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.
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
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.
This week, I’m delighted to chat with Janna Matthies, a picture book author, who like me, writes books for both the mainstream and faith-based markets. And today, we are celebrating the release of her newest board book God’s Always Loving You, published by WorthyKids and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
This powerful little book is filled to the brim with hope and comfort. Simple, child-friendly verse outlines relatable moments of crisis, uncertainty, and fear common to a child’s life, and asks who helps us in each of those scenarios. “God, that’s who” is the reliable answer, forming a pattern kids will quickly pick up on. Each answer reinforces the book’s deeply comforting message: God is always there for us. He loves us, He knows us, and He cares about our needs.
This is such a needed message in today’s world. Thank you, Janna for writing it and thank you, WorthyKids, for publishing it! And in the extra neat department, Janna 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. And now, grab a cup of tea and join me as we chat with Janna with my questions bolded.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Janna. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write God’s Always Loving You.
When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m a music teacher for grades PreK, K and 1st, and I see all kinds of troubles touch the lives of my students. I also recently walked through a 3-year leukemia battle with a dear friend and her family. So I became interested in writing a book that brings hope and reassurance to kids going through hard times. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes or empty promises, because God’s ways aren’t that simple. My aim was to hone in on the absolute promise that God and His loving presence are always with us.
As one who has been through hard times with my own kids, I’m grateful that you dug deep to write this book, but, oh my, what a tall order. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
As I mentioned, I was focused on “the hard times,” but my editor—Melinda Rathjen at WorthyKids—suggested I add a couple stanzas featuring good times, too. At first I was hesitant, not wanting to dilute the impact for readers truly in the valley. But I followed her suggestion, and in the end agreed that the positive stanzas give balance and a vision for the gifts of peace, joy and redemption. I’m grateful to Melinda and also to the fantastic illustrator, Airin O’Callaghan, for her heart-felt, creative partnership.
Yes, I agree! The balance makes the message even richer. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read God’s Always Loving You?
The book is essentially a series of questions, all answered by the refrain, “God, that’s who.” My greatest desire is that readers would see God himself as the answer, and that they’d find His presence to be enough in the midst of whatever they’re going through. It’s natural when we’re down to focus on the thing that we want, the specific answer to prayer that we’re awaiting. My personal hope is that I’d learn more and more to focus on God as the answer, and to trust that the rest will follow.
Besides reading wonderful books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?
In my experience as a mom, teacher, friend, I find that living life authentically in front of kids is critical. Let them see you take quiet time with God, pray in the good and bad times, need others to support you in your own faith journey. Include them in family devotions/movies/book discussions where they can express real feelings and questions. And notice teachable moments when they’re open to hearing stories of your own high and low points as a believer.
These are great and very do-able suggestions. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
Yes! My next picture book, HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, coming spring 2022), is illustrated by Christine Davenier and features an impromptu parade of little musicians in the moonlight. Two more books are currently in contract phase, and a variety of others are being shopped around by my agent.
For buying options and to learn more about Gods’s Always Loving You, click here.
Thank you, Janna, for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. And now for the promised giveaway!
HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary signed copy of God’s Always Loving You, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Friday, 7/23/2021 at 11:59 pm EST.
When I was Children’s Ministry Director at a small 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 monthly series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children.
Today’s lesson uses THE LORD’S PRAYER (Zonderkidz, 2011) illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson with commentary by Rick Warrenas the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.
PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson
THE LORD’S PRAYER
illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson with commentary by Rick Warren
PURPOSE: To understand that God wants to be in conversation with us. This conversation is called prayer. Jesus thought it was so important that He showed his disciples (and us) how to pray. This prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer. Let’s celebrate and give thanks that we can talk to God by… praying!
OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Telephone (… a communication challenge!)
Open in prayer, then explain that in today’s book, we will be learning about how we communicate with God. But first, a game to see how effective it is (or isn’t) to communicate to another through a whole line of people! To demonstrate play a few rounds of the old-fashioned classic “telephone” in which all the children sit in a circle and one child is selected to whisper something to the child beside him/her. The whispered message is repeated around the circle and when it comes back to the originator, the group can see if the message is correct or if it got jarbled along the way. Use this as a tie-in today’s story, where we’ll be learning about how we can communicate directly with God from his very Son, Jesus!
INTRODUCE THE STORY: Begin by saying one of our greatest privileges as teachers and parents is passing along our love for the Lord with our children. And one of the ways we do this is by learning to pray together. Ask if they know what prayer is? When do they pray? What do they pray? Do they know that prayer is actually talking to God – directly!?! (As opposed to the way we shared our message in the game we just played.) Do they know that God LOVES it when we pray and wants us to pray to Him? Yes, He does! Prayer is so important to God that He had His Son Jesus teach us how to do it while he was here on earth. That prayer is called the Lord’s Prayer and it is the focus of our book today. Explain that first you will just be reading the prayer through, and then you’ll go back and think about the meaning of each part of the prayer.
FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME: After reading through the whole prayer, return to each spread. Have a child read that portion and then ponder together how the illustrations help us to understand what each part of the prayer means, using Rick Warren’s wonderful guide at the end of the book as an aid.
Close the time by challenging the children to memorize this prayer as Jesus’ example of good praying. Then pray it together.
STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME: The Lord’s Prayer Bookmarks
Ahead of time, type up the Lord’s Prayer using the columns feature on your computer to create long narrow text that can be cut into book mark shaped strips. Print on card stock and cut. Let the children decorate their book marks using markers and stickers. For an extra special finishing touch, punch a hole at the top and add colorful ribbon or yarn, as shown.
WRAP UP: As children are finishing up their bookmarks – challenge them to begin memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, phrase by phrase. Then, give thanks that God loves us so very much that He even created a way for us to communicate directly with Him – through prayer.
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 storyabout? 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!
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.
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.]
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.
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:
Here’s the official description from Beaming Books:
“Little Ewe would rather jump on logs and investigate spider webs than follow the shepherd when he calls. But what happens when she gets lost? How will she find her way home? Told in whimsical rhyme, this humorous counting book for our littlest ones is a delightful reminder that, like a loving parent, our Shepherd will find us and care for us, even when we wander from the path.
In Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep, award-winning author Laura Sassi and illustrator Tommy Doyle tell an endearing tale of a distracted sheep and her persistent shepherd, inspired by the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15.”
This book has an extra special place in my heart because I am so grateful for the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who cares for us unfailingly! I hope the book is read and enjoyed by little sheep and their flocks, er I mean, little ones and their families, for years to come!
Now, to celebrate its release, join me over on Glenys Nellist’s blog as I share five fun facts about the book. And in the extra fun category, she’s organized a three-book giveaway! So grab a cup of tea and head on over. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.
In the super exciting department, my interview with best-selling children’s author Amy Parker and co-host Mike Nawrocki (aka “Larry the Cucumber” for all you Veggie Tales fans) is this week’s podcast episode on The Bible for Kids! What a WONDERFUL way to introduce families to LITTLE EWE!
Per their website, the goal of The Bible for Kids is “to provide a platform of discovery and information for authors, platforms, musicians, games, films, and more, that seek to help instill biblical principles in kids. We desire to be a resource for churches, small groups, teachers, parents, grandparents of kids ages 0-18 to help them pass along Christian values to the kids in their lives.”
Thank you, including me and Little Ewe!
Click here to got to their podcast page. You’ll find us there!
When I read the description of Jennifer’s newest book, A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE, illustrated by Gillian Whiting and published last month by Church Publishing, I knew immediately that I wanted to interview her.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
“In this beautiful book for children, a child tells her story of losing a beloved neighbor and friend. A young girl remembers playing with her neighbor’s cat, stories that her neighbor told her, and the special mementos her friend kept on a shelf above her kitchen sink, including a little blue bottle she kept to remind her of Psalm 56:8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” A Little Blue Bottle doesn’t provide pat answers or heavy-handed messages about life or death, but allows the grieving child to articulate her loss and her love for the deceased friend, while wondering how God is near when we suffer. A gentle and insightful resource for children who are grieving, and for those who care for them.”
Wow! I sure could have used a book like this when my mother passed away a few years ago and we all, including my then 9 year old daughter and 13 year old son, were grieving. In the special connection department, I have on my window sill the little collection of blue bottles that my mother kept on her window sill. So you see, interviewing Jennifer was meant to be. Thank you Jennifer! And now, the interview with my questions in bottle blue.
First off, congratulations. A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE released on September 3oth! How has the launch been with the pandemic in full swing?
Thank you! I’m glad it is finally out! Launching a book in 2020, of course, has been very different from any of the other times I’ve released a book. I have a few favorite independent bookstores, including Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, IL, where I normally have book launch parties. The last one, for Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too (2019) was so much fun! My oldest and dearest friend came from out of state, my in-laws and mother from nearby, and many others were there to celebrate the book coming into the world. When I was in 7th grade, I had a special teacher who encouraged me in my writing; we’ve stayed in touch and she always comes to book launch parties in the Chicago area, which means the world to me. But this year, no launch parties…
My husband offered to set up something on Zoom, but after attending my daughter’s high school graduation, my son’s college graduation, and birthday parties—including my husband’s grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration—via Zoom, I just didn’t have the heart for it.
As you know, one of the delightful things about writing for kids is reading to them—it’s been strange just having the book slip out into the world and not to experience it with children, in person.
Yes, I know what you mean. Virtual is better than not at all, but there’s nothing as special as in-person connecting through reading.
You write for both adults and children. Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.
I always wanted to be a writer when I was growing up. In college, I took all the creative writing classes I could and then went on to grad school, studying English and Creative Writing. The kind of winding path of my career has always involved writing. I’ve written annual reports, white papers, newspaper features and columns, blog posts, articles, and books. It’s been over the past 4-5 years when I’ve turned my attention toward children’s literature.
I’m so glad you did! What inspired you to write A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE?
A friend of mine lives near Newtown, CT, and after the Sandy Hook tragedy, I asked her whether she was finding good picture books about grief or death to read with her young children, some of whom knew kids who were murdered at their school. She said she hadn’t found anything she wanted to share with them during that time. That planted a seed in my mind; I thought it would be an honor to write a story that might offer comfort to grieving kids. The main character of Mrs. Wednesday (the older woman who dies in the book) is based on a few real-life older neighbors I’ve had, both as a child and when I was raising my kids. Certain details, like the cat hiding under the bed, are taken from real experiences with older women I’ve known. Intergenerational friendships can be so rich; I wanted to celebrate them in this book, too.
What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book? What other resources are available for extending the reading?
I thought for a long time before writing the dedication to A Little Blue Bottle. I think it answers your question, and it reads: “For all who grieve—may your loneliness be eased and your hope reawakened.”
That’s a beautiful dedication for a much-needed book. Just lovely.
Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
I’m currently working on two projects, and both of them will be released in Fall 2021.
One is a book for adults, from Broadleaf Books, called Dimming the Day: Evening Meditations for Quiet Wonder. It’s a book of 20 readings about things in nature (things as ordinary as dandelions and as ornate as starling murmurations). Each short chapter tells a story, includes scientific information on the topic at hand, and ends with some poetry or a part of Scripture, and then a prompt for sleep. The idea is to change up the way we end the day—rather than doom-scrolling through the news headlines or social media, feeling a sense of wonder and awe about the natural world to relax before sleep.
The other book I’m working on is a picture book, and, again, I’m collaborating with the amazing artist Gillian Whiting, who illustrated A Little Blue Bottle. It’s a story I wrote early on in the pandemic and tells the story, for young children, about what has happened, how things have changed, and more about this time. Gillian is using a very different style in these illustrations. They’re powerful.
Thank you so much for stopping by today, Jennifer. Best wishes with this and all your upcoming projects.
MORE ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Grant is the author of five books for adults and several for children, including the award-winning picture book Maybe God is Like That Too. A former newspaper columnist and the mother of four young adult children, she lives with her bicycle-obsessed husband and rescue dog Scarlett in the Chicago area. More at jennifergrant.com or find her on Twitter @jennifercgrant.