Sunday, March 16, 2014

Book Review: John Knox (Christian Biographies for Young Readers)

Simonetta Carr has created a wonderful series of biographies that highlight faithful personages from church history, and this is the second of her books we have been able to review. This latest volume is based on the life of John Knox.

I have to admit I knew very little about the Scottish reformer before reading this book; I had only a general idea of his positions and his importance within the greater Reformation and was greatly impressed and surprised by all that I learned.

Knox's narrative is naturally exciting, from his early adventures as a prisoner at sea to his later confrontations with Scottish and British royals. Carr has created an easily readable account set in a detailed historical context, which included many of the names and places we have been learning about in our medieval to modern history studies. It is apparent that for this book, as with others in this series, careful research goes into writing such a thorough account, yet the author manages to keep it from being too tedious and even makes it enjoyable.

Knox's first days as a reluctant preacher through his rise as a prominent (and disparaged) reformer to his interactions with John Calvin in Geneva and his collaboration with other Scottish Protestants in crafting the Scots Confession make for a captivating read. Our oldest son is now seven, and this was the first time I have been able to read a book like this with him in one sitting. In fact, he was so fascinated he begged me to finish it rather than ending at one of the chapter breaks, as we had done in the past when reading about Anselm or Calvin.

I also appreciated the more personal aspects Carr included: Knox's doubts about becoming a preacher, his devotion to his wife even though they were often separated for months or years, how he led daily family devotions in his home for his family and guests, and how he remained committed to the preaching of God's Word to the end of his life, even in his weakened, dying state. Stories such as this encourage believers today to continue in the work of the Lord despite persecution and hardship.

This beautifully bound hardback series has always included excellent artistic representations and this edition is no exception. The picture-book quality is enhanced by colorful maps, portraits of prominent persons, photographs of key locations, and hand-drawn illustrations of important moments. I also appreciated that Carr includes quotations from many letters, publications, and friends of Knox in order to provide personality and context for the story. At the end of the book, the publisher has reprinted the first four articles from the Scots Confession that Knox helped write. I was, however, disappointed that there were no excerpts from any of Knox's "fiery sermons" for which he was so famous. Perhaps there are no written accounts!

Overall, I found this an excellent biography for all ages, but especially for younger elementary children who are just beginning to read longer chapter books, because it still feels like a "picture book," yet offers a slightly challenging read and provides a wealth of information. Her acknowledgements even include some possibilities for further reading, which I might delve into in the future.

We are grateful to Reformation Heritage Books for sending us a copy to review. The opinions expressed in this review are solely my own.