Tuesday, May 26, 2015

PBT Author Focus - Shelley Rotner and Some Thoughts on Bibliotherapy

When we think of picture books, we often think only of fiction. As I’ve delved into the treasure trove that is my local library’s picture book shelves, I’ve discovered a vast range of subjects in the non-fiction section. So many of them offer great soil for growing a garden of lessons for children in religious communities, in private schools, homeschools, or in therapeutic situations. 

As I’ve demonstrated many times here at PBT, picture books can encourage spiritual conversations and important social-emotional growth in children and adults. They can be particularly helpful when crises occur or difficult issues arise in faith communities. 

Using books (of stories, facts, or poetry) as therapeutic tools is called bibliotherapy. I learned this extraordinary word in my training as a school psychologist. I was already a lover of picture books. Because they are non-threatening, familiar, and imaginative objects, picture books can promote journeys of self-reflection and personal growth. 

Bibliotherapy is traditionally used in child therapy, but I suggest that a well-selected picture book and rich conversation with a skilled therapist or spiritual director can open a door to healing and/or better skills in adults as well. Here’s a couple of links if you want to know more about bibliotherapy:

Today’s featured author, Shelly Rotner, has such a wonderful array of books, each with her delightful photographs! You can supplement a lesson or even build a series of lessons around one or more of her books. You might want to consider taking similar photos of your children as a part of your lesson. The kids (and their parents) would love that!

Below is a partial list of books in which Shelley Rotner is author, photographer, or both. The first entry is a PBT book with a link to my post:

Shades of People - check out that post [here]

Sometimes Bad Things Happen   by Ellen Jackson
The A.D.D. book for Kids

Changes    with Marjorie N. Allen
Every Season   with Anne Love Woodhull
Feeling Thankful   with Sheila Kelly (Spanish version available)
Different Kinds of Good-Byes   with Sheila Kelly
What’s Love?   By Deborah Carlin
Home   with Amy Goldbas
Lots of Feelings 

Lots of Grandparents 

Many Ways: How Families Practice Their Beliefs and Religions   with Shelia Kelly  
Nature Spy    with Ken Kreisler 

What Can You Do? A Book about Discovering What You Do Well   with Sheila Kelly

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Importance of Memorial Rituals

It’s the weekend of Memorial Day here in the United States so below is a description of an extraordinary book I’ve been saving for this weekend.

Author Eve Bunting has a knack for writing just the right words to explain the importance of ritual, memorial rituals in particular for the purpose of this blog post. In addition to the picture book described below, I’ve featured several of her books in my Picture Book a Day for a Year list. Two of those are about memorial rituals: I Have an Olive Tree (Day 327 on March 12, 2015) and The Memory String (Day 100 on July 28, 2014).  

I encourage you to get your hands on these books or others which you can find by clicking on the words “memory” or “ritual” in the large list of green search words which is at the bottom of your screen if you are not in phone mode.

Consider planning a program for children, youth, or adults about the importance of remembering the stories, legacies, and sacrifices of significant persons in your faith history. Besides including scriptural or historical heroes, you might want to remember people who have been important in your local faith community. Their stories are worthy of being passed on too.   

Faith communities are a perfect place to engage in conversation about the importance of memorial rituals. There are rituals dating back to the early days of the Hebrew Scriptures. Many Old Testament stories have contexts grounded in remembering those who have died. Children, youth, and some adults, need not only guidance in how to respond during such a ritual, but they need explanations as well. If you can increase the understanding of the universal need for these rituals, their culturally diverse nature, and the respect that is due them all, then you are encouraging the development of more passionate human beings.

Picture Book: The Wall

Author: Eve Bunting

Illustrator: Ronald Himler

Summary: A young boy and his father visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, commonly called The Wall, in Washington D.C. As they search for the boy’s grandfather’s name, the father explains that he was his son’s age when his father died. The boy encounters a disabled vet, a group of students with their teacher, and another young boy whose grandfather is very much alive. The young protagonist responds to these encounters with questions, criticism, and jealousy. Illustrations include other mourners as well as a sample of the many mementos that are commonly left at The Wall. The father and son engage in several rituals common with this memorial including creating a rubbing of the name and leaving a photo of the boy. The book ends with the father explaining that the wall is a place of honor.

Hanna’s Comments: This is a powerful book for children because it offers very specific aspects of memorial rituals and gives some striking illustrations and historical context for one of the world’s most beautiful and unique war memorials. If you want to focus on this particular memorial in your program, then I suggest you supplement your planning with one of the children's biographies of Maya Lin, designer and architect of The Wall, or a more thorough, factual resource such as The Wall: Images and Offerings from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial edited by Sal Lopes.

Original Publisher & Date of Publication: Clarion Books, 1990

Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up 

# of Pages: 32

Available in Spanish? Not at present

Formats other than Book: Tablet, Audio Cassette, video on Youtube.com

PBT Category: Pre 2K

Scripture Connections: Descriptions of rituals such as the Passover (Exodus 12:14 & Deuteronomy 16:12); the building of altars such as that built at Rachel’s grave (Genesis 35:19-20); the Eucharist (Matthew 26:26-28)

Idea(s) for Application: As described above, consider using this book to explore the importance of memorial rituals in your faith history and community.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

What is God Like? Two Books that Explore this Central Question for Young Children

 Picture Book: God is Like a Mother Hen and Much, Much More

Author: Carolyn Stahl Bohler

Illustrator: Dean Nicklas with help from daughter Amy

Summary: In simple metaphors and illustrations, God’s nature is explored in ways that are meaningful to young children. God is like a mother hen, daddy, teacher, friend, mommy, the air, a child, you, and love. The last illustrated page offers a blank frame with an invitation, “Can you think of what else God is like?”

Hanna’s Comments: At the back of the book you’ll find a note to parents and teachers explaining how metaphors are important for use when exploring God’s nature. Interestingly, they also suggest you explore with the children ways that God is not like the metaphor. This would offer more distinctive meaning and confirm that God is unique, mysterious, and much more. Lastly, all of the symbols used in the book are listed with 1 or 2 scripture references.  

Original Publisher & Date of Publication: Presbyterian Publishing Corporation, 1996

Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up

# of Pages: 32

Available in Spanish? Not at present 

Formats other than Book: None at present

PBT Category: God Book, Pre 2K 

Scripture Connections: See the list in the back of the book for many scripture connections.

Idea(s) for Application: Use this book with young children at bedtime or in a group lesson for imaginatively exploring the nature of God. 

Picture Book: God is Like…: Three Parables for Children

Author: Julie Walters

Illustrator: Thea Kliros 

Summary: In the first of three parables, a rock at the edge of the sea is shown and described. Repeatedly it is emphasized that “the rock stayed the same” despite the waves, weather, and a boy’s attempts to move it. As the boy ages, he notices that the rock does not change. He wonders, “Could God be like a rock?” The appropriateness of this simile is revealed and a scripture reference is given. The second simile begins as a spark of light that grows into a campfire and illuminates a young girl’s play and imagination. She guides other children to the light, and when the sun comes up the next morning, she wonders if God could be like the light. Jesus is offered as the light of the world with a scripture reference. Similarly, the third simile, a breath of wind, is illustrated in the playful activities of another young boy.

Hanna’s Comments: Note the length of this book. I suggest presenting it over 3 sessions. Each of them offers much in terms of conversation and supplemental activities. Don’t be afraid that your children are not able to think abstractly. One of the beauties of metaphorical thinking is that it allows humans to translate abstract thought into concrete, meaningful terms. Focus on the concrete and consider additional metaphors for God that might inspire other stories, questions, and lessons. The other picture book I’ve offered in this post will give you some possibilities, and I encourage you to think of some on your own that would be particularly meaningful for your children.

Original Publisher & Date of Publication: Water Brook Press, 1973

Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up

# of Pages: 96 

Available in Spanish? Not at present 

Formats other than Book: None at present

PBT Category: God Book, Classic

Scripture Connections: Each of the similes is tied to a scripture reference.

Idea(s) for Application: This book could easily be translated into 3 simple skits for 3 different children to silently dramatize while the text is read in a lesson or even in a worship experience for your entire family of faith.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

PBT Guest Author: Laura Alary

This is the first of my guest authors. Laura Alary, a Canadian author, writes spiritually rich, secular picture books that I only recently discovered. This is why they are not in my PBT Picture Book a Day for a Year list. Explore her books which are easily available on the internet. They will encourage meaningful conversations in your family or in your ministry. 

Welcome to PBT, Laura! 

Picture books helped me recover from eight years as a doctoral student.

After writing and defending my thesis, I felt like the little lime tree my mom tried to grow in our home. The poor plant struggled along in the unfamiliar climate, finally managed to produce one lime, but promptly died from the effort.

Reading picture books—along with mythology and fairy tales—helped me recapture my old love of words. They were simple (I thought) and would allow my mind to rest and relax. But in their simplicity lay the power to present big ideas in a concentrated form, distilling important things to their essence. Instead of being a mindless pastime, reading picture books stretched my heart and spirit in ways                                                                       I could not have imagined.

When my first child was born, I turned to picture books to help me with the great task of shaping a human life. I wanted my child to be curious about the world, full of wonder, open-minded, empathetic, and fearless about asking questions. Above all, I wanted him to be kind and compassionate.

So we went to the library…

Frog and Toad and George and Martha taught us about friendship.

With The Big Red Lollipop we talked about revenge, forgiveness, and reconciliation. 

Bagels from Benny made us wonder how we can make the world a better place.

In Big and Small, Room for All we journeyed from the subatomic to the cosmic—all in five words—and marveled at our place in the universe.

I loved the journey and the big questions we were asking together. But there were some things I could not find addressed in picture books—things surfacing from my own background in theology and scripture—so I began to write my own.

My first effort was Is That Story True? Years of listening to people argue about the historicity of biblical narratives had left me feeling that everyone was missing the point: What do these stories mean? What are they calling us to be and do? And how did so many adults never consider that the truth and power of stories does not depend on historical accuracy? I wanted to start the conversation with children to spare them the anxious disputes about what really happened so they could instead find truth in its many forms.

Next came Jesse’s Surprise Gift. During Lent—the six weeks of preparation leading up to Easter—I was hoping to help my children enter into the rather heavy themes which characterize this season: sacrifice, death, and self-emptying. I remembered an Indian folk tale about a young boy who continually lets go of what he has, trading one item for another, eventually getting the drum he has been wanting. Aspects of this story brought to mind the description of Christ in Philippians 2 where he does not cling to privilege but empties himself. After meditating on this connection for a while, I wrote a modern parable about how sometimes the act of letting go—not clinging to what is ours—will open us to receive an even greater gift. Neither explicitly Lenten nor Christian, Jesse’s Surprise Gift, can nevertheless be read as an expression of the paradox of losing one’s life in order to find it.

As my children got older, their questions got tougher. After hearing violent bible stories, my son asked why God would tell people to kill each other. Such questions left me speechless, wondering about our sacred stories—especially how they affect the way we treat others. If our stories don’t help heal our fragmented, aching world—if they make it worse—then something is very wrong. I imagined a story that included everyone and considered how the world would be if all people saw themselves as fundamentally connected. That is how Mira and the Big Story came into being.

Victor’s Pink Pyjamas also deals with how we see each other. A friend was concerned when her son wanted to paint his room pink—his favourite colour. She was torn between giving her son freedom to follow his heart and trying to protect him from the judgments of others. I asked my children what they thought. They wanted to know why pink was considered a girl colour. I was struck by that why. How many of us really stop to question our own opinions or examine our beliefs? In my story, Victor wears his pink pyjamas bravely. Even more bravely, he challenges: “Think about it.”

How Do I Pray for Grandpa? explores how our images of God affect how we pray. A few summers ago, my dad had a stroke and was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law began treatment for breast cancer. While I fretted about how to help my children respond to these family crises and prepare for possible heart-break, the children showed me the way. My daughter “put her love into” a heart-shaped stone found on the beach and gave it to her aunt to keep in her purse so “she would not feel alone”. All the children drew prayers that Grandpa could put around his hospital bed to remind him that he was surrounded by love. Their prayers were about presence rather than results. This startled me. I was taught to pray by asking God for what I wanted. I wondered: What if we stopped telling God what ought to happen or praying with specific expectations? How would this change our image of God?

My dad, an electrical engineer, laughingly calls me a “step-down transformer” since I like to express big ideas in a simpler form. I am grateful for the many writers who do this so elegantly. I work hard to improve my craft because, as Old Alfred says in Mira and the Big Story, stories can stretch our minds and hearts, making us bigger on the inside. When this happens, the world really does become a better place.
                                                                                             Laura Alary

Friday, May 8, 2015

3 Tips on How to Make a Graduation Gift More Meaningful and Fun

1.  Give a Picture Book. Suggested books are listed below.

2.  Write a personal note inside with the date. Be sure to explain why you chose that book for the graduate. Giving your own spiritual angle to the book you chose offers even more meaning to the lucky recipient. If your inspiration is lacking, choose a quote from the book and simply relate it to the graduate.

3.  Within the pages, place a gift card or cash, but make sure you give a hint in your note so that it will be found. Graduates are busy people!

All the books listed below are part of my A Picture Book a Day for a Year list except for the last book. Look in each set of parentheses to know where on this blog to find more about each book. At the end of this post, you’ll find details about that last book. 

For Those Who Will Do Great Things:
God’s Dream (Day 154, September 20, 2014)
  Authors: Desmond Tutu & Douglas Carlton Abrams
  Illustrator: LeUyen Pham  

  Let There Be Peace on Earth (Day 120 on August 17, 2014)
     Authors: Jill Jackson & Sy Miller                               
     Illustrator: David Diaz

  For Those Who Love to Travel:
  The World is Waiting for You (Day 350 on April 4, 2015)
     Author: Barbara Kerley

  Miss Rumphius (Day 49 on June 7, 2014)
     Author & Illustrator: Barbara Cooney

For Those Who Want to Make the World a Better Place:
The Three Questions (Day 16 on May 5, 2014)
   Author & Illustrator: Jon J. Muth

  The Curious Garden (Day 116 on August 13, 2014)
     Author & Illustrator: Peter Brown

For Those Who Have No Idea Where They are Going but are Sure to Have Fun Along the Way:
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole (Day 277 on January 21, 2015)
   Author: Mac Barnett
   Illustrator: Jon Klassen

  Is This Panama? (Day 123 on August 13, 2014)
     Author: Jan Thornhill
     Illustrator: Soyeon Kim

For Those Who Would Enjoy Some Nostalgia:
The Happy Owls (Day 184 on October 20, 2014)
   Author & Illustrator: Celestino Piatti
Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
   Author & Illustrator: Dr. Seuss 
Summary: It seems Dr. Seuss created this book with graduates in mind. In fact, the book jacket calls it a “graduation speech”, but I don’t find evidence that the speech was ever given by Dr. Seuss. It has been quoted in many commencement speeches. You’ll find that Seusian quality of imaginative verse, contrived words, and other-worldly illustrations. The first verse is 
Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places.
You’re off and away! 
Here’s a PBT extra: You can find 25 quotes from this book at this link: http://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/2125304-oh-the-places-you-ll-go 
Hanna’s Comments: Don’t limit this book to graduates. It could be for encouragement at other thresholds such as for someone leaving on an extended tour of Europe, a new job adventure, or a graduate school program. Do note that the subject of the story is a male character referred to as “kid” so perhaps young people are the best recipients. There is also a sense of independence and a solo aspect to the journey ahead.   
Publisher & Date of Publication: Random House, 1990
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
# of Pages: 56
Available in Spanish? Yes
Formats other than Book: Tablet, Audible, Youtube.com has this book being read aloud wonderfully by actor John Lithgow.
PBT Category: Pre 2K
Scripture Connections: Behold, I am doing a new thing… (Isaiah 43:19); arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. (Isaiah 60:1); anyone in Christ is a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); put off your old self…and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God… (Ephesians 4:22-24)
Idea(s) for Application: Besides giving this book to recent graduates, read this picture book at a program honoring graduates in your family of faith.