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Lessons from times gone by

CHILDREN’S BOOKS OF THE YEAR—NONFICTION | An all-ages launch pad for exploring Church history


Lessons from times gone by
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Many Christians have a view of Church history that goes something like this: Acts, martyrs, fall of Jerusalem, um various heresies um Constantine um fall of Rome um Augustine um Dark Ages, lots of popes named Pius and Gregory, Crusades ...

Understanding 2,000 years of ­complex development requires an investment in time most of us don’t have. Adults seeking knowledge on a subject they know little about do well to consult a children’s book first, and Simonetta Carr’s Church History (Reformation Heritage Books 2022) brings persecutions, revivals, heresies, and controversies together in just such a resource.

Nine chapters explore the Church’s development from A.D. 30 to the modern era. Each chapter begins with a double-page spread featuring a map, a timeline of major events, and a summary of the period. The main narrative covers highlights, low ebbs, controversies, triumphs, and “Great Questions” related to theology. Sidebars spotlight notable men and women of the Church, interesting details, quotes, and thought questions that challenge grown-ups as well as children.

Why Church history? “First and foremost,” replied Carr in an email interview, “we can see how Christ has kept his promise to preserve his church, and we can be sure he is continuing to do so. Second, it will prevent us from becoming arrogant (as if we had just come up with the best understanding of Scripture). Conversely, it prevents us from romanticizing the church of the past.”

Another benefit, especially relevant today: “A study of church history can help us to withstand the current criticism against the church.” In its 2,000 years, Christians have failed often, but reformed and revived. “And, in many cases, [the church] has been the catalyst of the progress we see today in areas like science and respect for every human being.”

Carr, best known for her children’s biographies of Christian figures from Irenaeus to Edwards, is no stranger to Church history. But her research turned up some surprises, especially “the rich Christian history in continents like Asia, Africa, and South America. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information that is available but too often neglected.” She could have written much more about those neglected continents, but the material included is both inspiring and encouraging.

Since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit has been at work in every time and every corner of the globe. Christians who focus entirely on the present look for practical how-tos for solving knotty problems, forgetting that “our brothers and sisters of times gone by can ­provide unexpected answers.” This handsomely produced volume, full of eye-catching illustrations and fascinating details, provides children and grown-ups alike a launch pad for ­further exploration.


Nonfiction runners-up

Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

Susan Hood & Greg Dawson

(HarperCollins 2022)

This memoir begins with a granddaughter asking, “What are some of the events you remember from 1940, Grandma?” An innocent question with a harrowing answer, as Zhanna Arshansky’s Ukrainian Jewish family was pursued first by Stalin, then by Hitler, under whose orders they were rounded up and marched to a “labor camp.” At her father’s urging, Zhanna and her sister ran for their lives and survived the next four years by wit and musical talent. Her story is told in verse, layered with direct replies to her granddaughter. Though not acknowledged, Providence clearly played a role in her living to tell the tale. Ages 10 & up


The Animal Toolkit: How Animals Use Tools

Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

(Clarion Books 2022)

A tool is “an object that an animal manipulates and uses to affect its environment, another animal, or itself”—and some animals are surprisingly adept, either by instinct or by watching and learning. From the corolla spider, trapping its prey with a silk net anchored to a circle of quartz stones, to the palm cockatoo drumming up a mate by beating a stick on a tree limb, animal abilities show how their ingenious Creator equips them for survival. Though God is not ­mentioned in this book, neither is evolution. The playful text and Jenkins’ colorful, textured illustrations will fascinate a broad range of readers. Ages 6-10


Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together

Tanya Lee Stone

(Candlewick 2022)

More information is coming to light about the Japanese bombing of the Pacific Northwest during World War II, carried out by an ingenious program of unmanned hot-air ­balloons. That history forms the background for a story of reconciliation, told from opposing perspectives: of a grieving relative of one of the casualties, of a resentful internment victim, and of a lowly Japanese worker on the balloon project. They met many years later, acknowledging that “in war, knowingly or unknowingly, we are ­victimizers as well as ­victims.” Their story is sympathetic and well-told, a poignant reminder that peace is only possible with forgiveness. Ages 10-15


The Woman Who Split the Atom: The Life of Lise Meitner

Marissa Moss

(Harry N. Abrams 2022)

Lise Meitner, often overlooked by history, began her career during the ­scientific revolution of the early 20th century. Those years saw the birth of special and general relativity, quantum physics, and nuclear fission. Though supplying the correct interpretation of atom-splitting experiments in the 1930s, she didn’t receive the recognition she deserved, partly because she was a woman but mostly because she was Jewish at the height of Nazi oppression. Graphic-novel depictions of historical events and characters add interest to her story. Science is a human pursuit, and scientists are only human, but Meitner persevered in spite of disappointment, disrespect, and danger. Ages 10-15

Please read the next page in this issue’s special Children’s Books of the Year section: “Homeless but not hopeless


Janie B. Cheaney

Janie is a senior writer who contributes commentary to WORLD and oversees WORLD’s annual Children’s Books of the Year awards. She also writes novels for young adults and authored the Wordsmith creative writing curriculum. Janie resides in rural Missouri.

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