Wednesday, December 21, 2022

3 Books for Winter Solstice

Some churches are having Winter Solstice or Longest Night worship services. They view this as an opportunity to acknowledge the darkness of the season, particularly for those who have experienced loss or those who don’t find the hope of Advent as easily as our culture expects. 

Below I give you links to a couple of PBT books that could inform your worship planning. Also, these books could be read or their stories told to worshipers. 

Next, I feature an extraordinarily beautiful new book about darkness and light. It nicely connects to Jesus’ lost parables, but it could also be read aloud on Winter Solstice, when a conversation about holy darkness is potent with meaning.

Owl Moon, a beloved classic, amazingly could be read anytime during Advent (It is about longing and involves patience and silence.) and for Epiphany (It is about a journey in the dark.) On the longest night, it has particular resonance because of the family's milestone ritual - a dark search for an owl.

Singing Away the Dark is the author's very personal childhood story about how darkness on her way to school was frightening, but singing helped her manage her fears.

Picture Book: Dark on Light

Author: Dianne White

Illustrator: Felicita Sala

Summary: This book begins and ends with the same view: The first at sunset & the last at sunrise. 

But the point of this story is "Even when it is dark outside, there is still so much light."  Three young children look out the window as the sun goes down. 
The 3 go out the front door despite the darkness, flashlight in the hand of the oldest, with no adults. With poetic verse, the book celebrates what and who (Many animals & plants!) are sensed on their night journey. Are they exploring? On a night hike? No. It becomes apparent they are searching, at least the 2 oldest are. The youngest is distractedly playing! 

Earlier, on the 2nd double page spread, a dog has wandered from the home. This is who the children are seeking! This is who they were looking for through that window!

The beloved dog is found and greeted. 
Then all are made aware of the glorious sky! (See image at top.) All 4 head home and are lovingly greeted by the 2 adults (parents? grandparents? You decide.), who take them straight to their shared bedroom. There loving security is present in every nook and gesture so that a sleepy peace comes to all, especially the one lost then found.
Hanna’s Comments: The goal of finding the missing dog can be easily missed at a first reading. Once the dog was found, I realized they had snuck out to search. I went back to earlier pages and saw what I had missed. I suggest you introduce the book by reading the author & illustrator's names (Always do this!). Then say, "This is a book about 3 children who decide to go out at night because someone they love is missing." 

As you read, point to the details you don't want missed and teach some new vocabulary (sage, noble, sapphire...). With young children, together count the animals before turning the page. Choose 1 animal to say a quick prayer of thanks or praise to God. 

Encourage natural wonder about other living things, the darkness, and God's mysteries. Components of the story that you might want to use in a lesson include flashlights, sage, and lavender. An experience with essential oils would be a nice touch! End with an imaginary journey prayer about the dark. Encourage being mindful of God's treasures in darkness and thankful that God is with us always, everywhere, in light, dark, and when both are present, as is often true. 

Update: This author has published a similar book about the cycle of a day. It’s called Blue on Blue. It would be a great book for teaching gratitude practices across a typical day.

Her book Green on Green moves through a traditional North American seasonal cycle, including Thanksgiving and Christmas traditions. Those holidays are not named. However, the usual rituals are evident. Therefore, this book would serve well as a component of a lesson on the importance of seasonal and holiday rituals. Be sure to tie such rituals to God’s provisions.

Original Publisher: Beach Lane Books, 2022

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Jesus' 3 lost parables (Luke 15:1-2) or any scripture about searching such as the "pearl of great price" (Matthew 13:45-46) OR how the light of love gives us courage in metaphorical or real darkness such as Ruth and Naomi must have experienced on their journey to Israel. 

PBT Applications: Read this book on the Winter's Solstice or to a group of children anytime of year to explore Jesus' lost parables. Spend extra time on pages that show the children's bedroom. Discuss the comforts of bedtime rituals & objects that help us feel safe and loved. Ask about feeling God's presence in bed.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

3 Ellie Holcomb Books (1 for December)

You may know Ellie Holcomb as an award-winning Christian singer/songwriter, a solo artist and a member of her husband Drew Holcomb's band. Her books share several attributes: 

  • They are large board books. I’ve written that too many abstract or lengthy books are being made in board book form, which will turn off a child beyond the need for those kinds of books. All are available in tablet form.
  • They begin broadly with abstract possibilities that explore questions. Midway they become theological. I recommend them for age 4 and older, despite them being board books.
  • The 2 non-Christmas books align with an album which must be purchased separately. There may be a Christmas album eventually.
  • All are written in verse so practice before reading aloud.
  • She uses masculine pronouns for God. If you choose, adapt easily with sticky notes that cue you to use the words you prefer.
  • The images are of diverse children interacting with wild animals in extraordinary ways. 

These images are similar to Nancy Tillman's beautiful books. Find a few of those at PBT HERE  AND HERE.

Picture Book: Sounding Joy

Author: Ellie Holcomb

Illustrator: Laura Ramos

Summary: This book begins with the question: What does joy sound like? It answers with possibilities of child characters experiencing joy in winter. Snow sounds like the laughter of friends, deep breaths when playing games are joy sounds, and hooraying while sledding is a glorious joy noise. Next it says glorious joy long ago sounded like angels’ wings. Suddenly, the modern setting reverts to shepherd children in Bethlehem witnessing a sky full of singing angels! With reverence, the little shepherds visit Jesus at the manger where “God bent down low and sent us His son to make heaven our home.”

Hanna’s Comments: The sentence above doesn't express my theology regarding the purpose of Jesus’ birth, but I try at PBT to not limit your access to good books when they don’t line up with my personal theological ideas. What this book does offer in abundance is joy grounded in a loving God whose creation and incarnation via a human child are very much worth celebrating.

I also like how she ties the lights we see at Christmas to the glory of the angels and encourages her audience to respond to Christmas by sounding joy and being loving.

Original Publisher: B&H, 2022

Age Appropriateness: 4 & up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: There are many joyful sounds in the Christmas story. Those animals couldn’t have been quiet! And the choir of angels were the ultimate joyful noise! Also, Make a joyful noise… works well here (Psalm 100:1-5)

PBT Applications: Read this book at a Christmas day children’s church gathering. Remind all that the joy and rituals we experience this season are about God’s loving generosity. Talk about your audience's most joyful moments this season and help each find the gift God has given in each circumstance.


Picture Book: Who Sang the First Song?

Author: Ellie Holcomb

Illustrator: Kayla Harren

Summary: This book’s title question is directed at a group of children. In verse, it describes possibilities. Was the first song sung by the sun? Whales? Flowers? etc. Then it explains that God wrote the first song into everything and everyone. We and all creation are wonderfully made so let's sing our unique songs, while being who and what we were created to be. Good. Beautiful. A reflection of our Creator.

Hanna’s Comments: I like the possibilities that the first pages offer. These can lead to some imagination-fueled conversations. Ask what might the songs of birds say about God? When Holcomb dismisses ideas of earthly creations having  sung the first song, it's a bit jarring, but she quickly explains the goodness of creation and urges all to sing songs they were created to sing. If God sang the first song during creation, then God wrote God's own song into everything  and everyone. God's singing and our extraordinary songs continue. Psalm 150:6 exhorts all breathing creatures to praise God.
Original Publisher: B&H, 2018

Age Appropriateness: 4 & up

Formats other than Book: Tablet & and an album - Sing: Creation Songs

Scripture Connections: We are wonderfully made with an ever-present God to stir us into song (Psalm 139); Make a joyful noise… works well here too (Psalm 100:1-5); Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (Psalm 150:6)

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of children who are learning that worship can be noisy. And quiet. And even sad or angry as in a lament.


Picture Book: Don’t Forget to Remember

Author: Ellie Holcomb

Illustrator: Kayla Harren

Summary: The question that begins this book is Did you know creation is talking to you? What follows is encouragement to all to listen and remember what God teaches through creation. Creation might be heard anywhere. In the photo below, the ocean sings a reminder that God's love never ends. A sail is a metaphor for being filled with God. 

We can hear God's voice at anytime. Snowflakes whisper we too are unique. 

Each sunrise silently sings of God's loving presence. 
Hanna’s Comments: One of my favorite prayers begins, "New every morning is Your love, oh God of light. And all day long You are working for good in the world." This book reminds me of that assurance. Throughout this book implores us to be open to God's presence, listening to what God is singing and showing. 

Original Publisher: B&H, 2020

Age Appropriateness: 4 & up

Formats other than Book: Tablet & an album - Sing: Remembering Songs

Scripture Connections: The image above is a reminder of many scriptures in which God is said to be light (Isaiah 9:1, 1 John 1:5 are 2 examples). Other scriptures that would connect with this book are those about God's constant presence (i.e., Psalm 139:7-10) and instructions to listen (i.e., James 1:19) and remember (i.e., Psalm 103:2).

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young parents. Then spend time talking about what reminders of God they want their children to have and how they can encourage these while outside.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Another Dodd book for Christmas!

A while back, I enthusiastically told you about 9 of Emma Dodd’s books. Find that post HERE . She’s an author/illustrator of simple but profound books for young children. These larger than usual board books have a particular look. They are grounded in loving relationships. In fact, these books are in her series called “Love You Books.” This year she’s come out with a book about Christmas. Like the others, it is about animal families and secular - not about Jesus’ birth but about the season. It’s a snowy landscape so it’s for the northern hemisphere. Below you’ll see in which of my preschool lessons I recommend it.

Interested in learning more about Trinity Treasures, my scripture-based preschool Sunday school curriculum. It features picture books & children’s Bibles. Free lessons are emailed if you fill out the monthly feedback form. Contact me at 

Picture Book: Christmas is Joy

Author/Illustrator: Emma Dodd

Summary: A family of reindeer are celebrating Christmas in a snowy woods. The primary relationship is between a fawn and father,

but eventually you see the whole herd. Christmas gifting here may be more about snuggling and quality time than wrapped packages. Still humanlike seasonal responses abound. The book ends with an emphasis on the unity the family feels among the peaceful beauty that they share. It acknowledges that their unity and the beauty that surrounds them lasts well beyond Christmas.
Hanna’s Comments: This gorgeous book's celebratory tone has you almost hearing the giggly joy and feeling the crisp cool air! Joy abounds because of loving familial relationships. There is profound beauty in the snowy scenes and beauty in the strong connections among the reindeer. Be sure to linger there with your audience and claim the love that abounds in their own Christmas rituals with family, both biological and faith-based. Talk specifically about what love and joy look like this time of year in various places. Extend that conversation to concepts of peace, which you'll see mentioned in the last pages. See last photo below. 

Original Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2022

Age Appropriateness: Toddler and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: The Christmas scriptures are full of joy and love! To expand your focus, tie this story of wilderness living to scriptures about God's loving care when we find ourselves in chaotic stress and noise (aka the holiday season).

Connections to The Revised Common Lectionary: I listed this book in 3 of my Trinity Treasures preschool lessons for Advent (themes: Mary Sees & Sings, Jesus Teaches Love, Prepare the Way), 1 per year in the 3-year lectionary cycle.

PBT Applications: Before reading this book to a group of young elementary children, list for them the 5 Languages of Love (see Gary Chapman's adult books or  THIS BOOK  for children). Find what love languages you can among these pages. End by anticipating how your audience would be inclined to love more joyfully this Christmas season.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Mr. Panda for the Holidays!


If you like quirky books, this PBT post is for you! From the Mr. Panda series by author/illustrator Steve Antony, I found a book for Thanksgiving, a book for Advent, and a book for celebrating love. That last book could be for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or anytime you are anticipating a loving ritual. Because these humorous books have little text but complicated social situations, they would be great for any age! For older children, move quickly to more complicated life applications before they are turned off by the simple characters. Don't let Mr. Panda's gruff face fool you! He is all about generous servanthood! Be sure to help children read his facial expressions. They are important and not obvious. Older kids might even talk about the complex skill of reading another's emotions as an aspect of empathy (tie this to The Great Commandment). Here's Mr. Panda really happy!

Many versions of these books have parallel Spanish text. There are other books in this series. I don’t recommend those here, but they would be fun additions to any family’s reading time. 

Please Mr. Panda is about the power of the word “please.” 

Good Night, Mr. Panda is about bedtime rituals. 

All these Mr. Panda books are structured similarly. Their illustrations are clever and funny, and they may need to be explained. They are quick reads with simple but subtle messages. Mr. Panda is a generous (though seemingly unenthusiastic) giver who receives inappropriate responses from an early cast of characters. Once Mr. Panda gets the response he expects (in these books from Lemur or Penguin), he responds generously. He is quite a behavior-oriented teacher! These fun books are truly quirky. Your kids will love them! And you might too.

For Thanksgiving:

Picture Book: Thank You, Mr. Panda

Summary: This book begins with Lemur asking Mr. Panda about the large stack of wrapped presents he is carrying. Mr. Panda explains that the gifts are for his friends. Lemur follows. Throughout the pages, Mr. Panda gives a gift to a character who responds with a complaint or other lack of appreciation. Lemur reminds all, "It's the thought that counts." The last gift is for Lemur who enthusiastically says thank you. Mr. Panda says, "You're welcome. Remember, it's the thought that counts." Lemur opens the gift and is surprised!

Hanna’s Comments: This book gives you the opportunity to talk about all God's gifts - those we enjoy and understand as well as those we suffer through or are puzzled by. Talk about how we would have nothing if it were not for God. OR Discuss how less than perfect gifts (bad weather, getting sick, etc.) help us be thankful for God's perfect gifts (good weather, feeling healthy, etc.). For more pragmatic application, talk about gifts from humans that we may not appreciate but should still be grateful for. Ask why that is and build some empathy among your audience!

Original Publisher: Scholastic, 2017

Age Appropriateness: 3 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Connect this book to scriptures involving saying thank you to God or being thankful for all the good that God gives us.

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young children who are first learning about the important spiritual practice of saying thank you to God. Talk about why God wants us to say thank you and practice being thankful together. Other life applications would be anticipating Thanksgiving prep and work afterwards. Have them promise to notice and say thanks to the cooks and those who clean before and after.


For Advent:

Picture Book: I’ll Wait, Mr. Panda

Summary: This story begins with Llama asking Mr. Panda what he is making in the mixing bowl he is holding. In his usual gruff but intriguing manner, Mr. Panda says, "Wait and see. It's a surprise." But Llama will not wait! Penguin declares a willingness to wait on every page.  The rest of the cast of characters ask about the treat to come but are not patient. Some exit, saying waiting is too hard. 

Some just simply refuse to wait. Finally Penguin yells, "I'll wait, Mr. Panda!" Penguin's waiting and Mr. Panda's good work leads to a HUGE DOUGHNUT with sprinkles! Penguin ends by saying thank you to Mr. Panda and adds, "It was worth the wait!" 

Hanna’s Comments: The primary themes & scriptures of Advent involve hopeful waiting. There are many examples of waiting in the scriptures, but this time of year we focus on waiting for the promised Messiah. If I was using this book in a lesson, I would have the children repeat Penguin's last words throughout your lessons. Remind your audience of some of the extraordinary events of Decembers in their past. Talk about how those events were like Mr. Panda's doughnut gift. (Extraordinary! Miraculous! Big love! WonderFUL! etc.) Consider having donuts with sprinkles!

Original Publisher: Scholastic, 2016

Age Appropriateness: 3 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Connect this book to scriptures involving waiting or preparing for God’s goodness, such as Advent scriptures or scriptures of longing found in the Wilderness stories in Exodus.

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young children who are anticipating (with patience or not) all that their Decembers will bring. Help them anticipate the distractions of the busy season and the benefits of waiting for the beauty and joy of the birth of the Christ Child. 


For Any Holiday Involving Love:

Picture Book: We Love You, Mr. Panda

Summary: Skunk says he needs a hug. Mr. Panda, wearing a Free Hugs tee and holding a heart balloon, responds, "OK, Skunk. Let's have a hug." BUT Skunk was talking to another animal. They hug, and Mr. Panda is left out. Thus begins a short series of animals asking for hugs from other animals, not Mr. Panda, even when he offers a hug. 

Mr. Panda decides, "Nobody wants my hugs," forgetting that his 2 companions (Lemur and Penguin - heroes of the 2 books above) are available for hugs. Eventually, those 3 characters hug and an avalanche of other animals join in. Mr. Panda responds while squeezed, "I love you, too."

Hanna’s Comments: This book gives you the opportunity to talk about how we treat those closest to us versus how we treat acquaintances and even strangers. Consider how love shows up differently in families, at church, in the classroom, in public spaces like shopping centers & parks. Ask this not so simple question: Does love = kindness? Always? Talk about how some families are affectionate and some are not. Have children focus on 1 John 4:8b: "God is love." Wow! There is so much in those 3 words! Be thankful to God that love abounds in many ways. 

Ask your children for some quick reminders of Bible stories showing different ways of loving. If they don't remember specifics, describe a Bible story scenario and let them finish it. Wrap-up by having them tell you favorite ways to show love and to be loved. Point out the variety among your audience. If your kids are old enough, teach them the 5 Languages of Love made popular by Gary Chapman: Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Quality Time, Gift Giving, and Acts of Service. You'll find a PBT picture book about that HERE

Original Publisher: Scholastic, 2019

Age Appropriateness: 3 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Connect this book to any scripture about love.

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young children who are about to visit a home for elders. Talk about how love might be best shown in this context.