As promised, here are a handful of picture books for children. Some are brand new, a few are imported, a couple are reprises of favorites from Christmas past.
And then, hang on, as I’ll tell you about two other recent releases featuring artwork by beloved Lancaster area artist, Ned Bustard. More on that, soon.
So, a dozen or so nice choices for the little ones you love. (And you can always search the archived BookNotes columns to see older reviews and recommendations we’ve done in the past.) .
All of these show the regular retail price. We’ll deduct 20% off when you order. You can use the secure order form page by clicking the link at the bottom of this post or give us a call.
The Christmas Promise (board book) Alison Mitchell & Catalinea Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $7.99 We love the “Tales That Tell the Truth” series from this gospel-centered, British publisher, and we happily stock them all. (The most recent in this series by the same writer/artist team, by the way, in the standard 8 x 10 hardback size, is called Jesus and the Lions’ Den: A True Story about How Daniel Points Us to Jesus and is quite nice.) The Christmas Promise has been a staple for us as it highlights this profound theological insight that the Incarnation and Christ’s birth is a part of a story of promise, and God is faithful to the plot of the redemptive story. The standard one sells for $14.99 but, this year, they did the book in an inexpensive, smaller board book, and it’s very cool. Yay.
The Christmas Promise Advent Calendar and Family Devotional (The Good Book Company) $9.99 Oh, my, this is the same colorful, upbeat, but substantive approach as the book and/or board book, but in a contemporary Advent calendar and activity book. There is also a 32-page family devotional guide based on the book. This is great.
The Hoity Toity Angel Caroline Hoile, illustrated by Hazel Quintanilla (SPCK) $9.00 Ya just gotta love a book that has “hoity toity’ in the title. And it so works. You see, when the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary, the Hoity Toity Angel is not at all impressed — Mary isn’t even a Princess! As it says on the back cover, “And, later, how can her baby possibly be a king when he’s just been born in a scruffy old stable?”
One doesn’t have to be a high-class, upstairs, Downton Abby snoot to need this reminder. Looks and prestige and status are not most important and things aren’t always as they seem. A proud angel who thinks this manger stuff is a bit too mundane? Maybe we all could learn this lesson.
The Night of His Birth Katherine Paterson, illustrated by Lisa Aisato (Flyaway Books) $18.00 This may be one of the very best new seasonal books with lush and truly beautiful art and an eloquent, well-told rendering of the heart of the classic Christmas story. You may know of Katherine Paterson, a Newberry Award winner and one of the most esteemed (and beloved) YA authors of the last 40 years or so. She was born in China to Presbyterian missionary family and has served the church for decades (even having done some YA curriculum.) This is a story in her own style that appeared in a Presbyterian woman’s magazine maybe in the 80s, and it has been one of their most popular pieces used, read, reprinted, sought out. The poetic text is mostly about Mary pondering the newborn baby, looking so carefully and expressing such joy, knowing he is somehow God’s gift to the world. What a treat to take this wonderfully tender storytelling of the nativity night and pair it with exquisite, striking, and somewhat artfully modern wash. Aisato is an artist and children’s book author herself whose distinctive work has been published around the world. Highly recommended.
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Alison Joy (Zonderkidz) $16.99 or Board Book, $7.99 Forgive me for highlighting this once again — we do every year because it is so very good. It is subdued, yet passionate, simple — with an Americana sort of art, it seems rural, almost — and yet teaching the big, big truth that the whole creation gets in on this whole redemptive plan of God; even the animals realize that this is something they should care about. It has a touch of whimsy but it isn’t goofy. It has class, but yet isn’t stuffy. The art is expansive, the text beautiful, the simple allusive theology utterly pregnant with vast implications. We love this book, both the nice hardback and the smaller board book, although we favor the larger, bolder impact of the regularly sized 9 x 11″ one. If you order, tell us which you prefer.
Here is the author reading the book herself. Check it out and then send us an order!
The Worst Christmas Ever Kathleen Long Bostrom, illustrated by Guy Porfirio (Flyaway Books) $17.00 Well, with this vivid, colorful cover of the wide eyed boy and his wide eyed dog, you know something is up. On the back cover there is spare art and one sentence reading, “Needed: One Christmas miracle.” You know your kid is going to want to know what’s up.
Bostrom has done tons of lovely and often quite thoughtful religious books for children and is well respected in mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic, and evangelical Christian education circles. She’s thoughtful and knows how to write important stuff in ways little ones, even fiesty little ones, will understand. Giving her this task — the “worst Christmas ever” schtick — is a fantastic idea. Kudos to Flyaway Books (the publishing arm of the Presbyterian Church USA.) We’re pleased with this fun book and you will be, too, especially as you learn the touching plot. Matthew and his family have moved to California and he is upset that it appears that there won’t be Christmas trees or snow this holiday season. And his dog, Jasper, has disappeared. He has a little sister Lucy who has faith that things will work out, and, who knows, maybe the surprising events of Christmas eve will change everything — helping this new place feel like home, after all.
To give you a hint, it has to do with the family’s involvement in their church’s Christmas pageant. The scenes of the family and restless kids in the pew holding their little candles and drip guards is just so perfect. The reunion with Jasper is sweet, too. This is a book for anyone who feels ill at ease this Christmas, or who just wants a good story about a family who actually goes to church on Christmas eve. Vivid, touching, fun. We recommend it.
`That Baby in the Manger Anne Neuberger, illustrated by Choloe Pitkoff (Paraclete Press) $15.99 This is one we’ve raved about before, a beautifully told and beautifully illustrated story of a Catholic school where the first-graders are gathering around the manger scene. The ethnically diverse school children realize that the baby jesus doesn’t look like them and an ingenious priest invites them to… well, you’ll have to read this lovely solution that reminds us all that Jesus came for everyone. This book is a delight and can open doors for all kinds of conversations about faith and race and ethnicity and God’s incarnation.
Santa’s Favorite Story: Santa Tells the Story of the First Christmas Hisako Aiki & Ivan Gantschev (Simon & Schuster) $9.99 I think when we discovered this nice hardback decades ago, it was for many of our young parent peers a godsend — so artful, international, clever, done in soft watercolors with some pleasant, unique touches. Mostly, though, it was an answer to the perennial quandary: what to do about Santa? Here’s the simple answer this book so artfully offers: in the story, Santa himself has to gather the animals around to insist to them that he is not what Christmas is all about. So we have it, from Santa’s own authority, as he tells the reindeer, that the story of Jesus is what it is all about! This is a nuanced and delightful approach that is less tacky and blunt than that one showing a ceramic Santa Claus bowing piously before the manger, but I suppose the sentiment is the same. This beautiful book really works, without feeling preachy or overwrought.
The Shepherd Who Couldn’t Sing Alan Barker, illustrated by Thea Baker (SPCK) $9.00 We introduced this last year and our customers loved it, so we thought we’d announce it again. Here is what it says on the back:
Jake is a shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem, and he loves taking care of his sheep. He’s not afraid of the dark or of the wolves who wait in the shadows, but he is afraid of singing!
One night, he is greeted by a host of angels, singing of a special baby’s birth. With such good news to tell, will Jake be able to find his voice and join in the song?
And here is what I’d add: the soft blue artwork makes this both evocative and pleasant; the artwork on the shepherds robes seem to be cut out of real cloth, so stand out in a way that reminds us this is a Middle Eastern story. And then there is this surprising sort of glee, the question of the song. I don’t have to tell you that this becomes a big open question for children and those reading the story: will we join in? Can we find our voice and sing our part?? What a great, great question, worth much more than the price of this handsome children’s book.
The Sleepy Shepherd Stephen Cottrell, illustrated by Chris Hagan (SPCK) $10.00 I’m not sure what I said about this last year to make it such a popular selection, but it was a big seller for us as folks enjoyed the great art, the great story, pitched on the cover as “a timeless retelling of the Christmas story.” I suppose sleeping through the excitement is something many can relate to. But this story goes deeper (and has more text making it suitable for older readers.)
Silas is the shepherd boy who fell asleep on the job. Years later he meets Jesus and is there on Palm Sunday. Later, (spoiler alert) the grown man Silas watches over a scene while some friends of Jesus themselves fall asleep while in a garden called Gethsemane and things come full circle. I dare you not to be touched and moved as Silas recognizes Jesus and, this time, stays awake. Although mostly a Christmas story, it tells a bit of holy week and the death and resurrection of Christ. After some bright spreads of full color pages, we learn of Silas’s joy when he hears of the resurrection. The last line reads, “This really is worth staying awake for.” Highly recommended.
Kristoph and the First Christmas Tree Claudia Cangilla McAdam, illustrated by Dave Hill (Paraclete Press) $16.99 This is a large sized picture book and tells in marvelous prose and vivid art the story of a young orphan who is accompanying the missionary priest Boniface through the German countryside. The year is 722 A.D. If this doesn’t interest you, well, I’d invite you to give it a try anyway. Or, maybe you are the kind who thinks, “You had me at 722.”) I think kids need these kinds of old, old stories. This one is pretty powerful.
Not sure if you know this bit of legend but Boniface comes upon a group of people in the forest worshipping an oak tree and preparing to sacrifice a son of the village chieftain. As the book promises on the back cover, “What happens next recalls the legend of how evergreen trees became part of the celebration of Christmas.”
As Kathleen Pelley (author of Raj the Bookstore Tiger) writes, this “tender tale told in lyrical language and illustrated with old world charm… reminds us that we are called to be beacons of hope and grace and light amidst the darkness.” Nicely done, although the pagans do seem a bit frightening, like a comic book wild man. Probably pretty realistic.
Home By Another Way Barbara Brown Taylor, illustrations by Melanie Cataldo (Flyaway Books) $18.00 Here is what I wrote last year when we laid eyes on the eagerly awaited book by BBT.
When one of our most beloved and interesting preachers and writers teams up with an excellent, talented illustrator to re-tell one of her famous seasonal sermons, you’d expected it to be much anticipated and much discussed. And this certainly is. Surely one of the most beautifully-illustrated children’s books of the year, it is great addition to the library of anyone who collects Christmas books. It’s a bit odd, even funny at times, but so many holiday books are. It’s part of the fun, I think, re-telling and re-imagining these great, classic stories. And how she puts us right onto the quirky camel rides of these three mystics from the East. Great for after Advent.
Miracle on 10th Street: And Other Christmas Writings Madeleine L’Engle (Convergent) $15.00 I wanted to list in my earlier Advent devotional post this lovely new edition of the great collection of L’Engle’s seasonal writings but wasn’t sure. Some of these collected entries are stories, even stories that older children would appreciate. Some of it is poetry, and much is about Christmas and Epiphany and also general essays on the incarnation. I wasn’t sure it was an adult Advent devotional.
But I’m not sure it is mostly for families with children, either, although some of it surely is. I can’t say how you might use this, but I have to celebrate it, and happily recommend it to you. There are stories and essays and poems and Biblical reflections and more stories in Miracle on 10th Street. We so respected Madeleine and cherish the stories of those friends who knew her. And we do love her Christmas work — it it so very interesting and edifying, made more so when framed by thewonderfully-written introductory essay in this new version by Diana Butler Bass, who honors her well in her lengthy foreword.
I like that this new cover matches her other adult holiday collection, Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation which I have mentioned before. Thanks to Random House’s Convergence imprint for bringing us new editions of many of L’Engle’s great works. We have ’em all. Cheers!
AND THESE TWO FABULOUS NEW CHILDREN’S BOOKS ILLUSTRATED BY NED BUSTARD
I hope you know the name of our friend and Hearts & Minds supporter, Ned Bustard. He is a Lancaster-based artist, a professional graphic designer, the managing editor of the acclaimed Square Halo Books, and a leader in the world of organizations like CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts.) His clever linographs — sort of like woodcuts — grace several books, including Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books and the exceptional, one-of-a-kind prayer book Every Moment Holy (Rabbit Room Books) and several children’s books.
Bible History ABCs: God’s Story from A to Z Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99 Quite recently, Crossway released Bible History ABCs and we are so happy about it. Mr. Nichols, the head of Ligonier Ministries, did the writing and our pal, Ned, did the artwork, although I suspect they collaborated plenty. It’s a colorful and smart ABC book, about 8 x 8 in size, just like their previous Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation–From A to Z. (The first collaboration between these zany, Reformed Presbyterian guys was the must-have, but oversized, Church History ABCs: Augustine and 25 Other Heroes of the Faith.) There is so much happening in these bright books that even adults will be delighted and informed by their third or fourth reading as more hidden stuff becomes evident.
We appreciate not only the clever art and intentional effort, but also that this isn’t just a random ABC book of random Bible facts; that has been done often. This is, as they themselves put it, about “the story of God’s promises” and has this emphasis of helping kids see the flow of the unfolding drama of Scripture and its coherent plot. Nichols even has his own book about this very thing and it’s good. (See his Welcome to the Story: Reading, Loving, and Living God’s Word.)
Each letter in Bible History ABCs (as it explains on the back cover):
“…briefly introduces an important concept from the story of the Bible and is accompanied by corresponding Scripture passages, whimsical illustrations, and images of classical fine art from church history — all to help children see how their lives are part of the bigger story God is telling throughout the Bible.”
Oh yes, we need this approach, we need this blend of whimsey and fine art, and we need this kind of colorful, modern way to introduce a coherent approach to the Biblical story. A few of the pictures are oddly of people from times/contexts other than the Bible (like the cover, for instance and the inexplicable guy in the letter H) which will have to be discussed, making this all the more interesting. Enjoy!
The Light Princess George MacDonald, illustrations by Ned Bustard (Rabbit Room Press) $18.00 Those who have followed Hearts & Minds for decades know that we used to feature lots of the great novels — children’s and Victorian adult novels — of the brilliant writer, orator, preacher, and artiste, George MacDonald. (Many know of how C.S. Lewis even edited an anthology of his favorite MacDonald quotes.) Sadly, many editions of many MacDonald books have been dropped by legitimate publishers and few stellar editions of his volumes are readily available. We are so, so glad that the classy and fun Rabbit Room crew of Rabbit Room Press released a new edition of the fairy story The Light Princess.
This really is an exquisite edition, with a blue leather-over-board creation very much like their lush Every Moment Holy prayer book. Bustard’s art is, I believe, a style of relief printmaking. As Ned put it in an interview about his work Every Moment Holy, “The pieces were made using linoleum so they are called linocuts (in the same way that if they were made using wood they’d be called woodcuts.)”
Jennifer Trafton wrote an excellent foreword for which we can be grateful — what a gift to be reminded of the former renown of the Scottish author who has been so esteemed by everyone from Mark Twain to James Barrie to Maurice Sendak to Madeleine L’Engle, and how nice to have this story framed by this good background introduction.
Head Rabbity author and singer-songwriter Andrew Peterson did a fabulous afterword to this edition of The Light Princess. He writes about being “Gobsmacked” and reminds us of the Tolkien-Lewis-MacDonald-esque vision of true myths. Peterson writes,
MacDonald’s “The Light Princess” reminds us that the world is an unsettling place, and mystery clouds the corners of our days.That means strange and terrible things are bound to happen, whooshing in from the dark periphery without warning… But mystery also means that grace and light can come whooshing in, too, so you might as well keep an eye out.”
Kudos to all at Rabbit Room Books for doing this lovely edition of this great old tale. But we offer special hat tips to Mr. Bustard for his playful linographs, his titling characters, and his other design work on the volume, making it a most handsome, almost exquisite, edition.
In the foreword, Trafton writes about Bustard and what his art contributes to the book:
Artist Ned Bustard has paid homage to all the multilayered themes and resonances in MacDonald’s writing by threading visual symbols throughout the illustrations like little Easter eggs for you to discover. Some are images drawn from centuries of Christian iconography — seashells, dolphin, anchor, bread, wine, and more. He’s also hidden objects and elements from some of MacDonald’s other fantasy stories, such as The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, “The Golden Key,” and Lilith. To those of you who’ve read these other stories: look carefully! Do you spot the allusions?
So, enjoy some good children’s picture books — whether they are holiday themed ones, or fun, classy ones like these two on which Mr. Bustard recently worked. We have so many more in many categories (and will be doing another BookNotes column on kid’s books soon.) Call us if you need more help — we’re always eager to serve you well with our best ideas. We’re open every day but Sunday and you can call 717-246-3333.
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