Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review of Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers

When I received Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers, published by Christian Liberty Press, for review, I was a little worried.  Given that the book comes from a noted Protestant publisher, I wondered how it would  play in my traditional Catholic homeschool.  I have to say, though, that a couple of sentences in the preface absolutely struck a cord with me:
The worship of God in modern times has too often become shallow and man-centered.  Many Christians at the opening of the twenty-first century, including young believers, have never understood the importance of approaching God with awesome reverence and majestic praise.
 That sentence made me want to stand up and shout "Amen!" My family and friends have heard me say irritably  "God is not your homeboy." The Creator of all, the author of life, the Alpha and the Omega, deserves so much more than He gets, especially in terms of public worship.  It was with this meeting of the minds that I set about reading this nearly-300 page ebook (which has very nice illustrations!) to my four children (7-11).

St. Augustine said that when you sing, you pray twice.  That attitude is evident in the Catholic Church, in which part of the Liturgy every week is sung.  In the Eastern Catholic (Byzantine) Church, the entire Liturgy is sung, as contrasted with the Western Catholic Church (Roman), in which only part is.  The Catholic Church is as noted for its music as it is for its "smells and bells." After all, it is the Catholic Church that gave the world Gregorian Chant, Polyphonic Chant, and the earliest Christian hymns.  Therefore, I love that the first significant scene of this book takes place in a Gothic cathedral around a huge organ.

The book, the first in a series, tells the story of an older British man, Mr. Pipes, who meets and educates two American teens in Britian about old hymns.  Sadly, although, not unexpectedly, he begins their education with the work of Thomas Ken, a 16th century composer.  Why sadly? Because there were 1500 years of Christian hymns prior to that point.  I was surprised, though, to realize that we sing at least one of his hymns in our Church! I really love reading things that point to the unity in the Christian church, as opposed to things that revel in the differences.  It was neat that my kids recognized the hymn, too.  The book continues in the same vein with biographical sketches of various British hymn writers, as told by Mr. Pipes, in the context of Mr. Pipes engaging in various activities with Drew and Annie (the teenagers).

I realize that we probably approached this book differently than a lot of others.  I prefaced our reading with telling my kids that this book was written from a Protestant perspective about mostly Protestant hymns, but that it would be an interesting look at post-Reformation England.  It is exactly in that vein that we read the book.  The British history aspects of the book were interesting, especially reading about the religious leanings of the Restoration kings (a subject with which I am very familiar, but a period of history I have not yet studied with my children).  I was gratified to find that there was no anti-Catholic bias in this book.  It was not written for or about Catholics, but it was not written to indict them either.

This book is recommended for 7th-10th graders, but I think that that age range is way too high.  My 7 year-old twins enjoyed this book as a read aloud far more than my 9 and 11 year-olds who thought it was kind of silly. It really seemed to be written for a younger audience.  I know that my kids read many years above grade level (both in ability and subject matter), so please read the rest of the Crew reviews to see how other kids responded to this book.

For what it is, Mr. Pipes is fine.  Particularly for homeschool parents who don't allow their children to read outside of the sphere of Christian literature, the book should be a welcomed addition to the bookshelf.  The book costs $8.79 for the pdf version, or $9.89 for the print version.  Just because Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers was not a great fit for my family doesn't mean that other families didn't love it! Be sure to read the Crew blog!


Disclaimer: I received the pdf version of Mr. Pipes and the British Hymn Makers free in exchange for my review.  Obviously, my opinion is my own and is always colored by my Catholic faith!

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