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    Book Review: Jotham’s Journey

    January 9, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    During this recent Advent season, we used a new book, which we bought especially for the purpose. This book came recommended to us from a variety of places and people, folks and businesses we know and trust. It is part of a trilogy, but I don’t think we’ll be buying the rest of it, and I’m about to tell you why.

    Before I go on, here is the book:


    Jotham’s Journey:
    A Storybook for Advent

    **Spoiler Alert: Spoilers Ahead!**

    Before I wrote this post, I asked my husband to email me his opinion. I was very careful not to pollute the well by telling him my opinions first. He began his response with a number of good things about the book, and I agree with all of them. Here is what he wrote:

    Good aspects: It has a well-crafted plot line that draws together various elements of the familiar advent story. It has short chapters and many cliff-hangers at the end of each, which makes the kids anxious to keep reading. It has a few comical characters for entertainment. It encourages good morals and discourages bad ones. It emphasizes the primacy of the Scriptures in identifying the general timing of the Messiah’s arrival {applies to both advents, I hasten to add}.

    Jotham’s Journey fits neatly into the historical adventure fiction genre. So, while Jotham himself is a fictional character, he is a nephew of Joseph {this is one of those spoilers I mentioned, for this is not evident until later in the book}, who is betrothed to the Virgin Mary. This means he is also a relative of John the Baptist. On his Journey, he also meets some of those other amazing New Testament characters, such as Simeon and Anna. Beyond this, through the reading, we get a bit of a feel for, perhaps, what shepherds were like, what the wise men were like. Jotham even ends up briefly visiting Qumran and meeting the Essenes.

    The more knowledge of Scripture, Biblical archaeology, and ancient Israeli history one has, the more one will appreciate the book. Truly, the author was able to weave his story together without compromising the actual events, and for this he should be applauded.

    We have, however, two pretty important criticisms. I will start with the lesser, which my husband sums up pretty well:

    Some paragraphs call for ad-hoc editing by the reader, especially for small children. The first chapter, for example, includes a few sentiments from Jotham toward his father that I didn’t feel appropriate to read aloud to my children. Also, in two parts of the story, the main bad guy says that he killed his parents. I didn’t read this description aloud the first time, but I did the second time because it seemed more appropriate in the latter context.

    This criticism, it must be noted, is pertinent because our children are so young. I really don’t think a family reading this to an 11-year-old would bat an eye. But most 11-year-olds are mature enough to see folly for what it is. Our own children, on the other hand, are still immature and often find books with a strong “hero” who is foolish {even if he later comes to repentance} to be a source of temptation {in the sense that they later imitate the foolish behaviors from the book}. They are, in a word, impressionable. Our daughters, also, are simply too young for a story that turned out a bit scarier than we anticipated.

    I suppose I could say that this is what we get for not pre-reading!

    In general, there is a difference between having a Frodo-type hero, who is genuinely good, or a Jotham-type hero, who is really struggling with obedience, when it comes to reading with young children. They still need the black and white distinctions. Or, at least, my children still do.

    My greater criticism comes from the structure of the book itself and, ironically enough, it is something we also listed as a good point. Remember those cliff-hanger endings my husband mentioned? Well, they are a good thing, I suppose, in the sense that they make a child want to keep reading. But here’s the rub: We didn’t actually sit down and “do Advent” every single evening. Because of this, we were often sitting down to read two or three “days” at a time. The book is structured in such a way that you read the story, and then go through some devotional-type questions at the end.

    When we were reading multiple days at a time, the effect was that all of us {except perhaps Si–the author sucked me in as well} were tempted to skip the devotional part and move on with the book. Our two oldest children couldn’t stand the cliff-hangers–they wanted to know what was going to happen right now.

    Which means that all of us had varying levels of a particular disease: that of a closed heart. The story, in this sense, became a distraction. We didn’t really want to read the devotions, we wanted to consume the story {and the story is written for the Modern; it is written for the purpose of being consumed, not for being read contemplatively}. We did it {went through the questions}, and it helps that my husband is not as affected by such things as the rest of us, so he kept us under control, but what we really wanted was the next chapter.

    I suppose it might be more beneficial if a family were reading one day at a time, but I still think that the anxiety created by cliff-hanger-type chapter endings is counterproductive if one intends to have a meaningful spiritual conversation directly afterwards.

    I don’t read much fiction, especially modern fiction, and this is why: it is a huge distraction for me. I can’t put it down. I am tempted to neglect my duties. Part of this says something about modern fiction, but a lot of it really says something about me, and now also the poor children who have inherited the sins and weaknesses of their mother.

    With that said, a family will need to consider, at the very least, their own temperament. If they are like some people I know, and easily distracted by a flashy plot line, they may need a tamer book for Advent.

    I don’t, by the way, necessarily object to the story itself, though I suspect Charlotte Mason would call it twaddle. It is just that I’d much rather it be a book, and let my children read it. I didn’t find it to serve the purposes of an Advent evening well. It didn’t promote the appropriate solemnity or reverence.

    Ah! There is what I’m looking for: propriety. Some things are wrong for the context, and I found that to be the case with this book.

    What was that my husband said? Oh, yes:

    For something as important as the Incarnation/Advent, I’d prefer a more objective look at the story and associated Scriptures…The fewer distractions from truth, the better.

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    12 Comments

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 13, 2010 at 1:14 am

    kd, now that I know you are here, let me formally welcome you: Welcome! πŸ™‚ I know what you mean about feeling “reborn”–Avent really does have a renewing, steading effect, doesn’t it? I love starting off the year this way, and I am glad you experienced it that way, too! πŸ™‚

  • Reply kro designs January 12, 2010 at 7:26 pm

    Long time lurker, first time poster…
    My boys, 9 and 7, were much enthralled with the book. They would frequently list it as one of their favorite parts of the day and the anticipation of what would happen next was most thrilling. I bought it and started reading it and by the 3rd day my husband gladly took over so I could knit and snuggle with my eldest which will be fond memories. . We are also looking forward to the Lenten readings done by the author as well as additional years with the trilogy.
    Since enjoying many nights sitting together by the advent lighted candles our family has had a rebirth. Now we nightly sit together and have devotional time after dinner/before bed I thank you, Brandy for your insights, books suggestions and lesson plans. All of which have been such a blessing to me and my family.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 11, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Emily, Thank you for your description and the link! I am now seriously considering this for next year.

    Mystie, Yes, Cindy is where I initially got the idea. Unfortunately, she was not using a book, but the notes from inside her CD cover, which happened to be particularly well done. I never could figure out exactly which CD she had a copy of. I have actually seen an out-of-print Messiah study, originally published by Moody. Apparently, they are in demand. They were over $90 in the Amazon marketplace last time I looked, and it isn’t like Advent books are all that long–and it was only paperback. Long story short, we couldn’t afford it and didn’t want to, at that price.

    Emily, I was hoping you were just going to say something like, “You don’t have to, here is a link to the perfect Messiah study!” πŸ™‚ Oh well. The only issue with taking on a task like that is it would require a lot of research, and I am having commitment issues. πŸ˜‰

  • Reply Mystie January 11, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Cindy has talked about a book she used for Advent tied with Messiah…ugh, it’s too bad her archives are lost!

  • Reply Emily January 11, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Brandy, Ann’s guide, The Glorious Coming, is available as an e-book. We have used it for three years now.

    It comes with pictures that you print (I used cardstock) and cut out to hang on a tree, or use in a different mannner. We cut them all out then decorated them with glitter glue to make them extra special. What I did was to print out all the pages, then set each in a sheet protector which I then placed in our “Advent” 3-ring binder.

    Beginning in Genesis, each day’s slowly leads you through the lineage of Christ with Scripture and Ann’s own beautifully written devotional-type thoughts. The pictures correspond with the readings. It is the perfect tool for inspiring a sense of wonder and expectation toward the first coming of the Messiah. I’m going to put a link here so you and your readers can get more information:

    http://www.aholyexperience.com/2006/11/jesse-tree-devotional.html

    By the way, I love your idea of doing an Advent study using The Messiah. I would definitely purchase it! And something for Easter….yes! I haven’t found a study for that yet. Any ideas?

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    Jen, I have yet to find something for Advent that is a good match for our family, and not just in regard to the young ages, but also just a general capturing of what we’re going for. I mentioned to Si that I’d like to write (with him–he is the one with the discipline to actually finish such a project) an Advent study for families that incorporates Handel’s Messiah, or at least the first portion, and part of the second portion of Messiah (because we’re aiming for our study to “end” with Christ’s birth). It’d be fun to have a corresponding study that fits the rest of Messiah with, for instance, Easter, perhaps, but see how I run away with myself?

    Ahem.

    With that said: Emily, would you mind telling us more about Ann Voskamp’s Jesse Tree book? How does it “work?” What are the readings like? Is it something that could be used year after year? Is it a hardcopy, or an ebook? I hope you don’t mind me putting you on the spot like this, but you are the first commenter who is happy with your Advent selection.

    Also: Yes! Violent! I didn’t really know this because my husband was reading it aloud to us and did editing as he went. But later he explained to me that he was skipping some things.

  • Reply Emily January 10, 2010 at 7:09 pm

    Hi Brandy,
    I read Jotham’s Journey with Anna Rose (she’s ten) and though we enjoyed the exciting plotline and the suspense, I felt that there were sections that were much too graphic (violent), and I agree that it did not facilitate an atmosphere of reverence toward the coming Messiah.

    We did do it as daily readings and used the questions at the end of each chapter, but not for our Advent devotions. I just used it as an extra read-aloud along with other Christmas season books. For devotions, we used Scripture itself plus Ann Voskamp’s wonderful Advent/Jesse Tree guide. I would recommend that to anyone – all ages includes!

  • Reply Jennifer January 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Great information here, Brandy. This was the first year we “did Advent” daily with the children, and the book I found lying around my Christmas box was TERRIBLE! I had to edit out bits and pieces every day. There was no Christ, no Scripture…I had not thought through my choice before I started it, I just read a few reviews online. My kids are too young for the traditional Advent Scriptures, and like you said in your post, I wanted something contemplative, that we could discuss after each day. This was not the year for us. That said, do you have any recommendations for very young children? Next year, we will have a 4, 3, and under 1-year-old. Thanks!

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts January 10, 2010 at 4:51 am

    I am glad if this review helped anyone. I felt a little guilty since it truly gets rave reviews from many folks out there, but it really didn’t take us in the direction we were hoping to go for Advent, even though we generally enjoyed the story…

    Dawn, I liked the Rembrandt book, but I think it is something we will grow into. It was bit mature. However, it was useful to me even in that it helped me narrow down our art selections for the term. It will definitely be a tool for me for years to come, as I plan to keep Rembrandt for DecemberTerm for the next few years.

  • Reply Brandy January 10, 2010 at 1:11 am

    Thank you so much for posting this, Brandy! This book (and there are 1 or 2 others by the same author) were HIGHLY recommended by quite a few. I put them on our Amazon wishlist so I’d remember to check into them. After reading your review, I believe we’ll look for different books.

  • Reply hopeinbrazil January 10, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Thank you for your very thoughtful review of this book. I’d heard it was “fabulous”, but never ran out and bought it. I have yet to find the perfect advent book for families with mixed ages.

  • Reply dawn January 9, 2010 at 9:22 pm

    Thanks, Brandy, I’ve seen about this book all over the web and wondered if it would be for us, but I think we’ll stick with what we’ve used before.

    How did you end up liking the Rembrandt book you were getting?

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