Two of the themes that have been important to us here at the store (since we opened the brick and mortar location in 1982 and our website nearly 20 years ago) have been the obvious one that people of faith should use their spiritual resources not just for personal happiness or church activities but to make a difference in the world, loving our neighbors and making the world a better place and the related doctrines of vocation and calling, the notions that help us discern our own roles and places to serve, what we are given to take up and work on.
From older classics such as Os Guinness’ erudite The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life to the popular story of coffee entrepreneur Jonathan David Golden, Be You. Do Good: Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive
so full of passion and inspiration, from essential reads like Andy Crouch’s Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling and Steve Garber’s Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good, books that are found in this basic constellation are game-changers for some, clarifying and transforming and, we think, joyfully important. Over and over we’ve heard how grateful people are to have this fresh language and theological perspective to help them understand their faith and their place in the world.
Occasionally we are asked how to help children develop a transforming vision or learn the useful language of vocation. How do we not only help kids learn to serve and care about the world but think about their own sense of giftedness and interests and vocations?
Sadly, books like this aren’t used by parents or Christian educators much, I gather, since they tend to go out of print. For instance, we used to love a book about various occupations called The Kings Workers by Mary Hollingsworth or Dandi Daley Mackall’s great Made for a Purpose but they are no longer available. Try your library!
We delight in even little beginnings. Do you know the Berenstain Bears books? They have one called The Berenstain Bears Jobs Around Town by Stan, Jan, and Mike Berenstain (Zonderkidz; $3.99.) Here’s how they describe it:
Searching for the
perfect job, Brother and Sister Bear learn to celebrate the many talents
of others. In The Berenstain Bears: Jobs Around Town, they begin to
imagine where their own God-given gifts might take them as they grow.
That’s it, isn’t it? At least part of it. Why don’t we hear more of these kinds of conversations in our talk about parenting and in our books about children’s ministry?
It is a bigger question then we can answer here but here are books for parents and some for children that I wanted to highlight. One is a brand new children’s book by a friend and H&M loyalist whose books we’ve promoted before, Ethan Bryan (among others, two baseball books, the great Run Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals and the exciting story of raising money to fight trafficking by playing catch, Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom, and Knuckleball and, more recently,
The Cowboy Year: A Story of Dads and Guns.) Ethan’s new one, his first kids book, is short and sweet and called Superheroes Are for Real. But first…
Raising Kids for True Greatness: Redefining Success for You and Your Child Tim Kimmel (Nelson) $15.99 There are not too many books that explore how to parent with a view to nurturing a sense of agency and passion and world-changing vocations in kids, but, for now, this is certainly a useful read. It doesn’t cite Guinness or Garber, but it is moving in that direction, helping parents give their kids a vision of their own lives that can be (in Christian terms) truly great. We liked Kimmel’s Grace Based Parenting, too, by the way. Very nice.
It’s Not Too Late: The Essential Part You Play in Shaping Your Teen’s Faith Dan Dupee (Baker) $15.99 Admittedly, this isn’t for parents of little kids, but, you know, it wouldn’t hurt for any parent to read it. Dan Dupee’s INTL is the best book that I know of for parents of teens (and, especially young adults) that not only affirms the parent’s necessary role, but links the skill sets needed to be good at parenting to these very themes of being transformed by the gospel in ways that propel us to ask the questions of vocation and calling. As you most likely read in my several BookNotes reviews of it, it cites most of our favorite books, and mentions Hearts & Minds as a resource for parents who want to help college student think about their callings in the world, even picking a major and a career. It’s not too late to read this book, and, I’d say, it is hardly too early, either. Highly recommended.
Growing Compassionate Kids: Helping Kids See Beyond Their Backyard Jan Johnson (Upper Room) $14.99 This great title is sadly out of print, but we have some left – a marvelous resource, a lovely book, by a writer who is profound and skilled in writing about both spiritual formation stuff (she has worked with the late Dallas Willard and published many books on the inner life) and social justice concerns she has been involved in Evangelicals for Social Action, for instance.) There are few really insightful, reliably faithful books about helping us do this kind of parenting work, and we commend Jan’s book to you. Get it while you can.
Kingdom Family: Re-envisioning God’s Plan for Marriage and Family Trevecca Okholm (Cascade) $22.00 Okholm has been a professional Christian educator for more than 25 years and is currently serving as Minister to Children and Families at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, CA. (Yay for certified Christian educators and members of APCE!) She received her master’s in educational ministries from Wheaton Graduate School. Fabulous blurbs from folks across the wider church have affirmed this. As S. Steve Kang (of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary and co-author of Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful) writes, she has “cultivated the practice of practical theology leading to a genuine transformation of the family and the church.” Ms Okholm reminds us that the local church helps form families for life in the world, and that our spiritual formation must have as it’s frame a missional vision of the Kingdom of God. This recalls us to this broader, bigger picture of our lives together and yet offers practical, good, Kingdom practices for real life.
The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home & in the World Helen Lee (Moody Press) $13.99 I love Helen Lee and this book is brimming with her grace and vision and energy, inviting moms to see their parenting work as a vocation in Kingdom terms, seizing on opportunities to connect the dots with and for their little ones between personal faith development in the home and God’s service in the world. It isn’t every book in this genre that carries rave endorsements from the likes of cross-cultural leader Dave Gibbon or missional writers like Alan and Debra Hirsch, urban minister directors such Arloa Sutter, and great, great women writers like Caryn Rivadeneira. Missional Mom is a very nice little book, carrying a grand and good vision for us all.
Superheroes Are for Real Ethan Bryan, illustrated by Travis Hanson (Goldminds Publishing) $12.99 “Her dad says superheroes are for real. She isn’t sure. Game on.” That’s the tease on the back cover. This book is for young ones and is based rather simple – but ingenious – idea, told through a simply plot. Ethan and his daughter – uh, scratch that, a fictional dad and his fictional daughter, are discussing whether superheroes are for real. What parent hasn’t had that kind of conversation? And what parent doesn’t sometimes joke around with kids, playfully making stuff up, exaggerating the truth of things, daring the child to figure out the real truth of the matter. Well, this starts with that kind of giddy exchange.
The father and daughter, we learn, dress up like different superheroes each Halloween, and love wondering which person in his or her street clothes are really superheroes in ordinary disguise. Real superheroes, we all know, come in to help those who are in trouble, lending an extraordinary hand at just the right time. (Even though, we see in one funny spread, “even superheroes have bad days.”)
Well. “Maybe tomorrow will be the day we finally see superheroes in action.” That’s what the little girl, narrating the books tells us her dad says each day.
Not only do superheroes help the vulnerable and serve those in need, they “inspire others to do their best.” Okay, so it gets a little didactic, but it is for young children. But maybe you are going to see where this is going.
Each day the little girl determines to look for evidence of real superheroes, whether they have their capes on or not. And, wow, she finds some great stuff.
A gruff looking blue collar working man swoops in at a grocery store to rescue a little child about to be hurt by an avalanche of cans of peas. At a park she notices some emergency workers aiding someone after an accident. “At school,” she notices, “my teacher always seems to be helping others.” And after each, the refrain: “Maybe she might be a superhero.” What a delight to see the various people within various occupations that are shown to be superheroes. A scientist at the planetarium. A doctor and nurse who help when the little girl breaks her arm and she is scared. Maybe even her dad, with whom she likes to hang out.
She puts her findings in a little book that she shares with her dad. He affirms her, noting that she helps with household chores and is clever to notice all these good people helping others in day-to-day ways. Who know, the reader is left to wonder: maybe even the little girl is a superhero, after all. Surely the dad is, after all.
Maybe superheroes are for real. This book – which models wonderful father daughter conversation, which shows the dad affirming his daughter at every point, so is worthwhile just for that – gets at a wonderful large truth in very simple prose. Everybody can help others and maybe every job has within it the opportunity for it to be a holy calling, a way for it to be an avenue of helping, of serving, of doing, well, heroic stuff. Ahhh, through the eyes of a child.
I encourage you to read a short piece author Ethan Bryan wrote for The Good Men Project, here. As a stay at home dad, he describes his work as father and writer, the genesis of the idea for the Superheroes Are for Real book, and closes in a way that reminds us of the end of the book. Ethan writes, “This is the story I want to tell, I want to live. This is what I want to
do as a father: to let my daughters know that I am proud of them,
amazed by their creativity and compassion, and encourage them as they go
and do super things in this world.”
Make a Stand: When Life Gives You Lemons, Change the World! Vivienne Harr (Chocolate Sauce Books) $18.99 This is a very colorful, very well made book we discovered not long ago, based on a true story. It is, again, a rather simple story, but there’s a bit more going on and the book unfolds with lots of content, interesting side-stories, and a big, big ending. The short version is simply that the Vivienne Harr, age 9, learned something about modern day child slavery and determines to try to stop this awful plight. With the faith and optimism (okay, call it naiveté if you must) of a child, she wonders with her sibling and parents what she can do.
“My parents couldn’t believe that such a big idea could come from such a little person,” she tells us. There is some serious consideration – little thought bubbles appear naming some of the reasons not to act, but she says, “I didn’t think of all the reasons why I couldn’t. I thought of all the reasons why I must.” And, so, onward she goes.
“Lemonade was the only business experience I had. So I set up my lemonade stand (only not your ordinary lemonade stand.” We see a cool drawing of it, with her sign “kids should be free” and it is called Lemon-Aid.
(I love that she reports so matter-of-factly about the matter of her previous “business experience.” Ha.)
She paints it with care, realizing it was going to be hard to achieve her goal of raising $100,00.00. Talk about a superhero! And then the story gets interesting. On about day 20 after a lot of disappointment and frustration she decides to follow her heart (her parents suggestion) and starts giving away the lemonade to children. A local news reporter (“a nice man” she says) does a story on her little project about freedom. And, wow, does it ever take off.
“Make a stand” becomes her watchword, and with some help from others, she has started a franchise deal. Kids all over started to take a stand by making a stand — a lemonade stand like hers.
A page in the back reminds us that “Make A Stand didn’t start as a product. It started as a promise – deep in the heart of a little girl who wanted to make the world a better place.”
I don’t think that most readers of this fantastic book are going to want to join this social purpose business enterprise, so please don’t not get it because you don’t want your kid insisting on this big project. Maybe somebody you know will (who knows?) but that isn’t the point, really. More, it is a story of what one person can do, what some of us can do if we work together, of how every person matters (no matter how small) and how we can all experiment with ideas and see what develops as we try to do something helpful and good. Kids don’t usually think of reasons they can’t do things, and maybe we adults can even learn from that.
I loved this colorful little book. I really hope you consider ordering one from us, and sharing it with the kids you know, maybe donating it to the local library or church library.
Two quick things: the art in this book is really, really interesting and the design is fabulous. I don’t always love the illustrations, but they work as they are designed on the page so creatively, with multiple things going on nicely, this drawing, that sidebar, another on the horizon. It’s fun to look at.
And what is really great is how they have the illustrations of Vivienne and her Lemon Aid team sometimes superimposed on real photographs. You see some real pictures of children carrying huge rocks, you see real pictures of Vivienne’s first stand, and you see photographs of the New York City taxicabs from when Vivienne and her fam go to the big city to get a bottling deal. Oh yes, you can see real pictures of the bottles with the labels of her distributed (organic) Make A Stand Lemon Aid lemonade. Whimsical and nearly implausible as this upbeat (true) book is, I was oddly moved by this success in her family’s efforts. (And I smile when they called her The Little Lemonpreneur.)
In a dedication note at the end, Vivienne’s dad writes, to child slaves “Don’t ever give up hope. We’re coming for you.” Let us pray it is so, and let us hope that books like this inspire us all to think big about the biggest issues of the day, and what we can do, one way or another. At least, it might inspire you to order some Make A Stand Lemon Aid drinks or tee shirts. And a book or two. We are proud to sell it here, and hope you help us spread the word.
Here, you can watch her doing what is basically a kids TED talk, five minutes of this charming little girl — chief inspirational officer for Make a Stand. You have got to see it! Go Vivvy.
What Do You Do with an Idea? Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom (Compendium Inc) $16.95 I read parts of this out loud to a group of church educators and you could feel it in the room and then we could hear the almost communal gasp, as we got to the end, the invitation to “change the world” with an idea that follows you around. Their own ideas were spinning as they wondered how they could use this in a Christian ed setting, what kind of conversations it might start, what Bible texts it might be used with. This is playful, nearly minimalist, as we see the “idea” thing grow as the child grows in confidence. And then, as they say, something amazing happens.
I like the way the publisher put it:
What Do You Do With an Idea is for anyone who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.
Harold Finds a Voice Courtney Dicmas (Child’s Play Inc) $7.99 This is a very colorful, just slightly oversized children’s picture book about a bird that could mimic any sound. You can imagine the fun children will have following the antics of Harold as he makes so many funny sounds, just like a car horn or a ships blast or a dog barking, loud ones, quiet ones, funny ones, scary ones. Everybody and everything seems to have a voice, and then, finally, Harold lets at a squawk that goes one for two big pages – what fun, as he finds his own voice. You get the point, I’m sure, and so will your little ones: we can come to realize if we don’t have our own authentic voice and we may have to work to find and give voice to our own unique sound. Harold the bird grew tired of repeating other sounds, and wanted to make some of his own. Called “vibrant and inventive”, this hilarious tale might lead to some noise in your home. And a lesson learned better sooner than later.
The Plans I Have for You Amy Parker, illustrated by Vanessa Brantly-Newton (Zonderkidz) $16.99 This is not out yet, but we hope to get it in by late June… you can pre-order it now, If you’d like. We will send it as soon as it arrives.
Here is what the publisher says:
The Plans I Have for You combines playful rhyming text written by bestselling children’s book author Amy Parker with whimsical illustrations by award-winning artist Vanessa Brantley-Newton to create a book that inspires readers of all ages to dream about their future. God has great plans for each and every one of us, and this book encourages children to think about the talents that make them special and will help them imagine how God may use our unique traits to make the world a better place.
You can see why I wanted to list this one here. Kudos to the publisher for releasing a sweet and inspiring book like this. Pre-order it today!
Me and Momma and Big John Mara Rockliff, William Low (Candlewick Press) $16.99 Candlewick is known for beautiful, beautiful children’s picture books and this is one we’ve promoted before. It works on a number of levels, is artfully done, and tells the story of a mom who is a stonecutter at the cathedral the workers call Big John – the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City that was begun in 1892 and is still under construction. Momma’s son John and his sisters can’t wait to see her special stone in this luminous true-life story.
Read this description from the School Library Journal, that recommends it for K-Grade 2, at least:
When Momma comes home from working as a stonecutter for New York City’s St. John the Divine, affectionately known as “Big John,” she is tired and covered with dust. It is hard work, and no one knows how many decades it will take to finish the cathedral. Her middle son, the narrator, is amazed when he finds out that all this time she has only worked on one stone. His mother explains that what she does is an art, and the boy proudly imagines Momma’s name on display in a museum. When they visit Big John, the boy is disappointed to find that his mother’s stone looks identical to all the others, and that no one will ever know which is hers. But as they experience the majesty of the cathedral and lift their voices in song, he realizes that there is an art to being part of something bigger than yourself.
Patrons and Protectors: Occupations and Patrons and Saints: More Occupations Michael O’Neill McGrath (Liturgical Training Publications) $18.95 We only have a few of these left, but I just have to list them. These are explicitly Roman Catholic and talk about patron saints for various occupations. There is a drawing of the patron saint doing his or her work in her ancient setting paired with a man or woman doing that very work in today’s setting. (And, oh, look for the dove tucked in on every page, showing God’s very presence in each job site!) Also, there is a short essay from a contemporary person describing how they serve God and the public in their work – most you haven’t heard of but a few (like broadcaster and TV show producer Fred Rogers) are heroes to us all.
From the books publicity, you see why we love it so:
From the first-century Martha, who served meals to Jesus in her home, to the recently canonized Katharine Drexel, who built schools and colleges to improve the lives of Native Americans and African Americans, work and labor have been essential to Christian life. Alongside McGrath’s commentary about why a saint is associated with a particular occupation are essays by men and women engaged in that work. As we see the variety of ways human beings contribute their talents and skills to building God’s reign, we may be inspired to view our jobs–and our faith–with fresh eyes.
Most Protestants (in fact, even most Catholics) don’t know that there are so many patron saints for so many specific careers and occupations, and it is fun to see the way they link up saints and service in the work world, from (just in the second one, More Occupations, pharmacists, librarians, beekeepers, photographers, scientists, firefighters, midwives, dentists, builders, actors, photographers, environmentalists, poets, and more.
Brother Bartholomew and the Apple Grove Jan Cheripko, illustrated by Kestutis Kasparavicius (Boyds Mills Press) $15.95 We so like this legendary children’s publisher and so love this wonderful book. I’m sure I’ve recommended it before. The art is beautiful, soft, realistic watercolors, and the text is longer and more complex than some picture books. (I think it is good for middle elementary grads.) The story centers on an old monk whose job it was to care for an apple grove (the monastery made apple sauce to help make ends meet.) A newer, younger monk had his eye on taking over for the older one, and, well, there’s a lesson learned about ambition and greed and impatience.
One theme of the story, I’d say, is about patience and sustainability, even caring for animals – and then, this big point: “God will provide.” It is said, often, and it is what the older Brother Bartholomew says to Brother Stephen at the end, when Stephen realizes his barbed wire “improvements” to keep the deer away was not so good. Called “haunting” and “moving” this warm tale of land and work and doing the right thing in God’s own way, nearly could have been written by Wendell Berry. A lovely, wise book — we only have a few left.
Americans Who Tell the Truth Robert Shetterly (Puffin) $7.99 This is a stunning picture book, with remarkable pen and ink and watercolor paintings of 50 great Americans with a quote from each on the facing page. This is for older kids or politically interested teends and definitely for those whose values tilt toward the lefty and progressive; the activist background about the person is briefly told, so you’ll learn about folks from Wendell Berry to Harriet Tubman, from Rachel Carson to Howard Zinn, from Sojourner Truth to Dorothea Lange, on through folks as varied as John Muir, Cesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Day, Dwight Eisenhower, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Nader, and Rosa Parks.
Mostly these are portraits of noble rabble-rousers and social activists, although there are Presidents and authors and poets, civic leaders and courageous citizens. This book of 50 pictures could generate all kinds of interesting conversation and further study about standing up for one’s convictions, organizing for social change, and using one’s talents to probe against injustice. Okay, it has a bias and it leaves out all kinds of good people, but it still deserves your attention.
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