DIFFERENT LIKE ME: Six Extension Activities for 4 – 8 Year Olds

Today I am delighted to feature DIFFERENT LIKE ME, written by Xochitl Dixon and illustrated by Bonnie Lui. Published by Our Daily Bread Publishing in 2020, DIFFERENT LIKE ME is a joyous celebration of what makes us, God’s children, special. Through a delightful pairing of rhyming text and illustration, Xochitl Dixon and Bonnie Lui demonstrate through the example of a group of children, that though we are different, deep inside we feel things the same, have shared interests etc. and, thus, have much in common. The book’s takeaway is captured succinctly in the closing line: 

“I look all around me and what do I see?

God made every kid different…

and special like me!”

DIFFERENT LIKE ME would make wonderful addition to your church, school or home library. I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School kids.

Now, in the hope of using the book as the spark for meaningful conversations with your little ones, here are SIX extension activities for DIFFERENT LIKE ME:

Play “God’s Heart” using chalk.  Read the story together, then head outside or to a large room for a game of “God’s Heart”. Using chalk or tape, draw a heart on the ground big enough for all the children to fit in. Ask what the heart reminds them of: God’s love! Explain that you will be calling out directions and if the answer to the direction is YES, they should run into the heart. Examples: “Step in to the circle if you have freckles(long hair, short hair etc.).” “Skip into the circle if you like pizza..” “March into the circle if you feel happy when others share.” etc. Continue until everyone is in the heart. Then, marvel at how wonderful it is that we are each unique creations, yet we all share much in common. And the best part is we are ALL in the heart. And what does that heart stand for?  God’s love!  And what does that remind us of? That we should love each other as God loves us! Play as many rounds as time and interest permit. 

After reading, think and talk.  This story can be used as a vivid spark for conversations with your little ones about embracing our diversity, noticing the wonderful ways we are alike and celebrating that we are created and loved by God. Use Xochitl’s question guide at the end of the book to get you started.

Do a picture read through. After reading DIFFERENT LIKE ME, flip things around by having your child re-read it to you using the pictures as clues! Reading the pictures is a great pre-reading skill because it encourages interacting with the page. It’s also a wonderful way to notice all the diverse and delightful details illustrator Bonnie Lui has added to the story. So, snuggle up and enjoy being “read” to. Reading the story again and again is also a good way to take to heart the message of the story (to quote Xochitl) – “that God intentionally created each person to be unique and to work together”.

Paint a rock that looks like YOU (or a friend… or both)! After reading the story, head outside to find some good painting rocks. Then let your children celebrate their special traits and qualities and those of others by painting portraits on rock – like this one, painted to celebrate love and acceptance! For extra fun, gather your rocks and place them in a garden or in a special spot as a reminder of God’s love for us which then can overflow from our hearts to others.

Find verses that show God’s loving care. Xochitl prefaces and concludes her story with two beautiful reminders from Scripture of God’s loving care in creating each person. As you read, point those references out to your children. They are listed simply as Genesis 1:27 and Psalm 139: 13 – 14.  After reading the story, have your children grab their bibles, or the class or family bible, and look up the verses. Then marvel at God’s love and handiwork in creating each one of us.

Wrap the reading up in prayer. Wrap up your DIFFERENT LIKE ME story and activity time in prayer, thanking God for stories like this that remind us about God’s love for us and that we are each unique and special creations.  This is a sweet opportunity both to model prayer with your child and also to let them add to the prayer in their words. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Xochitl (So-Cheel) Dixon, author of Waiting for God: Trusting Daily in God’s Plan and Pace and the2021 ECPA Christian Book Award Finalist, Different Like Me, advocates for inclusion and equity based on the strong biblical teaching of God’s intentional diversity. With her service dog, Callie, Xochitl crosses generational and cultural boundaries, reaching international readers with love through her contributions to Our Daily Bread at www.odb.org and on her blog at www.xedixon.com. She inspires others to share God’s love with Spirit-empowered courage, confidence, and joyful praises through the Christian apparel and accessories she designs for Worship Expressed at www.worshipexpressed.com.

5 Tips for Faith-Filled Bedtime Routines with Author Nancy I. Sanders

Today I’m delighted to host return guest Nancy I. Sanders for a special post on establishing bedtime routines that also foster faith in our little ones. And how did I get so blessed as to have this best-selling author on my blog? Easy. She has a new board book out called BEDTIME WITH MOMMY (End Game Press, August 2021) – a perfect pick for this mama who has fond memories of bedtime routines with her own little ones.

Here’s a description: It’s bedtime all around the world! From Mommy panda in the bamboo forest to Mommy sea otter in the ocean, Mommies are putting their little ones to bed. Get ready for prayers, reading a favorite Psalm, singing hymns and lots of cuddles and snuggles! This adorable rhyming board book is perfect for babies and toddlers to hold. BEDTIME WITH MOMMY is sure to be a cherished part of bedtime routine!

Doesn’t that sound sweet? And now for Nancy’s five tips for faith-filled bedtime routines. Take it away, Nancy!

5 Tips for Faith-Filled Bedtime Routines

by Nancy I. Sanders

Tip #1 Start Tonight

It’s never too early and it’s definitely never too late to start making bedtime into a faith-filled routine! If you’ve never before been intentional about incorporating a faith-filled routine into your child’s bedtime, the perfect time to start is tonight. And this isn’t about feeling guilt or inadequacy as a parent, either. God’s mercies are new every morning! So if you don’t have time or forget to implement a faith-filled routine one night (or even a few nights in a row!) every day is a brand new day in God’s kingdom, and every night is another great opportunity to make a difference in your children’s hearts.

Tip #2 Target Your Children’s Ages

Gear bedtime routines to the ages of your children. Playing soft Christian music in the background ten to twenty minutes before your infant settles down to sleep helps calm her down. Two of my favorite CDs include I LOVE YOU: SONGS OF LOVE AND BLESSING FROM A MOTHER’S HEART by Rita Baloche and COME TO THE CRADLE by Michael Card. Read Christian books or Bible stories to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers at bedtime such as my newest board book, BEDTIME WITH MOMMY, that features animal mommies all over the world tucking their little ones into bed with prayers, hymns, and reading a Psalm. With older children, read the Bible together on a one-year plan to help plant the Word in their growing hearts. 

Tip #3 Pray

Pray with your children and pray for your children. Take time to pray aloud together. Give them time to pray aloud, too. If you struggle with taking time to pray, remember: It’s okay to be short and sweet. Effective prayers aren’t measured by their length. A simple heartfelt prayer always reaches the Father’s heavenly throne room.

Tip #4 Fit Your Schedule

A faith-filled bedtime routine doesn’t have to take tons of time. If you’re a family whose bedtime routine already lasts an hour, hip hip hooray! It’s a snap to start including Bible time, worship time, and prayer. But if your bedtime routine only lasts as long as it takes to brush teeth, tug on jammies, and jump into bed, no problem! Tape a sticky note to the bathroom mirror with a Scripture verse to memorize while they brush. Encourage them to meditate on it while they fall asleep. Rotate in a new verse every week or so. Or listen to a favorite worship song or hymn together—just one!—while they’re getting dressed, then sit at their bedside for a simple good-night prayer. 

Tip #5 Every Effort Counts 

The best thing about being intentional about adding faith-filled moments to your bedtime routine is that your efforts, no matter how small, count for eternal blessings. And remember—you’re not alone! You have the heavenly Father to sustain you, Jesus Christ to empower you, and the Holy Spirit to equip you along your journey. If you feel weak in this area, just ask God for His strength. And every prayer you say, every Bible verse you read, every worship song you sing, and every Christian book you share will be used by the Holy Spirit in powerful ways!

Thanks, Laura, for featuring my newest book here on your blog! It’s a joy to join a fellow author of a faith-filled bedtime book. Your Goodnight, Ark! is one of my grandchildren’s favorites and is here on our bookshelves for when they come to visit.

Aw, thank you, Nancy! I’m glad it’s a bedtime hit at grandma’s house!

About the Author

Nancy I. Sanders loves to have her grandbabies over for sleepovers with lots of snuggles, bedtime stories, and prayers! Her newest padded board book, Bedtime With Mommy makes a great baby shower gift or sweet Christmas present to gift to your favorite littles and their Mommies. Order your copies today online or at your favorite local bookstore. Nancy is the bestselling and award-winning children’s author of over 100 books. Visit her website to find out more at www.nancyisanders.com.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Picturing God (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was Children’s Ministry Director at a small satellite church, I planned a Sunday morning children’s program called “PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture”. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God. The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to continue with a regular blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. 

Today’s lesson uses PICTURING GOD (Beaming Books, 2019), written and illustrated by poet and visual artist Ruth Goring as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

PICTURING GOD

by Ruth Goring

PURPOSE: To be filled with wonder and gratitude as we explore a beautiful sampling of the many “pictures” (i,e. metaphors) for God found in the Bible using Ruth Goring’s PICTURING GOD (Beaming Books, 2019) as the spark.  

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: What Am I? (a metaphor guessing game!)

Ahead of time write down on little cards a rich sampling of the biblical metaphors for God found in the Bible. You can use Goring’s book to get you started, but also feel free to explore the Bible on your own and add concrete examples can easily act out.  Examples:  shepherd, eagle, rock, gate, hen, light. The morning of the lesson, open in prayer, then explain that in today’s story, we will be exploring what God is like, but first  we’ll be playing a guessing game. (Don’t say yet that each is a metaphor for God.). Put the cards in a basket, then have each child pick a card and then use pantomime to act out what it is. No speaking or sounds aloud. The children will have fun guessing and can cheer each other on.

INTRODUCE THE STORY: 

Hold up the book and have someone read the title. Explain that Ruth Goring is both the illustrator and author of the book.  Ask them to take a close look and see what kinds of materials she uses to create her art.  Do they know what this is called?  (Collage.) Based on the title what do they think the book will be about? Then say there’s a special connection between our game today and the book. Do they know what it is? They are all pictures/ images that have been used in the Bible to describe God! Then read the story, pausing and marveling together at just how God is like the various metaphors ascribed to Him.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:

After reading the story, have a round of “popcorn-style” responses (no hand raising needed) to see how many pictures of God they can remember from the book. 

Then for each, see if they describe in their own words how God is like a rock, eagle etc.

Finally, ask again where Ruth Goring found these wonderful metaphors?  Did she make them up?  No, then where did she find them? In the Bible!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME: 

Special note: For first grade and up, I recommend having several children’s bibles on hand so children can work in pairs to find the verses. They LOVE this and in the process learn how to locate biblical passages by book, chapter, and verse – a rewarding and important foundational skill for future bible study.

Wrap up the discussion by going a little treasure hunt into God’s Word to find a few of the images of God we marveled at in Goring’s beautiful book. Use the verses listed at the end of the book, but prep ahead by putting a sampling on cards to hand out to each pair of children or, depending on ages, to look up together.

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   Create Your Picturing God Collages!

Ahead of time, gather an assortment of collage materials as well as glue and one plain white paper plate (with two holes punched at top) for each child. Then, opening up Goring’s book one once more, take a moment to marvel at how she uses bits of this and that to create beautiful images. Thus inspired, let each child pick their favorite metaphor from the book.  Neatly print it across the top. Then, dig in and start creating! Our bits of this and that included shiny gold ribbon, sequins, pom poms and tissue paper squares, but use whatever you have on hand. As each child finishes, loop yarn for hanging, but instruct them (or their parents) to carry their masterpieces home flat until they have dried. 

WRAP UP:  As children are finishing the activity, give thanks together that God loves us like a rock, shepherd, door, mother, father etc.

NOTE: Beaming Books has also created a wonderful discussion guide if you would like additional ideas: https://ms.beamingbooks.com/downloads/9781506449395%20Discussion%20Guide.pdf

BREATHE: An Interview with Author Laura Alary (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Laura Alary, author of Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time. Published by Paraclete Press and gorgeously illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, Breathe explores the comings and goings of Jesus and the Spirit through retellings of the biblical stories of Ascension and Pentecost, interwoven with contemporary reflections from the point of view of a child. Not only is Laura’s newest book a must-have resource for fostering meaningful faith conversations with our kids, Laura herself is a gem and her wisdom and love for God shine through her answers. My daughter and I plan to read Breathe together as part of our summer porch mama/daughter devotional time. Maybe you will decide to do something similar with your kids. Now, having planted that seed, here’s the interview with my questions bolded.

First off, thank you so much for creating this beautiful book that helps kids (and grown ups too!) grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their lives. What inspired you to share this story with the world?

Thank you, Laura, for your encouraging words, and for your interest in Breathe. What inspired me to write this book? There are two answers. The first is that I had already written two books about the circle of the Church year (Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas and Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter) and I wanted to complete the series. However, it took me a few years to figure out what to do with Pentecost.

Both Look! and Make Room follow a similar pattern: they move through seasons of preparation (Advent and Lent) toward big celebrations (Christmas and Easter). But Pentecost doesn’t really have a getting ready time, and its connection to what follows (what we usually call Ordinary Time) felt anticlimactic to me. We often speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church and celebrate with a cake and candles—all fun, but at the end of the day it can feel like you pack the party decorations away and life goes back to normal. I figured there had to be more to Pentecost than that. 

In the end, what helped me was looking at Pentecost in the context of the whole circle of the church year. I started to see the first half of the year—so full of stories and celebrations about the life of Jesus—as its own kind of getting ready time. We spend months letting these stories fall into us like seeds in soil. Then the Spirit breathes life and warmth into those seeds and they start to germinate. Pentecost becomes the threshold to a new season of growth and transformation, when we begin to bring those stories to life in our own place and time. In other words, Breathe looks at Pentecost as part of a much bigger story. 

That brings me to my second reason for writing Breathe. Years ago I wrote a book called Mira and the Big Story. In it, one of the characters says to another, “Whenever you hear a story, you must ask yourself: What is this story doing to me? Is it making me bigger or smaller?” As a writer, I am continually thinking about how we are shaped by the stories we tell. I ask myself: What kinds of stories does our world need? I think we are desperately in need of stories that awaken us to how intimately connected we are to one another, to other living things, and to our environment. I wrote Breathe to be such a story.  

Your writing is breathtaking – somehow managing to be kid-friendly with vivid, relatable imagery and yet soul-provoking for grown-up readers as well. How did you manage to strike this balance so beautifully?

Wow! That’s such a beautiful compliment. Thank you, Laura. Your question points to two qualities I value highly: simplicity and depth. Holding these qualities together is harder than it seems. I always begin with too many words. But I know that silence and space are essential for making meaning. So I am getting better at saying more with less.

When I write, I start with the assumption that children have big ideas and big questions. What they don’t have yet is a big vocabulary—the language to articulate some of the things they observe and wonder about. So I try to anticipate what some of their questions might be (and pay attention when they ask them), explore those questions deeply, then distill everything into a simpler form. To switch from a chemical metaphor to an electrical one, my dad, who is an electrical engineer, once jokingly called me a step-down transformer because I can take a “high voltage” idea and convert it into a form children can actually receive. 

How do I go about that? 

One thing I do is begin with my own wondering. When I am preparing to write I practise a kind of imaginative openness and jot down all the questions that arise for me about an idea or situation (especially the ones which have no definite answers). That stretches my imagination and keeps me honest. 

Another thing I do before I put pen to paper is ask myself: what is this story about? What is its core meaning? If I can’t answer that in a sentence, I know I am still too muddled to start writing. This helps with simplicity and clarity. 

Finally, while I am writing, I read every word out loud. Because most of my books will be read aloud, I need to know how the words sound, not just how they look on the page. I think that helps keep everything fresher and more vivid. 

The concept of breathing and breathe is woven throughout your book. Even the title is BREATHE!  Tell us about that.

I am actually really proud of the title. It seems simple, but there is a lot to it. As with Look! and Make Room I tried to capture the essence of the book in a word or two. 

For one thing, spirit and breath are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek (and other languages), so the title plays with that etymological connection and alludes to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost. 

Breathe is also a subtle reference to the practice of mindfulness. When people are stressed or anxious we often remind them to breathe, because connecting with our breath helps settle those swirling thoughts and feelings so we can see more clearly. I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety over the years and learning to use my breath this way has been so helpful to me in many situations. If you look for it, you will notice that mindfulness is a theme throughout Breathe.

Finally, the title points to something universal: everyone and everything that lives, breathes. This past year we have been made more aware than ever of how precious our breath is. That simple act of inhaling and exhaling is an experience we all share—until it is taken away. So the reference to breathing is part of that larger theme of connectedness. 

Before reading your book, I’d never heard of the concept “growing time” but it’s an essential and wonderful part of your message. Can you share with my readers what it is in a nut shell? (They’ll have to read the book for the full version.)

The Growing Time is a phrase used in Godly Play to talk about the part of the liturgical year we usually call Ordinary Time (the time between Pentecost and the start of Advent). It stretches from late May or early June all the way to late November or early December. In the northern hemisphere, this liturgical season coincides with late spring, summer, and autumn—a time for planting, growing, tending, and harvesting. I love the name The Growing Time because it captures some of the energy of this transformation is happening all around us—and inside us. There really is nothing ordinary about this time! 

What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book? Are there any other resources available for extending the reading? 

One of the things I tried to do with Breathe is introduce themes that can be extended in other ways. Instead of reading the book straight through, you could read a section, then take it deeper through activities or picture books that develop specific ideas or themes.

For instance, you could read the sections on learning to pray with the wind and your breath, and write your own breath prayers, blow bubbles, or make prayer flags. Or you could explore mindfulness practices with the help of books like Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey and Anni Betts (Rodale Kids, 2017) and Sitting Still Like a Frog by Elin Snel (Shambhala, 2013). 

Another example of this is reading the sectionthat describes planting a butterfly garden for bees and monarch butterflies. The book moves from talking about how butterflies migrate to human migration. You could carry the conversation further with a book like Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Orca Books, 2016). Then you could make your own stone art inspired by the book. Or plant your own butterfly garden. 

What Grew in Larry’s Garden (by Laura Alary and Kass Reich, Kids Can Press, 2020)is a picture book based on a true story about a teacher whose Kindness Project helped his students grow community alongside their tomatoes. Its themes—kindness, gratitude, cooperation—all connect really well with The Growing Time. This book might even inspire young readers to get outside this summer and grow things!

My biggest hope for Breathe is that readers will come away with a deeper sense of belonging and connection—to one another, to other living things, to the world we share, and to the Spirit who enlivens everything. Out of this awareness flows a way of living. Seeing our connection to the natural world prompts us to take more responsibility for caring for our environment. Seeing our connection to other people leads to acts of justice, hospitality, and kindness. 

It all boils down to love. The more we love, the more we can see the divine presence in things. Or maybe the seeing leads to the loving. But love shows itself in how we live. So I guess that is my biggest hope—that the stories I write will nudge us toward becoming more loving people. 

Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I’m happy to say I have several new books in process. One of them is a non-fiction book about food webs—with a bit of a mystical slant! Like Breathe, it has a message about connectedness, but it expresses it through the language of science. 

I am also really excited about my two picture book biographies about pioneering women astronomers (Maria Mitchell and Cecilia Payne). Those stories are both in the hands of illustrators right now. There are a few other manuscripts out there looking for homes—so I am hopeful there will be even more books to come!

All my books are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or bookshop.org (or directly from the publishers). If you can find them at a local bookstore, so much the better. And if they don’t carry the books, you could always put in a request!

About Laura:

Laura has loved books since she was barely big enough to clamber up the steps to the bookmobile that rolled into her Halifax neighborhood once a week. At school, she made her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons. The first story she can remember writing was about a little girl who kept spilling paint and having to figure out how to turn the messes into pictures (a good rule for life).

These days, Laura considers herself very lucky to work in a beautiful library and write her own books. They look more professional than the homemade ones, but the joy of creating them is much the same. Laura also loves to sing, play guitar (a work in progress) and try to keep up with what her three children are reading. She makes her home in Toronto where, along with clover and a whole lot of dandelions, she does her best to grow kindness.

Links:

Website: https://lauraalary.ca

FB: https://www.facebook.com/lauraalaryauthor

IG: https://www.instagram.com/laura.alary/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraAlary1

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!  

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of BREATHE, written by Laura Alary and illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday, May 14th, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

[Note: Thank you to Paracelete Press for the opportunity to preview the book with a digital ARC that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

FIVE Simple Steps for Using Faith-Based PICTURE BOOKS to Point Little Ones to God

At my school visits this spring, both virtual and in-person, I’ve noticed that little ones quickly pick up on several things when we LITTLE EWE together. First, they immediately identify with Little Ewe, the sweet protagonist, who is so keen to explore the world around her, despite the Shepherd’s call. Second, they are very sad when Little Ewe gets lost and overjoyed when she is found again. This concept of being lost and then found is a big deal in their life experience and something almost all can relate to. Finally, almost intuitively, they seem to understand the book is somehow “about God.”


All this reminds me what a precious opportunity we have, as our children’s shepherds, to point them to Jesus and God using picture books, such as LITTLE EWE, as the conversation spark. With that in mind, here are five simple steps for using faith-based picture books to point little ones to Jesus and God.

 
Step # 1: Think ahead of time what faith principles are best drawn from the picture book at hand. With LITTLE EWE, for example, you could talk about God’s faithful care of us or how He wants to find us when we are spiritually lost. 


Step #2: Read the story with the goal to enjoy it! The faith message you want to instill will come later, but you to don’t want to make it so heavy-handed that the pure joy of reading the story is lost.  So, for example, as you read LITTLE EWE, enjoy counting along as she explores her world. Pause along the way to explore the illustrations and ponder together how Little Ewe might be feeling as she gets further and further from Shepherd.

 
Step #3: Connect the story to their world. This step is intertwined with the one above.  Both as you read the story and after as you ponder it, ask your little ones questions that will connect them to the story. For example, with LITTLE EWE, you might ask, “Have you ever been lost?”  “How did it feel to be found?”  “Who are the shepherds in your life?”  Trust me, these will generate lots of great discussion.


Step #4: Move from the concrete to the spiritual with a simple question or two.  This is when you will draw on your goal that you set in step one. The questions will vary, of course, depending on the book you have read together.  For LITTLE EWE, your questions could be, “Who do you think is the greatest shepherd of all?”  and “Why do you think Jesus wants to find us when we are lost?”  “What do we have to do?”  (Listen to His call and obey!)  “Why?”  (Because He loves us!)


Step #5: Wrap up your special story time in prayer, thanking God for stories like, LITTLE EWE, or whatever book you are reading, that remind us about God’s love for us.  This is a sweet opportunity both to model prayer with your child and also to let them add to the prayer in their words.  

NOTE: This post first appeared as a guest post over at Christian author and speaker, Sally Matheny’s blog. Here’s the link. You might also enjoy her other inspiring posts and reviews.

GUEST POST: FIVE SIMPLE WAYS to TALK with PRESCHOOLERS about God as our LOVING SHEPHERD

I wrote Little Ewe as a fun way to introduce children to the the idea of God as our loving Shepherd through the eyes of one fictional little lamb. It’s such a fitting image, as He does indeed take tender care of us, His flock. It’s also an image that even a child can grasp, for who doesn’t love to snuggle up with a sweet lamb stuffy?

With all this in mind, I thought it would be fun to share five simple ways to talk about Jesus as our Loving, Good Shepherd with preschoolers and I’ve been invited to do just that over at Big Books, Little Ears.

I hope you will grab a cup of tea and head on over! I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link:

Thoughts on Finding One’s LIFE PURPOSE: An Interview with Pastor Noelle Kirchner

Today I have pastor, tv host, blogger, and Christian author Noelle Kirchner as my guest. For several years now I’ve been blessed by Noelle’s thoughtful reflections on Christian faith, motherhood, and life which can be found on her popular blog NoelleKirchner.com. And now, Noelle has published an amazing six-step study which offers just the dose of encouragement and grounding that I’m longing for during this season of uncertainty and worry. I have already ordered several as gifts for friends and family because I think they would make a perfect foundation for starting the fall rooted in the awareness and joy of God’s love for each of us!  

Now, you’re in for a treat as I interview Noelle in this behind the scenes peek at how this special study came to be.  I know you will be blessed.  And in the extra blessing department, Noelle will be mailing one signed copy of the study to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details for that at the end of the post.  

Now for the interview with my questions in bold.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best.

My first book, How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, is now available on Kindle and in paperback through Amazon. I wrote it as a six-week individual or group study to help people connect with and live their God-given life purpose. I got the idea for my book years ago, largely because I am working in a way that I never imagined, but that feels right. As a pastor, I believe my position is a calling, but I do not believe that calling is exclusive to it. God needs ministers, people who want to serve him, in every field, and I wanted to write something that enables everyone to experience the thrill of embracing their calling or purpose.

Coincidently—or providentially, this book was scheduled to publish during the COVID–19 pandemic. With so many people out of work or living in flux, it is especially timely. As people reconsider where they live, what they do, what they want for their families, and how they occupy their time, my book can provide needed discernment, inspiration and hope. I learned as a New Yorker during September Eleventh that with tragedy also comes opportunity.

2. Your book is organized into six chapters, each examining what you describe as the “six steps of living our purpose”.  How did you discover these steps?  Are they universal?

I devised the book’s steps through reflection, preaching, writing, and filming about life purpose over the course of several years. As I crafted the end-of-chapter study materials, I marveled at how several interviews from my TV show involved purpose, even when it wasn’t planned. God helped me craft my book in ways that I didn’t even recognize at the time. It’s a testament to God’s great purpose—he’s active in each of our lives planting seeds along the way!

After writing my book, I compared my steps to others online. I found many alternative lists to be spiritually-lacking or void of the Christian perspective. Instead, I believe life purpose is highly spiritual. It’s one powerful way that we can experience the Creator’s love. Life purpose allows us to discover how God uniquely calls each of us by name—plus, following him can elicit our greatest joy!

3. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

Time! Setting aside the time to write a book was a discipline with children, but I found the sacrifice to be life-giving. It’s an honor to share my heart with readers in a book, a forum where I can dig deeper than an article or blog post.

Another challenge when writing this book was finding the right publisher. Two parties expressed interest, but in the end, I decided to use Amazon’s services. That allowed me to push my book in more formats, like the Kindle version, which really helps my media-driven study questions come alive! I think the next era in Bible studies will be more interactive like this one, engaging and entertaining readers while communicating poignant messages.

4. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book?  What other resources are available for extending the reading? 

My greatest desire for readers is that my book helps “fuel their fire” for God. That was the theme of my church’s confirmation class when I was in high school, and it’s an image that continues to stick with me. When we as believers are on fire for Christ, our entire lives not only give God glory, but they witness to the power of his glory at work in us. I want each of our lives to be a testament to all that God can do!

Scripture is the best resource on life purpose. I just wrote a blog post on five important scripture promises on purpose for the children’s book author Glenys Nellist. I am also fond of theologian Parker Palmer’s book on life purpose entitled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In fact, I quote one of my favorite passages, which involves a touching moment with his granddaughter, in my book!

5. What’s next? Do you have any more projects in the works? 

Yes! My ministry spans media and writing, so I have projects on both fronts. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of my faith and parenting TV series this fall on helping to navigate back-to-school anxieties, especially with COVID–19. I will be talking with a popular tween author and psychologist duo. I must note that your episode on the show (Episode #4), Laura, remains popular—it’s had almost 6K views!

Really, Noelle? Wow, that’s amazing. I highly recommend all the episodes. So much heart and effort is put into each one. (And now back to Noelle.)

Also, as a new writer for Crosswalk and long-standing writer for iBelieve, I will continue publishing faith articles and devotions online. My recent articles for each respectively are the 7 Biblical Characteristics of Risks Worth Taking and A Prayer for a New Purpose for a New Day, which both tie into my new book. Next, I will be writing a piece for iBelieve entitled “Why Jesus’ Plan for Your Child Is So Much Better.” The best way to read new articles or watch new episodes is by subscribing to my website!

Thank, you, Noelle, for inspiring us!

HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary copy of How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Noelle, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 9/17/20 at 11:59 pm EST.  NOTE: THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED. THE WINNER IS ANNOUNCED HERE.

[Note: Thank you to Noelle for a sneak peek at the book 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.]

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: God’s Protection Covers Me (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

Over the summer I planned a series for our church’s Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God.  The kids enjoyed the lessons so much, that I have decided to start an occasional blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today’s lesson uses GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME (Beaming Books, 2018), written by Amy Houts and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYSA Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME

by Amy Houts

PURPOSE:  To recognize that just as various structures/coverings protect natural creatures, God’s protection covers us. Using Houts’ lovely metaphors as the spark, we’ll delve into Scripture for promises that God indeed cares for us with an everlasting love and protects us in the palm of His hand.

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Building Card Houses

Open in prayer, then explain that today, we’ll be reading a story about all the kinds of structures animals build or find for protection.  Can they name some?  What do we build to protect us?  Houses! Tell them it’s time to do a little building – with cards!  Using only a deck of playing cards, challenge them to build their own houses. Demonstrate two building methods:  triangular and four-card cell. This article from wiki-how will give you helpful construction tips, if needed, so you can demonstrate before the kids have their turn.

INTRODUCE THE STORY:  Introduce the story by showing the book cover.  Ask what protection means?  What are some ways they protect themselves?  (Wearing helmets, using seatbelt etc.) Have you ever thought about how God protects us?  Ask them to be thinking about that as you read them the story.  Then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:

  1. Marvel at all the amazing ways animals are protected in nature.
  2. Brainstorm all the ways their parents protect their precious children – them!
  3. Ask, “Do you think God protects us?”  Yes!  “How?” He provides all good things – including families that care and watch over us, bodies that are designed to fight infection, human intellect that has allowed man to make medical advances to fight disease, create safer cars etc. and MIRACLES!  Yes, God is not limited by what is possible.  He invites our prayers to protect and provide for us even in the midst of the IMPOSSIBLE!
  4. And where can we find reminders of God’s protection? In the Bible!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find beautiful reminders of God’s protective love and care.  Use these verses to get you started: 

Psalm 5:11-12   Psalm 32:7       Psalm 116: 5 – 7  

Matthew 6: 25 – 26  I Peter 5:7

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:  Select from one of the engaging activities provided by the publisher in the GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME Activity Guide.

WRAP UP:  As children are finishing the activity – remember together all the animals and protective things mentioned in the story.  Ask what those can remind us of?  God’s protection covers us!  That is wonderful news indeed.


FAITH PONDERINGS: Why Author DIANE STORTZ Writes Devotionals (and TWO giveaways!)

When I was homeschooling my sweet Miss A, we were blessed to stumble upon Diane’s I AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD (Thomas Nelson, 2016) at our local Hobby Lobby. Drawn by the cover, we added it to our cart and for the next forty school days, we began each morning by making ourselves mama/daughter tea, then reading one thought-provoking entry, delving into our bibles to check out each scripture verse she mentioned. And now I’m delighted to learn that the author, Diane Stortz, has two new devotionals out. Better yet, she’s agreed to be my guest blogger today sharing her thoughts on what inspires her to write faith-based devotionals for kids and families. Thank you so much for stopping by, Diane. Now, without further ado, here’s Diane!

THE INSPIRATION BEHIND MY DEVOTIONALS

by Diane Stortz

My five young grandchildren—all boys—live in two different states, Ohio and Georgia. Whenever they’re together, only a time or two each year, we make sure to get at least one group photo with all five. It’s fun to track their growth this way, and I love sharing the pics with other family and friends, especially those who live far away in the Pacific Northwest.

We all love sharing what’s important to us with the important people in our lives, right? We all love sharing good news. We introduce a new friend to our long-time friends because we know they’ll hit it off.

For all these reasons and more, I write devotional books.

How It Began

Nearly 20 years ago, an acquaintance invited me to a women’s group meeting in her home. The idea was to read through the Bible together in a year. The focus was simple: “Let’s get to know God.” Every Monday night we gathered to talk about what we had read the previous week. 

We enjoyed doing this so much, we did it again the next year, and the next. Others joined us.

As we read, as we discussed our questions and our insights, we began to discover what God is like—who He is and what He does. Our lives changed as we began to understand how much He loves us and that we can depend on Him.

Getting to Know God

When I write, my focus is on helping readers get to know God better, just like the focus of those women’s groups. I love walking readers through the Bible’s big story from beginning to end in age-appropriate ways. 

I AM: 40 Reasons to Trust God introduces readers to 40 different Bible stories and names of God found in the Bible, names like God All-Powerful, The Lord My Light, and Bread of Life. Each of the Bible’s names and descriptive titles for God tells us something important and meaningful about His character. 

Stop-and-Go Devotional: 52 Devotions for Busy Families takes readers through some of the Bible’s familiar events, with simple explanations, conversation starters, prayers, and activities for families on the go. (Tip: Use the material in each devotion over the course of one week. This book is truly designed to be used as you go through your busy week.)

Someone has said, “The Bible is the only book whose Author is always present as you read.” My prayer is always that my books will help readers discover the Bible and get to know the Author better on every page.

Diane Stortz is a multipublished author who writes to make God’s wonders known to the next generation. Her newest releases are Stop-and-Go Devotions: 52 Devotions for Busy Parents and God’s Words to Dream On, both from Tommy Nelson. Diane and her husband have two married daughters and five young grandchildren—all boys! Learn more at http://www.DianeStortz.com.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAYS!!!

Diane has kindly offered two book bundles containing one copy of her STOP AND GO DEVOTIONAL and one copy of I AM: 40 REASONS TO TRUST GOD for me to giveaway to two lucky winners. If you’d like a chance to win one of these book bundles, 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 Tuesday, 6/25/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced the next day!

Happy Book Birthday! GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME: An Interview with Author Amy Houts and a GIVEAWAY!

Join me in welcoming talented picture book author, Amy Houts, whose brand new picture book, GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME (Beaming Books), debuts TODAY! This charming faith-based story is a soothing read, and a great conversation starter with little ones about God’s protective care. With sparse text and clever rhymes, it’s a delight. I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School kids! And now for the interview with my questions in bold

1.Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy, and congratulations your newest faith-based picture book. Is it true that this is your 70th published book! Tell us a little bit about yourself and your prolific journey into the world of children’s book writing.

Thank you, Laura, for having me. Yes, it’s true that I have over authored over 70 children’s books. Most of them were written on assignment for educational publishers. They often ask for a series of books on a specific topic or featuring a specific character. For example, I wrote four books about pets (dog, cat, rabbit, and goldfish) for a South Korean publisher, Compass Publishing. I was asked to write five books featuring the cartoon character, Dora the Explorer. So, it adds up! Plus, I’ve been writing for many years beginning when I was at home with my baby girl, Emily. Now Emily is a busy mother of three young children.While I love writing on assignment, a book based on my own, original idea, such as God’s Protection Covers Me, means so much.  

2. GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME charmingly depicts God’s constant care over, not just children, but all creation. What inspired you to write GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME using animal homes as your concrete visual?

I was inspired to write this book because of the concern I feel as a mother and grandmother. I’m a worrier! But I longed to feel calmer. Looking to God for strength, knowing that He protects us, heart and soul and spirit, gave me comfort. Often, writing helps me work through my feelings. The comparison of an umbrella keeping the rain off and a roof overhead seemed to me to be the perfect symbol to explain to a child (and to myself) how God’s protection works. The text is soothing and reassuring. 

This excerpt is from God’s Protection Covers Me by Amy Houts, illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, published by Beaming Books, used by permission.

3. David Creighton-Pester’s illustrations are delightfully concrete and colorful to match your simple, yet comforting, text. Can you tell us a little bit about him? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations?  Do you have a favorite spread?

David Creighton-Pester is an illustrator and graphic designer from Hamilton, New Zealand, where he lives with his wife and two young children. His website https://wanderingbert.com/ states that his interest in art started early: “Inspired as a child by picture books, animation, and all things arty, David spent endless hours drawing crazy characters and coming up with silly stories.”

I’m overjoyed that my editor at Beaming Books paired my text with David’s artwork. The first time I saw the cover and interior spread, I couldn’t help smiling. David gave life to my words. His child-like style and vibrant colors welcome the reader in.  

My favorite spread shows mother and son under the umbrella—nearly home as rain pours down—while the dog and a mouse watch from their protective covering. The rhythm and rhyme of the text is how I began writing the book: “Like a roof protects a house or a crawl space for a mouse…”

4. Besides reading wonderful picture books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids? 

Start with something kids know or are familiar with (like an umbrella) and move to something unfamiliar or harder to explain (like God’s protection). Similies and comparisons help to illustrate a concept. Focus on a feeling, like peace, comfort, or safety, and how that relates to something physical like drinking hot cocoa, being wrapped in a blanket, or watching the rain out the window. 

5. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline?  Also, where can interested readers find your books?

I’m always working on picture book manuscripts in all stages of development from a few lines, to a first draft, to polishing, to submission. Upcoming in 2020, four books written on assignment for educational publisher, Rubicon/Pearson, will be released. You can also read and act out my Bible fingerplays in each 2019 issue of Children’s Ministry Magazine. My books are sold through amazon.comchristianbook.combarnesandnoble.com, and more. Visit my website http://amyhouts.com to find out more about my work. 

Thank you so much for stopping by and for writing this delightful book! (And readers, don’t forget to enter the giveaway below.)

Photo by Bob Delsol

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Amy Houts is an award-winning author of over 70 children’s books, cookbooks, and board games that feature family themes of love and friendship, holiday celebrations, and early learning concepts. Her books include The Giant Book of Bible Fingerplays for Preschoolers(Group Publishing), which features 101 fingerplays, Bible stories, and Scripture verses. It’s a joy for Amy to share Bible truths and God’s love with young children through her writing. Amy and her husband, Steve, live in rural Northwest Missouri,an hour from Steve’s family farm. They are the parents of two grown daughters and three grandchildren.

Twitter: @AmyHouts Instagram: @AmyHouts

And now for the giveaway! (Thank you, Amy!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of GOD’S PROTECTION COVERS ME written by Amy Houts and illustrated by David Creighton-Pester, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. address and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday 5/28/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. TO SEE WHO WON PRESS HERE.

Facebook: Author Amy Houts