It's hard to find appropriate stories for children that don't contain objectionable ingredients. Even in small doses, spices set the character for a whole dish. How impactful then for character to be infused by the holy ingredients of biblical truth, love, and hope. Each month, we recommend a story work of art that is both creative and faithful to the Creator and the lover of our souls. May God add to these authors and their works.
January Pick - The Winter King by Christine Cohen
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christine Cohen spent one childhood summer reading 56 books and another locked in her room writing stories. She has been a writer her whole life and currently has two published fantasy books. Aside from writing fiction, she works as the director of the New Saint Andrew's College, Camperdown Master of Fine Arts program, in Moscow, Idaho. The MFA program is a self-described unicorn in the world - the program is committed to Scripture as the authoritative, inerrant, and inspired Word of God. Not only that, the program's aim is not to create teachers of writing but to produce writers who will go on to publish. Listen to an interview with Christine.
The Winter King is published by Canonball Books, the children's fiction arm of Canon Press. The publishers's clever name is coupled with a cute cannon emblem and both reflect their creative books for young ones in the church.
ABOUT THE BOOK:
According to the author, this book straddles middle-grade and young adult and is appropriate for the upper range of middle-grade, 10 years old and above. It is also aimed at young teen girls.
The Winter King journeys through the harshness of winter in a far Nordic village, where a young girl Cora works desperately to feed her slowly starving family, fighting for their survival despite being cursed by their god, the Winter King, to poverty and the fringes of society. There are faithful friends and beautiful family moments. But of course, as you can already tell, the god being worshipped and his anointed human leaders are cruel, self-indulgent, and cover up the truth - that God has left a written record of who He is for the villagers He loves.
Cora's incredible work ethic is a wonderful example of dedication, even as many of the villagers are perfect examples of how harmful and cruel superstitious societies are. In American culture, children don't worry about catching someone else's curse but in the real world we live in, this fear and the resulting suffering are a reality for far too many people. Spiritual darkness actively steals, kills, and destroys in a myriad ways and this story is a practical lesson in what spiritual slavery looks like contrasted to the freedom found in Christianity. In the story, villagers who are brave enough not to treat Cora's family badly still refuse to think poorly of the false god they have always worshipped. Even Cora's best friend opposes her as she seeks a secret book about the Winter King. Her determination to find out who the Winter King really is hopefully kindles a similar fire in each young reader. At the story's end, the false god is revealed as a mannequin and the holy book is recovered and read in public in a dramatic climax that showers the goodness of the true God on the villagers in an unexpected twist.
In the course of the story, there is hunger, death in the village from disease, allusion to torture, and mention of public hangings for those who oppose the earthly rulers. However, the writer did not inappropriately showcase these darker elements. Cora unfortunately lied a lot and manipulated evil characters; it would have been nice if the author had found a creative way to minimize these as the related subplots didn't add to the story - but these problems would make for a great family discussion. The beauty of family and friendship still shine through as the truth sets the village children free and we see friendships restored. This book is not a fancy-free read but is a story about endurance in the face of suffering and pursuing truth over religious platitudes.
CHRISTIAN BOOK REVIEW SITES:
If you wish to find more Christian children's fiction, the Christian sites below are great resources.
Big Books Little Ears
Reformed Perspective - Children's Fiction Reviews
Bonus Oldie but Goodie (not necessarily Christian fiction) - The Phantom Tollbooth
Kids may not know what a tollbooth is but that doesn't matter. All they need to know is that it's magical in this book.
This is an adventure of delirious whimsey that somehow weaves a sweet adventure quest around a boy named Milo and his fantastical friends.
It is a story for lovers of words and ideas. Which letters are succulent and sweet and which taste like sawdust? Do you remember the crowded desert island called "Conclusions" to which one is transported when one makes unfounded claims? One is sure to find one's friends there but it's very hard to get off the island. Aside from quirky characters, there are demons in the land but all demons are in the flavor of the Terrible Trivium who gives out "important" tasks, like moving a pile of sand from here to there with tweezers, to make sure no one accomplishes the actually important tasks in life. Many demons will be only too familiar, even to kids!
There are a lot of fun and funny moments within the quest. Milo conducting the orchestra of color was especially neat. It's an oldie that was published in 1961. But it remains a great read to share with younger readers.