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.

Thoughts on Finding One’s LIFE PURPOSE: An Interview with Pastor Noelle Kirchner

Today I have pastor, tv host, blogger, and Christian author Noelle Kirchner as my guest. For several years now I’ve been blessed by Noelle’s thoughtful reflections on Christian faith, motherhood, and life which can be found on her popular blog NoelleKirchner.com. And now, Noelle has published an amazing six-step study which offers just the dose of encouragement and grounding that I’m longing for during this season of uncertainty and worry. I have already ordered several as gifts for friends and family because I think they would make a perfect foundation for starting the fall rooted in the awareness and joy of God’s love for each of us!  

Now, you’re in for a treat as I interview Noelle in this behind the scenes peek at how this special study came to be.  I know you will be blessed.  And in the extra blessing department, Noelle 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.  

Now for the interview with my questions in bold.

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what inspired you to write How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best.

My first book, How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, is now available on Kindle and in paperback through Amazon. I wrote it as a six-week individual or group study to help people connect with and live their God-given life purpose. I got the idea for my book years ago, largely because I am working in a way that I never imagined, but that feels right. As a pastor, I believe my position is a calling, but I do not believe that calling is exclusive to it. God needs ministers, people who want to serve him, in every field, and I wanted to write something that enables everyone to experience the thrill of embracing their calling or purpose.

Coincidently—or providentially, this book was scheduled to publish during the COVID–19 pandemic. With so many people out of work or living in flux, it is especially timely. As people reconsider where they live, what they do, what they want for their families, and how they occupy their time, my book can provide needed discernment, inspiration and hope. I learned as a New Yorker during September Eleventh that with tragedy also comes opportunity.

2. Your book is organized into six chapters, each examining what you describe as the “six steps of living our purpose”.  How did you discover these steps?  Are they universal?

I devised the book’s steps through reflection, preaching, writing, and filming about life purpose over the course of several years. As I crafted the end-of-chapter study materials, I marveled at how several interviews from my TV show involved purpose, even when it wasn’t planned. God helped me craft my book in ways that I didn’t even recognize at the time. It’s a testament to God’s great purpose—he’s active in each of our lives planting seeds along the way!

After writing my book, I compared my steps to others online. I found many alternative lists to be spiritually-lacking or void of the Christian perspective. Instead, I believe life purpose is highly spiritual. It’s one powerful way that we can experience the Creator’s love. Life purpose allows us to discover how God uniquely calls each of us by name—plus, following him can elicit our greatest joy!

3. What was your greatest challenge in writing this book?

Time! Setting aside the time to write a book was a discipline with children, but I found the sacrifice to be life-giving. It’s an honor to share my heart with readers in a book, a forum where I can dig deeper than an article or blog post.

Another challenge when writing this book was finding the right publisher. Two parties expressed interest, but in the end, I decided to use Amazon’s services. That allowed me to push my book in more formats, like the Kindle version, which really helps my media-driven study questions come alive! I think the next era in Bible studies will be more interactive like this one, engaging and entertaining readers while communicating poignant messages.

4. What is your greatest desire for the readers who read this book?  What other resources are available for extending the reading? 

My greatest desire for readers is that my book helps “fuel their fire” for God. That was the theme of my church’s confirmation class when I was in high school, and it’s an image that continues to stick with me. When we as believers are on fire for Christ, our entire lives not only give God glory, but they witness to the power of his glory at work in us. I want each of our lives to be a testament to all that God can do!

Scripture is the best resource on life purpose. I just wrote a blog post on five important scripture promises on purpose for the children’s book author Glenys Nellist. I am also fond of theologian Parker Palmer’s book on life purpose entitled Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. In fact, I quote one of my favorite passages, which involves a touching moment with his granddaughter, in my book!

5. What’s next? Do you have any more projects in the works? 

Yes! My ministry spans media and writing, so I have projects on both fronts. Stay tuned for an upcoming episode of my faith and parenting TV series this fall on helping to navigate back-to-school anxieties, especially with COVID–19. I will be talking with a popular tween author and psychologist duo. I must note that your episode on the show (Episode #4), Laura, remains popular—it’s had almost 6K views!

Really, Noelle? Wow, that’s amazing. I highly recommend all the episodes. So much heart and effort is put into each one. (And now back to Noelle.)

Also, as a new writer for Crosswalk and long-standing writer for iBelieve, I will continue publishing faith articles and devotions online. My recent articles for each respectively are the 7 Biblical Characteristics of Risks Worth Taking and A Prayer for a New Purpose for a New Day, which both tie into my new book. Next, I will be writing a piece for iBelieve entitled “Why Jesus’ Plan for Your Child Is So Much Better.” The best way to read new articles or watch new episodes is by subscribing to my website!

Thank, you, Noelle, for inspiring us!

HERE ARE THE DETAILS FOR THE GIVEAWAY!!! If you’d like a chance to win a complimentary copy of How to Live Your Life Purpose: The Six-Step Journey to God’s Best, simply post a comment below letting me know. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) Thank you, Noelle, for providing the winning book. This giveaway ends Thursday, 9/17/20 at 11:59 pm EST.  NOTE: THIS GIVEAWAY HAS ENDED. THE WINNER IS ANNOUNCED HERE.

[Note: Thank you to Noelle for a sneak peek at the book which I was under no obligation to review. The views and opinions expressed on this blog about books and other things are purely my own.]

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.]

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Tending the Soul DAFFODIL Style!

As I was out for a stroll with the pooch the other day (one of my Covid19 anxiety-relieving strategies), I was struck by the beauty and diversity of the daffodils in my neighborhood. I had no idea there were so many varieties – all heralding spring as they stretch towards the sun in full bloom. I was so moved with feelings of joy and calm, even in the midst of this pandemic which has me quite unnerved, that I stopped at several spots along my walk to take pictures of them with my phone.  I’ve been wanting to share the pictures, but wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to say.

Then, just before bedtime, this lovely email popped into my inbox. It’s from Miss A’s second grade teacher. Miss A, as many of you may know, is now in 9th grade, but this teacher was a favorite and over the years we’ve bumped into each other at the super market and such. This note reflects a different kind of interaction- a fleeting drive by that I didn’t even notice at the time.   Here are her sweet words:

Hope all is well with you and your family. I often see you walking with your husband or dog. One day I saw you walking and taking pictures of flowers and it brought a smile to my face!!! Of course I always thing of [Miss A] when I see you.

After I read her note (which brought a smile to my face), I knew what I wanted to say in this blog post because I’m pretty sure the flowers she saw me taking pictures of were these daffodils! Of course, I’ve also been taking pictures of cherry blossoms, apple blossoms, azalea, teddy bears in windows (part of a town scavenger hunt to keep the kids entertained) and more! Those particulars don’t matter. The point is she caught me doing two things that are helping me to stay calm and even joyful in this time –– going on walks with the pooch and my husband –– and stopping to enjoy small things, like daffodil blossoms, along the way!  

So here’s my thought for the day. Like these daffodils, who bloom with such gorgeous diversity during this most unusual spring, we too can thrive, and even find calm and joy, in the midst of this anxious moment. There are lots of ways to bloom and thrive. For me – a walk helps.  Others find joy and peace in baking, or taking up beloved hobbies like quilting or knitting. I’ve spotted more people than ever out for runs and bike rides. Virtual gatherings have also helped to bring a sense of connection and love for many during this time. 

How are you finding ways to reach for the sun and dance in the breeze – during this unprecedented moment in time? As these daffodils remind me, there is not a single right way to tend your soul.  But however you choose to do it, I hope you take a little daffodil time today to nurture yourself. I, for one, plan to go on a nice long walk and see what small joys I can find along the way.  Happy Wednesday all!

SUNDAY REFLECTION: Thoughts on Wind and Faith

As it says on the banner above, this blog focuses on matters of reading, writing and life. Today’s post fits squarely in that last category. I hope it resonates as you walk through your day on this second Sunday (at least for us in New Jersey) of heightened regulations due to Covid 19.

I could really hear and feel the wind this morning as I was out on my first walk of the day. As it rustled the new spring leaves and tousled at my hair, I was reminded that God is present in the midst of this pandemic, even if we can’t see Him. And if we open our hearts we will sense His presence. 

But as I walked on, soaking up this beautiful, if brisk, sunny morning, it also struck me that God’s presence isn’t actually unseen. I cannot see the wind, but I can see how it makes flowers dance and branches sway. Likewise, I cannot see God, but I can see His movement as He works through those around me with acts of kindness, compassion, grace and more. I wonder how God will work through me and you today? Blessings, all!

GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL: An Interview with Picture Book Author JEAN MATTHEW HALL plus a GIVEAWAY!

Today I am delighted to welcome debut picture book author Jean Matthew Hall as my guest with an interview as we celebrate the release of her picture book GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL, published by Little Lamb Books and beautifully illustrated by Olya Badulina. The book is part of the four part Bountiful Blessings series. And this interview is part of a larger blog tour. To check out the full tour list, visit Jean’s blog at https://jeanmatthewhall.com/gods-blessings-of-fall/.

Thank you for joining us today, Jean. Let’s get started with my questions in autumn orange to match the beautiful fall palette of your book’s charming cover.

Have you always been a writer? Tell us a little bit about your writerly journey.

As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!

I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.

Writing for publication is a S-L-O-W process. There is much to learn.

You are so right about the slowness of the process, but good things are worth waiting for and working towards patiently. Thanks for for that reminder, Jean!

What inspired you to write God’s Blessings of Fall?

I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know”, watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.

I’m so glad you were intentional and recognized his joyful play as the spark to a story.

Can you tell us about the illustrator? What was it like seeing your text come to full color with illustrations? Do you have a favorite spread?

Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall –watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world.

My favorite spread is the first one in the book. The animals are adorable throughout the book, but the barn, the golden fields and falling leaves just shout fall to me.

It was surreal holding the book and seeing the animals and scenes that had been living in my head for years. I felt both proud and humble at the same time. It was a feeling of real accomplishment to see my vision and the illustrator’s vision come together to make a lovely book.

In my experience that feeling never gets old!

What advice would you give parents and caregivers who want to share their faith with their kids?

Live your faith in front of your kids. Let them witness your faith living and at work in your day-to-day life. It shouts authenticity to them. And THAT is what attracts your children to live that kind of faith-filled life. Be careful that your words line up with your actions and attitiudes.

Beautiful advice! Yes!

Finally, what’s next? Are there more picture books in the pipeline? Where can readers find your books?

God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in the four-book Bountiful Blessings series. Books featuring the other seasons will come over the next 18 months. I also have several holiday stories trying to find homes with interested publishers. Praying that will happen soon!

Thanks, Laura, for helping me share the good news about God’s Blessings of Fall.

Thank YOU, Jean, for sharing your story here and along with your wonderful wisdom for laying good faith foundations for our little ones. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you. I look forward to seeing your other books on shelves everywhere!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR Jean Matthew Hall has spent most of her life singing songs, reading books, playing games, cutting, coloring and gluing with children of all ages. And, she loves it! Creating encouraging board books and picture books is her idea of fun, but her favorite times are spent with her eight grandchildren. 

Jean’s picture book God’s Blessings of Fall debuted in September 2019. It is the first in her Bountiful Blessings series about the four seasons.

You can contact Jean or learn more about her here:

Website/Blog www.jeanmatthewhall.com

Facebook Jean Matthew Hall Author

Twitter Jean_Hall

Pinterest JeanMatthew_Hall

Now for the GIVEAWAY! If you’d like a chance to win a FREE copy of GOD’S BLESSINGS OF FALL (Little Lamb Books, September 2019) simply post a comment below letting me know that you’d like to enter. (NOTE: Must be U.S. resident and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Thursday, 10/31/19 at 11:59 pm EST. The winner will be announced that Friday! THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here. Thank you to all who entered.

FAITH, HOPE, STRENGTH: Thoughts on BLESSINGS Given and Received

It’s been almost six years since my mother, whose lovely banner still graces this blog, passed away.  And though I no longer mourn her loss in the intense way I did in the months following her death, every so often, something catches me – takes me by surprise- blessing me anew with memories of how faith-filled and strong she was —even the midst of struggle.

The blessing happened again recently as I was sorting through a desk drawer. This particular drawer was stuffed with old journals, letters and photos and, in an effort to thoughtfully thin the contents, I pulled everything out so I could sort into keep and toss piles. That’s when I discovered this: 

I knew what it was immediately – one of my mother’s many sketchbooks, but I wasn’t sure exactly why it was in this drawer, since all the other contents were assorted papers of mine.

I have several sketchbooks of hers and they are all similar – a blend of notes to herself to remember – say – to pick up milk at the store – and sketches she made while sitting in concerts or coffee shops or parks. 

I opened this sketchbook gingerly and it was an instant peek into her soul.  Turning the pages, one by one, my heart filled with love for the hand that had etched each quick sketch and stylized ink creation, for they all reminded me of her. Here are some samples:

Then I turned the page and wow, just wow! Right before my eyes was the answer to a question I’d been longing to confirm for years —and regretting that I had not written down.  It was like an answered prayer —and a renewed blessing to me.

In the spring of 2012, six months before my mother was diagnosed with ALS, but when she was starting to suspect something wasn’t quite right because she was struggling to regain her strength after back surgery, despite intense physical therapy sessions at the gym, she felt overcome by fear and anxiety. So one morning, during her prayer time, she asked God to please grant her faith, hope, and strength for the days ahead. 

When she arrived at the gym she was in for a surprise.  Her regular therapist was not in that day. Instead, a new therapist, one she had never seen before, greeted her. There was nothing particularly different about him. He was just an ordinary guy, but he was kind and sweet with my mom and very soon she noticed three special things about him. First, he had two crosses around his neck (FAITH!).  Second, he had big tattoo on his right bicep that said HOPE!  And, third, as my mom explained to me afterwards, he was very, very strong (STRENGTH!). 

I remember the joy in my mom’s voice as she described this encounter to me, for she immediately saw God in the moment —using that therapist to bring her the promise of FAITH, HOPE and STRENGTH that she so longed for.  And, given my mother’s sense of humor, it arrived in the perfect package.  

It brought her such joy, indeed, that, later that day, she sketched it into her notebook —a soul-nourishing reminder that God hears us when we cry out to Him, and that if we are listening, and waiting expectantly, He will answer. 

Those drawings were primarily for feeding her soul, of course, but my re-discovering them also fed my soul. For me, and I hope for you, too, her sketches are a much needed reminder not to underestimate the power of the still, small voice of God to speak to you in the midst of your struggles – most likely in the way you least suspect – such as through presence of this kind therapist whose appearance, which reflected all three attributes my mother had prayed for that day, was just what she needed.  

Here’s my mind-boggling (at least to me), closing thought.  When that therapist got dressed that day, I’m sure he had no idea that God would use his very presence to bless a worn and discouraged woman who needed a little boost of encouragement.

Think about it. Maybe this very week, or this very day, or this very morning, you might be God’s vehicle —in a way you haven’t even fathomed— to bring Light and Hope to another. I don’t know about you, but that sure motivates me to step out into this day, with all that it brings – in kindness and love.  

May your week be filled with blessings —both received and given!

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.

THE WONDER THAT IS YOU: An Interview with Best-Selling Author Glenys Nellist PLUS a GIVEAWAY!

Today I’m delighted to have best-selling picture book author Glenys Nellist as my guest to chat about her new release THE WONDER THAT IS YOU, illustrated by Aurelie Blanz and published by Zonderkidz.  Here’s the captivating flap copy:  “Every parent dreams of celebrating the arrival of their new child. This heartwarming picture book captures the moment that dream comes true. Filled with tender emotion and joy, THE WONDER THAT IS YOU is the perfect way to tell your little one how much they are loved.”   This dreamy picture book will surely tug at the heartstrings of parents and parents-to-be.  Get a sneak peek with this delightful book trailer and then enjoy the interview with my questions in green to match the cover!

Thank you for joining us today, Glenys. Even though you are a return guest, I think my readers would love to hear again a little bit about yourself and your journey into the world of children’s book writing/illustrating.


Hi Laura! Thanks for having me! I’m originally from England, where I was a primary school teacher, and I’ve always loved writing. But It wasn’t until 2000, when I relocated to the United States with my husband, who is a pastor, that my publishing journey really began. I became a Children’s Ministry Director at our small church and part of my job was to buy curriculum. It was expensive, and so I decided to write my own. As I was writing Bible stories for the teachers to use, the idea came to me to try to write a children’s Storybook Bible. I actually gave up half way through, but my husband encouraged me to finish it. LOVE LETTERS FROM GOD was my first book, published five years ago. I’ve never looked back since.

What inspired you to write THE WONDER THAT IS YOU?


On the night my eldest son was born, thirty-five years ago, I fell asleep in my hospital bed in England with my baby son in the crib beside me. During the night I had THE most amazing dream. I was flying upwards in the dark and landed on a rooftop, where I swung my legs like a little girl, overflowing with happiness because my baby had been born. I clearly remember seeing the moon and the stars, and it was as if they were rejoicing along with me. THE WONDER THAT IS YOU captures the idea that perhaps all creation rejoices when a new baby is born, or joins the family. The strangest thing about this story is that when my husband came, three days later, to take us home, I glanced back at the hospital as we were leaving It was only then that I saw the flat roof above, and recognized all the windows I had flown past that night. I realized that THIS was the building I had been sitting on that night. As crazy as it seems, I know that it was no dream. It was real.

Wow, what an amazing dream! I love the image of all creation rejoicing at the birth of each precious child.


The illustrations really add to the dreamy feeling of your lovely lyrical text. Tell us a little bit about the artist.  Do you have a favorite spread? What makes it your favorite?


French illustrator Aurelie Blanz is wonderful! I just couldn’t believe how she had taken my words and brought them to life in such breathtaking images. Honestly, every spread is amazing, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be the one that accompanies these words: It felt as if my love took flight And soared into the air, And joined creation’s welcome song As you were lying there. In this spread, a girl is flying high with the butterflies.. that’s ME!

Since the wonder and awe of being new parents is one of the beautiful themes of the book, I wondered if you had any advice for brand new parents who might be feeling exhausted/overwhelmed – albeit overjoyed.


Well, as one who had four children under the age of five, I remember well the feeling of exhaustion that can overwhelm moms as they juggle daily tasks. But I would say, in spite of the challenges and daily grind, try to enjoy your time with your little ones as much as you can. It truly does fly by! Read a lot. Laugh a lot. Spend time doing things together and make memories, because no one can take your memories away. 

Wonderful advice! Hard to do sometimes, in the midst of the exhausted moment, but so worth it.

Finally, this has been a very busy year book-wise for you. Tell us a little bit about your new books. Are there any upcoming projects in the works? 

 
With six titles published this year, 2019 has been my busiest year to date! Later this year I have two board books coming out in my Good News series, published by Discovery House. GOOD NEWS! GOD MADE ME! and GOOD NEWS! IT’S CHRISTMAS! will hit the shelves October 2nd. Then, in 2020, along with the board book version of THE WONDER THAT IS YOU, I have two picture books coming with Beaming Books that I’m really excited about. LITTLE MOLE FINDS HOPE will release in February, followed by LITTLE MOLE’S LITTLE GIFT in the fall. I sometimes can’t believe how all this happened… but it did, and I am so very grateful.

It’s been a prolific journey! I can’t wait to read each and every of your upcoming titles and wish you continued success. Thank you for stopping by today.

GLENYS NELLIST: Glenys Nellist was born and raised in a little village in northern England. The author of multiple children’s books, including the bestselling ‘Twas the Evening of Christmas and the popular series Love Letters from God and Snuggle Time, her writing reflects a deep passion for helping children discover joy in the world. Glenys lives in Michigan with her husband, David.

Find out more about Glenys and her books here:

Author Website

Facebook

Twitter

Pinterest

And now for the giveaway! (Thank you, Zonderkidz!) 

If you’d like a chance to win a FREE  copy of THE WONDER THAT IS YOU written by Glenys Nellist and illustrated by Aurelie Blanz, let me know in a comment below. (NOTE: Must have U.S. street address (no P.O. Boxes) and at least 18 years old to enter.) The giveaway ends Tuesday 9/10/19 at 12:01 am EST. The winner will be announced that day!  THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER. The winner is announced here.

SPECIAL VISIT: Little Owl Travels to Lakeside, Ohio!

This week Miss A and I (and Little Owl) made a special trip to Lakeside Chautauqua, an historic Ohio community nestled along scenic Lake Erie which is dedicated to nurturing the mind, body, and spirit. The week was refreshing and wonderful with lots of cousin time. It included daily walks along the lake, swimming, shuffle board, and hunting for fairy gardens, delicious meals, ice cream (at least once a day) and evening entertainment at the Hoover Auditorium.

But the highlight for Little Owl (and for me too!) was a special LOVE IS KIND (Zonderkidz) reading at God Squad, Lakeside’s amazing kids’ ministry program for 4 – 9 year olds. Hosted by God Squad’s Chip Richter with a follow-up evening book signing hosted by Bev and Joan, the lovely booksellers at the Fine Print Book Store, the event was a big hit. I hope the pictures below capture the fun we had. Thanks to all for a great time!

And God Squad is live-streamed daily so if you want to see our visit, you can! Thank you for having us, Mr. Chip and the whole God Squad team. A special thanks also to the Fine Print Book Store for providing such a nice assortment of books.