Profile of the Lukewarm: Halfway Herbert

In my quest for good Christian books for kids and teens, I recently happened upon children’s books written by Francis Chan. Turns out Halfway Herbert has been around since 2010 (longer than some of the Bibliopolis kiddos have been alive), and a bunch of them have read it already.

Here’s a photo of Chloe (2nd grader) reading the book aloud to some of the 1st graders. They were cracking up at the story of Herbert, who does everything — including brushing his teeth, doing his homework, and telling the truth — halfway. But the girls quickly saw how this halfway disease was not good.

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Throughout all of our Gracepoint Ministries churches, we have been going through Revelation as part of our DT (Devotion Times), and as I listened to the book, I couldn’t help but think of the recent DT on Revelation 3 and Jesus’ message to the lukewarm Laodecians. I was also reminded of the “Profile of the Lukewarm” chapter in Chan’s book Crazy Love. 

I thought the book was a great way to talk about what it looks like to follow God with your whole heart, and if you or your child haven’t read it yet, I recommend it for a family read aloud!

 

How to Satisfy Your “Hunger” for Dystopian Novels

I’ve been so busy reading that I’ve once again neglected to post here. But recent conversations about The Hunger Games (hereafter referred to as THG) have prompted me to write this post.

It’s hard to believe almost ten years have passed since the first book in the popular dystopian trilogy was published. It’s safe to say THG sparked the glut of dystopian fiction that flooded especially the young adult literature market. We couldn’t escape, though I’m happy to report the craze has died down in the last couple of years.

Before you read on, I want to make clear that I love me some dystopian literature as much as anyone! There is something very powerful about the genre to cause people to consider the ways in which echoes of these dystopias might be in our current world, and to begin recognizing social structures, and so forth.

The dictionary defines “dystopian” as follows:

relating to or denoting an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one.

The challenge with dystopian fiction for younger readers, however, is to build a world in which these unpleasant or bad consequences of a totalitarian state are explored in an age-appropriate way.

And here is my beef with THG. The target audience is 6th or 7th grade and up, but I disagree it is age-appropriate. Some teachers introduce the books as early as 5th grade, especially for reluctant readers, but I actually do not recommend the series at all (gasp!), for young and old alike. Why?

It is not just violent, but brutal. It is disturbing to read graphic descriptions of teens killing each other in hand-to-hand combat with all manner of weapons. Granted that is Suzanne Collins’ point — to disturb readers and to critique aspects of this bleak and twisted society. I get that she is not condoning this kind of violence. In fact, there is some “deep stuff” about government control through propaganda, about consumerist culture, media saturation, and about human nature.

However, most of the readers of the books do not have the framework to consider these deeper issues. They get engrossed with the plot because it appeals to 1) our sense of rooting for the underdog, 2) our baser attraction to drama and even violence (like how everyone runs towards not away from the fight at school), and 3) you and I know that half of the readers of the books got into the series because of the love triangle.

I don’t know how many students I had who said they hated the third book because it was “boring.” That’s because the focus was decidedly political and it is also the most violent of the three. I’m not naive and know you can’t avoid romantic business in young adult literature, but it goes beyond crushes and the Harry Potter level of stuff, and we’ll leave it at that.

So…what’s a teen to do?

Here are my recommendations. Read some of the books THG is borrowing from and inspired by. Some of the OG dystopians. The cool thing about this genre is that it’s timeless. In fact, some of the ones written long ago end up being even eerier, because you can see the ways in which we are actually like the futures the authors imagined. Yikes!

Four dystopian novels I recommend, from most recent to oldest:

The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993). A lot of people don’t realize it is part of a quartet of books, so you can get the series fix. It is a great dystopian novel to start out with, dealing with issues of identity, and causing us to consider how we track people in our schools and society. Don’t watch the movie first…I’ve heard it is disappointing. (Recommended age: 6th grade and up.)

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953). One of my absolute favorite dystopian novels, and in my top 10 favorite overall books. It deals with censorship and with the power of knowledge, among other themes. Chances are you’ll be asked to read this at some point in middle or high school, but it is totally accessible and enjoyable of a read on your own. He wrote a bunch of other great short stories that get you thinking as well. (Recommended age: 8th grade and up.)

The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954). This is probably THE dystopian novel contemporary dystopian novels borrow from the most. (Being stuck on an island and trying to survive might also remind you of some shows.) It has the violence (though far less graphic than THG), memorable characters, and definitely a great book to discuss human nature and the different ways we tend to organize groups/societies. There are also a lot of biblical allusions, or references, so this makes for a favorite to teach symbolism.  (Recommended age: 8th grade and up.)

Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945). Another popular book read in English as well as History classes in school, Orwell uses what seems like a story about farm animals to critique Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union. People love this book because it is super SHORT! It is also relatively easy to understand, and hilarious in a eerie way. It’s definitely memorable. (Recommended age: 8th and up. But read it again in 10th grade, when you take World History!)

If you read these four, you’ll see that you’re not missing out by not reading THG.

What’s your take on THG and its age appropriateness or merit as a dystopian series? I would love to hear your thoughts about any of the books featured in this post.


Oh, and for a Suzanne Collins alternative, I recommend The Underland Chronicles, which has stronger characters, themes, and world-building. And is age-appropriate.

 

 

 

Youth Book Review – Blotch: A Tale of Forgiveness and Grace

blotch book coverElise, a 9th grader from Element youth group, Gracepoint Berkeley church‘s youth ministry, recently read and reviewed a new children’s book by Andy Addis called Blotch: A Tale of Forgiveness and Grace

Here’s Elise’s review:

Blotch was a very entertaining read and definitely a good conversation starter for young readers with spiritual questions. The story about the boy looking for a way to get rid of the stains on his skin is a very relatable one, and touches on the different ways that people try to hide their sins. The main character in the story, named Blotch, gives a clear picture of the humble seeker, who gets to experience the truth that no matter how much you try to put away the “stains”, or sins of your life, they are always still there. I personally found it fun to read about how the author presented each character in ways I would never imagine. It’s an exciting adventure, filled with creative illustrations, that draws attention and gives much insight to problems many people don’t know how to face, and is definitely a recommended read to young and old readers alike.


Addis includes discussion guides at the end of each chapter. This parable was designed for parents or older readers to have conversations with children about the gospel and to make connections to their own lives. It would be a great book to read aloud during family times. I know Bibliopolis will be buying a copy today!

Here is a video trailer for the book:

Have you read Blotch? Share your experience reading this for yourself, or with a child in your life!

When is My Child Ready for Chapter Books?

One concern parents have is transitioning their children to chapter books. When parents ask me when their child is ready for chapter books, I tell them, “When they’re ready for chapter books.” I know that’s not so helpful, but it’s the truth! There’s no formula, and truly, each child is different. Just as they have physical growth spurts, and this happens at different times, they also experience different cognitive growth spurts.

For example, Nikki from Gracepoint San Diego church, is only 1.5 years, but she’s a really advanced reader. She’s not only reading The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee, she’s doing it while operating a vehicle. At least she waited until she was stopped at the intersection before reading, because as we all know, multi-tasking is a myth!

“I’m only 1.5 years old, and I’m almost done with this book. What have *you* been reading?” 🙂

But Nikki isn’t the norm. Most children will naturally gravitate towards chapter books around 2nd grade, but it could be earlier or later depending. The more challenging aspect about chapter books isn’t so much the lack of pictures — in fact, many chapter books incorporate pictures — but staying with a more complex set of characters who live in a world that the author builds over time. Some will struggle more than others with this, but the important thing is to continue to foster positive associations with books, so that they are curious and drawn towards books and story in general.

Do you remember when you started reading chapter books? What were some of your favorites? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane!

 

Books as Gifts: Easier Said Than Done

The most popular question I get from people at Gracepoint Berkeley church, and our church plants, is about a recommended reading list. And even more so, since it is Christmas time, and people are trying to buy gifts for nieces, nephews, cousins, and other friends and relatives.

But are you surprised by the title of my post? The reason is because it’s really hard to know if the person 1) already has the book, or 2) will like the book! So this requires you to know the person’s reading tastes and history fairly well. In fact, I have gotten several book donations to Bibliopolis from patrons who received books they already had as gifts from relatives, as well as books they received that they didn’t like.

Another thing to consider is that other people might get the same book for your friend/relative. How many of you received several copies of The Return of the Prodigal Son for your baptism? 🙂 An amazing book, but you end up with multiple copies that you feel like you can’t give away, because people have written personal notes at the front of the book!

So if you are positive person X wants a certain book because it’s on their wish list, or her mom told you, then go for it! If you’re not sure what to get for person X, but you know they don’t read all that much, so you’re pretty sure anything you buy will be new to them, then maybe you’ll find my recommended reading list as a useful starting point. I’d been working on a list, but realized it’s never going to be “ready” or finished. It is going to be forever in progress, so I decided to just share what I have so far. I invite you to help me add to it as well.

If you’re not sure what to get your person X who is an avid reader, or who has very particular reading tastes, then I really do think a gift card to a local book store, or online book seller is ok! Of course with a card from the big-A, you can’t prevent person X from buying toys or a juicer, but one can hope!

 

Do you buy books for people? Do you have go-to books you gift? Any favorite books you received? Or stories about bad book gifts? 🙂

God’s Story & The Jesus Storybook Bible

At Gracepoint Berkeley church, we are still very full from the spiritual feast we experienced this past weekend at our annual Thanksgiving Retreat! We’re praying for all the church plants, who are having their retreats this weekend (and two weeks from now for our church in Taiwan). The theme of this year’s retreat was about God’s Story, and how each of our stories are like threads woven into this larger, grand tapestry God has been weaving since the beginning.

jesus_storybook_bibleI don’t want to give away too much for the readers who are from the church plants, but wanted to give a little plug for The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones (2007), from which we excerpted some text for…a special something. 🙂 The book draws from key Bible passages to present God’s Story in a seamless whole.

The full title of the book is The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. Each story from the Old Testament links to the larger arc of God’s salvation plan, foreshadowing and linking to Jesus. And as I’ve observed the kids in Bibliopolis reading to themselves, to one another, and discussing with each other, I’ve noticed that they are “getting it.” For example, as they read and asked questions about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, they made the connection that it was like how God gave Jesus, his son as a sacrifice. And if you notice, there is continuity in the artwork, and that helps them make this connection as well.

It’s a wonderful book to read aloud with kids. It’s very reasonably priced at ChristianBook.com, and just in time for Christmas presents for cousins, nieces, nephews, family friends, or whoever! Even if you don’t have kids of your own, it’s a great book to have at your house for when kiddos come over as well.

Do you have any stories to share about reading The Jesus Storybook Bible with your kids? 

Reading Testimonial: My Mom Read My Book!

love aubrey coverDuring my time with the Tigers (4th-5th girls), we were talking about Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur. It is a middle grade book in the realistic fiction genre, and it really tugs at your heart. Aubrey is 11 years old, and living on her own. I’m not going to tell you much more than that! Though given that “What are SpaghettiOs?” was the most frequently asked question of the girls who have checked out the book, I’ll help you out with that link. 🙂

I think that all, or almost all of the 4th-8th grade girls have torn through this book. It is on our Favorites shelf, though it never stays long before someone else checks it out. It turns out that they’re not the only ones getting into the book. Here’s a true story from one reader. We’re leaving it anonymous to protect the identity of the mom. But if you read closely, you can pick up the not-so-anonymous clues*.

I was reading the book, and started explaining it to my mom. And I said, “Mommy, doesn’t that sound sad?” Then she said, “Here, let me read a little.” So she started reading. And she kept reading it.

When I asked for it back, my mom looked up, and she was crying. I said, “Haha, you’re crying!!!” Because I’ve never seen her cry like that**. And she said, “It’s sooooo sad. Taylor, go get me a tissue.” And then I said, “Mommy, give the book back.” And she said, “OK, fine,” but I could kind of tell she wanted to keep reading it!

Then later, again she asked, “Can I read it?” and she kind of took it from me. And then started reading it. We went back and forth, taking turns reading it for a while. But then later she said, “Go brush your teeth, and then I’ll give it back.” I didn’t want to, but she kind of said she wouldn’t give it back if I didn’t go brush my teeth!

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Mr. Sketch has started a trend of using IKEA pillows to remain anonymous!
 After she told us this story, the rest of the girls started in with their stories of, “ME TOO!” with their moms and various books. And that led to other related stories. It reminded me of Sara getting Jonathan to check-out Gregor the Overlander for her. It was pretty awesome and heart-warming to hear the girls tripping over one other to tell stories about times spent with their parents, siblings, and friends around shared books. This story and others like it show how reading is as social and community-building an activity as it is a solitary one. Let’s continue to create positive reading memories with those the closest to us!

Are there books that you loved reading together and talking about with your family and friends? Have you ever had to battle your parents for one of your books that they started reading? If so, who won? 🙂


*It may appear that a disproportionate number of posts are starting to feature my friends, but it’s entirely coincidental. I’m just a (wannabe) beat writer, reporting the good reading stories as they come, you know?

**I did confirm this fact with the mom in question. When I asked her how she liked Love, Aubrey, she responded, “It’s such a tear-jerker.”