“Cottonmouth and the River” – A Thoughtful, Refreshing Analogy of Christianity

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I believe well-written children’s stories are one of mankind’s mightiest tools. They possess an otherworldly power to capture the imagination and challenge readers to step beyond the boundaries of their minds. Many of my favorite stories deal shrewdly with a complex, challenging concept by crafting it into something both accessible and largely comprehensible.

Along this vein, C.S. Fritz’s Cottonmouth and the River is a quintessential example of a children’s story that’s also an intricately involved, meticulously crafted analogy. Although this fantastical tale largely revolves around a lonely little boy and a tender-hearted beast, it is at the same time a representation of the foundations and widely misunderstood truths of Christianity.

The story opens with an introduction to its 10-year-old protagonist, Freddie, who lives alone in a great big house. The whereabouts of his parents are left unexplained. Deprived of a family, Teddie is without companionship and wanting for love.

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One day, on another of his daily walks to a river nearby, Freddie discovers a curious black egg. Fascinated by the egg’s shiny exterior and mysterious origins, Freddie takes the egg home with him. That evening, a strange beast named “Tug the Comforter” – whose gruff, yet friendly appearance bears resemblance to the creatures of “Where the Wild Things Are” – magically appears in Freddie’s home.

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Of the egg, Tug explains: “Whatever you could possibly want to do, whatever you could possibly imagine… the egg will provide.”

Tug reveals that the egg was gifted to Freddie by the river. Aware of the pain in Freddie’s heavy heart, the river decided to bless Freddie by granting him with “new life.” While Freddie is allowed to do whatever he wants with the egg, Tug emphasizes to Freddie the only stipulation: he must not eat the egg.

Likely in an endeavor to fulfill every one of Freddie’s wild and whimsical childhood dreams, the unlikely companions partake in all sorts of adventures via the power of the egg: together Freddie and Tug soar above the clouds, feast upon a boundless amount of dessert atop a candy-adorned cliff, scuba dive with angler fish, and grow facial hair.

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However, despite having finally attained a taste of interminable joy, Freddie’s hope for his parents’ return looms over his head like a storm cloud. Driven by the dissatisfaction he associates with their absence, Freddie makes a devastating decision that is met, as we would expect, with dire consequences for Freddie.

While the story is largely reminiscent of Christian themes prior to this point, here is where the analogy to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross becomes astoundingly clear: although Freddie deserves to be punished for his decision, Tug the Comforter bears the full burden of the consequences in Freddie’s place.

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Through Freddie’s weakness and Tug’s response, C.S. Fritz draws attention to the significance of grace, the meaning of unconditional love, and the relationship between creation and Creator, while celebrating the hope that we have in our Comforter. A story of joy, sorrow, and sacrificial love, Cottonmouth and the River is both a tender and poignant illustration of the gospel message – the foundation of Christian faith.

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Cottonmouth and the River is thought-provoking, beautifully designed, and well-worth a read; it is also the most impressively illustrated analogy of the gospel I’ve ever had the pleasure of coming across. I highly recommend this stunning treasure to religious and non-religious readers alike.

For Every Lover of Gardens – on Gail Harvey’s Heartwarming Compilation of Love Letters Addressed from Man to Nature

As a long-time suburbanite and recent city-dweller, the world I know is a winding valley of buildings colored brown and grey. Though I’ve grown accustomed to living in urban areas (and, admittedly, would not survive without the conveniences most cities have to offer), I eventually grow fatigued, weary of walking beneath sky rises that seem to stretch upwards without end, and of the ongoing stream of traffic that sounds of horns and screeching tires and of passersby with their heads in the future, and of the lights that never go out but glare on and on into the night… and I yearn to stand in a field of flowers in bloom.

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Intimacy with nature touches the heart in a way no other earthly thing can, so when I find myself longing to be liberated from the cold hand of industrialization, I look for a garden. Apart from the noise of the city, the cacophony of business, in a garden I’m altogether at peace and exquisitely satisfied. To be in a garden conjures a feeling all at once refreshing, pleasant, and sweet – like a bite of fresh bread with homemade jam, a long overdue conversation with an old friend, cool mist on the cheeks after a long walk in the heat. A stroll through a garden on a warm afternoon is often all that I need to be soothed and revived.

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Several years ago, browsing at a local swap meet, a friend happened upon a book titled The Lover of Gardens. Well aware of my uncanny obsession with gardens – with sweet-smelling flowers, berry bushes, and trellises adorned with vines – my friend graciously gifted me the book and I haven’t parted with it since, even after moving homes four times (two of which required me to cross the planet with only two suitcases in tow). Though the reading experience is by no means an acceptable substitute to wandering a real garden, The Lover of Gardens has more than once calmed and comforted my listless soul.

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Compiled by Gail Harvey and designed and illustrated by Liz Trovato, the book is an elegant and enchanting collection of quotes, poems, and essays, authored by both well and little known persons who share an adoration for the garden and its transcendental ability to invigorate and restore. The authors’ ode-like descriptions and love letters to the garden’s incomparable beauty, virtue, and grace elucidate man’s ingrained, deep-rooted bond and unparalleled connection with the natural world, translating into words the delightful, pleasurable feeling that comes from standing, wandering, resting, etc. in a garden.

“I look upon the pleasure which we take in a garden as one of the most innocent delights in human life. A garden was the habitation of our first parents before the Fall. It is naturally apt to fill the mind with calmness and tranquility, and to lay all its turbulent passions at rest. It gives us a great insight into the contrivance and wisdom of Providence, and suggests innumerable subjects for meditation. I cannot but think the very complacency and satisfaction which a man takes in these works of Nature to be a laudable if not a virtuous habit of mind.”

– from “The Pleasure of a Garden” by Joseph Addison

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Trovato’s accompanying illustrations add to the book’s quintessential allure and enhances its pleasing, gladdening, and gratifying qualities.

An adoring tribute to “the purest of human pleasures…the greatest refreshment to the spirit,” The Lover of Gardens will continue to be one of my most faithful hardcover companions, and an honorable supplement to the garden I will one day call my own.

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A Little Wisdom – An Endearing Selection of “Words From The Wise” from Centuries Past

In search of something fresh to sample while perusing the poetry shelf at a local used book store, I happened across a well-worn hardcover titled “Words From The Wise: Centuries of Proverbs to Live By.” Intrigued by its archaic quality and the charming illustrations on the front cover, I brought it home – a decision that I’d regard as one of my best (which is at most a slight exaggeration). With multiple one sentence proverbs and a paired illustration per 8×11 page, Arthur Wortman’s collection of time-honored morsels of truth makes for a quick and visually-appealing read, which I took to be a refreshing breather from my usual densely-packed, prose laden book-buys.

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As the sleeve rightly states, this is a book that entertains as it teaches the lessons of life. 

Though the proverbs were written decades, even centuries, prior, they stand true to the present (albeit with a few exceptions: i.e. “Having a good wife and rich cabbage soup, seek not other things.”) – their validity and relevance unimpressed by the passage of time.

Beyond their eternal importance and enduring applicability, proverbs (from the book, but in general too) wield language in a powerful way, possessing the ability to speak and chide and energize in as few words as possible. Their brevity, however, is not indicative of simplicity; each proverb deserves not to be skimmed, but carefully thought through with meaningful consideration to fully access and grasp its meaning, and take to heart its timeless truth. While the language is often figurative, even abstract, it presents valuable advice and profound wisdom in a manner that is accessible to all.

To supplement pages of proverbs both playful and heavy in tone, the book includes lightly colored illustrations by Fritz Kredel, a German-American wood-cutter and book illustrator whose work has appeared in numerous works, including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known children’s book, “Christmas.” Kredel’s attractive additions do the proverbs justice by bringing the pithy sayings to life, with a touch of good-natured humor.

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A whimsical, thought-provoking read, Arthur Wortman’s selection of “Words From The Wise” pays proper tribute to timeless tokens of wisdom that deserve to be preserved, remembered, and shared.

A Little About Tea – Sebastian Beckwith’s Guide to Tea and Tea-making

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Before reading Sebastian Beckwith’s “A Little Tea Book,” I knew a little about tea – enough to pour water over a bag of Twinings at least – but nothing of its rich and impressive history, the 6 different types and their complexities, and on how to make a perfectly steeped cup.

At a humble 112 pages – including pictures and illustrations – Beckwith’s little known guide to the basics of tea-sourcing, making, and drinking is a handy, exceptionally informative resource for experienced and non-experienced tea-drinkers (and coffee-drinkers) alike. In addition to Beckwith’s facts and concise commentary, “A Little Tea Book” also includes charming illustrations by artist Wendy MacNaughton, complementing Beckwith’s lighthearted tone, attention to detail, and will to acknowledge the complexity of tea without overwhelming the reader.

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A tiny sampling of teas – by Wendy MacNaughton

Despite its brevity and simplicity, Beckwith pays successful tribute to the expansive and complicated world of tea, offering – in his respectable and time-honored opinion – the most important information on tea’s past and present.

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The final chapter of the book, and perhaps the most valuable, Beckwith offers a thorough explanation on how to make the perfect cup of tea, detailing the reasons on why to use loose leaf (never bagged), how much to use, the type of water to use and why, and the temperature at which to heat the water depending on the type of tea. After heating and pouring the water, Beckwith informs the reader to let the tea alone to steep, taste-testing the flavor once every minute. As for how long to steep to reach perfect doneness, Beckwith concludes by urging the reader “to rely on your tongue and not the clock” since every tea, and every person’s palette, is different.

With its delightful visuals and depth of information, Beckwith’s straightforward, yet intricately involved “A Little Tea Book,” invites its readers to delve deeper into all that tea has to offer, guiding them toward a deeper understanding, respect, and appreciation of the profundity behind the perfect of cup of tea.