CHILDREN’S BOOKS TO GIVE FOR EPIPHANY OR DURING THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
I could say this is “back by popular demand” but that wouldn’t be exactly true. A few people have commented that they’ve enjoyed lessening the stress and indulgence of lavishing so many wrapped presents on Christmas Day by lengthening the gift-giving season through celebrating the 12 Days of Christmas. Epiphany, of course, it could be argued, is the Biblical basis for gift-giving this time of year, since the wise men brought their presents to the baby Jesus.
And giving books seems so right — not quite the glitzy, big-item toy, but more delightful than the functional gifts of socks or gloves.
If Epiphany is a time of Light breaking in, then surely books as gifts are apropos, things that help us live into the light, that can bring joy to our lives. Thank God for such graces.
In our Advent Bible study last week we studied the middle of Romans 13, that bit about waking up since the Day is near, pondering what it means to put on the armor of light, to live well into the new world God has begun in Christ Jesus. Doing fun and formative overtly religious education is the calling of every church and home; here, though, we offer some books that invite young ones to care about the good and the true and the beautiful, to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.” Not necessarily all overtly gospel-centered or Christian, even, perhaps evoking the values of living in the light.
Here are some fun and beautiful and inspiring book ideas to help continue your effort to help your kids learn about God’s world in its wonder and brokenness and, the need and the glory. Happy gift giving in this upcoming season of Christmas. Epiphany this year of our Lord, by the way, is Thursday, January 6th. We’ve got plenty of time to mail packages.
The first twenty are picture books for younger children, and the last few are novels for older kids, up through middle school or so.
When God Made Light Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by David Carton (Waterbrook) $11.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $9.59
We love the first in this series for pre-school children, or up to maybe age 6 or 7 (there are a few big words) done by Turner & Carton, When God Made You. This, too, is a Genesis-derived creation story, but with a twist: it explains the creation of light. As it says, “in the beginning space became bright, ‘cause God filled it with twinkles of yellowy white. Brilliant stars gleamed. Swirls of light streamed. In that once empty space, a galaxy beamed.”
It continues on looking at the first brilliant rays of sunrise to the bright orb of the moon, showing how light defines our days. It helps living things grow and flourish. Kids can catch fireflies in jars and play flashlight tag. Yet — and here is where it is useful for Epiphany conversations — it becomes a metaphor for for God’s own love, for someting inside us, perhaps.
So beam like the sun; glimmer like a star. And wherever you go, dark will stop being dark. Shimmer and shine, be a beacon so bright, ‘cause when God made you, child, God made light.
The pictures are wild, almost bizarre at times. It’s beyond playful, it is weirdly exciting.
Read Island Nichol Magistro, illustrated by Alice Feagan (Read Island) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
What a wonderful story about the joy of reading, written by a former bookstore owner and creatively illustrated by a woman who “grew up in a small town but has traveled the world many times over through the pages of her favorite books.”
When book lovers collaborate to do a book about an island where the animals learn to read and enjoy who they meet in the pages of their books, you know it’s going to be great. And a great way for even reluctant readers to get a vision of how good the reading life can be. What a blast this is — and we have autographed copies! As they say near the end of the colorful pages:
For make-believe though it may look, there is an island made of books. This world of stories, safe and true, is always here to welcome you.
Be still. Breath out, then in again, and listen for your island friends.
Here at the near top of our list we suggest a children’s Bible storybook. Every home should have a few of these and we can list our favorites — from the brilliant Jesus Storybook Bible and the wonderful Desmond Tutu Bible Storybook Bible illustrated by artists from around the world to excellent Shine On! A Story Bible published by a Mennonite publisher) to the Lion Press Children’s Storybook Bible (for older readers.)
You may know not this recent Celebrate Wonder one, though, and it is exceptional. It isn’t huge, so the nice, compact size is perfect. It is very colorful and inviting, without being too busy or wacky. (Some authors of some children’s Bibles just try too hard to make it seem Disney-esque, kid-friendly.) This one is bright but simple and clear with some good degree of historical accuracy, along with a bit of whimsy I suppose. And, here’s the thing: Celebrate Wonder invites kids to ask simple questions of the text. Perhaps inspired by the language of “I wonder” from the Godly Play movement, these 150 stories each have a “I wonder” question highlighted. Often it is wondering what the characters in the story felt like or how they did what they did or how they saw God in the events that unfold. Or, it is an application sort of question, inviting kids to reflect on stuff about their own life experiences or questions or concerns.
As it says on the back, some children have big questions. This Bible invites them to get involved in the reading, the story, the truth of it all.
There is a great letter to parents in the back that advises how to best use these stories and there is a glossary of faith words that is a wonderful tool to help kids follow along and develop a vocabulary about these things. Celebrate Wonder is a great addition to every family’s library.
God’s Coming to Visit! Franz Huber, illustrated by Angela Glokler & Rea Grit Zielinski (Flyaway Books) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
A clever and funny, almost goofy, sorry about how all the animals prepare for this news that God is going to visit. They all, obviously, want to be well prepared, doing something special to impress God, even worried that they have to do so. But, as they say on the inside cover: “With sensitivity and humor, this story explores the nature of God’s presence and love, affirming that although God may not appear in the ways we expect, we can always be certain that God is with us.”
At a website from the publisher, they give this summary of the big ending: “They primp and practice amazing tricks until they become impatient. It’s dark and God has not come! A voice in the darkness explains. “God is already here.” Then owl explains God’s constant presence and unconditional love. There’s no need to do anything to impress God. What’s to be done? Be still. Feel God’s love. Share your worries. Ask for help. Love God and each another. They do just that. God is with them to stay.
Nice, eh? And not bad for this Christmas season.
(By the way, we stock all the books from flyaway books, a children’s imprint of the PC(USA) Westminster/John Knox publishing house. Here is a nice summary and some ministry ideas about some of their books. See Picture Book Theology from flyaway books.)
The O in Hope Luci Shaw, illustrated by Ned Bustard (IVP Kids) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
Ned Bustard’s recent IVP Kids release, Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver was one of our biggest selling books in December and it is still a great gift to give for kids who have been wondering about Santa Claus this past week or so. Ned is known for the brightly illustrated Bible History ABC and Church History ABC books done with Steve Nichols and also for his greatly appreciated design and illustration work in both volumes of everyday liturgies, Every Moment Holy.
Further, we are hoping you know Luci Shaw, one of our favorite poets and writers, a woman whose mark on religious publishing in the US is notable. (She and her late husband founded Harold Shaw Press years ago and is a founding member of the Chrysostom Society writer’s group with colleagues like Walter Wangerin, Eugene Peterson, Marilyn McIntyre, Scott Cairns, and the like.) One of her best friends was Madeline’s L’Engle with whom she has written a book on grief and also a book of prayers. Her Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith remains a standard in our arts section. Her thoughtful Adventure of Ascent: Field Notes from a Lifelong Journey is a staple in our aging section.
We stock much of her published poetry, including the recent What the Light Was Like: Poems, and The Generosity (published in the esteemed Paraclete Press series of poetry volumes, from which The O in Hope is adapted) and her great anthology Sea Glass: New & Selected Poems.
All of which is to say that when one of our most beloved illustrators teams up with one of our generation’s great poets, and offers it as a children’s book, you have a winner on your hands. The O in Hope is a simple poem, but, like any good poem, reveals new insights and treasures as it is read and read again. Ned’s unique artwork — not the linocut block prints for which he is most well known — is colorful and fun and, well, creative. In a bright sort of way, it is itself hopeful.
As is Ned’s style there are a lot of fun things to look for in his design work; Easter eggs they might be called in another medium. He even mentions some O things to look for — orangutan, oar, oranges, okapi, otter, oak, ox, ocean, owl, ostrich, and octopus.
The opening line is “Hope holds one lovely vowel like a promise.” Ned shows an octopus, giving the hint that this is a book full of O words, but underwater with the octopus is an anchor. These aren’t mysterious or obtuse symbols, so it isn’t deeply eccentric. It’s a perfect coupling of art and words for anyone, and certainly for young readers.
And in this creatively enhanced book, each “o” letter is highlighted in a different color text. You’ve got to see it; it will, I’m sure, make you smile, and provide lots of opportunities for reading together with a child on your lap.
“Oh!” say our open eyes at surprising beauty, and then, “Wow!”
By the way, here is a short review in The Banner in which Luci mentions her hopes for this new edition of her poem
When God Made You Jane Miller, illustrated by Megan Elizabeth Gilbert (Ancient Faith) $18.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.16
We enjoy stocking books by Ancient Faith, an Orthodox publishing house that does very nice books. This book, in a sense, is about vocation and calling, asking “What beautiful things was God thinking about when He made You?” It explores the possibilities of being a leader or dancer or accountant or midwife or dentist or poet or zoologist or firefighter or baseball player or philosopher, and so forth. It is a very creatively done book, with nice artwork as you’d see in a great kid’s book, telling of different children from around the world, as the author’s imagine God calling them and bleeding them and telling them to “paint” or “run” or “plant” or “build” or “pray.”
It has some beautiful and sophisticated language so it could be read by children in early elementary school years.
I’m a real fan of this book and highly recommend it. Someone on our staff was concerned that it might be a tad stereotypical — the boy of Kenyan is a runner, the child in Latin America is a farmer. Fair enough. Still, it’s a very good affirmation of God’s various vocations, honorably shown and beautifully envisioned.
God Made Me in His Image: Helping Children Appreciate Their Bodies Justin & Lindsey Holcomb, illustrated by Trish Mahoney (New Growth Press) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
Here is how the good folks at the gospel-centered and grace filed publisher put this:
When a group of students and their teacher travel to a zoo safari park to learn about different animals and what makes them special, they reflect on God’s design for their own bodies. This beautifully illustrated, powerful children’s book addresses the topic of body image from a Christian perspective, helping children understand their feelings by, interestingly, exploring the doctrine of creation.
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest and professor of theology and apologetics at Reformed Theological Seminary. He and his wife have been active in resisting sexual trafficking and domestic abuse. (Lindsey works at Samaritan Village, a safe home and therapeutic program for adult survivors.)
This book is packed with content, good stuff about creation, even animals, but also about human embodiment and our feelings — and our worth. And clarity about Christ as Savior who redeems it all. I think maybe ages 4 or 5 to 8.
Child of Wonder Marty Haugen, illustrated by Stephen Nesser (GIA Publications) $16.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.56
We have announced this gorgeous book before and folks who appreciate a lovely and broad ecumenical vision, perhaps even an interfaith spirituality, have raved about it. It started as a song composed by UCC singer-songwriter and worship leader Marty Haugen who wrote the song for the baptism of his godson. The lyrics celebrate the sacredness of human life and delight in the lives of children.
Nesser is an artist we enjoy and this book “illuminates the lyrics with scenes of childhood rituals from faith traditions and cultures around the world” and then “shows these growing children as they play together to form community.”
There is included a free link to a download of the “Child of Wonder” song as well as a full notation of it for families that wish to sing as they page through the beautiful pictures. Very nicely done.
Children will enjoy this, but it seems best for adults wanting to commemorate a special occasion like a birth, baptism, adoption. It has a dedication page, making it a special gift.
What Is Beautiful? Abbie Sprunger, illustrated by Ashely Lauren Snyder (Parent Cue) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
We featured this when it first came out in 2020 noting how much we like the author (who with her husband runs a retreat center in Savannah, GA) and how we respect her previous books (like Stretch Marks I Wasn’t Expecting: A Memoir on Early Marriage and Motherhood.) Abbie is a graduate of Emory University and Talbot Seminary’s Institute for Spiritual Formation
As a mom of three daughters she is very personally interested in how we imagine beauty, how the world’s attitudes can be toxic, and how we need to affirm our young ones to know they are beautiful in their own unique ways, made and loved by God and others. (She has struggled with these pressures herself and knows how urgent this task is.) What a simple, artful, poetic book, happy and vibrant — creatively illustrated by Ashley Snyder who “walks through life with her palms up and her heart open.” This is a great, wonderfully designed, simple book for a very little girl, or for anyone, actually. Some of the proceeds go to the ONE Campaign, by the way, the global movement against extreme poverty and preventable diseases. That’s Abbie for you! Nice.
This is a lovely gift for anyone that has an appreciation for children’s books — it is a delight for the person reading, I’m sure — but it is for younger children.
All Because You Matter Tami Charles, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Orchard Books) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
In part in response to the increased awareness of the injustices of mass incarceration and what has come to be called “the new Jim Crow” and the gross killings of black civilians by police, there have been more books about black self esteem in children, for boys and girls, than ever before. We’ve always stocked books along these lines and there are now many more coming out. This one is particularly notable because of the vivid and beautiful artwork of award winning illustrator Bryan Collier. (He has won four Caldecott Honors, including for Rosa by Nikki Giovanni and the best-selling Martin’s Big Words, and others, and eight Coretta Scott King Awards and honors.) So this is big. Tami Charles is a former teacher and has written several great kids books, including Freedom Soup.
All Because You Matter is truly stunning, visually— creative but not odd or overdone. It is raw, at times — it mentions “Pop Pop’s whispered prayers” for Trayvon, Tamir, Philando. It offers a grand vision of and for black people, appropriately so. The author, in an endnote, says, after telling us about The Talk she had to have with her son, “I will not raise Christopher to walk in fear.” And so, this book. By the way, Collier also tells us about how his grandmother’s quilting informed his aesthetic, which you can really notice. What a good book for all families, offered with these very good touches, about a heavy but vital topic.
By the way, we are taking orders for Bryan Collier’s brand new release We Shall Overcome (Orchard/Scholastic; $18.99.)
Little Faithfuls: You’re So Brave and Little Faithfuls: You’re So Kind Carrie Marrs, illustrated by Christians Engel (Tommy Nelson) $14.99 each OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99 each
We enjoy these great books highlighted Bible characters for little ones. While we’ve often said that we ought not reduce the drama of redemption in the unfolding Bible story to mere human virtues — be brave, be kind — there is a way to amplify the virtues of the characters, giving the credit to God, showing the characters as servants of the Lord’s work, not overstating
the moral of the story. I think these are nice like that, and, in fact, of the dozen characters in each volume, Jesus Himself is one of them, the one who most fully shows the nature of the trait.
In each book there is a single narrative that weaves these individuals into the story — it doesn’t have a ‘chapter’ for each one, building an intregal plotline into the simple story.
Another great thing that delighted us: given the sexism rampant in many evangelical circles, reinforced by dumb stereotypes in Christian children’s books, one might expect the one about bravery to be out Bible men, for boys and the kindness one about women, for girls. Nope. In You’re So Brave we find Rahab and Esther, Deborah andMary and in You’re So Kind we get any number of guys, from Joseph, Aaron and Jonathan, to the boy with the loaves and fishes, the good Samaritan and (get this) John the Baptist. This is some great stuff. As it says on the back, about young readers, “God wants to include them in His story.” We’d say maybe ages 4 to 8.
Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer: A True Story of How You Can Talk With God Laura Wifler, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99
OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
You know we love the work of illustrator Catalina Echeverri, and we love the Biblical storytelling in the “Tales that Tell the Truth” series. We love them all — visit The Good Book Company’s webpage about the series to learn about them, but come back here to order, please.) By the way, we recently highlighted here at BookNotes The Christmas Promise which we have plenty of, still at 20% off, in the regular size. We had sold out, and ordered more late in the season and they are here! Yay.)
This most recent one starts in the garden of Eden, explains the goodness of creation, Adam and Eve’s good relationship with God, and how sin alienated them from God. It is colorful and honestly explains the human condition, our need of a savior, the work of Jesus, all with this gentle emphasis on our talking with God. It lays an excellent foundation for a simple, robust, even, theology of prayer.
Any Time, Any Place, Any Prayer ends up with Jesus teaching the “Lord’s Prayer” and offers not only a big view of God and His Kingdom but a wonderfully inviting vision of being prayerful. It recently won the CT magazine award for Best Children’s Book of 2021. I can see why. They say it is for ages 4 – 8, but I know some slightly older kids would won’t mind it if they’ve grown up with a few of the others.
The Celebration Place Dorena Williamson, illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks (IVP Kids) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
Wow, what a great story, a great gift to any family that goes to church or for those for whom church is a bit of a mystery. There are tons of Christian children’s books about God, Jesus, the Bible and living with virtue in the world. There are, oddly, not so many about the local congregation. We have a few about worship, a few for kids in liturgical churches, a couple about baptism. But we need more books like this, that are situated in a house of worship, and there are several spectacular things about this, at least.
The Celebration Place is about the local church. (“Here in God’s house, we all join together. In good times and bad, we need each other.”) Short and sweet, a nice message for kids about church. It also shows (as it says in big letters on the back cover) “No longer is church a divided space — now it’s a Celebration Place.” Yep, this shows that racial reconciliation is key to a healthy local church and that that, then, leads to celebration. A book about church, about ethnic diversity, and about a life together marked by celebration: now that is a book we’ve been waiting for!
It is true that I do not know of any church like this, where “A young man raps, nodding to the beat. Even old folks stomp their feet” and where “indigenous dance with feathers that fly — arms stretched out to the Creator on high.” But it is beautiful to imagine, eh? I’m glad to read that the black preacher’s voice “booms” but that, “the baby’s coo isn’t too much noise.” (Perhaps the most controversial line in the book — ha!) We are glad it envisions a place where “rolling with wheelchairs or running in, all lift up a hearty ‘Amen!’”
I don’t know of any book that starts telling the story of civil rights activism in the US, shows a colorful spread or two of Martin Luther King, and then shifts to a local church living out the dream of diversity in unity. And ends up reminding us of heaven’s diverse worship showing the multi-ethnic beauty of that future reality. Three big cheers for the great, colorful art of The Celebration place and offering a one-of-a-kind book about racial and ethnic diversity situated in a local church.
Ages 3 – 7.
Here is a lovely short video of the author, Dorena Williamson, explaining her vision for the book. Nice.
Isaiah & the Worry Pack Ruth Goring, illustrated by Pamela C. Rice (IVP Kids) $18.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.40
We adore this very well illustrated new book, again, from the new IVP Kids line. It combines warm painting and what looks like paper cut and patched illustration (although it may not be.) Ms Rice’s good work is just fabulous, making this a very nice book for boys or girls.
In Goring’s Isaiah & the Worry Pack she tells of a young boy named Isaiah who has worries about school and the complicated lives of his family. (As it says, “In our town there’s a boy named Isaiah. Isaiah is a kind boy who loves his family and often worries about them. His worries sit in his mind like big, heavy blocks and never go away.” It is obvious that Goring (who is also a poet) has keen insight about spiritual formation in children and here has developed an age-appropriate image to help understand God’s care and comfort.
His Mom helps the lad imagine each of his worries as a block stashed in his backpack. As Isaiah imagines hiking through the woods carrying his worry pack, he discovers the joy and relief of trusting Jesus with his worries. We hear people say “give it to God” and this remarkable book helps us see what that might look like. There is even a page in the back sharing some instructions for parents or care-givers about not only how to talk about this book, but to offer guidance to adults trying to help kids with their anxieties these days. Highly recommended for (at least) ages 4 – 8.
The Wonder of Creation: 100 More Devotions About God and Science Louie Giglio with Tara Fortner, illustrated by Nicola Anderson (Passion Publishing /Tommy Nelson ) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
We have had a number of customers thank us for telling them about pastor and writer Louie Giglio’s previous two books of Biblical + science devotions based on photos and facts and activities that help kids enjoy God’s good creation. There’s stuff about animals and space, people and earth, faith-building truths about how science isn’t at odds with Christian discipleship. Point kids to creation and help them experience the wonder and magnificence of God. For ages 6 – 10 or so.
Saint Francis and the Animals: A Mother’s Bird’s Story Phil Gallery, illustrated by Sibyl Mackenzie (San Damiano Books / Paraclete Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
We’ve long been impressed by this remarkable book with artful, even stunning, illustrations —not cute or pretty, even, but a bit colorful and intense, which seems an authentic way to illustrate the odd saint, Francis. In this simple story, a mother bird tells her son stories of St. Francis — all based on classic Francis stories and legends. As Fr. Pat McCloskey, the Franciscan editor of St. Anthony Messenger, who says it “is sure to spark valuable conversations.” What a book.
189 Canaries Dieter Boge, illustrated by Elsa Clever (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Now this is an amazing, charming, artful book that I bet you haven’t heard about. And what a story! You see, “in a cozy room in the heart of Germany, a yellow canary sings rolling melodies to the miners and carpenters of the Harz Mountains. But today, a bird dealer has arrived, and he will take the canary far, far away…”
Yep, this tells the true story of how canaries first came to North America. What a fun and poetic tale, told so well. In the back, there are a few really interesting pages about the factual details of the history of the canary, how monks bred them in Europe, the styles of their singing, the nature of the boat and perilous journey of the dealer who brought the “Harz Roller” canaries — used to warn miners in our mines, here over the years — from Europe. (In 1882 alone, 120,000 canaries were shipped across the Atlantic to New York.) This is fascinating could captive early elementary children up to third or fourth grade..
The Story of Bodri Hedi Fried, illustrated by Stina Wirsen (Eerdmans) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is another example of Eerdmans picking up and translating stunning, evocative, sophisticated (in art and plot) children’s books from Europe. Hedi Fried is a Swedish-Hungarian author, psychologist, and public lecturer. As a teenager she experienced the horror of the Holocaust in Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and several work camps. Today she speaks internationally on the dangers of racism and the value of democracy.
In The Story of Bodri, Hedi spends her days playing with her dog Bodri in the park. As it says on the back, “but her quiet world starts to crumble the day she hears Adolf Hitler on the radio. Germany’s leader hates her and her family, just because they are Jewish. And Hitler doesn’t even know them — it doesn’t make any sense.” This simple story show how this girl and her dog experienced the Nazi’s invading and how her life changed forever. The illustrations are simple, making them that more gripping, and simple things like the tree leaves changing color show the passage of time. Yes, this is horrific, but it is also a good, true story — Bodri waits and waits for Hedi to return. What a joy. The last page shows Mrs. Fried as an adult speaker telling her story so this horror doesn’t happen again. The striking art is not childish so older children won’t mind reading it. Ages 6-to10.
The Fierce 44: Black Americans Who Shook Up the World edited by Stephen Reiss et al, illustrated by Robert Ball (HMH) $17.99 hardback; $11.99 paperback OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39 (hardback); $9.59 (paperback)
When ordering this, please tell us which one you want, the hardback or paperback.
Perhaps you heard of the vile move made by the nearby Central York school board a few months ago to remove a bunch of kids books from the school libraries and approved lists, more than a hundred, almost every single one by or about people of color. Many on the list were books we stocked.
This is one, a children’s list of forty-four of America’s most remarkable heros compiled by the team at ESPNs The Undefeated website. Some are well known older icons — Booker T, Washington, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B. Dubois, Ida. B. Well, James Baldwin, MLK, and some are more recent popular entertainers or thought leaders — Sidney Poitier, Quincy Jones, Serena Williams, Jay-Z. And there other are lesser known black heroes included — doctors, teachers, political activists, church leaders, many contemporary figures kids may have heard of. We’re happy to recommend this in any season, but especially now, given the foolishness that would fear a book like this. For ages 8 – 12.
A FEW BRIGHTLY ILLUSTRATED INFORMATIVE BOOKS FOR OLDER KIDS
Mightier Than the Sword: Rebels, Reformers & Revolutionaries Who Changed the World Through Writing Rochelle Melander, illustrated by Melina Ontiveros (Broadleaf Books) $22.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $18.39
Although this is a Christian publisher, this book doesn’t have overt religious content and it is decidedly progressive in it’s amplifying people who have “picked up their pens and wielded their words — transforming their lives, their communities, and beyond.” As the author says, “Now it’s your turn!” By offering richly illustrated stories of “inspiring speechmakers, scientists, explorers, authors, poets, and activists” they hope to offer encouragement to young people to learn to write, to speak out, to bring good words to help bring good to the world. There is a bit of instruction here, too, about the writing process, revising, editing, etc.
With each short biography or case study they show how each person used different sorts of writing to make a difference. It explains their most famous article, essay, book or manifesto.
For instance, here are some of the chapter titles, listing the names of the writer and their “motivation” or goal in doing their particular kind of writing: Langston Hughes: Write to Dream, Rachel Carson: Write to Warn, Malala Yousafzai: Write to Advocate, Anne Frank: Write to Express, Helen Keller: Write to Reveal. We learn that Hans and Sophie Scholl wrote to critique and that Mary McLeod Bethune wrote to inspire and that Martin Luther wrote to debate. There are so many different names of such reformers and each style or aim is succinctly explained. From Wang Zhenyi (a Chinese mathematician and poet) who in the late 1700s wrote to explain the solar eclipse all the way to Louis Braille, the inventory and educator, who wrote his famous method of writing words and music using upraised dots, and George Orwell who wrote Animal Farm to oppose authoritarianism.
There are sidebars and exercises and all sorts of good inspiration and advise for young writers wanting to make a difference. Hooray. Good for ages 8 – 14.
Holy Troublemakers & Unconventional Saints Daneen Akers (Watchfire Media) $35.00 OUR SALE PRICE = $28.00
There are not that many religiously-oriented bookstores who stock this big, rich book, we gather, and we are proud to be among those willing to share such a book telling of unconventional saints who brew what we perceive as mostly righteous troublemaking. Not everyone will like holding up radical, inter-faith activists or thinkers or public servants who stand for peace, justice, dignity, and inclusion, but just because this perspective is so rare, and the testimonials told are so interesting, we are happy to offer it; we think the world needs these kinds of stories, and we’re glad this large and informative book amplifies the creative efforts of those whose imaginations and work and witness cannot be captured by the religious right or the secular left. And it is such a feast for the eyes, with some striking drawings and illustrations.
Here we have upbeat illustrations in a sophisticated, often very colorful graphic/cartoon style (done by a handful of different talented artists) that is popular these days, alongside the telling about the brave and faith-inspired work of historic folk such as the medieval Saint Francis of Assisi, Anne Hutchinson from the Puritan era in 17th century New England, Civil War era Harriet Tubman and a powerful entry on Florence Nightingale.
But also, there is Bayard Rustin, the gay Quaker who was a friend and inspiration to MLK and Regina Jonas, the first female rabbi to be ordained whose story is almost lost to history. (She minister to fellow prisoners in a secret synagogue in a Nazi death camp in Czechoslovakia until she was sent to Auschwitz where she was killed.) There is a moving portrait of Maryam Mokaara, an Iranian Muslim transgender rights advocate — one’s heart should break that a person would be so badly treated among her countrymen —and another young, religious woman, a Shia Muslim in Chicago who co-founded (with a Sufi woman) an inclusive Mosque working for peace among those with differences. There is a nice entry on Thich That Hahn, the exiled Vietnamese Buddhist teacher of mindfulness and peacemaking.
I loved the chapter about Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian minister, doing his TV work, as I suppose you know, as a public ministry based in Pittsburgh. What a joy to see the story about (and the beautiful illustration of) poet Mary Oliver. And I was delighted to read about the Christian joy of Gustavo Gutierrez, a priest among the poor in Peru, known as a Godly man and the father of modern liberation theology.
There are modern day troublemakers, too, including even a few who we have met. Brian McLaren makes an appearance in a very nice chapter about his faith journey. Rachel Held Evans is properly included; there’s a good piece on Christian Native American writer Kaitlin Curtice. I was moved to read the story of Herb Montgomery, a kid who grew up with parents working for Jim and Tammy Baker, became a Pentecostal preacher, who later had an “aha” moment leading him towards Biblical nonviolence and radical peacemaking as a missionary (fulfilling a prophecy about him given during the heyday of the PTL show.)
After the portrait of each remarkable person there is a question or two to apply their attribute or virtue of the story. For instance, after the powerful story of Alice Paul (an early 1900s Quaker, a descendant of William Penn, with a degree from Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania) who became a “Silent Sentinel” (the group of suffragettes who picketed the White House for 18 months!) we have the question “what injustice would you fight today?” After the story of CCM singer Jennifer Knapp, it asks, “What does it mean to you to love without exception? Following the piece about Danya Ruttenberg and her journey from being a young atheist to a serious Jew with a ministry of creation care, it asks, simply, “what is one way you can love God’s creation?” There is a similar question following the lovely bio of the Roman Catholic steward of trees in Kenya, Wangari Maathai. This is all so interesting, learning about so many different kinds of people making the world a better place.
You get the picture; there are Jewish folks, Muslims, a Buddhist, Christians of various sorts, all activists who have taken up a calling to love God and others with radical inclusion and social reform. Most are part of the movement for greater justice for LGTBQ persons, and that is a clear theme of Holy Troublemakers.
In each essay about each person certain words are highlighted in red and that leads curious readers to a helpful glossary in the back. Words and phrases from “Christological hermeneutic” to shekinah, Imam, heretical, colonization, fundamentalism, queer, calling, civil disobedience, and dozens more. The glossary is an education in itself, framed by this interfaith and progressive vision of dignity and justice and shalom for all creation. Few readers will find this book theological adequate since it is driven by stories of people, flawed and heroic and human as they are, but it is a one-of-a-kind, beautifully made resource that some of our families and congregations will be grateful to have.
They say ages 8 and up, but I’d say maybe 10 and up…
Stories of the Saints: Bold and Inspiring Tales of Adventure, Grace, and Courage Carey Wallace, illustrated by Nick Thornborrow (Workman) $24.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96
This, too, is a large sized hardback, lavishly illustrated, telling the stories of people of faith and courage. The individuals featured are more conventional Roman Catholic saints — but, boy, that doesn’t mean overly sacred or dull as these are stunning portrayals of amazing, real people. The artwork is fabulous, although a more traditional sort of illustration, evoking older hagiography and classic portraiture. Yet, it has a contemporary, modern touch, making it really, really interesting.
We have raved about this before and once somebody holds it — a big, solid hardback, so well designed and so very well written — they love it. Carey Wallace is a contemporary novelist, too (having written the highly regarded The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, a fictionalized account of the true story of the woman who invented the typewriter.)
As the publisher puts it:
As exciting as any Greek myth, as inspiring as any story about knights of the round table, these stories of the Christian saints are filled with history, adventure, and inspiration. Here, the lives of 70 Christian saints are organized chronologically (from 2nd century bishop St. Polycarp to Mother Teresa) and richly illustrated for kids ages 8-12.
Many important reviewers have complimented both Wallaces nuanced and enjoyable writing and the vivid graphic design work of Thornborrow. Here is what the prestigious Kirkus Reviews said in 2020:
The saints included span centuries and cultures, including well-known figures… more obscure ones like Mary of Egypt and John Nepomucene, and those from non-Western cultures… Wallace presents them all with quiet confidence that the stories matter, and she convinces us that they do. Thornborrow’s illustrations combine traditional iconography with modern graphic art, effectively dramatizing each tale. Unusual, well-done.”
Written with “a quiet confidence that these stories matter.” I like that. Here’s to giving good books for Epiphany and beyond. Order today at our BookNotes 20% off.
A FEW GOOD STORIES FOR OLDER ELEMENTARY AND YA READERS
Just Like That Gary D. Schmidt (Clarion Books) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
Schmidt is one of our generation’s great youth writers, still a lit prof at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, and known for Newberry Award books like Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy. I adored The Wednesday Wars and you should know the follow-up to it, Okay for Now. This new one, a nice sized hardback, is set in that same late 60s world and may be connected to those two. It is said to bring his characteristic humor and zany characters combined with serious and important moral questions. Starting in 1968 — the Viet Nam war is raging, of course — the book opens telling us about Meryl Lee who, we learn, arrives at a Maine boarding school, haunted by personal loss.
As the publisher promises, “this timeless story of grief, growth, and change is full of heart and humor.” Schmidt is rooted in a profound Christian worldview and can pull off this wise and caring storytelling in a way that stands alongside the best YA books out there. What a glory. This is a “Junior Library Guild” selection. Props. Ages 10 – 14.
Birdie’s Bargain Katherine Paterson (Candlewick Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
Perhaps even more than Gary Schmidt, Katherine Paterson is a legend in the world of contemporary YA fiction. She has been honored with award after award and her early books remain in the canon of kids fiction. Of her thirty books, just think of Bridge to Terabithia or Jacob Have I Loved or The Great Gilly Hopkins.
Here is a key bit that helps you learn what this “bargain” is about. In a mainstream book published by a “secular” house, by the way:
When Birdie’s daddy is posted overseas for a third time, she’s angry and scared. But maybe, just maybe, if she does everything right, God will bring him home safe, one more time…
I chuckled when I opened it at random and read the description of this ten-year old girl buying a “I Heart Jesus” tee shirt at the church camp gift shop. Yep.
This is a post-9-11 story with Birdie’s father serving in the Iraq war. Here is how the publisher tells it:
To save money, she, Mom, and baby Billy have moved to Gran’s, where shy Birdie must attend a new school, and no one but bossy Alicia Marie Suggs welcomes her. Doesn’t God remember how hard it was for Birdie to make friends at Bible Camp? Counselor Ron taught about judgment there — and the right way to believe. Has Birdie been praying wrong? Why else would God break their bargain?
Readers of all faiths and backgrounds, especially children of military families, will identify with and root for the unforgettable Birdie, given inimitable voice by master storyteller Katherine Paterson.
Ages 9 – 12.
Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood Gary Paulsen (FSG) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I got one of these for myself but haven’t had time to open it yet. The great Gary Paulson (author of Hatchet and Dogsong and dozens of others) died just as this book was growing in popularity this fall. It is Paulsen’s own story, an autobiography that anyone who knows his books will find enlightening.
Here is what it says on the dust jacket flap:
Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller…
This beautifully told and wise book has ended up on all sorts of year’s end Best Books lists and is destined to be remembered as a classic. Here are a few of the rave reviews:
“It might seem unlikely that such an unflinching account could have an uplifting effect. Yet it does. A child may grow up in privation, and he may grow up in ease, but suffering comes to all. Through his example, Gary Paulsen models how it can be overcome.” —The Wall Street Journal
“A rich, compelling read that is emotive and expressive without forcing empathy from the reader. Both brightly funny and darkly tragic, it is fresh in its honest portrayal of difficult themes . . . Readers will fall into this narrative of succeeding against overwhelming odds amid deep trauma.” — Kirkus Reviews
“Recalls many tense and dangerous moments. Readers will find themselves turning the pages quickly to see what happens next and whether the boy survives, perhaps forgetting that this is the life story of a popular author now 81 years old.” — The Washington Post
“A riveting, hopeful survival story about personal resilience amid trauma.” — Publishers Weekly
“Paulsen exposes his early life with raw honesty and heartwarming humor . . . This literary treasure is written for book lovers of any age . . . A spectacular memoir that will engage readers as intensely as his award-winning fiction.” — Shelf Awareness
Great for ages 8 – 12 or so…
The Beatryce Prophecy Kate DiCamillo, with illustrations by Sophie Blackall (Candlewick) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE =$15.99
When a Christian leader and good author ordered this from us the other day it reminded me how I’ve been wishing to tell our BookNotes readers about it. Kate DiCamillo happily won us over many years ago with her rightly popular Because of Winn Dixie. And after that, The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, not to mention the creative The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. As one of America’s most beloved storytellers (and two-time Newbery Medalist) DiCamillo is a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. (And, she was born in Philly, so is, technically, a Pennsylvania writer, even though she was raised in Florida and now lives up North.)
Sophie Blackall, by the way, who offers some expert black and white touches, here, is a two-time Caldecott Medalist — originally from Australia. In The Beatryce Prophecy she portrays the medieval society and the life of the girl Beatryce quite well, with warmth, even.
This is a story set in medieval Europe, considered “a luminous tale of fate, love, and the power of words to spell the world.”
What does that mean? You’ll have to read it, enter the castles and monasteries and adventure, learning, first, why the monks of the Chronicles of Sorrowing fear Answelica the goat. Imagine Brother Edik’s terror, though, “when he goes to feed Answelica one morning and finds a child in the pen with the demon goat.”
As the jacket tells us, “The child does not know where she came from. She does not know who her people are. She remembers one thing only: her name. Beatryce.” The king’s men, however, know who the child is, and they are searching for her.
Ages 8 – 12.
A Place to Hang the Moon Kate Albus (Holiday House) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This incredibly written book has gotten rave reviews and we are sure some of our discerning customers will appreciate it. Albus lives in rural Maryland and we are told we have some mutual friends, I think. This is her first novel and we’re thrilled to announce it here. It is perhaps a classic “orphan” story but one of the heroes who helps these lost kids find a sense of home is a librarian who gives them books. Yea!
The amazing Patricia Reilly Giff (a multiple-award winner of the Newbery Honor) has written about it nicely:
Set in England in the early days of World War II, three siblings search for a family who will keep them forever. I admired those three: their love for each other that kept them going, despite cruelty and neglect. Books they read are particularly appealing and the librarian was warm and comforting. An unforgettable story — beautifully told.
Here are other starred reviews and lovely descriptions:
Both touching and genuine, the historical novel A Place to Hang the Moon speaks to the power of stories and families, both of which can be found in the most unexpected places. — Foreword Reviews
The narrative is fresh, lively, and captivating. The characters are drawn with conviction and a good deal of empathy. Lit by wit and humanity, the novel offers a heartening story in which three resourceful children keep a secret, find what they long for, and treasure it. —Booklist
Heartwarming . . . Albus infuses the closely bonded siblings’ search for found family with dry humor [and] affectionate and authentic-feeling characterization –Publishers Weekly
It’s in the often crisp, often cozy detailing and the ever-so-British turns of phrase . . . that this novel claims a place among the most kid-pleasing orphan stories. The loyal bonds among the Pearce siblings and Mrs. Müller’s bottomless well of patience, ingenuity, and perfectly tailored reading lists will have readers aching to swap their own messier families, however briefly, for the Pearces’ home and hygge. –The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Ages 9 – 14.
Leo, Inventor Extraordinaire Luke Cunningham (Zonderkidz) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
It isn’t every day a Christian publisher releases an adventure book for a boy that isn’t fantasy with mythical creatures in a middle-earth type scenario. This is not that sort of fantasy. And this now has garnered incredible reviews from the likes of Super Bowl champion and TV personality Michael Strahen, who says “Leo: Inventor Extraordinaire is a book all kids should read, with a hero we all can root for.”
The story is set in a school for incredibly gifted orphans. There’s the genius kid inventor, a subterranean maze. (And, as it says on the back) “A mechanical monkey. What could go wrong?”
When you are an inventor like Leo, apparently, the answer is “everything.” Ha.
I’m guessing that Cunningham may have a bit of a nod to The Inventor of Hugo Cabret going on here and they say it will be loved by those who enjoyed The Copernicus Legacy series. For ages 8 -13, I’d say, it is filled with both adventure and humor. Interestingly, Luke Cunningham has been nominated for an Emmy Award for his work as a writer with Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. He developed a passion for the Renaissance while earning a history degree from Brown. Apparently Leo himself may be a bit of kid’s version of a renaissance man.
As a toy inventor, Leo has to contend with dastardly plots, this puzzling set of tunnels below his school in Florence, and the story ends up with some sort of DaVinci Code religious drama going on. There are almost 60 pieces of original black and white artwork and it encourages the development of STEM skills. Cool, huh?
In Leo, Inventor Extraordinaire, Luke Cunningham has created an utterly engaging and charismatic protagonist and an absorbing mystery filled with spectacular inventions, vivid action, an occasional life lesson, and a hearty dose of humor. — Clinton Kelly, TV personality and host
The Fire Keeper’s Daughter — Keep the Secret, Live the Lie, Earn Your Truth Angeline Boulley (Henry Holt) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE $15.19
I think I turned off one of our religious customers the other day when I said that I think Reese Witherspoon has good taste in fiction and that if she has chosen this for her YA Book Club, we wanted to carry it, and recommend it as a good and important read. We have not studied this carefully, but by all accounts it is one of the great books of the year, and a New York Times best seller (which does not, obviously, establish its worth, but does suggest it is being talked about all over the land.) I mentioned to my pious friend that the Spirit-led apostle Paul read (and ordered in his letter to young Timothy) the pagan books of his time. It would seem to me that would compel conservative Christians to feel obliged to read widely (or at least set them free to read what they want.) In any case, The Fire Keeper’s Daughter is a complex and keen story, well-written (even called gorgeous and enthralling) from an author who is a Native American leader.
Angeline Boulley is an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, is a storyteller who writes about her Ojibwe community in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She is a former Director of the Office of Indian Education at the U.S. Department of Education. Angeline lives in southwest Michigan, but her home, she says, will always be on Sugar Island.
With the indigenous stuff going on — exposing corruption on a res — it obviously raises spiritual concerns. And explores hard-hitting topics of concern such as (in the words of the Publisher’s Weekly review) “citizenship, language revitalization, and the corrosive presence of drugs on Native communities.”
Fire Keeper’s Daughter has been optioned already to be made into a film (from Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company, I believe.) Here is some of the buzz.
“A rare and mesmerizing work that blends the power of a vibrant tradition with the aches and energy of today’s America. This book will leave you breathless!” — Francisco X. Stork, acclaimed author of Marcelo in the Real World and Illegal
“Another YA novel that’s absolutely page-turning required reading for adults…Our heroine is so smart, so thoughtful, and so good.” — Glamour
A gorgeous insight into Anishinaabe culture and a page-turning YA thriller with a healthy dose of romance thrown in, Firekeeper’s Daughter hits all of the right notes. — Hypable
Immersive and enthralling, Firekeeper’s Daughter plunges the reader into a community and a landscape enriched by a profound spiritual tradition. Full of huge characters and spellbinding scenes, it gives a fascinating insight into life on and off the reservation, with Daunis as a tough and resourceful heroine through every vicissitude. — Financial Times
Though Firekeeper’s Daughter contains gripping action sequences and gasp-inducing twists, it’s Daunis’ mission of self-discovery, which begins as a low and steady growl and grows to a fierce, proud roar, that has the most impact… Though it both shocks and thrills, in the end, what leaves you breathless is Firekeeper’s Daughter‘s blazing heart. — BookPage
Boulley, herself an enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, writes from a place of love for her community and shares some key teachings from her culture, even mixing languages within the context of the story. She doesn’t shy away from or sugar-coat the very real circumstances that plague reservations across the country, and she tackles these through her biracial hero who gets involved in the criminal investigation into the corruption that led to this pain. An incredible thriller, not to be missed. — Booklist
This is a great read for senior high youth, maybe ages 14 – 18.
When Stars Are Scattered Victory Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (Dial/Graphic) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
We’ve promoted this often and are so glad that it has been honored in so many places, from ALA Notable Book to the School Library Journal’s Best Book of the Year a few years ago. Victoria Jamison is an renowned graphic novel author for middle school age kids (she won a Newbery Honor for Roller Girl.)
When Stars are Scattered, which was a finalist for a National Book Award, tells the story, in many of his own words, of co-author Omar Mohamed, who spent much of his young life in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya. Omar is from Somalia and had the opportunity of going to school, and tells here the life of a refugee (including his journey to the US where he was settled in Arizona; there he got a college degree in international development and became a US citizen. Omar eventually took a position with Church World Service in central Pennsylvania where he now lives.)
When Stars Are Scattered is a Hearts & Minds favorite. It is informative, interesting, and inspiring — a great read for almost any age, maybe 9 and up.
Pembrick’s Creaturepedia: Skreean Edition Ollister B. Pembrick (translated by Andew Peterson) (Waterbrook) $13.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.19
This is, you should know, illustrated by O.B. P. (Ollister B. Pembrick, naturally) with some assistance from a “master of sketchery”, Aedan Peterson. It is a small hardback, replete with the valuable drawings and detailed explanations by said O.B. P. who lived, barely, to describe each creature in the Wingfeather Saga in grand detail. It is said to be “the have-to-read guide for all who wish not to get eaten, maimed, or otherwise snacked on by the creatures of Skree.”
Which is to say, again, that the Creaturepedia is a small companion to the four volumes of the Wingfeather Saga by none other than Andrew Peterson himself. If your kids have the Wingfeather books, this handy hardback is a hoot.
The four volumes, by the way, are each fabulous hardbacks for early or middle elementary up to younger middle school readers who like adventure and chivalry and a fair bit of tomfoolery. They include, in order, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, North! or Be Eaten, The Monster in the Hollows, and the fourth volume, The Warden and the Wolf King. There is a fifth book, random stories from several of Peterson’s posse (N.D. Wilson, Doulas McKelvey, Jennifer Trafton and Jonathan Rogers) called Wingfeather Tales: Seven Thrilling Stories from the World of Aerwiar. All of these hardbacks go for $13.99, by the way, and qualify for our BookNotes 20% off. We’ve got all five, the four by Peterson in the Saga and the supplemental fifth on, the extra collection of “tales.”
[And, as an aside, if the kids like these books, or the parents are reading them, you can always get the parents Petersons two handsome books about his own vision of creativity and his calling as recording artist, writer, and thinker. We recommend last year’s wonderfully titled Adoring the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (B+H Books; $16.99) and the more recent The God of the Garden: Thoughts on Creation, Culture, and the Kingdom (B+H Books; $17.99.)]
25% OFF SALE ON THE BOXED SET — only through Epiphany, January 6, 2022 and while supplies last.
The hefty boxed set of all four hardbacks in a sturdy, colorful slipcase typically sells for $55.96 but we have that at 25% for those who see it here — good only until Epiphany. That extra sale price for this limited time = $41.97. After January 6th, 2022, it will go back to our typical 20% off.
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There are generally two kinds of US Mail options, and, of course, UPS. If necessary, we can do overnight and other expedited methods, too.
- United States Postal Service has the option called “Media Mail” which is cheapest but slow and may be delayed. For one book, usually, it’s about $3.50 – $4.00
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Hearts & Minds 234 East Main Street Dallastown PA 17313
We are still closed for in-store browsing due to our commitment to public health and the common good (not to mention the safety of our staff and customers.) The vaccination rate here in York County is sadly lower than average and the positivity rate is going up. Our store is a bit cramped without top-notch ventilation so we are trying to be wise and faithful. Please, wherever you are, do your best to stop this awful sickness going around.
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