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.

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!