Friday, January 30, 2015

Three D'Aulaire's Titles (University of Minnesota Press)

Today, I am reviewing three beautiful hardcover books available from the University of Minnesota Press. You may recall that back in November I reviewed another one of their lovely books, The Troll With No Heart in His Body. I admit that it is unusual to think of a university press printing children's books, but if they are going to be this high quality and gorgeous, I say keep printing them! All three of the books I will be reviewing are by Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire, and they fall under the category of Scandinavian children's literature. Like me, you probably know the author-illustrators from their mythology books, but they wrote so much more than that. With this post, I hope to share with you some of their lesser known books.

Apart from their tales on mythology, Leif the Lucky is one of my favorite D'Aulaire tale. The book begins by telling us about Erik the Red and his three sons - Torstein, Torvald, and Leif. When Leif was a young boy, Erik the Red took a boat to a new land that he had "discovered." Along with 24 chieftains in 24 boats crammed with people, cattle, and food, they had to battle harsh weather on the sea. Not all the ships made the trek successfully. Some of them sank, and others turned around out of fright. In the end, Erik's boat made it with thirteen other chiefs. The land they "discovered" was Greenland. We then read of Leif growing up, travelling to Norway, and "discovering" America, which he dubbed Vinland. There are tales of Leif sending people to Vinland for commerce and tales of Leif converting his mother and people in Greenland to Christianity. All of this is very interesting and fascinating to read, because it reads like a saga or mini-epic. Apart from the story, which has a nice blend of history and legend, the make-up of this book is what makes the book. For starters, it is a 9 x 12 hardcover with a dust jacket. The illustrations make up two-page spreads, with each spread alternating between color and black and white. The pages even have an old-timey look and feel to them, which matches the illustrations perfectly. I know this is a book that I will read often to my son, and I think it would make a great addition for any parent who homeschools as well.

Ola is similar in construction to Leif the Lucky. It is a 9 x 12 hardcover with dust jacket with illustrations alternating between color and black and white. Unlike Leif the Lucky, whose subject was an actual historical figure, Ola is the fictional tale of a young Norwegian boy who goes on many adventures. The adventures start with Ola skiing and simultaneously chasing a rabbit. He wrecks on his skis and lands in a tree, where he meets a group of girls who take him to a wedding party. From there he joins a peddler of wares, who puts him on a fishing boat. On this fishing boat, he learns local legends about why codfish have beards and what makes a maelstrom. Eventually, he realizes that while his adventures were fun, he wants to go home. This was a cute story, and one that your children will find a treat to read. The Norwegian elements might be lost on them, but I love books that show your children places, cultures, and customs they might not otherwise get a chance to see.

Children of the Northlights is the story of two Sami children named Lise and Lasse. They are also referred to as Lapps in the book. Sami people or Lapps are indigenous to Scandinavia in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. This book is based on the actual travels of Ingri and Edgar D'Aulaire to the land of the Sami. In this tale, Lise and Lasse, are children who think they live at the top of the world, and they aren't too far from the truth. We see them getting into mischievous events, like racing reindeer or dressing up as a bear and scaring people. We also see day to day events, like them going to school or getting clean in a sauna. Like other D'Aulaire books available from the University of Minnesota Press the pages alternate between color and black and white. This publisher has done a wonderful job of making classic works like these available to readers again. Being in a hardcover means, they will stand up to many readings. The size of these books also helps illuminate the illustrations and introduce these wonderful stories to a new generation. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

These books were provided to me for free by the University of Minnesota Press in exchange for an honest review. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here, here, and/or here and hit Yes!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Ancient Path (Image Books)

When it comes to reading about the Church Fathers, one of the first names people think of is Mike Aquilina. Aquilina's works have introduced the Church Fathers and Mothers to a whole generation of Catholics and made them accessible and relatable. His most recent book, The Ancient Path, is a joint effort with John Michael Talbot. Talbot is most widely known for his music career, but he is also the founder of an integrated Catholic monastic community called the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. This book, The Ancient Path, is the result of conversations that Talbot and Aquilina had one November week in 2012.

The book begins with Talbot discussing his monastery, Little Portion Hermitage, and the events of what happened April, 29, 2008. There was a massive fire, which completely engulfed the chapel. In addition to the tragedy of seeing something you built by hand destroyed, the community also lost their library which consisted of thousands of volumes. I have never experienced this level of literary loss, but as someone who himself owns a large library of books, my heart ached for him and his community. Talbot, however, used this tragedy to teach us a lesson in both detachment to worldly goods and the fact that once you have read and pored over some works, they are forever etched on your heart. He then concludes the the chapter with a juxtaposition of physical fire and spiritual fire. His example for spiritual fire involves the popular story of Abba Joseph encouraging Abba Lot to become all flame.

Other topics discussed in this book include charity, community, and stewardship. Each chapter has roughly the same format. Talbot talks about his life, his community, and what the Church Fathers taught him as it applies to the specific topic. Chapter 6: The Prayer of the Heart talks about The Jesus Prayer, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." Most Western Catholics aren't familiar with this prayer, but it is one of the chief prayers in Eastern Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholicism. The author does a great job discussing the history and evolution of the prayer, the impact it had on him; and also breaks the prayer down phrase by phrase. I do wish he would have offered a bit of caution in both practicing this prayer and reading the Philokalia. Someone advanced in their wisdom, like him, might not find it troublesome, but it is highly discouraged for a novice to attempt reading the Philokalia, and strongly urged you consult your spiritual advisor before trying.

Overall, this was an interesting book. It reminded me a lot of Aquilina's other works and Dr. Scott Hahn's early works. By that I mean, it mixes theology with personal experiences to make the subject matter more approachable. It also reminded me a bit of My Sister the Saints in that it read like a personal memoir with the Church Fathers serving as our guide through Talbot's life. If this sounds interesting to you or you can't get enough to read about the Church Fathers, then this book is for you.

This book was provided to me for free by Image Catholic Books in exchange for an honest review. If you found this review helpful, please click here and hit Yes!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Pope John Paul I and Life for Life (Ignatius Press)

Pope John Paul I: The Smile of God is another papal movie available from Ignatius Press, like Pius XII: Under the Roman Sky and John XXIII: The Pope of Peace. The biggest difference between Pope John Paul I and the other papal movies is that this one is in Italian with English subtitles. Had I read the description a little better, I might have avoided this film, because when I watch a movie I want to watch it, not read along, but I am glad I gave it a shot.

The biopic begins with Cardinal Albino Luciani (future Pope John Paul I) on a pilgrimage in Fatima, Portugal speaking about Our Lady of Fatima. He receives a message that a nun would like to meet with him. That nun is none other than Sister Lucia of Fatima. In their meeting, she keeps referring to him as Holy Father, even through he tries to correct her saying that she is mistaken. She then reveals to him that he will one day be pope. We then are taken on various flashbacks of Albino Luciani's life. We see a near death experience when he was a youth that made him want to become a priest. We see his father's initial refusal of him wanting to be a priest, but relenting when he promised to serve the poor if he became a priest. In the flashback of World War II, we see a juxtaposition of the gruesome reality of it all with Luciani's mercy shown toward a Jewish family hiding from the Nazis. There are also glimpses of his tutelage under the future Pope John XXIII.

Throughout this whole movie, we see Luciani's smile, both in good situations and bad situations. The actor, Neri Marcorè did a wonderful job portraying why this holy man was indeed called "The Smile of God." While, this wasn't a complete movie of Pope John Paul I's life, it was enough to give you a glimpse at the significance of this man and his short papacy. I wasn't an initial fan of the movie being in Italian, but it grew on me. Church just sounds better and prettier in Italian for some reason. This is definitely a movie worth watching if you want to know about this recent, but largely overlooked pope.

Life for Life: Maximilian Kolbe is a recent movie release by Ignatius Press of a movie that was originally released in 1991. The film gets the title from the story of how Maximilian Kolbe took the place of another prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1941, and ultimately gave up his own life. If the movie was about this alone it would have been enough for me, as it would show how modern day people can be like Jesus. Instead, the film decided to make that story more of a back-story.

The movie begins showing life and work in a concentration camp. There is little to no dialogue at all, just many people working and the sound of machinery squeaking and honestly making an awful sound. We then see a man, Jan, digging in a pile of dirt that collapses on him. I believe it was intentional, but the way he emerges from the dirt, you'd think he almost died down there. Work has ended for the day, so he uses that moment to escape. Because of his escape, ten people will now die. As stated above, Kolbe is not one of the ones selected to die, but takes the place of one.

Jan's survivor's guilt and guilt that ten men died because of him serves as a big part of the story. I wish that they had started at the beginning of Kolbe's life and walked us through up to his heroic death in Auschwitz. Instead, we got this artistic view of Kolbe instead. Another point that made the movie a bit difficult to watch was that it was in Polish. As I've said before, I'm not a fan of reading while watching a movie, because you can miss a lot and you are left at the mercy of the translator. I did appreciate there being an Ignatius Press study guide included with the DVD. Overall, I'd give this move 4 stars.

These movies were provided to me for free by Aquinas and More Catholic Gifts and Ignatius Press. If you found these reviews helpful, please click here and/or here and hit Yes!