John Owen was intelligent, talented, and fully sold out for God's glory. An Oxford graduate, Owen was forced to choose between continuing his career in the expected path-that included agreeing with the Church of England and things he knew to be wrong-or following his convictions. Choosing the latter option many times during his life, Owen would write many books, go to Ireland as the military chaplain, pastor a congregation in Coggeshall until Charles II made it illegal, preached at Trinity College in Dublin, and would eventually, under Cromwell, make Owen vice-chancellor of Oxford. This fascinating children's biography features full-page original illustrations, photographs of places he lived, and easy-to-understand text that conveys the values Owen held dear. 62 pages, hardcover.
This week I learned a lot about the Puritans by reading Ms. Carr's biography of John Owen. The cover of this book is inviting and might make you think that this is a picture book about John Owen, but it is actually a solid biography for young readers in grades 3-6. The younger readers may have some difficulty reading some of the words on their own but they will learn what those words mean in the course of the book. My daughter struggled pronouncing some of the words in this book, because though her phonics are very strong, many of the words in this book need to be read aloud because they don't fit the typical rules of phonics. So, this will be a book we read together the first time or two. She loves history books, so I am sure she will then begin reading it on her own once she knows what the difficult words sound like.
The first time I read this book about John Owen, I had many thoughts that I discussed with my husband. His view of this book was very different than my initial view and that is why I clarified from the beginning that this is a biography and not a picture book. The cover made me think of this first as a picture book biography. I expected a lot of personal information about John Owen. Instead, this is a story of his life and the things he did. Simonetta Carr did not infer things about his life. I believe she strove to stay true to what we do know about Owen, rather than embellishing his story. This is very important because inferring information about real people is a dangerous thing. It is a difficult thing with figures from the past--to portray them in an unbiased way. I enjoyed Ms. Carr's blog post about just this aspect of writing biographies on her blog.
The illustrations from the book by Matt Abraxas are wonderfully done. But, the book includes many pictures of real places and other historical documents and artwork as well. The explanations of difficult concepts such as what a theologian is and the book of common prayer are very good, though your children may have a few more questions about what Parliament is. It is explained at a very simple level in this book, but they may still have more questions.
This book would be a good resource to help children understand the lives of the Puritans and that period of history. It would be a wonderful addition to a church library, to a Christian school's Church History curriculum, or to a homeschooling family's history lessons. It is very easy to read about events in history and not see how the little pieces fit together. Reading a book like this may help your children see that the figures in church history matter as much as other key figures like the great scientists and inventors that our history books are filled with.
Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Reformation Heritage Books.
January 25, 2011