This is a list of 8 children’s books that I thought you might enjoy in your library.  I have stayed away from the standards like “The Giving Tree” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”  I have also avoided all Sandra Boynton and Dr. Seuss.  I wanted to make a list of high-quality children’s books in which you might not have heard of most (or any) of them.

These are the criteria that I used in selecting them.

  • FIRST, we have a copy in our family library.  I did not want to recommend anything that we did not have or read at least 37 times in the course of raising two girls.
  • SECOND, I have used all of these books in some form of ministry: youth ministry mission trips, children’s after school programs, church preschool chapel, sermon illustrations, etc.
  • THIRD, they are excellent books!!  They are well worth checking out and having as resources for that time when you want it or need it.

So here is my list.  Please feel free to add more in the comments section below.  The more additions we get, the more useful this list becomes.  I am always looking for a another great one to add to our collection!

Hope for the Flowers – Trina Paulus

This book is the longest one of this list, but well worth the investment of time! It is about two caterpillars caught up in the caterpillar life of building towers by climbing on top of each other all day, every day. One caterpillar begins to question if climbing on top of each other and pushing each other down is really what life is supposed to be all about. Great story with beautiful, retro artwork on each page.

The Day When God Made Church – Rebekah McLeod Hutto

This is perhaps the newest book on this list. It is a poetic retelling of the Pentecost story. It starts with the disciples “waiting” and moves us all into the “new” that God is doing even now. Very well done. The artwork pops – as does the Spirit. Plus, bonus points, the author is a PC(USA) pastor!!

Psalms: For Young Children – Marie-Helene Delval

These succinct paraphrases of the psalms are simple, but deep. They are presented in a way that kids can understand them and it begins to expose them to all the range of human emotions that can be found in the book of psalms: joy, pain, love, fear, etc. Each paraphrase also contains some unique artwork on the next page illustrating it to help kids grasp it in perhaps a different way.

A Frog Thing – Eric Drachman

It begins: “Frank wanted to fly.  But he was a frog.  And frogs can’t fly.”  The entire story is not only about believing in yourself, overcoming the haters of this world, and encountering obstacles – it is about using your imagination and all your might to dream big!

Signs of God’s Love – Jeanne Fogle

This is, by far, the best children’s book on the sacraments that I have ever seen! It helps clarify, define, and illumine what the two sacraments are. It also gives easy to grasp examples of how we can understand the meaning behind both baptism and communion. And the artwork is very 70s-tastic!!

Let There Be Light – Jane Breskin Zalbren

Zalbren actually did not write this. She collected and edited it. It contains short one-line prayers from Eastern Eskimos as well as Native Americans. It quotes from the Bible, the Koran, and even the Dali Lama. Many people are represented in here and it gets the point across that there are many people out there (even those who think about it differently than you) that also want to see a better world!

The Quiltmaker’s Gift – Jeff Brumbeau

The best quiltmaker in the world is approached by the most powerful king in the world. He demands a quilt. She tell him it doesn’t work like that. Then the journey begins. The beauty and the warmth of the story matches what I would imagine the beauty the warmth of those quilts. Worth it!

The Dreamer – Cynthia Rylant

This is an oldie, but a goodie! It tells the story of that great Artist who created a whole world through art, include little artists made in the Artist’s own image. I imagine this is probably the most familiar book to most people on this list. But for those who have not read this, please add it to your library.

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It is Tuesday, almost a week after Ash Wednesday, and I still haven’t cleaned up from the Ash Wednesday service.  Well, that’s not all together true; the table cloths are put away, the food stored and the floors swept, but the ashes are still out; so is the olive oil and the glass jar I used to wipe crosses on people’s foreheads.  I want to put them away; I like a tidy office, but something urges me to keep them out.  Maybe it is laziness, or maybe it is a sign of the season of Lent, or maybe it is a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return.

We say those words each Ash Wednesday.  Then, like the post-service clean up at home, we wipe away the ashes from our foreheads, brush our teeth and crawl into bed, prepared for the season of Lent.  Our focus turns to our dreams, where we live out the potential nightmares of how we’ll cope without chocolate or alcohol for the next six weeks; or we have beautiful, fantasy dreams of becoming a whole new person because of all the good food we’ll eat instead.  Some of us are trying one of the new trends that invite us to add something to our lives this season.  And those of us with kids are attempting to explain how this season works and why we give things up or add things to our lives.  So we give our children “Good Deeds” charts and ask them to collect money for a worthy charity—all of these remind us that this season of forty (let’s be honest, forty-six) days is different.

I’m also looking at a book on my desk called Becoming Who You Are by James Martin, SJ.  In it, Martin explores insights on the true self from Thomas Merton and other saints.  It was a suggestion from Amazon so I picked it up as Lenten reading.  What I’ve realized is that I like the participle in the title, “becoming”.  We aren’t ever there.  We are works-in-progress.  So the ashes still sit on our forehead, even after they’ve been wiped clean and we’ve curled up into bed.

I think I want to keep the burnt palm branches and the olive oil and the glass jar on my desk for Lent because I’m not ready to put an ashen cross on my forehead each day—that would invite too many questions.  I’m becoming something in this season; we all are.  We are always becoming something that God intends.  I don’t know if you are like me, but I get caught up in becoming who I want to be, or who I think God wants me to be, or who I think the best advertisers or my favorite people think I should be.  I’m particularly fond of following ministers whom I want to emulate so I find myself trying to become a younger version of them.

We are all dust.  And that means we’re blown around by the winds of life.  We are all dust.  And that means we are created from the materials God used to enliven creation.  We are all dust.  And that means we are brothers and sisters walking a path worn down by our Lord so it is just a little easier.  We are all dust.  If you forget or need a reminder, come by my office and you can see the ashes, olive oil and glass jar; I’ll even mix them up for us if you want.

lent2016cover-200I grew up thinking faith was all about doing the right thing and not messing up. I felt I needed to earn God’s attention, love, and grace. I reduced Christianity to a list of rules and put God at the top of a staircase I was determined to climb. I was quick to judge, was shamefully proud, and constantly feared my own failure.

I was a mess.

I am not sure how or when all of this began to shift in my mind, but eventually I came to realize that I didn’t have to earn God’s love. Time and time again I was humbled by the experience of God’s grace. I fell into new depths of gratitude and discovered that holiness was not good marks on a chalkboard but a gift. This gift nudged me away from the values of the world and toward God’s values of love, gratitude, and faithfulness.

This fundamental shift in my understanding is what brings me to this holy calling this Lenten season.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. We have been in “ordinary time” according to the liturgical calendar, but will soon no longer be the case. We are about to enter into 40 days and 40 nights of preparing ourselves for this long Lenten walk to the cross and beyond.

Lent is a season set apart. Lent is a season specifically set apart for a reason. And I believe the reason for this Lenten season is for us to respond to this fundamental shift as well as our holy invitation issued to us by our Holy God.

The first chapter of First Peter says:

As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’

I do not believe this is an impossible command beyond our reach. Rather, I believe this is our scriptural invitation to live the life we were created to live. A life filled with joy and wonder. A life filled with purpose and hope. A life filled with belonging and potential.

Whether this is all brand new to you or whether you simply want to be more intentional in the Spirit’s sanctification this season – I would encourage you to join me on this holy journey in this Lenten season.

There are a couple of ways to go about this:

  • This all stems from a book I wrote last year for Chalice Press entitled, BE HOLY. You can order a copy through the publisher or Amazon or B&N or AbeBooks … or you could simply read more about it here and wait for the audiobook to be released within the next month.
  • That book is what led Presbyterians Today to ask me to write their 2016 Lenten Devotional also entitled “Be Holy”. You can order copies of that here or you can read them online each day via twitter or facebook.  Each day includes a Scripture passage, a reflection on what it means to be holy, and a breath prayer to carry with you throughout each day.
  • PC(USA) pastor and author, Mihee Kim-Kort, and I have partnered together to create a special 8-episode series on her podcast THIS EVERYDAY HOLY which begins this Ash Wednesday and goes all the way through Good Friday. You can listen to the episodes here or download them through the iTunes store.
  • I have also partnered with videographer Scott Pardue to produce a couple of videos based on the three main sections of the book that are inherent within our calling to BE HOLY: 1) Find Identity, 2) Find Belonging, 3) Find Purpose. These will be released throughout the coming weeks as they are ready and Lord willing!

I am glad you have begun this journey, and I am honored to go on it with you. Lent is a sacred journey that has been set apart—a holy journey that we are invited to take with our Holy God.