This column includes a couple of books that don’t fit the mold of those I usually review. Both are billed as children’s or general books, but carry messages for any age including adults. Both come from publishers I’ve never drawn from before. I thought it would be fun to start off the new year with books meant to strengthen families, build faith, and aid in establishing a life-long love of reading.

THE PEANUT PARABLES by Janet Fredrickson

Through the antics of a dachshund named Peanut, Fredrickson tells forty short stories based on her own family’s experiences dealing with trials, loss, change, poor choices, fear, compassion, belonging, and friendship. Each story is followed by two Bible scriptures that relate to the story. The stories are short, positive tales highlighting the little dog’s perspective of events and always ends with Peanut feeling safe, loved, and with no worries.

In each of the stories the reader is treated to first hand descriptions of Montana winters, small town celebrations, cattle ranching, or family interactions. The larger print makes the stories easy for beginning readers or older readers with eye sight problems to see clearly. The art work is great and portrays the dog’s personality well. The Biblical scriptures that follow the stories are easy to relate to the stories and give the reader a better understanding of those scriptural references. The short stories and charming art work make the stories suitable as bedtime stories for young children.

Janet Fredrickson grew up in western Montana and graduated from Montana State University as a registered nurse. She and her husband adopted five children and moved to eastern Montana where they owned a large ranch and a lot of dogs. Recently they moved their ranching operation back to the western side of the state. She spends several weeks each year serving on short term foreign medical missions. She enjoys running, hiking, horses, and most outdoor activities, usually with a dog at her side.

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THE PEANUT PARABLES by Janet Fredrickson, Published by Christian Faith Publishing, 252 pages, hardcover $45.63.

THE FIFTH FAVORITE by Gale Sears

Some children grow up suspecting they’re not their parents’ favorite child. Allie Whitman is one of those children. She figures she ranks fifth to her mother in their six-person family, far below her dad, her handsome, charming older brother, her brainy older sister, and her autistic younger sister. Her siblings seem to get most of their parents’ attention except for getting snarled at by her mother for not measuring up to her demands and expectations. One of her jobs is to carry a big basket of soiled clothes into the home of a woman who does laundry and whom most of the kids in town consider mad or a witch. It’s with great reluctance and fear that she carries out this assignment. The mad woman isn’t her only concern. There’s her sixth-grade science project creating stress. And her best friend has bought embarrassing, matching chicken costumes she expects Allie to join her in wearing for Halloween. When Allie and her brother, Paul, catch each other doing something they shouldn’t, they make a bargain to keep each other’s secret. When Paul’s secret turns deadly, Allie has to decide whether to keep their bargain or risk her own exposure, but possibly save lives.

At first this book seemed to me to be just another middle grade chapter book, but as I got into the story I found myself enjoying the mystery, vacillating between disliking a mother who didn’t seem to care what she was doing to her daughter and pitying an over-worked woman with too many responsibilities and concerns.

This story does an excellent job of showing how when a parent gets bogged down in concern for one child’s problems, it is easy to neglect the child who, on the surface, seems to be fine. It also hints at the difficulties that arise when parents don’t consult each other, carry through with decisions together, or carry an equal responsibility for family care. The characters in the story are realistic. Dialog is handled well. Several important concepts concerning secrecy and misunderstandings add depth to the story and give readers something to continue thinking about. The Lake Tahoe area provides a nice setting for the story.

Gale Sears is known best for her historical novels for which she has earned several awards. Her degree from Brigham Young University is a BA in playwriting. She followed that up with a MA from the University of Minnesota in theater arts. She and her husband are the parents of two children and live in the Salt Lake City area of Utah.

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THE FIFTH FAVORITE by Gale Sears, Published by Crosslink Publishing, 207 pages, soft cover $14.95.