Friday, January 21, 2011

Our Rating System

We use a simple 3-star rating system:

*** = "A" Highly Recommended
** = "B" Recommended
* = "C" Recommended with Reservations
O stars= "D/F" Not Recommended

Just like Mrs. Dunbar's high school English class, there will be many "Cs", several "Bs" and very few "A's."

Now, what to do with books/movies that fall under "Not Recommended?"

Families can certainly read those selections and use their own judgment. One option is to read with your kids, and another is to wait til your child is older. I would expect parents to come to different conclusions based on their background and interpretation.

Some will find our grading system too strict, and others will find it too loose. I look hard to find redeeming qualities in materials because I don't believe in being afraid of culture. Also, I have seen God use unexpected means and materials to touch people on different levels. At the same time I have almost no tolerance for weak story lines, poor writing, lazy plot devices.

I am frankly more concerned about the effects on our young people from saccharine Christian story-telling than from a well-told, albeit "secular," story. After all, our children must navigate within a secular world. Some may be disappointed when I give high marks to a book series with minimal Christian overtones, but (apologies to Augustine): All excellence is God's excellence.

Our Goal

Our main goal with this blog is to point families toward quality media. Some of our guiding Bible verses include:

Romans 12:1&2, paraphrased: Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is God's good, acceptable, and perfect will.

I Corinthians 10:23 paraphrased: All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but not everything will build me up.

I Corinthians 10:31 paraphrased: Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Matthew 10:16 paraphrased: Jesus sends us out as sheep in the midst of wolves. He tells us "be wise as serpents and harmless as doves."

First of all, these verses encourage me to carefully critique the world's priorities and advertisements. I'd like to remind families that they don't have to cave in to the world's peer pressure. Our kids don't have to see every popular movie and read every book on the best seller lists. One of our goals with this blog is to help you make decisions about what is worth your family's time, media-wise.

Second of all, the Bible helps me handle the tension of being in the world, but not of the world (John 16 and 17). We don't have to fear anything the world presents, but we are commanded to evaluate it, wise as serpents and innocent as doves. We hope this blog helps you and your kids engage the culture, not simply avoid it.

We understand families must differ in their implementation of our recommendations. The Bible reminds us that different people will have different convictions, and we are not to stand in judgment against this. (I Corinthians 10:23-33).

Ultimately, we hope we save you some time and point you to some fun and rewarding books and movies for you and your kids.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Hunger Games

Titles: The Hunger Games; Catching Fire; Mockingjay

Author: Suzanne Collins

Rating: ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience: Ages 16 and up

I'm naturally skeptical about glowing reviews, best-seller lists, and celebrity endorsements. When I hear a book is addictive and a reader can't put it down, or it was a cliff-hanger and a reader couldn't wait for the sequel I tend to think the reader is weak-willed, more than thinking the author is uber-amazing. So I approach books like The Hunger Games with more neutral, but not necessarily lower, expectations.

I'm pleased to say this is one series that delivers as promised. The Hunger Games is the sort of book where you don't really care what the kids do all day--just as long as they let you read!

Reminiscent of both The Lottery (short story by Shirley Jackson) and Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games takes us through a young woman's agonizing choices in a post-apocalyptic America. Katniss Everdeen sacrificially takes her sister's place in the country's annual Hunger Games, an over-the-top reality show watched by an entire nation. In this reality game, real lives are lost as there can be only one surviver.

The plot sounds violent and futuristic, but Collins handles the storyline with tact and the reader with care. Graphic details are rarely provided, particularly in the first 2 books. The story is advanced more by relationship and psychology than by violence or gore.

The series is full of covert and overt references to Roman Coliseum days, as well as our own current voyeuristic age. Readers are left to grapple with several themes: loyalty, the limits of just war, the role of government, superficial appearances, even their relationships with food, entertainment, and other excesses.

The concluding title, Mockingjay, becomes more graphic as the reader encounters a world where nothing is as it appears, and almost nothing makes sense. Except for love (or, a Christian would say, God) suicide would be a reasonable, logical choice. Collins is a master at creating impossible circumstances for her protagonists, and then writing them a way out of it. The reader never has to fear a completely bleak conclusion.

Collins has remade a fascinating America. Eventually some of the science fiction inventions feel a little unbelievable, but the reader is willing to suspend disbelief because Collins has also weaved relationship into the story. These are characters we relate to and believe in and we care to see what happens to them, even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Scholastic markets these books for as young as middle-school, but young adults are a more accurate audience. If your teens are reading 1984 or Fahrenheit 451, The Hunger Games is also a reasonable choice. Younger kids can enjoy Collins' Gregor the Overlander series. Read that review here.