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Keeping Holiday Paperback – July 22, 2008
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About the Author
Starr Meade served as the director of children’s ministries for ten years at her local church and taught Latin and Bible for eight years at a Christian school. She is a graduate of Arizona College of the Bible and has authored a number of books. Starr lives in Arizona with her husband, where she currently teaches homeschool students and is mother to three grown children and six grandchildren.
JUSTIN GERARD is an illustrator with Portland Studios. His work has been featured in Spectrum and Society of Illustrators. He is also a recipient of the IPPY Award for his illustrations in Beowulf Book One: Grendel the Ghastly. He lives in South Carolina.
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Top Customer Reviews
Second, the theological truths Meade communicates are profound. There is a lot here that you won't find in other Christian children's book.
The comparison to Bunyan and Lewis is appropriate and becomes obvious as the story unfolds. However, don't expect writing and storytelling on the level of those classic authors. If you've ever read the "Magic Treehouse" series of books with your kids, the writing is about on that level. It is good, but I don't think people will be reading it 50 or 350 years from now.
[NOTE: I hope no one takes this review as an attack on the author of this book. I know her previous books have been used to teach many young children (and their parents) the truths of the Christian faith and for that I am truly thankful. I have no doubt that God will also use this book in some people's lives toward that same end. But I want to use this review to also speak about a broader issue affecting much Christian fiction, particularly that produced for children. I use this occasion because this book is an example of the issue I have in mind.]
First, the positive. This is a great concept. I wish there were a perpetual stream of fine works of imaginative fiction in which children (and adults) could steep in the truth, goodness and beauty of the Christian faith, its various facets reflected and captured in fine literature. Story is usually a far more powerful teacher than other forms of written or verbal communication, especially for children. Unfortunately, while I think this book is on the right track, I don't think it gets very far from the station.
Also, it must be said that the book makes a carefully conscious effort to be theologically precise, something that is far too frequently lacking in Christian books of all kinds outside of a small number of publishers. (That the criteria of theological correctness ought to be the most basic litmus test of publishability for Christian publishing houses should go without saying but unfortunately it needs to be said over and over as it appears too many of them aren't listening.) The author takes great pains to ensure that the symbolism of the story is, almost point-by-point, accurate with a faithful understanding of salvation by grace through faith, and not by our works. Actually, the point-by-point attempt at accuracy may be a major factor in the flatness of the story telling, but more on that below. The oft repeated lines, "you don't find the Founder, he finds you. He's not just the Founder, he's the finder too" serves to regularly remind the cousins (and the reader) that as they seek the Founder (Jesus), son of the Emperor (God the Father), it is really he who is seeking them. The difficult and challenging circumstances that the protagonists go through, including being tempted by a kindly looking and sounding old man to give up the search for the true Holiday, are understood at the end to have been superintended by the Founder, and while they seemed nearly impossible to endure at the time, in hindsight the children can see the caring hand of the Founder watching over and providing for them in every circumstance.
Now the negative. This author is definitely stronger as a non-fiction writer and educator. Overall, the prose is clunky and laborious, in places too overt or "teachy" and in others, just awkward. This is the case to such a degree that at times as I read it aloud to my children, they asked me to re-read the sentence because they didn't understand what the author was saying (I can't recall them ever having asked me to do that before, even with something on the reading level of The Hobbit). I sometimes even found myself backing up and sorting out the flow of a sentence in my mind prior to reading it (supporting or dependent clauses should be rare in the sentences of a children's story, especially geared toward elementary aged children). At any rate, the prose certainly doesn't roll off the tongue. While I am in full support of the concept of story to tell and teach the truth, it really only works well when the story itself can stand on its own merits as a work of artistry and good literature, while not sacrificing "correctness" of the truth it contains. This story feels everywhere like theological correctness was the governing rule in its creation at the expense of attention to artistry. Even the descriptions of things like the sights, smells and sounds of Holiday, which were clearly meant to attract the reader and cause them to associate fond Christmas memories with the winsome beauty of the authentic Christian life, are described in very clunky language. About halfway through the book, I found myself simplifying sentences as I read them, substituting a simpler phrase for a backhanded one or a simpler word for an awkward or ill-chosen one. It is almost always true, especially in children's stories, that the simpler way of saying something is the better way.
The thought that kept springing to mind was, "I wish that the author would quit writing for the theologians that the publisher will ask to blurb the book and just write for the children who will read it." Perhaps that is an unfair statement on my part since I don't know the author personally and I am pretty sure, being a mother and grandmother, she had some little people in mind when she was writing it. I am pretty sure she made an effort to tell a truly good story. Also, I do applaud her proper effort to be correct in her symbolic representation of various doctrines and truths. However, I couldn't suppress the thought that this story was concerned more with theological accuracy than with the narrative that contained and carried it. Truth and goodness are of ultimate importance, but they ought to be inseparably married to beauty. It may very well be the scope of the story, the breadth of things it is seeking to represent (how a person comes to faith and starts to live the Christian life), that makes it so difficult to capture in one story, like Bunyan did. Thinking of the Narnia stories, Lewis writes from a perspective of truth, but the individual "truths" of the faith overtly represented in each story are limited in scope (the substitutionary atonement and resurrection as victory over sin, death and the devil in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the process of regeneration, repentance and sanctification in the life of Eustace Scrub in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, most obviously come to mind, though there are certainly additional particular truths present in those stories as well). So, while I think the attempt falls short, the author could be commended for attempting such a broad and worthy goal.
A Christian story book should be like a faithful Christian. Living a faithful Christian life is not only about thinking rightly and doing rightly but about our right thinking and action being accompanied by deep joy, abiding peace, hearty laughter and sacrificial love, by a winsome spirit. It is these traits that make the true Christian life and doctrines beautiful and winsome. No one is attracted by a dour theologian even if he is precise and accurate and no one is won by a nit-picking moralist, even if their morals are biblical ones. Likewise, no one is ultimately helped by an attractive liar or by beautiful lies. But truth and beauty are not mutually exclusive. Personally, I think a truthful story that lacks beauty is nearly as dangerous as a beautiful story that lacks truth. A beautiful lie will frequently suck people in because it is attractive. Truth presented in a drab or flat way will often deter people as they associate that truth with ugliness, or at least with something unbeautiful. But the Christian faith, which this book is symbolizing, is true, good and beautiful. I wish this story had the same mixture. In fairness, I think the author likely did make this attempt, but I wish the editorial staff had worked with her more carefully to achieve it before the book went to print.
The comparisons some have made to Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are accurate only in so far as this work of fiction is also consciously symbolic of aspects of the Christian life. In the works of Lewis and Bunyan, beauty joins truth and goodness in full partnership. This is not the case with Keeping Holiday. I am currently beginning to read The Chronicles of Narnia to my children for the third time in their short lives (I have read them probably 5 or 6 times myself, both as child and adult). Lewis's stories suck the reader in from the opening pages. They are truly magical. That never happened with Keeping Holiday, even though I really wanted it to and my kids expected it after seeing the cover art. Sadly, I can't see our family ever re-reading this story. We are the type of story consumers who, not infrequently, sacrifice bedtime for "just one more chapter, pleeeeease", so it says something that my children didn't mind going to bed on time on the evenings when we were reading this story.
With Narnia, people fall in love with the characters, the plot, the mood and the settings. Often, it is only after the fact that a first time reader looks back upon, say, the death and resurrection of Aslan, and sees in it a retelling of the atonement of Christ on the cross in the place of sinners and of the triumph over death of the empty tomb. That such things are often seen in hindsight is not a bad thing but rather a testament to the quality of the story telling. What makes a truly good story is, well, a really good story. A reader gets "lost" or "caught up" in a really good story. The sweep of the plot, the personalities of the characters and the details of description all work together to suck a reader out of their world and into another. Unfortunately, Keeping Holiday felt flat, clunky, wooden and forced and never managed to sweep this reader, or my elementary aged listeners, into itself.
The draw with Bunyan's Pilgrim is somewhat different than Narnia, but there is beauty there of another kind. It does not contain the hominess or the same type of magic as Narnia but it does capture the dramatic and martial spirit of the faithful Christian life in a cursed and fallen world. The symbolism is loftier, perhaps more operatic, than Narnia, and yet readily identified with by everyday Christians in their everyday struggles, failings and triumphs. Pilgrim is every Christian, and we enter his struggles because Bunyan has so successfully represented ours.
Holiday isn't a bad story, but it isn't a good story either, if you catch my drift. Content is fine, but the word-craft needs work. If this story had been a painting, I would applaud the painter's intention to capture such a worthy subject on canvas, I would applaud the accuracy of her colour choices and vantage point she chose to paint the scene from. I would, however, encourage her next time to use varying widths and stiffness of brushes, to add shadow and depth and texture to her painting, to mix her hues more creatively and above all to study the masters more closely prior to tackling her next subject. I would implore her to do all these things not to discourage her from ever painting again, but rather to encourage her to try harder next time. All that said, as a rebuke to myself and other lovers of good stories, her way of doing it is better than my way of not doing it.
In this story, Starr Meade teaches at least three cardinal Christian doctrines. First, the nature of gospel salvation; that is, salvation is initiated, acted and secured by God alone. The fact one seeks God is because God foreknew, i.e., fore-loved that person first before the foundation of the world. The linchpin of salvation is the atonement of sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, though she only vaguely alludes to this. Second, what Dylan and Clare go through illustrates a true persistent cross-bearing nature of the Christian life. This is tremendously necessary to answer the heresy of "Your Best Life Now" theology, whose effects not only ruin adults, but also potentially, if not already, children. Third, the sovereign providence and faithfulness of God who is not only the Creator of the universe but also the Ruler of it, who directs every person and event throughout history since the beginning of time with meticulous details, whose execution is guaranteed according to His immutable will.
If I were to offer some constructive criticism, it would be first, "Keeping Holiday" could have expanded the story to include a clearer illustration of the cross of Christ. Second, the description of the city of Holiday, if it were to represent heaven, sounds a little too worldly. And third, the ending is somewhat weak. Nevertheless, in case "The Pilgrim's Progress" is too difficult to grasp for young children, they can start by reading "Keeping Holiday" since there are some significant similarities between the two.