BOOKS THAT SPARK Podcast Interview (And a Winner!)

This week it was my pleasure to be interviewed by podcast host Terrie Hellard-Brown. Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning. 

Terrie has interviewed many authors including Glenys Nellist, Annette Whipple, Danielle Hitchen and more. Recent topics include Helping our Children Have Hearts of Thankfulness and Preparing for Advent.  And in our podcast we chat about Pointing Kids to God.

Here are a view visual nuggets to whet your appetite.  And here is a link to the podcast. Enjoy!

For more information about Terrie, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com.

And now for the WINNER of last week’s two-bundle giveaway! I’m delighted to announce that the winner one copy of each Glenys Nellist’s two new books, TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY, is  

Sarah M…

Congratulations! I will be in touch with you today so we can get the book to you. Thanks again, Glenys, for your Christmas-y guest post. I’d also like to thank Zonderkidz for providing the winning copies. Happy Tuesday, all!

‘Twas the Season of Advent: FIVE Family Activities around the Christmas Tree with Glenys Nellist (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I am delighted to welcome back beloved children’s book author Glenys Nellist. Glenys has two new books out just in time for the Christmas season. One is a bible story book called I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY. It includes thirty vivid retellings with three “I wonder” questions at the conclusion of each. The other is an advent devotional for families called ‘TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT: STORIES AND DEVOTIONS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. It is comprised of 25 readings, stories and prayers. Published by Zonderkidz, both are wonderful and my mind is already abuzz with ideas for how I can incorporate them into my role as Sunday school teacher as well as using them for our family advent readings this December.

Now enjoy a special guest post from Glenys as she shares some ideas for family activities around the Christmas tree. Zonderkidz is also offering a copy of each book in a giveaway so be sure to read about that at the end of the post. And now, without further fuss, here’s Glenys:

Five Family Activities Around the Christmas Tree

by Glenys Nellist

The season of Advent is a wonderful time to make memories and establish family traditions with our children. Set aside some time each night to gather around the Christmas tree and enjoy these activities together.

  1. Celebrate Advent: Begin a new family tradition from Dec 1-Dec 25 by reading one story per day from Twas the Season of Advent. Countdown to Christmas using the family activities and the 25 free, downloadable Advent images available here.
  1. Favorite Ornament: Have everyone choose a favorite ornament from the tree. Take turns telling each other why you chose that one.
  2. Wondering About the Birth of Jesus: Download your free coloring sheet of the birth of Jesus from the I Wonder Coloring Pack. If you have a copy of the book, read the Christmas story together, or simply talk about what you see in the pictures. Spend some time talking about the three I Wonder questions. Then color the picture together.
  1. Light of The World: Turn off all the lights in the room except the lights on the Christmas tree. Sit quietly for a few minutes as you think and talk about how Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said that we should let our light shine. Brainstorm how you could be a light in your family or neighborhood this Christmas.
  2. Favorite Memories: Take turns sharing your favorite memories of the past year. Now write about (or draw) them. Put each in its own envelope or a special box and save them. Next year, open and read them around the tree.

Happy memory-making!

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these terrific ideas.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  two-book bundle that includes one copy each of TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY both written by Glenys Nellist and published by Zonderkidz let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday 11/22/21 at 11:59 pm Eastern. The winner will be announced the next day.

[Note: Thank you to Zonderkidz for sending me an advanced copy of each of these books which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

SPREADING BOOK LOVE: A Gift Book for Wilbur

Before we got a dog, an early morning walk was basically a solitary affair. But when our pooch, Sophie, arrived everything changed. Soon I was meeting all the dog-owners in the neighborhood and learning all the dogs names. There’s Poncho, Archie, Munchkin and Rocco; Maverick, Hazel, Todd, and Trixie; Luna, Delilah, Max, Stella, and … Wilbur.  

Wilbur is a friendly boxer and Sophie and I often stop to say hello to him and his owner on our morning strolls. One morning, while Wilbur and Sophie were greeting each other, I asked his owner, a nice retired fellow, if Wilbur was named after the famous pig from Charlotte’s Web

To my astonishment, he had never heard of the book! I think I may have gasped, but then I gushed about what a terrific read it was and how it was the story of a special friendship between a spider named Charlotte and a pig named Wilbur. I explained that had been one of my childhood favorites and how my kids had loved it too.  And I assured him, that just like his own Wilbur, he would most assuredly love Charlotte’s Wilbur and that he should read it if he had the chance. And that was that.

Then a couple of weeks ago I was visiting my dad. We were thinning some bookshelves, and what should I find but an extra copy of Charlotte’s Web! And that gave me and Sophie an idea. We would surprise Wilber (and his owner) with a little gift.

First, Sophie, wrote a note:

Then we wrapped the book and note in tissue paper and placed it in a bright pink gift bag so they’d be sure to see it. Finally, we tiptoed up to their front door and dropped it off:

We haven’t seen them since, but when we walked by later in the afternoon, the bag was gone.  Maybe we’ll see them today and then I will pop back and let you know if they liked it. One thing I do know, for sure — Sophie and I loved the joy of giving it!

Happy Monday, all!

SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS: Christmas in the NICU Edition

This past August, I invited you to join me in what I’m calling the Snail Mail Blessings Challenge to write and send one hand-written note to someone each week. I had the idea because in this age of instant texts and emails, I’ve been missing the special connection of a different kind of correspondence – the old-fashioned hand-written note.  

Well, I’m realizing God also was preparing my heart (and hand) for something special because about a month ago I received lovely note from a woman named Jessika Sanders who has a ministry called “Praying through the NICU” which supports families in the NICU through prayer and other forms of encouragement.  

Here’s her note:

 Hi Laura! I just had an idea come to me and I wonder if it is from the Holy Spirit! We were in the NICU with our son on Christmas 2 years ago. It was so hard. The kindness of a stranger gifting us a baby toy touched our hearts—especially because it was the one toy I hadn’t gotten our son but had wanted to. ❤️

 This year I was thinking of doing something special for our local NICU as well as some of the families in our online community that find themselves in the hospital for the holiday. I would love to gift them a Christmas book to read to their baby. My first thought was your “Goodnight Manger” board book. ❤️ Would you prayerfully consider being a part of this somehow? I know you are a NICU mom and your book is a beautiful blessing. Would you pray about it and get back to me? ❤️ God bless you!

I am indeed a NICU mom. Our son, who is now in college, was born 16 weeks early and spent 105 days in the NICU.  And those days were so difficult — facing the unknown, wondering if he would be okay and what the future might hold. 

But just as Jessika experienced, during that time, God used strangers to comfort us with words of encouragement and prayer.  A teenager and former preemie came to visit the NICU one day, stopping at each isolette and serving as testament to God’s presence and mercy.  A monastery of complete strangers prayed for us. A quilting guild of women I didn’t even know, not only prayed, but made a quilt that we still use. Three beautiful examples of strangers reaching out with God’s love in the midst of the difficult.

So, of course, I said, yes.  And what would my special role be?  Writing a note of encouragement for each book donated. 

I also said I would donate three books and my wonderful publisher, Zonderkidz donated 12 more. Jessika was thrilled and she said could match our fifteen with fifteen of her own.  And we were on our way. She also mentioned that she and her team would have a book drive and so the totals might be a little bigger.  Maybe 75?  Would that be okay, she asked.  Of course, I said. I would write as many notes as needed. 

Well, God has knocked my socks off! The number of copies of GOODNIGHT MANGER that have been generously purchased by kind-hearted souls eager to bless those babies and their families is now approaching 450! 

And in the kindness begets kindness department, and because 450+ notes of encouragement is a lot of notes to hand-copy, I have been blessed with a team of friends and family who have offered to pitch in with the letter writing – leaving a space for me to sign.  These include:

  • an 84 year old former preschool teacher
  • my sister and her two kids, ages 10 and 13,
  • a dear friend who I’ve known for ages (who has beautiful penmanship!)
  • a wonderful friend who is also a NICU mom and was one of the first strangers to reach out to me with encouragement and prayer when our son was first born. (That’s how I met her!)
  • a new friend who just loves and idea and wants to pitch in
  • a lovely steward of a local Little Free Library who I met when I dropped a copy of LOVE IS KIND off there last year.  We have become friends and she is a NICU mom and is eager to pitch in a big way
  • and I have a feeling more will join the team in the coming weeks.


I will send the hand-written, signed notes to Jessika. She will then distribute them to her team to be packaged with the books that have been donated. And it’s not just for a couple of NICUs. Her team is comprised of wonderful NICU mamas who have blessed by Jessika Sanders “Praying through the NICU” ministry. They are the ones who will hand deliver the packages to their respective NICUs in at least four states that span the nation!

Learn more about the Praying through the NICU ministry. Interested in being a part of the Christmas in the NICU book drive?  Press here.  (The book drives runs through 11/15/21.)

In closing, perhaps this post will inspire you to make a list of special people in your life (or complete strangers) that you might bless with a note of encouragement in the coming weeks.

Blessings all!

SIMPLY CHRISTMAS: An Interview with Christian Author Tama Fortner

This week, I’m delighted to chat with Tama Fortner, an author of multiple faith-based books for children and adults. Today we are celebrating the release of her newest title with Ink and Willow, a Christmas devotional for mothers called Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays

Here’s the publisher’s description, which doubles as an invitation to read the book: 

Allow Simply Christmas to be your personal invitation to slow down and savor the beauty of the manger this year. These thirty-one devotions are not dated, so you’re welcome to begin reading anytime–whether that’s on December 1, Christmas Eve, the day after Thanksgiving, or the middle of July–without even a smidgen of guilt or shame.

Accompanied by seasonally inspired full-color photographs, this thirty-one-day devotional brings a bit of calm to each day through a short reflection and Scripture, together with points to ponder and fun ideas for simplifying your Christmas traditions. 

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? I didn’t follow the instructions exactly, because I couldn’t resist and sat down and read the whole book in one sitting. What a delight! I plan to follow the suggested slower approach starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Now, without further ado, grab a cup of tea, or hot cocoa to match the cover, and join me as I chat with Tama with my questions bolded.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write Simply Christmas: A Busy Mom’s Guide to Reclaiming the Peace of the Holidays.

My name is Tama Fortner, and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I’m a wife, a mom, an occasional author, and an always daughter of the King. I’ve been married to my husband, Jeff, for twenty-three years now. We have two college-age kiddos who have grown up much too fast for their mama’s liking. And I am the proud owner of the world’s laziest dog, who also doubles as a foot warmer.

For as far back as I can remember I have loved words—reading them and writing them. I love the way they “click” together to share a message, to communicate thoughts and feelings. One of my all-time favorite books is Little Women, which I discovered back in the third grade. At the ripe old age of eight, I decided I would be like Jo—even going so far as to set up a cardboard-box writing desk in the back of my childhood closet. Now, as a wife and mom, combining my love of words with my love for God and for my family just seems natural.

You and I are kindred spirits! I’m so glad you followed your passion to share God’s love with your words.  

What is your greatest desire for the moms who read this book? 

I remember one year, getting to the end of Christmas Day and staring at the mounds of crumpled wrapping paper, empty boxes, and scattered bows. And I thought to myself, Is this it? This can’t be it. There’s supposed to be joy—have I missed the joy? It’s not as if we’d had a terrible Christmas. It was wonderful in so many ways. But I wanted more—and the “more” I wanted was more God. I also realized that wasn’t just going to happen. I was going to have to be a bit more intentional with my time, with my nos and yeses, and I was going to have to learn to hold onto that joy even in the midst of the holiday chaos.

With Simply Christmas, I want to encourage moms to reconnect with the real reason we celebrate Christmas: the birth of Christ. I want to equip them with some tools, some tricks and tips—mostly ones I’ve learned the hard way—that will help them find and hold onto the joy. And I want to give them permission to slow down and savor this time with their loved ones and their Savior.

I couldn’t resist and read your book straight through and it’s wonderful! I can’t wait to slow down and re-read it one day at a time this advent season.

Do you have a favorite devotional in the 31-day line up?  Why is it your favorite?

That’s a little like picking a favorite child, isn’t it? But one of my favorites is Day 18. It’s about Mary and the verse from Luke 2:19: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (niv). Keep in mind that this treasuring and pondering takes place after a less-than-comfy trip to Bethlehem, childbirth amongst the animals, and a flock of shepherds bursting into praise the Little One whose crib has been fashioned from a manger. I love it because Mary is a mom, collecting memories, treasuring, and pondering in the midst of all the chaos. She’s taking time to sift out what matters most, and she’s holding it close to her heart. Over two thousand years later, I think that’s what moms are still longing and trying to do.

Yes, indeed. I think that longing is timeless and that your book will most certainly resonate with mom all stages of motherhood – from moms of teeny tinies to moms of teens and beyond. 

You are also the author of several faith-based picture books including the joyful Christmas Is Coming! How can parents use this sweet book and others to point little ones to God?  Any specific tips?

It’s so important to spend time with God every day—and for our littles (and not-so-littles) to see us making that a priority. Of course, the more time we’re able to spend in His Word and in prayer, the better. But we’re moms, and our schedules aren’t entirely our own. So let’s fill our lives with resources—like verse-a-day apps, like Simply Christmas, Christmas Is Coming!, and your own Goodnight, Manger. Devotionals allow us to “grab” a verse and a quick thought to carry with us through the day. Picture books bless us with not only a chance to share a story about God, but also sweet snuggle time. Let’s grab every opportunity to pour God’s message into our lives and into our children. Because that’s where we find the Joy—in treasuring and pondering Him.

Amen! Now, just for fun, let’s close with a non-book-related question. What is your favorite mom Christmas memory?

It’s difficult to isolate just one. There’s this sort of collage that runs through my mind—images of smiles, of lights and trees, of singing carols and Christmas plays. There were the giggles and the rush to jump in bed when the official NORAD Santa Tracker showed his sleigh getting close to Nashville. There’s the annual making of the gingerbread house—always small and always slightly lopsided (check out Day 5 of Simply Christmas to see why that matters). There’s the sound of my children’s voices reading the real Christmas Story from Luke. There’s the feeling of holding littles in my lap and the wonder of their hugs and love now that they’re big. In short, I feel like I’ve gathered this whole collection of memories. And like Mary, I treasure and ponder them.

And leads me to something I want to encourage mom’s to do as they get ready for this Christmas: start by thinking back over past Christmases. What are the memories you treasure? What made you and your loved ones smile? I’m betting it wasn’t the perfect tree, the perfect present, the perfect dinner, the perfect . . . anything. It’s the smiles, the laughter, the love—of God, of family, of friends. Yes, right in the middle of the chaos. Focus on those things this year. Skip the comparison, the perfection, and let it simply Christmas.

This is WONDERFUL closing advise for all my readers and me too!  Thank you, Tama, for joining us today and for listening to that little voice that said, “Write!”

About the Author:

Tama Fortner is a bestselling writer with more than 40 titles to her credit. As a ghostwriter, she has collaborated with some of the biggest names in Christian publishing to create inspirational books for children, teens, and adults. But her greatest accomplishments happen in a happy little home on the outskirts of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her family and an incredibly lazy dog who doubles as a foot warmer. For more information, visit www.tamafortner.com


[Note: Thank you to Ink and Willow for sending me an advanced copy which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.
]

Celebrate HUG A SHEEP Day with LITTLE EWE: Craft and Review!

This past Saturday, in celebration of Hug A Sheep Day which takes place on the last Saturday in October, Little Ewe was featured over at Kathy Carroll’s wonderful Celebrate Picture Books blog. Head over there to find her review with this adorable craft that is also a game. It’s a cozy resting box for Little Ewe! It’s the craft I’ve been using at book store and library events this fall and it’s a big hit. There’s also a giveaway for a free copy of the book which ends 11/4/21.  So grab your favorite cozy November hot beverage and head on over. I’ll make it easy for you.  Here’s the link to the review/craft and here’s the link to the giveaway.  And to make that cute little knitted lamb press here. Thank you for celebrating with Little Ewe!

FIRST PEEK: Bunny Finds Easter!

FIRST PEEK! Look what arrived on my porch this weekend! It’s an advance copy of my next book with Zonderkidz, a board book called BUNNY FINDS EASTER.


I can’t wait for you to meet Bunny! In this sweetly rhyming story, charmingly illustrated by Ela Jarzabek, Bunny is determined to find out if Easter is all about special breakfasts, chocolate bunnies and fancy new bonnets, or if it might be about a little bit more. I wrote it to be an introduction for littlest ones to the true meaning of Easter.


BUNNY FINDS EASTER is:

  • For ages 0-4
  • A board book perfect for little hands, and in a size that works great for lap reading
  • Ideal for Easter gift-giving and fits perfectly in an Easter basket
  • A conversation starter for a discussion of the true meaning of Easter

SPECIAL REQUEST: Before you hop off into your day, will you take a moment to pre-order your copy of Bunny Finds Eastertoday and mark is as “to-read” on Goodreads? Those are two wonderful and easy ways to help a new book make a lovely little splash when it releases.

TEN Book-Themed Activities for GOODNIGHT MANGER

TEACHERS! CAREGIVERS! I’ve rounded up TEN activities created just for GOODNIGHT, MANGER, perfect for introducing Christmas to your little ones. Enjoy!

ONE: After reading the story together, put Baby Jesus to sleep with a song using this as your guide: LULLABY TO JESUS: An Extension Activity for Goodnight Manger.

TWO: Do a book-themed Read, Discuss, DO! 

THREE: Inspired by Jane Chapman’s exquisite illustrations, let your little ones create their own own nativity figures out of egg cartons.  For instructions press here.

FOUR:  Look for patterns in the illustrations throughout the book, then create your own patterned star ornaments using this activity as your guide: GOING ON A PATTERN HUNT (Plus a Craft!) An Extension Activity for Goodnight Manger.

FIVE: Extend the story with this free downloadable GOODNIGHT MANGER coloring page.

SIX: After reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER, take out your kid-friendly nativity set and retell the story using the pieces as explained in this wonderful activity from Sunny Day Family

SEVEN: Make Wide Awake Baby Jesus ornaments inspired by the book, using this activity as your guide.

EIGHT: Create your own nativity scene inspired by the book using this free printable activity from Inspired Motherhood.

NINE: Foster good visual reading skills as you ponder the Christmas story using GOODNIGHT MANGER as the spark with this visual literacy activity.

TEN: Have your kids draw pictures of their favorite scenes/characters and then share on your socials using the hashtag #goodnightmanger and tag me!

SNAIL MAIL BLESSINGS: Spreading Kindness the Old-Fashioned Way (Thank You Notes Edition)  

It has been almost two months since I invited you to join me in what I’m calling the Snail Mail Blessings Challenge. I created the challenge because, in this age of instant texts and emails, I’ve been missing the special connection of a different kind of correspondence – the old-fashioned hand-written note.  

Jump in anytime. Miss a week? No problem. It’s not about perfection or pressure. It’s about blessing others through the simple act of putting pen to paper, putting that paper in an envelope, addressing it by hand, affixing a stamp and sending it off. 

SPOILER ALERT: I’ve been a letter writer all my life. At first, it was because my mother and grandmother were in cahoots and made me. And how did they do this? Christmas and birthday gifts. I was informed at a very young that Christmas and birthday gifts were special (which they were) but that I wouldn’t receive them unless I remembered to write a thank you note to each person who gave me one. Writing thank you notes, they said, was like sending a gift back to the giver – but in written form!  What a concept! 

So, from a very young age, I wrote thank you notes. At first, I didn’t like writing them. They took so much time and I wanted to play. 

But my mother was smart and for birthdays she made sure we invited just a small number of party-goers, so that writing those notes as manageable. 

And my grandmother made letter writing fun because she would answer my thank you notes with lovely notes of her own and, just like that, we were writing letters back and forth. I still have many of them. Here’s an example of one I wrote when I was 10.  (Don’t you just love my frankness in describing my new neighbors?)

TODAY’S CHALLENGE:  I love my mother’s and grandmother’s idea hand-penned thank you note is like sending a gift back to the giver, but in written form.

This has certainly been true for me. I love getting thank you notes!  Some of my favorites have been from students I have visited in schools (and I love that their teachers are cultivating this art with the next generations).  Here’s are a couple of examples from a virtual visit with my friend Tina Cho’s class in South Korea back in 2016:

I also love this thank-you note I received soon after LITTLE EWE released. My father sent a copy of the book to his Great-Aunt Beanie, who he hadn’t seen in decades. It was his special way of reconnecting with her and the note she sent in return was certainly a gift to us.  Here it is:

Will you join me in writing a thank you letter to someone this week?  And maybe you could make this your goal for the next few weeks as well.  Blessings, all, snail mail and otherwise!

LITTLE TOY CARS: Thoughts on Playing and Writing

I’ve been spending hours in my basement lately re-organizing and on one of the shelves I re-discovered this box of little toy cars. With that in mind, I couldn’t resist re-posting this car-themed post from 2017. Enjoy!

I was organizing boxes in my basement this weekend and rediscovered this – it’s a box full of my childhood Matchbox cars co-mingled with my husband’s –  with some more recent additions from when my kids were little.  The youngest cars in the collection are about fifteen years old – the oldest – almost fifty!  What amazes me most about this collection is the wildly contrasting condition of the cars.

I mean, if you look at them carefully, they are all comprised of the same basic elements – wheels, chassis, colorful paint job.  And, yes, of course, all have doors, hoods, and trunks (some that open which were my favorites as a kid). Yeah, yeah, some are trucks instead of cars, but basically they all fit into the same overarching miniature toy car category.

And yet, through the seemingly innocent act of playing with them… look how distinctive they’ve become! My husband’s cars are all battered up. He even had to repaint his little toy ambulance, a very necessary vehicle for his play world. That’s because for him, a perfect day of play involved car races and crashes and battles over rough terrain.

By contrast, my perfect day of automobile play involved creating a village in the fragrant bed of pine needles that covered the craggy old roots that abutted my grandparents’ driveway. I would spend hours creating roads and story lines to go with each car as they navigated my imaginary village world, stopping for tea at imaginary tea houses and picnics along imaginary vistas. Very different from my husband’s play.

But that’s where the originality and creativity emerges, isn’t it?

Writing stories is a lot like playing with toy cars.  We all begin with the same basic car parts – the words – and all our stories fit into a relatively small range of car models, i.e. story structures, plot lines and universal themes.

But does that mean that originality is impossible?  Not at all.  Like children playing with toy cars, that’s where the creativity begins!  So get out those stories-in-progress this week, or grab a new little car – and then PLAY! I wonder what new play worlds will emerge this week. Happy Monday all!