Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer (A Homeschool Coffee Break Book Review)

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer - A Homeschool Coffee Break book review for the Homeschool Review Crew - A wonderful book about Israel's conquest of Canaan and the survival of the Gibeonites.  #books #hsreviews #Bible #history

What a treat it's been for me to read a new book by Peggy Consolver - Author and review it for the Homeschool Review Crew! I was immediately intrigued by the initial short description of Shepherd, Potter, Spy -- and the Star Namer, so I was the one who grabbed it and started reading when it arrived.
Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver}

This novel focuses on Biblical history, but from a slightly different point of view. It's about the people of Israel conquering Canaan under Joshua's leadership, but most the story is narrated with the focus on a young Canaanite boy named Keshub. Keshub is the fifth son of a potter in the villages of Gibeon, and at thirteen years old, he is anxious to prove himself in training for battle, and he longs for adventure and travel even as he tends his family's sheep and does other chores. The first third or so of the novel describes the day-to-day adventures and challenges of Keshub and his family, setting the stage for the greater challenges to come and allowing the reader to feel the rhythm of life for the people of Gibeon. They hear rumors and reports of the Hebrew people on the other side of the Jordan, and many of the Canaanite people are preparing to turn back an invading force. Even so, refugees from the areas the Hebrews have already conquered come through Gibeon and cause the men of the village to keep watch and start preparing . . . just in case.

Eventually Keshub does get his wish to travel, and goes to the great city of Jericho with his uncle to do some trading. While there he also gets his wish for adventure granted when he decides to help his friend escape the wicked King Adoni-Zedek of Jerusalem. And then later come the greatest adventures of all, helping to keep watch on the Hebrews and being part of the Gibeonite delegation hoping to make a treaty with the Hebrews. The Bible tells us that Joshua did make a treaty with the Gibeonites, but what might that mean for young Keshub and for his family? Keshub has been a shepherd, a potter, and a spy; and his baba (father) believes in a Star Namer. Will they find the Star Namer in their adventures? Could the Star Namer be the God of the Hebrews?

Of course, those of us who know our Bible stories may recognize the Gibeonites as the people who were able deceive Joshua into making a treaty with them. This story did a masterful job of imagining who the Gibeonites were and how they arrived at the decision to take the chance that Israel would believe their ruse. And if you're like me, you may wonder whatever became of the Gibeonites after the treaty. Peggy Consolver clearly wondered the same and did some in-depth research before creating the characters, setting, and background for the Gibeonites that is fictional but rooted in the Bible and in archaeological discoveries. In fact, she took book research to a pretty intense level, traveling to Israel with Associates for Biblical Research in 2010. (You can read about it in this ABR article)

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer Peggy Consolver

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer Peggy Consolver
An olive tree at Gibeon - how long has it been standing?
The book itself was excellent reading, although it did take me a chapter or two to get my bearings and be truly engaged in the story. I had to figure out who all the characters were, as there are a lot of them, and they have rather strange names. There is a list of characters and their relationships in the front of the book, but I only glanced at it quickly before starting to read, then referred back to it a couple of times when I was trying to remember a detail about someone. I don't know where the names came from for all the Canaanites, but I often wished they didn't have the hyphens and apostrophes in them, which made them look as if they'd be difficult to pronounce. (eg. Da-gan' and Ra-gar' are two of the Gibeonites, and in my opinion the hyphens and apostrophes are unnecessary and I think would be confusing to younger readers.) The details about Gibeonite daily life included in the context of the story are rich and well-researched. Many of these details and little daily experiences are not really essential to the story, but they certainly added a great deal of authenticity and reality to the characters and the setting. After all, the Gibeonites were real people who lived in a real place, and they did make a treaty with Joshua and Israel. We may not know their names or small details of their story, but thanks to archaeological finds, we do have quite a bit of knowledge about the culture of the people of their place and time, and great stories like this help to make them come alive for us.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer Peggy Consolver

For those who would like to dig deeper into the Biblical account and make a unit study based on Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer, Peggy Consolver has made a Study Guide available. Digging Deeper Into HIStory can be found at the website. Its thirteen units cover topics that are part of the story - things like: Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our sun; bears and other animals found in Israel; rope-making; Bronze Age weaponry; and several geographical studies. You can check out a sample of the study guide at the website. For older students studying this era of history, the book and study guide would be an excellent resource; and if you're fortunate enough to have a book club, the book and study guide would be a great choice for that setting as well.

What I liked best:
  • a very engaging and very well-written story! Keshub is a likable character, and although he lived in the ancient land of Canaan, he is easy to sympathize with because he struggled with many of the same things that kids today struggle with - dealing with bullies, sibling rivalries, wishing he could grow up faster, and dreaming of what he'd like to do when he is grown up. In this sense, this is also a heartwarming coming-of-age type story.
  • solidly researched and educational! Descriptions of places are detailed and consistent - which indicates to me that the author has been there and has paid close attention to those details. There's much to be learned from the descriptions of the potter's shop, the daily work that needed to be done, and what was important in that culture, and their struggle for survival when faced with an unstoppable invading force.
  • true to the Biblical account. Mrs Consolver did not toy with the Scriptures to fit her story, but told her story remaining completely faithful to the history given in the Bible. 
What I need to mention:
  • the rich detail in the story-telling makes this a 'dense' reading experience, so in general I'd recommend it for high school and up. Middle schoolers who are avid readers would probably enjoy it, but I feel like it would be slow going for reluctant or struggling readers in that age group. At about 375 pages, it would be quite an undertaking for a parent to read aloud, but I do think middle schoolers who enjoy listening to a story this way would remain engaged.
My bottom line: I've loved reading this story, and being able to picture the people and places of the Bible with new insights and ideas about what it was like to live in that time period. And when a work of fiction correctly and respectfully handles Biblical history as this one does, I love recommending it to others as well. 
Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver}

Would you like to get to know the Shepherd, Potter, Spy and Star Namer? Here's what you need to know:

Visit the website for Peggy Consolver - Author at
Both the novel Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer and the accompanying study guide Digging Deeper Into HIStory are available through the website -

See pricing information at the website.

You can follow Peggy Consolver - Author on Facebook.

Visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews.

Shepherd, Potter, Spy--and the Star Namer {Peggy Consolver Reviews}

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    Unknown said...

    Thanks so much for the kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Have a blessed day.

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