Friday, February 26, 2016

Featured Author: Cynthia Rylant

Cynthia Rylant is a very popular and much-loved author of more than 100 picture books and novels for young readers. You might know the popular Henry & Mudge series or the Newbery Award Winner, Missing May. Even in her simplest stories, there is often an underlying spirituality that has much potential for mining The Holy in the ordinary moments of our lives.  Here’s a selection of her books and some ideas for how to use these books in ministry, private/homeschool settings, bibliotherapy in a counseling session or in a family conversation.
God God a Dog is a one of a kind series of poems about God that are both hilarious and thought provoking. God changes form in surprising ways with each poem and engages with creation by making spaghetti, going to a beauty school and the doctor, working at a desk, drinking coffee, traveling to India, etc. Marla Frazee’s illustrations are delightful! I suggest this book for older children or adults for it offers views of God that might be confusing for the young. Expanding our view of God seems to be the author’s motivation and she does this with such fun and cleverness. I recently read it aloud to my teenage daughter. We laughed and laughed! This is not the book for you if you are not comfortable with playing with your concept of God or if you would be offended by the possibility of God having a relationship with Buddha.  
Picture Book: God Got a Dog
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Original Publisher & Date: Beach Lane Books, 2013
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 10 and up, 5th and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet

Give Me Grace is a book comprised of a series of short prayers for each day of the week. There are prayers for kindness, comfort, safety, guidance, gratitude and holy ways. I like the simplicity of these prayers. They get to the heart of children’s spiritual concerns and in simple, non-masculine language. Reading these 7 daily prayers will encourage consistency and may be starting points for further thoughts about God and prayers to God. 
Picture Book: Give Me Grace
Author & Illustrator: Cynthia Rylant
Original Publisher & Date: Little Simon, 2005
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Board Book

The Old Woman Who Named Things is a poignant story about a funky-looking elderly lady who is alone. With no more friends alive, she begins naming objects in her life such as her car (Betsy) and her chair (Fred). Because she doesn’t want to face anymore death, she names only those things she is convinced will outlast her. This plan keeps her content until a puppy begins coming to her home. She refuses to name it for fear it will die. After many visits, the dog no longer comes, so she worries. Eventually she claims it at the dogcatcher’s kennel and names it Lucky because she wants the dog to remind her how lucky she is to have known and loved so many friends. This story about vulnerability, the fear of loss, and the power of friendships will be especially valuable if you are trying to build relationships across generations in your family of faith. With adults, this books gives you the opportunity to talk about healthy responses to grief. With children or adults, you could connect this book to those scriptures where key characters’ names are given or changed.
Picture Book: The Old Woman Who Named Things
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Kathryn Brown
Original Publisher & Date: HMH, 2000
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet

All in a Day is a celebration of the possibilities of one day. Rylant offers spiritual concepts such as the hope of planting and kindness that will likely come, the loving promises that each new day brings, and faith that eventually you will return home to loving arms. You could easily build a lesson for children around this book and the scripture that begins “This is the day that the Lord has made…” (Psalm 118:24).
Picture Book: All in a Day
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Nikki McClure
Original Publisher & Date: Henry N. Abrams, 2009
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

 An Angel for Solomon Singer is a beautiful and somewhat mature picture book. The stunning paintings and compassionate story offer a New York City setting and a lonely man who is being housed but is essentially homeless and longing for the comforts of home and family. He walks the streets at night remembering his boyhood home in Indiana. When he enters The Westway Café – where all your dreams come true, he is intrigued and delighted by the hospitality of the server who he later discovers is named Angel. Each night, the walker offers up his dreams and slowly find comfort and a sense of place and belonging. There is ambiguity here in both the story and illustrations, but this opens up possibilities for some serious and personal discussion about what all human beings long for and how faith communities can help meet some of those needs. You might think of the café as a metaphor for a spiritual family and Angel as a spiritual mentor, friend, or one of the Holy Trinity.
Picture Book: An Angel for Solomon Singer
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Peter Catalanotto
Original Publisher & Date: Scholastic, 1996
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2nd and up  
Formats other than Book: None at present

Apparently, Rylant wrote The Stars Will Still Shine in response to troubled times. Here she rejoices in the promise of a new year and the joys of daily living, even in uncertainty. She lists many comforting constants such as stars, birds, church bells, ice cream, and cozy homes with companions to curl up with. She declares that love will grow strong and there will be goodness, grace, and light because “the stars will still shine.” This book is like a prayer of praise for God’s creation that, despite our disillusion, offers faith and hope. Read this beautiful book after a difficult year or a terrible loss in your faith community. Picture books are especially comforting at these times because they are non-threatening and nostalgic for many.
Picture Book: The Stars Will Still Shine
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Tiphanie Beeke
Original Publisher & Date: Harper Collins, 2005
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present

A Caldecott Honor book, When I Was Young in the Mountains was Rylant’s first book. It celebrates her summer visits at her grandparents’ home in West Virginia. Memories include the ritual of a kiss on the top of her head from her grandfather as he returns each day from the coal mines, Sunday worship in a small schoolhouse, and the baptism in a nearby creek of a cousin. Perfect for a group of children that is approaching baptism or confirmation and/or learning about the concept of ritual. Older adults who want to remember the sacred in the ordinary of their own childhoods can be spurred into conversation with this lovely book.  There is a 20th-Anniverary edition that you might want to seek.
Picture Book: When I Was Young in the Mountains
Author: Cynthia Rylant
Illustrator: Diane Goode
Original Publisher & Date: Puffin, 1993
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Audio 

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