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December 11, 1999
Column #954


     For Christmas, many parents are buying Pokemon (pocket monsters) trading cards. ''Pokeman: The Card Game (TCG) is so hot that rationing was necessary,'' Focus on the Family reported in a review. ''The frenzy for Pokeman: TCG has grown so great that many schools have banned it entirely from campus,''

     It is a singularly inappropriate gift for Christmas. The ideal Christmas gift is one that will draw a person closer to Jesus, whose birthday is being celebrated. The motto of Pokeman is ''Gotta catch them all,'' which drives the hunger for more cards, games and logo material.

     Pokemon is a mythic world where people dwell with exotic creatures, a few of which are familiar (foxes, turtles, fish). Others are like nothing ever seen (fairies, sentient plants, living rocks, ambulatory sludge) that are captured and trained to fight by Pokeman `trainers' (kids) who pit their stables of creatures against competitors for honor and `trainer badges.' The goal of all trainers is to capture each and every Pokeman in existence and become a Pokeman master,'' writes Focus. It sees the material as largely innocuous:

     ''With the advent of Pokemon: TCG, fans have disconnected themselves from electronic entertainment and run outside with cards and sourcebooks in hand. Strategic thinking is encouraged. Winning a game requires knowing the strengths and weaknesses of other Pokemon and playing the correct cards against them. To know the strengths and weaknesses, one must read various books and study the Pokemon.'' Without money to buy scads of cards, kids ''tend to trade, learning negotiation skills in the process.''

     David Brown wrote a pamphlet, ''The Problem with Pokemon'' that notes various characters are described as ''headstrong, stubborn, quibbling, self-centered, vindictive, obnoxious, hormonal, sexually preoccupied, evil, thieving cross-dressing jerks (who are) definitely not biblical role models.'' In fighting an enemy, one character ''spits out poison powder to immobilize the enemy, and then finishes the enemy with a spray of acid.'' Is this what kids should think about?

     Scripture warns, ''whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is admirable or praiseworthy - think about such things. (Phil. 4:8).

     In that light, I asked Bob Waliszewski, who oversees Focus on the Family's Youth Culture, what he would recommend instead. First, he praised the Harry Potter books, all three of which are at the top of the New York Times best-seller list. A Focus review in ''Plugged In,'' reports, ''Young readers can relate to Harry: he is the underdog hero who manages to triumph, and like so many children today, he longs for a family who will truly love him...Harry Potter contains powerful and valuable lessons about love, courage and the ultimate victory of good over evil. However, children who read the books will also be confronted with two distinctly non-Christian worldviews: occultism and secularism.''

     Waliszewski added that ''I would prefer my kids read C.S. Lewis's `Chronicles of Narnia.' What I loved about ''The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,'' is that C.S. Lewis is telling that when Aslan has to die, and the magic of Narnia resurrects him to come back and overpower the witch, he has painted a picture of Christ and the Gospel. You won't find anything like that in Potter, nothing of a biblical nature.''

     If my children were young, I would buy either of two books by William J. Bennett, ''The Book of Virtues,'' or ''The Moral Compass.'' Both feature short readings to aid parents ''in the time-honored task of the moral education of the young...the training of heart and mind toward the good,'' as he puts it. ''The purpose of this book is to show parents, teachers, students and children what the virtues look like, what they are in practice, how to recognize them and how they work.''

    The first volume begins each chapter with readings for very young children, with progressively more challenging material. ''Compassion'' begins with a poem of being kind to to the ''gentle robin,'' who, for the crumbs ''As his meat you throw along/ He'll repay you with a song.'' Some 35 pages later is a three page portrait of ''The Angel of the Battlefield,'' Clara Barton, who bravely went on Civil War battlefields, to help men, some of whom would have bled to death. After the war she organized the American Red Cross, to help anyone hurt by earthquakes, forest fires, epidemics. ''The Red Cross would stretch out a hand of help to all such victims, no matter where such disasters befall,'' she said.

     Buying a Bennett book and reading such a story to your child is the perfect Christmas gift.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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