Christmas, Inspiration

TUESDAY THOUGHTS: Halos in Picture Books (Plus a Treasured Childhood Memory)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD is my first children’s book with halos. Can you spot them glowing on the cover over the heads of the Christmas family? They shine on each and every spread. I didn’t envision halos when I wrote the story, but I like them. They remind me of my childhood years spent in France. It was there that I was first introduced to these glowing nimbuses on family field trips to Notre Dame, Chartres and more. Then, and now, I find them to be artistically beautiful ways to represent both those who are divine (Jesus and God) and those who served God in special ways.  

So when I was asked what my take on them was and informed that there is currently great controversy over their inclusion in picture books, I was surprised. In my opinion, they are a joyous addition to HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, providing lovely opportunity for conversations about what they are and how they can help to remind us of God’s loving mission to redeem the world.  

Here are a couple of sweet pictures from my childhood years in France. In the first, I am standing with my mother and sister on an elegant outing. Can you guess which one I am? The second is a snapshot taken by my dad on a trip to Chartres cathedral circa 1979. My mother is on the left looking up and I am sporting a very bright red hat. My sister is running joyfully in the middle.

Now, inspired by my mom who skillfully used halos to spark conversations about God on those special outings, here are FOUR suggestions for doing just that:

  1. Set halos in historical context. I was fascinated to learn as a small child that halos in Christian art date back to the time when few could read words but all could “read” pictures and so churches were designed with biblical stories visually on display in the form of statues, paintings, and stained glass windows.  And what about those halos? As my mother explained to me, they were visual clues that the figures wearing them were either divine (i.e God or Jesus) or divinely appointed helpers with a special role to play.  
  2. Introduce the idea of SYMBOLISM.  Ask your little ones if WE wear halos?  Ask them why they think we don’t?  Ask if they think Jesus actually wore a halo? What about God?  This will be an interesting conversation…. but wherever it takes you, be sure to conclude that NO, Jesus didn’t actually wear a halo, neither does God.  Halos are the creation of artists looking for a visual way to show God – or his special helpers. They are symbols, sort of like arrows – alerting us that the wearer is either God or someone important to God’s story.
  3. Read a book with halos.  As you read HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTMAS CHILD, or another book with halos, have your little one point to the halos on each page. (Hint: They are on Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.)  Ask your child how the halos look?  Do they add a sense of warmth and love to the story?  And why do they think each has a halo?  Ponder all this together, concluding that Jesus has the halo because He’s God’s Holy Son! And Mary and Joseph have halos because they were blessed to be Jesus’ earthly parents – special helpers indeed.
  4. After reading, go on a halo field trip. One of my favorite cathedral outing memories as a child was of going on halo hunts.  I think my mom did this to keep us entertained so she could listen to the tour guide, but I loved it. This is how they worked. First, we’d pick either a large window or maybe the statuary above the entrance. Next, we’d look for and count the halos. Finally, we’d see if we could figure out who the haloed figures were and how they could remind us of God’s power and love. You can do that in your community as well either by visiting a local church that has haloed figures or perhaps a museum that has a collection of medieval church art.  At Christmas time, you might even be able to spot some halos in people’s front yard nativity scenes!

Whatever your stance on halos, I pray that you and your little ones are filled with a sense of wonder, joy and thankfulness this Christmas as we celebrate the the birth of Jesus, God’s precious Son.

SPECIAL THANKS: A variation of this post appeared over at Big Books, Little Ears last week. I’d like to thank blogger/owner Kristin Wynalda for asking me this thought provoking question.

Also, Sophie, my pooch, is a bit incensed that I haven’t yet shared her interview over at Kathy O’ Neill’s delightful blog. Would you help make her happy and smooth over my oversight by popping over for a read? And maybe leave a comment for her? Here’s the link.

Bible, board books, Publishing

COVER REVEAL: Introducing MY TENDER HEART BIBLE by Laura Sassi

MONDAY JOY! I have bible story board book coming out in February 2023 with Paraclete Press and the cover is just starting to pop up on the web, so I thought I’d share it here too.

The book is called MY TENDER HEART BIBLE and it’s something I was working on this past spring. It was the joy of each day. Hasn’t illustrator, Sandra Eide, done a marvelous job of capturing the wonder of meeting Jesus?

Here’s the scoop from Paraclete Press:

With sweet, rhyming text and whimsical illustrations, this sturdy board book, My Tender Heart Bible, offers a collection of the most loved and classic Bible stories for beginner readers. Simple yet creative paraphrasing of Old and New Testament re-tellings are paired with a “Heart Moment” for families to read aloud and act out. Scripture references are noted with each story that tell of God’s redemption plan.

My Tender Heart Bible:

• Makes the Bible memorable and accessible for young readers

• Helps kids think deeper about what the Bible says about God’s creation, His plan for humanity, and His love for all of people as His children

• Is perfect as bedtime reading for your toddlers and little ones, especially during the holiday season

• Offers details in the artwork for little ones to enjoy and find for “point and learn” discovery

• Serve as a base for introductory Bible discussion

• Includes an inviting padded cover and sturdy pages for little hands

• Makes a great gift for Easter, new baby, christening, baptism, baby showers, new grandchildren, curious toddlers, and boys and girls ages 0 to 4 years old

From Creation to Abraham to Moses and Jesus, God’s story of redemption is told through each individual story and as a collection. Look in the mirror and thank God for making you unique—what makes you different from others you see in your neighborhood? Can you count the stars and make your hands twinkle? Flap your arms like the dove that appeared when John the Baptist baptized Jesus. How many coats and blankets can you spread out for Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem? Let’s read the stories and celebrate God’s perfect plan from the marvelous beginning of Creation through Easter’s glorious hope made known by Jesus’ resurrection.

Thank you, Paraclete Press, for bringing this one into the world. I can’t wait for it to release.  

If you are thinking of adding this to your own collection or giving it as a gift, will you take a moment to pre-order a copy of MY TENDER HEART BIBLE today and/or mark it as “to-read” on Goodreads? Those are two wonderful and easy ways to help a new book make a lovely little splash when it releases.

Thank you, and, happy reading!

Note: If you enjoy knowing the latest about my booksand more, please consider following my blog. I post once or twice (and occasionally three times) weekly. Posts are devoted to celebrating reading, writing and life!

author spotlight, Bible, Interview, review

AUTHOR AND BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Meet Amy Houts and her NEWEST Faith-Based Book for Kids (Plus a GIVEAWAY!)

Look what landed on my porch! It’s children’s author Amy Houts’ newest release, CHRISTIAN Q & A BOOK FOR KIDS. Published by Rockridge Press it came out this month and it’s full of simple, kid-friendly answers to 100 questions kids age 6 – 9 might have about Christianity.

MY THOUGHTS: I am always on the lookout for good resources to teach little ones about faith and this one fits the bill. I appreciate the simple Q & A format with one question answered on each page. The questions are perfect for the target age group, but also thoughtful and deep enough to resonate with the caregivers reading alongside them. I also give a thumbs up to Amy for including a scripture reference in each answer. I think book is a great tool for sparking meaningful conversations with our kids about what Christianity is all about. I can’t wait to share it with my Sunday School class.

Now, in celebration of the book’s release, I am honored to have Amy on the blog with an interview. Let’s get started.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Amy, and congratulations your newest faith-based children’s book. What inspired you to take on this project?

Thank you for having me, Laura! I had learned about Callisto Media, the parent company of Rockridge Press, through another writer. Big shout out to Annette Whipple, who took the time to answer all my questions. Thank you! I contacted the company in February of 2021 by email and asked if they would add me to their database of writers. Then I waited. In November, 2021 I wrote a follow-up email specifically asking if they had a faith-based book assignment. Right place, right time! In early December, an acquisitions editor contacted me to see if I was interested in writing Christian Q&A Book for Kids. This publisher screens authors before awarding a contract by asking for a writing prompt. I was thrilled to be chosen to write this book. It has been such an inspiring challenge!

I’m so glad you took on the project. It seems right up your alley and I have to say that the questions you have chosen are spot-on for this age group. How did you select them?

First, I thought of my three grandchildren, a girl who was 5 and twin boys who were 8 at the time I started writing. I thought about questions they might have and asked them what questions they had. Each contributed one question to the book. I read books I owned and looked online at similar books, searched websites that answered faith-based  questions, and brainstormed. Since I’ve written other books for children and taught  3-6-year olds at Head Start, I knew the questions and answers needed to be very basic.  

You did a great job! Do you have any tips for ways families and churches can use this book? 

Families and children’s ministries can read and discuss one or more questions and answers at a specific time. The appendix includes good times and ways to start discussions, for example, focus on one question at the dinner table. This book is meant as a jumping off point to help clarify basic information and dive deeper into issues that are important. Parents and children can research together. 

Besides keeping this book at the ready, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids? 

Children are encouraged to think of and write down new questions and a few pages are provided in the book to do that. Having an open heart and mind is important—both for you and the children in your life. Be accepting of their questions, even if they express doubt. Asking questions increases understanding and strengthens faith. 

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

I have a Biblically-based Earth Care (climate change) book releasing from Bushel & Peck in March, 2023. I recently started a new assignment to write 5 books for young children with a South Korean educational publisher, Reading Gate. 

You have so many exciting things on the horizon. I can’t wait to check them all out. Thank you so much for joining us. Readers, learn more about Amy and her books in the bio and links below. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway at the end of the post.

BIO: Amy is the author of over 100 books for children featuring early learning concepts. She writes for both faith-based and mainstream publishers. Amy’s faith-based books include God’s Protection Covers Me (Beaming Books) and The Giant Book of Bible Fingerplays for Preschoolers (Group Publishing). Amy’s educational books include 60 retold tales for the series, Compass Children’s Classics, 2020. Her 10 nonfiction science early readers for Highlights Press were released in 2020.

FIND AMY HERE:

Christian Q&A Book for Kids: https://amzn.to/3zBo3Of

Website: www.amyhouts.com

Twitter and Instagram: @AmyHouts

Facebook: “Author Amy Houts”

NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a fresh-off-the-press copy of CHRISTIAN Q & A BOOK FOR KIDS (Rockridge Press, August 2022) follow this blog and leave a comment letting us know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Rockridge Press, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Monday, August 15, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.

[Note: Thank you, Amy, for sending me a copy of 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.]

faith, Picture Books, Reading

GUEST POST: Exploring PICTURE BOOK LAYERS with Children

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.

board books, Easter, faith

BUNNY FINDS EASTER Bunny Hop: Zonderkidz Blog Edition (Five Fun Ways to Point Toddlers and Preschoolers to JESUS at Easter)

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.

First, enjoy the book trailer which will give you a good sense of the book. Then, I hope you will grab a jelly bean and hop on over to my post on the Zonderkidz blog. Here’s the link: https://www.zonderkidz.com/5-fun-ways-to-point-toddlers-and-preschoolers-to-jesus-at-easter/ And, if you have little ones, be sure to pick up a copy of the book at your favorite retailer.

Appearances, Interview

YOU’RE INVITED! Join Me and Host Valerie Ellis for an Our Everyday Parables LIVE Interview

Tune in this Thursday, March 10, 2022 at 12:12 eastern on Instagram for my first Instagram LIVE interview. I’ll be joining Valerie Ellis, host and founder of Our Everyday Parables, a blog dedicated to “inspiring families to faith and compassion through everyday moments and excellent books”.  

The interview will include questions from listeners, so if you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask about any of my books or about using books to foster faith in our little ones and want it answered on Instagram LIVE (squee!) please let me know in a comment here and I will share it with Valerie.  You can also DM her with questions on the Our Everyday Parables instagram page.  You can also type your question in during the interview. 

If you want to come, I highly recommend popping over to her Insta page and signing up for the reminder. It’s easy and then Instagram will remind you to come!  Neat, huh?  I signed up so I won’t forget to come either. LOL.

Oh, and there will be a multi-book giveaway too. This image gives a clue as to which four books will be included in that. I hope you can make it.

Blessings all! And remember to leave your question. Any that aren’t answered at the interview, I will put in queue to incorporate into future blog posts!

author spotlight, devotional, Extension Activity, faith

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Five Fun Facts about FRUIT FULL with Christie Thomas

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.

Connect with Christie on her other platforms:

Website: https://littleshootsdeeproots.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ChristieThomasLittleShoots 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/littleshootsdeeproots/?hl=en 

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ca/cthomaswriter/ 

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.

Easter, Extension Activity

HOST A Bunny Finds Easter BOOK WALK! (Free Printable Resource)

Many churches and children’s ministry teams are planning for Easter celebrations and community outreach events, so today I thought I’d share a fun way to use BUNNY FINDS EASTER (Zonderkidz, 2022) with your church or in your community by having a Book Walk!

This fun intergenerational activity has the feel of an Easter Egg Hunt – and can even include jelly beans and other goodies – but the “hunt” is walking along a trail (outside or inside) to discover progressive spreads of the story BUNNY FINDS EASTER mounted on boards culminating in a craft or activity table at the end of the walk.

Find all the details below in this free downloadable instruction sheet.  

Happy Easter! And if you do end up doing a BUNNY FINDS EASTER Book Walk be sure to tag me. I’d love to see it in action! 

Christmas, faith, Inspiration

Watch “Christmas in the NICU (and PICU too)” with GOODNIGHT MANGER

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.

The intended audience is NICU and PICU families past and present, but the message really applies to anyone who is in the midst of or who has ever been through a dark season. I hope you will find a cozy spot and watch it. Here it is: https://www.facebook.com/prayingthroughministries/videos/1507014823012154

Blessings to you this holiday season.

Christmas, faith

GOODNIGHT, MANGER: Thoughts on a MESSY CHRISTMAS

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.  

Blessings to you all!