Monday, July 29, 2013

Number the Stars

The school year is rapidly approaching, and as a teacher, I find my mind turning more and more to school, students, lesson plans, and Pinterest finds.  (Ok, let's be honest, I pretty much think about Pinterest year round.  Come follow me!)  As I think about the school year, I like to start thinking about what books I'd like to read with my students, what books to recommend to students, and how I can get students reading.  This leads me to today's review, which is on one of my all-time favorite YA books: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.

Number the Stars is a historical fiction (I know, you're shocked) set in Denmark during World War II.  The main character, Annemarie, is best friends with a Jewish girl her age, and as the Nazis tighten their grip on the country, Annemarie and her family find themselves having to make hard choices to save their friends.  The book opens the eyes of the reader to the horrors and truths of World War II without being too graphic - perfect for young readers' minds.  It examines a harsh portion of history, but provides hope, because as long as there are people willing to fight back the evil, there is hope.  It also discusses a little-known part of World War II history, that of Denmark's role in the Resistance movement.  Denmark managed to save 80% of their Jewish population during the Nazi occupation - a phenomenal feat for that time period.  This is a story worth telling, and Annemarie's tale (based on true stories told the author by a friend) is the perfect lens through which to see this perilous yet heroic period of history.

Lois Lowry is one of the great YA authors of our time.  Her books range in topic from historical fiction to futuristic dystopia to the trials and tribulations of pre-teen girls.  She writes in a style that speaks to readers of all levels; she uses vocabulary that is easily understood, but she never "talks down" to her readers.  She assumes her YA have imaginations and is not afraid to put those imaginations to use.  The results are delightful books for a range of ages, genders, and interests. 

Two years ago I had the privilege of teaching this book to a classroom of students with behavioral disorders, and I discovered that not only was it a great book for the literature itself, it effortlessly led into fantastic character education opportunities.  We were able to explore questions like "What would you do?"  We transitioned from this into some teaching about the Holocaust in general, and we wrapped it up with one of my favorite projects, Heroes of the Holocaust, where we researched people who had made the decision during the 1940s to fight the Nazi regime by helping the Jews and others that the Nazis meant to exterminate. 

The book also gave me a rare opportunity to talk about something almost unknown in the area in which I live - Jewish culture.  My own background has Jewish ancestry, and my husband and I believe that, as Christians, it is essential to honor Christianity's Jewish roots and teach our children about them.  As a result, I have a lot of information about the Feasts and the Festivals, as well as items that have become important to our family's heritage, such as our Menorah and the candles we use for Shabbat.  Teaching this book in the classroom gave me a chance to share that heritage with my students and help open their world to a culture that was unfamiliar to them. 

If you are a teacher, I highly recommend you incorporate this book into your curriculum.  If you are not a teacher, you should read it, and then you should recommend it to your young friends.  If you are a parent looking for a book for your YA reader - pick up Number the Stars, you won't regret it! 

***If you are a teacher and would like any of the resources I used for my teaching unit, comment below, I am happy to share!

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
What I'm reading now: The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George  
Top Five TBR:
1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
2. Forgotten God by Francis Chan.
3. Lady of the English and To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Daughter of Time

If you have looked over this blog at all, you might notice I have a slight interest in British history.  Yes, I am an Anglophile.  All history fascinates me, but I have a particular love for the British variety, and I will tell you why.  It's because it's a great story.  There has never been a novel or soap opera written as crazy as the story of the British monarchy and the people of that small island.  How did this tiny island in the Atlantic come to rule half the world at one point?  It's crazy!  And crazy fun. 

For the record, I had this odd appreciation for British history long before the recent surge in interest for the royals.  I was reading biographies on King Henry VIII when William was still in college, long before Kate Middleton and huge weddings and cute babies arrived.  This is not to say that I did not stay up to watch the wedding.  I did.  I also followed to baby stories.  They are a cute couple with a tremendous amount of history behind them.  Way more interesting than the Kardashians. 

So, in honor of all the crazy royal-ness, I thought I would review an "oldie but a goodie" from my book collection.  The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey tackles one of the great mysteries of English history: what, exactly, is the story with King Richard III? 

The history books paint a particular story about King Richard.  They depict as decrepit, hunchbacked, and that pure embodiment of evil.  They say he killed Henry VI, his two nephews, and whoever else was in his way.  Basically, the version of King Richard from Shakespeare's play. 

The Daughter of Time is written like a detective story from the perspective of a modern day (well, sort of, the book was written in several decades ago) detective who is confined to bed for medical reasons.  He has nothing to do, so he starts looking at historical pictures, and he is intrigued that the portrait of Richard III does not look anything like the monster of his childhood history classes.  This sends him on a chase for the real Richard III, and what he finds is a classic tale of "history is written by the victors."  After all, if much of history is taken from Shakespeare's plays, we must remember that Shakespeare was writing during the reign of the Tudors, who defeated Richard and took his crown.  It was therefore quite advantageous of him to portray Richard the way he did, and that's the way poor Richard III went down in history.  The truth is, much of what is assumed about Richard III is probably not true at all, as the fictional detective Alan Grant discovers.  While the story of Alan Grant is fictional, the facts he uncovers are not, and you may be surprised that you do not know as much as you think you know. 

This is a great book to read and have your eyes opened to the fallacies of our so-called histories.  It will make you question other things about history as well - and, truth be told, much of what we know is wrong, or at least slanted.  The book reads like a mystery novel, but look out - you might actually learn something along the way. 

****Extra note for the geeks like me:
Personally, I am a huge Richardian apologist.  I was very tempted to go on a rant here about how there is NO WAY he had his nephews killed.  I love this particular historical debate. For the sake of most of my readers, I held back...but if you would like to know more about Richard, his history, and why he is not the monster of British history, comment here and I will certainly fill you in!!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
What I'm reading now: The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George  
Top Five TBR:
1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
2. Forgotten God by Francis Chan.
3. Lady of the English and To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan  

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Utter Relief of Holiness

"Holiness is the healing of our humanity." - John Eldredge

When people see the word holiness, there is often an internal shudder that happens. "Ewww.  Now I'm about to hear a litany of all the things I'm doing wrong.  Holiness sucks."  Or this: "Here comes the guilt.  I could never live up to the standard of holiness.  I am a failure."  Or defiance:  "They can't tell me what to do!"

But what if, instead, a life of holiness was actually the answer, not the problem?  What if we were meant to live a life of holiness, and striving for that actually brought complete freedom?

The issue of holiness is addressed in John Eldredge's latest book The Utter Relief of Holiness.  Now, let me be clear: I come into reading this book completely biased.  I love everything John Eldredge ever wrote.  He could write a book about hockey, and I'd probably read it.  And once again, he has attacked hard issues with love and joy and the word of God in a way that challenges and does not condemn.

What Eldredge is most interested in with this book - and, indeed, it is the driving passion of his ministry - is the restoration of human beings.  Eldredge has a heart to see people fully whole and fully restored.  His suggestion here is that instead of shunning holiness, we were created for it, and therefore should embrace it - and that in that embracing, there is utter relief.

We all struggle with something.  Personally, one of my biggest struggles is health and weight.  I want to be healthy and put healthy things in my body and move my body in healthy ways (i.e. exercise), but I struggle to keep it up.  But what if, in applying the principles found in this book, I stopped "trying" so hard and instead looked to the captivating goodness found in Jesus Christ?  Eldredge states: "The power is not ours.  The power comes from God, from the presence of the living Jesus Christ inside us."  Our job is not to try and be good - our job is to run into the arms of Jesus and let His good become our good.  Instead of praying "God, seriously, I'm gonna do better today!" we need to start with this simple prayer:

"Jesus, give me your holiness."

It's in this place of complete surrender to Christ that we find our holiness...and with that our relief.  What if we simply did not struggle with the things that plague us - or at least, in struggle, we found power instead of of defeat?  It would be an absolute relief to our life.  This is the kind of freedom Christ offers us.  If all the world embraced this idea, it would change the face of humanity - which is exactly what Jesus came to do.  He came that we would have life to the fullest - right now.  Eldredge points out that in John 14:27, Jesus says "do not let your hearts be troubled."  This would indicate that we have a say in what troubles our hearts.  not in our circumstances, but in our response, and that choice gives us much more power than we imagine.

We have holiness available to us if we would only surrender to Christ and allow His power and goodness to become our strength.  And if we could let that happen...well then, that would be a relief.

Read the book.  It will change your perspective on how to live the life you may have only dreamed of living.

To learn more, check out this video:  

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What's I'm reading now: The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George  
Top Five TBR:
1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin
2. Forgotten God by Francis Chan.
3. Lady of the English and To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick
4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser
5. Crazy Love by Francis Chan  

Sunday, July 7, 2013

What I'm Reading These Days

Ok, so here's a confession: I seem to be having trouble finishing books lately.  As in, I am trying to remember the last time I actually, you know, finished one.  I keep picking them up and starting them.  I should probably just settle down and focus on one at a time, but that doesn't really seem likely to happen, now does it?  So, instead I am going to take a moment to let you in on the World of a Hopeless Bookworm and see just what it is that keeps me reading these days:

1. Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I saw Lincoln and I had to read the book.  The competition for the Republican presidential nomination of 1860 was an intriguing time in American politics, and rather than punish his competitors with obscurity, Lincoln recognized his need for opinions other than his own and surrounded himself with his rivals.  That, my friends, is statesmanship.  Wish we still had some around.

2. Forgotten God by Francis Chan.  I believe Francis Chan to be one of the great men of God of our time.  The revelation he has received about what it means to truly follow Christ is at once challenging and comforting.  This book about the Holy Spirit is, so far, a life-changer, and I hope to finish it soon.

3. The Utter Relief of Holiness by John Eldredge.  Fact: If John Eldredge wrote it, I am going to read it.  I don't care if it's about God, life, or penguins, I will read it.  This book is about living a holy life - and the relief that comes from living the life we were intended to live.  I am almost done with this one, look for  review soon.

4. The Story of Britain by Rebecca Fraser.  I love this book.  I love British history.  I have been reading this book on and off for over a year.  I WILL FINISH THIS BOOK.

5. History's Worst Predictions and the People Who Made Them by Eric Chaline.  Hard to believe that people thought airplanes were useless or that no one would want a personal computer in their home, but there it is.  This is a fun book, and it makes a great coffee table book.  Or bathroom book.  Or waiting-to-pick-up-the-kids book.  It's just fun.

6. A Prophetic Calendar: The Feasts of Israel by Jill Shannon.  An exploration of the feasts mandated by God and the blessings that come from celebrating them today.  Gives both practical and spiritual applications.  I'm going slowly in this book because I am savoring it.    Amazing blessing and revelation here.

7. Lady of the English and To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick.  Elizabeth Chadwick is one of those authors I read while I wait for Diana Gabaldon and Sharon K. Penman to get done with their novels.  She's good, but not as good as Gabaldon and Penman.  (Let's face it, who is?)  These two novels about my favorite period in English history are keeping me going until Penman finishes Ransom and Gabaldon finishes Written in my Own Heart's Blood.

Is it any wonder that I NEVER finish a book?!  ;)

In the meantime, here's a typical conversation at my poor husband...