Friday, November 17, 2017

What a Woodsy Thanksgiving!

This next week in the USA, we celebrate Thanksgiving so I'm featuring a new picture book that describes the 20-year Thanksgiving tradition of a family in New York State in which over 200 friends and family are invited to celebrate in the woods.  
Picture Book: Thanksgiving in the Woods
Author: Phyllis Alsdurf
Illustrator: Jenny Lovlie
Summary: From the point of view of a young boy, this story builds with emotion as he prepares for the Thanksgiving tradition his grandparents have established.
His parents are excited too. Everyone gathers their outdoor clothes, some musical instruments, and treasures that make the season's rituals all the more pleasing. 
They drive a long way and finally meet up with Grandpa. 
The grandson climbs into the cab, and they're on their way to set-up for the feast and fun. 
They arrive at a clearing where cousins, aunts, and uncles are already busy preparing for the crowd to come. 
Bales of straw and wooden planks for makeshift tables are unloaded. A bonfire is prepared for lighting. 
The family gathers for a quick breakfast the next morning, anxious to get to the woods. 
Upon arrival, the kids start scrambling for kindling. Everyone needs to help with the preparations. 
A tractor arrives with a stately pair of grandparents in tow along with some other guests and pots loaded with foods for the feast. 
Hundreds of folks begin arriving with more food and a spirit of gratitude and anticipation. 
When the time is just right, all gather and sing the song Simple Gifts
Plates are piled high. 
The children have built a special fort for their own smaller Thanksgiving in the woods. 
The festivities end with a huge circle of singing around a warm bonfire. The young narrator joins in with his recorder. 
Marshmallows are roasted amid the glow of the smokey fire. Yum! 
The days' experiences linger as the evening comes to a close. Folks pack their gear and head to nearby cars or homes. 
From atop Daddy's shoulders, the boy and his immediate family make their way back to his grandparents' house, full of good food and marvelous memories. 
From behind he hears a few voices around the fire still.
'Tis the gift to be simple.
'Tis the gift to be free.
'Tis the gift to come down 
where you ought to be. 
It's a perfect ending to a woodsy Thanksgiving tradition. 
Hanna’s Comments: This is a secular view of an annual holiday that is grounded in faith for so many. It's a celebration of community, hospitality, and joyful feasting which are all important rituals and sacred practices in most faith communities. The song that is sung is an old Shaker hymn. The score for "Simple Gifts" is included in the back. 
Original Publisher & Date: Sparkhouse Family, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: I will give to The Lord the thanks due for The Lord’s righteousness… (Psalm 7:17); Give thanks to The Lord for The Lord is good… (Psalm 107:1); They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42); Let us consider how to stir up one another in love and good works, not neglecting to meet together… (Hebrews 10: 24); Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book as a Thanksgiving treat for your faith family.

Monday, November 13, 2017

PBT Techniques - DANCE!

Sometimes we make creating a lesson for children harder than it has to be. Children express God’s joy with their bodies more readily than we adults. Swallow your pride and plan to dance at the end of a lesson. Choose a joyful song (video or audio). Once the PBT book is read and all the necessary words of the lesson are spoken, invite the children to stand with you and clear the space. Start the music and DANCE! Show them how you can dance joyfully to The Lord! Psalm 149 and 150 mention dancing for The Lord with tambourines so consider adding a little instrumentation. What fun! It might become a ritual that keeps your kids coming back for more.

Here’s a former PBT post of a great book that’s perfect for this kind of joyful lesson wrap-up. You can choose to use Bob Marley’s song, but I like the video I’ve linked for you. It’s great fun with a similar theme and lyrics that make more sense to children than Marley’s song:
Bring the Beat [video]
Picture Book: One Love:                                                                                              Based on the Song by Bob Marley
Adapted by: Cedella Marley
Illustrator: Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Summary: Bob Marley’s oldest daughter offers this adaptation of one of her father’s most beloved songs. Though the words of the book do not conform to the lyrics of the Bob Marley recording, the simpler text & fun illustrations offer a meaningful message of joy and hope as a young girl convinces a group in her community to transform it into a more beautiful space.
Hanna’s Comments: Singing along with the book may not be possible, but you can read the book, talk about how your community might be transformed, and then everyone can dance to the reggae tune. The original lyrics have some Christian references, but they are hard to understand and will likely be ignored by children. A skilled musician might be able to adapt the book’s text to a tune comparable to the original. This book is all about making connections with one another and nature so it’s a perfect PBT book.
Original Date & Publication: Chronicle Books, 2011
Age and Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up     
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Love is patient and kind (1st Corinthians 13: 4-8); Let all you do be done in love. (1 Corinthians 16:14); Put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book as part of a children’s celebration after they take part in beautification activities or simply doing some cleaning and picking up litter on the campus of your faith family.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bullying Happens!

I've been thinking about bullying these days. There are too many news stories of people in power and their bullying ways. It would be nice if this was never an issue in faith communities or religious schools, but it is. We are comfortable talking about the importance of hospitality, but addressing dysfunctional power dynamics is more difficult and perhaps more important. Picture books are a great tool for difficult subjects. Yes, bullying happens, even among those who talk a lot about God, but what better place to explore the idea that we are all equally God's beloved children, even the bullies.
Picture Book: The Recess Queen
Author: Alexis O’Neill
Illustrator: Laura Huliska-Beith
Summary:  The title character in this original take on bullying is Mean Jean. No one gets to swing or kick or bounce until after Mean Jean. 
If anyone tries, she gets physical. Mean Jean growls 
and howls when there are complaints.
Then new student teeny, tiny Katie Sue arrives. 
No one warns Katie Sue about Mean Jean so Katie Sue swings, kicks, and jumps with abandon. 
The other kids are amazed! Mean Jean is furious. She charges through the playground, grabs Katie Sue, and explains her rules. 
What does Katie Sue do? She talks back! "How did you get so bossy?" Then she continues her play. 
Mean Jean becomes even more furious and chases after Katie Sue. The children continue to be riveted. 
Then Katie Sue pulls out of her backpack a jump rope and invites Jean to play. 
Jean is as shocked as the rest of the children. No one has ever dared ask Jean to play! 
So Katie Sue jumps while rhyming more invitations:
I like popcorn,
I like tea,
I want Jean 
to jump with me! (She doesn't call her Mean Jean.)
When a bystander encourages Jean to jump in, she does. 
Fearless jumping and giggling ensue. 
That encounter makes all the difference for the whole community. The playground is a fun place for everyone. 
Hanna’s Comments: I like this book because the author has great fun with words (my summary above doesn't do it justice):
If kids ever crossed her,
she'd push 'em and smoosh 'em
Lollapaloosh ‘em, 
hammer’em, slammer ‘em, 
kitz and kajammer ‘em. 
This keeps the tone light so you can tip toe into the deep of this serious subject. This book resolves the issue of bullying with such joy that I think your audience won't mind talking about it. Ignoring a difficult subject and dysfunctional dynamics in a faith community can not only do harm but turn individuals against religion and even faith for the rest of their lives. A community that touts God’s love can’t afford to hide hate or cruelty. In 2014 at PBT, I featured a series of books about bullying which were mostly dark. Check out the first in the series [here]. In contrast, The Recess Queen is fun and still gets to the heart of the issue, resolving the problem with kindness and hospitality. 
Original Publisher & Date: Scholastic, 2002
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Because of so many bystanders in this story, highlight the concept of witness with verses such as "Let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works..." (Matthew 5:16).  There is obvious application here for The Great Commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself." (Leviticus 19:18; Mark 12:31) 
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in your faith community if you have a bully or bully victims. This book or other books about bullying can also be great tools for preventing bullying problems. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

Beauty in Response to Violence

The following post was written last week so I do not mention yesterday's massacre in a Texas church. Violence at a place of worship is particularly hard to bear. Prayer is our most crucial tool so I pray for those affected by the madness of yesterday. Picture books and art, such as the music in the story below, are other tools that can benefit faith families reeling from violence, but allow time for the settling of those emotions and deal with most urgent needs first. Stories more easily bring healing when we can sit and listen with open hearts, not hearts burdened with fear and grief. 

Next Monday in the USA, we will be honoring our veterans so I've been saving this book, a true story, that reminds us violence, via war or otherwise, affects not just our veterans but entire communities. Additionally, art such as music as in this book or other artistic expressions, can be a balm of healing. If you are a veteran, thank you for your service and many sacrifices. If not a veteran but violence has touched you recently, my prayer is that healing can come through ritual, beauty, and community.
Picture Book: Flowers for Sarajevo
Author: John McCutcheon
Illustrator: Kristy Caldwell
Summary: Drasko, a young Yugoslavian boy, enjoys helping his father, Milo, sell flowers on the street. 
There Drasko enjoys Sarajevo's diversity of Serbs, Croats, Muslims, and Christians. Despite their differences, most go home with Milo's flowers. Milo loves their differences, even Goran, the cranky merchant next to them, is enjoyed by Milo. 
But war begins quickly, and Drasko's father leaves for the battlefied. 
Drasko works hard to keep his family fed by remaining on the streets, selling flowers. Tensions increase across those who remain, 
and Drasko gets pushed to the worst corner. At least he's near where the orchestra practices. Lonely and missing his father (the music reminds him of their dancing), 
Drasko doesn't know war is about to enter Sarajevo's streets. 
An explosion shatters a wall in the bakery nearby. Chaos ensues. Those who can scatter.
Twenty people have been killed while in line for the bakery. Still Drasko returns to the emptier street the next day. 
When the church bell rings at 10, a man exits the orchestra 
and carries his cello and a chair amidst the rubble.  
At the site of the bomb, the musician sits and plays. Silently, a diverse group gathers, is moved by the music, 
and then watches as the musician leaves also in silence. 
Drasko is so heartbroken, he gives his roses away. 
The musician solemnly repeats daily for a total of 22 times, his ritual gift for the city, a performance for each lost life. 
Drasko begins a ritual too. Each night he prays 23 prayers, one for each who died and one for his father. 
Routine forms again and sellers, even the bakers, are open for business. Mean Gorin brings a customer to Drasko and compliments his flowers. Drasko returns the favor with a rose as his father often did. 
At each day's end, Drasko leaves roses at the bakery and at the orchestra's door. 
He places a rose at Milo's place at the table. Like his father, Drasko is determined to help Sarajevo remember and return to its beauty.
Hanna’s Comments: Sarajevo, Yugoslavia was a diverse city whose glory days you might remember from the 1984 winter Olympics. During The Bosnian War, a bomb did damage the last bakery, killing 22 people. For 22 days, cellist Vedran Smailovic honored the inhabitants with Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor, a piece known to have miraculously survived a bombing in Dresden, Germany during WWII. Later, Sarajevo was under siege for 1,425 days, the longest for any capitol city in modern warfare. Thousands of inhabitants lost their lives. The beautiful city that had been celebrated only a decade before, was a war zone. Smailovic became known as The Cellist of Sarajevo. In the back of the book, you'll find the score, lyrics, an Author's Note, and a section called A Region Shaped by War which gives a summary of the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. An audio CD was included in my book that contains lots of supplemental material such as conversations and the author reading the book with page turn prompts. 
Original Publisher & Date: Peachtree, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: Audio CD
Scripture Connections: And my God, my soul is cast down within me. (Psalm 42:6); When I remember God, I moan. (Psalm 77:3); These days should be remembered and kept through every generation. (Esther 9:28)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults when studying the spirituality of art or resilience. Use this book as an example of the power of rituals of remembering or lamentations and mourning. Consider giving this book as a gift of gratitude to musicians in your faith family.