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

Friday, May 6, 2022

Verde & Reynolds’ I Am Books

Author: Susan Verde    Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Hopefully, you already know about these books! Here’s a helpful shortcut for this PBT post: 

1. Notice first the 3rd word in the title.

2. Then read the last word in the title. This tells you more specifics about the book.

3. Next notice the scripture connections I suggest below for each book. Take time to think of more scripture connections. There are many, even for the book about yoga, for yoga is all about being still and breathing which is part of many spiritual practices. 

To simplify, all these books share these characteristics:

  • There are many "I am" statements, particularly at the beginning. in most books the story moves into community dynamics, shared experiences, and group attributes ("We are..."). 
  • Because of their hair and dress, the gender of most characters is ambiguous which facilitates character connections to all people.
  • There is an informative Author's Note in the back, additional exercises often follow
  • Many of these books are available in board book form. That makes them cheaper, BUT pages have been taken out, they are harder to share in a group reading, AND the exercises in the back are NOT included. Many of your elementary children and no teens would not welcome a board book being read to them! Here's a pet peeve of mine: MANY BOARD BOOKS SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN MADE INTO BOARD BOOKS! 
  • Because of their titles, all of these books give you an opportunity to connect to God's answer to Moses' question about God's name. (Exodus 3:14) 

I've listed the books here in what I believe might be most to least useful in church ministry. 

Picture Book: I Am Love: A Book of Compassion

Summary: Because this is about compassionate love, the main character explains that love means asking what we can do in response to witnessed hurt, unfairness, sadness, and even anger. It models putting hands to heart, listening, and then acting with tenderness and gratitude, letting hearts guide us. Little gestures may be all that are needed, as long as all reactions come from the heart. Self-care should be remembered because we creatures are so very connected. This book recognizes that sometimes being a loving presence with a person or creature is all that is needed. Compassion is the skill being taught here. 

Hanna’s Comments: I especially love the breathing component of this book. These days many books express a need for deep breaths to give courage. But here deep breaths are to access our deep compassion. Spend some time imagining such situations and doing some deep breathing. After the Author’s Note, you'll find heart-opening yoga poses and a guided meditation.

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2019

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: You know there are many scriptures with love as the subject. Consider also Bible characters who show compassionate love such as the widow who met Elijah, the slave girl who directed Naaman, both biblical Josephs, the good Samaritan, the boy who shared his lunch, the woman who anointed Jesus, Philip with the Ethiopian, Paul after knowing and loving Onesimus (Philemon's slave)...

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of older preschoolers. Then ask them to tell about a love hero they know who is a bit older than them. Afterwards, tell them about some love heroes from the scriptures, especially the boy who shared his lunch - the biblical character they will likely most relate to.


Picture Book: I Am Human: A Book of Empathy

Summary: This book is all about embracing human characteristics, particularly being a miraculously unique learner who is hopeful and imperfect. That last attribute of ours is emphasized as the book explores our strong need for connection and how we can make choices that hurt one another. Then being able to apologize is necessary for renewed relationships. Empathy is the skill being taught here. 

Hanna’s Comments: Here at PBT, I have repeatedly connected the skill of empathy to The Great Commandment. That's where human compassion begins! Empathy drives our connections with those in our family, church, and neighborhood and our desire for justice for people all over the globe. After the Author’s Note you'll find a loving-kindness meditation exercise.

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2018

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: See the scripture note in the book above (Many scripture connections will overlap with these books.) OR consider broadly The Great Commandment which has a component of empathy. Scriptures about confession and forgiveness would connect to the latter part of the book. 

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of parents. Talk about how they can encourage their children to have empathic responses to various social media posts. Do the loving-kindness meditation that's provided. Then discuss that experience.

Picture Book: I Am Courage: A Book of Resilience

Summary: This book is about facing what challenges us, particularly our fears, with the necessary skills to overcome them or at least manage them better. Here are wise words about positive affirmations, self-confidence, assertiveness, trying new and hard things, asking for help, and trying again after failure. A challenging bike journey of one child is the plot mechanism. When the child meets other children, perseverance and resilience are objectives for all.  

Hanna’s Comments: I bet this book was written after the pandemic began for so much of this pandemic has felt like a difficult journey. Children have suffered greatly since spring 2022. This book will give them an opportunity to consider helpful strategies in a loving faith community. My favorite page says, "I find my center and gather my strength." What a holy statement! Explain to your audience that the great I Am is indeed in us! God is our center - our heart, our strength, and our breath.  After the Author’s Note you'll find exercises to inspire confidence, such as yoga poses and breathing exercises. Resilience is the set of skills being taught here. 

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2021

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet 

Scripture Connections: The Lord God is my strength and my might. (Isaiah 12:2); Be strong and courageous... (Joshua 1:9); The word courage is found in many scriptures. Also think about the people in the Bible who demonstrated courage or resilience, such as Jacob, the midwives of early Exodus, Jeremiah, Elijah, Daniel, Esther, the woman who touched Jesus' cloak, Ananias, Paul...

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young children going to summer church camp. Talk about missing home and the aspects of this book that most apply to your children's potential situations. Talk about God being with us wherever we go. 

Picture Book: I Am One: A Book of Action

Summary: This book demonstrates repeatedly that 1 person, even a small person, can begin a significant change with 1 purposeful action. Examples you'll see here: 1 step leads to a journey, 1 gentle word starts a conversation, 1 act of kindness begins a connection, and 1  brushstroke can lead to a masterpiece. The last part of the book shows a duo of children embarking on a water voyage. They join a community of children who start a beautiful garden.

Hanna’s Comments: It was timely that their 2020 book is about starting alone and then connecting with others. In 2020 and beyond, being only one became too easy (even necessary) for many of us and gathering in community was significantly harder, riskier, and yet necessary! Be sure to talk about how technology changed the process of taking action and connecting after the onset of the pandemic. This book is all about making a difference with your actions, especially if they are joined with others. "I" becomes "we." The concept of a ripple effect is shown within the beautiful illustrations. After the Author’s Note you'll find a mindfulness meditation and a self-reflection exercise. In churchy terms, "works" is what is being taught here. 

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2020

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Joseph of Arimathea

PBT Applications: Play around with the ripple effect idea after you read this book to elementary children. My hunch is there are scientific experiments explained on-line that might give you some great ideas. Be sure you make connections to the children's actual lives. Metaphors are great, but they often must be explained. That's where application and growth begin.


If you question whether mindfulness is an appropriate practice in Christian contexts, I urge you to look below for info. on an adult book that answers your question and click on the podcast link where I recorded a review of that book. 

Picture Book: I Am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness

Summary: Mindfulness is the skill being taught here. It simply means being fully in the present moment - here and now. The main character experiences mindfulness moments after admitting that worry is a common response for him/her. Rushing thoughts and feeling like a boat with no anchor are explained and shown. Taking a breath and giving self-reassurance leads to the ground feeling more steady. When orienting to the here and now, the character says the mind clears and peace comes. Worries gently pop away, thoughts are let go via saying them aloud. Then kindness can be shared, differences can be made, strong connections to nature can be experienced. Wonder follows. Sensory experiences are acknowledged. Peace is shared. 

Hanna’s Comments: At the start, the speaker confesses there are many reasons to worry. Your audience will immediately relate. This seems more true everyday! Mindfulness practice is an orientation to the here and now. This allows us to be and feel more peace. As shown in this wise book, mindfulness also can lead to sharing kindness and making positive differences toward a more peaceful world. Sensory experiences in nature and conscious breathing are encouraged. Give time and space to share stories about these kinds of moments and the healing they can do. Spend a significant time on the simple sentence: "Wonder is known." After the Author’s Note you'll find a mindfulness exercise. I keep this book by my morning reading chair for inspiration!

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2017

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10); Create in me a clean heart, O God. (Psalm 51:10); I lift up my eyes to the hills... (Psalm 121:1-2); Do not worry (Matthew 6:34)

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of young adults who are reframing or building their prayer practices. Mindfulness practice is a common practice now because research shows it is so very good for us! This practice can easily be reframed in a Biblical context. I recorded a podcast as a guest about this method based on Amy G. Oden's book Right Here Right Now: The Practice of Christian Mindfulness. You can access that podcast here.


Board book versions have less content!

Picture Book: I Am Yoga

Summary: Here yoga poses and breathing are offered as antidotes to feeling small in a big world. A wiggly body and thinking mind are spoken to gently. Breathing is slowed and creativity are invited in. A child is shown doing nearly 20 poses, sometimes with great imagination. Yoga is the skill being taught here, but there is much here that is healthy self-care and self-compassion.   

Hanna’s Comments:  Yoga is a very meaningful spiritual practice for many people of all ages! After the Author’s Note you'll find a kid-friendly guide to yoga poses. 

Original Publisher: Abrams, 2015

Age Appropriateness: 4 and up

Formats other than Book: Tablet

Scripture Connections: Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10)

PBT Applications: Read this book to a group of children who are learn how to pray with their body and talk about the importance of being attentive to God. Be sure to show the last pages of yoga poses. 

Three of these books (I Am Human, I Am Peace, and I Am Yoga) are available in a box set called I Am... A Box of Goodness. 

And to come...

Picture Book: I Am Me           Due to be published 9/2022!