Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Back to School Blog Tour with Nicole Lataif (Pauline Books and Media)

Today, I have the pleasure of participating in another blog tour. This one is sponsored by Pauline Books and Media. Children's author Nicole Lataif is posting today, and is going to share a little insight on what she was like as a child reader. Nicole is a talented children's author, and her book Forever You was one of the first children's books I ever formally reviewed. It's great if you haven't checked it out yet. She also has recently written a new book called I Forgive You, which I (thanks to Pauline Books and Media) will be giving away three copies of at the end of this post. So without further ado, here's Nicole! 

True Confessions of a Children’s Book Author: I Once Hated Reading
By: Nicole Lataif

I was in the second grade sitting in my room on a pink beanbag chair…reading.

My father came into my room after thirty minutes.

“How many pages have you read?” he asked me. “Two,” I said.

Thirty minutes after that he came back in. “Now how many pages have you read?” he asked.

 “Just three,” I sighed.

Although I have always loved writing, that was the day that I learned to hate reading. I learned that I wasn’t very good at reading, my pace of reading clearly perplexed adults and that even if I had two full days, I still wouldn’t have finished that boring, enormous book.

For years, “reading” meant so many things to me other than enjoyment. It meant embarrassment, arguments, frustration, and sadness. So, so many things.


Fast-forward a few years later.

I was in seventh or eighth grade and had just finished reading R.L. Stine’s entire mystery series in a month. A month! I couldn’t read his books fast enough. I read Beach House, Hit and Run, Blind Date…every last one of them. (Reading those book titles still gives me the creeps!) I LOVED mystery stories, which led me to love the show Law and Order, which led me to becoming an adult who is constantly scared that she’s going to get mugged (but, I digress)...

My point: I found out what I loved to read, and only then did I start to love reading.

Kids do need to learn to read about topics that do not interest them. As adults, they will inevitably need to read important material that they don’t find appealing. I’ve been there. However, some little second graders need an advocate. They need the opportunity to grow into a love of reading. Some kids can’t see past their frustration or fear of reading. Those feelings snowball into a kid who abhors the idea of picking up a book.

I wonder what would have happened if someone had asked me:
  • Do you like the book that you are reading?
  • What do you like or dislike about it?
  • Are there parts of the story that you don’t understand or find boring?
  • Do any of the characters remind you of someone you know?
  • Do you want to try reading another book and coming back to this one later?
  • Do you want to put that book down and hop a plane to Disney World right now? (Just kidding!)

I’ve obviously grown up and over my struggles with reading. I write children’s books; (one book even won an award!), for Pauline Books & Media, the publishing house of the Daughters of St. Paul.  I am a reformed reader turned writer and I love helping kids to do the same.

So, I petition you—if your child hates reading, find out why. It may not be that they hate reading, but rather, they haven’t yet found that perfect book.

Nicole Lataif is the Founder and Editor of and Author of the 2013 Catholic Press Association Award and 2013 Christopher Award winning book Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body, published by Pauline Books & Media. Forever You is also available in Spanish as Siempre Tu. Her second book, I Forgive You: Love We Can Hear, Ask For and Give teaches kids 4-8 what forgiveness is all about. Nicole is available for speaking engagements, school visits, interviews, and guest blogging. Media inquires may be sent to

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Philosophy 101 by Socrates (St. Augustine's Press)

Today, I am pleased to share with you my review of Philosophy 101 by Socrates. This is my first review of a book from St. Augustine's Press, so I am very excited about that. For those of you unfamiliar with this publishers, their mission is to publish "outstanding scholarly works, principally in the fields of philosophy, theology, and cultural and intellectual history." With no university backing them, they are able to stay true to this mission. They also are the publisher of the St. Austin Review, which is a journal of Catholic culture, literature, and ideas. Without further ado, here is my review.

Philosophy 101 by Socrates is one of the first book in Dr. Peter Kreeft's "Socrates Meets" series. It was originally published by Ignatius Press, but St. Augustine's Press has republished it. For those unfamiliar with this series of books, Dr. Kreeft assumes the role of Socrates and argues against philosophers such as Kant, Freud, etc. I would argue that Philosophy 101 by Socrates is a prequel to this series and should be read before reading the rest of the series, but to each their own. There are three introductions in this book - 1. Introduction to Socrates, 2. Introduction to Philosophy, and 3. Introduction to this Book. I already knew who Socrates was, but in this first introduction, I learned that there were three great introductions to philosophy, Hortensius by Cicero, Protreptikos by Aristotle, and the Apology of Socrates by Plato. Only the latter text survives, and it is the basis for Dr. Kreeft's book.

After the introduction, the book is divided into three parts - 1. Philosophy Defended (based on the Apology of Socrates), 2. Philosophy Exemplified (based on Euthyphro), and 3. Philosophy Martyred (based on Phaedo). In Part One, Dr. Kreeft discusses forty things that philosophy is, i.e., ignorant, selfish, countercultural, agnostic, etc. One doesn't often describe philosophy in these words, but Dr. Kreeft uses the Apology of Socrates masterfully to argue his case. In Philosophy Exemplified, there is about 25 pages of the Euthyphro included, Dr. Kreeft provides commentary throughout the text, and then presents us with questions of God and morality. He concludes this part of the book with reactions of an atheist; theist; agnostic; and religious Jew, Christian, or Muslim would have toward Euthyphro. In the last section, we read Phaedo, where Socrates dies, Dr. Kreeft explains that even if Socrates was just a figment of Plato's imagination, philosophy does not die. This is different than if we were to find out if Moses, or Muhammad, or Jesus were fake. The respective religion (Judaism, Islam, or Christianity) would cease to be.

Overall, I found this to be an excellent introduction to philosophy. The advanced high schooler or freshman in college would benefit greatly from reading this. The curious adult, who was sorely disappointed with his Philosophy 101 class, like myself, would benefit from reading this book as well. I truly believe if I had this book as a reference in college, I would have done better in my introductory class, and perhaps even minored in philosophy. I can't wait to pick up another one of the books in this series.

This book was provided to me for free by St. Augustine's Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Friday, September 12, 2014

TOON Books Reviews

When I grew up I read comic books, like most young boys. I read Superman, Batman, and the likes. It wasn't high literature by any means, but I was reading right? When I was in high school and college, I discovered Japanese comic books, also known as manga. Manga at least had many genres, and you could find series with better writing and more depth than most American comics. Recently, I have discovered an even higher brow of comics, called graphic novels. I feel behind the times, however, as they have been around for a while, and I am just discovering them. Today, I will be reviewing two from the publisher TOON Books.

Theseus and the Minotaur is a Greek myth that needs no real introduction or explanation. Master French cartoonist, Yvan Pommaux, does a masterful job starting the story from the very beginning though. We learn of Theseus' mom, Princess Aethra, and how both Poseidon and King Aegeus, "had" her. We see a brief glimpse of her raising her son, Theseus, but during that time we learn a great deal about the background and bitter hatred between Aegeus, King of Athens, and Minos, King of Crete. We are then taught where the Minotaur came from. It wasn't explicit, but there were a few images that were surprising. After this, we see Theseus as an adult and learn of his feats, before he finally meets his father, Aegeus. Theseus then goes off to slay the Minotaur, and does so with some help that he received from King Minos' daughter.

There were things I liked and disliked about this book. Let me start with what I didn't like. For starters, it did not read like a comic book. There were text bubbles, but they were few and far between. It more felt like reading a narration than characters interacting. The other thing I didn't like was the sexual themes in the book. Yes, it's Greek mythology, so it is to be expected, but the suggested reading level is 8+. With these themes, it should be middle school, and probably late middle school at that. What I liked is that this adaptation stayed true to the mythology. I also liked that there was phonetic pronunciations of the hard to pronounce Greek names. This is helpful for kids and adults alike. The index and further readings at the ends were also a nice touch and super helpful. Last, but not least, the illustrations were great, but of course I knew they would be! Overall, a very good graphic novel, just use your judgment on what age to let your children read it.

Hansel and Gretel is a joint collaboration of Neil Gaiman and Lorenzo Mattotti. I decided to review this book, because my wife loves Neil Gaiman, so I thought I'd finally give him a shot. The illustrations in this book are shades of black and white. These monochromatic illustrations present a very shadowy and haunting story. That makes them perfect for accompanying this chilling tale that many of us only think we know. This, however, is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale, so it's supposed to be dark.

The story stays true to the original version, with the exception of the mother. In the original, I believe it was the father's second wife, not first wife. This makes the story a little darker, because it is the wife (mother) who convinces the father to leave the children in the woods to starve. The rest of the story is pretty well known. They go to a witch's house. She tries to cook them. They stuff her into and oven and escape. They then find their way home to their father. The mother died from unknown causes, so it's mostly a happy ending. At the end of the book is a brief history lesson on the story of Hansel and Gretel, which would be good for older readers in a school or homeschool setting. Overall, I was very pleased with Lorenzo Mattotti's illustrations and Neil Gaiman's storytelling lived up to my wife's hype.