Guest Blog, Reading

TAKING STOCK:  Thoughts on Kitchens and BOOKS (of course!) 

How did I ever take the leap from repainting and reorganizing my kitchen to books? And what on earth could scrubby brushes and cheese grates and colorful utensils have to do with fostering a love of reading with your children? Something, I promise. Find out in my post today over at Read, Discuss, Do!  

Created by founder and picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez, Read, Discuss, Do! exists to help you extend the magic of story time beyond the last page by following three simple steps: 

Read a book. 

Talk about the book. 

Do a simple activity inspired by the book.

And now I hope you’ll head on over to read the post. (And how do you like my newly spruced up kitchen?)

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about HERE WE COME with Author Janna Matthies (And a GIVEAWAY!)

Today I’m delighted to have children’s author and music teacher Janna Matthies here to share five fun facts about her newest book HERE WE COME!, published by Beach Lane Books and illustrated by Christine Davinier. Here’s the official teaser from the publisher’s website:

Join a cast of friends, human and animal alike, as they embark on a musical read-aloud adventure in this upbeat, joyful picture book.

A boy sets off with his flute and his stuffed bear and a rum-pum-pum. As they make their way through the town and the woods, they ask, “Wanna come?” Soon, kids and creatures join in the fun one by one, playing instruments, singing, and dancing to the catchy tune. 

But will a storm bring their fun-filled musical parade to an end?

I was delighted to receive a review copy of this book which has universal appeal for anyone who has ever tapped a beat with their feet or sung in the shower or out in the beautiful outdoors. It certainly brought back beautiful memories from my own childhood as well as my children’s of making music in creative and impromptu ways by clapping, stomping, tapping, humming, and singing at the top of our lungs. For all these reasons, I think it would make a wonderful addition to a home or school or town library. And now, enjoy Janna’s five fun facts. And remember to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

HERE WE COME! Five Fun Facts

by Janna Matthies

#1: HERE WE COME! is a moonlit, musical adventure. But when I wrote the story, I envisioned it taking place during the day with only human children. The illustrator, Christine Davenier, took the story to the next level by setting the scene after bedtime and bringing in both kids and animals. Don’t you love the jolly bear with the violin, and the pair of clapping hedgehogs? Like any excellent picture book, the telling of this story was shared 50/50 between author and illustrator. I couldn’t be more thrilled by the nighttime blues and violets, and the whimsical charm of all the characters as they gather for a joyous march!

#2: I’d fit right into this musical parade. I have always been drawn to music-making, starting piano lessons at the age of four, violin at eight, singing in high school, and picking up guitar as an adult. In fact, when I’m not writing books for kids, I teach music to PreK and kindergartners at an elementary school. So every week you can find me singing, dancing and playing guitar and percussion instruments of all kinds with kids. Speaking of guitar, that’s what I had in mind when I wrote the line “a pick and a strum”. But if you look closely at the strumming dog in this story, his instrument is small has four tuning pegs (instead of six like a guitar)—it’s a ukulele!

#3: One of the most fun things about writing this book was finding just the right words that rhyme with “come”. The story began with a line that popped into my head: “Here we come with a rum-pum-pum…wanna come?”. I immediately knew I wanted to continue the tale by adding more musical sounds, and that each new phrase needed to end in a rhyme with “come”. So I brainstormed a long list and was able to use most of them. At the very end, I almost used the phrase “Anyone for a plum?” but decided “Some yum for the tum?” was more open-ended and fun. Can you think of any other words rhyming with “come” that I didn’t use?

#4: Something else I love about Christine Davenier’s illustrations is the path the characters follow from village, through forest and into the countryside. Christine is from France, and you might notice a European flair to her scenes. At the same time, this setting takes me back to my own childhood in suburban Ohio. A wooded creek ran through my neighborhood, and my best friend Elizabeth and I often tromped through while singing and imagining stories and poems. Do you have a favorite outdoor place? What stories can you imagine taking place there?

#5: While this book features instruments like a whistle/recorder, ukulele, violin/fiddle, and drum, the story is about making music any way you like! Music can be made with the voice, on real or homemade instruments (think beads in a plastic bottle, or rubber bands across a box), or simply with sounds that occur in daily life or nature—like dripping rain, stomping feet, the honking of car horns. Rhythm and melody are everywhere, and everyone is invited! WANNA COME? How do you like to make music?

BIO: Janna Matthies is a picture book author and early-elementary music teacher in Indianapolis. Her books include HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/S&S); GOD’S ALWAYS LOVING YOU (WorthyKids); TWO IS ENOUGH (Running Press Kids), THE GOODBYE CANCER GARDEN (Albert Whitman) and others. When she’s not read, writing or making music, Janna enjoys gardening, walking her dog, and spending time with her husband and three mostly-grown kids. 

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of HERE WE COME!  (Beach Lane, 2022) follow this blog and comment below with your favorite fact from today’s post. (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 Thursday, 3/31/22 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 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.]

board books, Easter, Guest Blog

Time for the BUNNY FINDS EASTER Bunny Hop: Stop Two (and a FUN share!)

Happy Friday, friends. I have two fun items to share today in this little BUNNY FINDS EASTER Bunny Hop round up.

First, yesterday I picked up the framed piece (pictured above) from The Artist Framer, a gem of a local frame shop in my neck of the woods. Stefanie has framed spreads from each of my six children’s books and those framed illustrations now hang in my foyer. This one is a little different however. It was Stefanie’s idea to include both the cover and an interior spread from my new board book! So sweet. What do you think? 

Second, the BUNNY FINDS EASTER “Bunny Hop”, as I am calling it, continues this week with a stop at author Darlene Beck Jacobson’s blog where I am answering her question: “How did you come to tell the story in such a simple and wonderful way?” (Thank you, Darlene!) She’s also running a giveaway for one free copy of the book so hop on over.  I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link:

And be sure to download out the free printable activity kit that goes with book- perfect for extending the book fun with coloring pages, a maze and more!

faith, Guest Blog, Interview, Life

PRAYING THROUGH MINISTRIES: An Interview with Founder Jessika Sanders

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.

Guest Blog, Inspiration, Life

Guest Post: DANCING IS MY VOICE by Miss A

In the extra special category, today I am delighted to feature my daughter, Miss A, who wrote this lovely piece “just for fun” and asked if I would share on my blog. Of course, I said yes! Not only is it a beautiful expression of the hardworking, creative daughter I know and love, it’s also a powerful way to look at life through the lens of voice. And I think you will agree that it applies to writers as well. Take it away, Miss A!

Dancing is my Voice

By Miss A

    Your voice. Your voice is the sound that comes out of your mouth. Is that really what a voice is? The way I see it, a voice is much more than just an expression or attitude. It’s something that’s our own, something we don’t share with others. We own it. We own our voices. We own our choices. We own our passions and we own our hearts. 

Our passions are what makes us heard and I know for a fact that dancing is mine. Dancing is my passion. Dancing is my voice. How could dancing be used as a voice? Well, when we talk to someone, the first thing we say is “hi”right? As a dancer with 14 years of experience, everytime I look at my pointe or ballet shoes, they’re saying “hi”. I mean they’re covered in sweat, blood and tears, how could you not say hi back? Looking at those shoes reminds me how much I love dancing and that I have to finish what I started. Likewise, our voices are what keeps the conversation going. We can’t just stop talking in the middle of a sentence and walk away. We finish the conversation and say “see you later”. I don’t ever plan on walking away from dance. I will continue the conversation, however, not with a person. Specifically, with my dance journey. 

There’s this gravitational pull towards my pointe shoes that makes me, and probably every other dancer, tell ourselves that this is who we are. This is what we want to do and this is our voice. Often, so many feel that we can’t speak up for ourselves, but with dancing that isn’t true. When we’re onstage, we’re speaking, not physically, but mentally and from our hearts and bodies. 

Growing up, I was shy and hid behind my parents every time I was introduced to new people, so can you imagine what it was like for a young girl trying to figure out how to become a ballerina. To be a ballerina you have to be your own person. You have to have this perfect poise, skill and grace. You have to be independent, but most importantly you have to break out of the shell that you’ve known for so long. 

Breaking out of the shell is like trying to get out of bed on a school morning. It’s a process. Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, pack your bag, go to school for 6 hours, repeat. Now change that to a dancer’s perspective: stretch, rehearse, tape feet, rehearse, grab a quick bite to eat, go back to rehearsal, go home and tend to the blisters and swollen feet, shower, go to bed, repeat.

We wouldn’t be able to do any of that without our inner voice. Every ballet dancer out there is able to do what they want because of that voice. So now you know. You know that every and anytime you see a dancer perform on a stage, you know that there is a voice inside of them. As a dancer, I, too, carry that voice with me. It’s strong. It’s who I am today. My voice is louder than ever when I dance and it’s why every time my pointe shoes say, “hi”, I answer by putting them on and dancing to my heart’s content.

author spotlight, Christmas, faith, Guest Blog

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

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

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

Five Family Activities Around the Christmas Tree

by Glenys Nellist

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

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

Happy memory-making!

Thank you, Glenys, for sharing these terrific ideas.

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!!

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

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

Guest Blog, Poetry, Reading

Read, Discuss, Do! Guest Post: The JOY of Reading TOGETHER (A Childhood Memory and a Challenge)

When Rebecca Gomez, founder and creator of Read, Discuss, Do! asked me if I’d be part of the team here, I was thrilled. For starters, I love the Read, Discuss, Do mission to help families and educators thoughtfully extend story time through the simple three-part formula reading a story, using that story to spark conversation, and then taking action through a meaningful activity.  

But, for me, the connection runs deeper because reading aloud together was foundational to my own reading experience as a child. Learn more as a reminisce about the joy of reading aloud together witha loved one – my mom- and how this relates to the wonderful mission of Read, Discuss, Do! I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.

Guest Blog, Interview, Picture Books

AROUND THE WEB: October GUEST GURU at Rate Your Story

HAPPY OCTOBER! In the fun category, I’m Guest Guru at Rate Your Story for the month of October. Check out the interview and learn more about this resource for picture book writers. As part of my special duties, I’ll be rating four stories over the course of the month. So honored to be participating in this way, helping others along this journey. I hope you’ll pour yourself a fresh cup of coffee or tea and pop over for a read. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link to the interview.

Happy reading and writing!

author spotlight, Guest Blog, Picture Books

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Picture Book Author-Illustrator Amy Nielander

Did you know that Sunday, September 12th was Grandparents’ Day? It’s a holiday I was unfamiliar with before my picture book LOVE IS KIND came out, but one which I quickly came to embrace, not only because LOVE IS KIND celebrates the special bond between Little Owl and his grammy, but also because I dedicated that book to my own grandmothers.

Now each year, I look forward to Grandparents’ Day as a special opportunity to foster intergenerational appreciation and am always on the lookout for new books that celebrate this special bond. With that in mind, I was delighted to discover GRAMA’S HUG, a delightful new picture book, written and illustrated by Amy Nielander and published in 2020 by Page Street Books.

Here’s the official blurb:

May and Grama are a team. They do everything together, from inventing creative projects to going birdwatching to preparing for the annual space fair. And they never, ever say goodbye without a hug. May’s love of science takes her far as her inventions win year after year, helped by Grama’s support, effort, and love. She travels to space camp and eventually beyond, earning her spot as the first kid astronaut to journey into space. As May prepares for her mission to explore the cosmos, she seems ready to go without looking back, making Grama worried that she will leave without a hug. This picture book explores the importance of treasuring even the smallest moments with people you love with heartwarming illustrations, expressive characters, and delightful touches of whimsy.

And now I have an extra special treat for you. Amy Nielander is my guest today sharing FIVE fun facts about this enchanting book. Thank you, Amy, and take it away!

FIVE FUN FACTS about GRAMA’S HUG with Amy Nielander

FUN FACT #1: Grama’s Hug started off as a wordless story.

My first picture book, The Ladybug Race, is a wordless book so it felt natural for me to approach Grama’s Hug the same way. It wasn’t until I attended the Rutgers University One-on-One Conference when my mentor suggested that I add text. The story reflects a passage of time and providing more text would help a young reader understand that movement. Words continued to build as I worked with the publisher, Page Street Kids. After several revisions, May’s (and Grama’s!) voice emerged and my first picture book with text was born!   

FUN FACT #2: The book was inspired by a sentence I heard shouted out one day: “I am not leaving without a hug!” 

The idea for Grama’s Hug landed in 2013 when I was walking my daughter to school one morning. As we approached the entrance, the bell rang and kids ran in. I heard a parent yell out “I am not leaving without a hug!”. I couldn’t get that sentence out of my head and immediately wondered “Would you really just stay here if you didn’t get that hug?” The first draft took shape and I titled it I am Not Leaving Without a Hug!. It was a terrible story though and I quickly changed course after an unfortunate SCBWI round table critique. In the process of revising, a childhood memory was triggered and I began writing a more personal story. The next version was filled with every emotion that memory rattled…love, loss, sadness and joy. 

FUN FACT #3: The space shuttle in the book was inspired by a 1990s concept design called the Venture Star.

As a former product designer, one of my favorite stages in the design process was the concept phase. Imagining what the next version of a product could be always excited me! Even though concept designs have the potential to improve lives, they are often written off early because they cost too much or the technology isn’t quite there yet.  Since Grama’s Hug is a story about a 10-year-old girl going to space, it takes place in a fantastical world. I used my creative license to design a place where previous concepts in history – did not fail. This accelerated the timeline of technology. The Venture Star was built in the 1990s by Lockheed Martin. It was a re-usable spaceplane meant to replace the Space Shuttle. The design didn’t rely on rocket boosters and would reduce materials along with providing other benefits. But after a test vehicle failed, the program was canceled in 2001. As a way to express my gratitude for every designer, engineer and scientist that contributed to that project, I gave the Venture Star a welcoming world to live in (forever!) with Grama’s Hug

FUN FACT #4: May’s elementary school is named after my elementary school.

I tried to infuse the story with personal details to make it extra special for me (in hopes that readers would feel that love in the illustrations). May’s elementary school is called Winchester, which is the school I attended as a child.

FUN FACT #5: Grama’s robe resembles my late grandma’s robe. 

My dad immigrated to the U.S. before I was born and we didn’t really know my grandparents (they lived in Europe). My grandpa visited once when I was too young to remember but my grandmother visited a handful of times. She did not speak English nor did we, grandkids, speak her language. This resulted in an amplified awareness of her reactions in order to interpret dialogue. I’m not sure if it was this heightened sensitivity to all things physical, but I remember a robe she made during one of her visits and wore often. When it came time to design Grama’s outfits for the book, I knew my late grandma’s robe would be a part of her collection. It was my way of honoring a hardworking woman whose heart probably ached often, with family living so far away.

AUTHOR BIO:

Amy Nielander loves making joyful and creative picture books for children. Her first wordless book, The Ladybug Race, exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair as a Silent Book Contest finalist. Her second picture book, Grama’s Hug, received a starred review from Booklist and was included on Grand Rapids Magazine’s “Summer Fav” book list. Her third book, My Name Is Not Ed Tug! will release in 2022 by West Margin Press. Kids can create new characters with Amy every month on her CREATE A CHARACTER blog. You can also find Amy on Twitter (@nielanderamy) and Instagram (@amynielander).

Bible, faith, Guest Blog

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.