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. Two children plant a seed that has great potential 
even though it is very tiny.   
All it's really good for is planting. 
No matter the weather, it will grow.  
You can't see it, but it's growing for sure.  
The critters in the soil see it growing. 
When a sprout is revealed
and the plant is tended, 
miraculously it grows and grows. 
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 for everyone. 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! 
It's a great big surprise and marvelous wonder! 
This extraordinary tree leads us to "imagine what can be."
Hanna’s Comments:  The scholarly grounding of these 2 authors becomes obvious in their note at the end of this book. 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. 

Friday, June 8, 2018


Picture Book: Most People
Author: Michael Leannah
Illustrator: Jennifer E. Morris
Summary: This picture book offers a contrast to the negative stories from the news media. It begins with these words: 
Sometimes the world seems scary, it's true. 
But most people are good people, just like you. 
Then you watch as 2 non-traditional families who are representative of "most people" enjoy lots of life's goodness. The day begins as breakfast is enjoyed by a single mother and her 2 children
as well as a couple of grandparents and their grandson. 
We learn they are all friends as we view them in their common community.  
We see goodness from a surprising  character 
and bad choices from a child and an unseen foul-mouthed character. 
The results of some more bad behavior are shown, but that's not the focus here. 
The author and illustrator offer a wonderful metaphor that is at the heart of their message: 
If you could line up all the people who want to be good and all the people who want to be bad, the good line would stretch from here to the tallest mountain. All the people in the bad line could crowd together in a dark and gloomy room. 
The overall message is that most people want to be good because there is a "seed of goodness" in everyone. We see this in the confession and redemption of the boy who stole.
As you read, encourage your audience to look carefully for all the goodness and label it with more specific words. Call these spiritual or religious practices. There's cooperation in the background via a community garden. 
A young girl is angry. We aren't told why.
But the daughter who we saw have breakfast earlier notices and responds with sensitivity and generosity. We are encouraged to do the same. 
Sometimes you follow a sub-plot from one page to another. Here the grandfather shops for pies while other good things happen around him.
On a later page, we see one of the reasons for his purchase. 
The book shows many good situations that most people enjoy.
These images will give your audience many prompts for personal story sharing after the reading.  
The conclusion is a fabulous double-page spread of the two families enjoying a meal together on their roof while many others are enjoying their lives in their homes below or on other roofs.
Hanna’s Comments: This is an antidote to the bad news and frightful images common in our world. It's not a "Pollyanna" view but a view with a winder lens that encourages folks to notice beyond the headlines, participate in the goodness, and be thankful. Be sure to point out that the author refrains from calling anyone bad, instead there are bad choices. Make a strong connection between the "seeds of goodness" which the author says are in everyone and the "image of God" the Abrahamic faiths believe are in all human beings. 
Original Publisher & Date: Tilbury House, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Humans are made in God's image (Genesis 1:27); Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6); Oh, how abundant is your goodness (Psalm 31:19); Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! (Psalm 34:8); …all things work together for good (Romans 8:28); The fruit of the Spirit is …goodness… (Galatians 5:22); Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above (James 1:17)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to any group in your faith family who needs to be reminded of the goodness that surrounds us thanks to our God and the goodness God inspires in us.