Hearts & Minds Christmas gift-giving ideas — novels, poems, and children’s books. 20% OFF (in time for Christmas)

We are quite sure that if you order from us in the next day or two you will still get your order before Christmas. USPS Priority Mail is often quicker than UPS and cheaper, too, so we can get a shipment from here in central Pennsylvania to you in less than a week. Unless there’s problems from bad weather or Santa’s sleigh gets in the way, we’re confident you can receive your package within the week.

Also, as we’ve said before, we’re happy to send a package directly to your loved one on your behalf. We’ll gift wrap it for free (unless you don’t want us to) and enclose a note saying it is from you. Just tell us at the website order form page (or the inquiry page_ what to say and how to sign your name.  We’ll confirm it within the day.

Here are just a very few ideas of more books to give. We’ll explain them in such as way as to give you a hint as to who might enjoy such a gift. Many of these you may know, and this may serve as a reminder. Giving a novel is a great idea, and it gives you a chance to talk about the story, the plot, the characters, the deeper values or worldview of the characters or author with others. What fun!

We know we won’t get an overwhelming response to this (we usually don’t when we highlight novels or kids books) so we’ll admit we don’t have tons of copies of these on the shelves. I guess I should say, without too much of Grinchy spirit, that our expectation to get them out in time for Christmas eve is only good while supplies last. (But, of course there’s the 12 days of Christmas coming up, and Epiphany, so there’s plenty of time for more holiday gift-giving then.)


Virgil Wander: A Novel Leif Enger (Atlantic Monthly Press) $27.00 What a solid hardback, what a long-awaited book. I know a number of folks (including a few Christian non-fiction authors and bloggers) who say Mr. Enger’s Peace Like a River is one of their all-time favorite stories — mysterious, dramatic, poignant, tender as it is. He’s a great talent, a fabulously interesting storyteller, and a solid Midwestern “American Balladeer” as NPR called him. In this story, Virgil is the owner of a small town cinema who, after a car accident, loses much of his memory and is trying to piece his life back together Can the whole down-on-their-luck town find renewal along with the other cast of characters seeking some kind of redemption? This has gotten good reviews at all the most respected places and I’m sure will be used as book clubs choices. It would make a fine gift idea.

The Solace of Water: A Novel Elizabeth Byler Younts (Thomas Nelson) $15.99 This is one of those novels that some serious readers may not know about. Yes, it is an Amish story; yes, it is on a religious publishing house. Amish romances by evangelical authors have become quite the thing, and some are okay and some are pretty cheesy. This story, though, is remarkable. It is set in central Pennsylvania in the 1950s as an African American family moves there from the deep South and the wife and grieving mother is befriended by a wife and grieving mother of the Anabaptist Amish community. Kudos to Byler Younts and Nelson publishing for doing such a daring, moving book that tells a good story and pulls readers in to a study of grief and isolation and friendship and differences.

As the publisher says it is “Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today…”  The Solace of Water is a fine, enjoyable, thoughtful read.

Lights on the Mountain: A Novel Cheryl Anne Tuggle (Paraclete Press $17.99 This, too, is set in Pennsylvania, this time out in Western PA farmland. The story is written by an Orthodox writer and is set on a farm, and is about farming. (Move over Wendell Berry I can hear some saying!)  Young Jess Hazel, the main character in the story, inherits his parents farm when he loses them in a farm accident.  As it says on the back cover, “Unable to shake the memory of a strange light he has seen hovering the mountain peak above his valley home, he embarks on a pilgrimage — a halting inner odyssey riddled with fits and false starts.”

This story picks up speed as it goes but even from the prelude readers know this is a very artful, intelligent writer, and it will be savored slowly as good literary fiction often is.  She has a poetic voice and the story is, as one reviewer put it, “as deep and rich as the ancient ground beneath the character’s feet.”

Paraclete Press does mature spiritual books, ecumenical and contemplative resources, mostly non-fiction that is always very well done. They have a few books about aesthetics and the arts, too, so they truly have a vision for making a distinctive contribution to the publishing world. When they do novels, they are certainly well worth owning.

Their last one, by the way, called Can You See Anything Now by Wheaton College alum Katherine James was stunning for both Beth and I; it was really engaging, very modern and creative and thought-provoking — you can read our review by searching at our BookNotes. And older one published by Paraclete that we love and which was slightly updated not too long ago, is a wonderful book about woman who does old painting restorations — which speaks volumes in quiet ways about the restoration of humans, too, entitled Unveiled by Suzanne Wolfe ($16.99.) Interestingly, they published years ago another novel about a woman working her farm; it is one of my all time favorites, called This Heavy Silence by Nicole Mazzarella ($16.00.) These three previous ones will be joined by Lights on the Mountain by Cheryl Anne Tuggle as a standard we’ll recommend here for someone who wants a well written story that is deeply aware of spiritual issues and the nature of the human soul, but doesn’t quite feel like “contemporary Christian fiction.”  Give Lights… a try and you’ll know what we mean. Highly recommended!

Love Big Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church Winn Collier (Eerdmans) $16.99 This may be the fifth or sixth time we’ve recommend this here at BooKnotes and those who have allowed us to speak up front at their gatherings where we have book displays will know that I’ve promoted it vigorously. We often say that pastors and church leaders should read it because, well, even though it is a novel, it gets at the nature of congregations and the meaning of church so well. That quote from Eugene Peterson is an author’s dream. I cite it all the time when trying to convince people to read this book.

Pastor Peterson wrote that Love Big Be Well is

A tour de force — an angle on understanding the life of both congregation and pastor that exceeds anything I have ever read.

Here, though, ho-ho-ho, I want to suggest this as a fun Christmas present to anyone who likes a good story. There’s tons of good theology in the letters the fictional Jonas McGann writes to the somewhat cranky congregants and the Granby Presbyterian Church in small town Virginia. But even though this novel is comprised of pastoral letters from Jonas, he tells of this episode or that situation, the ups and downs of the various people in his flock or in the town. The stories unfold, the plot thickens, and there are ups and downs as there would be in any such slow-moving, quiet sort of novel set in such a place. One of my favorite writers, Robert Benson says about Collier, “I never fail to read anything that he writes. If you are a lover of words and wisdom on the printed page, you should read him, too. This book is a fine place to start.” This is good, honest stuff, a story about church life by a real-life pastor. It is fun and interesting and, as Benson says, wise and good for anyone who is a lover of words. Get some for fiction lovers on your list, or for those left-brained theology types who don’t think they like novels. This is one they will love. Get one for yourself, too, while you’re at it.

Unsheltered: A Novel Barbara Kingsolver (Harper) $29.99  I finished this a week ago and am still pondering it. This is profound and complicated but the short version is this: every other chapter tells of the lives of two families that reside in the same house in Vineland, New Jersey, one in the late 1800s and one in contemporary times. The house is falling apart which becomes an obvious metaphor for their struggles as families and for the town itself. Did you know that Vineland was an early planned community (founded by a guy named Landis who later moved to Central Pennsylvania?) Much of the plot of the story of the first family, set in the 1800s, is about a science teacher and, without spoiling too much, a character who is corresponding with Charles Darwin and Asa Gray, and a renegade newspaperman who is telling the truth about some of Landis’s injustices.  The contemporary story — in that same house — is about an adjunct college prof and his wife, who is taking care of a brand new grand-baby (whose mother, their daughter in law, committed suicide shortly after childbirth.) There’s a lot of politics in this as you’d expect from the ecologically-minded, lefty Kingsolver (one of the daughters of the contemporary couple just got back from living in Cuba for a while and disapproves of her brother’s work in the financial sector.)  The New York Times review said

This is fiction rich in empathy, wit, and science… Kingsolver’s gifts are ‘fierce and wondrous’ with ‘colors moving around like fire.’

There is some vulgar language here but, still, Unsheltered is a novel which, as the Washington Post Book World review put it, “is on familiar terms with the eternal.”  I don’t know about that, but it is seeking a better world, asking big questions about meaning and life and death and love and goodness. I admire the talents and vision of the author and I enjoyed this complex book immensely. Maybe only because of Darwin’s role in the plot, it reminded me a bit of one of my all time favorite novels, the extraordinary, unforgettable The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert (Riverhead; $17.00.)

Anatomy of a Miracle: A Novel Jonathan Miles (Hogarth/Random House) $27.00 Speaking of vulgar, vulgar novels that are about God and faith and the meaning of things, I adored Anatomy of a Miracle (and the previous, very thought provoking novel by Miles, Dear American Airlines and, especially, Want.) As I said in my BookNotes review this summer, he is theologically aware (quoting C.S. Lewis and others about the theodicy question) and portrays different sorts of skeptics, seekers, believers, and charlatans, all really, really well. In this story, a handicapped Afghanistan war vet one day just gets up out of his wheelchair while heading to the local convenience store to buy some smokes. (You can see this is the book cover, which I don’t love, but is, admittedly clever.) The parking lot of Biz-E-Bee, right there in post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi, becomes a pilgrimage site as others seeking healing flock there. In the meantime both a serious theologian from the Vatican — you learn why as the story unfolds — and the doctor of the now-walking/healed vet are trying to determine what in the world happened. For the secularist scientist, there simply cannot be such a thing as a miracle, so she has to run bunches of neurological and psychological tests to figure how the inexplicable happened. (Maybe he never was really a paraplegic? Maybe he’s a nut job, or a fraud?) When the reality TV show people come in with tinsel town promises (what a way to help others, they say!) all hell breaks loose.

This is a fun and fascinating story, by a writer who has been called “gripping and memorable” and “a rare original” and “raucously ambitions.” With blurbs from the likes of Dave Eggers and Joshua Ferris and Elizabeth Gilbert and Richard Russo, you’ll know if this is a book your smart book loving friends will appreciate.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis Patti Callahan (Thomas Nelson) $25.99  This new novel should be flying off our shelves. We are sure you know somebody that would be just delighted to get it as a gift. I do not have to say much, only that there are pages and pages of good reviews of Patti Callahan’s writing and storytelling. (She sometimes writes as Patti Callahan Henry.) She has been a finalist in significant literary awards, has been an IndiePick (favs of indie bookstores) and is especially known in the South. (She resides in Alabama and South Carolina.) That her books (such as The Bookshop at Waters Edge or Coming Up for Air or Driftwood Summer and many more) have been regular best sellers illustrates her popularity, that she writes in a way that resonates with many. The endorsements are from other really popular writers such as Lisa Wingate and Mary Alice Monroe and Charles Martin which assures you that this is readable, entertaining stuff.

And my, oh my, have we needed a novel like this! Most of us know a bit about Joy Davidman, the good friend of C.S. Lewis, an American left-wing atheist Jewess and serious poet who fell in love with the Oxford don, who married her in her hospitable room, knowing she was dying. She didn’t die quite so soon, and the rest is, as they say, history. History which comes alive in this nicely written, engaging fictionalization. (Thanks to Don King of Montreat College for doing the defining serious study of her in Yet One More Spring: A Critical Study of Joy Davidman (Eerdmans; $32.00) as well as the exquisite, important Out of My Bone: The Letters of Joy Davidman  (Eerdmans; $28.00.)) Until now, it seems, we simply haven’t been put into the story from Joy’s perspective (even though we love the memoir by her son, Douglas Gresham, Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis (HarperOne; $9.99) which was revealing.) This fresh, new novel is based, we are told, on a very close reading of Davidman’s life and love with Lewis, and is “a masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times.”

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is both a fascinating historical novel, so good for anyone who likes period pieces set circa 1950 Oxford, England. It would be a great gift for anyone who is a Lewis fan, of course. And, it is a beautifully-rendered glimpse into the life of a writer and seeker. Joy Davidman was a woman of ideas, of words, of literature. That she died so young is a great sadness.

Listen to Ariel Lawhon, author of I Was Anastasia,

Patti Callahan has written my favorite book of the year… It is both a meditation on marriage and a whopping grand adventure. Touching, tender, and triumphant, this is a love story for the ages.

Or, this great quote from author Kristy Cambron (of The Ringmaster’s Wife and the Lost Castle series) who exclaims:

This book is a work of art. Intelligent. Witty and charming. I’m left as spellbound as the first time I met Aslan… with these characters now just as dear.

Home Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $15.00 and Lila Marilynne Robinson (Picador) $16.00 These are the two sequels to the altogether beautiful, enchanting, well-told story of Rev. John Ames in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead. As you may know, and should, Home tells the story of the colleague of John Ames, The Reverend Broughton, whose hell-raising son, Jack, has returned to Gilead, Ohio, after twenty some years. Considered “luminous and healing” it may be a modern re-telling of the prodigal son story. It is simply a must read.

Lila, the quirkiest (and, for some readers, the most miraculous and magnificent of the trilogy) tells the back story of the younger wife of John Ames, who appears a bit in Gilead and Home. One wonders about her, and, whew, what a story she has to tell. Lila was raised nearly homeless and alone, living on the fringes of society in “fear, awe, and wonder.”

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

Lila is a book whose grandeur is found in its humility. That’s what makes Gilead among the most memorable settings in American fiction.

The Chicago Tribune reviewer opined that,

Lila is the highest fictional magi: a character who seems so real it’s hard to remember that she exists only in the pages of this book

If you know anyone who read Gilead, but does not own these two, either one would make a marvelous gift. One can read either, in any order.

Watch With Me, And Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Nee Quinch Wendell Berry (Counterpoint) $16.95  Well. If one hasn’t read Hannah Coulter ($14.95) and Jayber Crow ($15.95), you should know they are amongst our most beloved of all time favorite novels. We are not alone — nearly everyone who reads Berry is smitten with those two beautiful novels. Of course, he has many others, all, in one way or another, inter-locking, all set in Port Williams, Kentucky. He has several collections of short stores, too, and they are marvelous for those who love the genre. If if you are not a big fan of short-story, if you are taken with the Port Williams membership, then you want to know more of Berry’s imagination and more of his characters.

This is a great looking paperback, with an old-fashioned wood cut or silk screen on the cover. It is, many say, the most comic work Mr. Berry has done. These stories, like his others, “shine,” (in the words of the Christian Science Monitor) “with warmth and meaning.”  As Booklist noted about these seven tales, “Their diction is as as chaste as a Bible’s story’s; they express a biblical reverence for life and community, yet they are funny, too, and so beautiful.”

Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories: The Civil War to World War II Wendell Berry (Library of America) $40.00  Perhaps you have seen the handsome, well-bound, somewhat smaller size (if thick) hardbacks produced by the Library of America. They come on very nice paper, with ribbon markers, and make available some of the most enduring classics in American literature. It was a great joy and important literary event when it was announced that there would be two volumes bringing together the complete stories of Mr. Berry, offered in chronological order. (That is, in the fictional Port Williams world, not in the order of their publication date.) This is the first volume; the release date of the second has not been yet been announced. This nice volume one that came out early in 2018 includes Nathan Coulter, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, A World Lost, A Place on Earth and twenty-three short stories, in narrative order. There is a good bibliography and a splendid map.

This could be just about the best gift you could reasonably give to a serious fan of the fiction of Mr. Berry. I wish I knew when the second volume is going to be released but if you get them this one, that one will be a no-brainer of a gift next year this time.

By the way, for true Wendell Berry fans, we are thrilled to be taking PRE-ORDERS for the other two- volume Library of America editions which are coming out April 16th, 2019.These are Wendell Berry: Essays 1969 -1990 (Library of America; $37.50) and Wendell Berry: Essays 1993 – 2017 (Library of America; $37.50.)

There will also be a fabulous boxed set of the two entitled What I Stand On: The Collected Essays of Wendell Berry 1969-2017 which will sell for $75.00. This itself would make a wonderful gift this Christmas, promising your Wendell Berry admirer to get this fabulous edition when it releases in the Spring. 20% off of that price, of course.




Roots to the Earth Wendell Berry, wood engravings by Wesley Bates (Counterpoint) $26.00  We suggest this for that hard-to-buy-for person who may be a fan of Wendell’s. It is not as well known, but is a very handsome, larger sized, nicely illustrated poem, handset in a great old font. This is a much-expanded edition of a chapbook Berry and Bates did in portfolio form by West Meadow Press. This 2014 edtion was reprinted with additional poems and a prize-winning, never before published in book form short story, “The Branch Way of Doing” that also has engravings by Mr. Bates.

In an earlier edition, Bates wrote:

As our society moves toward urbanization, the majority of the population views agriculture from an increasingly detached position. In his poetry [Berry] reveals tenderness and love as well as anger and uncertainty. The wood engravings in this collection are intended to be companion pieces to. . . the way he expresses what it is to be a farmer.

Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver Mary Oliver (Penguin Press) $30.00 I suppose it may be said that there is no more popular poet working in America today than the beloved Ms Oliver. We have sold her books Swan, Dog Songs, A Thousands Mornings, Blue Horses and, most recently, her 2017 volume Felicity and others over the years. We celebrated this large, handsome collection when it came out, reviewing it in BookNotes the best I could. It offers poems from throughout her long career and is simply wondrous. (Other than this and Felicity, Oliver’s most recent published volume, by the way, is a fabulously interesting, rich collection of essays about life and times, mostly what we might call nature writing, although, like many of our best natural historians and observers of nature and our ecological crisis, she is a literary figure, and writes a bit about that as well. It is called Upstream: Selected Essays (Penguin Press; $26.00) and would be a much-appreciated gift, I’m sure, for any who like her words.

Eye of the Beholder: Poems Luci Shaw (Paraclete Press) $18.00 Speaking of beloved poets, Luci Shaw is among our favorites and many, many agree. She may be one of the most known and preeminent Christian poets these days; she was friends with Madeline L’Engle, and her faith and spirit seems similar. She has been an important figure in Christian publishing (with several non-fiction books, most recently, with IVP.) In this brand new collection, we get a glimpse of the themes explored from the book title — we are asking to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. As one reviewer put it, “Shaw crafts poems in the way she sees God’s creation is crafted — seamlessly and with enviable freshness.” Another serious literary critic says they “catch what Hopkins once called the ‘inscape’ of things…”

The famous founder of Image Journal (now being edited by James K.A. Smith), Gregory Wolfe, says,

A collection that not only distills a lifetime of spiritual reflection and poetic craft but also launches with the author’s characteristic boldness into new, uncharted, liminal spaces.

I suppose you know somebody who would revel at just such an invitation. But don’t be fooled, this isn’t overly fancy, obscure or arcane works. This is truly lovely stuff, highly recommended for the serious connoisseur or those that just enjoy inspiring lines. There is even a really good introductory essay called “Prophets and Poets.”  Enjoy!

Holy Luck Eugene Peterson (Eerdmans) $15.00 With Eugene’s recent death there is (thank goodness) a renewed interest in his many books. I think in the new year I might do an annotated reading guide to all of his work; we know it and love it. Decades ago he and I talked about him coming here, which he wanted to do, but time just didn’t work out. He used to write poems as somewhat of an avocation and he did them for Christmas blessings, too, the way some people write year’s end summaries of their busy lives. He was going to read some of his little-known poems for us.

Anyway, it was a joy to know this little collection was released a few years ago and I know he was fond of it.

I forget what we said at BookNotes when we first reviewed it, but here is how the publisher puts it:

Throughout his many years of pastoral ministry, almost everything Eugene Peterson has done — preaching, teaching, praying, counseling, writing — has involved words. To keep himself attuned to the power of words and to help himself use language with precision and imagination, Peterson both reads and writes poetry.
Holy Luck presents, in one luminous volume, seventy poems by Peterson, most of them not previously published. Speaking to various aspects of Kingdom of God-living, these poems are arranged in three sets:
Holy Luck — poems arising out of the Beatitudes
The Rustling Grass — poems opening up invisible Kingdom realities through particular created things
Smooth Stones — occasional poems about discovering significance in every detail encountered while following Jesus

Echoing the language of Peterson’s popular Bible translation, The Message, the poems in Holy Luck are well suited for devotional purposes. An ideal gift item, this volume is one that readers will look to again and again.


The Friend Who Forgives: A True Story About How Peter Failed and Jesus Forgave Dan Dewitt, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.00 We adore this good series (“Tales That Tell the Truth”) such as The Garden, The Curtain, and the Cross or our favorite, God’s Very Good Idea. We have customers who just adore The Christmas Promise, another collaboration with this creative writer and illustrator. These books are theologically clear, solid as can be, but playful and witty. We are very happy with how this story is both obviously relevant (friends forgiving) but finally not moralistic, but about deep gospel. These books are Christ-focused, gospel-centered, delightfully sharing really good news.

Outside My Window Linda Ashman, illustrated by Jamey Christoph (Eerdmans) $17.00 This lovely book works on a few levels — it has a poetic cadence that we really appreciate, as will any real wordsmith or lover of words. As importantly, the story itself invites kids to pay attention to what they see. Further, because each page spread shows a different child looking out her or his window in some different part of the world, it becomes clear that everybody sees stuff, even if really different things. Or maybe not so different?  While the lives of each of the children seem so different, there is something they all share. There’s a nice simple page in the back showing the cities and countries where each of the page spreads are set. Nice.

Everything Tells Us About God Katherine Bolger Hyde (Ancient Faith Publishing) $19.95  This is one of several really beautiful books we carry that are published by this great Orthodox publishing venture. A few of their books are very distinctly for Orthodox children (or those that want to read about the lives of those involved in the Orthodox way.) But a few are more general, and this one — imbued with a sacramental sensibility perhaps informed by the likes of Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann and his For the Life of the World — it is the sort of book that nearly anyone could fall in love with. The book says on the back that “the world is like a giant puzzle God made to tell us about himself. Every piece whispers one of His secrets — all we need to do is listen.”

And so, with this adventure awaiting, the children pay attention and listen to how the very creation itself points us to important aspects of God’s being or character. For instance, the wind reminds us of the Holy Spirit (“moving over the Earth like an enormous dove beating its wings. The Spirit is everywhere, filling all things. He is God’s breath — and our breath of life.”

Well, rocks tells us Christ is strong as a boulder. The ocean  reminds us that God is great and powerful (“and we can never control Him – just as sailors on the sea obey the sea’s laws so they can travel safely from one shore to the next.”) Stories we read remind us of the eternal story of which we are a part.  Water reminds us that Christ said he was the living what that can quench our deepest thirsts. Our food reminds us that God provides for us (and the bread we eat reminds us of Eucharist — the Body of Christ broken for Us. Jesus is the Bread that came down from heaven, the Bread that feeds us and gives us life.”

What do games and stadiums remind us of? How about teachers and pre-schools? Can animals teach us about God? How about seeds and stars? As you can tell, this is a wide-ranging, beautiful and deeply profound book for little ones. This book has so much wisdom and insight and I’m sure you’ll enjoy giving it to some child (or parents of young children) you know.

When God Gave Us Words Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, illustrated by Darcy Day Zoells (Flyaway Books) $16.00 If you know much about religious education and thoughtful, creative children’s books you may know this Reformed Rabbi, Sandy Sasso, and the many beloved books she has done. For years she is a mainstay of many mainline denominational children’s libraries with titles like God’s Paintbrush and In God’s Name. A year or so ago she teamed up with the Jewish New Testament scholar Amy-Jil Levine to do two books re-telling some of the parables of Jesus (Who Counts? and The Marvelous Mustard Seed. We, of course, stock them all.) But this new one is spectacular.

It is spectacular and I hope many buy it from us. We’d love this book to be unwrapped by little children all over. However, I’ll admit, When God Gave us Words is a tad provocative, eccentric, event. Even the illustrations just have this odd little edge to them — it makes for a great reading experience and makes it well worth revisiting, time and again.

Here is the basic gist: God gives the gift of words to the first humans, and this Godly gift — we are made in God’s own image, after all — is a great thing, full of potential and power. There are so many words in our world and this tells us where they all came from. What joy, and what a true truth about our ability to speak, to tell stories. Alas, humans start to mis-use God’s gift and words are no longer crafted to bless and inspire but to curse and gossip, to hurt and harm. Oh my. You can see where this is going; the angels, in fact, beg God to take this gift away, to gather up the words and pull them back to heaven, since these words are so distorting God’s intentions. Words could have created friendship, solidarity, and community in the good creation. Hmm. What will God do?

Nope, God does not destroy the humans, or even take away their ability to speak and write and their colorful capacity for imagination and creativity. In fact, the story has a bit of a happy ending as people come to their senses and realize that words are to be used for good. Or, we might say, the angels came to appreciate the deep power of good stories and themselves wanted to see what humans would come up with next.

This is a great and playful story, like good Jewish midrash often is. It raises questions about free will, about divine grace, and, of course, about the proper use of words and the power of stories. It is not gospel centered, even if it follows the arc of creation and fall and some sort of hoped for restoration. But, despite it not being a fully Christian story, it is, nonetheless, a good one, a fascinating and provocative one. Ms Sasso has used words well to invite us to good conversations with our children — about origins, about God, about responsibility, and about words and writing and speaking and stories. What a book!

The Gift That I Can Give Kathie Lee Gifford, illustrated by Julia Seal (Tommy Nelson) $17.99  Okay, we’ll say this right from the start. Gifford is a remarkable person, very involved in philanthropy and social change work, and has written for adults and children (and recorded albums and plays and was inducted into the Broadcasting & Cable Hall of Fame.) She knows how to get stuff done. The illustrator, Julia Seal, is herself an excellent designer (and loves glitter, as the cover of this sparkly book attests!)

This book is for very young children but it is trying to approach the questions about gifts and talents, about callings and vocations. Or at least being used by God to show love and goodness to others.  It says on the back, “Your child has a special gift to share with others. What could it be?”

Gifford believes that from the time children are very small, God gives them a gift that is meant to be shared with others. This sweet, rhyming story invites your child to discover that gift is God’s love. As it says on the back, “You don’t have to be a grown-up to make the world a better place. The smallest act of kindness shared from the heart is a truly beautiful gift.”

The Gift That I Can Give really is a great book to read with little ones, and it covers all sorts of ways to help make the world brighter. Since there is a little girl on the cover and the butterflies are all pastel and sparkly, I suspect it will be most loved by little girls. In fact, it shows the little girl doing all kinds of things, including throwing a football!  From playing the drums in the marching band to raising money for hungry kids to giving a hug to her grandparents, this child has much to offer. What a sweet, colorful, simple book. Three cheers.

Child of Wonder Marty Haugen, illustrated by Stephen Nesser (GIA) $16.95  GIA is mostly a music company and Marty Haugen — a contemporary Lutheran hymn-writer who is known for many recordings, folk-mass songs, and acoustic ballads of faith and seeking and justice — has worked with them for years. In this, his baptismal song, “Child of Wonder” is given a new feel. The lyrics are so beautifully, richly, illustrated by Nesser, highly respected Minnesota water colorist, and in so doing, the song becomes an inter-faith celebration of rituals for the sacredness of human life and delight in the lives of children.

The song is, at its first intention, a song to celebrate God’s love for children, to be sung at a baptism. But with these beautiful illustrations of folks from other world religions and their babies, it frames the baptism liturgy by this broader more general vision of children everywhere who are beloved.  Child of Wonder is an interfaith and multi-cultural book to cherish and share. Included, by the way, is a link to a free mp3 download of the song. Child of Wonder is not all that needs saying about Christian baptism. (There are several other really good books for that; call us when you need suggestions.) But it is a delightful, warm book and would make a lovely gift for a family that appreciates this sort of cross-cultural celebration.

Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol Wehrheim, editors (WJK) $25.00  When this came out earlier this year, many thoughtful educators (especially those that know the Christian ed theories of Caldwell and Wehrheim) celebrated, saying that this was finally the children’s Bible story book that they were awaiting. Ideal for kids who are 4 to 8 or 9, maybe, it helps nurture faith not by merely telling the Bible story but by telling it in such a way that it invites wonder. And invites kids to say “I wonder…” Rather than just preaching, it evokes in the reader a desire to take the story seriously, to enter in, if you will. The word choice, the cadence, the blend of illustration and photographs the questions asked all conspire to make this a particularly useful (and entertaining) tool in a child’s faith formation.

We continue to suggest that Sally Lloyd-Jones The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Zondervan; $18.99) is our favorite for young children. Her devotional, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zondervan; $17.99) also illustrated with the contemporary artist Jago, is also fabulous.

But this new Growing in God’s Love, as we said at BookNotes when we gladly announced it earlier in the year, is one-of-a-kind, with a respected team of mainline denominational educators and thoughtful Christian educators and an array of different kinds of artists and illustrators collaborating to give us one of the most colorful, interesting, gentle, evocative, and faithful kids Bibles in years. Highly recommended.


Love Does for Kids Bob Goff & Lindsey Goff Viduchich, illustrated by Michael Lauritano (Tommy Nelson) $16.99  We have bunches of these at the ready to send out, and we hope you email us right away —  or call! — so we can be sure to get some of these out the door, ASAP. I’m sure you know how much we love Love Does (and the great, great sequel, Everybody Always.) We have promoted it everywhere we’ve gone and written about them both at BookNotes. Goff is a hero of ours, adventurous, funny, whimsical, upbeat, and joyfully serious about making the world a better place. He tells amazingly entertaining stories of loving others — people in his workplace, folks in the neighborhood, people he bumps into, and (yes) some pretty amazing stories of resisting sexual trafficking and starting an orphanage in a war zone, and other such dramatic deeds.  I hope you know his books and his work.

This new version, Loves for Kids is ideal for older elementary kids who could read it themselves (like a “chapter book”), very nicely retold by Bob’s own grown daughter who is a second grade teacher. Here they takes some of Bob’s best stories, his daughter to bring a kids spin to them, making this the perfect book for kids that want to be inspired to life in big ways for the Kingdom of God. The pictures are inviting and I think will help kids imagine themselves living with the kind of whimsy and faith in Jesus that Bob does. What fun. It’s a hoot for anyone, of any age, really, but I think it this version is best for ages 8 – 12.

The NIV Action Study Bible illustrations by Sergio Cariello (David C. Cook) $32.99 By all counts, Sergio Cariello (who has worked for Marvell and DC Comics) is one of the best classic cartoonists doing action/adventure type comics today. His Action Bible has introduced millions of kids to the stories in the Bible with the dramatic comic-book-style illustrations. This Bible features the complete text of the NIV with lots of neat features, sections such as “What About This?” and “Unlock It!” and “Activate” and “Ancient Archives” and more. There’s good guessing games (“person, place or thing?”) and a distinct icon that appears whenever a story is included in the Action Bible illustrations. We think this could really help encourage a stronger connection to God and certainly a lively interest in Scripture.

If you know a kid that follows Spider-Man or Iron Man or Wonder Woman and the like, they may know Cariello. This kind of Bible could make a very good gift.


The Day the Angels Fell Shawn Smucker (Revell) $14.99 (paperback) $17.99 (hardback) We’ve been quite taken with this received fantasy novel about a something like a time-travel portal (set in New Orleans.) There is a whole, whole lot going on here and it is deeply spiritual without being preachy or push; it is just what a good, thoughtful yarn should be. Even those who don’t carry for magical realism or supernatural thrillers or any of that mind-boggling stuff will appreciate this. Here’s the thing — we almost listed this above under adult fiction, as it is that good. Serious teen readers could certainly enjoy it, too, so we’ve placed it here. It’s thoughtful and fun and adventuresome and — we have to tell ya: part one. Might we recommend getting part two, the sequel, along with this one? It’s a cool lookin’ pair, for sure.

The Edge of Over There Shawn Smucker (Revell) $17.99 (hardback only; the paperback will release in early April, 2019.) This is the powerful sequel to The Day the Angles Fell, the award winning tale of kids doing this time-travel sort of thing, not exactly time travel, but moving into another dimension — is “over there” heaven? What is this place called “the edge of over there”? Can they get the Tree of Life to help bringing healing to the city that is nearly in the grip of chaos? The Edge of Over There picks up almost where The Day the Angels Fell left off, only several  years later. The boy in the plot is 16 years old, now. What a story.


Shawn Smucker enchants with a deftly woven tale of mystery and magic that will leave you not only spellbound but wanting more.


What the Night Sings: A Novel Vesper Stamper (Knopf) $19.99 I realize that a story of a teen holocaust survivor is a heavy topic to give as a sweet Christmas gift for some tender kids, but for those who are a bit mature, thinking deeply about the horrors of the world, and maybe have a bit of punky attitude, this wonderfully crafted, powerful story about a German gal named Gerta making her way after getting out of Bergen-Belson is absolutely remarkable. Vesper herself grew up in a very creative family (born in Nuremberg, raised in New York) and, as she tells it, was raised amongst “an eclectic mix of engineers, musicians, and artists who didn’t think Voltaire too tough for bedtime reading, Chopin Valses too loud for wake up calls, or precisions slide rules too fragile for play things.” She studied design at Parsons and got a MFA in illustration at the School of Visual Arts  and has very impressive graphic novel stylings in this — it isn’t a graphic novel but there are lots of black and white drawings, illuminations, and graphics throughout this luminous, powerful story.

That a young adult book has this sort of endorsement by such a major literary figure — Kristin Hannah, author of The Nightingale — on the back should make us all take notice:

A tour de force. This powerful story of love, loss, and survival is not to be missed.

Or listen to this from Deborah Heiligman (known for Charles and Emma and Vincent and Theo) who said:

What the Night Sings is a book from the heart, of the heart, and to the heart. Vesper Stamper’s Gerta will stay with you long after you turn the last page. Her story is one of hope and redemption and life–a blessing to the world.

This title has been on the list for the National Book Award nominations and is acclaimed in all the best educational journals that review teen books. Just a week ago it was named a Wall Street Journal Best Book of 2018! It is a book of considerable heft, literarily and visually and literally — whew. For what it’s worth, Ms Stamper (and her husband Ben) have been in circles that we have been in at conferences organized by Mako Fujimura in New York and at others doing good faith-based creative work for the common good. It is an honor to tell you about this and invite you to consider gifting it to somebody who may value such an intense, passionate story of hope.

Just Mercy: Adopted for Young Adults: A True Story of The Fight for Justice Bryan Stevenson (Delacorte Press) $18.99 We have told nearly everyone who cares about our love for this man, his good work, and his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption that has to be one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read. Stevenson, after graduating from Eastern College (now University) and earned a law degree from Harvard Law School, started a small non-profit legal aid ministry, serving the poorest of the poor in prison in the deep south. Most of those he served were incarcerated with terrible, terrible injustices — blatant and illegal racism in the courtroom, incompetent and unhelpful public defenders, wrongfully condemned prisoners on death row, stuff the poor and many people of color face in our messed up criminal justice system. Bryan pours his life out though his Equal Justice Initiative, using his skills and faith to fight for the forgotten; I have said often that I think someday he may get the Nobel Peace Prize — he is that important and that good. Read Just Mercy and tell me if you don’t agree!

Just recently they did a somewhat abridged and more accesible volume of Just Mercy designed for the YA market. It says “young adults” on the front, but I don’t think this means college students or 20 somethings, but younger teens. Bryan is a great role model, has argued before the Supreme Court and has received numerous awards, including the MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant. He is known in the evangelical community as well, having spoken at many Christian colleges, at the Jubilee conference in Pittsburgh and the national Q gatherings, and as churches such as Redeemer in NYC.

One of Bryan’s big passions (and the topic of one of the most watched TED talks) is about young people who are incarcerated. He has represented many young people and it is to them this book is dedicated.

I think this youth version of Just Mercy would make a great gift or follow-up for any young person who has read The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, the YA novel about a black youth killed unjustly by a police officer. Or if they saw the movie that recently opened to much acclaim.  Get them this real-world, hope-filled, inspiring story of making a difference for anyone you know is fired up or distressed by that story (or looking forward to Thomas’s next one, On the Come Up, releasing February 5th. You can pre-order that from us, too, of course.) Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults should be in church and school youth libraries everywhere!


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