The Good Shepherd: Always With Us

Year B, 4th Sunday of Easter; John 10:11-18; Lectionary reading for April 25, 2021

Most people would have had a basic understanding of sheep and their care during biblical times, and so it made sense to use pastoral imagery. Last summer, I argued with my 11-year-old son that a picture of a cow wasn’t, as he thought, a sheep; and we kept sheep on our acreage for several years. Livestock just isn’t something most kids have any connection with anymore! If you have rural kids in your congregation, start by asking them what they have to do to keep their livestock healthy. If you minister to urban children, explain to them how much sheep need the shepherd. Sheep have no way of defending themselves from predators, have no sense of direction and get easily lost, and will happily eat weeds that will make them sick if they don’t see grass right under their noses. They are a bit like toddlers—completely dependent on someone else for their care. Thankfully, a good shepherd is a lot like a good parent.

A good shepherd makes sure the sheep are safe, fed, cared for, and most importantly, loved. The good shepherd knows the sheep by name (even though some people couldn’t tell them apart from cows) and the sheep know they can trust the shepherd and follow the sound of his voice. Finally, a good shepherd does whatever is necessary to protect the sheep. Sure sounds like a good parent to me! Hopefully, all the children in your care have a parent in their lives that this reminds them of. If you minister to children in foster care or adopted children, treat this metaphor with care so that you are not pointing out the faults of their biological parents.

Once you have explained that Jesus is talking about how much he loves and cares for us, you are ready to dive into this beautiful book. That’s Me Loving You by Amy Krouse Rosenthal explains that all of nature is God loving us. From a gentle breeze to a persistent mosquito, God’s love surrounds us. Whether we are with our families or off on our own, we can trust the warm feeling inside of us is the love of God.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How does your family show they love you?
  • How is that like what a shepherd does with their sheep?
  • How do you know they love you even when you aren’t with them?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • What other ways do you think God is showing God loves you?
  • What ways can you show God you love God?

This book makes me tear up every time I read it, so tuck a tissue in your sleeve before you start. Check with the families in your congregation and your library before you buy this book, but if you just have to have it on your shelf, please consider buying it through the links attached to the pictures. You’ll be supporting this blog with a small commission at no additional cost to you. Whatever you choose, please subscribe to this blog or to my Facebook page and spread the word about Storybook Ministry to your friends who minister to children.

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. That’s Me Loving You. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016.

Love With Actions, Not Just Words

Year B, 4th Sunday of Easter; 1 John 3:16-24; Lectionary reading for April 25th, 2021

I did a double take when I read the scripture for this week. Hadn’t I just written about sharing and caring for our neighbours? Why yes, yes I did, just 2 weeks ago. But that’s the wonderful thing about the Bible: when a lesson is important, it is repeated. “Love one another” appears 16 times in the New Testament! It’s a good thing my collection of books features more than a few lessons in getting along—I’m going to need all of them.

It’s easy to forget that love is more than a warm feeling towards our neighbours. In this passage, the apostle John reminds us that love is also more than words. It isn’t enough to feel love; it isn’t enough to speak love; God calls us to love with action. Sometimes, this kind of love comes more naturally for children than it does for adults. Best friends Maddi and Sofia do everything together, but when Sofia impulsively runs into Maddi’s apartment for a snack, she discovers Maddi’s fridge is… empty. She hatches a plan to help her friend while keeping the empty fridge a secret.

Globally, approximately 854 million people regularly do not get enough to eat. Hunger kills 25,000 people every day. These numbers are so high they are difficult to even conceptualize. But those are our global neighbours, surely the situation is better closer to home? Over 4.4 million Canadians experienced food insecurity in a 2017-2018 report, and experts estimate that number to be much higher right now because of the COVID pandemic. Clearly, hunger is not an issue exclusive to developing nations. While I don’t suggest throwing these numbers around in your children’s ministry, I bring them up because in Canada, empty fridges are an invisible problem. Sofia discovered Maddi’s empty fridge because she could run faster than Maddi. Hunger can be a shameful secret for many families.

This story celebrates kids helping kids, but it also teaches children the importance of reaching out to adults for help when a problem is more than they can handle. Reading this book is an opportunity to broach the tough topic of poverty with the children in your ministry, but it can be a wake up call to your wider congregation as well. John calls us to love with actions and in truth: are we living up to that call when so many of our brothers and sisters around the world still cry out for food?

Purchasing Maddi’s Fridge through my amazon links supports the blog (and my book-buying habit) with a small commission. Please consider subscribing to the blog or my Facebook page, so you always have a great book recommendation at your fingertips.

Brandt, Lois. Maddi’s Fridge. Flashlight Press, 2014.

How Do We Teach Children Safety, Without Making Them Afraid?

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter, 1 John 3:1-7; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

I really wanted to focus on the joy of the first verse in this reading:

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!

1 John 3:1

Unfortunately, there is more to the message of this passage that needs to be addressed. Our world is full of wonder and goodness, but there is evil here too. There are people who refuse the designation “child of God” and choose instead to hurt others and destroy creation. Our children need to know that not everyone is trustworthy. It is imperative that we teach them to stay safe.

In our age of 24-hour news channels and instant disaster updates sent straight to our phones, stories of evil can be difficult to escape. As adults, we can filter this information with what we know of the goodness of the wider world. Children cannot. The world can seem to be a very frightening place when the adults around them discuss murder and mayhem within earshot.

Michael Leannah’s book Most People is a simple and comforting antidote to that kind of fear. It gently explains that while there are some bad people, most people in the world are kind, helpful, and safe to be around.

Most people want to make other people—even strangers—feel good. Most people are very good people.

Michael Leannah

Jennifer Morris’s illustrations back up this message by depicting an impressive array of diverse people doing good things in a variety of circumstances. She draws people of all sizes, colours, abilities, and lifestyles, which gives readers an opportunity to talk about the expectations we have about certain groups of people.

This book does not deny the existence of evil, and I don’t suggest you do with your children, either! Until God’s will is fully done on Earth as it is in heaven, we need to teach our children ways to keep safe without making them fearful. We are all children of God, and most people live up to that calling. Let’s give the children in our care a message of hope along with our necessary messages of caution.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What should you do if you get separated from your parent/family/caregiver?
  • Look through the illustrations and ask the children what they think about a few different people, and ask them why they think that.
  • Do you think people are mostly good or mostly bad?

Discussion after you read:

  • Go back through the illustrations and talk about people the children had earlier said looked mean, scary, or bad.
  • Can you tell if a person is bad by looking at them?
  • What is the difference between being cautious and being afraid?
  • Remind children that if someone makes them feel unsafe, they should always find an adult they trust.

Please be mindful of your audience when reading this book. If you work with children who have experienced trauma, this book could help them understand that not everyone is as scary as they might think, but they might also feel like their experience is being minimized. If you know little about the children in your care, please make sure your questioning is gentle and that you in no way try to minimize or dismiss any child’s experience of trauma.

This book is really one of a kind, and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s tough to talk to our kids about staying safe without also making them more afraid, particularly of people who look different from their family. Most People can start important conversations in your home, church, or wider ministry.

Here’s a friendly reminder that you can purchase my featured books by clicking on their images. This supports me with a small commission. Please also consider subscribing to the blog or following Storybook Ministry on Facebook to support my work. Thanks!

Leannah, Micheal. Most People. Tilbury House, 2017.

We Are Not Defined By Our Sins

Year B, 3rd Sunday of Easter; Acts 3:12-19; Lectionary reading for April 18, 2021

When I was a child, sin terrified me. I was a Very Good Girl, and there was a lot at stake to keep it that way. While far from perfect, I wanted everyone, including God, to think I was. If I wanted to go to heaven, I had to be perfect, right? Once, shortly after my grandpa taught me how to make the sign of the cross, I did it with my left hand. That was it, I was sure I was going straight to hell, even though God had made me left-handed. I prayed and prayed for forgiveness, but I feared it would never be enough.

I lost my faith as a teenager, partly because I couldn’t keep up the perfection game. I didn’t understand how God could have made me so flawed and then wanted me to follow all these rules! I didn’t have enough scriptural understanding or guidance to survive that paradox. Rather than feel the shame of failing to meet God’s expectations, I rejected Him altogether. I was a sinner, so I gave up.

Eliza J. Murphy is also a Very Good Girl. She’s even captain of the Worm Rescue Team! But in Abigail Rayner’s book, I am a Thief!, she does something no good girl would ever do: she steals a sparkly green stone from her classroom. Eliza feels terrible about being a thief, but when she starts asking family members about their checkered pasts, she discovers that many of them have stolen things too — but that doesn’t make her feel any better.

Eventually Eliza realizes something important: even if someone is a thief, they are many other things too. Their mistakes do not define them, especially when they make amends. The children in our care need to know that they will mess up, make mistakes, and yes, sin, but that they are more than the sum of their deficits. They are beloved children of God. No matter what they have done, all they need to do is turn away from their mistake and back toward God to have their sins wiped away. There may still be worldly consequences for their actions, but God’s love and forgiveness are assured.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Have you ever stolen something? What happened?
  • How do you feel when you know you’ve done something wrong?
  • Does someone in your family write down all the mistakes you’ve made? Do you think God does?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Why do you think Ms. Delaney tells Eliza that she’s brave?
  • Does this book tell you it’s ok to steal?

I loved reading this book, and I think you will too. Click on the book image to purchase it through amazon and you’ll be supporting my work on this blog. Thanks for reading, please subscribe so you always have a book suggestion ready for your ministry!

Rayner, Abigail. I Am a Thief! NorthSouth Books, 2019

God’s Light Through the Universe

Year B, Second Sunday of Easter; 1 John 1:2-2:2; Lectionary reading for April 11, 2021

Did you know that there is more light in the universe than scientists can explain? Even if they take into consideration all the light emitted by all the stars and galaxies, and reflected off all the planets, moons, asteroids, and dust, there’s still more light than there *should* be. Even the darkest parts of outer space still have some light in them, and scientists are still puzzling out how this could be.

Like many people, I love going outside and looking into the night sky to watching the stars and moon, but I don’t enjoy stumbling back through the darkness into my home! But the problem isn’t that it’s too dark, the problem is that my eyes can’t see enough light to guide me home. It’s a problem of perception, not of light. Our eyes can only see a narrow little piece of the spectrum of light, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any light out there! When God created light to begin the universe, he banished darkness. God is light, and so is creation.

What Is Light? by Markette Sheppard captured my attention because it connects literal light to metaphorical light. There are many excellent books that cover the science of light (here’s a link to my favourite) and some that focus on the metaphorical light within us all (this one is amazing) but this gentle little book gives us a little bit of each. It isn’t a very long book, but that gives you extra time to talk to the children in your ministry about light, both the kind that shines from the sun and the kind that God placed in each and every one of us.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What do you use light for?
  • Every single food we eat depends on light from the sun. Can you figure out how the sun helps make pizza? What about ice cream?
  • What does it mean when someone says, “you light up the room?”

Questions to ask after you read:

  • The story ends by saying that light can be seen in everything you do. How can you be light for someone today?
  • How are the kind things you do similar to actual light from the sun?

Sheppard, Markette. What Is Light? Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; Illustrated edition (May 5 2020)

If you would like to support my work, please click on the links and purchase the books I feature through Amazon. I receive a small commission, and you will be supporting the work of amazing children’s authors!

Called To Share

Year B, Second Sunday of Easter; Acts 2:32-35; Lectionary reading for Sunday, April 11, 2021

I love reading about the early church in Acts. Imagine their enthusiasm for the new Way Jesus had provided! Of course there were conflicts, of course there were dangers, but passages like this in Acts 4 helps me envision not just a past, but a future where Christians live in harmony, sharing burdens and joys and making sure everyone has what they need. I won’t get into the argument for everyday Christians giving up all their possessions and turning to a communal life, but the message here is clear: we are called upon to share, even to everything we have.

Sharing is a frequent theme in children’s literature, because for young children who have just learnt the word “mine,” sharing is HARD. But wherever you land on the political spectrum and whatever your opinion of our current economic system, we can agree that children need to learn to share— and so do some adults. I will focus on my new favourite book about sharing, but I’ll also link to some classics so you have a few choices to turn to.

I recently discovered the author/illustrator Oge Mora and I am in love with her artistic style and meaningful stories. Thank You, Omu! tells the story of Omu (the Igbo word for Queen), a community elder cooking a delicious and particularly aromatic stew. As the smell wafts out her window, a variety of community members follow their noses up to her apartment. Even though she’s looking forward to sitting down to the best supper ever, she fills bowls for each of her visitors until there’s none left. Like every good book about sharing, Omu is rewarded for her selflessness, but I won’t spoil the lovely surprise ending.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is your favourite food? Is it difficult to share?
  • How would you feel if someone else ate ALL of your favourite food?
  • Who is it easy to share with? Who is it difficult to share with?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Did Omu know her neighbours would come back?
  • Do you think she did the right thing when she shared until she didn’t have any left?

I hope you add Thank You, Omu! to your ministry library. If you click on the book (or on the links below), Amazon will work its magic and get it to your mailbox and I will receive a small commission. Check your library and your friendly neighbourhood school teacher too!

Mora, Oge. Thank You, Omu! Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2018

Some other sharing books to consider:

God Doesn’t Have Favourites!

Year B, Easter; Acts 10:34-43; Lectionary reading for April 4, 2021

The good news is for everyone!

God didn’t choose to save only the Jews. From the very beginning, when God calls Abram, he is told that “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen 12:3)”, but tribalism is as difficult to shake now as it was in Abram’s time. Even though the resurrected Jesus commissions the disciples to spread the Word around the world, and even though they received the gift of tongues at Pentecost, God knows Peter isn’t quite ready for God’s blessing to be upon non-Jews and Jews. God sends a vision to Peter and an angel to the centurion Cornelius, and finally Peter understands.

Yes, but…

Nope. No buts about it.

No matter who you are, where you’re from, the colour of your skin, what language you speak, your gender, or who you love, if you fear (honour, respect, and revere) God and do what is right, God accepts you into God’s family.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s book, Is There Really a Human Race? helps put this into perspective. The story is told as a child asking a parent questions about this human ‘race’ we seem to be in. Where are we going? Why are we racing? Is the race fair? Eventually the perspective switches to the parent, who reassures their little one that we aren’t actually in a race with other people, and in fact, we experience far more success when we cooperate rather than compete. There’s a lot going on in the illustrations, so plan on leaving this book out in the Sunday school room, or when it’s safe to pass something around during coffee and fellowship (remember those days? Sigh.).

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Do you like being in races and contests?
  • Would they still be fun if EVERYTHING was a race or a contest?
  • Can you win God’s love in a race?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Can you tell if someone loves God by looking at them?
  • Can you lose God’s love in a race?
  • Why do you think God made so many different kinds of people?

I hope you use this book in your ministry, but be warned: it can be a bit of a tongue-twister, so practice reading it out loud first! If you click on the picture of the book below, Amazon will happily sell you a copy and I will receive a small commission to help support the site. Check your local library for a copy too!

Curtis, Jamie Lee. Is There Really a Human Race? HarperCollins, 2006.

This Easter Book Rocks

Year B: Easter John 20:1-18; Lectionary reading for April 4, 2021

Halleluiah! He is risen!

While many of the books I feature here help children understand the meaning behind the lectionary reading for the week, Easter calls for a book that showcases the story itself. The Easter miracle is foundational to our faith, and we should encourage children to listen to, read, retell, and dramatize it over and over. There are plenty of books about Easter aimed at younger audiences, and your church likely has one or two already, however, it’s difficult to find one book that will appeal to a wide range of ages. 

Patti Rokus’s retelling of the Easter story is simple, direct, and beautiful. Each page features scripture along with a paraphrase of the passage, but what sets this book apart are the illustrations. Rokus used rocks of all shapes and sizes to recreate scenes from Holy Week and through to the Ascencion. While at first this might seem like a gimmick, the resulting images are profoundly moving.

Early-years educators know the value of ‘loose parts’ in imaginative play, and this book is a bridge to similar activities in Sunday School. Bring out a basket of pebbles—smooth and rough, large and small—and see what beautiful scenes your children create. Perhaps start by encouraging them to recreate Easter scenes, but be sure to give them time to create other biblical scenes or scenes from their imaginations.

This book provides its own question to ask after you read it:

  • How will you show your love for Jesus?

If you click on the book images, it will whisk you off to Amazon where you can purchase the book and support this website with a small commission. While not as widely available in Saskatchewan libraries as other books I’ve featured, other regions might have more copies.

Rokus, Patti. He is Risen: Rocks Tell the Story of Easter. Zondervan, 2019.

Stand Up and Say Something!

Year B, Palm/Passion Sunday; Lectionary reading for March 28, 2021

Last week I confessed I buy Peter Reynolds’s books as soon as they are released when I featured a book he illustrated. This week, I’d like to introduce you to a book he both wrote and illustrated, Say Something.

When we hear the word ‘prophet,’ we tend to equate it with fortune telling, and yes, the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures did their fair share of predicting the future. However, their role was far more significant than gazing into a crystal ball and warning the Israelites of calamities to come.

Prophets like Isaiah were more like divinely appointed critics than fortune tellers. Isaiah’s role was to steer Israel’s leaders and the people towards God, and that meant pointing out all the ways in which they had failed to live up to God’s expectations. In this brief passage, Isaiah tells the Israelites that no matter how they might despise and torture him, he will hold fast to God’s message.

Essentially, a prophet is one who challenges those in power and stands up for what they believe is right. Challenging the status quo or speaking truth to power isn’t reserved for ancient men who heard directly from God. The children in our ministries should know that they, too, can speak up when they see injustices in their communities.

Peter Reynolds reminds children (and their families!) that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard. This book encourages readers to express their creativity, advocate for peace, and fight injustice. While this book fits well with today’s scripture, you might also set it aside for the next time there are protest marches in your community or on the news, to help the children in your care understand what is happening.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How would you feel if you saw someone bigger and stronger than you do something terrible, like hurting a little kid? What would you do?
  • What are some problems you see in your community?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • What ideas do you have that could improve our community?
  • What would you put on a sign if you could tell the entire world something?

Reynolds, Peter. Say Something. Scholastic Canada, 2019

Friendly reminder that if you click on the book images, you can buy the book through Amazon and I earn a small commission to support the website. Or use your library, that’s great too.

Teaching and Learning Sacrifice

Year B, Lent 5; Hebrews 5:5-10; Lectionary reading for March 21, 2021

If Jesus is the Word, the Logos, the blueprint for our lives, we too must suffer and sacrifice ourselves for others. For most of us, that doesn’t mean sacrificing our actual bodies, but we must learn that sometimes we have to put our own comfort aside for the benefit of other people. Many adults struggle with offering their time, talents, and treasures to help others, so how can we teach young children, who are naturally self-centered, this tricky idea? Once again, a storybook to the rescue!

When I first read Manjhi Moves a Mountain, I thought it was a beautiful allegory. The people of a mountain village struggle to go about their daily lives, climbing over a mountain top to get to school, medical care, and jobs. Manjhi decides that life would be easier if there was a road through the mountain and sets about to build one with the hand tools he has. The villagers think he’s crazy, but after years of sacrificing every spare moment to the task, a road begins to take shape.

The best part? It’s not just an allegory; it’s a true story!

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Tell me about a time you helped someone else. Did you have to give up something you wanted to do in order to help them?
  • Tell me about a time someone helped you. What fun things could they have been doing instead?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • How did Manjhi have the courage to keep going with the villagers made fun of him?
  • Why do you think it took so long for the villagers to start helping Manjhi?
  • How did Jesus have the courage to stand up to the religious authorities?
  • How can you find courage to help you through the tough things you know you have to do?

Churnin, Nancy. Manjhi Moves a Mountain. Creston Books, 2017.

Reminder that I am part of the Amazon Associates program (dancing with the devil, I know…) so if you purchase a book through the links provided, I earn a small commission to help keep the site running.