Friday, June 29, 2018

PBT Redux #23 Images of God for Young Children

The following is a PBT post from 2017 in which I featured 1 of 3 books in a series originally published in French. In my next 2 posts, I'll show you the other books, one about The Psalms and one about animals of The Bible. All three books are structured similarly and offer an abundance of examples with short descriptions and beautiful illustrations. 
Picture Book: Images of God for Young Children
Author: Marie-Helene Delval
Illustrator: Barbara Nascimbeni
Summary: This book offers a collection of images of God that are found in the Old and New Testaments. The introductory page says that these images are ways to "discover God in our world." Aspects of God are explained in terms children will understand through visual, concrete images as well as abstract analogies. You'll find God described as a promise, a fortress, mercy, a king, a healer, peace, etc. Included are some intriguing questions to consider such as: “Why do some people fight in the name of God?” Simple explanations are offered that you may want to expand on.
Hanna’s Comments: Unlike most picture books, this book should not be completed in one sitting. Each entry should be savored. The 40 themes are so rich you could create a whole series of conversations or even lessons based on the variety of images for God given here.  Non-Christians could leave out the two entries referencing Jesus. Delval  wrote 2 other books in this series. Psalms for Children is comprised of paraphrases of some of The Psalms. Because they emphasize a range of human feelings, it would be a valuable book to read to children. Children will especially enjoy Animals of the Bible. It tells the stories surrounding some particular animals mentioned in The Bible such as the snake in Genesis, the lions in Daniel, and the lost sheep in Jesus' parable. 
Publisher & Date of Publication: Erdmans, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: This book connects with numerous scriptures depending on the image. 
Idea(s) for Application: Read small portions of this book to a child or group of children and engage them in conversation about particular images of God as found in the Bible.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Surprising Heaven


Here in The States, we have a holiday coming up. Summer holidays are often celebrated outside in community. This picture book is about one neighborhood's strange, unexpected gift. One young leader helps them choose to be open to its possibilities and come together to bring about positive change. It has all sorts of applications for faith communities too!  
Picture Book: A Bus Called Heaven
Author & Illustrator: Bob Graham
Summary: This story begins at little Stella’s house where an abandoned bus appears with no explanation.  
Taped on the front is a hand-painted saying “Heaven.” The community stops their hurrying by and gathers to puzzle over this strange gift. Stella says it's as sad as an abandoned whale. 
She goes inside and finds trash, debris, and possibilities. 
Stella says to her neighbors, "It could be ours." 
Stella's mom determines that it needs to come off the road so together they roll it into Stella's yard, but it still sticks out some. 
 Heaven becomes a gathering place for conversation 
 and play. 
 There is work to do: clearing & scrubbing.
After some graffiti artists leave their mark, they are recruited to "make the whole bus sparkle." 
 Stella gives them some of her art to copy. 
Then the neighbors bring donations including a Table Soccer set. Now Heaven is homey, 
and yummy.
Soon Heaven becomes a second home for neighbors who had never spent all that much time together. Life returns to the bus. 
Sharing and caring soars. There's music, dancing, picnics, and laughter until... 
 another surprise arrives.
Because Heaven sticks out onto the sidewalk, it must be towed. 
A question arises from the crowd:   
 They follow Heaven to a new home and lament. 
The junkyard boss shows the regulation, "Thou shalt not park on the street," and proclaims that Heaven is headed to the crusher.    
Stella challenges the driver to a Table Soccer game. If she wins, she gets the bus. 
 Victory!  
After showing the driver, a new family of birds living in Heaven's engine, the driver explains the bus must be moved to a private space. 
Little Stella has an idea and all push Heaven to a new home in the vacant lot behind Stella's house.    
 All are worn out, but they're worn out together. 
Once they recoup, there is music and dancing! Heaven for sure! 
Hanna’s Comments: A community is transformed, and a little girl finds her voice. Concepts of heaven and the Kingdom of God are all over this book as are allusions to the early Christian church's inclination to share and Jesus' teachings about loving neighbor. All of these ideas are potential for great conversation with a group of children or adults in loving faith community. If you have a big change, here's a tool for exploring meaning and possibility. If your group needs to be motivated to invest in their surroundings, this book could begin a conversation. Be specific about the differences the bus made for individuals, not just the group. Also, talk about creative problem solving being sourced by God. Emphasize the kindness and gentleness modeled in these pages as opposed to the rudeness we sometimes see in the media and even in communities of faith. 
Original Publisher & Date: Candlewick, 2011
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present 
Scripture Connections: Two are better than one (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12); a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6); Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:31, 1 John 4:7), Loving community (Acts 2; Hebrews 10:24-25)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adult leaders in a church who are dealing with a significant change. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Counting, Counting, Counting

On Monday, I featured the newest book by these 2 religious leaders. Today’s book is a creative retelling of 3 jewels of The New Testament. Sometimes called The Lost Parables, this book considers a different emphasis from the concept of loss. Additionally, the 3 stories are beautifully rendered in a modern context. 
Picture Book: Who Counts?                                                                                    100 Sheep, 10 Coins, and 2 Sons
Authors: Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Illustrator: Margaux Meganck
Summary: As in Luke, there are 3 separate stories. The first is of a modern sheep farmer. He counts his sheep often. One day he discovers one sheep is missing. He searches and searches. The sheep is glad to be found and returned to the flock! The farmer is so relieved, he throws a party!
The next story has a woman with 10 prized coins. She enjoys counting them. One day she is shocked to realize that a coin is missing. 
She searches and sweeps. Finally the missing coin is found! At the party she throws to celebrate, she explains "Just one coin matters. Without it, something is missing. Now my coin collection is complete." The Prodigal Son story begins as expected. A youngest son spends his inheritance in a faraway place. When the money is gone, he must get work with a farmer feeding pigs. After he realizes the pigs are eating better than he is, he decides to go home, confess his mistake, and offer to work hard for his father. Despite his shabby appearance, the father happily runs to greet the son. The loving father gives the son new clothes, new shoes, and even a new ring. With great joy, the father invites his neighbors to come celebrate, 
but "when the father counted everyone who had come to the party, he realized that one person was missing." After recognizing his neglect, the father runs out to explain his joy to his older son and urges his son to join them. The older son complains that his devotion hasn't led to a party. The father confesses: "I have two sons - one, two. I paid attention to my younger son, but I discounted my older son. I didn't realize that he felt lost." 
In all of 3 stories, the emphasis is on all being together - a complete set, in the last story - all together as a complete family. 
Hanna’s Comments: My favorite aspect of this book is its focus on completeness. In the 3rd story, the one "who counts" is the older son who is missing from the party. Certainly the idea of loss is here, but completion is primary. I suggest you tie this to God's desires for  shalom. Shalom is more than peace. It's wholeness. As in Monday's book, the Note to Parents and Teachers at the end is very valuable. It explains how these parables have been misinterpreted and their new focus on completeness. You'll also find a great list of questions. 
Original Publisher & Date: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: The 3 “Lost Parables” of Jesus are found in Luke 15. The Parable of the Lost Sheep is also found at Matthew 1:12-14.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book in 1 session or 3, depending on your audience’s attention span, in order to explore the meaning behind these stories of Jesus. Emphasize the theme that everyone counts, everyone makes a difference, unless all are present, there is not wholeness. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

Mustard Seeds are Marvelous!

This and the next PBT post feature a couple of authors who bring with their picture books a great deal of substance and authority. Levine is a Professor of New Testament & Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. Sasso is a well-known rabbi and author of many books for adults and children. You’ll find my favorite Sasso picture book in a couple of versions [here] at PBT. My photos below are from a pre-publication copy of this book so they may not match what you find.
Picture Book: The Marvelous Mustard Seed
Author: Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Illustrator: Margaux Meganck
Summary: This book is based on the parable Jesus tells about a mustard seed. Together two children plant a seed that has great potential even though it is very tiny. They tend it in rain and shine. All it's really good for is planting. No matter the weather, it will grow.  
The critters in the soil see it growing. This tiny seed becomes an amazing tree where birds nest, people marvel, and all enjoy it and each other. Some people touch this great tree to be assured that it's real while others simply enjoy its shade. The marvelous thing about this tree is that it has so many uses. Besides its beauty, shade, and gathering space, its pods can make spices and its leaves and seeds can make medicine. This tree is a symbol of The Kingdom of God, growing and growing, and growing! Now you can't miss it! 
The Kingdom of God is a great big surprise and marvelous wonder! Like this extraordinary tree, it leads us to "imagine what can be."
Hanna’s Comments:  The scholarly grounding of these 2 authors becomes obvious in their Note to Parents and Teachers at the end. Be sure to read it. They explore the concept of parables and how they would have been received when Jesus spoke. They offer some of the many interpretations of this parable. Then they list a series of questions and ideas to consider with your audience.
Original Publisher & Date: Flyaway Books, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed is found in Matthew 13:31-32, Mark 4:30-32, and Luke 13:18-19. The Matthew and Luke passages mention the seed becoming a tree.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of any age or use it in a children's sermon experience to explore the meaning of the parable of the mustard seed. 

Friday, June 15, 2018

PBT Stories #6 Arts Camp & Flight School

Today my urban church, First United Methodist Birmingham, AL, finishes a 10th Arts Camp in which children from all over our city come together for positive art experiences while learning about being in loving relationship with God. This is the theme and logo:
They have drummed, sung, danced, created visual art, and entered a transformed room where a Bible story or concept came alive for them. My husband Bill writes & plans the Bible Story curricula and is their lead playmate during this time. Ask most kids what their favorite Arts Camp experiences are and they’ll say Bible Story because of the novelty and affirmation received thanks to my husband. This year's theme related to flight so science and history were highlighted as well. 
One day Bill read from a screen the PBT book below and dressed as the penguin in the story. A plush penguin was transformed as well. On that day, they talked about Peter's passionate plea to The Jerusalem Council to include gentiles (read penguins) who wanted to soar with the Christians. You can imagine the delight the children had in hearing and playing this story. Here's my re-post:

Picture Book: Flight School
Author & Illustrator: Lita Judge
Summary: When Little Penguin shows up at flight school, he claims he has the “soul of an eagle” and was “hatched to fly.” 
He is allowed to stay and practice with the other birds. When students attempt their first flight, Penguin’s flight is a disaster. 
He becomes discouraged. This troubles his flight teachers who suddenly have a creative idea. More feathers are attached to Penguin with string and soon he is in flight, soaring with joy, at least for a little while. 
But how did this happen? With help from a friend.
This time Penguin’s eventual fall did not bother him for he had “soared on the wind.” He went home and soon returned with another, even bigger challenge for the flight school teachers.
Hanna’s Comments:  This is a great book for parents and teachers to read for it is a tribute to those who encourage the young and find creative ways to help them be successful. 
How does this inspiring book fit with theology? How about reading this book to children and attaching it to Isaiah 40, a verse often heard by children but rarely explained. You could also focus on the benefits of community and friendship for encouragement and helping us soar into our dreams and vocations. 
Connect with the body of Christ imagery that Paul gives and you’ve got many potential scripture connections.
Original Publisher & Date: Atheneum, 2014
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections:  Those who wait on the Lord shall mount up with wings like eagles (Isaiah 40:31); Body of Christ imagery (in Paul’s letters); look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4); encourage one another and build one another up (1 Thessalonians 5:11); do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of private school or homeschool teachers who you want to encourage to be creative in helping their children succeed. Connect to a scripture choice from above to give it a godly vocational dimension.  

Monday, June 11, 2018

God's Extraordinary Multiplication

Yesterday, I heard a friend preach on laity Sunday. She might think of herself as ordinary, but she declared in an extraordinary way that God is a God of multiplication! This PBT post is inspired by her. 
Picture Book: Ordinary Mary’s Extraordinary Deed
Author: Emily Pearson
Illustrator: Fumi Kosaka  
Summary: This story will inspire you and your kids to bless the world! It begins with a random act of kindness. Ordinary Mary sees an ordinary blueberry bush and picks ordinary blueberries for her neighbor. 
Mrs. Bishop is delighted so she responds with her own act of kindness: blueberry muffins for 5 friends. The number 5 is important in this story. You'll see why later. 
One of Mrs. Bishop's friends is her paperboy Billy. Instead of throwing papers in the bushes, that morning he hand delivers them. 
Mr. Stevens, who is leaving on a trip, receives his paper from Billy and is inspired to smile the entire 10 hour trip and help 5 people with their baggage! 
Maria and her little boy James are glad for Mr. Stevens' help and smile. Maria and James spread the joy to 5 people while shopping. They give some oranges to Joseph who shuffles to his bus with a full heart. 
Sarah's heavy bag breaks so Joseph gives her a new one that he has made. Sarah decides to shine on 5 people today.
On a boat, Sarah encounters a very sad Sophia. Sarah compliments Sophia on her beautiful blue eyes. 
Such an affirmation has Sophia calling 5 people to show her love, including her son Tom. 
Tom decides to give 5 balloons to 5 children who are his patients. One of them is Peter who is thrilled with the balloons. 
While on his way, Peter helps Eric, a teenager who is struggling with groceries. 
Eric is so relieved he vows to help 5 people. His sister Di is the first. He teaches Di to ride his skateboard. Di decides to be a friend to 5 people that day. 
She chooses to buy a lunch for Louise, a homeless woman in the park. Believing she has nothing to give, Louise still determines to give something to 5 people. 
When she finds a wallet and returns it to the owner, Mr. Taylor gives Louise a job in his store. 
Also, Mr. Taylor gives a theatre ticket to Kate, a tourist who's heart was set on seeing a sold-out show. 
Kate is so inspired she vows to give 5 gifts. One gift goes to her little niece, Mary - Ordinary Mary! 
It's a circle story! How can this be? Multiplication! 
Mary's gesture led to a response to 5 people who all responded likewise, exponentially! Mary's small and random act of kindness grew and grew and grew!
In 16 days, Mary's generosity had spread to every person in the whole world. That's how Mary's ordinary love spread in such an extraordinary way. 
Hanna’s Comments: I took these photographs a while back and had an earlier version of the book. Try to find the 15th anniversary publication (published in 2002 or later). In that version, some characters' gender, name, and ethnicity have been changed to reflect a diverse global view. Such characterizations better demonstrate God's extraordinarily diverse humanity. Earlier at PBT, I featured a book with a similar but simpler plot. You might want to read that post and consider Glenna's Seeds. There I also mentioned another similar book: One Good Deed. You have several options with this theme of God's multiplying ways.
Original Publisher & Date: Gibbs Smith, 2002
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 6 and up, 1st and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet 
Scripture Connections: Connect this story to scripture stories about God's extraordinary model of multiplication such as... in Genesis 1:20-25 (living creatures); in Genesis 12 & 17 (Abraham and Sarah's descendants and blessings); and in all 4 gospels (loaves and fishes)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children in your faith family and talk about how God might help them bless the world. Their acts of generosity and love paired with God's multiplying ways can spread farther than they can ever know.