Friday, June 30, 2017

A More Scientific Creation Story

Picture Book: Older Than the Stars
Author: Karen C. Fox
Illustrator: Nancy Davis
Summary: Written similar to The House That Jack Built, an old cumulative rhyme, the phrasing in the central text of this picture book repeats and builds rhythmically. Below I give the entire cumulative rhyme. On each page there is a more detailed section of text to help with understanding. That's what I'm mostly summarizing here. The key idea in this beautiful picture book is that every one of us (every bit of us) was created in The Big Bang. 
Billions of years ago, our universe began very small, but immediately it began expanding “like the fastest growing bubble ever.”
Small bits called protons, neutrons, and electrons began buzzing about “like a bunch of bees.” 
Once the bits started “bumping into each other” and forming atoms, the building blocks of our universe were being formed.  
Helium and hydrogen were formed first so giant gas clouds (“puffs”) spun from those building blocks to make stars. 
These stars eventually died and formed supernovas, exploding to further distances and allowing their atoms to form new metals along with new stars. 
As one particular cloud “flattened out like a giant plate” our star was born. 
Other stuff began to collide “in dusty clumps,” becoming planets. 
Over time on our planet, atoms came together to form tiny living creatures which evolved to be bigger and more complex. 
These plants and animals were all made from that same atomic stuff and when those living things died their stuff was released to provide for future life on our planet. About 600,000 years ago the human animal appeared. Then humans had children again and again. 
"You are one of these children, descended from the first humans," perhaps from the same atoms that "formed stars long ago and far away."
Here's the ending cumulative rhyme:
These are the people just like you
Who live with the plants and animals, too,
That grow on the planet green and blue
That circles the sun, our daily view,
That was born from the dust, so old and new,
Thrown from the blast intense enough
To hurl the atoms so strong and tough
That formed in the star of red-hot stuff
That burst from the gas in a giant puff
That spun from the blocks
That formed from the bits
That were born in the bang
When the world began.
Hanna’s Comments: I offer this book to those in ministry who would like to have a more scientific framework to approach the concept of creation and Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I learned to appreciate those poems all the more after viewing Rob Bell’s video Everything is Spiritual. He did a 2nd version of this presentation in 2016 that is also on Youtube, but it was the 1st version which I found so amazing. Check it out [here]. Thanks to the concrete phrasing in this picture book (see several quotes above), the incredibly complicated phenomenon of The Big Bang as the origin of our universe is understandable to children and adults like me who are not scientifically inclined. If you are looking for a book about evolution that is for young children, I highly recommend Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Tweet & Lewis. [Here’s] the Amazon link. It also has very accessible information in the back to help you understand evolution at a level more complicated than the text of the story. 
Original Publisher & Date: Charlesbridge, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: None at present 
Scripture Connections: Genesis 1 & 2
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children when wanting to pair a more scientific approach to creation with the poetry of Genesis 1 and 2.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Touching Conversations

Picture Book: God Made All of Me:                                                                A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies
Author: Justin S. & Lindsay A. Holcomb
Illustrator: Trish Mahoney
Summary: This book begins with praise from 10 psychologists, child advocates, and theologians. Next comes a detailed letter to parents explaining the importance of the message inside. Here’s a startling fact:
 Scripture is sprinkled throughout the pages.
A story begins within the context of a traditional family with 2 very inquisitive children whose questions will encourage questions from the listeners. 
It seems the older child is very comfortable with these messages and has likely heard them before. This conversation is for the younger sister. 
Here’s the heart of the message which you’ll find in the letter to parents:
God made all of you. Every part of your body is good, and some parts are private. He made the parts of your body that other people see every day, and he made your private parts. Every part is good because God made every part and called them all good. 
I especially like the less significant message that says if you don’t want to be touched (even via a hug from a relative), that’s your choice. It should be respected.  
If you are touched anyway, tell parents, teachers, or doctors. When the child responds that these people are sometimes too busy, the children are instructed to "keep asking for help." 
Subjects like bath time and doctor visits are discussed. Anatomically correct names for body parts are used.  
The children are warned about several ploys that abusers often use. They are told that rewards and games should never be a part of touching or showing private parts. Secrets are never a good situation. 
Because this family doesn’t keep secrets, the parents explain that they should be told immediately if anyone asks the children to keep a secret. Secrets are distinguished from surprises, two easily confused concepts.
The last section is a list of 9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse. The book is dedicated to Grace, an organization of professionals that provides abuse prevention training and other services. 
Hanna’s Comments: This book is designed for parents to read to 2-8 year olds and is a tool for beginning and continuing conversations and questions about sexual abuse. Typically, I feature books to read in ministry. Today I’m offering a book for those who do children’s ministry (whether ordained or not) to have handy to pass on to parents to read with their children. 
This book isn't designed for those times when a question of sexual abuse arises. Instead it is for your children’s protection from and empowerment in sexually inappropriate situations. These conversations are best done in a loving, non-threatening home and at the doctor’s office. 
If a reading is going to happen at your place of worship, parental involvement in planning is crucial. Make sure parents have read the book beforehand. I recommend having them help design the program and make all parents welcome. If parents in your faith family are suspected of such behavior, then you must report your concerns to the appropriate government authorities
Whoever reads this book should feel welcome to substitute gender-neutral words for God. I typically use Post-it notes to make such changes before reading. It is crucial that these conversations reflect your theological beliefs and spiritual values and your children feel positive about God. 
Original Publisher & Date: New Growth Press, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Digital
Scripture Connections: God created human beings in God’s own image and called us good (Genesis 1 & 2)
Idea(s) for Application: Loan or give this book to parents in your faith family when they want to have a conversation with young children that will protect and empower them should they encounter inappropriate sexual advances or contact. 

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.