Tag Archives: Simonetta Carr

Book Review: Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother’s Eyes, Simonetta Carr.  Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2019.  Softcover, 359 pages.

Though it deals with a gut-wrenching topic, I could not put this book down.  I bought it on a Saturday afternoon and had it finished by Tuesday morning.  It’s compelling reading about a family’s struggle with mental illness.  Simonetta Carr’s son Jonathan developed schizophrenia and it turned their world upside down.

The book consists of two parts.  The first is the story of Jonathan and the Carr family.  You won’t be able to read it without tears.  The second part is about coming to terms with mental illnesses like schizophrenia.  How can affected families find the support and help they need?  The author answers questions related to medication and other treatments, including Christian counselling.  She discusses self-medication through tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.  What about when a spouse is the one with mental illness?  She offers solid theological reflection on suffering in the Christian life and how to cope with it.

There are at least four things that bring me to highly recommend Broken Pieces.

First, there’s the forthright honesty in describing the struggle Carr’s family faced with Jonathan’s illness.  The author made herself vulnerable in doing this, but the benefit is that readers unfamiliar with such experiences get a clear picture of what it’s really like.  That helps to create empathy for those suffering with mental illness in their family.  Those who are familiar with these issues receive affirmation that they’re not struggling by themselves – there are others out there who have gone through similar challenges.

Next, I really appreciate Carr’s emphasis on the church and the ordinary means of grace (i.e. preaching and the sacraments).  Her family belongs to a United Reformed Church in the San Diego area, and this church figures prominently throughout Jonathan’s story.  In the second part of the book, Carr stresses how important it is to be part of a solid, gospel-preaching church.

Third, Broken Pieces both illustrates how husbands and wives often deal with the mental illness of a child in different ways.  Yet there’s not only description, there are also suggestions on how to manage those differences and even capitalize on them.

Finally, this book has great potential to improve the understanding of the treatment of mental health issues like schizophrenia.  I’m thinking especially of our Reformed churches.  There is often much ignorance among us about the seriousness of these ailments.  In some instances, the focus is entirely on the medical side of things.  With others, the illness is (mis)treated as strictly a spiritual problem.  Carr contends for a more balanced approach taking everything into consideration.

I recommend Broken Pieces to one and all, but let me especially recommend it to two audiences in particular. First, to all families dealing with mental health issues.  It doesn’t have to be schizophrenia.  If you’re dealing with whatever mental illness, I’m sure you’ll find this a useful read.  Second, to all office bearers.  Office bearers particularly need to understand the complexities of mental illness so that in our shepherding we don’t hurt, but help.  Carr’s book will get you in the right frame of mind to show the love and patience of Christ to those suffering with their mental health.

Book Review: Renée of France

Renee of France

Renée of France, Simonetta Carr (Darlington, England: EP Books, 2013).  Softcover, 128 pages, $11.99.

Sometimes it seems like the Reformation involved only men.  Sometimes it seems that women were merely in the background.  Generally speaking, the main movers and shakers of the Protestant Reformation were men.  However, it would be a mistake to neglect the role of several important women.  People should think not only of Katharina von Bora and other wives of the Reformers, but also of royalty such as Renée of France.  This biography gives us a succinct but nuanced view of one of the most important women involved with the cause of the sixteenth-century Reformation.

The author, Simonetta Carr, is best-known for several church history books for children.  This little book is directed to adults, though I think it could be read and appreciated by teens as well.  Carr is a member of the United Reformed Church in Santee, California and a busy mom of eight children.  She’s developed a reputation for strong writing on historical topics and Renée of France only bolsters that further.

Renée of France (1510-1575) was a complex figure.  Born into the French royal family, she early came to sympathize with the Reformation.  While living in Ferrara (today in northern Italy), she was visited by John Calvin and other Reformed pastors.  Throughout her life she maintained correspondence with Calvin.  Carr has included excerpts of his encouraging letters to her throughout and especially in the last chapter, “Calvin and Renée.”  However, Renée also wavered back and forth between Roman Catholicism and the true faith.  She was under intense pressure from other royal members to remain loyal to Rome.  While she safely harboured many Protestant refugees over the years, Renée herself was at times weak.  Carr does not gloss this over, but instead presents Renée as a real human being who genuinely struggled with faith matters.  She struggled not only with holding on to the content of the faith, but also in living out biblical convictions.  In the end, Renée reportedly died as an “unrepentant Protestant” and though some wanted to give her the burial befitting a princess, the king denied it since “Renée had not died in the true religion,” i.e. in Roman Catholicism.

I want to mention something of interest in relation to chapter 2.  Carr describes how a Roman Catholic monk came to Ferrara in 1535 to work on keeping Renée in the Roman fold.  This monk was a well-known preacher named François Richardot.  Simonetta Carr doesn’t mention this, but this same François Richardot would go on to become the Bishop of Arras.  In 1567, Guido de Brès was in prison awaiting his execution in Valenciennes.  Richardot, the foremost debater of Protestants in the region, came to visit to debate and try to persuade de Brès to come back to the Roman Catholic Church.  Richardot was unsuccessful that time too.  Carr doesn’t mention any of this subsequent history and I don’t fault her for that – after all, her book is about Renée, not Richardot.  However, it is interesting to note the connection with later developments.

While the book does not claim to be an academic study, it is still responsibly researched and written.  Those who want do further study about Renée will find helpful resources in an annotated bibliography.   I can highly recommend it for those with an interest in church history, as well as for church history teachers who might want to provide their students with insight into women’s contributions to the Reformation.


Book Review: Lady Jane Grey

Lady Jane Grey, Simonetta Carr, Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012.  Hardcover, 64 pages, $18.00.

Like many of you, my family and ecclesiastical roots are in the Netherlands.  As a result, I tend to know a lot about Dutch church history and comparatively little about happenings across the North Sea.  Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about Lady Jane Grey, though I did know something of some of the other characters involved in her life such as Henry VIII and Edward VI.  This book, written for children, is an excellent way to expand our church history horizons.

Lady Jane Grey briefly took the throne of England after the death of the Protestant boy-king Edward VI in 1553.  It was his wish that she would rule instead of his step-sister Mary.   Lady Jane Grey was a Protestant too; she loved the gospel and would have strengthened the work of the Reformation in England.  However, in his providence God decided otherwise.  Mary had the powerful support of key figures and she soon seized the throne from Lady Jane Grey.  Mary lived up to her nickname (Bloody Mary) and had Lady Jane Grey and her supporters executed.

With this volume, Simonetta Carr continues to excel as a writer of church history for children.  The story moves briskly and is not weighed down by unnecessary details.  A member of a United Reformed Church in the San Diego area, this is now her fifth book in the series “Christian Biographies for Young Readers.”  Other volumes deal with Athanasius, Augustine of Hippo, John Calvin, and John Owen.  As with the other works, Lady Jane Grey has professional quality pictures, maps, and illustrations throughout.  There is also a timeline, an appendix entitled “Did You Know?” and, most compelling of all, Lady Jane’s last letter to her sister Katherine.  Let me share an excerpt from this powerful letter:

Strive, then, always to learn how to die.  Defy the world, deny the devil, despise the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord.  Repent of your sins, and yet don’t despair.  Be strong in faith, with humility.  With St. Paul, desire to die and to be with Christ, with whom, even in death, there is life.

Just from those sentences, you can get a sense of what gave Lady Jane Grey hope and comfort in life and death.  Realize, too, that Lady Jane Grey only lived to be about 17 years old.

This would be a fantastic addition to family libraries.  Moreover, elementary teachers will also want to have this book on hand for teaching church history.  While doing a unit on the Reformation in England, this could be a good book to read aloud.  Reformation Heritage Books promises more books in this series.  If they are all of this calibre, please keep them coming!


Book Review: Athanasius

Athanasius, Simonetta Carr (with illustrations by Matt Abraxas), Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2011.  Hardcover, 63 pages, $18.00.

As soon as I took this book out of the envelope, I was impressed.  This volume for children has been published in a quality manner.  From cover to cover, the book is filled with beautiful illustrations (by Matt Abraxas), helpful maps, and other visual aids.  Once again Reformation Heritage Books has produced a book that does justice to its subject.  This is a publisher with a clear commitment to excellence.

The subject here is Athanasius, one of the early church fathers.  He was an important figure in the development of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The patristic period is often ignored in Christian literature for children and so this biography definitely fills a gap.  Athanasius lived during a tumultuous time and because of his strong convictions, he was often on the run and living in exile.  He was loved by some and hated by many.  His life’s story is compelling.

Simonetta Carr is a United Reformed Sunday school teacher from California.  She tells the story of Athanasius crisply and accurately.  The book also touches on his theological significance, but it does so in a way suitable for younger readers.  How young, you ask?  As I do with all the children’s books that I review, I test drove this one with my family.  I’d say that the fourteen year old and twelve year old probably understood the most.  The eight year old did okay with most of it, though the theological aspects were beyond her.  Our three year old liked the pictures.  The back of the book says that it’s suitable for ages 7-12, but I’d suggest that it’s best geared towards those on the upper side of that range.

I could see a book like this being used in several ways.  The average Christian family could do like we did and read the book together out loud.  It could also be passed on to older children for their own personal reading.  Homeschooling families could use it as part of their church history curriculum, as could regular Christian school teachers.  The back of the book includes a “Time Line of Athanasius’s Life” as well an appendix with interesting facts about Athanasius and his context.

Athanasius is one of several volumes in the RHB series Christian Biographies for Young Readers.  If this one is any indication , the other titles in this series will also be worth checking out:  John Calvin, Augustine of Hippo, and John Owen.   Through volumes like these, we are reminded of how our good and gracious God has preserved his church through the centuries and we’re encouraged to fight the good fight in our own day.