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Ever heard of a “tween?” If not, just chillax and let me explain. Think of someone between 8 and 14 years old, caught between childhood and teenagehood, yet able to move effortlessly between iPods, cell phones, e-mail, and video games.

Targeting this audience, last year the cable network Nickelodeon began broadcasting “iCarly,” a half hour program integrating a middle school sitcom and Internet culture.

In the first episode, Carly Shay (Miranda Cosgrove) and her friend Sam (Jennette McCurdy) film the applicants to the school’s talent show. Freddie (Nathan Kress), a Net-savvy neighbor, lends his technical skills but mistakenly posts a video online, a video which shows the two girls mocking their teacher. Web viewers create thousands of “page views” and requests for more. Freddie suggests that the girls start their own webcast, called “iCarly,” like Internet and Carly, you know?

Further episodes mix standard laugh track fare of mean teachers, oddball family members, and boy-girl crushes with the actual production of the webcasts. Appealing to the YouTube generation, the program has its own website——that encourages viewers to text comments and to submit wacky videos of themselves.

My own tweens (9, 11, and 13) knew about the program, but had not watched it (because of our lame, no-cable TV policy, they reminded me). We looked at the show’s website as well as some complete episodes ( Initially, they had these reactions: “extremely stupid” and “stupid funny.” One liked, however, how “iCarly” showed “nowadays,” with Sam forever texting her new boyfriend. The Internet-TV circularity made me a bit dizzy, as I watched a webcast of a TV show about a webcast.

Is this the shape of things to come? The lines between the Internet and TV will probably continue to blur. But if “iCarly” stays on the air, I suspect it will be thanks to the lead characters’ good looks and sassy speech, as with sitcoms of my youth.

One of my kids gave these final words of appreciation: “it’s not a bad show, but it depends on if you’ve seen better stuff.” As always, let’s keep hoping for “better stuff,” on TV or online.

From Stone to Living Word

by Debbie Blue
reviewed by Phil Christman Jr.

The Bible, argues Blue, tells a richly tangled story, pointing us toward the even richer tangle of life with God. But rather than letting it guide us into relationship, we mine it for easy answers and clear instructions, avoiding encounters with God entirely. With dazzling insight, compassion, and brilliant prose, Blue reminds liberal and conservative Christians alike that the Bible is God’s witness, not his tomb. This book puts her among the best spiritual writers now at work. (Brazos Press)

Dreamers of the Day

by Mary Doria Russell
reviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

In 1921, Agnes Shanklin, a teacher living within oppressive societal strictures, travels to Egypt and the Holy Land. There, she meets Winston Churchill, Lady Gertrude Bell, and T.E. Lawrence gathered for the Cairo Peace Conference, during which boundaries are drawn up to create Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Lebanon. Agnes’s identity crisis parallels that of the emerging Middle East. In both cases, the decisions arrived at have enduring consequences. Russell’s novel combines insight into the human condition with brilliant commentary on the “dreamers of the day.” (Random House)


reviewed by Kelly Crull

This magazine is all about finger pointing. Each themed issue is a quarrel with the church, pointing out where the church has gone wrong in politics or war or sex or the environment. Geez is abrasive and frustrating to read but difficult to write off because it makes some astute points worth considering. Printed on recycled paper, the magazine’s articles introduce do-it-yourself projects to make your home more environmentally friendly, churches that have started community gardens, and a call to love our enemies even when they own sweatshops. Even the ad space is replaced by poetry and mixed media. If anyone can point the finger and get away with it, it’s Geez.

reviewed by Sandy Swartzentruber

Make your own artistic jewelry, create a basket from coiled paper, build and upholster a simple but sophisticated headboard—all with easy instructions from the web magazine esprit cabane. This inventive site, impeccably translated from French, focuses on environmentally friendly handicrafts with a European flair. You’ll find hip gift ideas, discover fun things to make with kids (like forest huts made from old branches), and learn cool, crafty ways to transform a common household item into something beautiful and useful.

Garmann’s Summer

by Stian Hole
reviewed by Gretchen Erhardt

As in the best picture books, Norwegian author-illustrator Hole captures a universal experience—the fear of the unknown. He illuminates it with the conversations of three old aunts who come to visit 6-year-old Garmann the day before school starts. Whether or not you love this artistic family, they raise questions for all who want to be both frank and faithful in listening to children and elders. Surreal illustrations warrant a slow reading. (Eerdmans)

The Lowdown


Symphony Sessions by Steve Bell: Some of Steve Bell’s best -loved songs, including “Burning Ember” and “Deep Calls to Deep,” accompanied by the Winnipeg Symphony orchestra. (Signpost Music)

Because of You by Tammy McMath: McMath’s work as church musik director, founder of Kindermusik, and her yearly work with handicapped orphans in the Ukraine offer a glimpse of this special Christian. This worship CD is a musical expression of her love of Jesus and life. (

Disengage by Justin Unger: Unger gives thoughtful insights on Christian living in this, his first solo CD after performing with the band Across the Sky. (Above Entertainment)

Legacy…Hymns of Our Heritage by David Klinkenberg: Fiddle styles of American and European folk merge with modern contemporary production to create a worship album that will appeal to all audiences. (

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