This historical fiction biography of John Calvin, the Christian Reformer from the 16th century, is part of the Trail Blazers series from Christian Focus Publications. It covers his life from early childhood (age 4 or 5) to his death in 1564. With little documentation of Calvin's early years, Catherine Mackenzie creates a story of Calvin's reaction to the death of his mother, his going to the university, and his conversion to the Reformation movement. Mackenzie then draws on available information, including Calvin's own words, to portray his later years.
This book is recommended as a read-aloud to 7-9 year olds and as an independent read for 10-14 years old. I read it aloud and found that my eldest understood what was going on, but my two younger ones (ages 8 and 10) were confused at times. Often I would have to explain what was happening or point out that the style the writer was using was different from what they were used to. I, too, found some of the sentences awkward to read due to sentence structure or the need for punctuation.
John Calvin can be a controversial figure. But taken in the spirit of the history of the Reformation, this book does not strike me as any more controversial than a book about Martin Luther and his beliefs. Those who strongly oppose John Calvin (not to be confused with Calvinism, the five points of doctrine created by the Synod of Dort) will feel his misdeeds were glossed over, though the major ones were included. And those who are proponents of John Calvin will feel that it was a nice treatment of his conversion yet a shallow representation of the impact he was having on the Reformation movement.
Overall, I am glad I read this book to introduce John Calvin to my kids. It is not exhaustive and was only meant as an introduction, and I think it does a fine job. I found that it was age appropriate, not delving into controversies and doctrines. But you definitely understood that he was standing up to the Roman Catholic Church.
Finding children's book on the Reformers has been a challenge for me, so I was quite excited to find this one. I had been told in the past by publishers that publishing children books on the Reformers is difficult because information about the Reformers before conversion is hard to come by. I am glad that Catherine Mackenzie has risen to this challenge and is filling a need to expose our children to important church figures--even if it is in an introductory way.
The following is my 10-year-old's review of the book. "John Calvin paid much attention to his Catholic religion from childhood to adulthood. Through his cousin Pierre and the grace of God, he was introduced to Reformation ideas by reading Martin Luther's works. Although he thought his cousin was crazy, he never betrayed him. By reading a Lutheran book given to him by his college professor, John Calvin became a Reformer and became a leader in Protestant Reformation. This book was fun to read, easy to understand most times, readable for high school age, and appropriate for all ages."