Monday, October 14, 2013

Biographies to inspire and edify young ones

I'm always on the lookout for books to help cultivate character and confidence in my five-year-old son, Stephen. He loves nature and has a way with words. (Yesterday he coined the phrase "Oke doke Artichoke-y!") But most of all, his imagination and inventive abilities are out of this world. I just know that God has something special planned for him.

In searching for a birthday present for another friend, I stumbled upon Irene Howat's series of "Ten Boys Who..." and "Ten Girls Who..." put out by London-based Christian Focus Publications. After reading the sparse but overall positive reviews on Amazon, I settled on "Ten Girls Who Changed the World" for my friend's daughter, and "Ten Boys Who Used their Talents" for Stephen. Because the cover says the reading level is for ages 7-12, I figured that I'd read it first and determine whether to save it for when Stephen is a little older.

Well, I've perused a few of the 11-page biographies from "Ten Girls," including Joni Eackerson Tada, Corrie Ten Boom and Gladys Aylward. I thought they were both interesting and readable, perhaps because Howat didn't try to cram every detail of these heroine's lives into the stories. Or, perhaps because their dramatic lives are naturally suited to story form. Unfortunately, after reading "Ten Boys Who Used their Talents" from cover to cover, and wasn't as impressed as I so wanted to be. The book introduced me to several Christian men with whom I wasn't familiar, including Paul Brand (medical missionary who pioneered leprosy treatments), Ghillean Prance (environmental activist in the Amazon), Wilfred Grenfell (another medical missionary) and James Clerk Maxwell (electromagnetism expert). It also includes bios of more famous men: C.S. Lewis, C.T. Studd, Johann Sebastian Bach, Samuel Morse, George Washington Carver and John Bunyan. I love the concept behind this book. Howat attempts to connect each boy's talents and giftings to a life serving God. While many of the men included were missionaries, she also touched upon some other themes, such as environmentalism and equality, that lend depth to the message of serving God.

My main qualm with this book was the sloppy writing and research. (On page 109, George Washington Carver went to college in "Indiana, Iowa." Hmmm. So which was it? I looked it up; Simpson College is in Indianola, Iowa.) I also found many of the narratives disjointed and lacking transitions. Years pass abruptly without so much as a nice introductory clause like "Many years later." Howat also has an annoying habit of using unnatural sounding dialog to allude to facts that could have been conveyed more succinctly through narrative or in the "Fact File" sections that follow each chapter.

But while these details bother me as a journalist and writing tutor by trade, I will have to reserve final judgment for after I try reading the book to Stephen.

****Update: So, I read Stephen part of the first chapter, about Wilfred Grenfell. He was interested in Grenfell's bug collection, but he was snoring five pages into the story. However, it was already an hour and a half past bedtime. We'll try again tomorrow.****

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