Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Penny Predicament

Vazquez, V. (2016). The Penny Predicament (The Coin Chronicles, Volume 2). Double Letter Press.

Children's / Adventure / Life Lessons / Christian


BLURB: What would a 12-year-old boy do to help save his family from financial ruin? In Jake King’s case, he’d do just about anything. But uncertainty sets in as his plans go awry, his friendships start to fail and his faith takes a few hits. Finding a rare coin worth a fortune might be the answer. But what if it’s not real? Will Jake lose his best friend and his family’s future at the same time? Only God knows and, hopefully, he’ll let Jake in on it.

HALL WAYS REVIEW:   I read this book nearly six months ago, and I kept putting aside reviewing it because I initially struggled with its messages.  I still do.

The Penny Predicament is one of the most well-written and cleanly edited middle grade books I have read in a while, and while I have some philosophical issues with the messages being conveyed, other readers may have different interpretations and take-aways.  It is a good story with interesting characters and twists, and there are lots of life lessons to be learned with plenty of talking points (Christianity, parenting, consequences, and obedience to name a few.) Author Veola Vazquez definitely made me think.

Main character, twelve year old Jake, is a great kid, and he's realistically written. His heart is in the right place, and he shows empathy, sympathy, and a willingness to put others before himself. Like any kid his age, he sometimes strays from his core values and doesn't always make the best decisions.  Jake's parents are strict and don't seem particularly warm, loving, or even kind. Some of that is understandable given the tense situation with the father being unemployed, but the implication is that it's never been an overly loving house. Jake almost seems threatened (definitely intimidated) by  how his father interacts with him. There is a part where Jake sees his parents in an argument, and the father says to his wife that he is the leader of the house and he will make the decisions. . .  that didn't sit well with me and is not a marriage model that I would like children to have in reading a story. Happily, Jake has a wonderful grandfather, richly written and interesting, to counter the stringency of his parents' relationship and parenting strategy.

The pace is steady, then speeds up to the climax, and then the story ends abruptly. Though readers get a resolution to the "Penny Predicament," there is no resolution to Jake's father's situation; I feel children reading the book need that resolution (or some indicator a resolution is forthcoming) or it may be upsetting and unsettling. Also, given the message that God will take care of the faithful, the decision of what is done with the penny doesn't make sense to me. Maybe the penny was God's way of helping this family? Jesus would give it to the poor. . .

Despite my issues, there are some great models of behavior in the book from Jake and Jake's parents, grandfather, and best friend. And again, Jake is an awesome kid who like most kids sometimes doesn't think before he acts. But when he has missteps or failures, he picks himself up again and again -- and that's admirable. However, I feel like the lesson kids will learn is that they will be punished for trying to be helpful and for putting others before themselves, and that selfless acts and sacrifice aren't needed because God will take care of us if we sit around and wait for Him to do it.  Perhaps that is true, perhaps not.  I intend to read book one, The Nickel Nuisance, to see if it sheds some light on the aspects I found troubling in the book.  Stay tuned.

Thank you to the author for giving me a print copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion -- the only kind I give.   (Watch for book three in the series, The Quarter Question!)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Veola Vazquez, the mother of two boys, uses humor, personal experience and insight to captivate young readers. As a Christian psychologist, she approaches the difficult issues of young life in a way that encourages and instructs the children who read her books. Her witty and fun stories build on real life issues to teach lessons about faith, friendship and family.

In addition to her works for children, Dr. Vazquez maintains a website and blog where she provides tools for parenting and devotionals to encourage Godly living. With a specialty in childhood issues such as AD/HD and childhood depression, anxiety and trauma, she has special insight into the ways parents can be most helpful to their children. Also, as a mother herself and a wife of over 20 years, she uses her personal wisdom in conjunction with her professional experience to guide and inspire families.

With a passion for helping both children and families, Dr. Vazquez is also a Bible teacher and inspirational speaker for women's events and mom's groups. In addition to her inspirational teaching, she is also a professor at a Christian university in Southern California where she teaches both graduate and undergraduate psychology courses.

Finally, Dr. Vazquez loves to spend her time reading and taking walks with her family and wiener dog, Paco.
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