Tag Archives: Book Review

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian library, and can easily be incorporated into a Sunday Church School class lesson or even a series of lessons. It could be the starting place for a series of lessons about the Kingdom of God and how we can make it happen right where we are! The book also provides an opportunity for Sunday Church School students to see through the eyes of a person living with autism, so it could be included in a series of lessons about different challenges that people face and how we need to embrace our own challenges while loving others with different challenges as we journey together towards God’s Kingdom.

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

Here are some other ways that you can help your Sunday Church School students to learn through the book “The Suitcase:”

***

Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

***

Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could incorporate them all into the same lesson, or have a series of lessons introduced after reading the book. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

***
Spend some time focusing on the Kingdom of Heaven as revealed in Christ’s parables. Read the parables with your students. Talk about them together. Here are two printable activity pages you could include in your study if your students enjoy such challenges:

Invite your students to seek and find words related to Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven in this printable word search: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/hidden-word-kingdom-heaven

They can decipher this related verse, as well: http://www.biblewise.com/kids/fun/break-code-kingdom.php

***

Find ideas of ways to teach younger students about Christ’s parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, as well as craft suggestions, here: http://adventuresinmommydom.org/parables-of-heaven-activities/

***

“[The Suitcase] is the book I wanted…  when we were doing our HUGS-based lessons. The goal was to teach the children Christ’s words, ‘Do it to the least of these my brethren and you do it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40).” Read more of this mother/teacher’s review of “The Suitcase” in her blog post here: http://orthodoxmothersdigest.blogspot.com/2017/03/book-review-suitcase-by-jane-g-meyer.html

And find more about the HUGS program (including links to lesson ideas for each age level), which is a natural step to take with your students after reading “The Suitcase” here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/hugs-hands-used-for-gods-service/

***

This TED talk by Roger Antonsen (https://www.ted.com/talks/roger_antonsen_math_is_the_hidden_secret_to_understanding_the_world) explores the relationships in math and science, and what they teach us about perspective. When we shift our perspective, we learn more about the world around us. What we learn from math and science can be applied to our life as we interact with others. Consider this: “When I view the world from your perspective, I have empathy with you. If I really truly understand what the world looks like from your perspective, I am empathetic. That requires imagination and that is how we obtain understanding… Understanding something really deeply has to do with the ability to change your perspective. So my advice to you is, ‘try to change your perspective!’”

The talk could be an excellent way to extend the concept of stepping outside of your comfort zone (as demonstrated by Thomas in “The Suitcase”) in a discussion with teens. (Yes, it is possible to share a picture book with teens! Especially if they have a reason for listening to it!) Consider showing them the TED talk, then inviting them to think of how it relates to “The Suitcase” and share the book with them. THEN launch into a discussion of how the two relate, and how to apply the concept of changing our perspective, empathizing with others, and finding ways to serve them!

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis

(Author’s note: This book is written for parents. We have chosen to include it in this blog anyway, because of how involved we as Sunday Church School teachers are in our students’ lives. Many of the principles of this book can be applied in the Sunday Church School room as well as in the home.)

I was so excited when I learned that this book was in the works! Before reading it, I had great expectations: I anticipated that it would be filled with gentle nudges towards godliness based both on years of education and personal experience. I knew that the wisdom in this book would be presented in a practical way backed by the in-the-trenches research that life with 7 children offers to their parents. And once I received and read the book, I was not at all disappointed!

My expectations for this book were the result of personal experience. Our family had the privilege of meeting the Mamalakis family at Family Camp at the Antiochian Village years ago when they were the featured presenters for the parent sessions. We learned so much from Dr. Mamalakis (and from his lovely wife, Georgia) while we were together. My husband and I could step out of the parent sessions and immediately apply the concepts we had just discussed. Our family is the better for having learned these principles, however imperfectly we have applied them. (An aside: We also benefitted from watching the Mamalakis parents apply the principles they had shared, as they interacted with their children over the course of the family camp sessions. It is a joy to watch these parents lovingly guide their children using the principles! There is an abundance of love in Mamalakis family, and these principles allow them to parent their children in the context of that great love. It is a joy to experience.)
But I digress. Let’s get back to the book. “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” outlines the principles that the Mamalakis family has followed:

  1. Always parent with the end in mind.
  2. Respond, don’t react.
  3. Understand struggles in terms of the values and the virtues of the Kingdom of God.
  4. Separate feelings from behaviors.
  5. Teach the joy of obedience.
  6. Teach the joy of repentance.

Each principle has a chapter (or four!) of the book dedicated to it. Every chapter takes an in-depth look at the principle and cites personal experiences or related stories. The stories and examples make this book very accessible to its readers. The principles can be immediately applied, just as my husband and I experienced when we sat under the Mamalakis’ teachings at Family Camp. I would highly recommend this book to any parent or educator who wants to lovingly guide the children in their care in a godly manner. The book would be a great Adult Sunday Church School curriculum, parish book study, or parenting class text.

“Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is easy read. However, its principles will take a lifetime to apply. May God help (and forgive!) all of us as we parent, grandparent, godparent, and otherwise raise His children towards His Kingdom!

Here are a few quotes from the book, to give you a taste of its contents. Purchase your own copy at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

***

“…children are not problems to be solved but persons to be loved and guided.” (p. 13)

***

“The only way to learn patience and self-control is to live or interact with someone who tries your patience and tempts you to react. The spiritual life is a struggle to learn how to lvoe as Christ loves, with Christ’s love.” (p. 89)

***

“For children who struggle the most, let’s say with boredom in church, cleaning their room, or being patient, it is unfair to compare their behavior with others who don’t struggle in those areas. If our goal is to have children learn the struggle, then we must recognize their efforts as much as the outcome.” (p. 107)

***

“The key to setting good limits is to be clear, consistent, firm, and matter of fact.” (p. 157)

***

“Stay focused on effort or the virtues you are trying to instill. When children see that we are not mad at them for struggling, they learn that our love is unconditional and our expectations real.” (p. 206)

***

“We teach the joy of obedience by helping our children see that obedience is not something just for children. Obedience to God’s commandments is the path for all, parents and children alike… When children feel connected to their parents and see their parents living in obedience to God, they internalize obedience to God as the path of life.” (p. 264)

***

Gleanings from a Book: “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker

“Where have you been all of my (Orthodox Christian) life?” This pickup line applies, at least for me, to the book Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker! As soon as I heard about this book, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and read it. Because I am a parent, I am always looking for ideas of how to better incorporate Orthodoxy into our family’s life. Because I am also an educator, I am in constant search for ideas of ways to make the Faith tangibly accessible to young people. When I heard the title, I was pretty sure this book would be a helpful read on both counts. When I recently received the book, I dove right in and began to read.

From the first page, I could tell that my suspicions were correct. Each page of this book, from the introduction to the “best appendix I’ve ever read in my life” (my exact words to my husband as I read it) is bursting with encouragement, ideas, and challenges for Orthodox parents and teachers. Among the many things that I love about this book is the variety of suggestions that it presents. At its core are the three disciplines in which we are to be continually growing as Orthodox Christians: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. The book provides proposals from the authors and also includes contributions of “how our family is living this concept” via paragraphs written by other parents. The book does not suggest or imply in any way that there is a hard line of “what everyone must do to be really Orthodox.” Rather, the authors send their reader again and again to check with their own priest. This recommendation begins early. The first page of the book is titled “Ask your priest,” and that attitude of “your spiritual Father knows you best and therefore can most wisely help you know how to apply this” permeates the book, as it should. Each chapter is as useful and practical as the one before, and the whole book ends with an appendix packed with hands-on ideas of ways to celebrate each feast of the Church Year (and more!) together as a family.

Orthodox Christian parents and educators who apply the concepts in this book will firmly establish the Faith in the hearts of the children in their care. In architecture, blueprints are drawn up by trained artists with building experience. In the same way, this book was written by Orthodox Christian parents with experience in both parenting and Orthodoxy. Just as blueprints are necessary to begin a successful building project, this book is a necessary tool for parents and teachers who want to firmly ground their children in the Faith. Any Orthodox Christian who is serious about living their Faith should read this book and begin the slow work of applying it to their family life.

Although I may not have had this book for all of my Orthodox Christian life, I am grateful to have it now. I will be sure to share it with others. Blueprints for the Little Church will be my go-to gift for new converts and/or new parents in our parish. And we will all be the better for it, for when we work to build the “little church” at home, the Church as a whole is strengthened.

Do you need to pick up a blueprint for your little church? Purchase your own copy here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

Find ideas for celebrating feast days, similar to the ones described in the Appendix, on the “Blueprints” Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/orthoblueprints/

Listen to Elissa and Caleb talk about their book (including how the book itself came to be), answer questions about the book, and share related stories in this podcast about the book: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/faithencouragedlive/blueprints_for_the_little_church

Here are some excerpts from “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker:

*

“This book offers hope to those engaged in the struggle against the passions. It is imperfect advice penned for imperfect people, warring to make sense of a dark and mysterious world through the lens of the Orthodox Faith. Among the myriad voice is trying to tell you what to think and how to act, among the countless sources of monastic wisdom and patristic treasures, among the countless Pinterest boards and parenting blogs, this book makes a humble offering to mothers and fathers who wish to see their family embrace the Orthodox faith and to raise living saints.” (p. 9)

*

“The key ingredient in building your little church is to avoid comparing yourself to anyone else. Everyone’ piety is personal; it’s between them and God—and hopefully their Confessor. It’s not one-size-fits-all and just as you can’t expect to try on someone else’s custom made leather gloves and expect them to fit—well, like a glove—you shouldn’t expect someone else’s prayer rule to fit you perfectly, either. There are countless resources online and in print for developing a pious Orthodox life but nothing can compare to a personal conversation with your priest or father confessor, who can guide you through the process.” (pp. 11-12)

*

“We cannot provide a meaningful experience with God for our children. We can prepare the ground, present them with opportunities, share our own experiences, but we cannot encounter Christ for them–they must do that for themselves. We can lead them to water, and we can tell them what it means to thirst and talk about how satisfying the water has been in our own lives, but they must decide to drink.” (p. 18)

*

“Our modern family homes offer very little stillness; we move frenetically from one activity to the next, and our loud lives seem to have nothing in common with the monastic life. …In some ways it feels as if we cannot accomplish anything spiritual, because we are always called back to …redundant tasks. …Think about the traditional monastery; this community, this space, is set aside for worship and contemplation of God. The monastics engage in simple, repetitive work, with regular interruptions from the talanton or the bells, which call them away from their work to prayer. Parents engage in redundant tasks and find themselves called away from their own thoughts and plans by their children. Both environments are designed to call us away from our own egos and our own plans, drawing us to prayer. Perhaps the family home is not so different from the monastery.” (pp. 23-24)

*

“Becoming the little church means acquiring a new mindset. We are not simply raising children to live happy and healthy lives—we are raising saints who will find their rewards in heaven. This is radically different from the popular notion that we want “good kids” or “well behaved kids.” Moralism will only produce pharisees and passionless drones. The saints of God are filled with the Holy Spirit, radiate the Divine Light, and bring others to salvation.” (p. 30)

*

“As you set out to create sacred space in your home, know that you cannot do this wrong. Set aside a space in your home and let your icon corner develop as it suits your family best. The important thing is to gather together in prayer and to make room in your home to live out your faith. This is an important step in the creation of your little church, and you will continue to return to these sanctifying activities again and again with your children as you grow together in faith.” (p. 89)

*

“The church in her wisdom offers at the healthy rhythm that leads us to a wholesome and good routine. Instead of the frantic pace of a family spinning out of control, the Church provides an intentional, peaceful rhythm that is firmly grounded in prayer and love. In an Orthodox home, time is put to holy use so that the routine is not tearing us apart and wearing us out, but actually contributes to our spiritual lives. When we sanctify time with prayer rules, liturgical cycles, and spiritual seasons, we have time itself as it was intended: as a reminder of God and a tool for our spiritual growth.” (p. 93)

*

“…It is vital to the success of your family’s prayer rule that the parents are making the effort to pray daily no matter how briefly. …Parents are the workmen who are building the little church and the children will take their religious cues from them.” (p. 107)

 

“The best way to teach a child what a fast should be is to show them. If we are happily eating less and feeding the hungry more, if we are really studying the Word of God and increasing our prayers, our children will see our honorable fast—and its spiritual rewards—and every word we have said to them will be proven and made manifest.” (p. 132)

 

“The question to ask of yourself and your family is not how much you can afford, but in what ways you can give to God’s work of your time, treasure, and talents.” (p. 154)

 

“From the day our children are baptized, they are full members of the Orthodox Church. They are neither junior members nor extensions of their parents, but full Orthodox Christians with the same free will and potential as adult members. It is common to hear children referred to as ‘the future’ of the parish. This is a lovely thought, but the nomenclature is all wrong. If we really believe the words of the prayers said at baptism and chrismation, then we cannot simply categorize children into ‘the future.’ They are the parish now, fully invested in what happens around them.” (pp. 161- 162)

 

“If we can trust that our children are truly God’s and not ours, we need never be exasperated or humiliated by their behavior. We don’t have to fear they won’t turn out well enough—we need only call upon their Father and ask Him to give them what they need. They are His children, and we must commend them to Him.” (p. 169)

Gleanings from a Book: “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks

I wish I had “Queen Abigail the Wise”in my hands two months ago. I had heard about the book online somewhere, so I found and liked its Facebook page, in hopes that I would get to the book itself some day. Throughout Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha, author Grace Brooks kept posting links to the book’s blog. I chose not to read the blog posts, because I didn’t want to have any spoilers before I finally got my hands on the book and read it. Now that Lent is finished and I got a copy of the book, I can’t help wishing I had read both it and the related blog posts months ago! So many of the experiences that Abigail and her friends (oops, that’s a spoiler, sorry!) have throughout the course of this book are things that I can relate to, even though I’m a “grownup.”

I am an adult, but I freely admit that I love children’s literature. I have always enjoyed a good story, especially one with takeaway value whether in the overall story, the ethical choices of the story’s characters, or the lessons that they learn along the way. “Queen Abigail the Wise” offers all three: it is a package deal. The storyline is filled with the ups and downs of a very realistic Orthodox Christian girl, Abigail, as she lives her life during one Lenten season. Each of the main characters – the girls in the Every Tuesday Girls Club – have struggles, but they are determined to do their best, and the reader is invited along for the ride. Throughout the book there are many lessons learned, as well! Many chapters of the story contain their own mini-lessons, but the story is told so effectively that the reader doesn’t even notice that they are learning.

This book does an excellent job of presenting the Orthodox Christian life as real, applicable, and desirable for modern day girls. The charming illustrations enhance the storyline, adding delight to the story itself (and tempting this reader to break out her colored pencils!). The saints whose lives are appropriately introduced throughout the story are presented realistically, and the things that the characters learn from both the saints and the scriptures are relevant for life. Each of the girls in the Every Tuesday Girls Club is very different from all of the others, yet they interact with the Faith and each other in a genuine manner. This means they sometimes get along and sometimes they are just being, well, pre-teen American girls! The characters are so believable that the reader steps away from the story feeling like she has several new young friends.

I have a daughter who will soon turn 20. She has always loved to read, and has loved the Church and her girlfriends at church. Like Abigail and her friends, my daughter and hers have not always gotten along at every step of their journey, but they have learned together and grown closer to God along the way. To be honest, I wish I had this book ten years ago. She would have inhaled it, learned a lot, and shared it with her friends. And she probably would have made up a song about it. But I won’t say more about that: I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn’t read it yet!

Since I have the book now, instead, I will just have to share it with my 10-year-old goddaughter… so we can BOTH wait impatiently for the second in the series!

To learn more about “Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks, or to purchase your own copy, visit the book’s website at http://queenabigail.com/. Follow along on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/QueenAbigailtheWise/.


“Queen Abigail the Wise” is a great story for young girls to read. It would be an excellent book to use for discussion (or a book club) if your Sunday Church School class is composed of pre-teen girls! But it is not just for young girls! Here are just a few of my favorite “quotes to ponder” that I found as I enjoyed the book and the blog posts related to it:

*

Words to ponder from pp. 66- 67, when Abigail is talking to her mom and trying to figure out how to help her friend:

“Abigail… felt disappointed. ‘But isn’t there something to do?’

‘Praying is doing, Abby. Didn’t you hear what father Boris said in the homily? …He said that if you didn’t remember anything else about St. Gregory [of Palomas] you should just pray this week. Not just with words. Pray with your heart. And then—?’


‘Listen?’


‘Yes. Pray and then listen. Because God hears our prayers, but we don’t always hear His answers…’”  

*

Words to ponder from page 138, in a discussion with one of her parish’s priests, Fr. Andrew tells Abigail, “There’s a lot more to the Cross of Christ than you understand right now. But then, there’s more to the Cross than any of us understand. It’s certainly more than just an expression about someone being your cross to bear. And the crosses God brings into our lives aren’t just bad things — they’re the things that can save us.”

13226934_10208325405884549_8170938434312376144_n

*

Words to ponder from Fr. Andrew’s sermon on Holy Saturday (pg. 234): “‘We’ve come to the end,’ he said. ‘Lent is over… Tonight we will meet here again when the sun is gone and the stars are out… We all know what will happen tonight, but what happens now, in the present? What will happen at the end of the service?’

Abigail couldn’t help jumping a little at the question. On the other side of the church, where Vanessa stood with Noah, she grimaced and pulled him a little closer to her. Fr. Andrew paused again, gazing around the church at the assembled people. ‘That part is up to you. May we use these last hours before the blessed Pascha service in ways that bring glory to the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

All the people murmured, ‘Amen,’ and Abigail exhaled. That had been a bit of a shock. It seemed that things in  church sometimes mirrored what was going on in her life to an astonishing degree.”

*

(Warning: spoiler alert!!! Skip this until AFTER you read the book!)

Words to ponder from p. 264: “For the girls to walk in such sweet and simple harmony was more touching than they new. It had been a hard year at St. Michael the Archangel Church. There had been a lot of arguments and problems that had to get solved that year, and some people worried that they would never stop fussing and carrying grudges. But if the daughters of the Murphys, Peasles and Jenkinses could go along together, then maybe they could as well. If Abigail Alverson and Vanessa Taybeck could walk hand in hand, then really anything was possible.

“Abigail didn’t know it then, but that was when the Every Tuesday Girls Club began in earnest. That was when those five girls truly began to help the church.”

*

Insights to ponder: “‘Queen Abigail’ is really just the story of how one girl ‘woke up’ to the Living God, to Christ present in every moment. That is really the very heart of any Christianity that is alive, intelligent and active. There are many of us — young and old, ‘cradle’ Christians and converts — who are going along in a kind of sleep-walk. We talk about God all the time — we talk and sing and hear about Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But do we believe that the Trinity is active and present in every moment — not 2000 years ago or at the Second Coming, but now?” ~ from author Grace Brooks’ blog post http://queenabigail.com/2016/05/10/last-thoughts-comments-and-some-secrets/

13232916_10208325405484539_3572494085727557896_n

*

Insights to ponder: “Whether we grew up Christian or not, chances are we were hearing the story of Jesus Christ’s life and death from the time we were young. We probably heard Christian claims that this man, who declared Himself to be the Son of God, died for us and rose from the dead. But do we really try to take that in? Do we let ourselves be amazed, as a child would be amazed?

Abigail’s eyes strayed up to the dome and the great image of Christ Himself looking down on them all. That image larger than any other, seeming to fill up the sky. One hand was raised in blessing. The other was on a book and on the book, a cross. She seemed to hear that voice again. Do you see, Abigail? Do you see?

“I wrote that passage for me, to give me a little kick. Do I really look, when I’m in church? Do I really listen? Lent is halfway over, so it’s worth thinking about, because we’ll arrive at the days of Holy Week sooner than we know. The cross of Christ is there every week in church, and extra attention is paid at the feasts of the Cross. But do we see?” ~ Grace Brooks, author of “Queen Abigail the Wise”, in her blog post http://queenabigail.com/2016/04/05/so-many-crosses-from-one-cross/

A Handful of Helpful Books

At the the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, we are always on the lookout for great resources for parents. Whenever we discover some that will be beneficial, we do our best to pass them on to you! This week’s blog is about a handful of books that have come to our attention recently. They are written for children at a variety of ages. We hope that you find them helpful. We also hope to periodically offer you more “handfuls” of books that come our way!

13064502_10208132571623813_5266007699731931930_oFor the youngest children among us, we have found the board book called What Do You See at Liturgy? By Kristina Kallas-Tartara. This brightly-colored board book is filled with pictures of what a child will see when they go to the Divine Liturgy. The text is simple, with a delightful rhyming pattern. The photos are basic, featuring only the item being discussed on a white background, but the colorful photos are crisp and engaging. This book is the perfect size for little hands, and offers us an opportunity to help our wee ones enter into the service when their attention needs to be redirected. To learn more about this book, and/or to purchase it for a little one in your life, visit https://www.etsy.com/listing/196402444/what-do-you-see-at-liturgy-orthodox?ref=shop_home_listings.

13062316_10208132571223803_2347741077465837668_nYou may remember our blog post about Marjorie Kunch’s book, When My Baba Died. (Check out the blog if you missed it before, so that you are aware of this wonderful resource for parents to use to help their preschool-through-elementary-aged children learn about an Orthodox funeral: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/06/26/gleanings-from-a-book-when-my-baba-died-by-marjorie-kunch/.) We recently learned that Marjorie Kunch has also published a companion workbook to go with the book! When My Baba Died Activity Workbook is a full-sized workbook that parents and children can read through and complete together as a way to familiarize children with the Orthodox Christian funeral service and its components. The activity workbook has activities at a variety of levels, for many different ages of readers. Among other activities, there are coloring pages, drawing spaces, places to process the experience through writing, word searches, prayers to pray together, and even a recipe for Koliva! This activity book partners well with the book itself and will be helpful for parents to use to help their children learn more about what happens when a loved one departs this life. We recommend reading and working through these books before a child experiences a loss. It could also work to have them on hand to use in the event of a loss, but when such a difficult time happens to a family, there is so much going on that it may be challenging to even find the time to process in this way. That is why we recommend using them before a child’s first experience with the departure of a loved one. If your Sunday Church School class has read and worked in these books together, when a family member departs this life for one of your students, their parents will be able to pull these books out and revisit them, pointing out, “remember talking and learning about this? See, this is what we will experience with grandpa’s funeral today…” To purchase either book, or both of them together, visit http://www.paschapress.com/services.html.

13051693_10208132570823793_4281369946063680263_nSeveral years ago when it was first published, we asked two young people to evaluate Hear Me: A Prayer Book for Orthodox Teens, written/compiled by Annalisa Boyd. You may have read their evaluations here: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/hearme. The third book we want to feature in this handful is the second edition of Hear Me. This edition is a smaller size at 4”x6”, so it is quite comfortable to hold and easy to fit in a backpack or a back pocket. Although it is smaller, the new edition contains additional prayers. It also answers more questions that young people have, and it tackles even more of the difficult subjects that young people face. This tiny book contains much needed help for our high school and young adult children, sweetly wrapped in a pleasant, “able-to-be-used-in-public-by-young-people” cover. 12932769_10208132571023798_421223402898251662_nIt is an excellent addition to any Orthodox Christian young person’s library. Purchase one (or a handful) for the youth in your life here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/hear-me-a-prayer-book-for-orthodox-young-adults/

So, there is our current handful of helpful books. What books have you recently found helpful that the rest of our community may benefit from? We’d love to know what is in YOUR hand! Please comment below to share your suggestions with the rest of us! Thank you in advance!

Here are a few more resources related to each of the above books. You will find additional educational ideas and spiritual encouragement at each site. Pass the links on to the parents of the children in your Sunday Church School class as well, if you think they would benefit from visiting these pages!

***

What Do You See at Liturgy? By Kristina Kallas-Tartara is a lovely little board book about church and is worth noting of its own accord. However, it led us also to the the author’s blog page, called “Raising Orthodox Christians” (https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/). The blog is a wonderful resource of its own! Check out the page to find blogs about Orthodoxy, teaching children, activities that will help children to learn more about the Faith, and recipes for allergy-friendly fasting.

***

Follow Pascha Press (the publisher of the When My Baba Died Activity Workbook ) on Facebook for encouragement, tidbits of humor, and additional resources related to parenting and/or the departure of loved ones. https://www.facebook.com/paschapress/?fref=ts

A side note: the publisher selects an Orthodox-related charity to receive a tithe of their income for each quarter of the year! Find out the current charity at http://www.paschapress.com/about.html.

***

Annalisa Boyd, the author of Hear Me, has also written two other books: The Ascetic Lives of Mothers and Special Agents of Christ. Both are wonderful resources for Orthodox Christian families. She also offers many ideas and encouragements for moms/parents/teachers in her podcast at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/asceticlives and on her facebook page https://www.facebook.com/theasceticlivesofmothers/timeline.

 

Gleanings from a Book: “Heaven Meets Earth – Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts” by John Skinas

Author’s note: I had other plans for this blog post. But when this book arrived in the mail this week, I knew that I had to share it with you immediately. It is THAT good. My other plans will wait!

“The Christian story is not ‘just’ a story. It is truth… that transforms, both in the telling and in the hearing. That is why we enter into the great feasts of the Church and build our lives around them. They are not mere commemorations but transforming stories, true in a way that is more profound than the bare search for ‘fact.’ And they determine not only our calendars and schedules but also the way we see and understand the world.” These words by Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick are a fitting introduction to the book Heaven Meets Earth: Celebrating Pascha and the Twelve Feasts. The book itself was written by John Skinas, and published by Ancient Faith Publishing this year. This book is an excellent resource for Sunday Church School teachers. It would be a fabulous source on which to base a series of Sunday School lessons.

The pages of this beautiful book are full of information and personal challenges related to each of the 12 Feasts of the Church as well as Pascha. Each feast has several pages dedicated to it. The first spread features the icon of the feast (with a details from the icon pointed out in footnotes), the story behind the feast, and related scriptures. The following pages highlight Old Testament connections, a church or landmark in the world related to the feast, the festal hymns, a quote from the Church Fathers, some Festal Traditions, and personal challenges in both the “Think About It” and the “Where are You?” sections. The pages are colorfully illustrated with icons, photos, and related graphics. Each page is a feast for the eyes as well as the mind.

Regardless of the age of the reader, this book will help to nurture a love for the great feasts of the Church. Young children will pour over the beautiful icons and pictures. Older children will enjoy finding connections to the book of “things we sing and hear at church.” Teens and adults will find a plethora of information about each feast. Everyone can be challenged to think about the feast and will find ways to become a better Christian while celebrating that feast. Heaven Meets Earth is an invaluable resource that will be well-loved and much-used in an Orthodox Christian home.

This book belongs in your family’s prayer corner! Find it here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/heaven-meets-earth

The Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education offers free printable standup centerpieces that can be used with each of the feasts. They would pair well with lessons based on this book. Read about them here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/introducing-a-resource-feast-day-stand-up-centerpieces/

Find additional information about the 12 feasts in these places: http://www.antiochian.org/twelve-great-feasts; http://www.goarch.org/ourfaith/ourfaith8713; and http://oca.org/FSicons-churchyear.asp?Section=twelvefeasts, among others.

***

Here is a sample quote from each feast’s pages to get you thinking and/or for you to discuss with your Sunday Church School students:

*

Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8): “Salvation is near! The first feast of the liturgical year celebrates our new beginning. Mary, the Mother of God, is born, bringing great joy to her parents and hope to the world. It is here that the story of her Son’s Incarnation and our liberation from sin and death begins, since it is in Mary that the Lord will find a place to dwell when He comes down from heaven.” (p. 7)

*

Elevation of the Cross (Sept. 14): (from the “Where are you?” section) “The excitement of the new liturgical year may already be gone, and maybe we’ve slid back into our old sinful ways. The Church holds the Cross up to remind us of our calling.” (p. 13)

*

The Entrance of the Theotokos (Nov. 21): (from the “Old Testament Connection” section)“The Ark of the Covenant contained: The word of God written in stone; manna that came down from heaven; the rod of Aaron that miraculously budded without water. The Theotokos, the New Ark, contained: The Word of God Himself in the flesh; the Bread of Life who came down from heaven; the Seedless Flower that sprang from the Root of Jesse.” (p. 16)

*

The Nativity of Christ (Dec. 25): “Jesus the Messiah is wrapped in swaddling clothes that resemble His death shroud; the manger is the same shape as is tomb; the cave of His birth resembles the cave of His burial. Church Fathers such as Ephraim the Syrian emphasize that God the Word was made flesh so that He could enter Hades and leave it powerless, freeing us from sin and death forever.” (Festal Icon footnote #1; p. 18)

*

The Theophany of Christ (Jan. 6): (from the “Festal Tradition” section) “…In joyful continuation of Christ’s act of sanctification, priests immerse a cross into a container of water three times… The priests sprinkle water in every direction, blessing churches, people, and all of creation…. Through this cleansing, Christ continues making everything new…. This is also the season when priests bless the homes of the faithful, reminding us that hour home life should never be separate from our church life; it all belongs to Christ, who has sanctified the waters through His Baptism for the life of the world.” (p. 24)

*

The Meeting of the Lord in the Temple (Feb. 2): (from the “Think About It” section) “In preparing to meet Christ, Simeon and Anna stayed connected to the temple, to scripture, to God… every Sunday we meet Christ more intimately than Simeon and Anna could have imagined: in the Eucharist… Appropriately, Simeon’s famous words are used not only at the end of the day, but also after Holy Communion. Having united with Christ, we can ‘depart in peace’ to wherever God calls us to go.” (p. 29)

*

The Annunciation (March 25): “In the days of the creation of the world, when God was uttering His living and mighty ‘let there be,’ the word of the Creator brought creatures into the world. but on that day, unprecedented in the history of the world, when Mary uttered her brief and obedient, ‘so be it,’ I hardly dare say what happened then — the word of the creature brought the Creator into the world.” ~ St. Philaret of Moscow (p. 32)

*

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem: (from the “Old Testament Connection” section) “Jerusalem was crowded with visiting Jews who had come to celebrate Passover (Pascha in Greek), the commemoration of their deliverance from slavery and death in Egypt. Little did they know that this man whom they hailed as their deliverer from slavery to the Romans was entering the city as the Passover lamb being led to slaughter. This sacrifice will release them from their slavery to sin and the eternal death that results from it.” (p. 36)

*

Pascha: The Resurrection of Christ: (from the “Where Are You?” section) “Pascha is the highlight of our liturgical year, the feast so great that without it the twelve feasts would lose their light and meaning. No matter where any of us find ourselves, there is nothing to fear now. ‘The Light has shone forth, awakening those who sleep in darkness and turning tears into joy.’ All we have to do is reach out, and Christ will pull us into His everlasting glory.” (p. 45)

*

The Ascension of Christ: “For forty days, since Pascha, Christ has been appearing to His disciples, eating with them, showing them His wounds, testifying to the accomplishment of His Crucifixion and proving the reality of His Resurrection. Now they stand watching as the Son of God ascends, raising earth up to meet heaven.” (p. 47)

*

Holy Pentecost: (from the “Festal Tradition” section) “Pentecost is the gift Jesus gives to His bride. We’ve received something even greater than the Law; we’ve received the grace of the Spirit of God. Now we are called to be faithful to our Bridegroom.” (p. 52)

*

The Transfiguration of Christ (Aug. 6): (from the “Think About It” section) “Even Christ’s clothing shines brightly, showing that everything and everyone connected to Him can shine with His light. In fact, this is our calling: to shine with heavenly beauty in a darkened world.” (p. 57)

*

The Dormition of the Theotokos (Aug. 15): “The way in which Christ is holding her soul, wrapped in swaddling clothes, reminds us of the icons in which Mary is holding her Child. Christ is now accepting Mary on behalf of heaven in the same way that she accepted Him on behalf of earth.” (Festal Icon footnote #3, p. 58)

*

“Each year, our spiritual journey around this circle of feasts is meant to bring us closer to the One who is at its center, the One who calls us to let His Light shine through our being in an endless day of brightness and joy.” (p. 61)

To Celebrate Picture Book Month With Books About Thankfulness

Did you know that November is International Picture Book Month? It’s the month of the year when people of all ages are encouraged to enjoy carefully worded writing paired with beautiful illustrations. For those of us living in the United States, November is also the time when we focus on Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving season is a welcome change from the norm, offering a break from school and perhaps also from work. Let us consider spending some of this extra family time in reading together. Many happy memories can be built during family read-aloud times, so why not add to the fun of Thanksgiving memories by reading and discussing some related picture books?

There are a plethora of books available today that are appropriate reads for the Thanksgiving season. We will offer a few here, in no particular order, for your perusal as you search for resources that can be used with your Sunday Church School students. Children of all ages (even adults!) will enjoy these books. While they don’t take long to read, they are thought provoking and can offer many opportunities for discussion!

For more on Picture Book Month, see http://picturebookmonth.com/.

***

Thankful by Eileen Spinelli is a rollicking rhyme about all kinds of people, each thankful for something that makes their work or their life more enjoyable. Illustrator Archie Preston adds a heartwarming and playful twist in his illustrations. The pictures show a family whose children dress up as those “all kinds of people,” playing their roles, and interacting with each other in ways that will make readers of all ages smile. Watch the trailer for the book here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXLhjE9J-EU. You can buy the book here: http://www.zondervan.com/thankful. Discussion: Ask each student to share one thing that they are thankful for. Challenge: Together think of how Archie Preston would illustrate what you have just said. How would he show what each person is thankful for? How would he tie them together in the illustrations?

***

The Secret of Saying Thanks by Douglas Wood follows a young girl through her day, as she savors the beauty of nature around her. Greg Shed’s gentle gouache illustrations reflect that beauty so that the reader can see it for themselves. Throughout the book, the young girl is looking for something secret. Along the way, she offers words of gratitude for the loveliness around her. In the end, she realizes the secret she had been seeking is this: “The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.” You can buy the book here:http://books.simonandschuster.com/Secret-of-Saying-Thanks/Douglas-Wood/9780689854101. Discussion: Ask each person in the class to think back through this day and share one thing of beauty which they saw, for which they are thankful. Then take time to actually thank God for all of that beauty! Challenge: Take a look at the Akathist of Thanksgiving (http://www.stnicholasdc.org/files/Prayers/Akathist-of-Thanksgiving.pdf), and talk about how it compares to this book! If time allows, pray the Akathist of Thanksgiving together, giving Glory to God for all things!

***

Thank you, God, by J. Bradley Wigger, is a prayer that thanks God for everything. Jago’s illustrations, created in digital paint with photographic textures, add a deep richness to the book. Watch the trailer and/or buy this book here: http://www.eerdmans.com/Products/5424/thank-you-god.aspx Discussion: After reading the book, ask, “If you were the author, what would you add to this book?” Then page through the book again and take turns adding more things that could have been mentioned on each page. Challenge: Work together to write and illustrate your own classroom copy of the “Thank You, God” prayer. (You could even make it into a book!)

***

Bear Says Thanks, by Karma Wilson, is a charming poem-story about a bear who wants to throw a dinner for his friends to show his gratitude for their friendship. Unfortunately, as he prepares to do so, the bear discovers that he has no food left in his house! The friends come over anyway, each bringing food to share, and they assure the bear that his stories are his contribution to the gathering. Jane Chapman’s charming acrylic illustrations make the story infinitely more adorable and sweet! Purchase the book here: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Bear-Says-Thanks/Karma-Wilson/The-Bear-Books/9781416958567. Find a free reproducible pdf (geared to 1st or 2nd graders) with activities related to the book here: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Bear-Says-Thanks-A-FREE-Mini-Unit-1546522. Discuss: Talk together about the book. Bear felt like he didn’t deserve to be part of the party, since he didn’t have any food to contribute. Talk about times when anyone in your family has felt inadequate or like their contribution was lacking. How did it end up? Talk about how bear’s friends saw the value in his stories, and considered the stories to be his contribution to the gathering. Challenge: Encourage each other to be sensitive to others’ feelings of inadequacy, and find ways to affirm their strengths! You could begin by helping each student create a “Thank you beary much” card to give to someone that they appreciate, as suggested here: http://d28hgpri8am2if.cloudfront.net/tagged_assets/13330_40818%20cheer%20on%20reading%20activities_bearsaysthanks.pdf.

***

Giving Thanks, by Jonathan London, follows a boy and his dad through their day’s walk in the woods. Throughout the book, the father notices and thanks the beautiful items in nature (because he believes that all things in nature are a gift) for being and for sharing their beauty with him. The boy confesses that he feels a little embarrassed by the fact that his father is thanking everything, but his father tells him how much better he feels when he is thankful, and in the end, the boy thanks the stars as they appear in the night sky. Gregory Manchess’ oil paintings are right for this book, a charming combination of generalities in the illustrations with just the right touch of details. Purchase the book here: http://www.candlewick.com/cat.asp?browse=Title&mode=book&isbn=0763655945&pix=n. Discuss: Talk about the idea of thanking things in nature. What do you think about that? Is there Anyone else Who we should thank for creating those natural things? Challenge: Go for a hike together, and, like the boy and his dad, practice noticing the detailed beauty of the world around you. Stop at points along the way to listen and look, talk about what you hear/see, and then take a moment to give thanks for it!

***

My Book of Thanks by Hennessy offers thanks to God for something different on every page; and asks God for help with regard to that thing/person. For example, “Thank you for the earth. Help me to take care of it for you.” Hiroe Nakata’s playful watercolor-and-ink illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the powerfully concise words of the prayer. (Note: the book is no longer available from publisher Candlewick Press, but can still be found from various online distributors.) Discuss: Talk about the prayer as it is written in the book. Why do you think the author included a prayer for help after each thanksgiving? Is that important? Why or why not? Challenge: Make a personalized extender to the book! Take time to each write down one “thank you” that you would add to this prayer. Remember to also include a related prayer for help! If you have a classroom copy of the book, keep the extender page(s) in the book for future readings.

***

Giving Thanks: Poems, Prayers, and Praise Songs of Thanksgiving edited by Katherine Paterson is a book full of just that! The poems, prayers, and songs from many different cultures and beliefs offer food for thought for an older audience. The book is divided into themed collections, and each collection begins with a personal reflection written as only Katherine Paterson can write, straight from the heart. Pamela Dalton’s detailed scherenschnitte (detailed cut-paper) and watercolor illustrations are mesmerizing, and provide an appropriate backdrop for each page of the book. Buy the book here: http://www.chroniclebooks.com/titles/giving-thanks.html. Discuss: Paterson’s reflections in and of themselves offer good discussion starters! As you read each section, discuss her thoughts before you dive into the selections in the section. Since each prayer/poem/song is from a different part of the world, discuss the thought behind it. Make connections to our Orthodox beliefs: how is this thought similar/different? How do you suppose the people who first prayed/sang this arrived at these words? Challenge: Have each member of the family find and share their favorite selection from the book, and explain why they like it so much. For an added challenge: Learn more about scherenschnitte (see Dalton’s explanation of her work on another book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wfyIQFYaao) and/or check out Dalton’s website at http://www.pameladaltonpapercutting.com/. Invite students to create their own piece of scherenschnitte art, then copy their favorite selection from Giving Thanks onto your work! Post these around the Sunday Church School room.