Friday, June 23, 2017

Was Christ Catawampus?

Picture Book: The Catawampus Cat
Author: Jason Carter Eaton
Illustrator: Gus Gordon
Summary: A cat walks into a busy town; he walks with a lean.
The first to notice him is a married couple of many years. The husband tries to straighten the cat, but...
 When they turn their heads just so, 
she spies her wedding ring and suddenly... 
with that small shift in perspective, they remember love.
Next a barber spots the cat. Tilting his head while giving a client a new haircut may not seem smart...
but she loves it! 
Throughout the town, the cat meanders while the inhabitants notice his slanted ways and do likewise. 
An unfulfilled artist making his living as a house painter watches the cat. After it passes, the painter is shocked to find his work quite original. 
The homeowner, the mayor, proclaims it a work of art! 
Even the local daredevil is distracted during a stunt. Instead of jumping Deadman's Gorge, he takes a different route. 
His stunt even more unusual, he sets a record for height. The daredevil is delighted! 
After seeing the catawampus cat inside the library, Miss Reade pulls the wrong book off the shelf, 
 and her life is changed permanently. Adventure awaits!
Bushy Brows Billiam found that he could see the classroom board when he tilted his head. Suddenly math made perfect sense! 
Soon the whole town is transformed. Even architecture changes with the townspeople's perspectives. 
Slantiness leads to all sorts of sunniness. 
Eventually, the mayor stands before the off-kilter town on Catawampus Cat Day ready to give the cat an award for his positive influence. 
When asked what he thought now that the whole town was like him, the cat's response was surprising. 
Instead of answering directly, he did some calisthenics
Apparently wanting to keep his catawampus status, he walked out of town, straightened but still catawampus compared to the town and its people. 
Hanna’s Comments: When I read the gospels, Jesus contrasts with the culture of his day. Likewise, he contrasts with modern culture. People responded to his message in ways that transformed their view of life and others. Today we still are transformed by his message and way of viewing life. He was both a magnetic personality and a confusing one. Like the catawampus cat here, he tended to avoid answering direct questions and offered a new perspective on many topics such as outsiders, status, worry, and even the Law. I suggest you read this book while emphasizing the way the cat is transforming the townspeople. Then say, “Jesus was sort of like the catawampus cat.” Depending on your audience, provide those connections yourself or let your audience discover them. But that’s not enough! Go deeper. Ask your audience to reflect (or answer aloud) how knowing the gospel of Jesus has transformed their perspectives and their lives. Perhaps they have experienced love, been delighted by surprise, discovered their artistry, gained an adventurous spirit, soared to new heights, or found they can do things thought impossible. Even a catawampus cat can give us insight to our spiritual growth and desires to see more like Christ.
Original Publisher & Date: Crown Books, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and other statements from Jesus that were surprising such as “Whoever finds life will lose it, and whoever loses life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39); Stories about life-changing encounters Jesus had with others, particularly when it resulted in a perspective change and transformation, such as The Woman at the Well (John 4:4-42); Mary in the Kitchen (Luke 10:38-42); and Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what are the ways of God (Romans 12:2)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children to help them explore how a biblical perspective can be transformative. Connect this idea to how Jesus came into a town and changed the perspective of so many he met. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Big Questions

Picture Book: Life on Mars
Author & Illustrator: Jon Agee
Summary: Alone in his determination to prove life on Mars, 
an astronaut arrives on the planet with a gift of chocolate cupcakes. 
He walks upon the “gloomy” surface,
ready to spy any sign of life. Soon he is spotted 
 and followed, 
but he is oblivious or perhaps his companion is particularly sneaky and shy.
With such a desolate landscape, the astronaut reconsiders his position. “Could anything possibly live here?” 
Hopeless, he decides to go home and drops the gift. 
It is quickly inspected by the Martian. 
 After much wandering and losing his way, 
the astronaut spots a lone flower.  
He picks it to take back to Earth, proof that he was right. 
Soon after, he comes upon his gift, picks it up, and climbs a mountain to seek his spaceship.  
The mountain is unusual in its color, but he doesn't notice.
He finds the spaceship and leaves the planet certain of his success and initial position. 
After blasting toward home, he opens the package believing he is deserving of the cupcakes. 
Hanna’s Comments: Your children in your faith family or at home will love this story. It’s simple, funny, and profound. The illustrations really tell the story so make sure your audience has a clear view. You’ll be surprised how quickly children can step into conversations about proof or lack of proof where God is concerned. Make sure they understand that you are not saying that God is the Martian although there may be ways the Martian is like God (present or  observant, for instance). There’s a lot to interpret here, particularly the thoughts and feelings of the Martian. Belief seems to be the main theme, but it offers an opportunity to explore several theological ideas such as faith, doubt, exploration, certainty, pride, and wisdom. The concept of plunder comes to mind too. For an adult audience, might this book be a parable for those who are oblivious to and disrespectful of the rich and valid theologies of other faiths? Might the flower be symbolic of natural resources as signs of God’s presence? Is this little gift representing the little bit we might offer in exchange for access to something much richer and perhaps not ours to be accessed? All possible directions this fun book can take you and your listeners.  
Original Publisher & Date: Dial Books, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1); for we walk by faith, not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of elementary children, teens, or adults and do some age-appropriate exploring of some of the concepts  and big questions listed above or others you find.  

Friday, June 16, 2017

Do You Have a Shimmery Trail?

Picture Book: Escargot
Author: Dashka Slater
Illustrator: Sydney Hanson 
Summary: Escargot, the snail who narrates and stars in this hilarious book, doesn’t mind you staring at him. 
He knows he is beautiful and he so wants to be your favorite animal.
A race with the reader to the salad (“with a few croutons and a light vinaigrette”) at the end of the book is the tres magnifique plot device,
along with some cleverly placed French phrases. 
The race is slow as Escargot confesses that he doesn’t like to hurry, but if he wants to, he can run like a cheetah, like the wind. 
Escargot knows that when he wins the race to the salad, he is sure to be the reader’s favorite animal, explaining that sadly “no one ever says their favorite animal is a snail.”
Along the way, Escargot encourages compliments, 
offers opportunities for kisses, 
and confesses his disdain for carrots. 
Escargot argues that snails are not slimy. Au contraire! The trails he makes are “shimmery trails of…shimmery stuff.” 
Then he asks, “Do you make a shimmery trail?” 
Escargot explains that he is “quite fierce!” This is the face he makes when confronted with wild lions, boars, or carrots that should not be in his salad. 
Then he asks for a fierce face from the reader.
When reader and snail arrive at the salad, Escargot declares that both are champions and suggests celebrating by eating the salad until...
 the carrots are discovered!
When the carrot doesn't respond to his fierce face, Escargot bargains with the reader to have some carrot too. Then he will try it. He takes a small bite.  
It is delicious! So delicious Escargot eats them all.

Escargot worries that he won't be the reader's favorite animal since he didn't share the carrots. 
C'est la vie, Escargot does not give up. Affirmations and kisses end the story as we finally see the human reader. 
Escargot announces the reader is HIS favorite animal and gives a kiss. Mwah!
Hanna’s Comments: By the end of this book, Escargot very well may be your favorite animal (character). A French accent was so prominent in my head as I silently read this delightful book. If you can, find someone who can pull that off when reading it to your audience for full effect and laughter. My theatrical son has a decent French accent so I loved his reading.
You might say, "Such a silly book could never offer anything for ministry." Au contraire! Besides the desire for loving relationship, which is at the heart of all faith families, you have here a flurry (make that a trickle-this is a snail after all) of affirmations. Affirming someone is a magnifique spiritual practice to teach any faith family. In the middle of this tale, you'll find this marvelous question: “Do you have a shimmery trail?”
Explore that idea with children or adults. Do you affect the world in a positive way? Even bigger, will your life help to bring forth the kind of world God desires? Have fun with those ideas. Want some more? check this out
Original Publisher & Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Abraham and his legacies are blessed to be a blessing (Genesis 12); Learn to do good; see justice; correct oppression; bring justice to the orphan; plead the widow’s cause (Isaiah 1:17); What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)
Idea(s) for Application: Read Escargot’s story and then explore the spiritual practice of affirming others or the idea of leaving “a shimmery trail of shimmery stuff.”