sitting room like a melancholic maiden aunt who has outstayed her welcome, I went back through the hall to ring the doctor’s surgery.
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
The Poetry of Mister Rogers
Lyrics by Fred Rogers and Josie Carey
Music by Fred Rogers
Illustrations by Luke Flowers
Mr. Rogers (Fred McFeeley Rogers) influenced several generations of children with his kind and gentle ways in his television neighborhood. He understood that children need routines to feel safe so he started and ended his show the same way each day. Now we have a compilation of his poetry which, as a trained composer, he put to music as well.
I enjoyed reading his poems. They have a wide range of topics, but contain reassuring verses to help children understand their feelings, and the world around them. He is not shy about sharing his love and encouraging children to do the same. Other topics he addresses include positivity, doing your best, feeling good about yourself just the way you are, and parents. One poem that I think particularly demonstrates his understanding of childhood fears is “You Can Never Go Down the Drain.”
I think this would be a fun book to share with children, choosing poems at random or when a child has a particular need. The illustrations are colorful and reflect the magic of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. This book ends with a brief biography for adults of a fascinating man who has influenced so many in a positive way.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Quirk Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction, Poetry
Publication: March 19, 2019—Quirk Books
You’ve made this day a special day by just your being here.
It isn’t by size that you win or you fail. Be the best of whatever you are.
It is the people you like the most
Who can make you feel the maddest.
It’s you I like.
It’s not the things you wear.
It’s not the way you do your hair.
But it’s you I like.
Night of Miracles
by Elizabeth Berg
One of the most interesting things in the world is people. Elizabeth Berg created a gentle, touching world in The Story of Arthur Truluv. Then she expanded on the core characters, adding more characters that tie into one another in Night of Miracles. The chapters are short; the novel is a character driven set of tales of common people living out their interesting lives looking for meaning in the everyday circumstances and the extraordinary ones.
Arthur Truluv’s legacy of calmness and kindness lives on in the family he adopted. His neighbor Lucille’s legacy is the culinary wisdom she imparts during an age of “fast” everything. Neighbors Jason and Abby learn the importance of living in the present. Tiny and Monica learn to share the love that has been in front of them all along. The chapters bounce back and forth from one storyline to the next. This is one of those stories I had to keep reading. I read the last of the book with tissue in hand, not because it is tragic, but because there is sweet sadness in knowing that life keeps progressing toward an inevitable conclusion and we can find happiness by reaching out to share life with others.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: For those who enjoyed The Story of Arthur Truluv, this is not a sequel in the traditional sense. It takes a few of the characters from that book and builds a story around them. Although it could happen, I wouldn’t expect any more stories in this line. From my perspective the story has been told.
Publication: November 13, 2018—Random House
It was true what they told her on the first day of teachers’ college: you never forget some of your students. For Lucille, it was the cut-ups she could never keep from laughing at, the dreamers she had to keep reeling back into the classroom, and little Danny Matthews, with his ragged heart of gold.
At least Link loves to read. There’s always hope when a kid—or an adult, for that matter—likes to read.
All those years, and not one person that she had truly opened up to, or kept up with. Probably she expected her husband to be everything to her when it wasn’t his place to do that, even if he wanted to or could. Another thing she regrets: having made him feel that he was failing her when she was the one failing herself.
The Summer Nanny
by Holly Chamberlin
The term “women’s fiction” can connote quite a broad range of books. Thus I was unsure what to expect from The Summer Nanny by Holly Chamberlin. This story is actually two tales in one as best friends Amy and Hayley, from very different backgrounds and with very different prospects, decide to accept employment for the summer as nannies for wealthy vacationing families. Hayley is a product of a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic and abusive father. She loves academia, but rather than finish college has to work cleaning houses to support her family. Amy’s father passed away when she was a baby, but her mother, a gifted crafter of fiber arts, has raised her in a small but comfortable home in a loving atmosphere.
Amy and Hayley find personal challenges in their summer jobs. Naive Amy is hired by a narcissistic and controlling successful businesswoman who claims to want to mentor Amy. Hayley, on the other hand, finds relief from her home environment in her job as a nanny for two year old twins whose mother is teaching French at a community college as a favor to a friend. Both girls experience personal growth as a result of their jobs. Romance plays a role in this novel, but so do family connections.
The style of The Summer Nanny with its short chapters keeps the plot moving as the focus of the chapters alternates between the two main characters. The book is interesting, but some of the scenes could have been omitted without sacrificing the integrity of the plot or the points the author wants to make.
Although this book could be considered a “beach read,” it is not really fluff. The author encourages the reader to examine questions of the causes and results of two abusive situations and the responses of the characters involved in them. There are definite themes of right and wrong and the importance of choices.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Women’s Fiction
Notes: One of the recurring characters in the book is a lesbian and a subplot concerns her relationship status, but there are no descriptions of a physical relationship.
Publication: June 26, 2018—Kensington Books
Hayley was smart enough to know there was no possibility of completely throwing off one’s past, but there had to be ways to move into the future relatively unencumbered by traumas experienced when one was young.
Love and admiration transformed an average-looking human being into an angel of beauty. Contempt and dislike transformed an average-looking human being into a goblin.
“What with arts education funding being cut so drastically, I feel I have to do something. Kids need to learn visual thinking and creative problem solving.”
The King Who Left His Kingdom
El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino
written by Deanna Altman
illustrated by Lisa Mueller
The publisher provides this summary of The King Who Left His Kingdom: “This book is provided in English and Spanish under one cover. A story of love given by Jesus as he leaves his kingdom of light to show the way to people who are in darkness. A magnificent, simple and clear way to show children the real sacrifice God made by sending his son. This evangelistic tool can be used to show the gospel to children in a very simple, yet beautiful way making a contrast between God’s kingdom of light, and the darkness in our world.”
With this intent of the book in mind, I must say that it fell short of the mark. I really wanted to like it, but young children are very literal and I don’t think they would understand the symbolism provided by this book. It is more of an allegory than children of the intended ages can handle. For example, Jesus speaks of His Father’s kingdom and the people want to go there. Jesus tells them “ ‘No, you cannot go there without someone making a way. The darkness blocks your way. There is only one way; I must make a bridge,’ the Son-king said. He walked to Jerusalem and paid a price. He made a path with blood; with wood and nails he paved the way to make a bridge for His friends.” The illustration shows people walking across a chasm on a bridge (perhaps sprinkled with blood?) in the shape of a cross. As an adult and a Christian, I understand what the author is saying. This is an old evangelical depiction of sin separating us from God and the cross bridging the gap, but I wouldn’t have understood this when I was a child. I’m not sure there is even enough there for an unchurched adult to understand the sacrifice Jesus made to save people from their sins.
I think it is commendable to have the book in both English and Spanish, but no credit is given to the translator. Even if the author is the translator, that should have been noted. I appreciate author Deanna Altman’s efforts to share God’s incredible gift, but it is not something I would share with children ages 5-8 or grades K-3 as recommended.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to First Edition Design Publishing for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Children’s Nonfiction, Christian
Notes: Publisher’s Recommended Age Range: 5-8
Publisher’s Recommended Grade Level: K-3
Publication: April 3, 2018—First Edition Design Publishing