Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Prince Who Was Just Himself – Silke Schnee

© 2015 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Children’s books sometimes seem to be a dime a dozen. Often authors of children’s books rise up out of almost every corner of the market. Celebrities are the newest joiners into the competitive market of Children’s reading material—often gaining sales for their celebrity instead the quality of the book. So when I receive a book designed for children I look for several indicators that the book will be appropriate for and appealing to children, as well as enjoyable for parents to read to and with their children.

A big factor in children’s literature appeal is the accompanying artwork. In this selection, illustrator Heike Sistig uses vibrant colors, simple shapes, and touching scenery to convey the story being told by the author. If one must find a drawback or flaw with the illustrations it would be in the occasional overpowering backgrounds of the full-page illustrations. But they don’t distract from the pictorial re-telling of the story for the child-reader to associate with the tale.

Another major concern in children’s writing is the story itself. Is it appropriate for young minds? Does it appeal to the child’s senses? Are the sentences short and concise enough to engage the child in the story? Schnee does it all. This story—the story of a third prince born into a royal family (the new prince being noticeably different from the other people of the kingdom)—has lots of adventure and appeal. For an added bonus, the story is a lesson for everyone in the family as well as the kingdom. Without giving too much away, this book gives parents of all types of children an opportunity to talk about how one child can be different, but that can be okay. The author’s personal experience (making the tale almost autobiographical) brings the story to life. She surely was able to use the story to help her sons adjust to their new brother. And now the world (thanks in part to excellent translation by Erna Albertz) can do so as well.

If you, or someone you know has a child who is “a little different” you will want to make this delightful book a part of your library. Read it with your child. Let your child read it with you. Let the world know that your child can be happy “just being himself.” (5 reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, September 2, 2015

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

Friday, April 17, 2015

Memories, Musings, and Mischief – Jo Ann M. Cross

©2015  48HrBooks (

When one is well into his fifties, it is often difficult to remember those long past days spent day-dreaming on the third row of Mrs. Cross’ Trigonometry and Analytical Geometry (Trig’n’Analyt) class—yes when he should be listening and learning all about tangents, sines, and cosines. The same must be true for Mrs. Cross when she retires. Who would ever expect the purveyor of all knowledge mathematical would be a great story-teller, too? But here you have it. Jo Ann Cross has penned in her retirement the book that all retirees plan to write. Her subject matter? Not math, but her stories—the stories she heard from parents and grandparents as she grew up in a rural east Texas community, the stories about her own experience, stories that span the funny to the tragic. And she does so quite successfully, too.

In an attempt to preserve some of the stories of her ancestry that have been passed down orally from generation to generation, and to offer a glimpse of community life from east Texas for a larger audience, Cross has developed what she calls “short stories” but is mostly a collection of memoir-type essays that bring all aspects of life into crisp focus.

The author’s talent is evident in superb moments of personification. Many of the stories hinging on her own experience rely heavily on her dry, but ever present sense of humor. The one story that deals with math and her father’s ability to teach the difficult concepts so that the smallest child can understand brought me back to that third row seat in Mrs. Cross’ Trig’n’Analyt class. I recall plainly the day when I kept asking “why” and “how” and Mrs. Cross smiled at the whole class and said, “Don’t try to understand it, just know that it works, and do it.” That advice saved my bacon in the only upper level math I would ever take.

Included in the smiles and jests are a couple of very touching stories. Of particular interest are “Pa-Pa’s Funeral” which deals more with race relations in early 20th century east Texas than the funeral itself, and “Samuel and Sarah” chronicling the author’s ancestral move from the deep South to deep east Texas in the mid-19th century. The latter of these two stories bearing a heavy L’Amour-esque flavor in relating the history of the move.

This little collection will have appeal to a variety of audiences—friends and family of the author will certainly enjoy the book, Mrs. Cross’ former colleagues and students (yes, I am one) will find the peek into the real-ness of Jo Ann Cross very fun and refreshing, readers who like the historical and the hysterical will both be extremely entertained, and like me, people with roots in places like Brinker, Texas (mine would be Cason) will be transported to those thrilling days of yesteryear to relive their own amusing moments. Thanks for the trip down several memories’ lanes Mrs. Cross. And thanks also for being real during all those years you took your place at the front of a Mesquite High School classroom.

Well-written and entertaining, Jo Ann Cross’ “Collection of Short Stories” deserves every bit of the five reading glasses that this reviewer awards it.

—Benjamin Potter April 17, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

Easter Stories – Miriam LeBlanc, compiler

© 2015 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

With Easter just around the corner, I welcomed the chance to read a collection of inspirational stories set in, on, or around Easter for review. Thanks to the publishers at Plough for providing one. You can visit them here:

This collection of stories, with a couple of poems thrown in for good measure, is designed to be inspiring for those who follow the Christ of Easter. The selections included here are often inspirational as promised. Specifically heartfelt is the legend of Russian martyr, Vasily Osipovich Rakhov (born ca. 1861) as creatively told in “The Case of Rachoff”, making this reader want to dig a little deeper into the life of this wanderer who lived a life dedicated to Jesus and Jesus alone.
Included are both old and new stories. Some of the classics include selections by Leo Tolstoy (“Two Old Men”), C.S. Lewis (“The Death of the Lizard” from The Great Divorce), and Anton Chekhov (“The Student”). These tales are inspiring if not actually familiar. Newer selections, such as “The King and Death” by Ger Koopman seem to be written specifically for this collection. This latter story was an excellent one with a bit of a slowdown for an ending.

I chose to read this book as part of my morning devotions as there are only about thirty selections (reading one entry per day). This worked well for me, but I found some of the selections to be longer than my 15-20 minute devotional time would allow. Other readers may prefer to read the anthology like any other that they would pick up, selecting only one or two selections a year at Easter time.

This book is filled with stories from distant lands like Germany and Russia, that center on the miraculous nature of the Easter season, and is worth your time to read. Included are brand new wood-cutting artworks by artist Lisa Toth which expertly introduce each story. I would recommend it for anyone who wants to add a new element to their Easter celebration. (four out of five reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, March 27, 2015

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

Monday, March 16, 2015

Rasmus and the Vagabond – Astrid Lindgren

© 2015 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

Astrid Lindgren is the Swedish author whose Pippi Longstocking books (and films featuring the redheaded child of strength and ingenuity) have captured children’s hearts all over the world, first released this tale of an orphan wanting a home and his vagabond friend in Sweden in 1956.

Life in the Vaesterhaga Orphanage was a drudgery for nine-year-old Rasmus. Digging potatoes and pulling nettles was not the life he desired. Like many a nine-year-old boy, he wanted to play and climb trees, and enjoy life. The only fond memory he had related to the time he had an ear-ache and the directress of the orphanage (the stern, unyielding Miss Hawk) had held him comfortingly for but a moment.

When a rich grocer and his wife come to adopt a child, everything goes wrong for Rasmus from the moment he begins to clean up for the visit. It really didn’t matter. Parents wanted girls with curls, not boys with straight hair. And so Rasmus decided to run away.

On his first morning out of the orphanage, Rasmus met and befriended Oscar—a tramp extraordinaire, who played his accordion and sang for food or money as he traveled far and wide over God’s green earth. No longer lonely on his journey, Rasmus began to learn of life from his new friend, “Paradise Oscar, God’s best friend.” What follows is an adventurous journey filled with crime, intrigue, happiness and sadness as Oscar tries to help Rasmus find the perfect parents who would adopt him—a rich, handsome couple who want a boy with straight hair and not a girl with curls.

They meet with gangsters and sheriffs, with maids and rich ladies. And eventually Rasmus finds the perfect home—but you’ll have to read the book to find out about it.

I like the tenor of this children’s book because it reads like a children’s book ought to. It is filled with lessons on honesty and honor, happiness and struggle, with some fun along the way. This book will please readers of all ages and will leave the reader with a satisfied feeling that life can be good and right. I give Rasmus and the Vagabond five out of five reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, March 16, 2015

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

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