Monday, June 27, 2016

I Love Chocolate!

Picture Book: Chocolate’s Dream
Author: Elisabet Blasco
Illustrator: Cha Coco
Summary: Chocolate is a dog whose owners abandoned him when he was no longer a cute puppy. After searching for food each day, he hides behind a fence and watches Sarah through a window. She is a young girl that he knows will one day be his friend. “All he needs is for Sarah to love him.” 
This dream is hopeful and gives him joy, but he is afraid to be seen. After hearing Chocolate’s sad story and his longing for companionship with Sarah, a bird intervenes. 
The bird begins singing so loudly that Sarah comes out to investigate and sees Chocolate. When Sarah and Chocolate lock eyes, their love seems meant to be. 
Chocolate’s hopes and dreams come true. He sleeps at the foot of Sarah’s bed each night, warm, comfortable and loved.    
Hanna’s Comments: There is so much pure emotion in this little book! That’s why it is so suited to Picture Book Theology. As I thought of Chocolate, I thought of how many people come to our places of worship hurt by their past, hopeful for connection, but unable to risk. 
That longing for relationship comes straight from God. This is why hospitality is such an important spiritual practice. I love the bird in this story too. He’s like my husband who has a gift for helping people make connections and find each other. Don’t fail to point out the bird’s good listening. It says “he had been listening carefully without saying a thing.” That’s really hard for many of us to do! All faith families need these kinds of people who listen, pay attention, see the longing in others, and then do a little non-romantic match making. What might come out of these pairings (joy, hope realized, long-term relationships, intimacy…) can be as sweet as chocolate!
Original Publisher & Date: Cuento de Luz, 2015 
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord… (Jeremiah 29:11); Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation (Romans 12:12); May the God of all hope fill you with joy and peace in believing… (Romans 15:13); Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); Let us consider how to stir up on another to love… encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults who are being trained for an evangelism team, especially if your church is in a neighborhood where homeless people live. This book would also be a great book for a foster parent training event or to celebrate the adoption of an older child into a new family or faith family.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Lesson in Intercessory Prayer

Picture Book: How Do I Pray for Grandpa?
Author: Laura Alary
Illustrator: William Kimber
Summary:  Young Miriam learns that her grandpa has been rushed to the hospital. She prays fervently, but the next day she is confused because Grandpa is still sick. Her brother explains, “God is not like a bubble gum machine.” 
As she begins exploring the question of how to pray for Grandpa, Miriam experiences various methods of prayer. Her sister suggests they blow bubbles and fill them with good thoughts for Grandpa so that the wind (God’s breath) carries “our thoughts where they need to go.” 
Before bed she pictures her nightlight as God who fills the scary places with light for Grandpa. 
While watering flowers, she imagines God as water that Grandpa can “soak up into every part of him and grow strong again.” 
After snuggling with her mom, she imagines her grandpa in God’s arms “surrounded and held by love.” 
When her grandpa is better, Miriam asks her mom if her “prayers made Grandpa better.” Her mother reminds her that many people were praying for Grandpa and helps Miriam see that her prayers were for more than just healing. They were for him to not feel scared or alone. Her mother reassures Miriam that her prayers “made a difference to Grandpa and to all of us.” The book ends with Miriam experiencing God all around her and offering a simple, breath prayer of thanks.
Hanna’s Comments: This thoughtful and sensitive book about how to help children understand intercessory prayer offers fertile ground for rich conversation about God’s nature and prayer in particular. Laura Alary was the first author to do a PBT guest post. You’ll find the fabulous post hereLaura talked particularly about her journey toward writing picture books and what aspects of her faith inspired each book. Since that post Laura has written with Ann Boyajian Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter. Laura is a Canadian author so I’ve not been able to find her books in my library system. However, they are available on the internet. You might need to purchase a used one, but your children won’t mind and you will be pleased with the thoughtfulness of her stories and the ideas she explores.
Original Publisher & Date: Woodlake Publishing, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: …let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6); …if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. (1 John 5:14)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to children in your faith family or family of origin when teaching about intercessory prayer.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Gossip, Fear, or Trust

Picture Book: Help! A Story of Friendship
Author & Illustrator: Holly Keller
Summary: This is a simple story that demonstrates the harm gossip and fear can do to relationships, even to a close friendship. Mouse confesses to Hedgehog that “Fox told Skunk and Skunk told me that snakes are very dangerous to mice.” 
Hedgehog quickly replies, “You know Snake would never hurt you.” When Mouse, due to his fear and distraction, falls into a deep hole, Hedgehog tries to recruit help from friends who come along. 
For various reasons, none can help but Snake. Hedgehog explains to snake that Mouse is very afraid of him so Snake cannot enter the hole. 
Snake creatively devises a solution that involves him holding a stick with his tail and sticking it down the hole for Mouse to grab. Then Snake crawls up a nearby tree to pull Mouse up the hole. 
Once Mouse realizes who has rescued him, Snake quickly reassures, “I would never hurt you.” Mouse apologizes and eventually delivers a bouquet of flowers to snake to say thanks.
The art technique for these illustrations is briefly explained in Holly Keller’s bio on the book jacket. If you like doing crafts with your children’s lessons, you might want to incorporate some rubbings or textured printings.
Hanna’s Comments: I recently visited a United Methodist Church in Arlington, Virginia. This book was read for the children’s moment. It was so fun for me to experience a picture book during a worship service. I don’t know if the reader knows of this blog, but I do know he did a marvelous job reading the book and tying it to the scripture to be read that day in worship. I believe that children's sermons should always be high quality for many adults will glean wisdom, recall, and apply as much from a good children's sermon as an adult sermon.
Original Publisher & Date: Greenwillow Books, 2007
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Jesus heals the paralytic man who was let down through the roof (Luke 5:17-39); …there are some who are confusing you and perverting the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:7); Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths… (Ephesians 4:29)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book in a lesson or sermon about gossip, fear-based manipulation, sewing division, trust in friendship, or to make connections (in this case opposite connections) with the scripture story in Luke 5 (listed above).  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Tomie dePaola, Picture Book Prophet

Picture Book: Michael Bird-Boy 
Author & Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Summary:  Michael wears a bird costume every day. This isn’t explained but illustrations show his enthusiasm for birds. A large black cloud appears which is making birds and flowers dirty and blocking Michael’s view of the moon. 
When Michael goes to investigate, he discovers the pollution coming from the Genuine Shoe-Fly Artificial Honey Syrup Factory. The Boss-Lady explains that the melting of the sugar is making the black smoke. 
Michael suggests that they make real honey with real bees and he is willing to provide the bees. Later, the Boss-lady calls Michael, complaining that the bees aren’t making honey. He explains that the bees need flowers and hives. Boss-lady plants lots of flowers and converts the smokestack into a beehive.  
Success comes so Michael gets a thank you letter and a visit from Boss Lady. She brings Michael some honey which he uses to make a cake. They have a party celebrating their success!
Hanna’s Comments:  Leave it to Tomie dePaola to come up with a great book on micro-economics, local agricultural problem-solving, and creation care that anticipates the passions of many who are looking for solutions to the complicated struggles of our Earth! 
Although this book may seem perfect for today’s environmental challenges, I’m holding the 40th anniversary edition! 
Religious communities are increasingly focusing their attention on God’s call for creation care and discernment over concerns about global climate change. This book is also a great example of creative problem-solving and social-justice work, both of which can be inspired by God.
Original Publisher & Date: Simon & Schuster, 1975
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1); God creates the lights in the skies (Genesis 1:14); the moon and stars which You have set in place… (Psalm 8:3)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in a homeschool, private school, or church context when considering ideas about God-inspired problem-solving for issues of climate-change or other environmental concerns. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

New Blog Series - PBT's Grab & Go #1

A week ago I began a PBT series highlighting the recently published picture books that I have already featured here. Because they are new (since 2013 - you might not have heard of them) and fabulous, they are worth reposting, hence the name of the series: PBT Redux.

Today I start another PBT series that is a little different. It is simply those secular books, again already featured here at PBT, that are extremely easy to use in sacred settings. They almost stand alone but not quite. God’s holiness is all over them, but you'll have to help your audience find the Holy and declare it so. Because they require little prep, I’m calling this series PBT’s Grab and Go. Look for more books in this series as the summer progresses. Here's a great example:

Picture Book: The Three Questions                        
Author & Illustrator: John J. Muth
Summary: This story is an adaptation of a story by Leo Tolstoy, a famous Russian writer. Nikolai’s desire to be the best person he can be leads him on a journey to ask 3 important questions of Leo, the wise turtle.
Nikolai discovers the answers while interacting with three companion animals, a heron, a monkey, and a dog. 
He encounters an injured panda, rescues her and her baby, and nurses both. 
This act of service and an earlier scenario help Leo point out the wisest answers to Nikolai's 3 questions which are:
1. When is the best time to do things? (Now) 
2. Who is the most important one? (The one you are with)
3. What is the right thing to do? (Do good for the one who is beside you)  
Hanna’s Comments: This book was originally featured here at PBT on 5/5/14. It is an example of a PBT book that could be used in most settings: a sermon illustration in worship, a Sunday School activity, a home/private school lesson, spiritual direction homework, a discipleship group, etc. There is much good theology here for adults as well as children, and all will enjoy this story. Just choose your audience and setting. 
You may want your listeners to determine the direction the conversation takes. Keep in mind that Nikolai can be a stand-in for your church, faith community, a small group of disciples, or the Body of Christ. 
Also, remember that all people learn best with relatable stories so bring the discussion around to examples that your audience can relate to. At the back of the book, you’ll find a description of the original story, which is about a Tsar not a boy, and gives biographical information on Leo Tolstoy. 
Publisher & Date of Publication: Scholastic, 2002
Age and Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Available in Spanish? Yes
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy, and to the poor in your land (Deuteronomy 15:11); one who waters will himself be watered (Proverbs 11:25); the Last Judgment (Matthew 25); in humility count others more significant than yourselves (Philippians 2:3)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to an audience in Servant Leadership Training or at a Confirmation Retreat.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Ideas (and Stories) Are All Around

Title of Picture Book: Ideas Are All Around
Author & Illustrator: Philip C. Stead
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2016   
Summary: Ideas Are All Around is quite different; it seems to be autobiographical and extemporaneous but that is unlikely because it is so clever. Like the variety of experiences the author evokes, the illustrations are multi-media including images of photographs, detailed water colors, and stamped impressions. 

The author/illustrator tells of a day in which he needs to write a story, but he is out of ideas.
His dog Wednesday, who doesn’t like for him to write stories, wants to go for a walk. Author and dog go for a walk amidst all sorts of idea and story opportunities, including a turtle, Frank, who ignores the author, and a more human neighbor friend. The story material is never acknowledged as such so the reader has to do some thinking. What ideas are all around and how might they become stories?
Stead’s clever art adds even more to the mix so that it becomes clear that ideas for stories are all around if we are attentive, open to their possibilities, and willing to step into those opportunities.
Hanna’s Comments: Although young children will enjoy this book, for PBT’s purposes this book is best for older elementary, teen, or adult audiences.
The free-flowing plot and the abstract ideas would be hard to pin down and connect with theology for young children. However, there is much here for more mature thinkers. 
While reading this book, I thought of how Jesus’ travels must have seemed something like this author’s, unhurried and companionable, open to where the Holy Spirit would have him go, and attentive to possibilities. For Jesus, these opportunities were for ministry, teaching, and God’s glorification. 
If only we could be so open in our own daily routines! Jesus’ healing of the Bent-Over Woman at the Temple seems to be one scriptural example. It was risky, interacting with a woman and healing on the Sabbath, but the woman’s burden moved Jesus so he acted. Thanks to Jesus’ godly idea, we have a godly story.

Philip C. Stead is one of my favorite picture book authors. Often times he is partnered with his illustrator wife, Erin E. Stead. Two of my favorite PBT books are their creations: 
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, originally featured here at PBT on 4/28/14 and in an upcoming entry in my new PBT redux series. Look for that later this summer. I recently did a successful adult Sunday School lesson based on it, very easy and meaningful. If you’re interested in hearing more about that lesson, ask via a comment or email me.  
Also this couple is responsible for Bear Has a Story to Tell which is a subtle but powerful story of meeting others’ needs rather than demanding to be heard. I featured that gem on 6/22/14.                     
Idea(s) for Application: Offer this book to a client in spiritual direction or an adult small group when beginning to discuss concepts of being open to the Holy Spirit and/or processes of discernment.
Scripture Connections: Jesus heals the Bent-Over Woman (Luke 13:10-17)
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up (see my comments above)
Formats other than Book: None at present