Editor’s Note: Today we welcome Jake Frost to our family of contributors. Jake’s a “lawyer on hiatus” and can be found, these days, dealing in diapers and sippy cups. We know you’ll enjoy his brand of humor, his insight from the trenches, and his viewpoint from the “Dad view.” -SR
Have you ever found a really good series of kids’ books, something the kids love to hear read aloud and to re-read on their own (or for our kids, to leaf through and look at the pictures again), but wished that there was something more in them than a light adventure story? I love reading to the kids, and when I find something that will keep them on the couch listening—instead of wandering off, or worse, asking for a movie—it’s a definite score!
But much as I love a successful evening of storytime, many a series of children’s books has left me disappointed in their lack of substance. Too often they’re just empty action—entertaining, but pointless—the cotton candy of the book world: all fluff and sugar, no nourishment.
That’s where Patti Maguire Armstrong’s new book, Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious! is genius. It strikes just the right tone and pace of the best in modern children’s book series. It has a wonderful blend of action and humor, likeable characters the kids will identify with, and an engaging story to keep them hooked and anxious to find out what will happen next. It also gives the kids something of value in return for their time and interest invested in the story and characters.
Much of modern children’s media in general seems devoted to removing the heroic from heroes: characters succeed and receive adulation without ever having to invest much of themselves, face discomfort, or—shudder at the thought—change and grow. Often the problems take care of themselves through some happy accident or a benevolent outside force that comes to make all things right with no more than minimal effort required of the supposed heroes, who can come off seeming more like rescued victims than champions.
Then there is the whole subgenre committed to advancing the notion that there actually are no conflicts in the world, only misunderstandings. Those stories are nothing more than a quest to unravel the apparent conflict until the kernel of confusion is discovered and then–poof!—all difficulties vanish, everyone is friends, and it turns out that all that was really needed was a new perspective on things, which invariably reveals that deep down everyone is nice.
Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious! offers a lot more than that. At the climax, the hero must actually act like hero: by doing what’s right in the face of adversity—and even learning something and changing to become a better person in the process. When the moment of decision comes upon him, the character prays: “God, help me to do the things I need to do—the things you want me to do.”
That’s the kind of book I’ve been looking for to read to my kids.
And that’s just one of the many gems sprinkled throughout the book, both of humor (like “Being stubborn isn’t against the law, but it should be”), and insight (such as “Your ideas are not always God’s ideas” or “you can’t always control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude”).
Another is the positive portrayal of families—kids will see families actually getting along, working well together, sharing in chores, and praying together. Parents talk to their kids about trying to discern God’s will, so that they can do what God wants.
And kids will see all sorts of prayers (presented with a deft and light touch), to give them an idea of how to approach a prayer life of their own—including prayers for help, guidance, acceptance of challenging circumstances, and even the oft-overlooked prayer of thanksgiving. As a parent, it’s nice to have a book like Armstrong’s as an external confirmation and reinforcement of things we’re trying to cultivate for our own families, so the kids can see it’s not just Mom and Dad, other people do these things, too.
But the kids will like the book first for the story, which moves along, has lots of dialogue, and interesting adventures: runaway carriages, boats adrift on deep water, sea monsters (sort of—it’s funny!), and all manner of high-spirited hijinks. And parents who find themselves reading the book aloud will appreciate the humor just as much as the kids do—every few pages I was chuckling, often laughing out loud.
Kids will also be able to relate to the book, which abounds in details of real family life, even down to who gets to drink the juice from the pineapple can. Plus, while the main protagonist is a middle school aged boy, there are characters of different ages (in the main family the kids are 12, 10, and 5 years old), and both boys and girls, so everyone should be able to find someone in the story they can identify with. There is also a whole subtext on homeschooling throughout Dear God, You Cant’ Be Serious! (and the book also always remains affirming of all school choices) that will be helpful and interesting to any involved in or curious about homeschooling.
It’s great when you pick up a book that you think will be good for you and that you should like, and discover that it’s just a really good book that you do like, which also happens to have a lot of good stuff for you (and even more important, for your kids). Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious! is a great book that your kids will enjoy, and one that as a parent you’ll be happy to have them reading. And it’s part of a series, which my kids love: when they find characters they like, they want to keep reading about all their adventures—which makes for many great family story nights!
Be sure to check out our Book Notes archive.
Copyright 2014, Jake Frost