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.

SPECIAL EVENT: Christmas in the NICU Author Reading

If you have been following along with me on Instagram or Facebook, then you may have seen the special “Christmas in the NICU” book blessing (with Goodnight Manger as the book) that I have been so honored and amazed to be a part of.  Read here to learn how, at God’s prompting, it grew from 15 to just over 770 books. 

Here are a few pictures from along the way:

Now all these the books and notes have either been delivered (or are being delivered this week) to multiple NICUs and PICUs across nine states and will be given to families who find themselves with little ones in the intensive care over Christmas.  

As a NICU mama myself  — my 24-week, 1 lb 9 oz preemie is now in college — my heart goes out to the 770+ families who will be receiving the books and notes.  It is, most certainly, a dark and scary time. But there is hope… and light… and LOVE to be found in our Lord God. He is the Great Comforter and what better time to celebrate that than at Christmas.

With all this in mind, founder Jessika Sanders has added an extra layer of blessing.  This Thursday, December 23rd at 7pm Eastern on the Praying Through Ministries Facebook page, we will be having a special Facebook LIIVE “Christmas in the NICU” Reading.  Jessika and I will be there together to share some Christmas love with families — current and past — who have journeyed through the NICU or PICU with their precious ones or who are in the midst of the journey now. I hope you will join us. 

Here’s the link with more information:  https://www.facebook.com/events/958750131514688

Blessings all!

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!

TEN Book-Themed Activities for GOODNIGHT MANGER

TEACHERS! CAREGIVERS! I’ve rounded up TEN activities created just for GOODNIGHT, MANGER, perfect for introducing Christmas to your little ones. Enjoy!

ONE: After reading the story together, put Baby Jesus to sleep with a song using this as your guide: LULLABY TO JESUS: An Extension Activity for Goodnight Manger.

TWO: Do a book-themed Read, Discuss, DO! 

THREE: Inspired by Jane Chapman’s exquisite illustrations, let your little ones create their own own nativity figures out of egg cartons.  For instructions press here.

FOUR:  Look for patterns in the illustrations throughout the book, then create your own patterned star ornaments using this activity as your guide: GOING ON A PATTERN HUNT (Plus a Craft!) An Extension Activity for Goodnight Manger.

FIVE: Extend the story with this free downloadable GOODNIGHT MANGER coloring page.

SIX: After reading GOODNIGHT, MANGER, take out your kid-friendly nativity set and retell the story using the pieces as explained in this wonderful activity from Sunny Day Family

SEVEN: Make Wide Awake Baby Jesus ornaments inspired by the book, using this activity as your guide.

EIGHT: Create your own nativity scene inspired by the book using this free printable activity from Inspired Motherhood.

NINE: Foster good visual reading skills as you ponder the Christmas story using GOODNIGHT MANGER as the spark with this visual literacy activity.

TEN: Have your kids draw pictures of their favorite scenes/characters and then share on your socials using the hashtag #goodnightmanger and tag me!

PICTURE BOOKS and END PAPERS: Thoughts and a GAME!

There’s something magical about picture books. For starters, their size is just right for reading snuggled together your child or grandchild. And, when done well, the intentional intermingling of image and text to tell a story is sure to captivate both child and caregiver. Indeed, a good picture book can be enjoyed again and again – with new discoveries unfolding with each reading.  

For example, it wasn’t until our seventh or eighth reading of GOODNIGHT, ARK, that my daughter discovered the toothbrush sitting on the window sill and then we laughed and laughed at the idea of Noah brushing the animals’ teeth. Similarly, it was with great joy after several readings that she later noticed that Chipmunk’s Chocolate Shoppe in LOVE IS KIND sells organic chocolate which made Little Owl’s gift seem just that much more special.

And among the many extra little details I hope readers will notice in my newest release, LITTLE EWE, are the many opportunities for counting things like frogs on logs and spider webs!

Perhaps you and your little ones have also noticed extra little details and wonders as you read and re-read your favorite books.

Well, today, I’d like to share another little extra that I never paid much attention to as a child or even during my many years reading bedtime stories with my kids. I’m talking about the end papers. For those of you who aren’t as book geeky as I am, those are the papers at the very front and end of the book. One of half of these end-spreads are pasted to the front and back covers of the book and help to secure the interior pages which have been bound together and set in the spine of the cover.  

Now that I’m aware of them, I’m smitten! I mention them at school visits and I always begin the reading of a new book by investigating them. Sometimes they are plain, but more often than not, they have illustrations or designs. And when they do, those illustrations or designs connect to the story in some fashion. 

For example, the end papers of the popular KARATE KID (Running Press Kids, 2019), written by Rosanne L. Kurstedt and illustrated by Mark Chambers provide a charming clue that the book might just be about different karate poses! And the end papers of the delightful TEA PARTY RULES (Viking, 2013), written by Ame Dyckman and illustrated by K. G. Campbell provide wonderful opportunity to predict with children just where this story will take place and what it might be about. 

Now, here’s a fun game to play your kids.  Have them find their favorite picture books and – before reading the book again – open up to the end papers and see if you they can figure out how the end paper illustrations connect to the story. To get you started, I’ve included a collage below with the end papers for four of my books. Can you guess which end paper goes with which book?  If so, what’s the connection?  Have fun! (Answers below.)

And the answers (but you still have to figure out the connection).

Have fun investigating the end papers of your favorite books and don’t forget that to make a game of figuring out the connections!

GOODNIGHT, MANGER Virtual Visit with Jane Chapman!

It began with a simple email to Jane Chapman, illustrator of GOODNIGHT, ARK and GOODNIGHT, MANGER. In my note I wished her a Merry Christmas and mentioned how blessed I felt to have several Christmas storytime events in place for December, despite the pandemic. I said how sharing our book, GOODNIGHT, MANGER, about putting a fussy, overtired baby Jesus to sleep in a very busy stable, has become one of my favorite parts of the Christmas season. I mean, really, I can think of nothing better than sharing the good news of Jesus through story! It’s how I came to know Jesus – through someone telling me the story!

Her answer was simple: “Just a thought, but if you ever want me to turn up at a virtual GM Christmas story time and the time zones aren’t too far apart, I’d love to come! xo, Jane”

My response? “Oh, my goodness, that would be so special!!! I’d love that!”

New Providence Children’s Ministry Director, Christine Voegeli, was delighted with the idea of expanding the virtual story time we had already arranged to include a visit with Jane. All the children from church were invited, as well the kids from the church affiliated preschool and kindergarten- and even a few friends and family from far away. We had a great turn out!

Here are a few pictures of the event, just for fun. Merry Christmas everyone!

Christine opened us in prayer, then I introduced the story with my puppet companion Rooster. I also had several figures from our nativity set by my side so I could share the inspiration behind the story. If you’re curious, here’s a post about that.

Next, Jane read the story to us with perfect pacing and heart. What a blessing! And we all loved her British accent, of course.

Then it was time for the drawing lesson. I’m omitting their sweet faces for privacy, but please just imagine how entranced and sweetly intense the children were, each in their own little box, as Jane instructed us step by step how to draw our mice And after each step, she asked the children to hold up their mice and they did. It was virtual engagement at its best!

And here are some finished drawings by the kids (and one by me.)

After the drawing lesson, I shared how to make the Wide Awake Baby Jesus crafts that each child had picked up at the church ahead of time. Here’s the link, if you want to make one.

We closed with a short prayer. Then, no one wanted to get off, so we all lingered a bit, enjoying each other’s company. A lovely way to spend an afternoon. Thank you to all who came, and especially to Jane, who made her special appearance all the way from England.

Wide Awake Baby Jesus: A Christmas Ornament Inspired by GOODNIGHT, MANGER

AUTHORS SHARING ORNAMENTS! This week I’m teaming up with picture book authors Mindy Baker, Jill Roman Lord and Tama Fortner to present FOUR days of book-themed ornaments inspired by our Christmas themed picture books. Each day this week, families can pop over to our Facebook and Instagram pages to hear a little bit about each book and then do the craft!  Today is my day! I just finished sharing my ornament online and thought I would take a minute to share the clip here and then provide more detailed instructions for the ornament.

Enjoy the short video. Then scroll down for the instructions.

Wide-Awake Baby Jesus

A Christmas Ornament Inspired by

GOODNIGHT, MANGER

Story Summary: It’s bedtime for baby Jesus, but who knew a stable could be so loud? Mama, Papa, and all of the animals try to lull the baby to sleep, but between itchy hay, angels singing, and three kings bearing gifts, it’s too noisy. Cuddle up as everyone tries working together to shepherd Baby into peaceful dreams.

Now, to make the ornament:

  1. Gather your materials. (Feel free to substitute with items you have around the house). To make mine I used: 1/2 large craft stick, a small square of cloth, a 9″ bit of twine, a 7″ bit of colorful ribbon, a circle of gold sparkly paper, two google eyes, marker, glue and scissors.

2. Glue the ribbon loop for hanging ahead of time. (See picture.) This makes assembling the rest easier.

3. Refer back to the story as you add the remaining parts to the craft stick, using the experience as an opportunity to talk about Jesus, the real gift of Christmas. I suggest using the following order:

4. As you wrap and glue the fabric square around the body say, “This reminds us of the quilt Mary used in the story to keep Baby Jesus warm”.

5. As you tie the twine around the body say, “This itchy twine reminds us of the itchy hay in the manger on that Christmas so long ago.”

6. As you use markers to add hair, lips and those ten little toes at the bottom say, “These remind us that Baby Jesus wiggled toes and cried sometimes, just like you did when you were little.”

7. As you glue on the google eyes say, “This reminds us of what a hard time Baby Jesus was having falling asleep in the story.”

8. As you glue the gold halo behind the head say, “This halo reminds us that Baby Jesus is God’s son – sent to earth to be our Savior. He’s the real gift of Christmas.

ADVENT REFLECTION: Joy in the Simple Things

As we begin this advent season, it strikes me that my favorite holiday memories don’t involve expensive gifts or lavish decorations or endless busy-ness. Indeed, my favorite memories are very simple, but priceless, and they are a good reminder to me not to get so caught up and worried in making the season grand that we miss the simple joys along the way.

With that in mind, here are four memories of simple joys I’ve experienced at Christmas.

Memory #1: When I was in third grade, we moved to Paris, France. For Christmas that first year we flew home to spend the holiday with my grandparents in the US. When we arrived, my sister and I were dismayed to discover that the tree didn’t have a single ornament on it! My grandmother wasn’t much on saving things and must have felt that as empty-nesters they weren’t going to bother with the fuss of storing ornaments. So, taking out crayons and drawing paper, my sister and I made all the ornaments which my mom strung with yarn and we hung on the tree. There were angels in high heels and stars and santas. For tinsel, we strung popcorn. It was the best tree ever!

Memory #2: My sister and I loved putting on plays when we were little and for Christmas one year we decided to have our own pageant. My teddy bear played the role of Jesus, I was Mary, my sister was the angel, and a couple of friends played the shepherds. However, we needed a Joseph so we enlisted my dad. He did a great job wearing his plaid bathrobe and a dishtowel tied snuggly with with ribbon on his head. He was kind of big and clumsy (sorry dad), but that was part of the magic!

Memory #3: Fast forward to when my daughter was little, her favorite part of Christmas was taking Baby Jesus out of our little plastic nativity set and playing with him. In her play, Jesus would be crying and so she’d feed him with a bottle and gently carry him. Then she’d sing him a lullaby and put him down for a nap in the manger. FUN FACT: It’s this sweet memory that inspired me to write my picture book GOODNIGHT, MANGER because before her sweet play, I’d never imagined Jesus crying in the Christmas story.

Memory #4: My mother passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2013. When Christmas came a month later, we were still deeply grieving. None of us felt like getting a big Christmas tree, so we had little live tree that I later tried planting, but it didn’t survive. But even in the midst of that sad Christmas emerged a now a favorite memory which is a reminder to me that even in difficult circumstances, there’s joy to be found in the little things. That little thing, for me, was that on Christmas Eve that year after supper, all five of us (my husband, my dad, and our two kids, then ages 9 and 13) put on our winter coats and boots and our hats and mittens and we tromped outside. It was a chilly but clear night and for a delightful hour we caroled. We stopped at houses of friends and houses of strangers and sang our hearts out. We weren’t the most beautiful choir, but it didn’t matter. Whole families came out on their porches to listen. With big smiles they wished us a Merry Christmas and it was just what our aching hearts needed. Here’s a fuzzy picture of that night:

Thank you for joining me on this sentimental journey down Christmas memory lane. I hope my memories inspire you to reflect on some of the simple joys you’ve experienced over the years. If you have a memory to share, and feel inspired to share it, I’d love to hear it. Blessings all!

CHRISTMAS SEASON Offer: GOODNIGHT MANGER Story Time with the AUTHOR!

‘Tis the season for… CHRISTMAS STORY TIME WITH THE AUTHOR!!!! One of my favorite parts of Christmas is making GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits at local preschools and churches, but with this pandemic and all, I’m missing my usual busy line-up! That has given me a wonderful idea.

From now through Christmas, I am offering free 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER author visits to TEN special groups – ideal for preschools, church ministries, homeschool coops and more. These can be in–person or VIRTUAL which means I can visit near or far!

If you are interested, reach out to me via the contact tab in the About section.

IMPORTANT DETAILS:

For each FREE 15-minute GOODNIGHT, MANGER visit I will:

  • I introduce the story with the help of Rooster, my puppet. 
  • I engage the children in an interactive reading.
  • Ponder together who the real give of Christmas is — Jesus! 
  • Close by singing a lullaby to Baby Jesus.  

BONUS: Here’s a coloring page plus a whole host of follow-up activities to extend the fun after reading the book together.

REQUEST:  The visit is free, but I respectfully request that you purchase a copy the book for your class library and let families know that they can purchase copies as well. I do not sell my own books, but they are available through the major online vendors as well as your favorite local indie book stores. To help spread word to families, I can provide an order form for schools/groups to collect and order as a group from the vendor of your choosing. Or you can simply let families know that they can purchase books on their own by providing a link to the local or online vendor of your choice. Either way, be sure keep a list of first names for book inscriptions and, as a thank you, I will provide a signed and personalized book plate for each book purchased!

I look forward to spreading Christmas joy in this special way. 

This offer is good through January 1, 2021.

Joy to you!

FREE Christmas Printable: GOODNIGHT, MANGER Coloring Page

NEW RESOURCE! Extend your GOODNIGHT, MANGER story time even more with this printable coloring page created by Zonderkidz.  

Use it to enrich your story time as:

  • a fun post-reading coloring activity
  • the template for a Christmas card
  • the picture prompt for a writing activity
  • the back drop for a class nativity set (with each child coloring one and assembling them quilt-style on a bulletin board behind the creche)

For an even fuller experience, use it with one or more of the GOODNIGHT, MANGER activities I’ve already compiled for you under the “Books” tab. Included there you will also find my very favorite extension idea that I use at all my preschool and church Christmas visits. Can you guess what it is? This!!!