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.

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