Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Kregel Book Review: A Pair of Miracles: A Story of Austim, Faith, Determined Parenting by Karla Akins

A Pair of Miracles

Thanks Kregel for the opportunity to review another book.  As a trained elementary teacher with a heart for special needs kids. This book interested me immensely.  I'm also a twin, so I love to learn about other twins.

This book is written by an adoptive mother and pastor's wife, and she is a follower of Christ who knows that God will bless her and her family and will faithfully provide the help needed.
This book covers a few different dimensions:
1) It defines autism, shares strategies for navigating school, medical, and other services.
2) It shares personal challenges, struggles, prayers, stories, and successes.
3) It's a spiritual tool kit (as the back cover states.) This, to me, was the most impressive aspect.  The first chapters are about self care- recognizing the grief and God's goodness in all things.  The author successfully shares how her faith impacted her parenting, how God provided for their needs, and she shares scriptures and thoughts that are encouraging and help ground other people (parents, teachers, helpers,...) who work with kids who are challenged.
4) It offers practical tips that would apply to any parent of a special needs child.  She uses section headers within chapters, bulleted lists, and italics very well to make it simple to read, easy to find what you need, in a short amount of time.  But her tips are quality, and very valid, and helpful.  Especially for an overwhelmed parent new to this frontier and feeling lost or hopeless.  Many tips might seem obvious to some, but when you are in the role of parent/guardian/protector for a child who cannot communicate easily or at all, it's easy to forget where to start.  (i.e. showering is part of her school routine, as it's not natural or easy for her boys.).
5) Appendixes- these are very helpful, all in one place, and essential for newbies to autism.  Occupational Therapy (including tantrum or meltdown chart), Reinforcers/Rewards for school/home, Fidget toys, Functional Skills Checklist, Further Resources (books and websites).  These are AWESOME and tried and true.

This book is easy to read and follow, but is a wealth of knowledge and encouragement. It's so easy to find technical books that can loose a parent, and it's getting easier to find spiritual support as a parent of special needs, but to find one that includes both is a rare jewel.

I knew about autism, I've sat at IEP meetings as a parent and as a teacher, I've taught new teachers how to manage behavior in a classroom.   This book does it's job well, and was a great review for me to skim parts, and really read parts.  But as a parent of a child with different special needs, I found the spiritual principles integrated in her advice-  were spot on... represent your child with humble boldness, know you aren't alone, Jesus is there providing an advocate.  I also liked her explanations of how to be an 'intense' parent who has high standards for those who interact with her children, but how to identify the right type of people to add to the support team.  

It's my joy to read. It's my pleasure to review books.  It's a blessing when I enjoy them and find them easy to recommend, but I'm allowed to share my thoughts honestly.  Thank you Kregel for an excellent resource I can eagerly recommend to those who need it.  

Friday, May 12, 2017

Tyndale Book Review: Bible Promises for parents of children with SPECIAL NEEDS by Amy E Mason

Thoughts about parenting & special needs kids... 

Special Needs Defined

Parents of special needs kids, hold a special place in my heart.  Special Needs kids is a broad based term.  Many of us think about physical, intellectual, or developmental delays or limitations as the definition of special needs children.  But as God has created us as individuals and each one of us unique to Him, it is a much broader concept.  Gifted or High Intelligence children would be special needs children.  Autism and ADHD are very common diagnoses for children. A gifted athlete or musician is a special needs child when you factor in the practices, lessons, and special events that will become a part of daily living to meet this child's passions and needs.  

But the category of special needs children that most touches my heart is the invisible disabilities of many children from hard places, many of these kids look normal, may act and interact in social settings in somewhat typical ways, but often their brains are anything but typical.  As science can study the brain that God put inside each human being, we have discovered that in utero and the first three years of life, give our brains wiring that gives us certain advantages or disadvantages in life.  The good news is, our brains continue rewiring and building connections our whole lives, and into adulthood our brains can build more connections than they loose each day.  

But as we've included a child from a hard place with in utero stress and early years stress, I've read and learned so much more about the benefits that many of us take for granted.  Love heals a child, love builds a brain, and that love is best received when it is consistent, dependable, and demonstrated in a connected way.  So our actions and emotions impact our children's formation substantially in utero and in the first 3 years of life.  

And the children who don't have consistency in those early years, or who are parented by an adult in crisis or high stress, will pick up on that toxic stress and join the adult in living in high emotion and low functioning.  This steals valuable connections for the child's future.  It can be built later on, but it takes a concerted effort on the part of ALL adults in the child's daily life. 
All parents need self care to maintain a good perspective in life and to parent with love, joy, gratitude, contentment, and a place of abundance.  Children with special needs bring with them brokenness and a level of wonder as you guide them into the adult world.  I've not met many parents who say they have this parenting thing down pat. Most of us doubt, wonder, and pray a whole lot for guidance and direction as we go through the gamut of emotions in the role of parenting. 

I've said that parenting is the most sanctifying experience in my entire life.  Nothing like being wholly responsible and living 24/7 with a baby/child who is still new to this world, and models/replicates how you live, or recognizes that they want to do the opposite of what you do... either way it speaks volumes to your soul and helps you reflect and develop a whole new sense of self awareness and recognition of how others see you, and often that glimpse in the mirror is ugly and not flattering.  It makes you recognize how big God is and how amazing His Grace and free gift of salvation really are.  I saw sin in my life and choices that had never been raised to the surface before.  And this of course always happen mid-parenting when your child has shocked you with their __________ (attitude, behavior, thought, actions, questions,....) and you don't know how to handle it, or you over react and don't like your over the top response.  Parenting is full of so many wonderful things, but it's balanced by a lot of self doubt, loneliness, wonder, and brokenness.  

Book Review
This book is an amazing tool to help you put your mind back into a healthy perspective and recognize the Hope that lives in you through the Word of God, and that you can redeem this situation, this day, this week, this month.  And not just survive, but thrive with refreshment, strength, and new hope for this situation.  We all need a little bit of this!  

Details about the book
Bible promises is a book that is a topical content book.  It gives you topics that come up in ALL parents lives and then  shares a when statement- a wonder you might have connected to that situation.  It then shares a scripture reference and a simple connected thought to the reference and the when.  Each topic ends with a brief thought or connection about a way to re-frame the thinking of this situation in a positive light.  I found the book a delightful asset.

Con/Pro:  I wished the references had included the full scripture, but then the book wouldn't be about 5 x 7 in size and small enough to have in your work bag, or your purse, or the door of the car, or next to your bed.  It's small, lightweight, beautiful inside and out, and simple to pick up and choose a topic.  It's reader friendly. The thinking about situations is generic but specific to the topic and our feelings, so I think if you are thinking about the topic, you will relate to the thinking aloud to connect the scripture, and there are several when... concept statements with each topic.  So it's relevant for all parents, but parents who go the extra mile with kids who have special needs that demand a village to help support, with appointments, OT, PT, speech, therapy, medical interventions, hospitalizations, intensive at home practice, at therapy practice, mental health supports, can especially relate.

Another reviewer felt that looking to God is not the same as looking to other people, and she's correct.  She was unable to find this book helpful, but she missed the key audience for this book.  Those who care for a special needs child and who see God and His promises as a '"wellspring of refreshment, strength, and hope" and who have or desire to deepen their relationship with him.  If your faith and the Word of God is not a guide and source in your life, then this book isn't for you. But for those who seek out the Bible's promises, I found this book therapeutic and helpful for recognizing my circumstances and identifying the emotions in my situations. 

I'm blessed to be a part of the Tyndale blog review network but all ideas, concepts, and opinions shared are my own.  I'm not required to share a positive review.  It's just hard not too with this helpful tool for my coping skills bag!  (some of you will know what that is!)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tyndale: The Big Pig Stampede

This book is written for tweens and especially boys- and that demographic in my home loved it. (and as a teacher/kidmin person grade 3 and 4 boys are the hardest group to reach and motivate, and I concur!) 

I loved that it brings to life in a fictional account what life for other children could have been like at the time of Jesus miracles.  It builds connections for Bible lessons and study, it helps kids visualize the setting and time of Jesus life, and to recognize that people are the same no matter when they lived.   

This book is funny, cute, and charming.  If you are looking for bible verses, study, or a Bible storybook, this is not it.  It is a book that should spur higher level or critical thinking in the readers mind.  It clarifies what historical setting Jesus lived in.  It is funny, proving that everything biblically connected isn't for stoic grown ups or traditional classically written.  But because of that, some grown ups will hate it, and find it irreverent.

As a teacher and parent, especially the reading teacher in me, I love that it helps build comprehension of this period in Jesus life, and my son (a 2nd grader who read it) actually wanted to check the Bible and see if it happened like that.  And for those reasons it is golden!  
It develops connections, clarifications, will help build vocabulary, and critical thinking, keys to making great readers.  Yes the humor involves some potty humor, but that is better than the secular options that motivate boys. So it's an awesome alternative.  

Thank you tyndale for the privilege of reviewing this book.  Sorry for the delay in posting it, we read it last year!  

Kregel Book Review: Would You Like to Know.... Collection by Tim Dowley and Eira Reeves

Here's the publisher's description of this cute little set:

In this new addition to the fantastic Would You Like to Know? series, six little books are featured in one boxed gift set. Each book offers a starting point for young children to explore some of the key points of their faith and gain a greater understanding of Christianity. Each title has accessible illustrations, an inscription page, and notes for parents. A wonderful gift for those getting to know the church. 

Would You Like to Know About God?
Would You Like to Know How to Pray?
Would You Like to Know Jesus?
Would You Like to Know the Bible?
Would You Like to Know the Story of Christmas?
Would You Like to Know the Story of Easter?

My review:

In a nutshell: the books claim to be simple and clear explanations for children on the six topics presented.  I found that they are just that and more than I anticipated.  

They also include: applications for a child's life, quality images, sturdy,  durable while beautiful books/box, and presented in a way that will aid comprehension of these truths. 

Doctrine is accurate as well, and I liked the skills and practices mentioned like reading your Bible and going to Sunday School (in the Jesus book after the gospel message).   They are not denominational oriented either, but content driven, so if the Word of God and salvation by faith in Jesus and forgiveness of sins by His death on a cross is central to your belief system, this series should be acceptable, and even enjoyable.  I enjoyed them and believe children will enjoy them as well, my younger children like them.  

My least favorite book was the knowing Jesus book, and I think it's just hard for authors to present the gospel to children authentically/accurately.  It's not awful,  it just rubs me the wrong way.  The book presented  a relationship with Jesus through "I'm sorry"  on one page, and the next encouraged us to apply it in our lives/friends.  I'm a nitpick- on the page after the book says "say "I'm sorry" for all the wrong things I have done," the next page says, "sometimes we need to say I'm sorry to other friends too."   I think mentioning asking God to forgive our sins, is not too sophisticated for children, and then wondered with the language chosen if it would be confusing to children to see why Jesus forgiveness is so much different.  But it's a concept that those who choose these books are likely to have their own preference, and hopefully will teach their children that Jesus rescued us from our sins and the wrath of God we deserved.   

So those giving this set as a gift, might want to be aware of this.  I didn't have concerns about any of the rest of the books presentation of content, I actually found them charming, delightful, and clear with excellent thinking about what simple content should be present.  

I was blessed to be given these books in exchange for my honest review. Thank you Kregel Publications for the chance to review my favorite genre of literature- christian children's literature.  

EXTRA info:    

Construction of the Book:  
The six books fit into a sturdy, glossy little box, and each book has a sturdy cover, and glossy thick pages inside.   Each book has a "this book belongs to:" page which ended with "and I'm finding out about ____" and that is appealing to children, but also a great reading skill, building connections and repeating the concept of the book.  There are also summary pages at the start (or end) of the Jesus, Easter and Christmas books, that build/reinforce vocabulary, connections, clarify, reinforce the question and set the up that this still matters to us.  

The illustrations are colorful, realistic, and child oriented.  The children and bible characters depicted had great expressions and would draw children in, help clarify, are relatable, and build wonder in the reader/listener's mind.  

The content is accurate, evangelical, and theologically accurate if you are a follower of Christ.  The word friend is used throughout the books making them easy to comprehend and grasp for children and adults alike.  Friend is used as a way to explain our relationship with God/Jesus as an approachable deity whom relates with us, and loves us.  The books are twofold- they teach a concept and encourage the reader to apply this knowledge in their own life.  Well chosen facts and explanations are included.   

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Review: The Simplest Way to Change the World (Moody)

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This book is a very practical guide to the biblical command to hospitality. It builds on the premise that hospitality is counter cultural and that true hospitality builds connectedness and relationships, and believers must be intentional and purposeful. The authors are point on, with the suggestion, that while we want our homes to be an oasis or refuge in life, that home is to be a refuge for all who enter it, not just me, and that will be radical to many people. They explain how this is a book for ordinary people to have no excuse to change the world in which they live!

The books not only shares the theology and biblical reasons to be hospitable, it is a resource of ideas, strategies, and authentic examples of a lifestyle of hospitality. Having grown up with hospitality ongoing, and continued the practice in our home, this concept was not one that was new to me. I appreciated how the authors addressed simple ideas to fulfill this command in your neighborhood. It's an easy read, has bullet point summaries throughout, personal reflection questions at the end of each chapter, and a built in discussion guide for small groups. So it's an excellent resource and would be most appropriate for group discussion.

It's really a book centered on how to live out the gospel, wherever you live- house, apartment, dorm room. You can love your neighbor as yourself.

Some favorite quotes: "When we are loving, warm, and gracious, we put the gospel on display."
" Any time we practice hospitality, we put human flesh on this gospel story"

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One wonder I had- was if adoption/foster parenting could have been also included as a way to change the world, even knowing that it will prevent or alter your in your home hospitality. It definitely is a fitting lifestyle to help heal the broken, and lead them to a Savoir.

Thanks for the chance to read a pre-release copy. I was provide a copy in exchange for my honest review

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Kregel Book review: Refresh Spiritual Nourishment for Parents of Children with Special Needs

I was blessed to review this book.  It's a devotional for parents of Children with Special Needs. My first comment is that most parents have children with special needs (gifted, learning disabled, adhd, behavior concerns, dyslexia) but this is geared to parents who have children with demanding, time consuming special needs that require a lot of parent support daily (1/5 of all parents).  The authors were thinking cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, genetic disorders, chronic illness, etc.   I would definitely add this is a book for parents of children from hard places (trauma, RAD, adoption, foster, mental health issues, ....).  We are parenting such a child, and this book is a gift to me. One of the reviewers, Janet Thompson, printed in the book calls the book "a life-line of hope."  And it is.  

Here's what I appreciated most about the book: 
  • Rich Scriptural connections, this is founded in the Word of God, truth statements for all believers. 
  • Format:  
    • Table of Contents with 8 Section Themes, each devotional titled
    • Stories from parents of children with many different special needs, including bloggers I was familiar with, and adopted parents.  
    • Brings perspective that is relate-able to all parents, no matter the special need.
    • The intro explains how this book is to 'pour hope and courage back into you.' 
    • Two authors, so different tones in the narration.  (Jocelyn and Kimberly)
    • Each devotional contains:
      • title, author, and a KEY verse.
      • a personal narrative that shares a story of struggle, dedication, consuming parenting, .... 
      • more scripture
      • an italics potential application/prayer
      • Digging Deeper, 3 questions that are higher level thinking, and help you connect your experience with the promises from God's Word.  
  • Digging Deeper really approaches the layers of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and perhaps our actions/responses in the struggle or joys of parenting.  It really helps the reader process and internalize how he/she might feel and empathize with the experience of another. 
  • Stories are integrated with thinking and what the Word of God says to help empower parents, give insight to daily living, and help us know that we are not alone in the struggle, and to help us take care of ourselves, or have a moment of respite in life. 
  • Theologically accurate, it acknowledges the struggle inside of us, our fear, seeking truth/faith, role of sin and the need for nourishment, growth, pruning, bearing fruit, and branching out.  Good analogies for the Christian life.  
  • Short, sweet, to the point.  Even parents who don't like reading, could easily read these short thoughts and find promises to build their day on.  
  • It's affordable on the kindle: $1.99.  It's worth a whole lot more!  
This book I've kept in the van, and picked up while I wait for kids at school, at the doctors, etc.  It's a great perspective change, and really does Refresh me.  I'd recommend that local churches who aren't sure how to help parents with special needs kids, gift this book to those parents, and ask their leaders to read this book, and learn how life might look in homes where children's needs restructure everything.  It might help those who want to help, but don't know where to start, to have an understanding of daily life, and give ways to pray, support, and sympathize with parents who life this way for decades.  It certainly will encourage parents who are struggling.  

Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review, Kregel- When There Are No Easy Answers, Thinking Differently about God, Suffering and Evil by John Feinberg

Kregel Book Review Tour

When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently about God, Suffering, and Evil

I read this 160 page book primarily in one sitting.  The author explains in his preface that the book is his story of embracing suffering, thinking about evil, and God.  He is a theological professor at Trinity University, so his lay person's approach to his story was rich with doctrine and scriptural support, but he makes it very readable, and easy to comprehend. Some of his big struggles were just that, his personal spots that his mind might get stuck on like: why they didn't discover that his wife had the gene when they investigated it, and what about the future.  But his answers to his questions delved into his specific needs, but also embraced many wonders and levels that anyone could have with any type of suffering present in their lives.  So I appreciated his style and the richness of the teaching that was layered into his testimony.  

This updated version is what as an educator we refer to as meta-cognition, Mr. Feinberg thinks aloud on the pages of this book and in his updates, about his wonders, concerns, struggles, with God in the midst of a genetic terminal disease that his wife was diagnosed with when they had three young boys, active full time ministry together, and a whole different plan and expectation for their lives.  His book is also helpful with ideas of what people would say to him that helped, and what hurt or wasn't helpful. He also teaches you what kinds of help and offers really help individuals and families who are living with long term suffering and need in their family.  He delves into real concerns in each chapter like: how dismal life can seem, Recipe for Disaster, or How Not to Help the Afflicted, the Goodness of God, Hiding the Future, and Grace, Justice, and the Suffering of the Righteous, Deceived by God?, Living with Dying, and Providence and the Purpose of Our Lives.  

Each topic is handled with his testimony and his view on the lens of the Word of God and then how that looks in life, changes his thinking, or helps him cope and live with ongoing suffering, as well as recognizing God's plan for evil as it appears in the lives of believers.  I think his appendix at the back with biblical reasons that God might use when a person or family is afflicted with suffering was a highlight of the book for me.  

This book would benefit someone who is living with ongoing suffering in any form.  In my case I interact with many adoptive and foster families who are parenting children from hard places and by embracing and loving the kids, their home often faces evil and suffering on a daily basis. But it would also benefit a family who is living with a terminal illness, a disease that includes chronic suffering, but isn't terminal, grieving individuals, and those who interact with anyone who suffers.  So I see it as a great resource for church leaders and in ministry, as well as tender-hearted individuals who want to grasp how God works in a sinful world.  

I enjoyed this book, and the thoughts are my personal opinion. I was blessed to receive this book for free as a part of Kregel Blog Tours, but it is expected I give it an honest review and that is what I'm sharing here. My thoughts.