Saturday, 24 October 2009

Reading Update #2

Reading Aloud

Having finished reading Anne of Green Gables to the children, we are enjoying a selection of quality children's picture books from the local public library and our home library at the moment. One of our current favourites is Tom's Clockwork Dragon, by Jonathan Emmett, illustrated by Mark Oliver, from Oxford University Press.

This book gives an unusual rendering of the standard knight-errant-slays-dragon tale of yore. For a start, the knight errant is a young toymaker's apprentice who is fired in the second page of the book for spending all his time making clockwork toys rather than painting the master toymaker's toy puppets, as he has been asked... and the traditional damsel-in-distress character is instead the daughter of an armour-maker who has some interesting skills of her own.

Tom's Clockwork Dragon does suffer from a lack of strong and good adult characters and completely absent parents, as in many children's books nowadays. It also has one or two slightly awkward hiccups in its generally poetical prose. However, the kids have loved its inventive plot and asked me to read it many times since we borrowed it from the public library nearly four weeks ago.

One thing I have enjoyed is a particular plot twist reminiscent of the biblical story of David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17. See if you can pick the connection (click on the image to see it larger):"The King nearly fell off his throne laughing when Tom turned up at the palace. 'The advert was for a brave knight not a foolish boy,' he said, wiping his eyes. 'But since all the real knights have been eaten by the dragon, I suppose you might as well try. But you need to be properly dressed,' he added. 'Go and ask the armourer to knock up a suit in your size.'"

Does it remind you of David approaching King Saul with his offer to fight the giant, Goliath?

David received the same response from his king as Tom does in this story: "You'll need some armour." Neither David nor Tom end up wearing armour when they approach their foes. Tom finds that the "armoury was empty except for a young girl, named Lizzie." She does not furnish him with armour, but instead gives him the spark for an idea of how the dragon might be defeated.

By way of contrast, 1 Samuel 17:38-40 tells us, "Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.
"I cannot go in these," he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine."

In the end, it is Tom's wits and Lizzie's skills at her father's forge that enable them to defeat the dragon Flamethrottle. In the biblical story, it wasn't David's wits that enabled him to defeat Goliath. Nor was it his courage or even his fine aim and years of experience killing bears and lions with his sling shot, as most people would probably remember from their Sunday School lessons. Rather, it was David's true King, the LORD God Almighty, who delivered David from the hand of Goliath the Philistine. 1 Samuel 17:45-51 says,

"David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."
As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.
So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine's sword and drew it from the scabbard. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword."

David did pick up the stones. He did throw them with his sling shot. It was those stones that knocked Goliath unconscious long enough for David to cut off his head with Goliath's own sword. But it was not by David's own power and strength David did this. Nor was it for David's own glory that he did it. The battle was won by the LORD. The battle was won for the glory and honour of the name of the LORD God Almighty, so that Goliath could no longer "defy the armies of the living God" (as David described it in 1 Samuel 17:26).

The best thing about this is that David knew all along that it would be the LORD who would save him from Goliath. While Tom spent much of the story frightened of Flamethrottle, even while he was volunteering to fight him, David was confident of success from the outset. David knew that the LORD had delivered him from bears and lions before, when he worked as a shepherd guarding his father's sheep. When he faced Goliath on the battlefield, David was already proclaiming praises to the glory of the living God, who had sovereign control over the battle's outcome.

Which all makes for a much better ending than "The King was pleased to be rid of the real dragon and delighted when Tom and Lizzie presented him with the clockwork dragon as well. It made a wonderful royal carriage for parades." Tom went on to make toy-sized clockwork dragons. But David went on to become a royal servant of of the One True God. I know which one I would rather be! And, wonder of wonders, through Jesus Christ, that is exactly what I am.

Peter wrote of Christians (1 Peter 2:9), "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." Now that is a real Happily Ever After!


Mrs. Edwards said...

Great post, Sharon. God is indeed the hero of the Bible, and yet so often the characters in his narrative are elevated into the hero role. I loved the way you found the parallels between this story and God's story--and the contrasts, too. We know a guy who likes to say that all stories and movies are rip-off from the Bible. I guess that might be a low-brow way of expressing what Lewis meant when he called Christianity the "true myth."

P.S. The kids are watching Colin Buchanan right now as I type..."Put your trust in Jesus, He's no fairy tale!" :)

Meredith said...

Hi Sharon!
Just checking in. Everything OK at your house? Or are you just working hard at keeping up with the food and the laundry and staying away from the computer? It's just you've been a bit quiet of late. No pressure to blog...but just checking in.

Karen W said...

I totally hear you on the quality of children's books these days. I stumbled across a great resource a while ago that you may be interested in. Keepers of the Faith, among other things, have a catalogue of great authors and a huge selection of books for all ages that they recommend. They have a section on their website about how they choose their books and if you want to read the whole article go to and click on "How We Pick".
In brief they select books that are truly wholesome and consistent with God's Word. It means that they do not carry a book merely because it is advertised as "Christian," no matter how famous the author.
In this article they state
"We do not claim to be perfect, nor know everything about literature, but here are some of the techniques that we see as harmful, and try to eliminate from the titles that we sell:
1) Does the author depict ordinary parents as insignificant in comparison with people of a higher status or with more well known achievements?
2) Are children presented as capable of making their own decisions, almost as if they had equal decision-making ability with adults?
3) Does the tone of the book give credence to the idea that problems between a parent and a child arise because the parent does not "understand" the child?
4) Does the story line propagate the idea that a really good parent "finds a way" to align himself with the child's wishes?
5) Does the story have one of those gallant, parent-supplanting outsiders who becomes the child's champion, because he, rather than the parents, knows just how the child feels and how to win the child's friendship?
6) Does the story contain incidents that leave a child thinking that what parents do not find out about is not a problem?
7) Does the story contain unnecessary crudeness, violence, vulgarity, deception, torture, lying, hate, trickery, etc.?
8) Are the children in the story respectful of, and obedient to, their parents, especially behind their parents' backs, or does the story give subtle impressions that "kids should go ahead and be kids," and "what Mom and Dad don't know won't hurt them." It may not, but it will eventually hurt the children.
9) What about prayer? If the book claims to be Christian, do the characters pray? Do they pray for spiritual things or carnal things? In other words, do they serve God, or expect Him to serve them?
10) Does the story contain a pattern of children not being disciplined by parents for wrongdoing? Will the reader get the idea that such wrongdoing simply "isn't a big deal?" Will the reader get the idea that consequences and restitution are not to be expected as a part of life?
11) Is it a romance story? Is the heroine swept off her feet with a tall, dark, and handsome prince, thereby making an ordinary God-fearing man seem dull by comparison? Will the book cause the reader to daydream about what her "sweetheart" will be like rather than equipping herself to be a serious Christian helpmeet to him to whom God gives her?"

There is heaps more in the article and to be honest there are a couple of points (out of 22) that I don't fully agree with.
I haven't actually used the catalogue of books yet as I am still at the stage where I can have full control of what my kids read, but I know it wont be long. Hope you find this link helpful.
Love Karen
P.S. I keep meaning to email you to thank you for the chair. Thank you heaps. Now we have three identical chairs to match three children which equals less quarrels!

Sharon said...

Hi Karen,

You are welcome for the chair, especially since we were given 10 free from another homeschooler. So even after giving you one and Cheryl two, I still have four yellow K/PP-size chairs and three of the blue ones. They are great for birthday parties as well.

Thanks for the link to the website. I seem to recognise some or even most of that list of criteria from somewhere, but not necessarily from there. It is always good to have another resource for ideas, especially as I am in the process of making up our next list of "to read" books for the kids. They are enjoying Heidi presently.

~ Sharon