Children’s Book Note: Almost an Animal Alphabet

Almost an Animal Alphabet

 

Our family has read a lot of alphabet books in our day–now I’m working on letters with Kid #3 (!). We read through Almost an Animal Alphabet the other day, which she sincerely enjoyed. (The Yeti is my favorite–and, I think, what makes it only almost an all-animal alphabet.)

The illustrations are creative and fun, and the book is both educational (as you’d hope) and funny. Check it out via POW! Books here, or here on Amazon.

The Family Bathroom: An Ode

Parent: Do you need to go poop or pee? I’m about to go to the bathroom.

Child: No.

Parent: Are you SUUURE? I’m going to take a shower.

Child: I don’t need to go poop or pee.

Parent: (Goes to bathroom, starts water, dares to relax)

Child(ren): I NEED TO GO POOP! I NEED TO GO PEE!

Parenting Pro Tip: Vegetables are “Power Food”

"Tomato je" by Softeis - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
“Tomato je” by Softeis – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

 

If AC/DC was too much for you, here’s another small victory in parenting in the K-J house recently: we now call vegetables “power food.” (I.e., they make you more powerful, which of course is totally true.)

Not only that, but “power food” goes on the plate first, and the kids sit down to eat it before they eat the rest of the meal. An appetizer of sorts.

So far this lovely idea my wife had has been working like a charm. (Finally! They eat their veggies… mostly.) I raise my carrot stick to her in appreciation and celebration.

Parenting Pro Tip: Use AC/DC to Help With Brushing Teeth

AC_DC logo

 

Here’s a free parenting pro tip: sing the chorus of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck antiphonally with your child to help them keep their mouth open. Then you can brush their teeth and gums the way the dentist tells you to.

You say: “Thunder!”

Your child responds: “Ah-ah-ah-ahhhh-ah-ah!”

You say: “Thunder!”

Your child responds: “Ah-ah-ah-ahhhh-ah-ah!”

Repeat ad infinitum, or until your child’s teeth are clean.

It’s been working like a charm here in the K-J house all week. Here’s the song if you need a refresher.

 

That Time My 2-Year-Old Daughter Gave Me a Writing Tip in Scrivener

Our daughter is in the Terrific/Terrible Twos stage.

The terrible: she does things like write on the new kitchen floor in permanent marker. She leaves tons of tiny fingerprints on the MacBook and almost pushes the TV off its stand because she thinks they are both touch screens. She changes her own diaper and *tries* to flush its contents down the toilet herself. (Okay–this last one isn’t all bad–potty training, here we come!)

The terrific: sometimes, when she presses random keys on the laptop keyboard, instead of making the computer freeze, she discovers new tips. (Far more terrific than that, of course, is the fact that she is an amazing and wonderful human being.)

The other day she saw this little guy in the toolbar when I had Scrivener open for some work I was doing:

 

Scrivener Compose Icon

 

She tried to tap it (no Scrivener for iPad… but soon, I hear!). Then between the two of us, we clicked it and Scrivener went from this view:

 

Scrivener Screenshot
Click or open in new tab to enlarge

 

to this one:

Scrivener Composition Mode
Click or open in new tab to enlarge

 

Yes, Scrivener can go into full screen, but this is something a little different–a composition mode where you can just write. You’ll see at the bottom (a toolbar which goes away if you want it to) that I can still pull up essentials like the footnote window on the left. Or I can move all that out and just focus on writing.

I’ve used Scrivener for more than a year now and don’t think I’ve ever clicked on “Compose.”

So… thank you, two-year-old daughter, for helping your dad learn more about a program he uses all week, and for simplifying my workflow!

Want to check Scrivener out? (I recommend it, and offer my thanks to the folks that make it for the review license.) Here you can download a free trial, for Mac or Windows. (It’s a generous trial period, too.) You can read more about Scrivener’s features here.

What Jonah, Honest Toddler, McNulty, and Choose Your Own Adventure Novels Have in Common

Honest ToddlerI have Honest Toddler to thank for helping me keep my wits about me as the father of three young kids. Here’s a recent Facebook status of this all-too familiar personality:

Good Morning! Wow it’s like it has been forever. …. Anyway for breakfast I’ll have 6 plain pancakes … on the red plate. Not the red one with the green trim or the brick colored one, RED. Yes, the one that shattered yesterday. I’m sure you’ll figure something out. God help you if I see a crack. Also, I would like my pancake intact but in bite-sized pieces. Don’t break my pancakes but please cut them. I want them undamaged but in small pieces so I can eat. Do you see what I’m saying? Perfect but altered. It’s not hard. Follow your heart but keep in mind that if you get it wrong I’ll make today hard. Ok I’ll be in the family room sitting in your lap while you also cook in the kitchen. Love you. (so hungry)

Toddlers can somehow seamlessly embody two (or more) mutually exclusive desires at the same time.

I want to wear that shirt, but I don’t want it covering my top half.

I want milk on my cereal, but I don’t want my Cheerios to be wet!

 

 Nuanced Characters

 

I have a hard time knowing what to do when someone I’m responsible for wants me to do their top button, but at the same time leave it unbuttoned.

McNultyBut when it comes to literature, film, music, and narrative TV, I love highly nuanced and complex characters.

I appreciate people like Elsa, Jimmy McNulty, Robert Duvall in The Apostle, any character by Flannery O’Connor.

Good literature, good film, and good TV all blur the line between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because those categories aren’t so clear in real life.

Jonah’s a fascinating character in that regard. We’re not really sure what to make of him. Is he a good prophet, a bad prophet, or some of both, depending on the day? His portrayal is not an even one, or an easy one to detect. He’s a bundle of contradictions and love and judgmentalism and frustration and eagerness and obedience…. He runs away from Nineveh, but then goes flying towards it, preaching repentance as he walks into the city. And then with his message successful, he flees the city again, to watch it from afar.

 

Jonah: Loves God’s Compassion (for him),
Hates It (for others)

 

Jonah / Michelangelo / Sistine Chapel
Jonah / Michelangelo / Sistine Chapel

God’s compassion is what Jonah loves most about God… when it comes to Jonah. It was God’s predisposition toward second chances, after all, that has kept Jonah alive throughout this book.

Jonah shows in Jonah 4 that he knew one of Israel’s creeds quite well: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” And he rightly takes the shade-giving vine as God’s provision for him.

But if God’s provision and compassion toward Jonah is what keeps Jonah coming back to God, the Lord’s mercy toward despised others is what keeps Jonah running away from God.

Three times in this chapter Jonah tells God he’d rather die than watch his repentant enemies receive God’s clemency.

It almost makes you think about Peter’s three-fold denial of knowing Jesus. Jonah tries to deny God the opportunity to forgive whomever he wants to forgive.

 

Even the Animals

 

Jonah is angry enough to die. But God is concerned enough to save a clueless city…. even the animals!

Like in Jonah 4:11. Another translation follows the word order of the Hebrew a little more closely than the NIV, and punctuates the book’s ending with a mention of the animals!

“Should I not be even more concerned about Nineveh, this enormous city? There are more than one hundred twenty thousand people in it who do not know right from wrong, as well as many animals!”

A Heathen Animal of Nineveh, Pre-Repentance
A Heathen Animal of Nineveh, Pre-Repentance

Animals—there they are again! Putting on their sackcloth and mooing their repentance to the Lord.

Jonah loved the whale that saved him, but the worm that ate his shade—this animal he hated.

A vine that came up overnight, that Jonah had nothing to do with—he latched onto and cried when it withered. But a city full of hopeless people… well, he wanted them to wither like that vine… to go down into the depths and be consumed by worms.

But God loves all that he has made—evildoing humans, whales, worms, withered vines, and cursing sailors. Not one being is outside the scope of God’s loving care.

 

Good Theology, Bad Heart

 

Jonah gets a lot of things right. He’s right, I think, to be so angry at the perpetrators of injustice and oppression. He’s like every other God-inspired prophet who railed against those who tipped the scales to keep others down.

And he’s right about who God is, in verse 2 of the final chapter of the book: “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

But not everything in Jonah’s head has made its way down into his heart. His theology at the beginning of this chapter sounds right, but he wants to apply the attributes of God just to himself.

It’s as if Jonah turns God’s words against him. He recites a well known formula, an articulation of who God is, but in a mocking tone of voice. In conflict resolution terminology, that’s called invalidating.

He’s like the prodigal son, who can’t stand watching lavish grace poured out on people who should have long ago forfeited the opportunity by their behavior. He’s the good guy, they’re the bad guys–why would God show them favor?

Which leads to an important question: Whom is God for? For whom exactly does God intend his salvation?

 

Whom is Christmas For?

 

And we might seasonally appropriate that question: Whom is Advent for? Whom is Christmas for?

Whose Light?
Whose Light?

It would be easy in a season of preparation, to tend so much to our own hearts and lives, that we think only of how we receive Jesus for ourselves. We can spend so much time tending the vine, that we forget about the city we live in.

And we may be tempted to keep God’s compassion to ourselves and begrudge him when he shows mercy to those who have wronged us (and then turned to God). Well, we just wanted to see them get what was coming to them!

A Jewish commenter on this passage says, “It is not unusual for people to be so intent on the punishment of others that they lose their own way and are disappointed when people change their ways for the better.”

Jesus came into the world, offering light and life to anyone who would turn away from the darkness and turn toward him. And there are some really scummy people included in this invitation. How do we feel about that? What do we think of God’s way too liberal compassion? (I mean, he should pace himself more, right?)

Will we hide it under a bushel? Is God’s grace a proprietary character trait, only meant for the people of God? Jonah tried to hide under a vine, a divinely created shelter that he wanted only for himself.

But God sent a little worm to eat that thing up, in an effort to shake Jonah out of his self-focused slumber.

 

Choose Your Own Adventure

 

I like these stories with nuanced characters, ones whose interior lives are complex. I think this sort of storytelling is truer to the human condition.

And I resonate with Jonah. He gets it some of the time; other times, not so much. He really has a hard time just letting God be God.

One other thing that good storytellers do, besides writing full and complex characters, is to write compelling endings.

You can probably recall endings to novels that left you with goosebumps, because the last few lines of the story actually described a new beginning:

 

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

 

After all, tomorrow is another day.

 

Where the Wild Things AreMax stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye and sailed back over a year and in and out of weeks and through a day and into the night of his very own room where he found his supper waiting for him—and it was still hot.

These stories show characters with the hope of boats going on, even if into the past… they show the hope of a new day, the hope of a still-hot dinner, waiting in his room.

The narrator of Jonah is writing a new beginning into the end of the story.

But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?

This is no tidy conclusion. It’s a question. It’s a rhetorical question, and we know the answer, just like Jonah knew the “right answer” in verse 2. But even as a rhetorical question, it invites—even demands—our response.

We have no idea how Jonah ends for Jonah. We don’t know if he’ll continue in his anger, or if he’s changed for the better.

Choose Your Own AdventureBut it really doesn’t matter… because it’s not just Jonah’s new day that the author concerned about… it’s ours. This is not The Great Gatsby or Gone with the Wind or Where the Wild Things Are. Jonah reads much more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where you, the reader, decide how the story ends for you.

The conclusion to Jonah requires our participation.

God has compassion on evil agents of empire when they come clean. The compassion that was always ours is now theirs—we have decide if we’re okay with sharing.

We are left with having to answer God’s question ourselves. The main character of the book of Jonah has always been God, with Jonah the most prominent supporting actor. But now we become the supporting cast, as we hear God ask:

 

“Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

 

Should I not be concerned about people who are killing each other, enslaving the innocent, beating the helpless, oppressing the poor, and destroying the environment?

 

Did I not come to earth to set despised evildoers free, too, should they accept my love?

 

Do you have any right to be angry at my gratuitous acts of incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection for the life of the world?

 

Is this not the way, God asks, of my breaking in on earth, that I should have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whomever I please?

 

This doesn’t mean there won’t still be justice, but do you have any right to be angry, God asks, when I decide to save the ones who should be smitten down?

 

The book of Jonah all boils down to that burning question: What will your response be, O reader, to the ways and work of God? Can you only accept it on your own terms, and keep God’s grace close to home? Or can you see Jesus as coming to earth for everyone, a gift of love for anyone who would believe?

Jonah ends here—but for us, the revelation of God’s concern for oppressors is not a period, but an ellipsis….

 

When Jesus comes, will we receive him largely for ourselves? Or can we receive him on his own terms, and open our hearts to his compassion so that we overflow with love toward even the most corrupt parts of God’s creation?

 

The skilled storyteller invites us now to take up the pen…

…to write—and to live—our response.

 

F.F. Bruce’s Atlas for Young Readers

Bruce Bible History AtlasLast week we received a kindness in the mail from a new friend in Israel–F.F. Bruce’s Bible History Atlas.

My 7-year-old son, who had been looking forward to receiving it, came home from school and smiled widely when I had him open it.

He ran outside to share the good news with his younger siblings, who were running around with sticks and dressed up as a spaceman and ladybug, respectively. He was excited.

His first excited question to me when he came back into the house was, “Where is the battle page?” We have again been reading about the Maccabees recently in The Sacred Bridge (though, of course, I had to for now edit out the forced circumcision portion of that narrative!), so he was eager to find the Maccabees and Hasmonean era in Bruce’s atlas, which we were easily and quickly able to locate.

The atlas covers all of biblical history–both Testaments and everything in between.

The kind folks at Carta publish the Bruce atlas, as well as The Sacred Bridge. Their product page for Bible History Atlas (one of many fine atlases they offer) is here.

The Joys of a 7-Year-Old with a LEGO Store Gift Card

Grandma and Grandpa, this post is mostly for you. (Others: feel free to keep reading if you want.)

My seven-year-old son received a LEGO Store gift card from his grandparents. So we went on a Saturday morning to the LEGO Store to pick out a couple of sets. I’ve always been an indecisive shopper, and he showed some signs of that (how could you not?), but made a good decision that he stuck by.

One of the sets he got includes Batman and the Flash. Here’s his build of the Batmobile:

 

IMG_2123

 

IMG_2124

 

The best part is he’s been sharing quite nicely with his brother!

Here, by the way, is the set. Thank you, Grandma and Grandpa!

 

The LEGO Movie: The Essential Guide

LEGO Movie Essential Guide

 

We are big fans around here of The LEGO Movie. My then-six-year-old offered a review of The Official Movie Handbook and the Junior Novel. My favorite two parts of that interaction were: “Emmet…falls out of a tower that, like, goes past heaven,” and his description of Bad Cop as “a bad police.” (No, I’m the only one who watches The Wire around here.)

DK’s Essential Guide does a great job of covering the movie. It has colorful two-page spreads of the main characters (Emmet, Wyldstyle, Benny, and more), as well as sections like “Emmet’s Big Idea” and “Everything is Awesome,” so you can learn all the lyrics to the movie’s catchy tune. “To the Kraglizer” shows both Benny’s Spaceship and Emmet’s Construction Mech–you get to see not just scenes of the movie, but the sets as they are currently packaged and offered by LEGO now.

A two-page “Behind the Scenes” section closes the book with Q and A, including such questions as “How much of The LEGO Movie set was developed as real LEGO models?”

The book is a bedtime (and daytime) favorite with my four-year-old and seven-year-old. They keep coming back to it. It’s great for bedtime reading, because, although we can’t read all 64 pages before bed, I can tell the kids we’ll read three characters, which can easily keep us engaged for 10 minutes. There’s a lot to pore over here. (MetalBeard’s short “Guide to Pirate Speak” on page 47 was fun.)

Here’s a look inside The Essential Guide, from the publisher’s UK page:

 

DK LEGO_Awesome

 

DK LEGO_Wyldstyle

 

DK LEGO_Master Builders

 

Lots of entertainment is waiting to be had here–our DK Essential Guide to the Cars movie is a well-loved household item, now missing its fold-out insert (from so much love). The LEGO Movie: The Essential Guide is already similarly appreciated around here, though all the pages are so far still in tact!

 

Thanks to DK Publishing for the review copy, given with no expectation as to the content of the review. Find The Lego Movie: The Essential Guide here at Amazon (affiliate link) or here at DK’s site.

From Scratch and Sniff Chip ‘N’ Dale to Jacob’s Travels

Scratch and Sniff feature available in iOS 9 only
Scratch and Sniff feature available in iOS 9 only

 

I had a “scratch and sniff” Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers Spanish-language comic book when I first learned Spanish in high school.

I know–I can’t believe I just started a post with that sentence, either.

Silly as it was, the comic was an enjoyable way for me to practice reading a new language. I kept it for way too long and only in the last couple years threw it out. (The “sniff” of the front cover had long since stopped working.)

I’ve tried to step up my efforts lately in improving my biblical Hebrew reading, especially as I preach through Genesis in church. My now seven-year-old son has at times joined me in our Hebrew-learning adventures, always at his request. Most recently we worked together to review EKS Publishing’s enjoyable and accessible First Hebrew Primer.

Og the Terrible may be the more apt Hebrew-learning comparison to my Spanish-language Chip ‘N’ Dale comic. Og appears in a series of adventures featuring Prayerbook Hebrew and a dragon. (Might the Jewish/Christian apostle Paul have said Og helped the Scripture to be fire-breathed?)

JacobsTravelsCoverI’ve not read Og (yet!), but EKS Publishing has a series of Hebrew and English children’s books revolving around biblical characters.

The one at left–Jacob’s Travels–has been on our bookshelf for some time. We return to it on a fairly regular basis, sometimes reading the Hebrew text slowly, sometimes just reading the book in its English translation.

The back cover describes the book:

Jacob’s Travels begins and ends with Jacob encountering the Divine. This retelling of the story from Genesis, told in Hebrew and English, is a reminder of God’s constant presence in our lives. At a time when he feels most alone, this realization brings Jacob great comfort, inspiring one of the most memorable lines in the Bible: “Surely God is in this place and I did not know it!”

The translation is smooth and readable, with a more “literal” translation in the back of the book for those learning Hebrew. There’s also a glossary at the back for those who want to steer clear of the English and see how well they can do with just the Hebrew.

The book is probably better geared toward older children or even Hebrew-learning adults, as there is a high text-to-picture ratio.

It’s fun to read, though, and certainly more edifying than (no offense) the Rescue Rangers.

You can find the book here (Amazon) or here (EKS Publishing). EKS’s other children’s books are here.