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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I go about that? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Laura:

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

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

Links:

Website: https://lauraalary.ca

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

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/LauraAlary1

NOW for the GIVEAWAY!!!  

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

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

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: Dream Big my Precious One (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

When I was a Children’s Ministry Director at the satellite branch of our 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 write an occasional blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today’s lesson uses DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE (Worthy Kids, 2021), written by Jill Roman Lord and illustrated by Brittany E. Lakin as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE

by Jill Roman Lord

PURPOSE:  Using DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE,  Jilll Roman Lord’s delightful ode to a child imagining all the possibilities for what they might be and do, this lesson will celebrate the dreams God places in each child’s heart, dreams that not only bring them joy, but spread God’s love to others.  

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: When I Grow Up… (building challenge)

Open in prayer, then explain that it’s time for a game – a guessing game! Ask the children to quietly think about what they want to be when they grow up, but not say it out loud.  Instead, have them give you a thumbs up once they’ve thought of something.  (If needed you can have a whisper conference to help those can’t think of something.)  Then, explain that they will have five minutes (or time of your choice) to build their “when I grow up” dream out of Legos.  Once the dreams are built, give each child a chance to present their project, allowing for guessing and then the reveal. 

INTRODUCE THE STORY: 

Marvel at all the wonderful dreams the children have for their futures, then introduce the story by showing the book cover. Have someone read the title. What do they see on the cover?  What do they think the book will be about? Dreams!  Future hopes! Possibilities! And what might this have to do with God?  Ponder together.Then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:

After reading the story, have a round of “popcorn-style” responses (no hand raising needed) to see how many dreams they can remember from the book. Did they had a favorite?  Then remind them of what you asked them before reading: What do our dreams have to do with God?  Ponder the possibilities together, then open the story book again to reread the three precious spreads remind us that:

 1) GOD is the one who plants dreams in our hearts because and HE is the one who grows us lovingly along the way;

2) that we can count on God to guide us we follow the dreams He plants; and

3) the dreams GOD plants in our hearts will not only bless us, but will BLESS others as well!

And where can we find God’s promises that all this is true? In the Bible!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME: 

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find God’s promises of love and hope as they relate to our dreams.  Use these verses to get you started: 

1 Chronicles 28:20 Jeremiah 29:11 Joshua 1:9 John 6:26

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.

STORY-BASED ACTIVITY TIME:   Dream Big, My Precious One Paintings

Ahead of time, decoratively print the words “Dream Big, My Precious One” in thick yellow crayon on sheets of water color paper, one per child. Then get out crayons, watercolors and paint brushes, so children can create their own Dream Big, My Precious One images inspired by the Brittany E. Lakin’s gorgeous illustrations. First, have them draw what they dream of doing/being with crayons. Encourage them to use bright colors and to press firmly.  When they finish, have a supervised water color station where, using a thick brush, they apply a color-popping coating of blue water color paint.  

Another option: 

Download Free Activity Sheets on the Worthy Kids DREAM BIG, MY PRECIOUS ONE book page. (Scroll down to find it. ) 

WRAP UP: As children are finishing the activity – give thanks for each child and the dreams God has planted in their hearts. Close in prayer.

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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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

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

TEACHER APPROVED: Eight Lessons to Cherish from LITTLE EWE

This week LITTLE EWE: THE STORY OF ONE LOST SHEEP received a LOVELY stamp of approval from longtime Colorado teacher and dear friend, Jeananne Wright. Thank you, Jeananne!

Please enjoy as she shares “Eight Lessons to Cherish from LITTLE EWE”. Use one, two or as many as you would like to spark sweet conversations with your little lambs about how they (and all of us, really) are very much like Little Ewe, in need of our Shepherd’s comfort and love and also so very blessed by the many shepherds (with a small s) that God has placed in our lives – like parents and teachers and more!

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy the free downloadable activity kit that I created and Beaming Books produced. It can be found here.

LITTLE EWE is published by Beaming Books and available wherever books are sold. If you purchase it through Amazon, Barnes and Noble etc., please consider leaving a review. Or leave a review Goodreads. Reviews help a book gain visibility. Thank you so much.

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

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

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

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

GUEST PODCAST: Laura Sassi Interview on The Bible For Kids

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!

And, ooh, I just found the link to the podcast itself: http://thebibleforkids.cpn.libsynpro.com/s3ep8-laura-sassi-little-ewe-the-story-of-one-lost-sheep

A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE: An Interview with Author Jennifer Grant

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?

interior spread from A LITTLE BLUE BOTTLE written by Jennifer Grant and illustrated by Gillian Whiting


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.”

The publisher also made some downloadable activity pages related to the story. You can find them at: https://www.churchpublishing.org/littlebluebottle.

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.


People can find my books online wherever they buy books or at bookshop.org, a wonderful way to purchase books and benefit independent bookstores. My writing guild, INK: A Creative Collective, has a bookshop store: https://bookshop.org/shop/INKcreativecollective.

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.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: My Breakfast with Jesus (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

Last summer I planned a series for our church’s Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week, using an engaging picture book as the spark, along with games and a craft, children ages 3 – 10 delved into Scripture as we investigated what it means to be a beloved child of God.  The kids enjoyed the lessons so much that I have decided to keep up with an occasional blog series focusing on picture books that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today’s lesson uses MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS (Harvest House Publishers, 2020), written by Tina Cho and illustrated by Guy Wolek as the picture book hook. I hope it sparks thoughtful conversations with your kids.

Note: Since at the time I write this, most churches are still gathering virtually, rather than in person, this lesson is designed for a zoom-like format. I hope it provides and engaging opportunity for your kids to get excited about their faith, virtually.  Blessings, all!

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

MY BREAKFAST WITH JESUS

by Tina Cho

PURPOSE:  To recognize that just as Jesus and his disciples gathered around meals to fellowship and pray, children and families around the world still gather to start the day with breakfast and a prayer – with Jesus! After exploring Cho’s engaging text and Wolak’s colorful illustrations, we’ll delve into Scripture to see what Jesus had to say about prayer as well as take a peek at Jesus’ most famous prayer, using it as a model for our closing prayer.  

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING ACTIVITY: 

(When you send the invitation for your virtual lesson, tell the kids that they’ll be having breakfast together (virtually) in Sunday school and to come ready to share what they are eating.) 

Open the actual lesson in prayer, then explain that since today we’ll be reading a story about breakfasts, we thought it would be fun to see what we are each eating this morning. Then have a breakfast “show and tell.”

INTRODUCE THE STORY: 

Introduce the story by showing the book cover. Read the title together. Ask them what they think it means to have breakfast with Jesus.  How is that possible?  Next, look at the cover illustration and wonderful end pages. What do they show?  Do they recognize any of the foods shown?  Based on their responses, ask them to predict what the story will be about.  Then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME: 

After the first spread, ask is this like your breakfast?  What’s different? Marvel at how amazing it would be to actually get to eat with Jesus.  Point out the box in the bottom that shows the story in the Bible that inspired this scene – and Tina Cho’s book!

Then, for this and each of the following spreads, marvel at the wonderful diversity of breakfasts and children eating those breakfasts. But what do they all have in common?  They are all eaten by people of love Jesus and want to share His love with others!

Ask the children why they think Tina Cho wrote the book.  Allow time for responses, concluding together that maybe it was to remind us that Jesus loves ALL his children – and wants us to keep spreading spreading His love to others each and every day – and that breakfast and prayer time with Jesus is a great way to start each day.

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME: 

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture to find examples of what Jesus had to say about prayer.  Ponder together how each can inspire us to pray at breakfast —or anytime! Use these verses to get you started: 

Mark 11:24 Luke 6:27 – 28 Matthew 6:9 -13 (The Lord’s Prayer)

STORY-BASED FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITY: 

Before closing in prayer, explain that you will be putting together a Breakfast With Jesus Recipe Book for the group. Each child who wishes to participate should send you (and you can give these details in a follow up email) a picture of their favorite breakfast, along with a simple instructions for making it, and a short prayer that can be said before eating it. Once you have everyone’s pictures, recipes and prayer, create a simple document to share. It will be a lovely and tasty memento to remember the story and it’s wonderful message of the joy that is found in diversity and the sharing of Jesus’ love.

Sample Recipe and Prayer

Steel Cut Oats with Berries

  1. With a parent’s help for the stove, prepare oatmeal according to package instructions.
  2. Spoon cooked oatmeal into a bowl and top with butter, brown sugar and berries. Enjoy!

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for this beautiful morning and the gift of a hot breakfast. I pray that it gives me the energy to share your love with my neighbors today. I love you, Jesus! Thank you for loving me. Amen.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT TINA CHO and her wonderful books.

[Note: Thank you to Harvest House Publishers for this complimentary book 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.]

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: I Want Your Smile Crocodile (A Faith-Sparking Lesson)

Over the summer I planned a series for our church’s Sunday morning children’s program called PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS:  Sparking Faith Conversations using Picture Books and Scripture. Each week during July and August, 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.  Over the course of the fall, I will be sharing these and other picture book lessons that can be used as the spark for conversations about faith with your children. Today, I kick off this occasional series by sharing my lesson for I WANT YOUR SMILE CROCODILE (Zonderkidz, 2018) written by Denette Fretz and illustrated by Jackie Urbanovic. Stay tuned for more this fall.

PICTURE BOOK SUNDAYS: A Faith-Sparking Lesson

featuring

I WANT YOUR SMILE CROCODILE

by Denette Fretz

PURPOSE:  To recognize that each one of us is a miracle of God, wonderfully made and created with a special purpose and that our Heavenly Father delights in lavishing His love upon us! Praise God!

OPENING PRAYER AND GATHERING GAME: Zoo Charade 

Open in prayer, then explain that in today’s story, we will be taking a trip to the zoo. First, have the children write down (on little scraps of paper) several animals you might find at the zoo.  Put the slips of paper in a cup, then let each child pick a slip and then use pantomime to act out which animal they have. No speaking or sounds aloud. The children will have fun guessing and can cheer each other on.

INTRODUCE THE STORY: Introduce Denette Fretz’s I WANT YOUR SMILE, CROCODILE, by showing the book cover. Can they guess what is happening?  Explain that Meerkat has a problem. He’s got a bad case of “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence” syndrome! Can they guess what that is?  It means he thinks he would be happier if he had what others had, instead of what God gave him.  Have they ever wished they had what someone else had?  Did they think it would make them happier?  What do they think God would say in this situation?   Share and ponder together, then read the story.

FAITH-SPARKING CHAT TIME:   After enjoying the story, use these questions to spark meaningful conversation.

1. Who does Jack remind us of? US!!  

2. Who does the zookeeper remind us of?  GOD!

3. Do we need reminders from our zookeeper, GOD, that we too are wonderfully made and created for a special purpose?  YES!

4. And where can we find those reminders?  IN THE BIBLE!

DIG INTO SCRIPTURE TIME:

Wrap up the discussion by digging into scripture together to find beautiful reminders from God that we are wonderfully created and made for His wonderful purposes.  Use these verses to get you started:

Genesis 1:27   Genesis 1:31 Psalm 139:14     I Peter 4:10

STORY-BASED CRAFT TIME:  Craft Stick Crocodiles (from Easy Peasy and Fun!)

This fun crocodile-themed craft which I found on the amazing blog Easy Peasy and Fun (and which I am sharing here with their permission) was a big hit with my class. They especially loved the crocodile’s big, toothy smile. As we made the crocodiles, we chatted about what special gifts God has given us. If not big toothy grins, then what? Their answers were thoughtful and fun. Here’s the link to the craft: https://www.easypeasyandfun.com/craft-stick-crocodile-craft/ or you can follow this helpful video tutorial:

10:25  WRAP UP:  As children are finishing up craft – have them review who the various characters in today’s story are supposed to remind us of. Then, give thanks that God loves us and created us with His special purpose and that He loves us very much. That is the beautiful message of today’s story.