Monday, September 18, 2017

No More Fruit?

Picture Book: Little Apple Goat
Author & Illustrator: Caroline Jayne Church 
Summary: In this story, an ordinary goat has quite an extraordinary appetite
Wednesday's laundry isn't appetizing to her. 
Instead she loves fruit! Each autumn, Little Apple Goat patiently waits for fruit to fall before she munches and munches. 
Any fruit will do: cherries, pears, and especially apples. 
For years, Little Apple Goat spits the pits and seeds over the hedge on her way home from the orchard
On one particular day, the breeze is strong. 
It picks up to a bluster, and then a storm, a terrible storm. 
The animals gather in their barn, huddled together while watching and hearing the terrible wind. 
Once it's safe, Little Apple Goat hurries to see her beloved fruit trees. 
Every tree is destroyed! 
As the farmer cuts and drags debris away, the animals are sad. They agree that the farm "just won't be the same without the orchard." 
When winter comes, Little Apple Goat thinks how the logs from the orchard trees are keeping the farmer warm. 
Spring comes, and Little Apple Goat notices blossoms peeking out over the hedge. She wonders about them. 
"Then one Autumn" the fruit trees are back. Along with them is their yummy fruit. The animals wonder who could have planted all the new fruit trees. 
The reader knows who!
Hanna’s Comments: Recently I’ve heard several radio stories about the destruction of fruit crops in Florida because of Hurricane Irma. This book seems perfect for children or families in congregations who have experienced the destruction of recent hurricanes because it offers a comforting long view, a hopeful view that seeds (all sorts of seeds) are already planted for their recovery. Also, fruit is coming - sweet, juicy fruit, and the fruit we see in the Fruit of the Spirit. Picture books are a non-threatening and comforting tool for difficult subjects, even for adults. Having a faith orientation that helps with this kind of hope builds resilience and sustains in the difficult work and wait ahead. Read this book to other groups as well because we all suffer through disasters or tragedies at times and need to lean on our faithful hope to wait and endure. Seeds are planted without us knowing.  
Original Publisher & Date: Eerdmans, 2007
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: They who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength… (Isaiah 40:31); Behold, for I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19); For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11); Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation… Romans 12:12); What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. (1 Corinthians 15: 36); the Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in your faith family and talk about recent natural disasters. Help the children view those negative consequences with hope that is found in their faith. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

PBT Stories #4: Singing Our Faith

A favorite memory at my church happened when I taught Music Play. It was time to demonstrate what the children were learning in a worship service. I had about 12 children (all post high school now!) standing across the front ready to sing and do their motions with great enthusiasm. 

Suddenly, I felt terribly privileged. I had the opportunity to teach these children songs that could spiritually ground their faith for a lifetime. They sang lyrics like…
My God is so great
So strong and so mighty
There’s nothing my God cannot do.
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be terrified.
Do not be discouraged
For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.
O God, you are my God
And I will ever praise you….
I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in your ways.
And step by step you’ll lead me.
And I will follow you all of my days.

My children still remember many of these song. I hope their memories will serve them well as they face adulthood.

At present, I’m writing a Sunday school curriculum for our children (age 1 through 5). It is called Trinity Treasures and is tied to The Revised Common Lectionary. Lessons use picture books, readings from particular children's Bibles, and activities to learn more about a key idea or story from the Bible. Yesterday I wrote a lesson for October 22. The Trinity Idea for that lesson is

No one is like God. With your special voice, sing praise songs to God. 

Again, I'm privileged to encourage our children to understand the importance of singing praise to God. 

Today's post is pulled from PBT archives of my first year in which I posted about a new PBT book every day. Your children will love this story about an African girl who wants to find out what to do with all of her happiness. After seeing the many ways her family members show joy, she finds her own special way. I be you can guess what she does! 
Picture Book: Anna Hibiscus’ Song
Author: Atinuke
Illustrator: Lauren Tobia
Summary: Anna Hibiscus is an African child who loves to sit in a mango tree and watch her extended family in their daily tasks. She becomes so happy she doesn’t know what to do with her joy. She comes down and begins asking a series of relatives how she might express her happiness. Each of them has a suggestion (counting the reasons why she’s happy, dancing, tumbling, whispering in an ear “I love you”…) all of which she tries, but her happiness only grows. After her mother confesses to sitting quietly when happy, Anna Hibiscus settles into her mango tree again, but she is still about to burst with happiness. Then the birds inspire her to open her mouth wide and sing. Oh how she sings!   
Hanna’s Comments: Besides the overall delight of this picture book, I especially like the way the love of these extended family members shines through. Also, I am always glad to see various skin colors in picture books. Lauren Tobia has chosen to give us a bi-racial Anna Hibiscus. Anna’s mother appears light-skinned. Anytime book illustrators offer non-white characters, especially protagonists, their offerings are especially appreciated by those of us who hope to see more diverse characters in children’s books. Note and Helpful Hint: There are several Anna Hibiscus books. Some are picture books and some are early chapter books. If you are looking on-line, you can usually tell this by the photo of the book. Picture books are usually more square than chapter books.
Original Publisher & Date: Kane Miller, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Let us sing to the Lord (Psalm 95:1); O Lord, You are my God. I will exalt you and praise your name. (Isaiah 25:1); Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4)
Idea(s) for Application: The concept of worship is often difficult for children to understand. This book offers a wonderful demonstration of why and how we worship God in various ways. Sometimes praise and thanksgiving to God is the most natural human response we can make. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

Mindfulness, Resilience, & Spiritual Growth

Many are hurting today because of grief, fear, destruction, displacement, violence from storms, and violence from humans. This post is a reminder that even in the worst of circumstances, resilience has us clinging to hope found in the grace and gifts of every moment, particularly prayer and community. My prayer is that this book is a small reminder to pay attention to the love of God, a love that is never separated from us. 
Picture Book: Now
Author & Illustrator:  Antoinette Portis
Summary: Like the Portis book featured on Friday, bright images capture the joy of a moment, this time for a young girl who has many favorites: a favorite breeze, 
a favorite leaf, 
 a favorite hole,  
 even favorite mud. 
Then she explains the reason why. This cloud is her favorite because it is the one she is watching now.
Now is key, not just the title of the book. Even rain is enjoyed because this wise girl is able to glory in the present moment  
using her body & senses to fully experience the world. 
She squeezes out of her experiences gratitude that promotes mental health and an ever increasing capacity to pay attention to what is good in our world.
Her delight grounds her in the mantra that I've been told is a key to my spiritual growth, "Be here now." 
Her spontaneity and joy would be a welcome "witness" to a faith family wanting basic spiritual practices 
and reminders of grounding scripture such as O taste and see that the Lord is good. (Ps. 34:8a). 
 Naturally, this kind of enthusiasm can be contagious, 
affecting people (animals too!) throughout a community learning to revel in all that is good in God's creation. 
Look around. Is this your favorite now simply because you are alive?
Do you see beauty? Can you find a bit of God's grace?
Perhaps you are having this precious moment with the ones you love most. If so, savor now and be thankful.
Hanna’s Comments: The girl in this book has a knack for mindfulness and an on-going sense of joy and gratitude. Mindfulness, as defined by The American Psychological Association (APA), is “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience." Add to it a sense of gratitude and enthusiasm for life such as this young girl demonstrates and you have a faith response, a sort of active meditation or prayer. The APA lists the benefits of mindfulness meditation: reduced rumination (repeated thoughts), stress reduction (less anxiety & depression), improved short-term memory, heightened focus & attention, less emotional reactivity, greater cognitive flexibility, and more relationship satisfaction. Check out details [here] or explore mindfulness through one of the many books for adults or children at your library. For a thoroughly spiritual angle, read Brother Lawrence's classic book The Practice of the Presence of God. [Here's] an Amazon link.
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: O taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34:8a). Delight yourself in the Lord and receive the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4); A joyful heart is good medicine (Proverbs 17:22); Nothing can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:38-39); Rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children or adults and talk about the spiritual and health benefits of mindfulness and how it relates to grateful prayer, mental health, and resilience. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

For Josiah, A Prayer for Savoring

Today is my son Josiah’s first full day of college. This book reminds me of him. I hurried along, tugging on his little arm too often. I wish I had let him show me more of God’s joys along our routes. Today my prayer for Josiah is that he savors his precious college experiences. My prayer for you is for less rushing and more savoring of the goodness the Lord gives us everyday. 
Picture Book: Wait
Author & Illustrator:  Antoinette Portis
Summary: Throughout these pages, a young son and his mother hurry through a cityscape. 
He is dragged along by a mama intent on going somewhere. Now and then she pauses for him to fully experience what he sees. 
But then she hurries him along.
He is friendly with fascinating strangers
and lends a hand to feed birds as his mom rushes farther. 
He longs for something sweet, 
but alas, his mom pulls him along. 
He manages to stop at a pet store window, delighted by God's creatures, but he is allowed only a moment. 
He cleverly notices possibilities few would see, 
savoring with touch and amazement. 
Rain comes, but he doesn't mind, more to feel and taste! 
The hurrying continues, and now mom must contend with umbrellas and slippery steps. 
Eventually, they near their destination, a bus for the next leg of their journey.  
But this time, the boy is determined his mom won't miss the best gift of the morning.
And again, she listens to his pleas to savor, 
and is glad she did.
Hanna’s Comments: Have you noticed the number of books for children and adults on mindfulness? This is partially due to the health benefits of slowing down and savoring with practices like mindfulness. Science also shows that we harm our bodies and mental health when we don't take the time to savor and truly experience each day. With three simple words, this illustrator offers a lesson in savoring the day, mindfulness in motion. People of faith can take a deeper step by offering prayers of gratitude for simple joys along the way. Let this picture book begin a conversation with children or adults about all the daily evidence of the Lord's goodness and how contemplation of those joys makes for a better day by grounding us in God's gifts. My next PBT post will be a similar book by Portis entitled Now where I'll explore more about the practice of mindfulness.
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Oh taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8a); Delight yourself in the Lord... (Psalm 37:4); They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31); Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2); Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to small group of adults and explore how to increase mindfulness and gratitude for better health, more meaning, and gratitude to God.