Monday, November 28, 2016

PBT Redux #5 Maddi’s Fridge

It’s time for another re-posting of one of my favorite PBT books published in the last decade or so. I chose this one because it delicately handles the issues of hunger and poverty. Many children during the holiday season are confronted with these issues when they observe faith families giving food and gifts. This book gives you the opportunity to talk about their confusion and consider some meaningful acts of service and generosity during the holiday season.
Picture Book: Maddi’s Fridge
Author: Louise Brandt
Illustrator: Vin Vogel 
Summary: Best friends Sophia and Maddi spend each day together, playing outside, attending school, and hanging out at each other’s home. When Sophia accidentally discovers Maddi’s nearly empty fridge and realizes her friend has no access to milk at home, Sophia becomes very worried. Maddi asks her to keep their situation a secret so Sophia struggles for days, worried about her friend but compelled to keep the secret. Often it is when Sophia is eating at her home, where a bounty of nutritious food is prepared, that she asks her mother questions about food. The burden of her promise to keep Maddi’s secret becomes heavier with each meal. Finally, she tells her mother, and they respond by bringing food to Maddi’s home and talking with Maddi’s mother about how they can help. Sophia is relieved, and their relationship is not damaged. Meanwhile, there is an interesting play ritual between the girls that involves competition, strengths, and weaknesses.
Hanna’s Comments: It’s rare to see a book that is so outwardly inviting be about such a profound and stark subject as hunger. Fortunately, the issue of hunger and the broader issue of poverty are handled in a way that is wonderfully appropriate for children, presenting some of the confusion that many children must feel when confronted with this issue. After the story, there is a call to action section which lists six ways children can respond to hunger as well as information on anti-hunger groups.
Publisher & Date of Publication: Flashlight Press, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
PBT Category: Fresh off the Press
Scripture Connections: If your kin become poor and cannot maintain, you shall support them (Leviticus 25:35); when did we see you a stranger and welcome you… Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:35-40); parable of the great feast (Luke 14: 15-24)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children when studying the complex issue of hunger or poverty. Be sure to help them understand how your faith community responds to hunger and the broader issue of poverty.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Secular Books for Advent

Advent, the first season of the Christian calendar, comprises the four Sundays prior to Christmas. It is a time of waiting, hope, giving, and joy. Here at PBT, I suggest you offer your faith family well-written secular stories that are relatable and have depth. Then encourage connections to the Advent stories and questions or feelings about the season as it builds to the Christmas season. I believe such wider, deeper learning across 3 contexts (a secular story, scripture, and your audience) lead to more meaningful learning. Consider these 5 picture book possibilities for Advent and throughout the year:
Brown Bear’s Wonderful Secret by Caroline Castle (illustrations by Tim McNaughton) is a silly story young children will love. Brown Bear’s wonderful secret is that she is pregnant, but this surprise isn’t revealed until the end. She tries to tell her animal friends, but they don’t listen because they are too busy. Spring comes, and Brown Bear’s delight and surprise is revealed. All agree it is wonderful. Attach this story to Mary’s pregnancy and her journey from isolation to joy. Ask your children about having a secret or wanting to tell news but not being heard. Help explore, in age-appropriate ways, changes that pregnancy brings. Talk about Mary’s surprise. Likely, Mary will be more real to them during Advent because of this picture book and your conversation. You'll find my initial post about this book here.
Hope is an Open Heart by Lauren Thompson is a picture book that all will enjoy. This book is a photographic essay demonstrating the universality of hope by offering various inspiring photographs of children from around the world. Hope is one of those concepts that is difficult to define, but we know it when we feel it and in this case see it. These photographs will give groups of all ages images to enjoy. Encourage them to explore Hope as an important Advent concept. Tie these photographs to the hopes that your faith community has during Advent or to the Messianic hope the Jews had at the time of Jesus’ birth until today. Ask: What might it mean to have an open heart? Have your listeners hypothetically imagine photos they would take to demonstrate Advent hope. Then encourage them to talk about how Jesus’ story offers hope during the Advent season and beyond, for themselves and for others around the world. Here's a link to my initial post about this book.
Shoebox Sam by Mary Brigid Barrett (illustrations by Frank Morrison) will be fun for elementary children. Two children spend a Saturday with Sam in his shoe repair shop. Sam is known for welcoming those who are homeless and offering them food and new shoes. One elderly lady, who is likely homeless, surprises them all with a specific desire, the prized ballet shoes that are on display. At first reluctant, Sam gives in to her yearning. Her pleasure is his reward as she tenderly wraps her new treasure and exits. The children delight as they watch this level of generosity. After reading, talk about Sam’s generosity and hospitality and how these spiritual practices are very evident during Advent. Explore why giving is such an important part of everyone's journey toward Christmas. Help your children connect this delightful tale to the delight God must have when we are given just what we want. My initial post about this book is here. 
Going Home by Eve Bunting (illustrations by David Diaz) is a picture book about 2 Mexican children who have immigrated to America. Their parents take them back home to Mexico for the Christmas holidays but the children struggle because their very American expectations aren’t met. The little village doesn’t feel like home to them. As the visit progresses and they have been lovingly welcomed, the children expand their understanding of home and family. Initially connect this story to Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, their village of origin, and their later journey to Egypt where they became immigrants. Explore the common feelings across stories, but also contrast these journeys. The Bethlehem journey was fraught with danger and hardship. Point out how people in both literary contexts made the travelers feel welcome and remind your listeners that home and family can be created anywhere if relationships are grounded in God's love. Wrap up by talking about feelings immigrants might have during Advent and Christmas. Here's a link to my initial post about this book.
Curious George Saves His Pennies by Margaret and H. A. Rey is all about joy, joy in receiving and especially joy in giving. After patiently saving for a special red train engine, George loses his piggy bank. It is found by a girl and returned to him in the toy store. As a thank you, George buys himself a cheaper toy engine as well as one for his new friend. This kind of meaningful generosity could be a positive message amidst the flurry of consumerism that children are immersed in during Advent. This book also offers the opportunity to talk about patience, another Advent struggle for children and adults. Here's a link to my initial post about this book.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Picture Book: They All Saw a Cat
Author & Illustrator: Brendan Wenzel
Summary: This clever book is a visual lesson on perspective and point of view. 
As the cat moves through the story, the characters which view the cat see it very differently depending on their positions, senses, and feelings. First a child sees the cat as a soft companion. 
Then a dog sees the cat as scrawny and leery with a huge bell around its neck. 
A fox sees the cat as potential food, running away. 
A fish sees the cat as distorted, through a fishbowl. 
And a flea sees the cat as home. 
More abstract viewings come from a snake, 
a skunk, 
a worm, 
a bat 
and others. The reasons for the differing views aren't explained so you’ll need to make sense of the changes in how the cat is seen. My favorite page has all the animals’ perspectives in one. 
Then Wenzel offers all 12 animals together. 
The ingenious ending has the cat coming upon a body of water and seeing its own face.   
Hanna’s Comments: At first glance this is a simple book for young children, but there is a lot of value here that folks of any age can glean. Perspective is a key aspect of building empathy which is the foundation of The Golden Rule. Likewise, The Golden Rule is the foundation of several aspects of faith formation such as compassion, community building, intercessory prayer (prayer for others), and desires for social justice. Before reading, I suggest you teach your audience to say, “the cat” at your signal. After the fun of reading, attach a faith issue to the concept of perspective so that you may explore the depth that is just below the surface of this intriguing story. You might want to wrap up with this question, “How has your life experience influenced how you see God?” Here's another idea: Have your group consider how various Bible characters might have viewed Jesus depending on their circumstances or culture.
2021 Update: Recently, I’ve discovered this book by Nebbe & Ebbler. It is also about different perspectives (a young girl’s and her dog’s as they go for a walk.) It’s simpler and more relatable. I recommend it for 3 and up.
Original Publisher & Date: Chronicle, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet and Audible
Scripture Connections: As you wish others will do for you, do also for them (Matthew 7:12 & Luke 6:31); You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, Mark 12:31, Galatians 5:14 & James 2:8); the Psalms offer many varying perspectives of God depending on the experiences of the writers. These can be inferred from the verses and Old Testament history.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults in your faith family who are hoping to become more sensitive to a diverse community within and around your place of worship.

Friday, November 18, 2016

PBT Stories Series #1: My North Star

Meet Stickeen from the picture book named after him. See details below. 
This is the first of a new PBT Series about stories that have inspired PBT or happened during a PBT lesson. Today I’m going to share the story of how I knew I was supposed to do this work, work I do for you so please show your gratitude by buying me a picture book via a PayPal donation. A typical picture book is $15.  I would love to own more picture books though maybe not as many as Elizabeth Brown whose story I feature [here].
From The Library by Stewart & Small
In 2013-14 I was part of The Academy for Spiritual Formation, an Upper Room program in which about 50 people spend 40 days together over 2 years. It is a program I highly recommend. Learn more about it [here]. Participants are asked to do a 2nd year service project. I wanted to do something that began a vocational journey using my training as a school psychologist, involving my passion for spirituality, and helping to build the church, though not quite like the mother in this great picture book posted about [here].
I had often mentioned secular picture books to our children’s minister when she asked me about programming ideas so I wondered if there was an untapped treasure for ministry in secular books. I knew of many books that offered potential, but I wasn’t sure how prevalent they were. She had asked me to teach a lesson on friendship and the story of Ruth and Naomi so I decided to give my idea a little test. I went to my library of picture books (relatively small then), thought about Ruth and Naomi’s friendship, and considered each book. I saw a little potential in about 10 of them.
I read 8 books or so and saw no promise, but then I picked up Stickeen. I was startled by a particular sentence which I have in bold below where I offer my initial post. These words directly correspond to Ruth’s words to Naomi, “But Ruth said, ‘Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go;’” (Ruth 1:16). Oh, the goose bumps! The spiritual kind that reminds me that God is in every moment! Suddenly my lesson was planned and 3 days later it was very successful. The beauty of the illustrations in Stickeen even added to the spirituality of the lesson. Often illustrations make PBT lessons even more meaningful and memorable.
First I had the 3rd & 4th graders act out the Bible story once I gave them the context. As they moved through the room, we talked about the characters' feelings. Then I sat them in a close circle, reminded them how in school they find connections between stories, and asked them to do just that as I read the picture book. They easily saw the verbal connection and many more. They really enjoyed the story, especially our urban children who had never heard such a story or seen such glorious places. 
Then we talked about how friends are devoted and helpful and tied those ideas to our relationship with God and the relationship between Muir and Stickeen.
Easy peasy! Offering such meaningful connections and rich learning is the heart of PBT. I makes sense that a book about a dog in the arctic could be my north star! I’ve been following it ever since. Here's my initial post.
Picture Book: Stickeen 
Author: John Muir, as retold by Donnell Rubay 
Illustrator: Christopher Canyon 
Summary: John Muir, one of America’s great explorers and environmentalists, tells the story of an arctic adventure he had with a companion's dog, Stickeen, who was determined to go out exploring with him on a treacherous day. By the end of the excursion, both are glad to be together. Muir loved telling this story.
Hanna’s Comments: This book is the perfect example of secular literature connecting with scripture. In the story, John Muir says of Stickeen as he shouts for the dog to go back to camp, “He simply stood in the wind, drenched and blinking as if to say, ‘Where you go, I will go.’” These are words Ruth says to Naomi in the book of Ruth. There are several publications of Muir’s story, so choose this version for the direct connection to Ruth. Additionally, it is a great story of exploration, survival, and the bonds between humans and dogs. 
Publisher & Date of Publication: Dawn Pubris, 1998 
Age and Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up 
Formats other than Book: None at present 
Scripture Connections: Ruth 1 (particularly vs. 16) 
Idea(s) for Application: I recently used this book for a Sunday School lesson on Ruth & Naomi. It was so easy to plan, and the kids loved it. We simply acted out the Bible story. Then I read Stickeen while the children interrupted me with the connections they heard. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Ouch Words Hurt

Picture Book: Ouch! Moments: When Words are 
                                          Used in Hurtful Ways
Author: Michael Genhart
Illustrator: Viviana Garofoli 
Summary: This book is all about how words can hurt, particularly in a classroom. Such words bring about ouch moments just like a bee sting does. 
Words might come in a whisper or when someone is trying to be funny, but they still hurt. 
Ouch moments can come quickly so that it’s hard for kids to know how to respond. 
Bullies and bystanders wield a kind of power so that victims feel small and need help, but the bully and the bystanders need help too. 
What is suggested for victims and bystanders?
Be calm. Don’t join the meanness.
Be brave and find a friend.
Be yourself. Be proud. Don’t believe the ugly words. Talk to yourself in nice ways.
Be loud, saying nothing hurts too.  Responses like “Really?” or “Stop it!” are good.
Be caring. Ask why the mean words were said.
Be kind. Don’t say mean words. Think about how you would feel if mean words were said about you.
Tell an adult who might have a solution.
Practicing one of these responses might make a difference. Then the situation can change. You have a choice.
Hanna’s Comments: Our children are our best hope for a loving future. I am disheartened by the rancor that surfaced in our presidential election and continues. I suspect that those of you in other countries find such insults disturbing too. It is smart to explore with children about how words can hurt and teach positive responses. Giving them opportunities to explore why hurtful words are said and how to respond creates more loving environments and more resilient children. We very much want these in our faith communities. Connecting these situations to scripture is easy. The Golden Rule grounds much of the instruction in this book. Also, there are Bible stories that involve hurtful words. A few of those are listed below. They all involve women. Imagine that! You'll find a Note to Parents and Caregivers in the back written by Kevin L. Nadal, Ph.D. If you would like a book that covers this subject for younger children, check out this earlier PBT [post] about 2 board books, one version of which has Spanish subtitles. 
Original Publisher & Date: Magination Press, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections:  The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12); Jesus talks with the Syrophoenician mother (Mark 7: 24-30); Jesus anointed at Bethany (Mark 14:3-9); Mary and Martha at home (Luke 10:38-42); The Woman about to be stoned (John 8:1-11)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in Sunday School who have been saying some hurtful words to each other. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Three Spiritual Practices

Picture Book: Lilla’s Sunflowers
Author & Illustrator: Colleen Rowan Kosinski
Summary: Lilla and her father especially enjoy the time they spend in her sunflower patch. 
When Papa leaves for a tour in the military, Lilla gives him a single sunflower seed to remember her. 
The coming days without her father are very hard for Lilla. She uses the sunflowers to remind her of her papa. 
As the sunflowers droop in their season, Lilla’s faith that her father will return also wanes. 
When birds attack the flowers, she is especially distraught. 
Then she receives a letter from Papa with a photo of the sunflower he grew and a message of coming home. 
He does come home, and together they plant more sunflowers. In spring, Lilla’s sunflowers bloom and many letters are received. 
Papa explains how the sunflower was such a “bright spot for everyone” that his friends are sending photos from their homes with their families and the sunflowers they had grown thanks to the seeds of Lilla’s sunflower.
The photo above finds Lilla satisfied to have her papa home and pleased that one seed that she offered then grew to bring so much joy. 
Hanna’s Comments: Today is Veteran’s Day in the USA so I offer this book as a personal thank you and reminder of the costs and difficult journeys we require of those in the military and their families. Read this book to a group of children, teens, or adults in your faith community who are choosing to remember the sacrifices of veterans. 
You can also use this book to illustrate important spiritual practices such as affirmation, gratitude, and remembering. Remembrance is not just for those who have died but for those whose stories we find valuable during their lifetimes. Strong connections across generations and congregations are built on such storytelling, affirmation, and gratitude for lives well-spent in service. 
A highlight of this book is its focus on Lilla’s feelings. Anytime you can talk about the feelings of a character, you offer the possibility of connecting to feelings in your audience. If these feelings are then connected to faith, they are even more meaningful.
Original Publisher & Date: Sky Pony Express, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections:  All things work together for good (Romans 8:28); I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:16); be thankful as you are called in one body (Colossians 3:15); every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17); The Passover and Last Supper rituals are rituals of remembering and thanksgiving.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book during a time of remembrance for those in the military and their families who have sacrificed for you. Then teach the importance of spiritual practices such as affirmation, gratitude, and remembering.