Did you know picture books have multiple layers? Those of us who write them are aware of this because it plays into how the story unfolds. But children might not be aware of this. With that in mind, I’m delighted to share a wonderful post written by artist, teacher and children’s writer, Kathy O’Neill as she delves into the multiple layers of picture books with tips for using those rich layers to spark curiosity, faith in God, and a love of reading in our littlest ones.
And in the super special department, guess which book she features with examples of activities that delve into each rich layer? Little Ewe (Beaming Books, 2021)! Thank you, Kathy and thank you, Sally Matheny, for hosting her.
Read the post here and while you are there be sure to further explore Sally’s terrific faith-based website, chock full of bookish and educational posts for families. Kathy O’ Neill also has an engaging blog with posts to help children discover God through art history and nature.
This painted rock that I spotted in Surf City, NJ last summer is the perfect visual for today’s fun news. I’ve hinted a bit on social media recently about something special that I’ve been busy working on — namely something that rhymes and touches on themes very close to my heart. Now, finally, the announcement has run in Publishers Marketplace and PW Religion BookLine, so I can share my news!
Here’s the official announcement from Publishers’ Marketplace:
Thank you, Charlotte Wenger, for representing me so skillfully and kindly in the process of making these two new books a reality.
Thank you, Paraclete Press for saying “yes!” to not just one, but to TWO new board books that point little ones to God.
And I’m over the moon with their choice of illustrator. Take a peek at Sandra Eide’s work for a preview of the delightful artistic talent that will accompany the text. I can’t wait for these two new books to hit shelves everywhere. Thankfully, I won’t have to wait long. The tentative publication dates are February 2023 and September 2023!
What’s my writerly take away? Keep writing from the heart and follow your heart. Keep honing your craft. Stand firm in your faith and the things that are important to you and marvel at how things unfold. Happy writing all!
Today, I’m delighted to host best-selling Christian children’s author Glenys Nellist for an interview in celebration of her newest release with Zonderkidz, BAPTIZED IN THE WATER. This colorful picture book showcases beautifully diverse renderings of children and adults being baptized by the many varying means across Christian denominations. It got me thinking about my own baptism at age 12 via immersion in a little missionary church in Paris, France! As part my baptism, I also spoke aloud my profession of faith – that I had accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I’m so glad I took that step all those years ago, for it has made all the difference in this journey called life. Maybe the book will get you thinking about baptism memories as well. And now for the interview, with my questions in blue to match the lovely cover of the book. (Oh, and there’s a giveaway so be sure to check that out at the end of the post.)
Welcome, Glenys, what inspired you to write a book about baptism?
Since I’m married to a pastor, I have had the privilege of witnessing many baptisms. In our denomination the water is poured or sprinkled, but I’ve also been present at baptisms where the person was fully immersed. Each time I’ve attended this sacred event, no matter where, or how, or when it occurred, it simply felt that we were celebrating our belonging in one wonderful, united family in Christ. The inspiration, then, for writing a book on baptism came from a desire to celebrate this oneness, this unity in Christ, despite the varying traditions or beliefs that may be held. For me, baptism is a beautiful, holy, mysterious moment that none of us really understands. I hope that Baptized in the Water captures some of the mystery and meaning of this ancient sacrament.
How do you hope churches and families will use the book?
I hope that pastors, Christian Educators, Sunday school teachers, parents and grandparents might use Baptized in the Water to inspire curious conversations with children about the mystery and meaning of baptism. I know that many churches and families have also bought the book as a baptism gift, which is wonderful!
Do you have a favorite spread?
Anna Kazimi did a beautiful job with the diverse illustrations and it’s hard to pick just one! But I really love the following spread, because it illustrates all the different ways to be baptized.
Are there any special resources that go along with the book that readers might enjoy?
Yes! I wrote this free downloadable Activity Pack to accompany the book, which includes tips for talking with children about baptism as well as signed bookplates, commemorative bookmarks and a certificate.
Thank you, Glenys, for joining me today. I wish you the very best with this and all your books.
BIO Glenys Nellist was born and raised in a little village in northern England. The author of multiple children’s books, including the bestselling ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas, The Wonder That is You, and five popular series: Love Letters from God, Snuggle Time, ‘Twas, Good News and Little Mole, her writing reflects a deep passion for helping children discover joy and hope in the world. Glenys lives in Michigan with her husband, David. Connect with her here:
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of BAPTIZED IN THE WATER (Zonderkidz, 2022) follow this blog and comment below saying you’d like to be entered. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Zonderkidz, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Monday, 6/6/22 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day!
[Note: Thank you to the publisher for an advance copy at the book. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]
In my new board book, Bunny Finds Easter, Bunny is on a quest to find out if Easter is all about chocolate eggs and jelly beans or if it might just be about a little bit more. Indeed, amidst all the fun of jelly beans and easter bunnies, it can be hard for little ones to understand that Easter is about Jesus. With that in mind, I’m delighted to share the post which Zonderkidz invited me to write for their blog. The topic? Five fun ways to point toddlers and preschoolers to Jesus at Easter.
Today I am delighted to have Christian children’s author Christie Thomas as my guest. She’s here today to share five fun facts about her newest release with Kregel Publications, FRUIT FULL: 100 Family Experiences For Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit. This is just the kind of resource I would have LOVED when my kids were little and it’s a wonderful resource for anyone in Christian family ministry. Here’s an excerpt from the official description:
“Christie Thomas is skilled at taking complex ideas and making them accessible to kids . . . and adults learn a lot along the way too. Each of her devotions is designed to help parents connect their children with the Holy Spirit through a Scripture passage, thought-provoking questions, ways to apply each verse, and a prayer. And for each fruit, parents can use the optional hands-on activities when there’s extra time.”
Sounds great, right? And now for FIVE FUN FACTS about the book from the author herself.
Five Fun Facts about FRUIT FULL with Christie Thomas
Fun Fact #1:Fruit Full led me full circle to a lovely editor I had connected with in 2016. She really liked another project of mine, but we fell off each other’s radars. Four years later, she had moved to another publisher and the proposal for Fruit Full came across her desk. She recognized my name and now here we are in 2022 with a book!
Fun Fact #2: With my previous devotional book, I read every one of the devotions with each 3 of my boys because it was a new way of writing for me and I wanted to make sure I wrote on their level. With Fruit Full, I had less time to write and more devotions to write, so each of my boys heard about 40% of the book. It’s fun to read it with them now, because it’s fresh for all of them!
Fun Fact #3: There’s one story in the book where I explained how my apple tree didn’t even flower for several years, and I later discovered it was because I had given it the wrong fertilizer. I didn’t say it in the book, but the wrong fertilizer…was urine! I had been asking my potty-training boys to pee near the tree when in the backyard for years because I thought it would be good for the tree. Turns out, urine has a lot of nitrogen, which is perfect for leaf growth but too much can stunt flowering and fruiting. Oops!
Fun Fact #4: I originally wanted to add a hands-on family activity to each devotion, but we realized it would make it feel too overwhelming for families. Instead, we put a list of simple activities at the beginning of each section for families to pick and choose from when they had time.
Fun Fact #5: There’s a smaller devotional book tucked inside Fruit Full. At the end of each fruit-themed section (Love, Joy, Peace, etc) there are three devotions specifically on the Easter part of Jesus’ life. These could be tied together for a shorter, 27-day reading plan specifically connected with Easter.
Thanks so much for joining us today, Christie. I know your book will be a blessing to many.And I have one closing question for our readers. Which fact was your favorite? (I’m partial to #3 and I also love how Christie’s kids are involved in her devotional writing process.)
Christie’s books are available wherever books are sold.
BIO: Christie Thomas is a homeschool mom of 3 and former Children’s Ministries Director. She is the author five books for Christian kids, including Quinn’s Promise Rock and The Mother and Son Prayer Journal. Her newbook, the Christ-centered devotional, Fruit Full: 100 Family Experiences for Growing in the Fruit of the Spirit, waswritten over many late nights beside a cold cup of blueberry tea. She lives in Western Canada and spends her time homeschooling, digging in the garden (when it’s not under 2 feet of snow) and equipping Christian families to disciple their kids.
One of the joys of having a new book out is getting to visit and celebrate with a virtual book tour! And because this tour includes more than just blogs, I’ve decided to call it the BUNNY HOP! Each week, we’ll be visiting somewhere fun but it will be a surprise! Don’t worry, I’ll let you know where to go as we hop along together.
And where is Bunny, the sweet protagonist from BUNNY FINDS EASTER (Zonderkidz, February 1, 2022) hopping to today? I’m so glad you asked. She’s over at Big Books, Little Ears, a wonderful website created by Kristen Wynalda, a mom of three who is passionate about reading with kids. Her resources include a weekly newsletter, book lists, book reviews from a Christian-mom perspective, no-prep activities, parenting tips and the occasional guest post – like mine! Today’s post is about EASY WAYS to have an EASTER EGG HUNT focused on JESUS! Writing it has put me in the mood for jelly beans. Thank you for having me Kristin!
One morning this fall, in anticipation of Christmas, I prayed that God would use my Christmas picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER to bless others and point them to Him in a special way. I made a list of possibilities: preschool visits, a Christmas Women’s program, a virtual story time. These were all things I had done in the past. But God… Don’t you love that phrase? God had something bigger in mind and He placed that idea in the heart of a woman named Jessika Sanders, founder of Praying through Ministries. The idea was to bless families who found themselves with little ones in the NICU and PICU over Christmas with a copy of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.
Following God’s prompting, Jessika reached out to me. Sensing this might be God’s special plan, I said yes, and that I wanted to write notes of encouragement to accompany each book given because my precious son, now 21, had once been a baby in the NICU as well. Then, wow, with the help of generous souls across the country who donated the books, God grew that blessing to an amazing 771 books given to families in multiple NICUs and PICUs across sixteen states. We were even in the news.
And now I have a special treat you – an interview with Praying Through Ministries’ founder and president, Jessika Sanders. The story of how her ministry came to be is amazing and I know you will be blessed. So, grab a cup of coffee and join us as we chat with my questions in bold.
Thank you for joining me here, today, Jessika. Like me you are a NICU mama. Can you tell us a little bit about that story and how it led you to start this ministry?
Absolutely. Unlike the vast majority of NICU moms, my son was not born premature. He was born at exactly 42-weeks. Like I had with my second child, I went a very natural route with my pregnancy. I had the same midwife and opted out of all ultrasounds. I had my third natural birth, and my second at-home water birth. Nothing seemed all that out of the ordinary other than my belly shrinking in size the last month, but I attributed it to my son dropping and my getting ready to deliver.
When our son arrived, the rush of hormones had my head in the clouds. I didn’t realize anything was wrong until they weighed Ezra and a few words broke the heavy silence in the room while simultaneously breaking our hearts. “4 lbs 14 oz.” I could almost feel my heart drop. Something was wrong. I looked across the room at my husband and saw the fear and anguish on his face.
To give you some background, I had experienced a lot of spiritual warfare during my 3rd trimester. I couldn’t get rid of a nagging feeling that something was wrong. It wasn’t Godly intuition but rather the voice of the enemy. I know this because it instilled fear, a fear that threatened to consume me. Down Syndrome. Genetic defects. Death. Still birth. Critically ill. I remember fighting with scripture. Each time a negative thought would come to mind, I would take it captive and speak truth over myself and the baby growing in my womb. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Chosen. His. A purpose and a plan. Just three weeks before my son’s arrival, I had a really powerful encounter with God, one in which I heard His voice so clear it felt almost audible. His directions were simple—read through the book of Psalms, circle the passages He told me to circle, and faithfully pray them until He told me to stop. When I gave birth to my son I assumed the battle was over, but when we learned of his extremely low birth weight, I knew that was far from the truth. Thirty-six hours after he was born, we called an ambulance when he seized in our arms and so began the beginning of our 37-day NICU stay.
I’ll never forget the complex range of emotions I experienced while in the NICU with Ezra. Fear. Shock. Worry. Guilt. Uncertainty. Helplessness. I remember my sole and utter dependence on the Lord and crying out to Him in wordless groans. I wanted to pray continuously but I felt frozen, paralyzed by my circumstances. I sang worship songs and I prayed God’s Word back to Him—literally reading those verses He had me circle a month previously.
And one day, as I looked around me in the hospital lounge, at the front desk, and through the corridors and into the rooms of others—I was met with pained, worried faces. My heart ached with these women and men, but as my eyes met theirs, I managed a meek smile that I hoped would warm their hearts and show them I saw them and I understood. As I rested in God’s shelter, my pain seemed to diminish. But as mine lessened, I became heightened to the pain of those around me. I wondered to myself “How does anyone do this without Jesus?” This is when our NICU stay began to change course. Suited up in His Word and forever clinging to His character and His promises, I began to reach out to help those around me. I began talking with mothers at the sign-in desk, in the lounge, and in the Ronald McDonald House. I asked about their babies and how I could pray for them. I wrote down their names and their requests. I see now that this was the beginning of Praying Through ministries. God was slowly preparing me for what was to come.
Oh, Jessika, what an amazing story of God’s love sustaining you and your family through one of life’s most difficult situations and then, wow, God’s love flowing through you to others. I’m glad that each step of the way you listened to God’s promptings and what a precious reminder to us all of the comfort and power in that.
What are some of the ways your ministry reaches out to and blesses families journeying through the NICU, PICU and child loss?
The mission of Praying Through ministries is to equip and embolden men, women, and children with Biblical hope and encouragement as they journey through the difficult seasons of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the Pediatric ICU, and Child loss. We provide Biblical support through our Christ-centered online communities (Facebook), through virtual events, and through outreach care packages.
While the obvious way we bless families is through our outreach care packages filled with personalized notes, artistic keepsakes, and carefully curated books, we are often told just how much our online communities mean to our members. It’s not uncommon for us to hear things like, “When I felt too paralyzed to pray, the Prayer Team and group members lifted me in prayer and provided words that I could pray myself.” I know that this especially blesses my heart because in addition to God doing this very thing for me with His Word, I also had one friend in particular who would periodically send me written prayers, too. Our communities are God-honoring groups where true friendships are cultivated. There is no condemnation, just a supportive group of individuals helping each other to keep their eyes fixed on Christ—even through trials and suffering.
Our ministry is also in the process of creating virtual resources and events to reach the families we serve. Because our outreach care packages are shipped within the United States, and we have members in Canada, England, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia, virtual resources and events will allow us to bless families regardless of their country of residence. Our first virtual event was actually our “Christmas in the NICU” Live Author Reading with you, Laura!
Everything your ministry is doing amazing and so honored and humbled to have been chosen to participate in that with you. It made my Christmas… that and all the notes and books we were able to send thanks to the donations of so many.
And I’ve been delighted to discover that you are also a writer. How does that fit in with your mission?
Yes, I am. I remember prior to Ezra, I felt like God had already given me plenty to write about what with a broken childhood, the divorce that led me to my salvation, and forgiveness. But when I was carrying Ezra, I just had this feeling that God was about to give me even more material. I never would have dreamed it would have been NICU and PICU stays with multiple close calls of almost losing him, yet that’s where He called us. With regard to how I feel my writing will fit in with our ministry’s mission, I believe there are real holes and felt needs within the audience our ministry serves. I am believing God will use me to create much-needed, faith-based resources for NICU families and resources specifically for bereaved fathers.
And those will be a blessing. I can’t wait to see where God takes you on that front. Finally, I know many of my readers will be moved by your ministry. How can they be involved?
Thank you so much for asking, Laura. Our ministry is fully funded by the generous donations of others. We are always in need of financial donations for the daily running of our ministry—fees for our website, communication platforms, and for creating marketing materials found in our care packages. We also always humbly accept any of the items from our Amazon Wish List. These are the books that make up our care packages. Generous donors can purchase them and have them sent to us directly—doing so helps cut out the turnaround time for packages to get sent out in a timely manner. To get involved in either of these ways, you can visit our the “Support Us” tab of our website.
For anyone who has experienced the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss—no matter how long ago it may have been, there is always room and an invitation for you to serve within the ministry. We can never have too many Prayer Team members for our online, Christ-centered communities on Facebook. We are also looking to fill a few of our Board Member positions for those who have experience with accounting, social media, and marketing. To learn more about these opportunities you can visit our website under the “About Us” tab.
And lastly, you can be involved by helping us be known! We would love for you to share our ministry with others. Whether it be sharing one on one with someone who is being impacted by the NICU, PICU, or Child Loss or sharing collaborative opportunities with your church team or local hospital, we would greatly appreciate your efforts to share our ministry within your sphere.
Laura, I cannot thank you enough for your love offering with our first annual “Christmas in the NICU” Book Drive. With your compassion and care, you have set the bar extremely high. It was an absolute honor to work alongside you and your precious group of friends to pull off such an incredible event. I look forward to seeing what God does next year!
Amen! Thank you, Lord, for using us to serve others this special way. And thank you, Jessika, for following God’s call. You are an inspiration to all.
Have you been through dark seasons in your life? Perhaps a season of illness or joblessness. Perhaps a season of infertility or loneliness or grief in the death of a loved one. I’ve been through several, but something stands out with each. Looking back, I can see how God has used each one for good – in that each has provided a connection point to come alongside others as they go through similar situations.
And I am so grateful and in awe, really, at how this Christmas season, God took the dark season of our time the NICU with our son and turned it into a special connection point so that He could bless others and reveal His presence through a book drive organized by Praying through Ministries in which copies of GOODNIGHT MANGER were delivered to NICU and PICU families across the nation, including 15 at the very NICU my son was in 21 years ago. My role as author and former NICU mama was to hand write a note of encouragement to accompany each book (and if you’ve read my other posts about this, you know I had helpers because that’s a lot of notes!). And indeed, each book, arrived at its destination with a note.
Wanting to reach even more families with a message of God’s love and hope in the midst of the difficult, Praying through Ministries founder Jessika Sanders hosted a special culminating Facebook Live event that took place on Little Christmas Eve (December 23rd) and included words of encouragement from both of us along with a reading of GOODNIGHT, MANGER.
On Tuesday evening, I was invited by Rev. Ian Rankine at Pluckemin Presbyterian Church in Pluckemin, New Jersey to do a reading of GOODNIGHT MANGER and share a brief inspirational message at their Messy Church, a monthly, mid-week gathering for children, parents, and grandparents to come together for supper, a brief Christian message, music and a craft or game appropriate for all in attendance. Messy Church is a world-wide movement that started in the UK as a way to introduce Jesus and grow closer to Him. Learn more in this short video, then I hope you will continue below for my message of encouragement and hope for you this Christmas.
Pluckemin Presbyterian’s Messy Church opened with prayer and a delicious meatball and ziti dinner with pumpkin pie (my fav!) for dessert. After supper we sang some carols, then it was time for the message and reading.
Now since I hope this message might be encouragement for all, I thought I’d share an excerpt:
“Ian invited me here this evening to share my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER, but before I share this story about putting Baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, I wanted to share a neat tie-in to this whole idea of Messy Church.
You see contrary to what we sing in the carols about it being a silent night with Baby Jesus peacefully sleeping, I can’t imagine that it actually was. I think actually it was a very MESSY night. Nothing was going as Mary and Joseph had hoped or planned. Think about it. Mary’s just about to have a baby and they have to travel on foot, or maybe donkey, over rough and rocky terrain to get to Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus has scheduled this census to be taken – at a very in opportune time – just as Mary is due to give birth any day.
And then it gets worse! There’s no room in the inn. Instead, they have to stay in a stable with itchy hay and smelly animals and there isn’t even a proper place to lay sweet Baby Jesus – the SAVIOR OF THE EARTH – so they have to put him in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Talk about MESSY!
And so it is in my picture book that Christmas night isn’t depicted as tranquil and serene. As you will soon hear, the scene in GOODNIGHT MANGER is most definitely MESSY. Baby Jesus is crying. Sheep are leaping. Water pails are tipping. And, as one reviewer on Amazon said, “Mary is having a very bad hair day!”
And what’s my reaction to all that – but especially to that bad hair day? My reaction is YES! and AMEN! and ALLELUIA! and thank you JESUS! Thank you for coming into our mess. Thank you for coming in to our darkness. Thank you for taking on the form of a baby – becoming man – dwelling among us where you cried and felt hurt and suffered.
Here’s the wonderful news that I hope you will take to heart as I share my story. Because Jesus — God in human form — came down to redeem us through this wonderful miracle of Christmas and because He cried and experienced all that we feel and yet was without sin, He can understand our hurts and needs and fears on a deep level. He and only He can comfort us and HEAL us and restore us to a right relationship with God. That is the gift of Christmas! He came into our MESS!!
Thank you for taking the time to read this and I pray that this Christmas, you will find comfort and hope in the miracle of the season — that JESUS came for us in the MIDST of our MESS to heal and love and restore.
Today I am delighted to welcome back beloved children’s book author Glenys Nellist. Glenys has two new books out just in time for the Christmas season. One is a bible story book called I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY. It includes thirty vivid retellings with three “I wonder” questions at the conclusion of each. The other is an advent devotional for families called ‘TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT: STORIES AND DEVOTIONS FOR THE CHRISTMAS SEASON. It is comprised of 25 readings, stories and prayers. Published by Zonderkidz, both are wonderful and my mind is already abuzz with ideas for how I can incorporate them into my role as Sunday school teacher as well as using them for our family advent readings this December.
Now enjoy a special guest post from Glenys as she shares some ideas for family activities around the Christmas tree. Zonderkidz isalso offering a copy of each book in a giveaway so be sure to read about that at the end of the post. And now, without further fuss, here’s Glenys:
Five Family Activities Around the Christmas Tree
by Glenys Nellist
The season of Advent is a wonderful time to make memories and establish family traditions with our children. Set aside some time each night to gather around the Christmas tree and enjoy these activities together.
Celebrate Advent: Begin a new family tradition from Dec 1-Dec 25 by reading one story per day from Twas the Season of Advent. Countdown to Christmas using the family activities and the 25 free, downloadable Advent images available here.
Favorite Ornament: Have everyone choose a favorite ornament from the tree. Take turns telling each other why you chose that one.
Wondering About the Birth of Jesus: Download your free coloring sheet of the birth of Jesus from the I Wonder Coloring Pack. If you have a copy of the book, read the Christmas story together, or simply talk about what you see in the pictures. Spend some time talking about the three I Wonder questions. Then color the picture together.
Light of The World: Turn off all the lights in the room except the lights on the Christmas tree. Sit quietly for a few minutes as you think and talk about how Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus said that we should let our light shine. Brainstorm how you could be a light in your family or neighborhood this Christmas.
Favorite Memories: Take turns sharing your favorite memories of the past year. Now write about (or draw) them. Put each in its own envelope or a special box and save them. Next year, open and read them around the tree.
Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these terrific ideas.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!
If you’d like a chance to win a FREE two-book bundle that includes one copy each of TWAS THE SEASON OF ADVENT and I WONDER: EXPLORING GOD’S GRAND STORY both written by Glenys Nellist and published by Zonderkidz let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Monday 11/22/21 at 11:59 pm Eastern. The winner will be announced the next day.
[Note: Thank you to Zonderkidz for sending me an advanced copy of each of these books which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]