Friday, September 30, 2016

Little Offerings

Picture Book: Bring Me a Rock
Author & Illustrator: Daniel Miyares
Summary: This clever book is all about offerings. 
A grasshopper king demands that each of his subjects, bring him a rock to build a majestic throne. 
A little bug brings a pebble, all that can be carried by such a little one, but the ungrateful king screams, rejecting the offering and the bug. 
Shunned, the little bug looks on while the throne is built, very tall and very wobbly. When the king gets on top, it doesn’t go so well. 
Little bug quickly comes forward with his pebble which is just right to stabilize the throne. 
When praised and promised a reward, the little bug says, “Bring me those rocks!”  
The result of the little bug's request is in the last illustration, showing all insects, King included, on pedestals, all the same height. King isn’t happy, but everyone else is, especially the little bug.
Hanna’s Comments: If like me, you are passionate about equality and are particularly drawn to scripture emphasizing God's impartiality, then you’ll like this tale. Mine is a progressive Christian church that struggles to find curricula emphasizing biblical principles such as justice, hospitality, diversity, etc. Too often children are viewed as outsiders in the arenas of theology and worship and not asked to contribute their opinions and their offerings. However, children, like this little bug, can be very wise, eager, and determined, all valuable contributions to a faith family. 
The benefits of Picture Book Theology are exemplified in this picture book. Although a secular story, it gets to the heart of themes that are touted by Jesus and his followers again and again. Besides the egalitarian theme, discuss what kinds of offerings children can make in your place of worship and in the world. Broaden and make more sacred their concepts of humility, servanthood, loyalty, worship, and judgement. There’s a great deal of treasure to mine here.  
Original Publisher & Date: Simon & Schuster, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The disciples rebuked the people but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.” (Matt. 19: 13-15); one who is least among all is the one who is great (Luke 9: 48); a servant isn’t greater than a master (John 13:16); God shows no partiality (Romans 2:11); there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free… (Gal. 3:28)
Idea(s) for Application: Your children will respond to this book in a lesson about one of the many scriptures or biblical themes listed above because they will readily identify with the little bug.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

PBT Grab & Go #4 - A Cool Drink of Water

Here’s another high quality picture book that makes for a really easy theological lesson. Just read it, talk about the book, and connect it to scripture. However, if you want a longer or more substantial lesson with specific supplemental activities, I've written a lesson for you. 

 Lesson Available for just $3! Details below.

Picture Book: A Cook Drink of Water
Author: Barbara Kerley
Photographs from Multiple Photographers
Summary: Water is so crucial to life that it unifies people all over the world. This photographic essay beautifully reveals the variety and commonality of drinking water in various geographic cultures. How water is accessed is the central subject here as well as numerous means of holding water in places as varied as the Canadian Rockies, an Australian desert, and an island in Indonesia.  
Hanna’s Comments: This author has a series of educational picture books comprised of stunning National Geographic photography. Be sure to check out the map in the back of this book as well as the article on water conservation. You can also visit

I’ve created a lesson to go with this book that works with elementary aged children, tweens, or teens. The supplemental activities are fun and build on the concepts in the book and the scriptures connected in this post. If you’re interested in purchasing it for just $3, email me at We’ll arrange payment. Then I’ll send it to you electronically. The book, used or new, is easily available for purchase on-line.
Original Publisher & Date: National Geographic, 2006
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: With joy you will draw water (Isaiah 12:3); Living water/Woman at the well (John 4:4-42)
Idea(s) for Application: Use this book as part of a scripture lesson in which water is a key component or in a lesson on how our basic human needs connect us globally. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Preschoolers Know How to Follow

Picture Book: Follow Me      
Author & Illustrator: Ellie Sandall
Summary: Lemurs, many of them and of all sizes, 
follow their leader towards food, 
away from danger, 
and eventually sleep. 
This fast-paced rhyming book is packed with double page spreads of racing, chasing, 
and community delight. 
Follow me” is heard time and time again as the lemurs experience a crazy day in the rainforest.
Hanna’s Comments: Preschoolers know how to follow, so this is a good book for beginning to build concepts of discipleship to Christ and devotion to God. Hopefully these concepts will grow throughout their lives. To convert the reading of this book to a religious lesson, talk about the concept of “following.” Then give examples of how that word is commonly used in your family of faith. Specific behavioral examples will help them understand. For instance, say “Jesus listened to people. If you want to follow Jesus, then be like Jesus and listen to your parents.” OR “God wants us to follow God’s rules. ‘Do not lie’ is one of God’s rules. Telling the truth means you are following God’s rules.” This is the heart of discipleship and righteousness but those words are too big for young children. My PBT series Theological Statements for Young Children offers 12 posts based on 12 simple religious ideas. Each post lists age appropriate books that connect to each statement. Follow Me connects directly to several of these statements. Check out the beginning of this series [here] and email me if you’d like a list of the 12 statements.
Original Publisher & Date: McElderry Books, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-26); they left everything and followed Jesus (Luke 5:11); whoever follows me will not walk in darkness (John 8:12); if anyone serves me, you must follow me (John 12:26) 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to young children when introducing them to the concepts of following Jesus or following God’s ways.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

New Series: PBT Techniques #1 - Arts Camp Inspiration

Picture Books as Sources for Inspiration
This new PBT series will involve giving you some atypical methods for using picture books in ministry. I hope to stretch the possibilities in your mind and encourage you to think of your own ways to use picture books. If so, please share your ideas with us in a comment!

Traditionally picture books are incorporated into lessons, sermons, or small group discussions simply by reading them at the most opportune time given your other activities. Today’s post is about using picture books as sources for inspiration that inform your plans and support your objectives. Here’s a couple of situations:

There are times when a picture book is so rich with spiritual ideas that you can use it as a jumping off point for several programs. My husband has done this twice when writing his 8 curricula for our church’s City Kids Arts Camp. The first book he used was for very young children, but he was able to plan biblical activities for much older kids. 
In each case, I found the book and told him I thought it had potential. Then he tapped into his God-inspired, creative brain and began writing. You know the curriculum is a hit when at the end of the week, it is Bible Story Time that the children say they most enjoyed. 
These books also inspired other aspects of those 2 City Kids Arts Camps such as the logo, singing, and visual art activities. If you are interested in hearing more about these curricula, email me.

The second situation I offer is when a picture book has too much great information. This is sometimes the case in non-fiction picture books. Mining those books for ministry ideas is smart. I mentioned this method in two previous PBT posts.
In the first, I feature a non-fiction book, Tell Me Tree. Because trees are potent motifs for religious ideas, in [that post] I listed several books about trees. There are many more to discover in your local library.

The other post in which I mentioned this strategy features the picture book A Seed is Sleepy, one in a series of beautiful picture books full of fascinating information about natural objects. Other books in the series are listed [in the post here]. Today I’m glad to tell you about an addition to the series, A Beetle is Shy.
The following is a brand new picture book that would be really fun to use as a resource for designing activities when children are learning about the Body of Christ.
Picture Book: Your Pulling My Leg! 
                  400 Human-Body Sayings from Head to Toe
Author: Pat Street & Eric Brace
Illustrator: Eric Brace 
Summary & Comments: Scattered throughout this book are 400 idioms such as “a green thumb” or “winning by a nose.” Helpfully, the book is divided into body part sections.
Illustrations are fun but too small to share with groups of children. There is a board game with the same name (different publisher) that contains cards that might be fun to use.
Original Publisher & Date: Holiday House, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2nd and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: We, though many, are one body in Christ (Romans 12:5); you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:27); the whole body, joined and held together… when each part is working properly… builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16); Christ is the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18)
Idea(s) for Application: Use this book to create some games to play with your children when teaching them about the Body of Christ.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

God as Night Gardener

Picture Book: The Night Gardener
Authors & Illustrators: The Fan Brothers
Summary: Stunning illustrations support this early 20th century story of a mysterious topiary sculptor. 
We view the work of the Night Gardener through the eyes of William, an orphan, and his neighbors. William is not only amazed by the topiaries; he is obsessed by them. William notices how the sculptures are positively affecting his community. 
People gather around them, enjoy one another, and play, even after dark. After several revelations from the Night Gardener, William sees a man walking at night who seems a likely candidate. 
William follows and is spotted but then encouraged to help. The boy and old man work throughout the night. 
When William wakes at a tree trunk, he finds a gift. 
Sadly, no more of the Night Gardener’s sculptures transpire, but his influence has not ended.
Fall comes and the topiaries are transformed in a fascinating way. Meanwhile, William is learning the art himself so that he can carry on the legacy of the Night Gardener.
Hanna’s Comments: When I finished A Picture Book a Day for a Year in April of 2015, I offered a series of posts about 5 PBT questions to ask about any secular picture book to see if there is potential for ministry. That series [begins here] with the first question being, Where is God in the book? a question easily answered in The Night Gardener
God is the Night Gardener who delights others with his creations and inspires a creative spirit and talent in William. There is another book by this name, but it is a ghost story for older children so select wisely.
Original Publisher & Date: Simon & Schuster, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Romans 12:6); walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1)
Idea(s) for Application: Read The Night Gardener to a group of tweens or teens who are exploring how God inspires their gifts and vocations to transform the world. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Boundary Crossing Stories

Picture Book: No Dogs Allowed
Author: Linda Ashman
Illustrator: Kristin Sorra 
Summary: A waiter stands outside Alberto’s City Lights cafĂ© to encourage customers. 
While standing beside a sign reading “Welcome!” a boy and dog approach. The sign is quickly amended to read “No Dogs Allowed.” Disappointed, the boy and dog turn to a nearby fountain in the city square. 
When a girl & cat and then a lady & bunny approach, the waiter adds to the list of creatures not welcome. The waiter is delighted to sit an elderly man, but ignores his customer, distracted by others he does not welcome. 
Meanwhile, those who are banned create community at the fountain. As the panoply of exotic animals builds, so does the fun around the fountain. 
The elderly customer gives up and joins the fun, and the discouraged waiter sits on the curb. When the lemonade runs out, the boy and his dog convince the waiter to bring refreshments outside to the fountain crowd. 
All rejoice and the name Alberto’s City Lights is transformed in name and spirit to All Critter’s Bistro where “Everyone is Allowed.”   
Hanna’s Comments: Recently I listened to a podcast from Richard Rohr’s Homilies. He referred to Jesus’ “boundary crossing stories” and preached on The Good Samaritan, a parable inspired by the question Who is my neighbor? Meanwhile, I’ve been reading a chapter about neighborhoods in the latest book from Diana Butler Bass, Grounded: Finding God in the World. At PBT I have many “boundary crossing” picture books. I find myself drawn to these stories and so is my church as we strive to fulfill our vision to be “A Welcome Place for All to Worship, Grow, and Serve.” Our diverse community is making plans to serve communion on World Communion Sunday in nearby Kelly Ingram Park, the same park where 50 years ago children were hosed by Birmingham’s police. Thanks be to God that barriers are more often questioned now and issues of boundary crossing are easily found in popular culture and in faith communities. Amazon lists no fewer than 5 picture books with this name. One I have previously featured [here at PBT]. It is delightful and involves an extended family’s trip to the beach where the family pet isn't allowed on the beach. The rule doesn't change as it does in this story, but the family's response is inspiring. Check it out before choosing which book best fits the conversation you wish to have in your faith community about boundary crossing.
Original Publisher & Date: Sterling, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Gospel accounts and parables of boundary crossing (healing the bent over woman, Zacchaeus, The Good Samaritan, The Great Feast)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this picture book to a group of children or adults when delving into Jesus’ many boundary crossing stories. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

9/11 Anniversaries

Because of today’s 15th anniversary of the tragic 9/11 events, I’m exploring how picture books might be used at such a time. I’m offering 2 very different examples of the many picture books that have been published to commemorate and remember that horrible day. I recently went to a library where there was a featured shelf with about 12 books about those historical events. You’ll find even more books about 9/11 for sale on-line.

Some of you might think that such a dark subject has no positive purpose in your faith family. Here are some hypothetical contexts in which talking about 9/11 with children or teens in a faith context might be a good idea:

1.      Your faith family is located in the geographical regions most affected by 9/11 so your children are often exposed to anniversary events and comments.
2.     Your church likes for children’s programming to be connected to sermon series. An upcoming series will be on remembering 9/11 events and its consequences.
3.     You want to teach important historical events to children in a homeschool or private school setting and want to explore theological/faith aspects of that day and its repercussions.
4.    You are teaching a series on how our faith influences perseverance. The events of 9/11 will offer much in the way of conversation for the tweens and teens in your faith family.
5.     You want to explore the concept of generosity by using the fabulous picture book 14 Cows for America [PBT post here], a book about a Kenyan community’s response to 9/11. You think some 9/11 background information would be helpful.
from America is Under Attack by Don Brown
Be sure to choose your books with sensitivity to your audience’s ability to understand the events and handle the emotional content. Pay close attention to illustrations or photos to ensure that they are appropriate.
Picture Book: America is Under Attack
Author & Illustrator: Don Brown
Summary: This picture book moves chronologically through the day, recalling what happened to all 4 planes, the rescuers, and witnesses with sensitive illustrations that are honest but not sensational. The stories of real people are shared and their words are used.
Hanna’s Comments:  An award winner, this book is perfect if you want to present a lot of the story, but you don’t want to expose your audience to actual photos of those horrific events. Because there is so much content, you might want to read it over 2 sessions. In the back you’ll find the Author’s Note and a bibliography. This book is one in a nonfiction series called Actual Times.
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections:  The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18); teach us to count our days (Psalm 90:12); in the world you will have tribulation… (John 16:33); help the weak (Acts 20:35)

Picture Book: September Roses
Author & Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
Summary: This is a true story written after the author saw an arrangement of roses representing the 2 towers soon after the 9/11 events. Two sisters from South Africa fly to New York City to attend a flower show. With them they have packed 2400 roses and their hopes of success. Upon arrival in NYC, the events of 9/11 are in process. Stranded in the airport with their roses and nowhere to go, a man offers to take them in and suggests the perfect place for their roses. 
He takes them downtown to artistically add their roses to the memorials that are quickly being placed. 
Hanna’s Comments: This is a very different sort of 9/11 book, it’s short and the events of 9/11 are adjacent to the story. It highlights the vast influence of 9/11 events on bystanders. Here you have opportunities to explore the spiritual practices of hospitality, empathy, and artistry adapted to difficult circumstances. 
Factual details are in the back that you should share, especially since their hosts were actually a faith community, the First United Methodist Church of Flushing, NY. This is a very small book; having multiple copies of the book might make sense.
Original Publisher & Date: Frances Foster Book, 2004
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 7 and up, 2nd and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Whatever is true, … whatever is lovely, think about these things (Philippians 4:8); do not forget to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2)