Saturday, June 25, 2022

Circles Circles Circles

Circles are a favorite motif for me! They hold much in the way of symbolism for life and my spiritual journey. They can be viewed as a directional line. Seasons, relationships, and life issues come and go and then return. And circles can be viewed as expanding or contracting inner spaces & community spaces. In both spaces, the potential for connections are infinite in number and rich meaning.  

Below details of today's book, find links to 3 other books about circles featured here at PBT.

Picture Book: The Circles All Around Us

Author: Brad Montague

Illustrator: Brad & Kristi Montague

Summary: In rhymed verse, a child teaches how to draw a small circle around self to represent our safe small 1-person space. Keeping that circle small and closed would be like "a library with just one book on the shelf." 

Next we are urged to draw a bigger circle, one for family. Then we see other circles for friends, often times even bigger. Concentric circles are shown for each community of connection. Hospitality is encouraged, even when differences in language and custom make it uncomfortable, because...

    there's a difference we can make

    and a love we can all show.

The acknowledgement that being in an expanding circle is not easy is rich material for conversation. Sharing space is hard. It's also hard to leave a circle to become members of another circle. But there is joy and wonder and a sense that bigger, expanding circles are what life and love are all about!  

Hanna’s Comments: Interestingly, this book is from the creator of Kid President web series. This author/illustrator is the person you don't usually see in those videos. If I haven’t convinced you of the powerful metaphor of circles, perhaps Father Richard Rohr can. On 4/11/22, in his daily email titled Expanding Circles of Love, he wrote the only way he knows to love God is to love what God loves. This is everything and everyone! God loves God's creation! Such inclusive love results in a "constant expansion beyond ourselves to loving others," which is what you see in this picture book.  

Here's my favorite spiritual idea about circles. Its an ancient metaphor also about loving others as a way of loving God. The world can be viewed not as circle expansion but as circle contraction, if that contraction is also toward God. This process was uniquely demonstrated via a circle diagram or compass by desert father Abba Dorotheos of Gaza in the 500s CE (spelled Dorotheos & Dorotheus). God is the center of the world's circle. An infinite number of straight lines represent each of us (Rohr would emphasize these are persons AND things) who in moving towards God also moves toward others. See Rohr's words above about the best way to love God.

Original Publisher: Dial Books, 2021

Age Appropriateness: 5 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: The 2 Great Commandments: love God and neighbor (Mark 12:28-31 & Luke 10:25-28) and other scriptures about loving connections; Any scripture about community such as those describing the early Christian churches (Acts 2:42-47)

PBT Applications: This picture book and the ideas of Rohr and Dorotheos invite you to play with circles as symbols of community and connection. Do this with art supplies, floor diagrams & games, and discussions after each experience. Use circle stencils, hula-hoops, geometry compasses, protractors, big paper plates or pizza pans, posters cut into circles, etc. 

Other PBT books about circles:

Circle of Thanks

Circle Unbroken

The Missing Piece Meets the Big O

Sunday, June 19, 2022

PBT Techniques #10: Object Play

The PBT Techniques series explores unusual ways to use picture books in ministry. If you want to see more of these PBT posts, there are quick links at the end of the post. Also, I mention the work of 2 other authors you should know about: Leanne Hadley and Diane Alber!

Today’s book is excellent, but for a group read aloud it is a bit wordy. Also, the illustration details are many. Some wordplay and geological puns will be beyond the understanding of most elementary-aged children. Instead of reading it aloud, use this book as inspiration for a story you tell with easily found objects.
Whenever a picture book inspires you to tell a story, always say the author's name. When the illustrations are pivotal to the story, as in this book, give the illustrator credit as well. These are not just good ideas; they are ethical practices!

Picture Book: Ricky, the Rock That Couldn’t Roll

Author: Mr. Jay (aka Jason Miletsky)

Illustrator: Erin Wozniak

Summary: This story is about a group of rocks and pebbles who are great friends. They repeatedly race to the top of a hill to enjoy the view and then joyfully roll down, in great communion with the ritual in nature and joy of each other's company

Many of the rocks have clever names, and their play is silly and creative. However, Ricky, who is a bystander of the group, was not able to roll. Watching was all he could do because of his flat bottom. His friends, like the friends in Mark 2 who creatively drop a peer through the roof to Jesus, are determined to help. Unlike the biblical story,  many of the rocks' initial ideas are disastrous!

When it starts to rain, Ricky's friends have an idea. They carry Ricky down to the mud and help him make himself round. Finally, Ricky is able to roll and fully enjoy the play and his loving friends. Now they are a better community because Ricky is able to participate!

Hanna’s Comments: If only all Christian communities were so determined to accommodate and include! This story has much potential for discussion and application to loving practices at church and at a school! For the object play, simply collect a variety of rocks and pebbles. Then tell the story your own way. You will need to simplify the story a lot! You'll likely want to use brown modelling clay or dough for mud. Don't feel like you must provide a prop for the hill. Be imaginative with your movements. The children will get it. If you want a hill, use a pillow or cushion and a green pillow case or thin towel. You might want to gather more flat rocks so that all your children can hold and re-create their own versions of Ricky. 

If you tend to think metaphorically, as I do, you'll realize that this story has a great deal of depth if we consider mud as a metaphor for difficulty, struggle, or even the terrible hardships that may lead to resilience. It can even be a metaphor for sin which could lead to ironic connections to baptism. This simple story would be an excellent children's sermon because it has that potential for depth and application to all ages!

Stones, like picture books, have great potential for ministry! My friend Leanne Hadley, an ordained pastor, has designed a beautiful tool for helping children be open and vulnerable in their verbal sharing, especially in times of stress, grief, and crisis. Check out all her work HERE.    OR 

her short YouTube video demonstrating this tool: Holy Listening Stones  

Additionally, there are several other great picture books about stones by Diane Alber. She explores important social-emotional skills in these. She even has some books about scribbles - another easy possibility for object play.  Check them out as well HERE.

Original Publisher: Lyric & Stone, 2018

Age Appropriateness: 7 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: Friends drop a paralyzed man through the roof to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2: 1-12); Jesus uses mud to heal a blind man. (John 9:1-7) 

Connections to The Revised Common Lectionary: In my Trinity Treasures curriculum, I have based a preschool Sunday school lesson on this relatable Bible story for Year B, on the 7th Sunday of Epiphany when Mark 2:1-12 is listed.  

PBT Applications: As described above, to better keep children's attention, tell this story using objects. Simplify the story and tie it to Mark 2 by connecting the actions and motivations of the friends in both stories. I once heard a sermon about those friends. The speaker argued they must have been adolescents because of their audacity and determination to push through a boundary! I always think of those biblical characters in that way. After telling the story, you may want to use 5 stones to tell that Bible story. OR Have your children act it out. Unless you're telling the story in a children's sermon, consider ending the lesson with some dancing to "rock & roll!"

Links to other posts about PBT Techniques: 

#4 Using the Whole Story

#5 Using Poetry in Ministry

If you are interested in learning more about my Trinity Treasures, a scripture based preschool Sunday school curriculum that features picture books & children’s Bibles, contact me at hannaschock@bellsouth.netRight now, free lessons are emailed if you agree to fill out the monthly feedback form.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Wonderfully Made Girls (Boys too!)


Here are 2 books with similar themes. Strong Suggestion: Don’t dismiss these books because there are only females in them. Your boys need to hear and will learn from books featuring only girls. Females have done this throughout literary history! Encourage your boys to use their inner voices to "translate" when necessary. Most experiences in these books will be applicable to all genders! 

There is a teachable moment here regarding the Jesus’ version of The Great Commandment which added strength to the ideas of loving God and neighbor. Tap into your boys' desire to have strong-loving minds and hearts so they will develop empathy for girls & women. That will benefit everyone! 
The 1st book is a particularly beautiful collection of diverse girls declaring female power. These declarations can be extrapolated to boys easily. 
The 2nd book is silly and fun, but it’s rich with meaning. It's a story about choosing to be yourself, rather than pretending. Engage boys by asking how they like to dress and play in costume. There is a lot of potential here for children, teens, and adults, particularly with recent political issues regarding gender. 

Also, check out the PBT books I link to below that are similar in theme or content!

Picture Book: I Am Enough

Author: Grace Byers

Illustrator: Keturah A Bobo

Summary: This book is not a narrative. Instead it is a book of similes that describe what is LIKE us – (these beautiful young girls and all of us!). It begins, “Like the sun, I’m here to shine.” Here’s a favorite: “Like the rain, I’m here to pour and drip and fall until I’m full.” This simile deserves some group interpretation! Only girls are shown. Talk about that. Then note that their situations are not “girly” – whatever that means. 

Hanna’s Comments: These declarations emphasize loving who you are, but they also emphasize being kind and respectful to who other people are! Have your audience note how the girls are interacting. Then talk about what Godly attributes they see or ask what Jesus would think of their words and actions. Explore ideas of The Holy Spirit giving them strength and resilience. There is a lot of movement in these pages so you might read again with group gestures or a  simple dance.


Original Publisher: Balzer & Bray, 2018

Age Appropriateness: 3 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet & Audio 

Picture Book: I’m Me!

Author: Sara Sheridan

Illustrator: Margaret Chamberlain

Summary: Little Imogene loves to play dress-up with her Auntie Sara! When she is greeted, it is clear that her auntie is ready to play. She keeps asking Imogen which world they will enter today. The double-page spreads become some of these imagined worlds and play-possibilities. Imogen keeps saying, "No. Today I want to be..." but then her auntie interrupts with another imaginary possibility. Finally, Imogen says that she wants to be... ME! The two playmates go have a grand and wonder - ful time at the park!

Hanna’s Comments: Practice reading this book for full impact. You want the drama of Imogen's words and your page-turning to have good effects. Ask your children about how feelings influence whether they want to pretend or be themselves in the real world. Be sure to remind them that God is always present in their imagined worlds and their real world. You might even want to talk about how God has given us humans particularly skillful imaginations for solving problems (think scientists & explorers) and for having fun (think writers & entertainers). If time allows, talk about how the practice of wonder leads people to think about God, God's world, and how we fit in to its beauty and joy.
Original Publisher: Chicken House, 2011

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

For both books...

Scripture Connections: God created humankind in God's image (Genesis 1:27); I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. (Psalm 139: 14); ...the joy of the Lord is your strength. (Nehemiah 8:10); We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. (Romans 12:6); My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart. (Psalm 73:26); And other verses about strength in God and personal gifts from God. 

Connections to The Revised Common Lectionary: Both books are listed in my Trinity Treasures preschool curriculum for Year B in a lesson featuring Psalm 139.

PBT Applications: Read 1 or both of these books in an elementary Sunday school class. Talk about how Psalm 139 can be such a comfort when we are feeling unworthy and self-doubt creeps in OR when we are feeling lonely and we forget God is always with us. 

Links to similar PBT books:

Psalms for Young Children

When God Made Light

From Head to Toe God Made Me

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon

Have Fun Molly Lou Melon

Emma Dodd books see When I Grow Up  or  Just Like You

When I Hold You

Baby Believer series see Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer

All of Me: A Book of Thanks

If you are interested in learning more about my Trinity Treasures, a scripture based preschool Sunday school curriculum that features picture books & children’s Bibles, contact me at hannaschock@bellsouth.netRight now, free lessons are emailed if you agree to fill out the monthly feedback form.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Hank's World


Isaiah 40:1 Comfort, O comfort My people, says your God.

After this month’s massacres in Buffalo, New York & Uvalde, Texas, I read again Rebecca Dudley’s beautiful books and thought how they might be a comfort to a child, a group of children, and even adult readers. The first book is about being lost, found, gently cared for, and then returned. We hope we are the ones doing these things, but sometimes we are the ones who are lost.

Dudley’s 2nd book is about a dream place. The dream seemed like heaven to me or at least an afterlife place. I’m not inclined to imagine the afterlife much (I do believe there is one), but this book was so comforting to me, especially with traumatized children in mind. Whether presented about the afterlife or not, it is a comforting book. With all this in mind, it seemed appropriate to post about these 2 books this week. Here's a link to a short YouTube demo video of Dudley’s amazing art process. Consider showing it to your audience. You all will want to crawl in her world and cuddle up!

Picture Book: Hank Finds an Egg

Author: Unlike her 2nd book, this book is wordless.

Illustrator: Rebecca Dudley

Summary: Hank is a little bear who, while wandering through a woods finds a hummingbird’s egg on the ground. He gently picks it up and then quickly finds the nest where it belongs. 

Hank struggles to keep the egg warm and figure out how to return it. He is not a big bear. With amazing ingenuity and perseverance, Hank returns the egg and is beautifully thanked by a parent hummingbird and later by the little bird right after its birth.

Hanna’s Comments: This artist is an architect who creates every component of her magical Storywoods. Watch her video and be entranced.

Original Publisher: Peter Pauper Press, 2013

Age Appropriateness: 2 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: This book connects well with the lost parables in Luke 15 and The Good Samaritan in Luke 10. They could even be tied to Jesus’ healing stories for those he healed (and the people who loved them most) were certainly lost in the circumstances of illness.

PBT Applications: Cuddle in together with this wordless book after a difficult week and talk to children about what makes them feel lost. Then talk about how God, Jesus, The Holy Spirit, or kindhearted people help us find our way back to what is more comfortable and normal.

Picture Book: Hank Has a Dream

Author/Illustrator: Rebecca Dudley

Summary: Hank meets up with the little hummingbird baby of the first book (above) and says, “Last night I dreamed I flew! I was all by myself, but I wasn’t scared."  

Then the readers see (as Hank and his friend mimic) beautiful images of Hank flying in a hot air balloon, following a path to the ocean and over the clouds. There he floats peacefully. It ends with Hummingbird wanting to hear about the dream again!   

Hanna’s Comments: See above in the intro. to this post. If this book doesn’t offer an image of the afterlife for you, no worries. Talk about the biblical concept of peace. Talk about how dreams have been viewed as a way for God to gives us messages. Encourage your audience to wonder about that.

Original Publisher: Peter Pauper Press, 2014

Age Appropriateness: 3 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: This book will connect with Jacob’s dream in Genesis 28, Joseph’s interpretation of dreams in general (Genesis 40 & 41), and any verses about the afterlife. It also connects to any scripture about peace or peaceful places. You could also talk about the importance of listening to a friends dreams - bedtime dreams or dreams of the future. 

PBT Applications: Read this book to children who have had an encounter with death either directly or in the news. Do not present this as an image of heaven or the afterlife. Instead, encourage positive talk about the dream place and offer up wonderings about whether heaven or the afterlife is like Hank’s dreams.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Book about Different Abilities and More!

Now and then a book moves me in ways beyond what the creator/s may have intended. Today’s featured book is one of those. When I read it, I wanted to talk about it with many people. I knew you would be part of my imaginary conversations!

Picture Book: What Happened to You?

Author: James Catchpole

Illustrator: Karen George 

Summary: This beautiful story is from the point of view of Joe, a young boy who has one leg. Before the story begins, you see Joe tossing aside his crutches. Then he skillfully plays a favorite game on a balance beam - a game that involves imaginary sharks. Next this powerful sentence appears: Sharks were easy compared to kids Joe hadn't met yet. WOW! Spend some time here!

An outspoken and curious young girl, who we later learn is Simone, comes to Joe, declares the obvious, and asks the title question. 
Surprisingly, Joe replies, "What do you think?" Simone guesses and questions more. Other children join in. Joe answers their creative guesses while adeptly climbing. Eventually, you have this: 
Spend some time here also. 

Then Simone finally joins Joe. They say their names and play together imaginatively. Others join in. I wonder what would have happened if Simone had begun their friendship this way. The story ends with Simone asking if Joe "gets bored of that question about your leg, that you don't have." Again, Joe asks what she thinks and if she still needs to know what happened. Simone answers, No!" Joe likes that answer.

Hanna’s Comments: The cover of this book is subtle, then striking so I would begin a reading by allowing your audience to react silently. The power of this book is Joe's deep hurt and frustration. He just wants to play - in amazing ways! Talk about how some people can skillfully hide their hurt and frustration.

I was struck with how Joe's response to the title question parallels the response many Americans who are non-white experience when those in the white majority (I'm in this category), insensitively ask questions or expect explanation & affirmation. I know I have much to learn! It is not the responsibility of my non-white acquaintances and friends to be my teachers.

At the end of the book is a letter from the author to parents about how children want to know all about every disabled person they see. Read this to yourself no matter your parental status. James Catchpole has one leg so his letter is particularly instructive. He explains that people with disabilities don't want to be everyone's teachable moment. 


I have recently discovered a book series called A First Look at.... This series has a similar book titled Don’t Call Me Special: A First Look at Disability by Pat Thomas & Lesley Harker. It is not a story. Instead it explores experiences and poor assumptions people make about people with differing abilities. The book series offers valuable entry points on a large variety of topics. Every few pages, they offer excellent questions for reflection. For a list of books in the series, check the website here. You might choose not to read one of these books aloud but instead allow it to bring you to more a sensitive understanding, design an activity, or help you anticipate issues that might arise.

Original Publisher: Faber & Faber, 2021

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: The self-righteous Pharisee - who judges the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14); Zacchaeus - who was a climber in a tree, feeling very different & alone (Luke 19:1-10); the Syrophoenician woman - who was judged harshly by Jesus, After she challenges him, he commends her and grants her prayer request. (Mark 7:24-30); The Fruits of the Spirit (particularly kindness, gentleness, and self-control) Contrast these to the children's approach to Joe (Galatians 5:22-23). More generally, let Jesus and early Christians be examples of empathically & respectfully approaching a person with differences. This happens with the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40) and the woman who touched Jesus' clothing (Matthew 9, Mark 5, Luke 8).

PBT Applications: Start a small group of parents with young children who choose to read together Oprah & Bruce D. Perry’s recent book of the same name. 

This book for adults was my favorite non-fiction book of 2021. It reorients readers away from the common question: “What’s wrong with you?” I recommend the audio version because it is, like the subtitle says, conversations between Dr. Perry & Oprah. Also, having the text on hand is helpful because of the visual content. 

My PBT application is to let the reading of this picture book start your group’s time together. The title question will become a point of reference and broaden the focus, not just on trauma, but also on disability and other differences. This picture book beautiful shows, “What happened to you?” can be an insensitive and damaging question coming from the wrong person or the wrong kind of relationship. What I have learned, thanks to this little picture book, is that it is a question best held delicately with caution and empathy and perhaps not asked at all.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

What Birds Teach Us

Picture Book: Ruby’s Birds

Author: Mya Thompson

Illustrator: Claudia Davila

Summary: This beautiful book is from the point of view of Ruby, a girl who is 6 or so. She is about to discover the wild side of NYC! Her neighbor, Eva, offers to take Ruby to the park. Ruby assumes they are going to her play place in Central Park, but instead they are going into the forest there. On their way they sing (Ruby loves to sing – this is important!). She’s not sure what to do when they sit quietly so she bursts into song again. 

Eva gets a bit upset because she had just spied a golden-winged warbler, a bird species that Eva saw often in her home country of Costa Rica. Eva explains that Central Park is an excellent place to birdwatch. The birdwatching continues, more quietly. They don't again see the warbler that day, but Eva insists that Ruby now knows what to do to spy another one: Pay attention, move carefully, and be quiet. Ruby is already hooked! She dreams of birds after singing herself to sleep. She teaches her family about birds and birdwatching. Birdwatching becomes her very own practice.

Hanna’s Comments: Birdwatching is a lot like prayer. With a particular orientation, it can be a contemplative practice that calms, grounds, and leads us to praise. In recent years, I have discovered the contemplative and emotionally grounding aspects of birdwatching. The many birds in my feeders have helped me tremendously during the anxious days of the pandemic! I even laugh aloud sometime! Truly they are some of God's most extraordinary gifts. They are delightful to watch, but there can also be stark reminders of wild living that I don’t like to see, like violence, flying into windows & doors, and deaths that sometimes occur. Although such experiences are harder to witness, I know they are a part of creation so they should not be avoided topics of conversation should children mention them.

Because birds, like Ruby, sing so much, spend some time talking about the worship aspects of singing, particularly with concepts such as praise, awe, and gratitude. Ask children a wonder question about why they think birds sing. 

This book has an amazing number of resources in the back! First, the context of the story and some info. about warbler migration are given. Next you’ll find information about 2 key birds in the story. There is a chart listing the 14 bird species found in the illustrations. Last you have Ruby's Tips for Taking a Nature Walk. This page could be used independently on a guided nature walk later. 

Jesus tells us not to worry and references sparrows in Matthew 6:26. The concept of worrying is so important now thanks to the pandemic that I plan to do a PBT post soon that will feature several books about worrying. If you want to know now which books I plan to feature, contact me.

Original Publisher: Scholastic & The Cornell Lab Publishing Group (It is through Cornell that much excellent bird research is funded!)

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: None at present

Scripture Connections: You may think of a couple of commonly known biblical references to birds such as, “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sew nor reap...” (Matthew 6:26) and Jesus' longing to gather his people like a hen gathers her chicks (Matthew 23:37), but there are many scriptures that reference birds! A general search engine will help you find more. Here's one I just found: Ask the birds of the sky and they will tell you. (Job 12:7)

Connections to The Revised Common Lectionary: I listed this book along with several others about birds in my Trinity Treasures Preschool Curriculum. It’s 3 years of lessons based on the lectionary. Each lesson features a list of recommended picture books. This book is for the lesson in Year B. The theme is God’s Goodness. God’s gifts of birds, flowers, and fruit are the focus. They are all mentioned in Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

PBT Applications: A couple of weeks ago I featured a book about listening. Today's book (and any book about birdwatching or nature walks) would connect with the spiritual practice of listening. However, you can also celebrate God’s diverse plan for our world by reading this book and focusing on the incredible diversity of birds in the world. I suspect you could easily create a game or art project that celebrated God’s feathered gifts. For adults or teens, ask them to tell you a parable or personal story in which a bird's presence or behavior was an important lesson.

Links to other PBT books about birds: 

How to Heal a Broken Wing

Bear and Bird

Sing...Sing a Song!


Washing the Willow Tree Loon


Mama Outside, Mama Inside

The Birds of Bethlehem

Is This Panama?

Baby Wren and the Great Gift