Lions and Spiders and Worms, Oh My!

Mixed Media
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If you've watched the hit movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you may have noticed both the Disney and Walden Media logos in the credits. Would it surprise you to know that Disney had no creative control over the Narnia movie, handling only the marketing and distribution? Walden Media, in its fifth year of existence, has become a heavyweight media entity in Hollywood by producing movies with positive values and powerful storytelling.

Founded by CEO Cary Granat and President Micheal Flaherty, Walden Media boasts some of the year’s big box office successes. Drawing largely from popular children’s books such as Holes and Because of Winn-Dixie, the studio enjoys source material already known to its target audience. As well, the movies inspire kids to read the books.

Hoot and How to Eat Fried Worms, both well-known novels, have recently enjoyed success on the silver screen. Hoot is an inspiring story about a boy, recently relocated from Montana to Florida, who winds up engaging in a fight to protect a population of endangered owls. How to Eat Fried Worms, about a bully who gets more than he bargained for, is a fun, gross-out yarn that teaches good lessons about power and responsibility. Walden Media is also planning a film version of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, and Charlotte’s Web is set to be released next month.

With an advisory panel of former teachers, librarians, and media literacy gurus such as Renee Hobbs, co-founder of the Alliance for a Media Literate America, Walden is dedicated to bringing positive, family-oriented stories to the screen. Kids, parents, and educators can log onto www.walden.com to access additional resources, discussion ideas, and critical-thinking activities related to the movies.

Now that Walden Media has emerged as a major player on the “edutainment” landscape, parents and educators should take notice. Their support of Walden-produced movies will ensure that the company will thrive and continue to provide much-needed wholesome entertainment.   n

Ron VandenBurg is a Christian school teacher and a theater and media buff. He is a member of Jubilee Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Looking for a gift that’s really worth giving? Here are some ideas for thoughtful Christmas gifts.

DVD

Hoot

by reviewed Ron Vandenburg

Based on Carl Hiaasen’s bestselling novel, Hoot encourages kids to consider the wildlife that shares the world with us. The film’s young heroes try to prevent developers from destroying a habitat for Florida Burrowing Owls. Like many characters in movies for kids, these empowered children show the adults the error of their ways. Special features on the DVD present projects of the National Wildlife Federation, show actual bird rescue measures, and explain how animals are trained and treated on a film set. The interview with the author is great for families who have read the book. (New Line, Walden Media)

CD

Indelible Grace IV: Beams of Heaven

by reviewed Bob Keeley

Kevin Twit, campus minister at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., noticed that many of his students were longing to connect with something deeper than the praise choruses used in worship services featuring contemporary music. He responded by presenting a book of hymn texts to singer-songwriters, challenging them to turn the words into songs for people with contemporary musical tastes. The result was the Indelible Grace series of albums, which uses modern folk styles to beautifully complement the hymn texts. The fourth in this series, Beams of Heaven, is a fine collection sung by a variety of artists, including Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, and Jars of Clay’s Dan Haseltine. (Indelible Grace Music)

FICTION

This Heavy Silence

by Nicole Mazzarellareviewed by Sonya VanderVeen Feddema

Dottie Connell, single at 38, never prayed for God’s help in doing what she could do for herself. However, now she is left farming 300 acres in rural Ohio alone while paying off her father’s debt for the land she loves. She is also raising her childhood friend’s daughter, despite community pressure to allow her former fiancé to do so. Dottie must face the heavy silence that exists between herself and God as well as between herself and others. Devoid of sentimentalism and pat answers, This Heavy Silence portrays one woman’s arduous journey to accept life’s harsh realities and the immense grace of a persistent, loving God. (Paraclete)

POETRY

Compass of Affection

by Scott Cairnsreviewed by Otto Selles

In his most recent collection, Scott Cairns offers a selection of poems from his first four books (1985-2002) and includes almost 30 new poems. This beautifully volume gives an excellent introduction to his work and new food for thought for his many fans. Newcomers should know this is Christian poetry that avoids sentimentality and easy moralizing. Switching between quiet reflections, dense arguments, and biting humor, Cairns critiques smug assumptions of salvation and challenges the reader: “What would you pray at the approach of this/late evening? What ask? And of whom?” (Paraclete)

ESSAYS

Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

by Frederick Buechnerreviewed by Phil Christman Jr.

There are many religious writers but only one Frederick Buechner—a great stylist whose talent is mere scaffolding for something I can only call grace. He cares for words as God must care for sparrows, making all of them count, and even the smallest details in his novels and essays often echo through the book until they flame with significance. This book of essays rescues a lifetime of great sermons and essays from the mostly out-of-print works in which they first appeared—including one of my favorite essays of all time, “Faith and Fiction.” (HarperSanFrancisco)

MEMOIR

Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith

by Barbara Brown Taylorreviewed by Wayne Brouwer

Taylor’s memoir of finding God, entering a ministerial vocation, and then shifting to religion professor duties is almost like reading my own unwritten diary. Hearing Taylor preach and speak is like watching a paradise sunset, feeling a refreshing breeze during summer’s heat, or tasting that first bite of truffle. Reading her words creates a constant interaction of head and heart, with dancing delight in playful words and scintillating metaphors that are never contrived or haughty. Leaving Church is a first-rate spiritual autobiography. It is not only or even first of all for pastors. All who journey in faith will find Taylor a marvelous companion and a thoughtful friend. (HarperSanFrancisco)

COMPUTER GAME

Re-Mission

reviewed by Steph DeBoer

Created for young cancer patients but available to everyone, Re-Mission is a computer game that simulates the treatment and struggles that kids with cancer endure. It also allows them a chance to vicariously fight the cancer. HopeLabs, creators of the game, anticipate that playing will psychologically help kids battle their own cancer. Players control a superhero named Roxxi, who destroys cancer cells and battles bacterial infections. Re-Mission has 20 levels in which Roxxi journeys through the bodies of young patients with different kinds of cancer. The game adjusts itself according to the skill level of the player, but it is intentionally never easy, just as fighting real cancer is a constant battle. The game is free for kids who have cancer and is available at www.re-mission.net.

KID PICK

Pirateology

by Dugald A. Steerreviewed by Otto Selles

What’s the difference between a pirate, a privateer, a buccaneer, and a corsair? For the answer, read the journal of Captain William Lubber, a pirate hunter sailing the seven seas in search of the infamous Arabella Drummond. Through vivid illustrations, pull-out letters and treasure maps, and even some “gold dust,” Pirateology is a marvelously interactive book. At the same time, sidebars give an engaging historical and geographical corrective to Disney pirates. All young readers will find the format interesting, but the story’s vocabulary and cursive script seem best suited to strong readers in the 9-to-12-year-old range. (Candlewick)

CD

Testify

by P.O.D.reviewed by Mike Postma

Given the turmoil that P.O.D. has gone through since 2003, Testify is a terrific rebound CD. Showcasing the band’s distinct sound, this album proves that these former gangsters are one of the most unique, versatile rock outfits out there. Testify is a blend of hip-hop and reggae, with lots of guitars. The song “Roots in Stereo” best shows this varied fusion of sound, while “Sounds Like War” offers a heavier reverberation, which fits the context of the song. “Goodbye for Now” aims to pick up where 2001’s monster hit “Youth of the Nation” left off. I can almost hear the children’s choir conquering your iPod now! (Atlantic)

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