Friday, December 29, 2017

PBT Redux #17 Squirrel's New Year's Resolution

Picture Book: Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution
Author: Pat Miller
Illustrator: Kathi Ember
Summary: Squirrel hears about making a New Year’s Resolution on the radio, but she doesn’t know what that means so she asks Bear. Bear explains that a resolution is “a promise you make to yourself to be better or to help others. When we begin a new year, we make a fresh start.” Squirrel is intrigued. As she visits with her friends throughout the morning, she hears of their resolutions and helps them in their endeavors. When her friends are gathered at the diner for lunch, Squirrel is frustrated because all her friends have made New Year’s resolutions, but she has not. After realizing how helpful Squirrel has been to her friends all day, Rabbit suggests that Squirrel has already begun a wonderful resolution: To help someone every day. Squirrel agrees and predicts that it is going to be a very happy year.
Hanna’s Comments: The concept of making resolutions can be very confusing for young children. This story will offer a faith community, private school classroom, or homeschool group an opportunity to explore making resolutions for the new year. You may want to expand the concept to making a promise to God as well as self. Explain how God hopes we will continually develop our godly inclinations and expand righteous behaviors, especially those that benefit others. In the United Methodist Church, we call this moving on to perfection as well as what other denominations call this process: developing holy habits, growing discipleship, and/or spiritual formation. 
If you are hoping for deeper spiritual formation this year, may I suggest The Academy for Spiritual Formation, an international ecumenical retreat program (2 year or 5 day) designed for spiritually hungry people (lay people or church staff). There are 3 general components: academic learning, spiritual disciplines, and meaningful community. PBT is the result of my 2 year Academy. For that experience, I am forever grateful!
Publisher & Date of Publication: Whitman Books, 2010
Age & Grade Appropriateness:  5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The Lord is a shield to those who walk in integrity… Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path. (Proverbs 2:5); pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22); let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4); whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him. (1 John 2:5).
Idea(s) for Application: 
Use this book to help children in your faith community understand the concept of resolutions and how they can encourage us to become more godly in our thoughts and behaviors. Be sure to offer suggestions of simple ways your children could do this throughout the new year. Follow up with encouragement as the year progresses including sharing how you are doing with your own resolution.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Favorite PBT Post for Christmas Day

Storytelling: An Option for Excellence
Typically at PBT, I suggest that you read to your audience. However, there are times when that method isn’t practical such as when a book is wordless and detailed illustrations are key to understanding. If you find such a book that has an excellent story, take the time to learn it well enough to tell. Your audience benefits, and your storytelling skills are improved. Everyone loves to be told an excellent story!
Since I’m breaking with my usual practice and offering sacred stories this December holiday season, I’ll tell you of my favorite Christmas picture book! It is a sacred story involving a small figures in a crèche who come alive to aid a poor and elderly woman. Tell the story since the book is wordless and some illustrations are in small frames, but you must share those clever and funny illustrations afterwards (not before – the surprise will be ruined). As always, having multiple copies of the book is beneficial but not necessary.
Picture Book: A Small Miracle
Author & Illustrator: Peter Collington
Summary: An old woman journeys in the snow to a nearby town to play her organ for coins since she woke to no coins or food in her small trailer. Earning no coins, at day’s end, she reluctantly sells her beloved organ to an antiques dealer. She comes out of the shop and is robbed. While walking home, she discovers the robber as he exits the church, charity bucket in hand. 
She grabs the bucket and hurries inside where she finds the scattered crèche. She lovingly replaces the figures and bucket (funds too). 
Hungry and frail, she collapses in the snow on her way home. 
The crèche figures come alive and rescue her. Amazingly, they carry her unconscious body home. 
Mary and the babe stay beside her while the others venture out to solve the woman’s problems. 
The Magi use the charity funds to purchase her organ and some groceries. 
They return and prepare a feast. Joseph gets a Christmas tree and repairs her wooden trailer. He is a carpenter after all! A shepherd retrieves her funds from the robber (not sure how this happens!) and decorates the tree.
The figures leave and the lady awakes. 
The story ends with puzzled but resounding rejoicing. 
Hanna’s Comments: As you can see, my summary above fails to convey the hilarity of the illustrations. Because the crèche figures don’t change size, the irony of their abilities is comical. Once before on PBT, I offered a wordless book, Flood by Villa. I posted about it because it is a beautiful story of a family’s survival during a flood (an all too common occurrence) which has obvious connections to the biblical flood. Find that post [here].
Original Publisher & Date: Knopf, 1997
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Stories involving characters of The Nativity are early in the gospels of Matthew and Luke; Mary’s declarations against poverty in her Magnificat (Luke 1:44-55)
Idea(s) for Application: Tell the story of this book to a group of children in your faith family who are exploring themes of poverty during the Advent or Christmas seasons. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

December Holiday Books 10, 11, and 12

If you are in ministry, then today I’m giving you a holiday gift. I hope it blesses you in the years to come. In this post, I’ll offer one of the simplest approaches to a successful PBT lesson.
The three books that conclude this December holiday series are all simple enough for very young children, but each has the potential to be the center of a meaningful lesson for older children, teens, or adults. 
Before reading one of these books to your audience, give this simple instruction: As I am reading, imagine you are the main character.
Suddenly, what might have been viewed as a shallow book for toddlers or preschoolers, is an opportunity to step into a personal story of faith. Here’s another little trick. Before reading, tell your audience that no verbal sharing is required. This dissolves the anxiety that true vulnerability brings while freeing them to dig deeply and personally into their thoughts during the story. 
After reading, offer some silence for reflection, just a minute or two. Then some folks will likely share their thoughts in response to questions you've prepared, but expect many to just listen. A quiet response to a picture book can be a very good sign that its story was particularly meaningful. My comments below will explore what might be the responses to these three picture books. 
 Picture Book: The Christmas Fox
Author & Illustrator: Anik McGrory
Summary: Throughout this delightful story, Fox is encouraged to come see a baby who will arrive soon. First Woodpecker says to come for there's work to be done and news to tell.
But fox would rather dance with the snowflakes. 
Cow has hay to help make the baby warm.
Fox is distracted by splashing in the stream. 
Lamb has cozy wool and encourages Fox to come.
Rolling in the snow is much more fun! 
Bluebird wants help singing the baby to sleep. 
Fox isn't interested in gifts or work, not when pouncing can be done! 
Suddenly a star announces brightly that there is light to shine. Just as suddenly Fox realizes, he has no gift to bring, no song to sing, no light to shine. 
Nevertheless, Fox is lured toward the stable where Donkey greets with assurance. "Just come. It is enough." 
Fox tentatively steps inside and finds the babe who responds with joy, 
a smile of delight once Fox is present. 
The story ends with contentment that Fox's presence mattered. 
Hanna’s Comments: Encourage your audience to consider their personal distractions during Advent. Perhaps someone will realize that frantic shopping is never a good substitute for the truest gifts of the season: love, peace, and our presence before The Holy so that Jesus can delight in us.
Original Publisher & Date: Knopf, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The nativity stories are found in the gospels of Matthew and Luke.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults to encourage them to "show up" during Advent. There is work to be done to prepare the way of The Lord.

 Picture Book: Penguin’s Christmas Wish
Author & Illustrator: Salina Yoon
Summary: Pumpkin, who lives on the ice with Penguin, wishes for a Christmas tree. 
Penguin knows just what to do... visit his friend, Pinecone, who he took to the forest far from the ice. Grandpa and Bootsy come along and help carry the makings of a fun Christmas. 
When they arrive, Penguin is surprised by Pinecone's transformation. Pinecone is huge!
The travelers decorate Pinecone perfectly for Christmas. 
That night, Christmas wishes are shared: Something useful, something to play with, and something crafty. Penguin's wish is to share Christmas with the whole forest but alas, this small group seems to be alone. 
A blizzard comes while they are sleeping, and they wake to a surprise on Christmas morning.
 The decorations and presents are gone! 
Pumpkin is particularly upset so Grandpa offers wisdom: The true joy of Christmas is being with those we love. 
Remembering the wishes his friends hoped for, Penguin searches for possibilities
and finds simple branches that are the perfect gift for everyone. 
Two sticks are great for fishing and time together. How useful!
Bootsy is a knitter so she now has sticks to knit each tree a trunk cozy, a crafty surprise! And Pumpkin's sticks lead to some fun drumming. 
Penguin fulfills everyone’s wish but his own. 
Soon the sun begins melting the snow. 
The dripping snow slowly reveals a beautiful surprise. 
Ornaments were not blown away. they were scattered onto the surrounding trees.  
Evening reveals the magic of Christmas lighting the forest. As Pumpkin puts a finishing touch onto Pinecone, new creatures gather. 
Penguin realizes his Christmas wish has come true after all. Penguin did share Christmas with new friends, family, and the whole forest. 
Hanna’s Comments: Salina Yoon’s Penguin series is a delight, a little weird and a lot loving. In her first book, Penguin finds a friend in Pinecone, wraps him with a scarf, and then realizes Pinecone must be taken to a warmer climate to thrive, hence the journey in this story. This is a board book, but it comes in standard size too. Encourage your audience to consider what they really want for Christmas and how they respond when their true Christmas wishes are not received or when those they love are sad at Christmas.
Original Publisher & Date: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Age & Grade Appropriateness: Bloombury, 2017
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Grandpa’s wisdom is the scripture connection here. Connect this story to any scripture that emphasizes time with those we love. 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of older elementary children and talk about the things that matter most for them at Christmas and how they react to disappointment or sadness in December.

 Picture Book: A Christmas Tree for Pyn
Author & Illustrator: Olivier Dunrea
Summary: Tiny Pyn is devoted to the care and keeping of her hard, bear of a father. 
Every morning she makes the mountain man breakfast and sees that their cabin and a bowl of soup is warm for him when he returns home. 
When she calls him Papa, he always responds gruffly, "My name is Oother." 
Oother loves little Pyn. She is so like her mother who is absent from the story and presumed dead. Despite his love, Oother refuses when Pyn pleads for her first Christmas tree. Pyn has seen a beautiful Christmas tree in the village and knows it will be exactly what their little cottage needs. 
Despite her father’s refusal, Pyn sets out on her own to get a tree. She puts on her outdoor clothes that she can barely see and move in, but that doesn't stop her. The going is rough in the deep snow for a tiny girl. Before long, she is buried. 
Soon Oother scoops up Pyn and asks what she is doing in the cold with a storm coming, Pyn explains that she was going to surprise him with a Christmas tree. 
After trudging through the snow, they come upon a grove of fir trees. Pyn is delighted and spies the perfect tree for them. 
Once they get it back to the cottage, Oother has the tree standing tall. He declares that Pyn has her Christmas tree and thinks the deed is done. 
Pyn rushes to collect the tree decorations; she's been collecting and protecting these treasures all year. 
She spreads them before her father: nests of all kinds, acorns, and a beautiful variety feathers. She begins stringing berries while Oother watches her delight. 
Then Oother holds his tiny daughter so that she can hang her treasures high and all around. Oother is moved by his daughter's artistry and the tree's beauty. He remembers something. He disappears and then returns after wrapping a gift for Pyn. 
When Pyn beholds the bright feathered bird, she is puzzled by the surprise. Oother explains that he made it for Pyn's mother. Pyn is thrilled by it's beauty and has her father help her place it at the top of the tree.  
Pyn is thrilled by the exotic bird's beauty and has her father help her place it at the top of the tree. Together they gaze at the tree and for the first time, Oother insists that grateful Pyn call him Papa. 
The book ends with this loving image.
Hanna’s Comments: This little book has lingered with me throughout Advent. Perhaps because I love a few people who tend to be gruff this time of year. The season does not sit well with them. Perhaps you know some Oothers too. Pyn's desire and determination to have this meaningful ritual speaks to everyone's longing for meaning and beauty. She just might soften the hearts of some Oothers who hear this story. Note: The book version is rare and expensive according to Amazon. Let’s hope it gets published again. The tablet version is reasonably priced. Fortunately, my local library had a copy. Maybe yours will too.
Original Publisher & Date: Philomel, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Any scripture about God’s unconditional love, any scripture about serving others or generosity, and any scripture about wisdom
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults and talk about how difficult Advent and Christmas are for some people and how we can best respond to them with empathy while holding on to the rituals we find meaningful.