Monday, January 30, 2017

Connections Across Species

Picture Book: The Eye of the Whale: A Rescue Story
Author & Illustrator: Jennifer O’Connell
Summary: This award-winning and true story of a whale rescue is inspiring. A local fisherman discovers a humpback whale tangled in lines from a crab-trap near San Francisco. This is deadly because whales must breathe at the ocean’s surface. 
On shore a ship captain calls in a rescue team of 4 divers. One of them, James, has never been close to a whale and is unsure of what to expect. They hurry to get to the whale, fearing sharks might get to her first. 
When they arrive, they realize she is not able to move. Fortunately she is near the surface, but they must dive in to see the lines. 
Once below the surface, they realize that the lines are cutting her; she is so tangled they will have to get close and cut many times to free her. 
The ship’s captain warns James and the others to be careful of her tale; once it is freed, it is deadly. 
The divers go deep enough and close enough to cut the lines while the huge whale is very still. 
James notices the whale watching everything they do. Once freed, the whale dives deep. Then she comes up for a quick whirl around the divers. 
After disappearing again, she comes right at James 
then nudges him gently. 
Then she does the same to the other 3 divers, making eye contact all the while, before plunging into the ocean and swimming away.
Hanna’s Comments: I am fascinated by connections between animals, particularly mammals. These seem glorious evidence of God’s wondrous creativity and desire for humans to be stewards of the diversity of Earth’s creatures. Yes, the humpback really did circle and then nudge all four divers. The facts about this story and humpback whales are in the back of the book. Be sure to read these so that you can answer your audience’s questions. Then talk about the privilege of communicating with some of God’s many species.
Original Publisher & Date: Tilbury House, 2013
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: So God created the great sea creatures… (Genesis 1:21); Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth? (Job 35:11); the Lord is good to all; the Lord’s mercy is over all that God has made. (Psalm 145:9)
Idea(s) for Application: Children are fascinated by whales. Use this book as the centerpiece to a lesson about God’s creative diversity and our stewardship of the Earth. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Loyalties that Go Beyond Borders

Picture Book: Grandfather’s Journey
Author & Illustrator: Allen Say
Summary: Winner of the 1994 Caldecott Medal, this beautiful story is about an immigrant who comes to the United States as a young man from Japan. 
Fascinated with the American geography, 
American industry, 
America's beauty, 
and people of The United States, 
Grandfather would walk for days just to experience his new country. 
Once settled in California, he returned to Japan to bring home a bride. 
They had a daughter. 
When she was nearly grown, Grandfather missed his homeland so much that his family returned to Japan to live. Then he missed America. 
In Japan, his daughter married and gave birth to the author who loved hearing of Grandfather’s America. 
Grandfather longed to visit America again, but WWII prevented his return.
When the author was nearly grown, he too moved to America.
Quickly he began to understand why Grandfather had loved America so deeply despite missing his homeland of Japan.
Hanna’s Comments: This story is deeply personal, but the grandfather’s emotions are shared by millions of people across the globe whose patriotism includes places beyond their country of origin. I am struck by the people all over the world who participated in The Women’s March. These beyond border connections make our world community more like family. How does this relate to scripture? Consider the loyalty the Jews always have for Jerusalem despite their distance from it. The foreign crowds at Pentecost are proof. How about the Irish? They have a contagious enthusiasm for life and unyielding love for St. Patrick, a man of God all Christians should know well. All over the world seekers find themselves on pilgrimages to spiritual places such as Iona (Scotland), the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), Lordes (France), or The Vatican. These are Christian pilgrimages, but many sacred sites that are not "Christian" still summon a reverence from visitors no matter their spiritual heritage. When sacred sites are destroyed. We all lose. When we have strong relationships with people across oceans, our world is smaller. When we visit another country and see God’s creative diversity, we can be grateful. Our belief in God’s abundance leaves no room for a scarcity model of love, beauty, or loyalty.
Original Publisher & Date: Houghton Mifflin, 1993
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up 
Formats other than Book: Tablet, audio
Scripture Connections: Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people…” (Ruth 1:16); (Jesus) came that we may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10); every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a small group of adults in a lesson about patriotic zeal and connections across borders. Emphasize that our loyalties to multiple countries and their citizens doesn’t divide our allegiance. Instead, the love God instills in us for diverse places and persons demonstrates God’s abundant gifts and our gratitude.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Avoiding Mean Words with Lemons

Picture Book: Never Say a Mean Word Again:                                                A Tale from Medieval Spain
Author: Jacqueline Jules
Illustrator: Durga Yael Bernhard
Summary: This delightful story is about conflict resolution. Two boys live in a castle community. Their social status are different which leads to important dynamics in their relationship.
Samuel is the son of the vizier, a revered advisor to the king. He dresses in fine clothes.
Hamza is the son of a tax collector. He has less status and resents the rich boy. 
Despite innocent intentions, Samuel physically insults Hamza twice in one day. 
Samuel apologizes, but their different social status leads Hamza to believe the insults were intentional. Hamza verbally and publicly insults Samuel. 
The vizier compels his son to take care of the matter and make sure “Hamza never says a mean word to you again.” 
Samuel has a few silly ideas that involve physically preventing Hamza from speaking. 
However, in a series of daily interactions, Samuel’s punishing intentions are misinterpreted and Hamza believes Samuel wants to play. The first day Samuel shows up with a lemon to force feed Hamza. 
Instead, Hamza thinks it is an apologetic laundry remedy and suggests they play ball with the lemon. They do and have great fun.
Their play continues for days, and the boys become close friends. The vizier is pleased because Samuel made sure Hamza never said a mean word to him again.
Hanna’s Comments: I like this story, but I offer a warning. It is easy to confuse the 2 boys. I recommend distinguishing them before you begin reading so their differences are understood at the start of the story. 
Differences include status, dress, economics, & religion - Samuel is Jewish. Hamza is Muslim. This is not in the text but mentioned in the book jacket. There is a detailed Author’s Note in the back that gives you historical context and will help with your discussion. The message here is the benefit of time together to build relationships. 
Differences in politics, religious doctrine, and culture too often divide us. Too often assumptions are made that are unfounded and lessons we can learn from each other are lost or misconstrued.
I believe talking to children about ways to question assumptions, overcome resentment, and bridge divides will make for more functional communities now and in the future. Our world (and our faith communities) desperately need this.
Original Publisher & Date: World Wisdom Inc, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections:  The jealous relationship between Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37 offers some biblical grounding to this story. AND Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its way; it’s not irritable or resentful (1 Corinthians 13: 4b, 5); Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32); For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder (James 3:16)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children or youth in your faith family in a lesson on jealousy, kindness, friendship, or forgiveness. Consider making a game of throwing lemons and then making lemonade together. Explain the saying “making lemonade from lemons.”

Friday, January 20, 2017

PBT Redux Series #7 - When Marian Sang

Today I feature a beautiful story about an important moment in American history. This book is the 7th in my PBT Redux series in which I again offer a gem from my previous postings. A treasure that no one should miss, this version of Marian Anderson's story offers much potential for ministry and conversation in homes and schools where spiritual values can be tied to important historical achievements.
Picture Book: When Marian Sang
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
Summary: This is the true story of Marian Anderson’s rise to world-wide fame as an opera singer and civil rights symbol. It highlights the events leading to the historic 1939 concert at The Lincoln Memorial where 75,000 people witnessed a glorious act of civil rights. The Daughters of the American Revolution would not allow Anderson to sing in Constitution Hall, despite her success in Europe. Instead she sang My Country, 'Tis of Thee for the world at the feet of the author of the Emancipation Proclamation. The story begins with her childhood in which many are astonished by the 8-year-old's striking contralto voice. As she faces the segregation and prejudice of her time, her talent and determined passion shine through. The book ends, after the famous concert, as Marian realizes her dream of performing on the stage of The Metropolitan Opera. 
Hanna’s Comments: Although racial discrimination is an important part of this story, the book also highlights Marian Anderson's discovery, at an early age, of her God-given talent and her vocation. The author deftly explains the perseverance and courage necessary for Marian to succeed so early, at such a high level, and within a segregated United States. See the author's historical note in the back for more details. The story beautifully connects with the Parable of the Talents in the New Testament. I have written a lesson for elementary-aged children that does just that. Contact me at if you are interested in purchasing it for $4. A video demonstration of me reading this book to a group of children during Sunday school can be found at Other Resources by Hanna tab above.  
Original Publisher & Date: Scholastic, 2002
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Available in Spanish? Not at present
Formats other than Book: Audio CD, A video of the 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert is on the internet.
Scripture Connections: Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30); diversity in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12); What does God require of you but to do justice... (Micah 6:8)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book in a lesson for children or teens on valuing God-given talents or realizing vocations. OR Use this book to explore how social injustice can prevent God's children from using their talents for good.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Words from MLK, Jr.

Picture Book: Martin’s Big Words
Author: Doreen Rappaport
Illustrator: Bryan Collier
Summary: This big picture book begins explaining the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by considering his confusion when exposed to “White Only” signs. 
His mother reassures her son with, “You are as good as anyone.” At church, MLK, Jr. is exposed to big words, through his father’s preaching and the Bible. 
Martin hopes to learn these big words when he grows up. Some of his words (and big ideas) are highlighted in this book. As an adult, Martin studies Ghandi’s Indian movement and learns more big words about saying ‘love’ when others say ‘hate.’ 
When Rosa Park’s courage begins the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Martin walks and talks with those who protest. 
He is convinced that “love is the key to the world’s problems” even when he is threatened and his home is bombed. 
Other milestones include his speech at The March on Washington and winning The Nobel Peace Prize
The book spans to his death in Memphis.
Hanna’s Comments: I like this biography of MLK, Jr. because it’s big, so it’s easy to share. Many ideas are simple and it emphasizes the influence of church. 
The illustrations are also very striking. Important Dates in MLK’s life are listed in the back as well as Additional Books and Websites. There are many excellent books about Dr. King. Some are for older children, like the one I featured at PBT [here] and in my new eBook, 25 Books about Justice. Access a sample of that eBook via a tab above. Other books focus on specific events in his life such as Kadir Nelson’s illustration of King’s I Have a Dream speech. It’s recommended for age 7 and up. [Here's] Amazon’s page for purchasing that book.
Original Publisher & Date: Hyperion, 2001
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Audio
Scripture Connections: Let justice roll down like waters… (Amos 5:24); …do justice, love kindness… (Micah 6:8); greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13); let all you do be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14); a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:18); or use scriptures that MLK used in his speeches
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children or teens in your faith family or at a private school or homeschool to emphasize how Martin’s faith inspired his courageous work for social justice.