Sunday, December 15, 2002

New Trailblazer Books: Blinded by the Shining Path and

The Trailblazer Book series, for young readers (ages 8 – 12) introduces two new stories about boys living in vastly different societies and parts of the world, both of whom are impacted by the Christian missionary of their time.

In Blinded by the Shining Path, the authors present a more contemporary story, about present-day evangelical Christianity in Peru. The story takes place only ten years ago, in 1992, with a plot loosely based on true events in the life of Romulo Saune (pronounced ROW-muh-low SOUW-nyay), evangelist to Peru. The story is told from the viewpoint of 14-year-old Alfredo Garcia, peasant boy and reluctant member of the violent communist group, The Shining Path. After an action suspense beginning, Alfredo soon tells his story -- much of the book in first person -- of events that led up to this point in the story. Through Alfredo the reader learns about Peruvian Indians, specifically the Quechua tribe from the Andes Mountains, and their many hardships: poverty and crime from the roving bandits. Current-day evangelistic work is mentioned, including the well-known Jesus film and its role in spreading the gospel to the people of Peru. As usual, notes at the beginning and end of this Trailblazer book tell more about the missionary and his life. Since this story takes place so recently, the book also includes a follow-up, of events since Romulo's death in 1992.

Risking the Forbidden Game presents life in the Muslim world in 1925. Jamal is a twelve-year-old Arab boy living in Morocco during the French occupation. Living amidst soldiers of the French Foreign Legion, Jamal and his friend, Hameem, begin a daring game. They collect items from the foreigners, or infidels – and whoever acquires the most "points" from items collected, wins. Jamal starts collecting Jesus pictures from the American missionary Maude Cary, but soon realizes that the pictures tell a story. He finds himself challenged with the message that the nice missionary lady tells, and torn between his Muslim upbringing and what he learns about Jesus. The historical situation includes a rebellion by Muslim soldiers (under Abd el-Krim) against the French rulers, and the uncertainty: who will win control of Morocco?

Risking the Forbidden Game is also a good introduction for children, of the day-to-day life of Muslim children -- who have many rules and restrictions placed on them. Yet Jamal and Hameem come across as ordinary children, who go to school most days of the week but enjoy their playtime – and sometimes get into trouble for missing their morning prayers. Much of the story occurs during Ramadan, in April of 1925, and Jamal may go hungry if he wakes up too late to eat before the sun comes up. (Muslims cannot eat during the day for the month of Ramadan). Notes at the book’s end tell more about Maude Cary’s missionary work, which spanned the first fifty years of the 20th century. As told afterwards, three main characters – Jamal, Hameem, and a French Foreign Legion soldier – are loosely based on actual people impacted by Maude Cary’s work.

Both of these Trailblazer books, Blinded by the Shining Path and Risking the Forbidden Game are excellent additions to the ever-expanding children’s series, with adventure and positive character development, and should especially appeal to young boys.

Sunday, December 1, 2002

The Reluctant Commander: George Washington's First Command

Richard Patton’s series "The Neophyte Warrior" continues with the second book, The Reluctant Commander. Starting immediately where His Majesty’s Envoy ended, the tale unfolds with the beginning of the French and Indian War in the spring of 1754.

The Reluctant Commander includes a synopsis of the previous book and its several subplots, as well as a "Cast of Characters." The main story involves Washington in his new role as Colonel and – reluctantly – in charge of the military operation to remove the French from the disputed territories. But everything seems stacked against the young leader, who can never acquire enough men, supplies and food. Soon he inadvertently starts a war, and later experiences his first – and only – military defeat. The actual events at Great Meadows are covered in exacting detail, with the actual historical figures as the primary characters involved. As such, the story would yield few surprises to historians; but since the event is little known to today’s average reader, The Reluctant Commander provides a thorough, yet entertaining, history lesson complete with witty dialogue and humorous moments. Through Patton’s historical narrative and character interaction, we can appreciate both the political situation and the colonists’ attitudes. The many Scottish characters in particular enliven the story with their rich heritage of stubborn independence, drunken merriment, and remembrances of past conflicts between Scottish and British in years past.

The subplots begun in the first book take a backseat for a time, with the more pressing action involving Washington and his cohorts -- Christopher Gist (though in a much smaller role this time), Robert Stobo, Jacob Van Braam and Captain James Mackay. Old Smoke and "Stump Neck" (formerly known as Pariah West) are still around, but in reduced roles. One exception to this reduced coverage is an expanded role for the somewhat comical Indian "Striking Eagle", Old Smoke’s young friend now obsessed with killing Englishmen. The author skillfully employs dialogue between Striking Eagle and a French soldier to illustrate the radically differing views of warfare. The contrasts are indeed striking, and clearly displayed: civilized Europeans versus barbarian, savage American Indians; and the continental European "line" style warfare versus hide-and-ambush combat in this new, as-yet-untamed land. Then comes also the ironic savage-reversal with the bizarre story of "Stump Neck," an Englishman gone mad, reverting to barbarian cruelty far worse than the Indians who never had "civilized society" to begin with.

Richard Patton continues a well-written, historically detailed account of a little-known period in American History, events which would help bring about the American Revolution and forever impact its leader, George Washington. The only thing the book lacks is geographical aids – any map or maps, which would help in placing the proper context of "Great Meadows" and other places referenced. Perhaps future installments of the "Neophyte Warrior" will include maps showing the places of action. Still, the series is off to a good start with the first two books, and the third one – The Lion’s Apprentice – promises further developments (and the end of this second book gives a brief look ahead).