Doing that previous BookNotes on new Advent resources last week was fun and it was good to skim back over previous BookNotes from earlier Advents naming books that seemed helpful years ago. Some still are among the very best, so don’t forget to click on those links we shared. Thanks for taking a look — you should don’t want to forget perennial gift items like Plough Publishing’s Watch for the Light or Paraclete’s God With Us, first published in partnership with Image Journal. You know I’m a fan of Advent by Fleming Rutledge. What glorious books they are.
Here are some devotional and/or faith-building resources for family use this Advent. A few are brand new, a few are good re-runs, and there is something for nearly everyone. Send us an order soon (by useing the link at the very end of the column — scroll all the way down so you don’t miss anything.) We’ll send them out at our discounted prices as soon as we can (usually the same day.) These days we must warn that sometimes, on a few items, there could be a delay.
Just click on the order form link below that takes you to our secure order form page at the Hearts & Minds bookstore website. You can type in anything you want and we’ll take it from there. It is secure for credit card info, so have at it. Thanks.
The History of Christmas: 2000 Years of Faith, Fable and Festivity Heather Lefebvre (Christian Focus) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
What a lovely book this is, fun and fascinating, full of full color art and illustration. This publisher is a typically conservative Scottish one but here is pleasantly ecumenical, exploring the great variety of gospel insights from a whole lot of different places and cultures. There’s clever descriptions and upbeat ideas, guidance on opportunities like having a “medieval Christmas” or a Victorian holiday. Naturally there is a good section on the Reformers and Puritans.
In a colorful style and with fictionalized stories for family reading this really is a theological history, with helpful bits of cultural studies. It has recipes for ordinary first century “Shepherds meal” and Mince pies as ways to understanding faith across the years, from the early church to the middle ages to “Christmas commercialized.” It shows how Christmas was reinvented (the story for this is set in London 1850.)
There are drawings of Bonaventure, Henry the VIII, Santa Claus, and scenes that show the delightfully multi-ethic nature of the church these days. I love this fun, educational book.
The God of Amazing Gifts: Family Devotions for Advent Lizzie Laferton (The Good Book Company) $14.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $11.99
We shared this one last week, but it really fits here, so we’ll tell you about it again:
In other years we have sold well the family and seasonal devotionals published by this gospel-centered, solid, evangelical publishing house. They do impressive books and we’re happy to announce this one, a wonderful and fresh devotional that, as one parent put it, “will keep on giving far beyond Christmas.”
The God of Amazing GIfts has 25 devotions that can be used during Advent or spread out before or after Christmas.
Helpfully it has different questions routes for different aged children from 7 – 14+, and a variety of suggestions for application. There are some extra ideas in the back, too, for further family activities and deeper conversations. It might be the thing to help your family dig just a bit deeper this season.
One reviewer says that it is “thought provoking, awe-inspiring, and Jesus-magnifying, a brilliant resource.”
God’s Holy Darkness Shared Green & Becky Selznick, illustrated by Nikki Faison (Beaming Books) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is one of the most amazing children’s books in many a year, powerful, aesthetically stunning, exceptionally well done. I highly recommend that you find a way to integrate this into your Advent reading with kids of various ages, even though it isn’t directly an obvious Advent book. There is one facing spread that does speak of Advent, so I guess it is an Advent book.
There are two important threads of import in this striking picture book. Firstly, it is (obviously) about darkness. That in itself resonates with themes of Advent, doesn’t it? We really appreciate how artfully it shows this and how vital and captivating this book is, inviting us to “celebrate the beauty of God’s holy darkness.” (Perhaps you recall the wonderfully written memoir exploring this by the exquisite Barbara Brown Taylor called Learning to Walk In the Dark: Because Sometimes God Shows Up at Night; this children’s book is a good companion for that.)
The second theme is wanting to — how do I say this? — redeem the notion of blackness. Too often we hear, or assume subconsciously, that black is bad, that dark times are irredeemably bad, that night and dark are scary and troubling. We needn’t overstate the case but some black friends have said this can be hurtful or confusing, so we need to think this through. God’s Holy Darkness is, in a sense, an anti-racism book.
As it says on the back cover of God’s Holy Darkness:
From the darkness at the beginning of creation to the blackness of the sky on the night when Christ’s birth was announced, this captivating picture book deconstructs anti-Blackness in Christian theology by exploring instances in the story of God’s people when darkness, blackness, and night are beautiful, good, and holy.
We often talk about how Christmas is best understood in the flow of the unfolding drama of the history of redemption. That is, we should frame the Christmas season by the whole story of God as portrayed in the big story of Scripture. (In the book by Daniel Spanjer that I highlighted in the last BookNotes, Advent is the Story: Seeing the Nativity Throughout Scripture, it shows how to do this.) This exceptionally artful book does just that allusively, simply, walking us through the pages of Scripture. This is redemptive, nearly subversive, Biblical theology for children. What a book!
The Light Before Christmas: A Family Advent Devotional Marty Machowski, illustrated by Sarah Bland-Halulko (New Growth Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59.
A handsome, slim hardback with a nice deep blue cover and some rich, colored pages and the occasional bright ink makes this four-week Advent family devotional a special treat to behold. Machowski is the Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, PA (where he has served on the pastoral staff for over thirty years and has made a name for himself as a leader in the new generation of up-beat, grace-based, gospel-centered, Christian curricula.)
This new one combines devotions on the themes of light and darkness with the story, as they explain, of eleven year old Mia and her grandmother as they prepare for Christmas. “Grandmother loves to share her faith, especially at Christmas time, and although she is bind, she can see the light of Jesus shining bright and helps Mia — and children of all ages — to do the same.”
Reset: Advent Devotions for the Whole Family J.D. Walt (Seedbed) $9.95 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.96
This is one of the lovely, compact sized “Seedbed Daily Text” volumes, designed to be read out loud in families, written by the editor (who they call “sower-in-chief”) at Seedbed, the Wesleyan renewal ministry out of Asbury Theological Seminary. Walk has four children and is a preacher, poet, and songwriter.
I like that they say that since Advent is the first month of the church calendar, “it’s like a giant reset button crying out to give us a fresh start again.” More than two thousand year ago, they say, “God reset the world.” Indeed.
A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives.
Maybe you know Barbara Reaoch’s book from 2020, (which we recommended last year) A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better; I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says of that book “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!” Well, A Jesus Christmas is her previous one and is arranged very similarly and is a great companion to it. Who doesn’t want to make their Advent and holiday season more of a “Jesus Christmas”? This will help.
It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel. There is a helpful question and even a space for journaling and occasionally an invitation to draw something. (Unless you have a huge family, each member can share this space, which could be fun.). Of this one, A Jesus Christmas, Joni exclaimed,
With every Christmas becoming more commercialized, parents are earnestly seeking new ways to make the true story of Christmas much more clear to their children. One glance through this remarkable book tells me that A Jesus Christmas is just what mothers and fathers are looking for. What a great family project this is, providing guide points for discussion, age-appropriate activities, and homework for every child. I highly recommend this book as a practical and powerful way to keep Jesus Christ and his Word at the very center of your family’s Christmas.
A Better Than Anything Christmas: Explore How Jesus Makes Christmas Better Barbara Reaoch (The Good Book Company) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
What a great resource, clear about the gospel and the centrality of Jesus in our lives. I love it that the very wise (and very smart) Joni Eareckson Tada says to “consider this unique book your Christmas toolbox. I give it my double thumbs-up!”
Maybe you know Barbara Reaoch’s previous book from 2018, A Jesus Christmas: Explore God’s Amazing Plan for Christmas; this is arranged very similarly and is a great companion to it.
It is a family devotional, each day’s entry looking at a passage from the Gospel There is a helpful question and even a space for journaling.
Here are what some stellar folks have said about it:
This is yet another outstanding family devotional book for the Christmas season by Barbara Reaoch. If you’ve been blessed by any of her previous books, you’ll enjoy this one as well. She has a knack for starting with something interesting to children and quickly turning it to Jesus and the Bible. This one will appeal both to younger and older children, and parts of each chapter are directed to both groups. The book is imaginatively interactive as well; not just something for kids to listen to. Best of all is how she conveys 25 core truths about Christ in a simple way to show the children how Jesus is Better Than Anything. – Donald S. Whitney, Professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY and author of Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Praying the Bible, and Family Worship.
In a world where Christmas is more commercialized than ever before, it is all too easy for parents to drown in the noise of it all. Barbara Reaoch’s A Better Than Anything Christmas is a welcome and refreshing opportunity for parents to zero in on what is truly important: the gospel. The daily advent readings and questions make for excellent family discussions around who Jesus is and why He came. We loved Barbara’s A Jesus Christmas for how it offered our children an opportunity to grapple with big doctrinal ideas in a way that was easily digestible, even cross-culturally. I look forward to sharing A Better Than Anything Christmas with the family this Christmas, most especially for how it promotes theologically robust discussion and a deepening and enduring understanding of God’s Word. From toddlers to teens, this devotional offers far greater value than even the most beautifully wrapped packages beneath the tree. – Taryn Hayes podcast host, The Gospel Coalition Australia’s The Lydia Project: Conversations with Christian Women
Families Celebrate 2022-2023 Advent and Christmas deck of cards (Augsburg Fortress) $9.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $7.99
Give new meaning to the phrase “Christmas cards” by using these (small) cards to do family devotions. As they promise on the back, each card features a ritual, prayer, reflection, or activity. For families with kids ages 3 -13. Cards are dated for use each day from the first Sunday of Advent to the Day of Epiphany (January 6, 2023.) Of course, you could use or re-use them. These are really cute and feature full color art on 56 cards. While supplies last…
Wonders of His Love: Finding Jesus in Isaiah Family Advent Devotional Champ Thornton, illustrated by Jeremy Slagle (New Growth Press) $15.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $12.79
The cover may not fully communicate it but this is a very full color, lively, contemporary looking for kids, creatively done thin hardback (with nice, glossy paper) full of gospel-centered good news about God’s grace and Christ’s fulfillment of God’s covenantal promises. Sweet, good stuff, theologically solid and yet playful asides, cookie recipes, conversation starters and some family fun ideas. The book’s four weeks of daily readings explore four images from Isaiah’s prophecies — the Light, the Branch, the Shepherd, and the Savior.
Endorsements are from pastor and children’s ministry expert Marty Machowski (author of WonderFull, The Ology, Long Story Short and many other stellar kid’s theology books) and Barbara Reaoch, author of A Better Than Anything Christmas.
Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book for the Journey to Bethlehem Christopher Rodkey, with illustrations by Jesse & Natalie Turri (Christian Board of Publication/Chalice Press) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
We tell folks about this every year and I am happy to list this among our favs even though I suppose it isn’t for everyone. Back at the start of the adult coloring book craze. Rev. Dr.. Rodkey, a neighbor, friend, and Dallastown UCC pastor, came into the shop wondering about adult ed options for December at his small, creative church. He had a hunch folks were burned out, tense, in need of some serenity. He thought about just doing an arts and craft thing for adults, a contemplative coloring time. It went over well and he set himself to the task of collaborating with some Pennsylvania illustrators and created this Coloring Advent, based on lectionary readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. There is nothing like that and his brief comments about the Biblical text — yes there are footnotes in a coloring book! — are beyond intriguing with his penchant for including lesser known feast days from the world Christian traditions, from Orthodoxy and Catholicism’s liturgical calendar. A thoughtfully arranged, annotated, ecumenical coloring book that follows the lectionary.
Rev. Rodkey’s subsequent Coloring Lent and Coloring Women of the Bible are equally as fascinating and a lot of informative, clarifying fun. Coloring Advent: An Adult Coloring Book was created here in Dallastown and we are glad to list it here. It isn’t designed for children, but, obviously, anybody can use it, even teens.
Faithful Families for Advent and Christmas: 100 Ways to Make the Season Sacred Traci Smith (Chalice Press) $12.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $10.39
This is a nice holiday companion to the popular Faithful Families: Creation Sacred Moments at Home. It offers 100 nifty ideas, some pretty ordinary that anybody would do, some a bit more extensive that are thoughtful and good, and a few that are a bit, uh, unique. Not everyone will “get” each one, granted. Even if you do a few of these or ponder a few others, this book is worth its inexpensive price. Give it a try.
In each of these simple, hands-on practices, Smith gives families the tools to slow down, wait, and focus on all that Jesus coming into the world means. — Karyn Rivadeneira, author, Grit and Grace: Heroic Women of the Bible
Christmas is Coming! But Waiting is Hard! Family Activities and Devotions for Advent Karen Whiting (Abingdon Press) $16.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $13.59
This book is not new but we wanted to highlight it for you; some of our customers are looking for useful resources that have basic lessons and conversation-starters and little crafty type activities for young ones. This author used to work for Focus on the Family and has developed curriculum for others who want to share basic Christian insight for children. (She was a producer and host of a puppet show on public TV in Miami — yay!)
Besides the reading, each day’s entry includes a prayer, discussion questions, explanation of a Christmas symbol, some reproducibles to help with the symbol activity, and suggested activities to put the Scriptures into action.
The 25 Days of Christmas: A Family Devotional to Help You Celebrate Jesus James Merritt, illustrated by Connie Gabbert (Harvest House) $19.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.99
This was a big hit a couple of years ago not only for its solid, Biblical content but for the rich artwork, nice cloth hardback feel. It’s 9 x 12, so bigger than most (although not thick.) It will be a keepsake edition. Merritt is a Southern Baptist pastor and co-host of a TV show. He’s written bunches of books.The 25 Days of Christmas has a story to read aloud each day and an activity — things to do, discover, apply.
The Advent Jesse Tree: Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for the Coming of the Christ Child at Christmas Dean Meador Lambert (Abingdon Press) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
This is an old classic that originally came out in the mid-1980s. We used to sell it widely and encouraged folks to do this great project of creating ornaments that each are related to an Old Testament text that lead up to the Christmas story. What a great way to teach the history of redemption and the unfolding drama of salvation history. The writing here is a bit old-fashioned, the black and white illustrations even more-so; they were old-fashioned when they were in the first edition. Vintage, eh? Still, the idea is solid. We enjoy letting people know about this. These are devotions based on the Biblical texts and symbols but not a craft book to make the symbols for the Jesse Tree. (Let us know if we can help you with that; there are several.)
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.99
This is a contemporary classic, beloved and used by many. It is colorful and excellently made. It is playing on the old Jesse Tree custom. It has vivid, full-color illustrations, downloadable ornaments, and moving scenes from the Bible. As the publisher says, “Person by person, story by story, retrace the lineage of Jesus. Fall in love with Him all over again as you experience God’s plan of salvation for us–from the Garden of Eden to the manger and beyond.” This is an oversized hardback, like a big coffee table book, a real keepsake.
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: An Interactive Family Celebration of Advent Ann Voskamp (Tyndale) $34.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $27.99 We’ve exclaimed about this before, a beautifully designed, big, lavish hardback with pop-up features and lots of extras that serves as a contemporary take on the old Jesse Tree tradition. There’s a little devotional by Voskamp for each of the ornaments — what a keepsake volume.
Here’s how they describe what is included:
- 13-inch 3D pop-up tree
- Devotional booklet with 25 family devotions written by Ann Voskamp
- 24 Christmas tree ornaments with hangers
- Star-shaped tree-topper
Based on her bestseller Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp expands her presentation of the timeless Advent tradition of the Jesse Tree with this beautiful keepsake that can be handed down and enjoyed for generations.
Each December, families can celebrate the coming of Jesus by opening the book to see a stunning 13-inch, three-dimensional Jesse Tree pop up from the page. At its foot are 25 doors, one for each day of Advent, which hide meaningful, beautifully detailed ornaments–including the Christmas star–that are ready to be hung on the tree.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season inspired by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrated by Jago, narrated by David Suchet (Zonderkidz) $24.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $19.96
I hope you know this. Here is how we wrote about it before when it was brand new in 2020.
Oh my goodness, we’ve saved the best for last. We are so excited to tell you about this. This Sally Lloyd-Jones Christmas Collection, though, really is a great choice to use during Advent with little children so we wanted to announce it here, now. It is, of course, at our 20% off sale price.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: A Christmas Collection: Stories, Songs, and Reflections for the Advent Season is one of those great books that is oversized and handsome and has a battery/computer gadget thingie that speaks or plays music when a child presses the button. There is narration, and there are excerpts of four Christmas carols that fit well into the appropriate pages. Kids love these interactive books. That it spreads out widely in the lap is great, too. Kudos, Zonderkidz!
They say this is for ages 4 – 8 but I can imagine a slightly older kid reading it herself. And a slightly younger one could press the buttons and smile at the music, so I’m going to suggest this, being a bit optimistic, for ages 3 – 10.
There are key moments to “press the button” throughout and it will bring hours of pleasure and spiritual formation for children and families using this very cool new product. We’re excited. And the art is cool, whimsical without being silly or sentimental.
You should know that we adore the Jesus Storybook Bible and while there are other children’s story Bibles that we like a lot, we are especially fond of the creative art and excellent writing of this one. And the framework and theological perspective — “Every Story Whispers His Name” — shows the interconnectedness of the Bible stories that unfold and point to the promises fulfilled in Christ. It’s really good. And Advent is the perfect time to plumb those obvious interconnections.
This edition has content that is explicitly Advent themed.
All About… Christmas Alison Mitchell (The Good Book Company) $17.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $14.39
I suppose this isn’t an Advent book as such (since it is about Christmas) and we’ll list it again when we do a list of children’s Christmas books in December. But this is so chock-full of information and content that kids are going to want to dig into the Christmas story from the Bible books (of Matthew and Luke) sooner rather than later. They will be able to investigate what life was like in that time and place and discover why we still celebrate this King every Christmas holiday.
All About… Christmas is accessible and fun but really a wonderful guide to so very much about the season. It is full color in the classic style of upbeat kid’s nonfiction books with a terrific blend of illustration and photographs. There are facts and figures, questions and answers, things to explore and things to consider.
We’re glad for this colorful hardback book of about 50 large sized pages (complete with a glossary, of course.) I can’t say enough about this and if you don’t have children or grandchildren, nieces or nephew, by golly, buy one and give it away, of for each of your congregations Sunday school teachers. It’s that interesting.
One Great Love: An Advent and Christmas Treasury of Readings, Poems, and Prayers edited by Paraclete Press (Paraclete Press) $21.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $17.59
We featured this in last week’s Advent newsletter but it dawns on me that some of these nicely presented pieces — not least the fiction excerpts from Louise May Alcott and Charles Dickens, and the holiday poems and prayers and promises — really can be used in a family setting, read out loud or passed around. The artwork is mostly classic, the print in a handsomely done, good sized font, the classy color making it a beloved holiday treasure for you and your children.
From the ancient words of Isaiah to the timeless writings of Henry van Dyke, O. Henry, and contemporary poets (Gayle Boss, Eugene Peterson, Nikki Grimes and more), One Great Love is a fine and lovely book with a real assortment of readings. Not too much, not too fussy or heavy, this is a “just right” volume to have on hand for your family gatherings.
The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar: The Light Shines in the Darkness Agostino Traini (Beaming Books) $18.99 OUR SALE PRICE = $15.19
We have bunches of different sorts of Advent Calendars, of course, classic one-page (9″ x 12″ or so) with old fashioned art and nifty little doors to open. Many are inexpensive and some are larger and some are small. They come and go each year depending on what we find that’s useful.
But this. This is a larger one with a more sturdy wooden design making it truly reusable, year after year. It is modern, colorful and fascinating — like a combo pop-up book and nativity scene, perfect for the whole family to use together. This is designed by the illustrious Italian paper artist, Agostino Traini, who has also done, for instance, the Birth of Jesus: A Christmas Pop-up Book and an array of other lavish, pop-up book creations for Beaming Books (such as an incredible one on the creation story, the Lord’s Prayer, an Easter one, and more.) The Birth of Jesus Advent Calendar is a unique item, though — instead of a “window” to open there is a cut-out figure to punch out of the page which becomes a developing, stand-up nativity scene.
If you order this we’ll send you a link to a free guide to download that has a brief bit of info about each of the 25 characters (including the three wise men that are used the day after Christmas.)
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