This week, I’m delighted to chat with Janna Matthies, a picture book author, who like me, writes books for both the mainstream and faith-based markets. And today, we are celebrating the release of her newest board book God’s Always Loving You, published by WorthyKids and illustrated by Airin O’Callaghan.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
This powerful little book is filled to the brim with hope and comfort. Simple, child-friendly verse outlines relatable moments of crisis, uncertainty, and fear common to a child’s life, and asks who helps us in each of those scenarios. “God, that’s who” is the reliable answer, forming a pattern kids will quickly pick up on. Each answer reinforces the book’s deeply comforting message: God is always there for us. He loves us, He knows us, and He cares about our needs.
This is such a needed message in today’s world. Thank you, Janna for writing it and thank you, WorthyKids, for publishing it! And in the extra neat department, Janna will be mailing one signed copy of the study to one lucky reader, so be sure to check out the details for that at the end of the post. And now, grab a cup of tea and join me as we chat with Janna with my questions bolded.
Thank you so much for joining me today, Janna. Let’s dig right in. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write God’s Always Loving You.
When I’m not writing children’s books, I’m a music teacher for grades PreK, K and 1st, and I see all kinds of troubles touch the lives of my students. I also recently walked through a 3-year leukemia battle with a dear friend and her family. So I became interested in writing a book that brings hope and reassurance to kids going through hard times. But I didn’t want to offer platitudes or empty promises, because God’s ways aren’t that simple. My aim was to hone in on the absolute promise that God and His loving presence are always with us.
As one who has been through hard times with my own kids, I’m grateful that you dug deep to write this book, but, oh my, what a tall order. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?
As I mentioned, I was focused on “the hard times,” but my editor—Melinda Rathjen at WorthyKids—suggested I add a couple stanzas featuring good times, too. At first I was hesitant, not wanting to dilute the impact for readers truly in the valley. But I followed her suggestion, and in the end agreed that the positive stanzas give balance and a vision for the gifts of peace, joy and redemption. I’m grateful to Melinda and also to the fantastic illustrator, Airin O’Callaghan, for her heart-felt, creative partnership.
Yes, I agree! The balance makes the message even richer. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read God’s Always Loving You?
The book is essentially a series of questions, all answered by the refrain, “God, that’s who.” My greatest desire is that readers would see God himself as the answer, and that they’d find His presence to be enough in the midst of whatever they’re going through. It’s natural when we’re down to focus on the thing that we want, the specific answer to prayer that we’re awaiting. My personal hope is that I’d learn more and more to focus on God as the answer, and to trust that the rest will follow.
Besides reading wonderful books such as this, what advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?
In my experience as a mom, teacher, friend, I find that living life authentically in front of kids is critical. Let them see you take quiet time with God, pray in the good and bad times, need others to support you in your own faith journey. Include them in family devotions/movies/book discussions where they can express real feelings and questions. And notice teachable moments when they’re open to hearing stories of your own high and low points as a believer.
These are great and very do-able suggestions. Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
Yes! My next picture book, HERE WE COME! (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, coming spring 2022), is illustrated by Christine Davenier and features an impromptu parade of little musicians in the moonlight. Two more books are currently in contract phase, and a variety of others are being shopped around by my agent.
For buying options and to learn more about Gods’s Always Loving You, click here.
Thank you, Janna, for taking the time to answer these questions so thoughtfully. And now for the promised giveaway!
HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary signed copy of God’s Always Loving You, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Janna, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Friday, 7/23/2021 at 11:59 pm EST.
Guess what? I have another new book coming out with Zonderkidz! BUNNY FINDS EASTER, a board book, is scheduled to release February 1, 2022, just in time for Easter.
Here’s the scoop from Zonderkidz:
“Inside Bunny Finds Easter, little ones will learn the true answer to “What is Easter?” alongside Bunny. The rhyming text by bestselling author Laura Sassi and adorable illustrations help children see Easter may have many fun traditions, but it is really all about celebrating Jesus and his resurrection.
Coloring eggs, wearing a lovely bonnet, joining in the fun of an egg hunt, and attending church with family are special things that are a part of Easter! But the most important thing about this holiest of seasons is remembering the reason we gather to celebrate and focusing on Jesus most of all.
Bunny Finds Easter is:
For ages 0-4.
A board book perfect for little hands, and in a size that works great for lap reading.
Ideal for Easter gift-giving and fits perfectly in an Easter basket.
A conversation starter for a discussion of the true meaning of Easter.”
Thank you, Zonderkidz publishing my next book. I had so much fun writing it and I think the board book format is jelly bean perfect! And isn’t the cover charming? Thank you, illustrator Ela Jarzabek. I can’t wait for this one to hit shelves everywhere.
Will you take a moment to pre-order your copy of Bunny Finds Eastertoday and mark is 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.
Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to Laura Alary, author of Breathe: A Child’s Guide to Ascension, Pentecost, and the Growing Time. Published by Paraclete Press and gorgeously illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, Breathe explores the comings and goings of Jesus and the Spirit through retellings of the biblical stories of Ascension and Pentecost, interwoven with contemporary reflections from the point of view of a child. Not only is Laura’s newest book a must-have resource for fostering meaningful faith conversations with our kids, Laura herself is a gem and her wisdom and love for God shine through her answers. My daughter and I plan to read Breathe together as part of our summer porch mama/daughter devotional time. Maybe you will decide to do something similar with your kids. Now, having planted that seed, here’s the interview with my questions bolded.
First off, thank you so much for creating this beautiful book that helps kids (and grown ups too!) grasp the wonder of God’s presence in their lives. What inspired you to share this story with the world?
Thank you, Laura, for your encouraging words, and for your interest in Breathe. What inspired me to write this book? There are two answers. The first is that I had already written two books about the circle of the Church year (Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent and Christmas and Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter) and I wanted to complete the series. However, it took me a few years to figure out what to do with Pentecost.
Both Look! and Make Room follow a similar pattern: they move through seasons of preparation (Advent and Lent) toward big celebrations (Christmas and Easter). But Pentecost doesn’t really have a getting ready time, and its connection to what follows (what we usually call Ordinary Time) felt anticlimactic to me. We often speak of Pentecost as the birthday of the Church and celebrate with a cake and candles—all fun, but at the end of the day it can feel like you pack the party decorations away and life goes back to normal. I figured there had to be more to Pentecost than that.
In the end, what helped me was looking at Pentecost in the context of the whole circle of the church year. I started to see the first half of the year—so full of stories and celebrations about the life of Jesus—as its own kind of getting ready time. We spend months letting these stories fall into us like seeds in soil. Then the Spirit breathes life and warmth into those seeds and they start to germinate. Pentecost becomes the threshold to a new season of growth and transformation, when we begin to bring those stories to life in our own place and time. In other words, Breathe looks at Pentecost as part of a much bigger story.
That brings me to my second reason for writing Breathe. Years ago I wrote a book called Mira and the Big Story. In it, one of the characters says to another, “Whenever you hear a story, you must ask yourself: What is this story doing to me? Is it making me bigger or smaller?” As a writer, I am continually thinking about how we are shaped by the stories we tell. I ask myself: What kinds of stories does our world need? I think we are desperately in need of stories that awaken us to how intimately connected we are to one another, to other living things, and to our environment. I wrote Breathe to be such a story.
Your writing is breathtaking – somehow managing to be kid-friendly with vivid, relatable imagery and yet soul-provoking for grown-up readers as well. How did you manage to strike this balance so beautifully?
Wow! That’s such a beautiful compliment. Thank you, Laura. Your question points to two qualities I value highly: simplicity and depth. Holding these qualities together is harder than it seems. I always begin with too many words. But I know that silence and space are essential for making meaning. So I am getting better at saying more with less.
When I write, I start with the assumption that children have big ideas and big questions. What they don’t have yet is a big vocabulary—the language to articulate some of the things they observe and wonder about. So I try to anticipate what some of their questions might be (and pay attention when they ask them), explore those questions deeply, then distill everything into a simpler form. To switch from a chemical metaphor to an electrical one, my dad, who is an electrical engineer, once jokingly called me a step-down transformer because I can take a “high voltage” idea and convert it into a form children can actually receive.
How do I go about that?
One thing I do is begin with my own wondering. When I am preparing to write I practise a kind of imaginative openness and jot down all the questions that arise for me about an idea or situation (especially the ones which have no definite answers). That stretches my imagination and keeps me honest.
Another thing I do before I put pen to paper is ask myself: what is this storyabout? What is its core meaning? If I can’t answer that in a sentence, I know I am still too muddled to start writing. This helps with simplicity and clarity.
Finally, while I am writing, I read every word out loud. Because most of my books will be read aloud, I need to know how the words sound, not just how they look on the page. I think that helps keep everything fresher and more vivid.
The concept of breathing and breathe is woven throughout your book. Even the title is BREATHE! Tell us about that.
I am actually really proud of the title. It seems simple, but there is a lot to it. As with Look! and Make Room I tried to capture the essence of the book in a word or two.
For one thing, spirit and breath are the same word in both Hebrew and Greek (and other languages), so the title plays with that etymological connection and alludes to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost.
Breathe is also a subtle reference to the practice of mindfulness. When people are stressed or anxious we often remind them to breathe, because connecting with our breath helps settle those swirling thoughts and feelings so we can see more clearly. I’ve struggled a lot with anxiety over the years and learning to use my breath this way has been so helpful to me in many situations. If you look for it, you will notice that mindfulness is a theme throughout Breathe.
Finally, the title points to something universal: everyone and everything that lives, breathes. This past year we have been made more aware than ever of how precious our breath is. That simple act of inhaling and exhaling is an experience we all share—until it is taken away. So the reference to breathing is part of that larger theme of connectedness.
Before reading your book, I’d never heard of the concept “growing time” but it’s an essential and wonderful part of your message. Can you share with my readers what it is in a nut shell? (They’ll have to read the book for the full version.)
The Growing Time is a phrase used in Godly Play to talk about the part of the liturgical year we usually call Ordinary Time (the time between Pentecost and the start of Advent). It stretches from late May or early June all the way to late November or early December. In the northern hemisphere, this liturgical season coincides with late spring, summer, and autumn—a time for planting, growing, tending, and harvesting. I love the name The Growing Time because it captures some of the energy of this transformation is happening all around us—and inside us. There really is nothing ordinary about this time!
What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book? Are there any other resources available for extending the reading?
One of the things I tried to do with Breathe is introduce themes that can be extended in other ways. Instead of reading the book straight through, you could read a section, then take it deeper through activities or picture books that develop specific ideas or themes.
For instance, you could read the sections on learning to pray with the wind and your breath, and write your own breath prayers, blow bubbles, or make prayer flags. Or you could explore mindfulness practices with the help of books like Breathe Like a Bear by Kira Willey and Anni Betts (Rodale Kids, 2017) and Sitting Still Like a Frog by Elin Snel (Shambhala, 2013).
Another example of this is reading the sectionthat describes planting a butterfly garden for bees and monarch butterflies. The book moves from talking about how butterflies migrate to human migration. You could carry the conversation further with a book like Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Orca Books, 2016). Then you could make your own stone art inspired by the book. Or plant your own butterfly garden.
What Grew in Larry’s Garden (by Laura Alary and Kass Reich, Kids Can Press, 2020)is a picture book based on a true story about a teacher whose Kindness Project helped his students grow community alongside their tomatoes. Its themes—kindness, gratitude, cooperation—all connect really well with The Growing Time. This book might even inspire young readers to get outside this summer and grow things!
My biggest hope for Breathe is that readers will come away with a deeper sense of belonging and connection—to one another, to other living things, to the world we share, and to the Spirit who enlivens everything. Out of this awareness flows a way of living. Seeing our connection to the natural world prompts us to take more responsibility for caring for our environment. Seeing our connection to other people leads to acts of justice, hospitality, and kindness.
It all boils down to love. The more we love, the more we can see the divine presence in things. Or maybe the seeing leads to the loving. But love shows itself in how we live. So I guess that is my biggest hope—that the stories I write will nudge us toward becoming more loving people.
Finally, what’s next? Are there more books in the pipeline? Also, where can interested readers find your books?
I’m happy to say I have several new books in process. One of them is a non-fiction book about food webs—with a bit of a mystical slant! Like Breathe, it has a message about connectedness, but it expresses it through the language of science.
I am also really excited about my two picture book biographies about pioneering women astronomers (Maria Mitchell and Cecilia Payne). Those stories are both in the hands of illustrators right now. There are a few other manuscripts out there looking for homes—so I am hopeful there will be even more books to come!
All my books are available online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or bookshop.org (or directly from the publishers). If you can find them at a local bookstore, so much the better. And if they don’t carry the books, you could always put in a request!
Laura has loved books since she was barely big enough to clamber up the steps to the bookmobile that rolled into her Halifax neighborhood once a week. At school, she made her own books out of manila paper, mucilage and crayons. The first story she can remember writing was about a little girl who kept spilling paint and having to figure out how to turn the messes into pictures (a good rule for life).
These days, Laura considers herself very lucky to work in a beautiful library and write her own books. They look more professional than the homemade ones, but the joy of creating them is much the same. Laura also loves to sing, play guitar (a work in progress) and try to keep up with what her three children are reading. She makes her home in Toronto where, along with clover and a whole lot of dandelions, she does her best to grow kindness.
If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of BREATHE, written by Laura Alary and illustrated by Cathrin Peterslund, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday, May 14th, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. This giveaway is now over. The winner is announced here.
[Note: Thank you to Paracelete Press for the opportunity to preview the book with a digital ARC that I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]
At my school visits this spring, both virtual and in-person, I’ve noticed that little ones quickly pick up on several things when we LITTLE EWE together. First, they immediately identify with Little Ewe, the sweet protagonist, who is so keen to explore the world around her, despite the Shepherd’s call. Second, they are very sad when Little Ewe gets lost and overjoyed when she is found again. This concept of being lost and then found is a big deal in their life experience and something almost all can relate to. Finally, almost intuitively, they seem to understand the book is somehow “about God.”
All this reminds me what a precious opportunity we have, as our children’s shepherds, to point them to Jesus and God using picture books, such as LITTLE EWE, as the conversation spark. With that in mind, here are five simple steps for using faith-based picture books to point little ones to Jesus and God.
Step # 1: Think ahead of time what faith principles are best drawn from the picture book at hand. With LITTLE EWE, for example, you could talk about God’s faithful care of us or how He wants to find us when we are spiritually lost.
Step #2: Read the story with the goal to enjoy it! The faith message you want to instill will come later, but you to don’t want to make it so heavy-handed that the pure joy of reading the story is lost. So, for example, as you read LITTLE EWE, enjoy counting along as she explores her world. Pause along the way to explore the illustrations and ponder together how Little Ewe might be feeling as she gets further and further from Shepherd.
Step #3: Connect the story to their world. This step is intertwined with the one above. Both as you read the story and after as you ponder it, ask your little ones questions that will connect them to the story. For example, with LITTLE EWE, you might ask, “Have you ever been lost?” “How did it feel to be found?” “Who are the shepherds in your life?” Trust me, these will generate lots of great discussion.
Step #4: Move from the concrete to the spiritual with a simple question or two. This is when you will draw on your goal that you set in step one. The questions will vary, of course, depending on the book you have read together. For LITTLE EWE, your questions could be, “Who do you think is the greatest shepherd of all?” and “Why do you think Jesus wants to find us when we are lost?” “What do we have to do?” (Listen to His call and obey!) “Why?” (Because He loves us!)
Step #5: Wrap up your special story time in prayer, thanking God for stories like, LITTLE EWE, or whatever book you are reading, that remind us about God’s love for us. This is a sweet opportunity both to model prayer with your child and also to let them add to the prayer in their words.
NOTE: This post first appeared as a guest post over at Christian author and speaker, Sally Matheny’s blog. Here’s the link. You might also enjoy her other inspiring posts and reviews.
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.
Little Ewe and I leaped into spring with great joy this week. After what seemed like a long winter, how wonderful it has been these past few days to hear the birds chirping at dawn, to see daffodils and crocuses, and to have four wonderful book sharing opportunities! Here’s a round up and I hope you grab a cup of tea and doing a little jumping from meadow to meadow, er, I mean blog to blog, with me and enjoy what each stop has to offer.
Meadow #1: GARDEN AUTHOR VISIT! On Tuesday I had my first in-person school visit in over a year at Calvary Nursery School and Child Care. The visit took place outdoors at a good social distance and everyone was wearing masks. The children were great listeners and empathized greatly with Little Ewe during her time of being lost. Everyone was relieved when Shepherd found her and it sparked great discussion over times they have been lost and how wonderful it felt to be found. It was the highlight of my week. Here’s a collage that captures the morning:
Meadow #2: INTERVIEW! On Wednesday, Little Ewe and were invited to Pastor Noelle Kirchner’s blog. Noelle is a TV host, pastor, writer, and mother of three boys. She’s also the author of an amazing bible study which I featured on my blog last fall. In my interview with Noelle this week, I answered questions such as “What inspired me to write LITTLE EWE?” and “Do I have a favorite tradition for celebrating Easter with my family?” I also shared several picture books have I found that successfully point children to God. I hope you hop on over to find the answers. Here’s the link. =)
Meadow #3: GUEST POST: FIVE SIMPLE STEPSFOR USING PICTURE BOOKS TO POINT LITTLE ONES TO GOD. A big thank you to blogger, writer, and speaker Sally Matheny for hosting me on her blog this week as I shared a topic close to my heart: using picture books to spark meaningful faith conversations with our little ones. Earlier this month she also reviewed LITTLE EWE. You can find the review here and the guest post here.
Meadow #4: REVIEW! 12 Things to Love About Laura Sassi’s LITTLE EWE Last, but not least, leap on over to picture book author Rebecca J. Gomez’s blog for her thoughts on LITTLE EWE. Thank you, Rebecca!
Today, I’m thrilled to be a part of the ’TWAS THE MORNING OF EASTER blog tour. At this stop, Glenys will be sharing five fun facts about the book, plus there is a giveaway!
About the Book: A follow-up to the popular ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas from beloved author Glenys Nellist. ‘Twas the Morning of Easter tells the story of the resurrection of Jesus in a fresh way, with a familiar rhythm and rhyme that children will love, following the pattern of Clement Moore’s iconic “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Get a preview with the book trailer, then enjoy Glenys’ thoughts as she shares five fun facts about this delightful new addition to Glenys’ book collection.
Five Fun Facts About Twas the Morning of Easter
by Glenys Nellist
Twas the Morning of Easter, like the first in the series, is written in the same rhythm and rhyme as the Clement C Moore classic, The Night Before Christmas. I’m hoping that when readers read the text, they will notice the similarities between the two books and be able to spot the places where I used some of Clement C. Moore’s original phrasing, rhythm and word play.
This book wasn’t my idea! I was sitting in a little café having lunch with my editor one day when she asked me this question: “Have you ever thought about writing a follow up to Twas the Evening of Christmas, called Twas the Morning of Easter?” “No,” I replied, “but I’ll go and write it right now!” And that is how Twas the Morning of Easter came to be.
Unlike most Easter picture books, Twas the Morning of Easter tells the story of the resurrection through the eyes of Mary Magdalene, the first preacher of the gospel and the one to whom Jesus first appeared. I was thrilled, then, to see illustrator Elena Selivanova’s beautiful depictions of Mary. This spread is my favorite.
Many churches are using Twas the Morning of Easter in a fun event called a StoryWalk. Designed as an intergenerational activity that takes place indoors or outdoors, the StoryWalk invites participants to read one page of the story as they walk through fifteen stations. Each page of the book is displayed on large signs. When participants reach the end, they’ve read the whole book and can collect an Easter goody bag or a free copy of the book. It’s a wonderful way to exercise body, mind and spirit as you explore the meaning of Easter. All the details are contained in the free Activity Pack which also includes bookmarks, coloring sheets, an Easter craft, puzzles, and a virtual Easter pageant.
Twas the Morning of Easter is not the last book in the series! Click here to see what’s coming in October! I can’t wait!
If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of ‘TWAS THE MORNING OF EASTER, written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Elena Selivanova, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident with a street address (as opposed to a P.O. Box at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Friday, March 26th, 2021 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced the next day.
I wrote Little Ewe as a fun way to introduce children to the the idea of God as our loving Shepherd through the eyes of one fictional little lamb. It’s such a fitting image, as He does indeed take tender care of us, His flock. It’s also an image that even a child can grasp, for who doesn’t love to snuggle up with a sweet lamb stuffy?
With all this in mind, I thought it would be fun to share five simple ways to talk about Jesus as our Loving, Good Shepherd with preschoolers and I’ve been invited to do just that over at Big Books, Little Ears.
I hope you will grab a cup of tea and head on over! I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link:
Here’s the official description from Beaming Books:
“Little Ewe would rather jump on logs and investigate spider webs than follow the shepherd when he calls. But what happens when she gets lost? How will she find her way home? Told in whimsical rhyme, this humorous counting book for our littlest ones is a delightful reminder that, like a loving parent, our Shepherd will find us and care for us, even when we wander from the path.
In Little Ewe: The Story of One Lost Sheep, award-winning author Laura Sassi and illustrator Tommy Doyle tell an endearing tale of a distracted sheep and her persistent shepherd, inspired by the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15.”
This book has an extra special place in my heart because I am so grateful for the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who cares for us unfailingly! I hope the book is read and enjoyed by little sheep and their flocks, er I mean, little ones and their families, for years to come!
Now, to celebrate its release, join me over on Glenys Nellist’s blog as I share five fun facts about the book. And in the extra fun category, she’s organized a three-book giveaway! So grab a cup of tea and head on over. I’ll make it easy for you. Here’s the link.
In the super exciting department, my interview with best-selling children’s author Amy Parker and co-host Mike Nawrocki (aka “Larry the Cucumber” for all you Veggie Tales fans) is this week’s podcast episode on The Bible for Kids! What a WONDERFUL way to introduce families to LITTLE EWE!
Per their website, the goal of The Bible for Kids is “to provide a platform of discovery and information for authors, platforms, musicians, games, films, and more, that seek to help instill biblical principles in kids. We desire to be a resource for churches, small groups, teachers, parents, grandparents of kids ages 0-18 to help them pass along Christian values to the kids in their lives.”
Thank you, including me and Little Ewe!
Click here to got to their podcast page. You’ll find us there!