Friday, January 19, 2018

Encounters with Whales

At present, I’m writing a children’s curriculum for my church that connects to The Revised Common Lectionary. This week one of those scriptures is a portion of the story of Jonah. Jonah’s story is one of my favorites in the Bible so I thought I’d feature a couple of beautiful books, one secular and one sacred, that could be used in a lesson about Jonah. Enjoy!
Picture Book: The Boy and the Whale
Author & Illustrator: Mordecai Gerstein
Summary: In this powerful story, a boy and his father discover that a whale is caught in one of their nets.  
The father is concerned about his net which he cannot afford to replace; the boy is focused on the whale. 
They dive into the sea, assuming the whale is dead, 
and the boy remembers being caught in a net as a younger child. 
Then a surprise 
 and a rush for air!
Papa leaves, hoping to beg a relative for another net. Although the boy is forbidden to do so, he drives the boat out to the whale because he remembers how terrified he was to be caught in the net and how he needed his father to rescue him.
As the net is cut, the boy hopes the whale will wiggle to freedom, realizing how dangerous the situation is. 
He talks to the whale and apologizes for the net, explaining that fishing is "how we live." 
Looking again in the whale's enormous eyes, the boy begs the whale not to die. 
 The nets begin slipping away 
so the boy pulls the nets into the boat. 
Suddenly, the whale dives. As the boy stands, hoping to see the whale one last time... 
it springs out the sea, spinning and crashing again and again. The boy wonders if it is a dance of freedom or a dance of gratitude. 
When the boy returns to shore he realizes his father has been watching. After the boy admits to disobeying his father, his father simply says that what he did was foolish but brave. Then they go to repair an uncle's net.
Hanna’s Comments: One of the amazing aspects of Picture Book Theology is how children will be able to connect two very different stories. They've been taught to do this at school and will likely be more skilled than adults. The Jonah story could be presented via a children's Bible reading (it's a whole chapter in the Bible), another picture book, or by simply telling the story. Encourage them to find similarities and differences between these stories. They'll leave the lesson with a better understanding of Jonah and another great story in their experience. 
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet

Picture Book: Jonah’s Whale
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: Giuliano Ferri
Summary: This is the traditional story of Jonah told beautifully through the point of view of the whale. It begins simply: "God made Whale. God gave Whale a home in the blue-deep waters of the sea."
It focuses on the job God gave Whale and Whale's faithful response. But first, the whale is lonely so God gives Whale a family. Whale is hungry so God gives Whale "silvery sea-clouds of fish." 
God also gives Whale a "joyful song to sing" 
and the ability to move so that Whale can disrupt fishermen's lunches. 
And God gave Whale beauty.  
One evening a storm comes, and Whale spies a boat that is about to be torn apart by the waves. 
Whale hears a man confessing to his shipmates, saying that he is the reason for the storm. 
When the man jumps into the sea, God tells Whale to save the man so Whale does so in the way only Whale can. 
The man landed inside Whale, who burped and thought, "Now what?" 
The first day Whale did only gentle swimming for the sake of the man while the man prayed in Whale's belly. Whale waiting for God's instruction.
The second day, Whale became queezy and worried he might throw up. No instruction came.   
By the third day, Whale became discouraged and knew the man must be discouraged too so Whale began singing the song God had given Whale which lightened his heart and perhaps the heart of the man inside him. 
Eventually, "a whisper in the music" came. God told Whale to spit the man onto dry land. Whale did just that and then swam out to sea. 
Whale never forgot the man. Whenever he saw other boats in distress, he would stay close and wait for requests from God. The man never forgot Whale either. When he could, he would walk beside the ocean and listen for Whale's comforting song.  
Hanna’s Comments: I hope you can see why I chose this book. It is beautiful and poignant. There are many picture books about Jonah ranging from board books for toddlers to this more complex tale. Choose wisely with the age and attention spans of your audience in mind. Also, notice where the story ends. In my opinion, the last part of Jonah's tale, the part where he is sitting outside of Nineveh feeling sorry for himself, is important. However, you'll see it left out of picture books about Jonah. 
Original Publisher & Date: Erdman’s, 2012
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet

Yesterday I received a gift from a reader. I was so grateful! It reminded me that it's been a while since I mentioned my PayPal Donate button in the upper right of this website. I do this work for you for free. I love it, but it takes a lot of investment of my time, energy, and money. Please consider showing me your gratitude with a donation so that I am encouraged to keep telling you about great picture books for your family, ministry, or classroom. Thanks! Hanna

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Speech for Today

It’s MLK Day here in The States so today I’ve chosen to feature another beautiful book by Kadir Nelson. You’ll likely recognize the text from MLK’s remarkable speech.
Picture Book: I Have a Dream
Author: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Summary: The text of this picture book is the last portion of Dr. King’s speech given in Washington DC on August 28, 1963. A few of the darker passages have been left out. Here are some of the passages that are familiar and most loved by me. 
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. 
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and he sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. 
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 
I have a dream that one day... little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. 
With this faith we will be able to work together, pray together, struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day. 
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning: My country, 'tis of thee... And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. 
Let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire... from the curvaceous slopes of California. 
But not only that: Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain in Georgia...Lookout Mountain in Tennesee...Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississsippi. 
From every mountainside, let freedom ring. 
... we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the Negro spiritual: 
Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.
Hanna’s Comments: The full text of Dr. King's speech is in the back of this book. If your faith family isn't spending time learning about the scriptural foundations of doing social justice, ask yourself why. Stories of God's desires for justice abound in our holy scriptures. Jesus had a habit of stepping over social barriers to talk with those who were marginalized. In the present political climate, we need to be teaching our children what faithful justice work looks like, encouraging our teens to find their vocations in such work, and exhorting our adults to step out of their comfort zones when human rights are being threatened or pushed aside. At the very least, all should be taught how to be intolerant of hatred and racism. Such positions are not love and therefore not scriptural. Whoever does not love, does not know God because God is love. 1 John 4:8.
Original Publisher & Date: Schwartz, 2012
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet, A cd comes with this book. You can watch the speech on Youtube [here].
Scripture Connections: This portion of Dr. King’s speech has Isaiah 40:4-5a as a part of the text. Connect it with any scripture about inclusion or social justice issues such as "What does The Lord require of us but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God." Micah 6:8 and 1 John 4:8 (see above) as well as Bible stories where the marginalized are included.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in your faith family when giving a lesson on God’s love for diversity or God's requirement that we do justice. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

It Takes a Village for Little Bears Too

I've been saving this favorite book for a while. It's sooo good! 
Picture Book: Baby Bear
Author & Illustrator: Kadir Nelson
Summary: Baby bear is lost, but this little one is never alone. As he encounters members of his community, he respectfully asks for help. Each offers wise suggestions and encouragement. 
Mountain Lion suggests retracing his steps. 
Busy Frog encourages him by telling him to "Trust yourself. You will find your way home." 
Squirrels say that hugging a tree and thinking of home works for them. 
Baby Bear thinks it's silly but does just that. 
He's interrupted by a moose who suggests Baby Bear sit very still and listen to his heart. 
Baby bear does, 
but the tears come. 
Above a question comes from Ram, "Why are you crying?" Baby Bear admits he is lost so Ram suggests that he climb higher for a better view and sing a song for comfort. 
At the top, Owl hears his song. When Baby Bear says he is alone, Owl disagrees and says, "I am here with you. You only need to look up and keep going. You will find your way home." 
Both exchange words of love and Baby Bear keeps going.
Next Baby Bear speaks to a salmon who is willing to lead him a little further if Baby Bear doesn't eat him. Baby Bear promises. 
Salmon shows him just where to get out of the river, 
and Baby Bear sees that he is 
Hanna’s Comments: I know of no more beautiful book about discernment than this one. There is so much rich content here. This is a great book for teens and adults for that reason, but don't assume that children are too young to explore such an important spiritual concept. They need to be making wise decisions about their personal paths and choices. Encourage all of these audiences to talk about how their community and The Body of Christ help them make decisions or find their path. Kadir Nelson's work astounds me. I plan to feature another of his books on MLK Day. Check out other PBT posts featuring his books [here] and [here]. I recently used this book in my new preschool curriculum that’s linked to The Revised Common Lectionary. I chose it for a lesson about The Body of Christ. This book could also be used with adults to explore the journey of finding a faith home or your way back to your faith after disruption. For a really interesting lesson, have your children compare and contrast this story with the story of Jesus being left behind in Jerusalem when he was 12.
Original Publisher & Date: Balzar & Bray, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about discernment; Jesus left behind (Luke 2:41-49); The lost parables (Luke 15); we are The Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27); the church is The Body of Christ (Revised Common Lectionary, Epistle Yr. A, Proper 29: Ephesians 1:22)
Idea(s) for Application: Home is a commonly explored spiritual concept. This book is all about finding home so it lends itself to all sorts of lessons about discernment, being lost, and leaning on our village for help.