Review of the Infographic Bible

Contrary to its name, the Infographic Bible isn’t a Bible. And for me, that’s a point in its favor. I’ve admittedly gotten a little weary of the dozens and dozens of Bibles that Zondervan has marketed that call themselves “The _____ Bible”, which end up just being a standard NIV or NKJV Bible interspersed with a few articles or notes.

How would I characterize The Infographics Bible? Well, you know how when you’re reading a great Study Bible or other Bible reference book, and a certain figure or table catches your eye, and you end up fixated on it for long stretches of time? Well, imagine a book of nothing but those figures and tables blown up to large, full-color 8.5 x 11 inch pages and that’s what this book is.

The word “Infographics” has been misused and misunderstood by a lot of people in recent years. A lot of graphic designers will just take words, organize them in pretty ways, and call them “infographics”. But true infographics are more than just clever design. The best infographics do something called “data visualization”–taking complex and perhaps esoteric information and concepts, and using great visual design to help you more fully comprehend and interpret that information. Put another way, you’re using both sides of your brain to get a fuller understanding of concepts.

While a handful of the figures in this book do fall into that trap of being visually clever but not particularly enlightening, I’m happy to say that there are a great number infographics that really do add unique and valuable context to your understanding of Biblical text. Some of my favorites:

  • Several pages are dedicated to listing out Old Testament prophesies, and showing visually how they were fulfilled in the New Testament. The results are visually stunning, but also drive home how closely intertwined the two Testaments are.
  • There’s are cool “blueprints” that visualize Noah’s Ark, the Tablernacle, and the Temple.
  • There are a few pages that help break down Jesus’ teachings; what were the top subjects he taught on? Who was his audience? Where did he preach?
  • There are some thought-provoking historical infographics. One page helps visualize the enormity of Solomon’s wealth. Another visualizes data about the fishing economy of Galilee.
  • I particularly like certain pages where they take a lot of historical information and distill it into an at-a-glance page. For example, they list out all the kings of Israel and Judah and identify what they did in their reign and whether they were good or bad. They take the events of Paul’s life and lay them out in a timeline that’s much clearer than the traditional “Paul’s Journeys” map you see in most Bibles. They list out all the letters in the New Testament and list, at a glance, the sender, the recipient, where it was sent from, where it was sent to, and the subject. The one sort of obvious missing opportunity was that I didn’t see any visualization of the minor prophets, although there are timelines dedicated to the Exile and the return from Exile where they reference the relevant prophets.

Something else I love about this book is that it just shows the visualization, but doesn’t provide commentary on how you’re “supposed” to interpret it. They let the data speak for itself, and it’s up to you, preferably with the guidance of the Spirit, to figure out what it means and its significance.

Overall, it’s a book that’s as beautiful to look at as it is enlightening to read. You probably won’t be reading it page-by-page, but if you’re preparing a Bible Study, you’ll definitely want to keep this book handy to give you just a little more context behind certain topics. The large, hardcover cloth book is a great conversation piece that goes as well on your coffee table as it does in your reference library.

Review of How Do You Say Good Night

How Do You Say Good Night is a new children’s book illustrated by Catalina Echeverri that chronicles the adventures of Zoey the Zebra as she visits different animals around Africa to learn how each group of animals says good night.

She visits a pride of lions, a sounder of warthogs, a herd of elephants, a flock of ostriches, a troop of monkeys, and a pod of hippopotamuses. In each visit, there’s a combination of real facts about the animals’ behavior, as well as some anthropomorphic tidbits thrown in that your youngster can identify with in his or her own bedtime routine (saying a good night prayer, having a snack, brushing teeth, etc.)

The illustrations of the animals are that unique combination of beautiful, cute and funny, and the background images of the African Savannah at sunset are beautiful.

I love that the book teaches about diversity–not “diversity” in the sense of the postmodern, politically correct definition of the word, but diversity in the sense that different animals (read: different cultures, races, ages, etc.) may have their own way of doing things which we can admire and learn from. But we can also take comfort and joy in what’s familiar to us too.

Overall, it’s a great book to add to your bedtime repertoire. It clocks in at just under 20 pages, and the paragraphs are short, perfect for setting the right tone before bed and even encouraging new readers to read. I do love how it reinforces in each visit the importance of thinking of God before going to bed, one thing you don’t find in secular books. But the illustrations and production quality rival any other board book out there.

Review of Let’s Get Ready for Bed

Let’s Get Ready for Bed is the second in a series of books by a dream team partnership: Michael W. Smith and Mike Nawrocki. Michael W. Smith, of course is one of the most prolific and successful Christian recording artists today. Perhaps an even greater achievement was that he’s been married to his wife for almost 40 years and has 14 grandchildren, all of whom I’m sure have been the lucky recipients of many bedtime lullabies from their Grammy and Dove award winning grandfather.

Mike Nawrocki was the co-creator of VeggieTales along with Phil Vischer. VeggieTales, of course, was and still is one of the best Christian children’s programs. I’m talking about the original VHS videos, of course, and not the version of VeggieTales before NBC took it and destroyed it (although NetFlix has done a decent job of bringing it back). To this day, Nawrocki is still the voice of Larry the Cucumber.

Nighty Night and Good Night was the first in this series of books. It was the story of a little boy named Ben, who says a simple good night prayer every night with his mother. But one night he can’t sleep. So his three little stuffed animals., Bear, Lamby, and Sleepy Puppy try different things to help him sleep, to no avail. At last, they form a little band and play a lullaby that helps Ben drift off to sleep (it happens that the lullaby is a Michael W. Smith song from his companion album, which you can listen to for free online). Overall, I loved this book–the illustrations by Tod Wilmer and Chuck Vollmer were beautiful but simple cartoon illustrations that look inspired by the style of A.A. Milne–down to the seams in the three stuffed animals who come to life, and the story was simple and sweet.

Let’s Get Ready for Bed is a follow-up book by the same authors and illustrators that features the same characters of Bear, Lamby, and Sleepy Puppy. Like its predecessor it has 20 pages. Unlike the first book, this one doesn’t have the character of Ben at all; instead, this one focuses on the character of Sleepy Puppy. His two friends observe the things he does before going to bed: taking a bath, putting on his jammies, brushing his teeth, saying a good-night prayer, and reading a book. After all this, he still can’t sleep, so Lamby and Bear sing him another lullaby (this time, it’s the animals’ adaptation of “Rock-a-bye Baby”).

Overall, I found the book to be adorable like the last one. The illustrations are in the same style. The words are simple and easy to understand. You can tell that they were written by a songwriter and a professional children’s author, as the rhyme and meter are smooth and not awkward like you see in so many other children’s books.

As for the storyline, the last book was intentionally a little chaotic as the little boy couldn’t get to sleep and his three friends tried different approaches to helping him; whereas this one is on the calmer side, with just the three animals focused more on the bedtime routine. It’s a great way to reinforce to your child (and yourself) the importance of having the same routine every night.

Like probably a lot of you, I’ve fallen into the trap of reading books at bedtime that end up being a bit too…exciting. Let’s Get Ready for Bed is a great book to help calm everyone down and get them ready to sleep for the night. It’s sometimes hard to find a Christian book that strikes that perfect balance between being “too preachy” and “too secular”, but I think this one does a great job. The quality of the book is as high as any other children’s book, but there are two pages where Sleepy Puppy is on his knees praying a beautiful good night prayer (which you can also pray with your child).  It’s a great book to have in your rotation of bedtime stories.

 

Review of My Christmas ABCs

My Christmas ABCs is a board book that goes through each letter of the alphabet. For each letter the book describes something about Christmas. The letter A has an angel, B has bells, C has a candy cane, and so on.

It’s a really beautiful book with lots of bright festive colors. Adding to this is that every page, as well as the cover, is adorned with sparkles covering the letter and accents on the picture. They’re fun to look at, and fun to touch and scratch (and thankfully, unlike with other similar books I’m not finding sparkles all over the house, despite my daughter’s attempts to scratch them incessantly).

The result is an amazing book that really puts you in the mood for Christmas and the holiday season. Each picture is lovely on its own, but simply beautiful with the addition of the sparkles, from a gingerbread man, to a poinsettia, to a pair of mittens.

I do appreciate that the book doesn’t shy away from having plenty of references to Christ’s birth (imagine that in a Christmas book!) For example, the letter N speaks of the nativity, the letter J stands for Jesus, and so on. There’s a good mix of references to Christ, as well as references to other things that evoke the season, such as stockings and ornaments.

Certain details in the book impressed me. First, there’s no reference to Santa Claus, elves, flying reindeer, or anything of that sort. I know different people have different opinions about Santa Claus, but bottom line, I found it refreshing because I found this really helped put the focus of the book on the real “reason for the season” (plus, there are plenty of Christmas books out there about Santa Claus for people looking for that).  I noticed other little subtle details–the cartoon images of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph have them with a slightly darker complexion which would be more historically accurate (but it’s so subtle that most people won’t notice).

Overall this is a great book to have for the holiday season, especially for a toddler or preschooler learning his or her alphabet.

 

Review of The Cow Said Neigh! Picture Book

The Cow Said Neigh! is a new children’s book by Rory Feek. Rory Feek is an accomplished country music writer who has written songs for a whos-who of country music stars, including Clay Walker, Blake Shelton, and Tracy Byrd. Country music fans might also recognize his name from the country and bluegrass duo Joey + Rory. They were were a husband and wife duo who finished third in CMT’s “Can You Duet” competition in 2008, and went on to popularity, producing eight studio albums. Two of these, Inspired: Songs of Faith & Family and Hymns that are Important to Us, consisted of hymns and gospel music.

In February 2014, Joey Martin Feek gave birth to a little girl named Indiana. Only a few months later in May she was diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. She passed away in March 2016. You can watch a recent appearance on the Rachael Ray show here where Rory tells the story and the story of his remarkable wife (in addition to this book, Rory Feek recently released an autobiographical account of their story, which you can fine here–it’s a remarkable story that ). What makes the story even more poignant is that little Indy was born with Down Syndrome, and yet you can see how much love this father and daughter share.

This children’s book came out of that relationship–as Rory Feek found himself reading children’s books to his daughter all the time, he decided to write one of his own. And it’s good. The rhymes are natural without being simplistic, a reflection of Rory’s songwriting skills.

The storyline is very humorous. You follow different animals in a barnyard, but instead of your typical “the cow goes moo” or “the pig goes oink”, it seems that all the animals want to do their own thing (which might remind you of the little animal in your life). It’s a great story to read with a child who’s already mastered the basic animal sounds, and who will understand the irony of a horse saying “quack”, a duck saying “baa”, and a cat saying “hello”. SPOILER ALERT: The payoff is that at the end of the book it comes down to the farmer, who takes in all that’s just happened in his barnyard and lets out a hearty “Mooooo”.

I was expecting to see some kind of moral to the story–for example, how everyone should be happy with who they are, how everyone should accept those who are different from them, or so on. But there really wasn’t one. I guess if there’s some kind of lesson to be gleaned, it’s just not to take yourself too seriously, a lesson which a lot of grown-ups could stand to learn in this day and age. Otherwise, I’d enjoy it for what it is, just a silly story that’s a whole lot of fun to read with your child.

The illustrations by Bruno Robert are funny and colorful. As with most great children’s books, there are lot of things to see in the pictures which will keep them engaged.

This is definitely one on the short list of books that I’ll be reading with my toddler. It stands on its own as a great book, but knowing the back story make it all the more compelling a book to have in my library.

 

 

 

 

Review of NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible (formerly the NIV Zondervan Study Bible)

The NIV Biblical Theology Study Bible is a new Bible released by Zondervan. It was previously known for years as the “NIV Zondervan Study Bible”, but over the years Zondervan seems to have flooded the market with so many other “Study Bibles”–Life Application Study Bibles, Woman’s Study Bibles, Teen Study Bibles, Rainbow Study Bibles, Faithlife Illustrated Study Bibles, Quest Study Bibles, and dozens more.

To be clear, this is the original “study Bible”. As a study Bible should, it has exhaustive commentary and notes that seem to cover almost every verse in the Bible (over 20,000 notes). For the most part, I found the notes helpful when they provide extremely helpful historical context that you can cross-reference as you’re reading it (they’re a bit less helpful when they “state the obvious” or get a little too pedantic for my taste, but happily those are few and far between).

The illustrations, maps, charts and diagrams are in full color, and do a great job of helping visualize or organize what you’re reading. Each book of the Bible has a comprehensive introduction that covers all you want to know about the book, including its purpose, background, author, historical and geographical setting, structure, and theology, and provides an outline as well. There’s a concordance, but in this age of the Bible Gateway, such things aren’t really as useful as they used to be.

The list of contributors is an impressive panoply of theological scholars. For the most part, the commentary sticks to objective facts and doesn’t dive into “taking sides” on more controversial topics. There are also 28 articles including familiar names like Tim Keller, D.A. Carson, and T.D. Alexander, so in a way you’re getting some “bonus” content from these well-known authors as well.

If you already own the original NIV Zondervan Study Bible, you won’t see much different except for some cosmetic improvements, such as two ribbon bookmarks, an easier-to-read typeface called “Comfort Print”, and a layout that feels more “breathable” than the former edition. It’s interesting despite the improvements in layout this newer version feels lighter than its previous version (about a third of a pound lighter), so the typesetters did a nice job of making the layout more efficient as well as readable. Note that it is still only a 9 point font, so if you’re like me you may need to break out those reading glasses.

Overall, I’d say if you already own the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, there’s not a whole lot new here that you don’t already have. But if not, and if you’re someone who needs to prepare for Bible Studies or sermons, you won’t find many resources better than this book, at least not all under one cover. Understanding the historical background and context behind what you’re reading is one of the most important things you can do when you’re studying the Bible, and this Study Bible does a great job of giving you a comprehensive view.

Review of Cozy, Snowy Cuddles Touch and Feel

Cozy, Snowy Cuddles Touch and Feel is a short (10 page) board book for preschoolers. It follows the adventure of animals in the North Pole, including polar bears, seals, and moose.

The main attraction of this book is obviously its interactive elements. The cover has shiny sparkles that look and shine like snow that cover the book title and the snowy scene. Then, on each page of the book, you can touch and feel a small part of five different animals, from the leathery skin of a narwhal to the soft fur of a husky dog, to the smooth fur of a seal, to the smoother skin of a moose, to the fluffy coat of a polar bear. I’ve never touched any of those animals in real life, but they feel just about what I’d expect them to.

The illustrations are cute and evoke a nice, sweet, cuddly feel. Each scene shows a little polar bear walking and meeting different animal parents and babies as they prepare for the cold night. It makes for a great bedtime book in the winter months, as the weather outside grows cold and the mood gets warm and snuggly inside. The rhymes are simple enough for a young toddler to understand and also for a preschooler to start to practice reading.

If there’s one gripe I have about the book, it’s that it doesn’t really have much of a story line. The text on each page is pretty repetitive and generic, and seems to have little to do with the illustrations. It would have been nice, for example, to learn more about each animals as the little polar bear goes to say good night to them. Instead, there’s just a generic quatrain about curling up, cuddles, huddles, stars, and snow.

As with many books like this, there isn’t really a “story” per se, but the illustrations and words do paint a calm, peaceful picture of God’s creation. It’s a nice book for the holidays as everyone in the house starts getting in the mood of winter and snow.

Review of Through My Father’s Eyes

Like many Americans, Billy Graham’s ministry had a big impact on my life, without me even really knowing it. When my mother came over as an immigrant in the 1950’s, she was away from the church she knew all her life, and watched Billy Graham crusades. During the 1970s and 1980s, whenever a crusade came on TV, we’d watch it as a family. While Billy Graham did have his detractors, it’s those detractors that usually come off looking petty or foolish when you look at this man’s character, his approach to ministry, and his teaching.

Through My Father’s Eyes is a book my Franklin Graham about his father, Billy Graham. It’s written as a series of vignettes, some of which read like historical accounts, some of which read like journal entries, some of which read like devotionals. They’re loosely organized by different broad topics, such as stories about Billy Graham’s years on TV, letters that were written to him, his approach to preaching, his approach to prayer, his approach to writing, and so on.

The first word that comes to mind when I describe this book is that it’s honest and transparent. Franklin Graham doesn’t mince words when he talks about “sensitive” subjects, such as his own struggles growing up, infighting that occurred in the BGEA, and very poignant accounts of his mother’s passing. He shares a lot of “insider” stories of his roles with the BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, but all in the context of how his father dealt with similar situations. Finally, he spends a lot of time talking about his father’s history, in the later years as a fellow worker in the ministry to whom his father would give advice and support, and in the earlier years as a historian. I was mesmerized when reading accounts of, say, Billy Graham’s early years on network television in the Hour of Decision, or his meetings with presidents, including the infamous Richard Nixon meetings.

This is not necessarily the sort of book you read cover-to-cover–as much as the author tried to organize the vignettes, it doesn’t really read like a cohesive narrative. But I found that when I pick it up and read a random story (which range anywhere from one paragraph to a few pages), what I read is invariably fascinating and gives insight not into just Billy Graham’s approach and philosophy, but Franklin’s as well.

I do like that the book isn’t merely a “tribute” or “hero worship”, but an earnest effort to capture the life of Billy Graham in a way that’s informative, encouraging, and replete with references to scripture. It’s a must-read for anyone whose life has been touched by Bille Graham, or who aspires to be in a ministry.

Review of Night Night Sleepytown

Night Night Sleeptown is the latest in a series of board books for toddlers by Amy Parker and Virginia Allen that includes such titles as Night Night Jungle, Night Night Train, Night Night Farm, Night Night Daddy, Night Night Mommy, Night Night Bible Stories, Night Night Blessings.

Each of these books follows a similar formula–the narrator goes around saying “Night Night” to different characters, in the case of this book to people in the eponymous town of “Sleepytown”, where the mayor of the town, a bear, brings you somewhat randomly around to different parts and people of the town–a farm, a school, a postman, a firefighter, a doctor’s office, a construction site, to tell you what they do and then to say “Night Night” and “Thank you for what you do”.

I love the concept of the “Night Night” books; it’s sometimes hard to find appropriate books for bedtime reading, as a lot of books for toddlers can be too exciting and have the unintended effect of getting the kids riled up. In the case of these books, the rhymes are soothing and the pictures are beautiful and detailed, but are of more tranquil scenes. The concept is clearly modeled after books like “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site”.

For earlier books like “Night Night Jungle” and “Night Night Farm”, it make a lot of sense. In each of these books, night is setting in and you visit different animals as they get ready for bed. In Night Night Sleepytown, though, it seems like the author may be trying to do too much at once. On the one hand, the book is taking you through a day in the town, jumping around from a farm and sunrise, to a school, to a scene of firefighters at a bubble factory, to a construction site with a digger. On the other hand, at each point you’re somewhat incongruously saying “Night Night”. I found the name of the town a bit incongruous too–I sort of expected to go around the town as different people were getting ready for bed.

Having said this, the detailed illustrations of bears, pigs, cats, raccoons, mice, and other creatures in this little town are certainly engaging, and toddlers will likely not mind the lack of a more logical or cohesive storyline. When I read it to my toddler, I find myself focused a little less on the story and a little more on each picture as we identify little details together.

For nighttime books, I’ve found that books like God is Watching Over You or Together are much stronger than this one with their tighter narratives. But if your child is already a fan of the Night Night series, this is certainly one that they’ll appreciate.

 

 

Review of Little Book of Thanks

Back in the 1990s, Precious Moments were all the rage. It seemed like you couldn’t get through a graduation, birthday, or anniversary without seeing at least one Enesco figurine of the wide-eyed children. The Precious Moments characters made their way into greeting cards, posters, needlepoint, and even their own theme park.

It’s now almost 30 years later. Precious Moments certainly doesn’t enjoy the popularity that it once did. But interestingly, the children who loved Precious Moments when they were young have grown up and are now having families of their own–and are looking to share the things they loved with their own kids.

There have been a number of Precious Moments themed books, some of which we’ve reviewed already. The latest one is the Precious Moments Little Book of Thanks. It’s a small hardcover book perfect for little ones’ hands that is filled with poems, each titled “Thank you, God, for…” followed by things little ones can be thankful for, such as wonderful sounds, songs, colors, playtime, all kinds of weather, special days, and so on. Each page, of course, is filled with colorful illustrations of the Precious Moments children doing all kinds of activities that mirror the poetry. There’s also a Bible verse on each page.

The illustrations are beautiful as always, and of course are the star of the book. The poetry, I’m not so sure about. The poems are nice in the sense that they rhyme, but too many of them seem just thrown together. While the titles all start with “Thank you, God”, the poems aren’t prayers as the title would have you think, but just general poetry about the subject. I later realized that this is because there’s already a book called Precious Moments Little Book of Prayers, which I feel is a much stronger offering. Here, often, the rhymes seem a little too singsongy and contrived. I can’t shake the feeling that the writing was forced just to fill up space between the illustrations.

So I’d buy the book with that in mind. Don’t expect too much from the poetry, but the illustrations and Bible verses do make this worth a purchase, especially for avid Precious Moments fans young and old.