Friday, December 28, 2018


Each December I choose a new song to orient me. This year that song is My Lord Has Come by Will Todd. I love the performance by Lux. Here are some lyrics; consider them a wish for your 2019 journey to be led by love: 
Sages, searching for stars, 
searching for love in heaven. 
No place for them but a stable. 
My Lord has come. 
His love will hold me, 
his love will cherish me. 
Love will cradle me. 
Lead me, lead me to see him.

Epiphany, that time in the Christian year when we tell the story of the Magi, is January 6. Below I have featured 2 books that tell that story. One by my favorite preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor. The second is cleverly designed for very young children.

Picture Book: Home by Another Way: A Christmas Story
Author: Barbara Brown Taylor
Illustrator: Melanie Cataldo
Summary:  Three men, in three different countries, see a star. Not sure if the star is above them or imagined, they are wise enough to know this doesn't matter. "Something was calling them...something was missing." They meet on the way to Jerusalem to meet a king. They realize the star has brought them together. Their interactions with a conniving Herod are a familiar part of the story dramatically told. When they reach the star, it is surprisingly above a small house with a decidedly homey atmosphere. They find the babe with that same star shining in his eye and fall down to worship, offering their expensive gifts. To say thanks, Mary hands over Jesus for all to hold. Then all bed down for the night. Once awake, the stars are gone, but the three don't need them anymore. They have found what they came for. Having all dreamed to steer clear of Herod, these wise wanderers leave transformed, their old maps no longer useful. They have been gifted by the presence of Immanuel and a new way home. 
Hanna’s Comments: The illustrations and words in this well-known story are very human, humorous, and rich with meaning. Barbara Brown Taylor is a gifted storyteller! A very popular preacher and spiritual writer for adults, to have her words in picture book form is a treat that I hope will be repeated. Be aware that she has a collection of sermons of the same name. You might want to order it for yourself. It parallels the Christian year which just started with Advent. You can treat yourself to BBT sermons all year long!
Original Publisher & Date: Flyaway Books, 2018                                            (I love what this publishing company is doing!)
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Matthew 2:1-12
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of children, teens, or adults and ask what they are searching for and who are they are to search with. Then consider how their searching can be wise and led by God, especially when "another way" is better.

Picture Book: Follow the Star
Author: Make Believe Ideas
Illustrator: Lara Ede
Summary: A die-cut window throughout the pages of this shiny board book will encourage your little ones to follow the star like the wise men did. The overall story of Christmas concludes with an emphasis on the journey of the magi, their gifts, and their worship of the new little king. 
Hanna’s Comments: Christmas wasn't until December 25th, despite popular media and our consumer industry, so reading this book to children now and on into January is exactly right. Little ones can begin to understand the concept of worship with this beautiful little book. The wise men are great role models in this way. Talk with them about giving gifts and following directions, both important spiritual practices for little ones to develop.
Original Publisher & Date: Thomas Nelson, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Matthew 2:1-12
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to very young children to introduce them to this magical and profound story of God’s guidance and the longing to worship a true king. 

Friday, December 21, 2018

December Holiday Books #7 & #8

Below I'm featuring 2 very different picture books that celebrate the birth of Christ. The first looks like a secular book on the cover, but it's focus is quite sacred. The 2nd is a visual feast for those wanting to expose their faith family to classical art and new ways of viewing the nativity. Have a blessed and safe Christmas as we celebrate God with us.
Picture Book: My Merry Christmas
Author: Sally Lloyd-Jones
Illustrator: Sara Gianassi
Summary: "What is Christmas?" is the question that begins this book. Sure there are stars and gifts and much more, but "...what is Christmas really for?" Readers are asked to consider what are their favorite Christmas symbols and whether their meanings directly relate to Jesus. The lights of Christmas remind us of a desire for the Lord to light our paths. Angels remind us of joyous celebrations of Jesus' entrance into the world. Evergreens remind us of eternal life. Stars remind us of the wise men who knew to humbly search, worship, and give. And the gifts under our tree are reminders that love is God's greatest gift. The book ends with a thank you for Christmas and John 3:16.
Hanna’s Comments: The illustrations and cover of this book may seem juvenile, but it has great potential for conversations about whether or not we take the time to look beyond the trappings of the Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons to their meanings and messages. This author also has written a wonderful Bible for Christian children called The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. That subtitle tells you how it’s different from a typical Bible. I especially love this Bible's illustrations. Check it out as a potential gift to children in your family or faith family.
Original Publisher & Date: B & H Kids, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about the birth of Jesus, (Matthew 1:18-2:1-12 & Luke 1:26-38, 2: 1-15)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group in your faith family during Advent to help them explore what the symbols of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany really mean to Christians. 

Picture Book: The Nativity
Author: Geraldine Elschner
Illustrator: Giotto
Summary: In this gorgeous picture book, simple text is paired with glowing masterpieces from a Renaissance painter. It highlights Giotto's interpretation of the major events in the Christmas story from the angel Gabriel telling Mary she has been chosen to bear the son of God to the threesome's flight to Egypt.
Hanna’s Comments: Many children have little exposure to classical art. Those living in poverty sometimes have a deficit of beauty in their lives. One of the benefits of PBT is exposure to good art in the illustrations that are experienced with the stories. This art can open us to new possibilities of meaning, delight, and wonder - all important aspects of spirituality and faith. In this book, you have vibrant gold foil artwork on the halos of key players who, in varying degrees, seem human and otherworldly. I think the faces in these images are particularly powerful too. Be sure to ask your audience how they personally react to such images and if these figures of the nativity give new meaning to their own interpretation of Jesus' birth and life. 
Original Publisher & Date: Minedition, 2015
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about the birth of Jesus, (Matthew 1:18-2:1-12 & Luke 1:26-38, 2: 1-15
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of elementary children and expand their imaginings about the Nativity and the events of Jesus' birth and life.

Friday, December 14, 2018

December Holiday Books #5 & #6

I'm writing a picture book-based Sunday school curriculum tied to the The Lectionary for the youngest children in our church. One of my frustrations is the abundance of board books with concepts or text length too advanced for this age. Also, their small size limits the number of people in your audience. Today I feature 2 board books to demonstrate these concerns. The first is a fabulous secular story about gift-giving so I’m featuring it in the December holiday books series. It was first published as a hardback and recently published in board book form. Very young children won’t understand it. The second book featured is a perfect board book for young children about the birth of Jesus. Both books hold great value but for very different audiences. When using board books, choose wisely. Consider storytelling their stories to older audiences, but always give credit to the author.

Picture Book: The Little Gift of Nothing
Author & Illustrator: Patrick McDonnell
Summary: Mooch (a cat) wants to give Earl (a dog) a gift on a special day, but Earl has everything. After much consideration, he decides to give Earl "the gift of nothing." The reader is left to wonder what this means until the end. Meanwhile, Mooch plays with the irony of the commonly heard word "nothing" (nothing to do, nothing on TV, etc.) in a culture that is too full. He has decided that amidst the chaos and over-abundance of stuff in the world, what Earl most needs is an empty gift-wrapped box. When Earl opens the gift, he's puzzled and says, "There's nothing here." Mooch enthusiastically agrees and exclaims, "Yesh! Nothing but me and you!" And together they snuggle in front of a window and enjoy "nothing and everything."
Hanna’s Comments: This is a marvelous message for the Advent and Christmas seasons when too often gifts are purchased without much thought and people are too busy to spend quality time together. Despite my high praise for the story, I have two other issues with this book. The illustrations are sparse, such is the style carried over from McDonnell’s popular cartoon strip Mutts, featuring these characters. This story is abstract and plays with language. Therefore it's too advanced for young children. Older audiences will decide it's too juvenile if you use the board book format. If that version is all you have, consider telling the story. 
Original Publisher & Date: Little, Brown, & Company, 2005
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet, Photographed above is a board book. An earlier edition is traditionally bound.
Scripture Connections: Any scripture about the gift of presence, not presents such as the story of Ruth. Also, pair this book with the story of the magi (Matthew 2:1-12).  
Idea(s) for Application: Read (or tell) this book to a group of children, teens, or adults who are busy purchasing gifts for the December holiday season.

Picture Book: Christmas (Little Words Matter)
Author: the staff of B & H Kids
Illustrator: Holli Conger
Summary: Each page of this book has only one, simple word, a key concept in the story of Jesus’ birth. Words include angel, journey, town, stable, shepherds, and kings. 
Hanna’s Comments: In contrast to the book featured above, this board book is exactly right for infants and toddlers. This publisher does a great job of providing basic religious concepts to very young children via a small number of words and age-appropriate illustrations. Check out some of the other books in the Little Words Matter series. I especially like the one about Jesus which hits the highlights of his life. There is also a Bible in this series which would be a perfect gift for a very young child because the number of words are so few.
Original Publisher & Date: B & H Kids, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: infants and toddlers
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: Scriptures about the birth of Jesus, (Matthew 1:18-2:1-12 & Luke 1:26-38, 2: 1-15)
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a small group of very young children on Christmas Sunday. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

December Holiday Books #3 and #4

Two brand new (and gorgeous!) Christmas books are featured below. Want to see more PBT December holiday books? Go to the Blog Archive which is to the right and down in the web version. If you're on a smart phone, click on "view web version," near the Home button. Then click on December of a year other than 2015 (I took a break then) and explore previous posts.

Picture Book: Mouse’s Christmas Gift
Author: Mindy Baker
Illustrator: Dow Phumiruk
Summary: Mouse lives in the sanctuary of a village church from long ago. Puzzled that the Christmas decorations are not in place, Mouse finds his favorite - the creche. After much effort, Mouse has the delicate figures in place where he will sleep with them in view. Then Mouse scurries to the living quarters of the pastor and his wife. The pastor is sick. His wife places a notice on the church door that states “Christmas Eve Service Canceled.” Mouse has an idea to light a candle in the window, hoping the village will be inspired by the light. Various villagers do bring decorations for the church door and nearby evergreen. A blacksmith creates a star. A woman bakes a sweet treat. On Christmas Eve, they gather, not sure what will happen. They find the church door mysteriously unlocked, so they enter and create their own Christmas Eve service. The pastor and his wife enter the sanctuary and realize that Christmas has come.
Hanna’s Comments: There are many Christmas themes in this beautiful story. Here are a few I see: humility, small acts of service, faith and trust in God's Spirit, hope for meaning and healing, loving community, and the joy that is ours when we participate for the common good. Let your audience find their own meaning here and be inspired to make this Advent and Christmas a time of participation in Christian community and service to those who need us most.
Original Publisher & Date: Zonderkidz, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: This book connects with any scripture about light or scriptures that encourages us to get involved, such as those about The Body of Christ and those about being servants.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to inspire your audience to step up and be a part of The Body of Christ during this season in which we celebrate Christ's birth.

Picture Book: I Got the Christmas Spirit
Author: Connie Schofield-Morrison
Illustrator: Frank Morrison
Summary: You’ll want all your church family to meet this "spirited" young girl! She’ll teach them what Advent & Christmas are all about. She hears the spirit in the air and sings the spirit in her heart. All her senses are in play as she tastes and skates and sees the spirit in the sparkling lights and many more signs of the season. BUT this wise one is not just about having Christmas fun. Outside a store, she sees a homeless mother and child and “feels the spirit deep down in my soul.” Then she promptly goes in to let Santa know something must be done! Santa and a small crowd bring gifts to the family that needs help. On those pages, you read, “The spirit is here! The spirit is you!” 
Hanna’s Comments: I’m so glad I discovered this new book. It was perfect for my 3rd Advent lesson in Trinity Treasures, the lectionary-based preschool curriculum that I’m writing. The theme for that day is “A Noisy Time” which I connected to Isaiah 12:5 “Sing praises to the Lord, for God has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth." And Zephaniah 3:14 "Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!” My lesson that day involves lots of singing and making joyful noises! Notice that here spirit is written with a lower-case s. Consider with audiences older than preschoolers how the story’s meaning would be different had the publishers chosen to use an upper-case S. Then explore all the ways the word "spirit" shows up this time of year. 
Original Publisher & Date: Bloomsbury, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 3 and up, Pre and up 
Formats other than Book: None at present
Scripture Connections: Besides the 2 scriptures mentioned above, connect this book to any verses about being spiritually inspired to spread love and joy.
Idea(s) for Application: Read this fun book to a group of children during Advent and have them explore what The Holy Spirit inside them encourages them to do and be and feel and sense during this holiday season. Then offer lots of noisy, spirited praise!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

December Holiday Books #1 and #2

Advent is almost here so I’m going back to my simple format from my first year at PBT. That will allow me to feature more December holiday books. These two are a lesson in contrasts. One is brand new – my favorite discovery this season so far! One has been around for a while and was a recommendation from a webinar listener. Thanks for that! I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name. 

Here they are…

Picture Book: A Savior is Born:                                                                              Rocks Tell the Story of Christmas
Author & Photographer: Patti Rokus
Summary: This book will delight and amaze your audience! Rokus has managed to artistically explore the story of Jesus’ birth in rock collage, pairing each creation with a familiar scripture. In the video mentioned below, she says she found all the rocks on one hiking excursion! There is something about these faceless images direct from our Earth that gloriously speaks the Truth of these stories within the one great Story of Christmas. You may never look at rocks the same way again. Look for me to feature her Easter book come spring.
Hanna’s Comments: As is true for most PBT books, this jewel could be enjoyed by any age group because the art is stunning and so unusual. For very young children, you may want to focus on only a few double page spreads.
Original Publisher & Date: Zondervan, 2018
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet, Check out the 2 informative videos on the Amazon page. Fabulous!
Scripture Connections: Scriptures make up the text of this book.
Idea(s) for Application: Share this book with a group of children and offer a variety of rocks so that they too may create images that correspond to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany stories.

Note: You may find this book with a different cover. 

Picture Book: Room for Little One: A Christmas Tale
Author: Martin Waddell
Illustrator: Jason Cockcroft
Summary: There are many picture books that cleverly have Jesus' birth told from animals' points of view. This one is special in that a series of animals offer invitations, share the warmth and comfort of the stable, accommodate differences, and even cuddle beside a species that might be thought of as an enemy. After each invitation, you find the sentence: There's always room for a little one here. Old Dog is welcomed by Kind Ox who later invites Stray Cat. Small Mouse is encouraged to come in by Stray Cat. Despite her fears, she enters. When Tired Donkey needs a place for Mary and Joseph, Kind Ox again offers hospitality so that Jesus, a little one so vulnerable, is born among selfless animals and loving parents. Beautiful!
Hanna’s Comments: This book may be written for young children, but the heart of the message is for us all. Will we make room for the message of Christmas amidst the chaos of the holiday? Will allow inside those we disagree with? Those who are very different from us? Those who make us uncomfortable? Even our enemies? These are burning questions for many in the world today and they relate to the themes of Luke's gospel message. For some fun, ask your audience to think about which character they most identify with and what kind of animal (or who in their lives) would they have the most difficulty inviting and accommodating. Invite those who will to share. You might be surprised at how profound their personal reflections are. I suspect we all imagine ourselves peering into that manger. Complicate those imaginings this year with this challenging story of hospitality and accommodation.
Original Publisher & Date: McElderry, 2004
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 2 and up, Toddler and up
Formats other than Book: Audio Cassette
Scripture Connections: Luke 2:1-7
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults and then encourage them to go into their neighborhood and invite all they meet to your Christmas Eve service.