Christmas season gift-giving guide: some great books for children

What child’s Christmas tree shouldn’t have a couple of books underneath?  We understand (believe me) that not everyone is a “reader” but you wouldn’t be reading our BookNotes blog if you didn’t appreciated books and believe in the power of reading.  We hope you pass a couple0912_books_indo_434162t.jpg of bookish gifts to a couple of the young ones in your life.  Give us a holler if you have questions or ideas—Hearts & Minds ships from Dallastown, Pennsylvania, not the North Pole, so we can get things to most customers pretty quickly.  Ho, ho, ho.

a few Advent and Christmas books

The Nativity illustrated by Julie Vivas (Voyager) $7.00 This large-sized paperback has won more notable children’s book awards than many because it is just so darn enticing.  The playful illustrations are both fairly realistic—the dark hair, the very (very) pregnant Mary, the pastel touches of Middle Eastern color.  The old KJV text gives it a classic feel, and then those awesome angles show up wearing Army boots.  The Lord of Hosts, anyone?  This knocks my socks off every year for it’s humor, Earthiness, and–perhaps–surreal truthfulness.  

Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage,
and Tabitha’s Travels  Arnold Ytreeide (Kregal) $13.99 each  We love these dramatic stories, three volumes, of three different children around Bethlehem the weeks leading up to what we now call Christmas.  Tabitha is the daughter of a shepherd who is taking his family back to his birthplace, and her father gets taken as a prisoner by the Roman authorities.  Bartholomew’s story is also one of adventurous escape when he is freed from slavery, traveling across Israel to be reunited with his family.    Divided into short chapters which can be read day-by-day as the stories move inevitably towards Bethlehem—kids learn about wise men and innkeepers, the culture of first century Palestine, and the social context of the Christmas story.  Ytreeide is a fine storyteller who cares deeply about spiritual growth in families, and has given us these fabulously creative family Advent devotionals.  

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey Susan Wojciechowski  (Candlewick) $15.99  The author did one of her first bookstore presentations here at our shop back when this book first came out; we will never forget her showing these striking, gorgeous, illustrations by one of the world’s leading illustrators (P.J. Lynch of Ireland.)  This is a tender story, well told, deeply attuned to goodness and grace, without being an obvious re-telling of the Christmas story.  This smallish edition comes with a CD of the narration by James Earl Jones.  A treasure.

61sEebKgDDL._SL500_AA300_.jpgSaint Francis and the Nativity  Myrna A. Strasser; illustrated by Fausto Bianchi  (Zondervan) $16.99 sale priced at $12.97 The stylized, colorful art at times gives the impression of stained glass, and this playful, warm story tells the legend of how Saint Francis started the first nativity scene. For anyone enthralled with the manger scenes—big or small–this book is a must. The illustrator does his remarkable work from his home in (where else?) Italy!  Very nicely done.

17 Christmases  Dandi Daley Mackall; illustrated by Michele Noiset (Zondervan) $16.99  sale priced at $12.97  Well.  Dandi is a fun children’s book writer and here she offers some great rhyming verses that, despite the corny phrases, really do work.  The silly illustrator–whose best work is not shown on the cover, but has to be the scene from, well, maybe Colorado, or the Ohio one, or the dad’s face in Philly.  Yep, they travel all over this big bright land and do Christmasy things.  A fun celebration of extended family, lots of traditions, car rides, and loved ones all over the land.  Not quite the Griswalds, this is still a hoot, with a lovely message and a nice reminder of the gospel, too.  Fun to read out loud, if you ham it up a bit.

a few attractive picture books about making a difference

The Boy Who Changed the World  Andy Andrews; illustrated by Philip Hurst (Nelson) $16.99The-Boy-Who-Saved-the-World-Cover.jpgThis was released as part of a campaign promoting a gift book of motivational speaker Andy Andrew’s most famous talk, The Butterfly Effect And How Your Life Matters, showing the small ripple effect from little decisions that roll down through time.  This is a children’s version of the heart of that talk, the incredible truth that everything you do matters—and they tell the story of Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug to prove it.  He’s saved millions of lives as a geneticist, but more to the point, he wouldn’t have been able to rise to this accomplishment if it weren’t for Vice President Harry Wallace, who was influenced by inventor George Washington Carver, who in turn was rescued from the KKK by farmer Moses Carver.  

This chain of interwoven decisions plays out with the hero making such a huge difference which couldn’t have happened without those who came before him.  This is a great example of vocation and vision and passion and purpose.  Fantastic!  I hope you consider this for some child you know!

of-thee-i-sing-barack-obama-226x300.jpgOf Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters  Barack Obama; illustrated by Loren Long (Knopf) $17.99  Can you imagine the vetting to find an illustrator to design the art for a sitting President’s kid’s book? Regardless of your views of the President, or your opinions of his policies, this is, without a doubt, a fantastic, wonderful, well-done, and altogether visually pleasing book.  In each case, Mr. O says to his daughter “have I told you that you are…” and the word may be “brave” or “kind” or a phrase like “an explorer” or “never give up.”  With each, the facing page tells the story of a great American who captured the essence of that word.  From Jackie Robinson to Neil Armstrong, from George Washington to Martin Luther King, from Billy Holiday to Abraham Lincoln, this is a great, patriotic, educational, and fully sweet inspiration.  Highly recommended.  (The illustrator, by the way, lives in Ohio and is well respected in the field.  We are fond of his The Day the Animals Came which is a child’s-eye view of the animals coming into a cathedral for a blessing on St. Francis Day.  Nice.)

Sensing Peace  Suzana E. Yoder; illustrated by Rachel Hoffman-Bayles (Herald Press) $13.99  This is a vivid story, with fairly traditional illustrations (well done, bright, realistic) that encourages children to
look, listen, taste, touch, smell, and feel shalom.  They experience God’s peace and interpersonal caring through ordinary experiences like sharing, laughing, singing.  This teaches peace, with great multi-ethnic global scenes, and shows that even kids can make a difference, by embracing God’s presence in all things, learning about the senses and serving others. Poetically written, evocative, but not particularly Christ-focused.

One Hand, Two Hands  Max Lucado; illustrated by Gaby Hansen (Tommy Nelson) $16.99max-lucado-one-hand-two-hands.jpg  The library code on this suggests it is about “social issues” and I suppose that is so.  In fact, Max’s newest book (which we raved about when it first came out) is all about making a difference, especially among the global poor. (It is called Outlive Your Life and I reviewed it quite favorably.)  This sweet one uses whimsical words and shows how even the youngest children can serve others.  It explains what fingers and hands can do, playfully listing things, pointing to good stuff, showing how kids—and the pastel animals that join them here– really can “Wipe tears. Give a gift. Write Grandma a letter. With hands and a hug, we make people feel better.”  My, my, what a nice message to give our little ones.  For preschool children.

Christian education for elementary age

51azxrknnxl__sl500_aa300_.jpgThe Church History ABCs: Augustine and twenty-five other heroes of the Faith  Stephen Nichols; illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $15.99  When we did one of the book launch release parties for this, we announced it, raved at the website, and suggested that there is nothing like it in print!  This is funny and clever, and there is real substance.  From Ignatius (d. 110AD) to Florence Young (d. 1894) this spans most of church history.  A is for Augustine, of course, and Z is for Zwingli.  A happy education fills in the rest, and we hope you realize how very important this is.  Your child is part of the ongoing story as God’s redemptive purposes unfold, so help them know their family tree!  Hooray.  It is an alphabet book, of course, but obviously that is a device and the content is for slightly older kids.  See a bit more that I wrote about it here.

Jesus A to Z  Michael O’Neill McGrath (World Library Publications) $16.99  I can’t tell you
007199_rdax_152x203.jpg how colorful and interesting this unusual alphabet book is.  Brother McGrath is a renowned illustrator, working within Catholic liturgical circles, doing prayer cards and banners and prayer books.  This is, as one Roman religious educator put it, “brimming over with humor, creativity, and joy.  These playful images will stir the imagination and surely enable children to encounter Jesus in new ways.”  Certainly for pre-schoolers, but there is more going on here than meets the eye.  Interesting!   For instance: A is “All the apostles at the Ascension” and for the letter S he writes, “The Shepard seeks straying sheep.”   U tells us that “Jesus loves the unclean, unhealthy and unloved.”  G shows “Google the Gospels to get Good News Across Generations.”  I must admit, a few of the pictures strike me as a tad corny, and there is one inferring Mary is a “Queen” that most Protestants won’t quite get.  Still, a fascinating resource.

My Heart–Christ’s Home  Robert Boyd Munger with Carolyn Nystrom; illustrated by Kristen Funkhouser (IVP) $12.99  We could almost count on one hand the number of children’s books this often academic press has done.  This new edition of a children’s version of their gazillion-selling booklet traces a boy named Peter as he spends a week with Jesus.  You may know the little booklet: not only do we invite Jesus into our house, but we must yield each room to him.  And, we get to meet with him, as he waits for us in the ordinariness of our home.  What a vision of redemption, growth, spirituality and wholistic discipleship.  God cares about it all.  Start ’em young with the Big Vision, that’s what I say.  This is a winner.  A tool.  Use it well, spread the word.  Very well done.

The Big Red Tractor and the Little Village Francis Chan; illustrated by Matt Daniels (Cook) $12.99  This vintage look is too much; you’ve got to get this fabulous new book that feels like a classic.  The story is of a tractor that just doesn’t work too well.  Farmer Dave discovers a long-lost book in a dusty attic and, well, can it change everything?  BRT is a parable that explains that God has a special purpose for you, but you can only fulfill it through the help of His Spirit.  

Halfway Herbert  Francis Chan; illustrated by Matt Daniels (Cook) $ 12.99  Again, the look is retro and charming.  The story is a bit wacky as the boy realizes he can’t keep doing things only half-way.  Oooh, the lesson he learns!  But, please note, this is not moralism.  It isn’t about doing things poorly, it, finally, is a call to life for God fully.  Can a child grasp radical discipleship?  You bet.

Pilgrim's Progress.jpgThe Pilgrim’s Progress: From This World to That Which Is to Come  John Bunyan /edited by C. J. Lovik; illustrated by Mike Wimmer (Crossway) $24.99 Every family should have at least one edition of this hugely influential classic that has stirred readers to commitment and faith for more than three centuries.  Lovik seems to know his Bunyan, and has captured just the right feel as he modernizes this for newer readers.  The full color illustrations are lavish, in the traditional style (almost reminding me of the famous Wyeth work done for classics like Treasure Island or Robin Hood.)  The feel and tone is classic, the truths as clear as ever.

By the way, for an edition that is even0802850804m.jpg more adapted—so very well, though–and that has breath-taking, artful illustrations (by the always impressive, world-renowned Barry Moser) consider the Eerdmans edition written by the highly esteemed, Newberry Award winner, Gary D. Schmidt of Calvin College. ($16.50 in a smaller hardback size.) The pictures are breathtaking, to say the least, the re-telling a faithful paraphrase, and did I say the pictures are wild?  Wow.

my pick for the picture book of the year

I See the
Rhythm of Gospel
  Toyomi Igus; paintings by Michele Wood  (ZonderKidz) $16.99  It is hard to explain the energy, the vivid strength of these bright oils that seem very, very modern, and yet very old.  The very mixed metaphor of the title (see the rhythm?) should give you a clue of how cool this is.  (Does the look harken back to slave narratives and primitive rural stylings?  Oh, how it works!  Ms Wood is an artist of the first order!)  This is the story of black gospel music, and it is nothing short of spectacular. It is a sequel to the much-acclaimed I See the Rhythm (which won a number of important awards a few years ago.) A bonus CD is included so readers (young and old) can hear songs described in the book.  You see, gospel music has evolved, and this books tells that story, in rich prose, evocative story and song, and paintings as loud and important as the songs.  
51A3X0ciT1L._SL500_AA300_.jpgThere is a very educational time-line, too, so this is also a course in African American history. One really gets a ton of knowledge about what was going on in black culture.  From Africa, to slavery and freedom, strong woman’s voices, choirs and moving into R&B and funk and up to holy hip hop, this book tells it all.   The CD is perfect, with Wade in the Water (as done by the Golden Gate Quartet in 1947), a Mahalia Jackson song (released in 1954), a pretty traditional tune recorded by CeCe Winan, a Sam Cook song as done by the great Fred Hammond, ending with a fairly recent Cross Movement track.  What a great little bonus to this sumptuous book!

Come on people: this is da bomb.  Get this.  Pass it on.  I’m not kidding—this is a true treasure, interesting, informative, inspiring, and truly, truly creatively designed.  Somebody call the Caldecott people, and the Coretta King award team!  Kudos to Zondervan! 

a few children’s Bibles

Children of God Storybook Bible Archbishop Desmond Tutu; various illustrators (Zondervan) sale priced $14.97  This is not only one of the more interesting projects of its kind in recent years, it is one of the great bargains of the year.  Every Bible story is illustrated by a different world-class illustrator, so the styles and nationalities and moods are very diverse.  Tutu tells the stories in his charming, visionary way, often highlighting the theme of God’s good love in most stories.  There are free audio downloads, too, if you’d like to hear his voice telling these classic Bible portions.  Highly recommended.

Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book  Starr Meade; illustrated by Tim O’Connor (Crossway) introductory price, $19.99  This is a fairly standard-size children’s Bible, and it presents readers a story of God as revealed in the Scripture.  In 90 well-told stories, the truths of God and God’s work in history come through clearly, with a keen sense of the difference this makes in a child’s life.  Discussion questions are not dumbed down.  The artwork is fairly traditional, mature cartoons, nothing glitzy or odd. The perspective captures something very important.   

The Bible for Children (Good Books) $23.99  We have said lately that this is our pick for aBible for Children (Good Books).jpg favorite full color, larger type, clearly re-told overview of the great Bible story. It is fairly large and really classy, with a slight modern flair to the art.  See our more detailed description here, but know this is colorful and vivid and graciously told.  Very impressive.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Sally Lloyd-Jones; illustrated by Jago  (Zondervan) $16.95  This is without a doubt our favorite choice–for reasons of content, of perspective, of vocabulary and design–for a first Bible for younger children. Lloyd-Jones is masterful here.  A bitter smaller so a child can easily hold it.  As we have said often, it reminds readers that the whole Bible hands together, and that it all points to the coming of Christ.  I love the subtitle slogan: “every story whispers His name.”  Yes.
We describe it in greater detail here.

Action Bible.jpg
The Action Bible: God’s Redemptive Story

 Sergio Cariello (Cook) $24.99   Dude.  Yes, you hear me.  You, dude.  If you know a younger fellow–maybe a cool gal, too, for that matter—who reads graphic novels or comic books and rolls his or her eyes at the thought of daily devotions (or maybe reading anything), you have to get this. It could be a life-saver.  This is nothing but cartoons, by a master artist at the top of his craft, a guy who has worked for Marvel and DC Comics.  The original action heroes, found right here.  Almost 750 lush, fully designed pages.  This is epic.  Check it out at and come on back and snag one from us. 


two Bible books for middle school age

God’s Acts in Creation and Gods Acts in Redemption 
Starr Meade (Crossway) $10.99  Wanted to list these as they are
excellent studies, used by Christian educators and homeschooling
families.  Really interesting and rooted well in the truths of the

two fun devotionals

The One Year Choose Your Own Ending Devotions (Tyndale) $13.99  Yep, this allows the reader to choose an ending.  Each day has a bit of an unfolding story (and each month has a theme, matching the ministry of the Pioneer Clubs mid-week programing.)  There is something to read, to think about, to do, to pray about.  Very thorough, very interesting and quite substantial. (Don’t let the fun-looking cover fool you!)  For mid to later elementary students, up through middle school, perhaps.

Sports Trivia Devotional: Inspiration for Kids from Sports and Scripture  Dave Veerman and Dana Niesluchowski (Zonderkidz) $16.99 Brand new, this has fascinating facts and great information about almost every kind of athlete and sport you can imagine (including some odd-ball stuff to keep kids entertained, like a story of a one-legged mountain climber and an elephant polo player.)  Remember those DK non-fiction books, with bright, clean photos?  This looks like that, educational, interesting, clever.  Most importantly, there are principles for living from the Bible. This is the sort of stuff I cut my teeth on (except it wasn’t so cool looking.  I’d would have devoured this!) 

A few really great reads

Theodore Boone: The Kid Lawyer  John Grisham (Dutton) $16.99  I’m not going to lie, this is really a cool idea.  Here is what it says on the back, and it’s pretty darn amazing.  “A perfect murder.  A faceless witness.  A lone courtroom champion knows the whole truth, but he’s only 13 years old.  A high intensity legal drama for a new generation of readers.”  One of our very best storytellers, a national treasure, increasingly an advocate for criminal justice, and a Baptist Sunday school teacher.

The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic  Jennifer Trafton (Dial) $16.99  This Nashville-based writer is a friend of a friend, so we immediately wanted to check it out.  And it is rich.  Really good writing.  A fun story, amazing, really. Tons of lessons (about an island that thinks it is “At the Center of Everything” and the young girl who has to dissuade them of this odd idea.)  One of our staff just couldn’t put it down…with all the books around here, this is one that we’re very excited about. Fantastic illustrations.  Perfect for a family read, to read out loud to elementary kids, certainly for those who are 10-12, or so, or, uh, adults.  Yep.

Trouble  Gary Schmidt (Houghton Mifflin) $8.99  So glad this is now out in paperback.  This is the most recent by the award winning author of personal favorites The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.  The character in this one, Henry, runs away to climb a mountain, which brings important lessons.  Gripping.

small books with great lessons

9780736927734.jpgRemy the Rhino Learns Patience  Andy McGuire (Harvest House) $12.99  I usually don’t love books that have too heavy a hand when teaching a message or that seem overly moralistic.  Yet, this story about a Rhino that is always mad stole my heart.  The drawings take you to Africa, are just a bit whimsical, but yet really do help teach children about the harmfulness of anger.  This is pure charm.

Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World  Wendell Berry; illustrated by Davis TeSelle (Counterpoint) $12.95  Did you know the great Wendell Berry (one of our great essayists and novelists) did a lovely little kids book? Just out, now, in paperback, the soft illustrations show the field mouse “at the center of the world.”  This is beyond charming, it is beautiful, soft, good.  They don’t make ’em like this much anymore…am I wrong to think of E.B. White or Wind in the Willows?

If America Were a Village: A Book About the People of the United States David Smith; illustrated by Shelagh Armstrong (Kids Can Press) $18.95  You may know this author’s other work, the best-seller If the World Was a Village.  This has great statistics and facts about who we are as a people, how many  live here or there, what kinds of work and lives we have.  This compares American numbers to the rest of the world, too, in ways that children can really appreciate.  

A great, great, great stocking stuffer

101125020825.jpgWhat’s In the Bible? with Buck Denver Volume 1 In TheMichael.png Beginning  Phil Vischer (Tyndale)  $14.99 
on sale for just $5.00.  VeggieTales creator Phil V. gets his groove back with these utterly zany, fast-paced, hilarious Bible lessons with muppet-like characters, country music, space ships, talking flannel-graphs and the smart, sassy “Sunday School Lady.”  The content is solid–seriously, it is–and they intend to cover the whole Bible. Oh yeah, they do! There are five DVDs so far.  Start off with the first, naturally, which we have on sale. (While supplies last.)  Splurge and get ’em all—you won’t regret it, until you can’t get the songs out of your brain.  Don’t blame me.

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25% off any three
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