If thoughtful gifts are what you’re looking for, here’s a list of ideas that are guaranteed to be the right size and add a little something beautiful to life.
reviewed by Ron VandenBurg
Ready to spend 10 percent more on Christmas this year? Excited that you are spending $200 per child this yuletide? Feeling you need to do your part to support the North American economy? This tongue-in-cheek website, started by Canadian Mennonites, wants North Americans to think more carefully about their purchases. Their message is simple: protest holiday materialism. Started by Aiden Enns, a former editor of Adbusters magazine, this site includes a unique catalog (all gifts cost $0) as well as fun suggestions for homemade gifts. In his search for a Christmas focused on Christ and our relationship with one another, Enns encourages his readers to stop the cycle of relentless work to buy unneeded things. Check out the shared stories where visitors tell of appreciative relatives, confused coworkers, and crabby store owners.
The Christmas Companion
by Garrison Keillor
reviewed byWayne Brouwer
What would the gifts of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” sound like if they were all in the same room? Can a house and yard be too brilliantly lit with decorations? Garrison Keillor and the cast of public radio’s “Prairie Home Companion” present neighborly musings that tell the awful (and funny) truth about these topics and more. The Christmas Companion, the first new PHC collection in eight years, delivers what listeners expect from Keillor and company. The music is eclectic—from blues to classical to hymnic to folk—and certainly pluralistic in religious outlook. Spun through the CD is winsome down-home wit. (Highbridge Audio)
The Chronicles of Narnia CD Box Set
reviewed by Cara Daining
With Christmas quickly approaching and Walt Disney Pictures’ release of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe highly anticipated, The Chronicles of Narnia on CD is the perfect Christmas gift for both young and old. Seven marvelous and entertaining British actors capture C.S. Lewis’s enchanting depictions of talking beasts, magical moments, and a magnificent Lion as lord of a distant world. The readings contain no music or frivolous sound effects, and the readers’ expressive voices are captivating. (HarperAudio)
Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5
by Daniel Barenboim and
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra
reviewed by Philip Christman
This album is the first recorded result of a quietly noble experiment. In 1998, world-renowned conductor Daniel Barenboim, who is Jewish, and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said organized the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra as a workshop for young Arab and Israeli musicians. Barenboim conducted daily rehearsals while Said led discussions on cultural matters at night. Perhaps some of the energy of these performances comes from the musicians’ awed awareness of having been coaxed, minute by minute, from ancient rivalries into the infinitely subtle cooperation that is an orchestra. (WarnerClassics)
Seven Magical Stories of Christmas
by James Calvin Schaap
reviewed by Kristy Quist
Fans of Schaap will delight in his gift to them: a slim volume of Christmas-themed short stories. Schaap writes about everyday people, flaws and all, wrestling with their problems. A mother desperately wants her daughter’s family to find a church. A proud actor is frustrated with the teens who are ruining the church’s Christmas presentation. A grandmother aches to be a part of her granddaughter’s life. In the midst of their struggles, the protagonists experience
“startling joy”—a moment of sudden clarity—which helps them understand the message of Christmas within the framework of their own lives. (Revell) This book is available from Faith Alive Christian Resources (1-800-333-8300).
by Wendell Berry
reviewed by Herman DeVries Jr.
To read Wendell Berry’s Given is to enter a place of reverence. Plain yet profound language makes these poems accessible to any reader.
The collection is mainly Berry’s continued “Sabbath cycle”—poetic meditations born on his weekly retreats to the woods or river. A Kentucky farmer, Berry is deeply attuned to the life and death of his surroundings. He pays thoughtful and loving attention to what is “given” by the Creator—be it warbler, soil, leaf, light, or time itself. Seasoned Berry readers will note a distinctly older poet here—one anticipating his own passage “into the land of the wholly loved.” (Shoemaker & Hoard)
Devotions for Adults/ young adults
A Year with C.S. Lewis
edited by Patricia S. Klein
reviewed by Sandy Swartzentruber
As the title suggests, A Year with C.S. Lewis contains 365 challenging nuggets of wisdom gleaned from Lewis’s classic writings. Each entry is less than one page long, and most pages contain enough white space for making pithy notes to oneself. The cover design is appropriately dignified, the hardcover binding is sturdy, and the book is small enough to slip easily into a briefcase or backpack. As an added bonus, a ribbon bookmark is bound into the volume. This is a devotional book that will please almost every person on your gift list: high school or college students, your pastor, a favorite teacher, or your parents. (Zondervan)
devotions for families
Did You Know?
The One Year Book of Devotions for Kids
by Nancy S. Hill
reviewed by Randall Engle
Why are barns traditionally painted red? How did noodles get their name? Imagine 363 other questions just as intriguing, written in child-appropriate language and tied to biblical truths, and you have this new devotional book by Nancy Hill. Granted, some of the daily devotionals are factoids in search of a Scripture passage, but more often the biblical link is surprising and just as insightful as the daily question, making this book a great alternative for after-dinner family devotions. Best of all, this interesting book will have your children, and you, eager each day of the year to learn more about God’s word and our wonderful world. (Tyndale House)
devotions for little ones
A Child’s First Book of Prayers
by Lois Rock
illustrated by Alison Jay
reviewed by Sandy Swartzentruber
Delightful yet soothing illustrations and poetic language set this little book apart from other children’s devotionals. One hundred and fifty gentle prayers grouped into categories such as “Prayers for the Quiet Morning,” “Prayers for Sad Times,” “Prayers for Every Season,” and “Prayers from the Bible” guide children to talk with God creatively and from the heart. Within each category, traditional prayers, short poems, Scripture verses, and original prayers written by the author help children try on various forms of prayer. Alison Jay’s illustrations are so engaging that children who aren’t reading yet may find themselves paging through the book for the sheer colorful joy of it. The sturdy hardcover binding makes this book a lasting treasure. (Augsburg Fortress)
To See Every Bird on Earth
by Dan Koeppel
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema
As a “big lister,” Richard Koeppel is part of a subculture of competitive birdwatchers who spend enormous amounts of money, time, and energy to reach their goal of seeing and counting every bird on earth—often at risk to their lives. Dan Koeppel, Richard’s son, explores the reasons for his father’s obsession, which has led him to travel to 60 countries and tally 7,000 species of birds. Though not written from a Christian perspective, the book tries to answer a spiritual question: Do obsessions exist “to fill our empty spaces?” Blending history, psychology, and natural science into an intriguing narrative, Koeppel shows how complex and varied humans and birds are. (Hudson Street Press/Penguin)