God and Goodnight Moon; Finding Spirituality in Storybooks for Children

Open Waters Publishing

Pandemic life has taught us many lessons; one of them being we stick with what matters most. One of the biggest comforts I have found for children and families is sinking into excellent children’s literature. Time spent in story, connected with the characters and those you are reading with, provide shalom to all involved. It enriches our understanding of other’s lives, it helps us see new possibilities, and allows us to enter new worlds. I have been using children’s literature for decades in my work in children’s and family ministries, so when God and Goodnight Moon came across my desk from Pilgrim Press, I snuggled up on the couch, ready for an invigorating visit with some old friends.

This book is a curated collection of high quality literature for children, compiled alongside suggestions on how to use each book for spiritual reflection and application. I have read and used each of the thirty one titles in various educational settings, save for God’s Paintbrush by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Each of them are available through my public library consortium or through interlibrary loan, which should mean that they are equally available for you. The associated activities require materials that most people would already have on hand, and the spiritual reflection questions would be used well both in small and larger group settings. I also appreciate that the books that are highlighted provide a diverse representation of those that are part of God’s Kingdom. This collection was published in 2014, and I am eager to see if they will publish a second volume! 

I see this resource used in many ways. This would be a valuable resource for those that lead children’s moments in worship services. It would be an excellent resource to give to new parents, along with a few of the titles. I would absolutely include it in a children’s and family ministries lending library, paired with the titles. (Imagine how beautiful that bookshelf would be! I would put several copies of this resource, all the titles included, a few stuffed animals to travel home with the books, and some hot cocoa packs for the families to enjoy together as they peruse the books at home.) Perhaps your congregation hosts families that experience homelessness. A welcome basket with some of the titles included in the resource, along with a sticky note with a discussion question and bedtime prayer on each book’s cover, new pajamas for the family, and some new toothbrushes and toothpaste would be amazing. Of course, it’s a wonderful partner for those that run a Bedtime Stories and Prayers ministry, for those that read to nursery school children that are in their congregation’s facilities, and for midweek ministry enrichment. 

I must admit that I have 12 floor to ceiling bookshelves in my home and we need to purchase at least two more in order to house all of our books. We read a LOT in our family and we are pretty discerning about what titles we purchase and keep. I’ve made a spot on my shelf for this title, but I think I need another copy to pair with a shelf just for all the titles referenced. The thought of that makes me sigh with contentedness.

Picture The Bible

Stacy Johnson Myers

If my husband and I ever had a competition (we’re not the competitive sort of couple), it would be over whether his hymnal collection is larger than my children’s and youth Bible collection. Considering we have moved two times in the last five months, this competition is not merely about bragging rights, but a contest to see who has caused the most pain in packing up our collections and hauling them. It goes without saying that for either of us to add a new volume to our collection, it has to be extraordinary. When Picture The Bible by Stacy Johnson Myers landed on my desk from Pilgrim Press, I picked it up and was instantly enchanted. 

Each of the 52 stories featured in this collection is paired with a beautiful collage that connects with the text. The people as pictured are representative of a good portion of how God’s diverse people appear. The words are clear and are accessibly adapted for young readers and listeners. Each story ends with two discussion questions, and the Scripture references are clearly marked on the corners. The purposeful design makes it easier for families and faith formation classes to read together, wonder together, and grow together. It is something you can return to many times as there is more to notice, glean, and question. 

I can use this collection in many ways in my own work in children and family ministries. I will definitely use this in the rotation of Bibles that I read from with my one room Sunday School class. The younger kids can interact on their levels and my youth can use it as the stepping stone into their Bibles as we chew on deeper nuances of the passages. This would be a perfect addition to a children’s and family library; pair it with a new stuffed animal and have people snap a photo of the child and stuffie reading together, upload it to your social media account with a preset hashtag and watch as the congregation’s engagement grows over time. This could be a beautiful gift for a baptism or dedication, as well as a new member gift for a family. I am using it as inspiration for some projects in our new Maker Space. We’ll look at the collages and the elements used as we create our own collaborative murals for the stories we are studying. (We are currently working with the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is not featured in this collection.) It is something that my youngest kids (2 year olds) can work on alongside my oldest youth (two youth about to embark on their first years of college) at their own levels. Or, for a take home connection, ask families to have a collaborative art time. The illustrations are all featured on the website for the author’s church. Send them a goodie bag of watercolor paper, a few brushes, a glue stick, a pair of scissors, a tin of water colors, and a family friendly snack, link directly to the illustration that is inspiring you this month, and have them send you a photo of their final product. Create an online gallery of their photos and see who else would like to join you!

While my husband and I have no plans on moving again (God willing), we still are rather judicious on what we add to our collections at this point. I have fallen head over heels in love with Picture The Bible and already have a copy ordered for my own shelves. My children also agree and continue to squirrel it off to their rooms to enjoy at bedtime. 

The Berenstain Bears School Days Collection

by Jan and Mike Berenstain

My parents made sure that my sister, Sarah, and I grew up surrounded by books. Part of our collection was Berenstain Bear titles. My sister, in particular, loved these books. I spent hours wishing for a pegboard like Brother and Sister got to help clean up their messy room (I still have a ridiculous affinity for pegboards) and Sarah remained devoted to the book that revolved around too much junk food. When my own children arrived on the scene, Sarah made sure that these books came out and were reshared. Imagine the glee in our home when a review copy of The Berenstain Bears School Days Collection by Jan and Mike Berenstain arrived on the doorstep. My 7 and 9 year olds immediately absconded with it and it took the promise of snacks to lure the book back into my hands.

This collection features four Berenstain Bear stories; The Berenstain Bears School Time Blessings, The Berenstain Bears Stand Up To Bullying, The Berenstain Bears The Truth About Gossip, and The Berenstain Bears Blessed Are The Peacemakers. In addition, there is a sticker and activity book, coupled with a cookbook. Each of the stories revolves around teaching from Scripture and works to breathe God into everyday events of children’s lives. The stories are told within the context of the family’s day to day lives, which makes them accessible to the reader. The Scripture references are woven throughout. While not many families nowadays have conversations in ways that the Bear family does, the dialogue is effective for teaching the readers new ways to deal with everyday concerns. The conversation questions and activities at the end of each story are accessible and require no extra materials other than what a busy family already has on hand. 

This collection could be used in many ways in children and family ministries. Sometimes, you need an activity in your back pocket. Pulling out this collection, while not the substance of a lesson in your faith formation time, definitely can help augment what you’ve discussed and provide new conversations. I would add a copy of this in our Little Free Library so that the community could borrow and enjoy. Additionally, I would take the recipe book in the back of the collection and use it for a midweek enrichment ministry. The recipes are not challenging, include many steps that children can do on their own, and would be lovely for sharing with others. Wind down each session with a newly created collaborative mealtime blessing, and you’ve got a slam-dunk series of sessions with children and/or families.

While my children were finishing their ‘give Mama back her book’ snack, I asked them what they thought of the collection. Celia, age 7, found the illustrations magical (her word) and wants to share the book with her best friend because she thinks that she will like the activities and stickers. Noah, age 9, talked about how he liked the intertextuality (his word) of the story that involved Romeo and Juliet because it’s fun to read a story within a story. He also is champing at the bit to get into the kitchen and try out some of the recipes. And as for my sister? She’s coming for a visit next weekend, so I’m going to pull the storybook out and enjoy a trip down memory lane with her. Maybe she’ll help me install a pegboard while we eat some junk food.

The Case for Heaven, Young Reader’s Edition

Lee Strobel

I live with seven children and youth, I work with even more children and youth, and one of the constants of my days is the peppering of questions at just about every waking moment. They need to know the basic shape of the day, pertinent information that helps them connect with others, and bits of trivia that matter to their lives. They also have deep questions about their places in this world. I’ve become a curator; collecting quality resources for children and youth to use to help answer their questions. When The Case for Heaven, Young Reader’s Edition landed in my mailbox from the publisher, I scooped it up and started to read, wondering if it would make a good addition to my curated collection.

This book provides Scriptural and experienced based truths that help children understand what they can be certain of about heaven. Chapters focus on topics like whether we have souls, will there be pets in heaven, and will there be rewards in heaven. When read alongside an adult who can wonder alongside the reader and help them answer further questions, these chapters can be wonderful tools to help them deepen their understanding of heaven. Each chapter has a section at the end that is entitled ‘cross examination’. These questions can be used as discussions with trusted mentors or as points for further research. There’s a tidy resource list at the end of the book, along with a collection of Scripture passages that discuss heaven. 

If readers walk away with one tidbit to help guide their wonderings, it should be from the story of Zayden in chapter 6. This twelve year old decides to ask many trusted people about heaven and comes away with the decision that he should focus on what he does know as factual. Yes, we will always have questions and wonderings. These should be tools that help spur us further into research. But the presence of questions does not negate what is true. This book can be a good tool for adults to use with children as they wrestle with questions about their faith. Providing space for wondering, ways to find information, and the knowledge of what is true go long ways to building on a person’s spiritual development.

How To Fight Racism

How To Fight Racism

How To Fight Racism, Young Reader’s Edition

Our toolboxes need all the quality tools we can get that equip us to effectively combat racism. Jemar Tisby has provided two wonderful resources, one for adults and one for youth, in his books How To Fight Racism and How To Fight Racism, Young Reader’s Edition. These honest books, which we given to me by the publisher, help equip readers to recognize patterns, establish a map for action, and become better rooted in why God calls us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly.

Both editions revolve around the ARC of racial justice; awareness, relationship, and connection. The author weaves together real life examples with actionable responses so that readers walk away with not just a resource that they can return to for boosters, but effective ways to work towards racial justice. Awareness encompasses how we can understand race in the image of God, how to explore one’s racial identity, and well as how to effectively study the history of race. Relationship discusses how to do reconciliation correctly, how to make friends, and how to build diverse communities. Connection focuses on how to work for racial justice, how to fight systemic racism, and how to orient one’s life to racial justice. The young reader’s edition breaks these down more explicitly through shorter, more targeted chapters on these topics. Each edition delves deeply into the topics, leaving the reader with much to chew on and pray over. I am re-reading these books because they are so meaty. I need more time to pick up what I missed and re-process what I did glean on the first reading. 

I continue to hear from children and youth how frustrated they are with how our society perpetuates racial injustice. They want to act. I am hearing this echoed by their families. These books will be excellent family summer book club choices. My plan is to provide each family with a copy of the adult and young reader editions. Once a week, each family receives a table tent (simple bifold you print on your regular printer) with a conversation question. One section of the ARC of racial justice is read each month for three months (e.g. July for awareness, August for relationship, and September for community), so the conversation questions come from those chapters. Once a month, provide people with a way to process what they have read in community. Some options include a Facebook group with posts for the conversation questions, coming together for an outdoor movie and popcorn event to discuss that month’s theme, and a more traditional book club environment where people come around a table (virtual or physical) and chat about themes. The young reader’s edition contains thoughtful questions to consider, and they work with any age. 

These books are essential reading for all, in particular those who are ready for a well reasoned road map that provides them with clear, actionable plans for how to compassionately and wisely go forth in the pursuit of racial justice. Readers will come away with how to be better aware, how to be in effective relationships, and how to build strong communities. We can only better serve those God places in our lives when we are committed to being intentionally justice-oriented. Both editions of How To Fight Racism help equip readers in these efforts. Dr. Tisby has written two resources that are not be missed.

Painting With Ashes

Michael Adam Beck

Are you looking for a book that clearly illustrates how God brings life out of death? That isn’t afraid to discuss gritty, raw, and unafraid to show authenticity, even when it’s not pretty? A book that allows mature readers to examine how far God will go to rescue a soul that is in peril? Check out Painting With Ashes by Michael Adam Beck. 

When a review copy arrived on my doorstep from Invite Press, I picked it up and began to read. I am the type of person that loves biographies, but has a hard time watching any suspenseful or traumatic scenes in movies. This book carefully balanced the stories of the beauty of redemption with the tales of horrific despair that the author experienced. It took me several months to finish the book, not because I found the book boring or unrelateable, but because I needed time to process all that the author experienced. This is not a book one can casually read. It is one that provides you with much to process, much to awake one’s awareness of the needs arounds us, and much to rejoice in as we see just how clearly God never leaves us in our horrors.

As I journeyed alongside the author, I was honored with reading how the pain in his life, which began early, contributed to the re-creation of a person that was renewed, redeemed, and sent forth in ministry to tend to others. To see how God kept alongside the author, continued to call him, and rescue him out of certain death reaffirms just how much God will continue to actively seek out those that seem unreachable. 

When you need a title to help you discuss and remember how God transforms and heals, grab Painting With Ashes. You’ll be changed in one of the best possible ways. 

God’s Power In Me: 52 Declarations and Devotions For Kids

God’s Power In Me: 52 Declarations and Devotions for Kids

Margaret Feinberg

After over two decades serving in children’s and family ministries and almost two decades of parenting, I have amassed a considerable collection of devotionals for children and youth. Our favorites are tattered, dog eared, and smeared with vestiges of PBandJs. I am always on the lookout for some new titles to add to our collection, not only because of the sorry state of several of our well-loved copies, but also because I can get bored reading and discussing the same topics year after year after year. When God’s Power In Me: 52 Declarations and Devotions for Kids landed on my desk from the publisher, I happily picked it up and then passed it around to my 9 and 12 year old children to get their opinions. 

  • Noah, 9 years old: (My children are deep into Star Wars and any comparison to the dark side and light side is a rave review.)

I like this book. I like that there is light in it, like the Light side of the force is God and the dark side of the force is Satan and the lies the author talks about. I like the format. The banner at the top of each devotional is really cool- it has a sun in it and it makes me think of the Light. I like the places to jot down notes at the end of each reading. 

  • Elijah, 12 years old:

I like the way this is set up. I like how it is talking to you as a person, not the general world. The daily declarations are really interesting to me- I had never thought about devotionals that way before. The way the author counteracts the lies is always fascinating because it is always done in a different way. 

Ms. Feinberg organizes the devotional around 52 declarations that counteract lies we may tell ourselves as Christians. These are meaty topics, and I greatly admire an author that is not afraid to discuss these with children. I have found that children and youth that have participated in the life of the church and have families that nurture their faith formation are more than capable of thoughtfully chewing on these topics and forming their own opinions. Each reading ends with a journal prompt that could easily be used as a discussion prompt. 

I passed this book on to my late elementary school aged children, and found it to be a good fit with that developmental level. In my work in children’s ministries, I would use this in several ways. A copy will definitely be added to our lending library, along with a few blank journals, fun pens, and snack packs. (I like to have bundles ready-to-go so people can just grab and use.) I could see these used as ways to start discussions for mid-week small group gatherings. The journal prompts could be used with writing, conversation, or Zoom whiteboards. They could also be adapted for use through on-line polls, creating a springboard for conversation. 

In my own family, a copy will be added to our family’s shelves. Our older children all keep copies of devotional guides next to their beds and wind down for the evening with a reading of a section. I find it most helpful to keep our selections available on easily accessible shelves in our family room, along with fun writing implements and blank journals. You would be surprised how often one of our children brings up something that they have read in their devotionals while we eat dinner together. Part of fostering their spiritual growth is providing interesting food for thought, coupled with time for conversation. Another great spot for putting devotionals is in the car so they have something to read while running errands around town. I also stash a pack of sticky notes so they can jot down thoughts or mark something they found interesting. Not that this is a high priority for me when searching for devotionals, but God’s Power in Me is hardcover and I find that they last much longer and through repeated readings when in that format. 

If you are looking for a new title to add to your collection, check out God’s Power in Me: 52 Declarations and Devotions for Kids. It earned a spot on my shelves!

The Sacred Pulse

The Sacred Pulse

April Fiet

Confession: everyday life runs past me at breakneck speed, leaving me feeling like I’ve experienced whiplash at different moments throughout the day. When The Sacred Pulse; Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls landed on my doorstep, I heaved a grateful sigh and eagerly dived into this book. Who couldn’t use some guidance on how to incorporate sacred patterns to help reclaim our days?

Organized into four sections, this book guides readers through ways to dance through and with time, intentionality, belonging, and renewal. Rev. Fiet beautifully weaves everyday experiences, Scripture, and healthy responses together, helping the reader to find ways to reclaim the sacred in the ordinary. She speaks to the need for rest, the holiness of mealtime, and the rhythms of relationships, along with nine other important pockets of our human lives. Her beautifully worded examples flow with gentle but impressionable reasons for how we can reclaim the sacred in the midst of the beauty, frenzy, and difficulty of the ordinary. This book is accessible to all; one does not need a seminary education in order to appreciate the wisdom and reasoning.

In my work as a children’s and family minister, this book has worked its way to the top of my list to get to the parent I am blessed to work with. I continue to hear from parents about how this period of time has been incredibly difficult. They are making time for activities that meet the needs of their families and are true to who they are called to be in this world. They are asking me for ways to feel less overwhelmed. Copies of this book will be in a summer care package for them. We will also gather on Zoom once a month to discuss some of the questions that the author has provided for discussion and reflection. These are another gift of the book- even if the parents have been unable to read along with the group, they can still participate in the conversation.

Imagine a congregational reading of this book as we continue to process the lessons we have learned throughout this pandemic. Each of the twelve topics are incredibly relevant as we discern our calling in our current places, in this current time. The discussion questions would be wonderful for organizing conversations, and the resources listed by the author would provide further important information to help in discerning next steps. 

Personally, I have a copy of this book wrapped and ready for my oldest child. She has just completed her senior year of high school and is beginning all the planning and advising for her first semester in college this fall. This will be a book she can grow into. Many of the examples haven’t been part of her everyday life yet, but the lessons are still pertinent. As she continues to experience new relationships, responsibilities, and activities, knowing how to tap into the sacred patterns gifted to us will be wonderful grounding for her. I will also be purchasing a copy for our youth and young adult resource library because my daughter is not the only one in this age group that can benefit from this title.

Baptized in the Water: Becoming a Member of God’s Family

Written by Glenys Nellist; Illustrated by Anna Kazimi

Nothing brightens up a raw, grey, snowy April day more than the UPS truck rattling down our dusty driveway to drop off a new book from the publisher. My six year old, Celia, and I gleefully snatched up the copy of Baptized by the Water by Glenys Nellist, snuggled up, and had a cozy read-together time with a fabulous new title! By the end of the book, both of our heads were dancing with possibilities for using this book in our lives. 

When I asked Celia what she thought, she responded with:

Wow! I love these endpapers! The front shows day and the back shows evening. I really liked that this book has rhyming passages. The illustrations are so colorful. I like to see what everyone is wearing in this book. I like that some pictures are based in water and some are outside of water. That makes them different, but there are things that are the same because of the water. Maybe I can keep this book in my room? I could use it for some prayers.

Are you looking for a book that fully explains baptism in accessible language? This book delivers. Are you looking for a book that discusses the symbolism of baptism in ways that relate to everyday life? This book is for you. Are you looking for a book that matches text with illustrations so that everyone can find themselves included in and central to the story? Look no further. 

The rhyming passages that are interspersed with the explanatory text add more than emphasis and nuanced details. They draw in even the youngest of readers (my one year old swayed along) and provide readers with opportunities to connect at different levels of development and understanding. Personally, I am hoping that someone will take the passages and set them to a hymn tune so we can sing them at the next baptism I attend. (No pressure, Ms. Nellist and Zondervan, but it would be sublime. Children’s ministers everywhere will be forever in your debt and families will be in happy tears when they hear them sung for their children.)

My experience working with diverse congregations has put me on the hunt to fill our libraries and ministries with books that represent the beautiful variety of God’s people. When I started working in children’s ministries two decades ago, I would see children light up when they could see themselves in illustrations and text. Now, it is glaringly obvious when God’s children are not fully represented. Both author and illustrator of Baptized in the Water teamed to provide us with a book that includes a beautiful representation of the fullness and variety of God’s people. This cohesiveness is important in all topics, but especially baptism.

I can see this book being used as part of introduction to faith classes for both children and adults. This book is perfect for introducing the beautiful variety in baptism practices and the reasons for this sacrament. Faith Start classes would be greatly augmented by this text because it not only provides the information in accessible language, but also provides the readers with the opportunity to create a companion project (e.g. a mural, a video, a simple patchwork blanket from squares that depict the meaning of baptism that are drawn by class members using fabric markers) that further explains baptism to the next people to take the class. It becomes a history to hand down through the generations of the congregation. 

I just ordered two copies of this book; one for a gift for a sweet friend who is to be baptized soon and one for Celia. How can I say no to her keeping a copy in her room to use for prayers? 

A Faith of Their Own: A Theological Field Guide for Youth Ministry

In my work, I hear about the exodus of the youth, about how churches just cannot get them to come in the doors and stay, and how congregations are stymied when they hear that our youth just do not find church relevant. I have read many resources that discuss how to make faith stick, how to provide the glue that keeps our youth connected to church, and how to modify our ministries so that our practices fall in line with what youth expect so that they are engaged. Conferences and workshops are devoted to these topics as well, and yet, the youth continue to not be as physically present in congregations as they were generations ago. I work with dynamic and insightful youth and I have found that so much of what I have heard and read does not line up with what they teach me. And one day, the resource of A Faith of Their Own: A Theological Field Guide by Nathan Wheeler was provided to me, instantly wrapping me up and leaving me nodding in agreement with the author.

Mr. Wheeler delves into the implicit theology that is in youth ministry, while helping us realize how it influences all that we do with our youth. Mr. Wheeler discusses the implicit theologies versus the explicit theologies and how they play out in our ministries. His discussion on DRAFT (dominant, regional, affluent, folklore, and theology) and how he weaves it into real life examples of what we can do with youth is excellent reading and studying for anyone involved in ministry, anywhere, and in any context. This resource is not just for those in youth ministry- it delves into how conformity and assumptions for assimilation really are causes for the fleeing of our youth from churches. 

I truly appreciate how this resource contains detailed and informative methods of examining how our core beliefs (specifically from the process, liberation, femenist, and radical theologies) can affect how we lead in ministry with our youth. Mr. Wheeler spends a great amount of time providing many new ways for us, as ministers with and for youth, to look at our plans with fresh eyes. Who among us could not use some help in seeing how we can better connect with those that God sends into our paths? I have re-read these sections several times in the last month, just because I walked away with something new each time. 

Perhaps you and I are in a similar boat, working with an ever-shrinking (or even non-existent) budget for resources. This book is absolutely worth purchasing, not only if you serve in youth ministry, but if you are eager to get to the root of how our undergirding is affecting the making of all disciples. Snag yourself a copy and then share it around.