In This World

Year B, Peace Sunday, Psalm 34:1-8, 19-22; Lectionary for October 24, 2021

Nine years ago, I broke my wrist just as the school year began. It was rotten luck and I needed a lot of help getting my classroom ready, but I survived. Eight years ago, I broke my ankle. This time, I needed a lot more help– I needed surgery and couldn’t bear any weight on my ankle for three months, and even then, I had a long rehabilitation ahead. No amount of prayer knit my bones back together. No amount of faith took away the pain when the cast came off, when I could feel the metal scraping against my muscles and skin during physiotherapy.

I have to admit, I really struggle when I read the Psalms of praise. The psalmist paints a rosy picture of the life of a believer; a little too rosy. After all, many of the poor have called out to God, but how many have been saved from all their troubles (Psalm 34:6)? It’s difficult to read these glorious praises and promises when you can find hungry, hurting, and homeless people in any community. Would God help them if only they prayed more or believed harder? Why would a loving God put conditions on God’s mercy in the first place?

How do we make sense of the suffering of the world when the bible tells us of God’s great mercy for his people? This is one of the greatest theological questions, one I can’t hope to fully answer in a blog post, but I can give you my thoughts and perhaps they will be a useful way to talk with the children in your ministry about God’s promises and the reality of suffering.

I believe that God is always with us, just a breath away. God is with us when we have a great day and everything goes our way, and God is with us when nothing works out. God is with us when our bones break, when cancer cells wreak havok on our bodies, and when natural disasters strike. God never leaves our side, but is also not of “This World.”

In this world, we will have trouble, pain, depression, homelessness, poverty, violence… and God is there, waiting, waiting for us to close our eyes, take a breath, and remember that God’s kingdom of peace and plenty is right there within us. Sinking into God’s presence won’t make the psalmist’s promises literally come true, but the more we practice paying attention to the kingdom within us, the easier it gets to face the troubles of this world. When we know, really know that we are not alone, that is God’s mercy at work. When we take the time to notice God’s presence, we are delivered, if only for a moment, from our troubles.

Children are naturally concrete thinkers, so it can be tough helping them to understand something they can’t touch or see, like God. Matters are even more complicated by the media images of God as a bearded man in the sky. How do we teach children that God isn’t just over there, but everywhere? God Knows All About Me, by Claire Page can work as a conversation starter on this topic. It’s a fun rhyming book with bouncy illustrations that describe how God knows everything about us, no matter what. With guidance, children can take this idea from “God knows all about me” to “God is always with me.”

This book does not explicitly say that God is always with us, so as a worship leader or Sunday School teacher, you’ll still have some work to do, but this is the closest I’ve found to a book that can help kids understand that God’s kingdom is right here with us, only a breath away.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How do you get to know someone?
  • Do you know EVERYTHING about your best friend?
  • Do your parents know everything about you?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Can God be with you all the time, if God is already with me all the time?
  • Does God stop being with you if you do something bad?
  • Is God with some people more than others?

Thanks for reading! I hope this post sparks some interesting conversations with the kids in your care, and maybe even the adults in your circle of faith.

An apology to my regular readers for the lack of posts lately. Life has been a bit busier than usual, and it’s taking some time to adjust to the different demands on my time. I should be back up to 2 posts a week soon!

Storybook Ministry is reader supported, so if you are able, please consider supporting this work with a small monthly donation at

Courage to Speak

Year B, Creation Time 3, Lectionary reading for September 26, 2021: Esther 7:1-6

Most Sunday school children know the story of Queen Esther. Her great beauty made her Queen, and her great courage saved the Jews in Persia. The Book of Esther explains why Jews celebrate Purim by chronicling Esther’s rise from ordinary Jewish exile to Queen—and to deliverer of her people.

As I reread the book to prepare for this post, I noticed something for the first time. In chapter 5, King Xerxes asks Esther twice for her request, promising to grant her whatever she desires. Both times, she asks him to attend a banquet. It isn’t until he asks her again, in chapter 7, that she has the courage to ask him for the deliverance of her people.

Why does she procrastinate? She knows that all the Jews in King Xerxes’ kingdom will be slaughtered soon, and her cousin and guardian Mordecai already convinced her to act, so why request banquets rather than peace?

She’s afraid.

Remember how Esther became queen? King Xerxes had a queen, but when she refused to parade herself (naked, according to sources in the Midrash) in front of Xerxes’ friends, her disobedience resulted in losing her position at court, and most likely she was also banished or executed. Esther knew the king had an unpredictable temper, and she was afraid of what he might do when she revealed her ethnicity and asked him to overturn his previous edict to slaughter the Jews.

It’s easy to imagine our heroes as unbreakable and beyond fear, but everyone has fears, doubts, and setbacks. What would Superman be without kryptonite? I think we look to heroes not just for inspiration, but also reassurance that we can overcome our struggles and succeed, even if just in ordinary ways. Bernard Waber’s lovely book features all kinds of courageous moments, from the awesome to the everyday.

This humble little book portrays the many different kinds of courage we experience. Few of us will end up in a royal court pleading for the lives of thousands, but we all have chances to show courage in other ways. The book showcases examples like riding a bike without training wheels, having two candy bars and saving one for tomorrow, and being the first to make up after an argument. The children in your ministry will recognize themselves in the pages of this book, and will understand that everyone has fears… and everyone has courage.

Questions to ask before reading:

  • Tell about a time you were afraid to do something.
  • Do heroes ever feel afraid?
  • What does it mean to have courage?

Questions to ask after reading:

  • What kinds of courage have you shown from this book?
  • Are there other kinds of courage?
  • How do you think Queen Esther felt before and after making her request?

Thanks for stopping by! I hope these posts make planning for your children’s ministry a little easier. The books I select are usually available at your library, and don’t forget to check with the elementary school teachers in your congregations if you are looking for a specific title. I’m not the only one with hundreds of books in the basement!

Storybook Ministry is reader supported, so if you are able, please consider making a small monthly donation at so I can keep the website afloat. You can also support us by sharing this post with your colleagues in children’s ministry, and to everyone who loves the Good Book and good books.

July 1

Content Warning: Residential Schools

Every Child Matters - Vancouver International Children's Festival Society

It’s been a rough start to summer in Canada. On May 27, the remains of 215 children were found at the site of the Kamloops Residential “school,” many in a mass grave. Flags were lowered, and memorials sprung up across the country; collections of children’s shoes to represent the children who never made it home from that forced assimilation site. Then on June 10th, RCMP Cst. Shelby Patton was killed here in the town where I live, and flags remained at half mast as we mourned that loss. Flags were still lowered when, on June 24th, the Cowesses First Nation announced the discovery of the remains of 751 children in unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Residential School.

It’s been more than a month since flags flew high and proud across Canada, and today is no day for patriotic flag waving. I am marking this Canada day preparing the first 50 of my letters to every MP and Senator in Canada demanding action to end the slow-moving genocide that has been killing Indigenous people and their culture for hundreds of years.

Today I’m sharing a YouTube read-aloud of David A. Robertson’s book When We Were Alone. I love this book because while it is honest about the hardships of children in forced assimilation sites, it also celebrates Indigenous resilience.

Canadians, I hope you take today to mourn. Last year there were many reasons to celebrate Canada day, and next year there will be once again, but this Canada day, settlers need to stand in solidarity with the grief of Indigenous communities. Keep your flag at half mast and read the TRC calls to action instead— then choose one to work on.

This will be my last post for a while. I’m taking a break from the blog to enjoy a road trip with my kids, and to work on a soon-to-be-published young adult novel! I will be back in August with book recommendations you can use in your ministry as Sunday schools get up and running again.

Storybook Ministry is reader supported. My first Patreon bonus book list is going out to patrons today! If you can, please consider supporting my work at and you will get a monthly themed collection of book recommendations.

Thanks for visiting!

Dance! (But keep your clothes on)

Year B, Seventh after Pentecost, Lectionary reading for July 11, 2021: 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

Last night, I spent way too much time reading arguments about David’s apocryphal state of undress. We know he wore an ephod (a kind of ceremonial apron), but other than that… no one’s really sure. His disgruntled ex-wife accuses him of being vulgar and uncovered, but as king, standards would have been pretty high. Perhaps he wasn’t wearing his usual kingly attire, or perhaps there wasn’t anything at all under that ephod; we’ll never know.

While there’s no consensus about what he was wearing, this passage from 2 Samuel makes it clear that this was a party, and nothing could stop David from dancing! He brought the ark back to Jerusalem, and despite a setback that delayed the ark’s arrival by three months, King David danced for the Lord without caring about what anyone thought.

“Dance like no one is watching.”

-King David

I never planned to share two giraffe books in a row. But if King David can dance with abandon before the Lord, then you have to meet Gerald the giraffe!

In this book, jungle animals play the part of King David’s judgemental ex-wife, and they tell Gerald that he’s clumsy, weird, and can’t dance. Gerald goes off to sulk while the rest of the animals party at the Jungle Dance. He meets a wise cricket who suspects Gerald isn’t the problem, rather, Gerald needs a different song. Gerald listens to the song of the moon, the grass, and the trees, and his body starts to move until he’s dancing like no one has ever seen!

David danced to praise God, and Gerald, by listening to the music of creation and trusting himself is doing the same. Now break out the craft supplies, make some instruments, and have a dance party!

Storybook Ministry is reader supported! Please share this post with your friends in children’s ministry, and consider supporting my work at Patreon. Thanks for visiting!

Discerning What’s Right

Year B, Seventh after Pentecost, Lectionary reading for July 11, 2021: Mark 6:14-29

The story of John the Baptist’s death should break your heart. King Herod had a chance to do the right thing. He knew John was a righteous, holy man. He knew killing him was wrong. But, under pressure from the people around him, he did it anyway.

Ground penetrating radar found the remains of 751 children on the grounds of the Marieval Residential school, just a little to the east of where I live. I doubt very much that all the people who worked there were genuinely evil. It only takes one strong, persuasive leader to convince others that they have no personal responsibility for what happened at the school. Good people have done terrible things because someone told them to and they didn’t have the courage to disagree. What is the difference between beheading John the Baptist and marching Jews into the gas chambers? What is the difference between the gas chambers and the electric chairs that were used to ‘discipline’ students in residential schools? Over and over through history, ordinary people participated in horrific actions because someone told them to.

Would you?

It’s easy to say “of course not!” It’s easy to believe we are better than those people; more moral, more righteous, more courageous. This story reminds us that if even a king, the most powerful person in a community, can be swayed from what he knows is right, then we all must guard against slipping under the influence of evil.

Reuben doesn’t have a bike. All his friends have bikes, and he really, really wants one. But his family doesn’t have enough money for groceries, so how could they ever afford a bike? Then one day, Reuben picks up a $1 bill (remember those?) that fell out of a woman’s purse, and can’t wait to spend it on a treat. But that night at home, he realizes it isn’t $1, but $100. That’s enough for a new bike.

Reuben faces a tough dilemma for any kid. Use the money to buy a bike? Or find the lady in the blue coat that dropped it at the store? Reuben wants a bike so much, he even visits the bike store and sits on one just like Sergio’s, but silver.

While there isn’t anyone in this book telling Reuben to do the wrong thing, the pressure of seeing all his friends riding along the streets while he has to run serves the same purpose. He wants to fit in. He wants to have what his friends have. He doesn’t want his friends to know how poor his family is. The $100 would solve all those problems, but would it be the right thing to do?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What is something you really, really wanted, but couldn’t have?
  • Have you ever found something really valuable? What did you do with it?
  • What would you do if you found $100?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Do you think Reuben made the right choice? Why?
  • What would have happened if Reuben didn’t know who had dropped the money?
  • Do you think Reuben should get a reward for doing the right thing?

Thanks for visiting! Storybook Ministry is reader supported, so please share this post with your friends in children’s ministry. If you can, please consider supporting my work at and receive bonus book lists each month!

Perfect Weakness

Year B, Sixth after Pentecost, reading for July 4th, 2021: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I think this a foundational paradox of our faith. God uses weak people, broken people, and imperfect people to bring God’s kingdom to earth. Sure, we have stories of heroism and conquest in the bible, but we also have Jesus. Before we could get to the resurrection, he had to endure the weakness of his humanity right up to the moment of death.

Our weaknesses and faults give God room to work miracles in our lives. When it seems like we just can’t go on, when it seems that the odds are impossible; that’s when grace does God’s work. Grace doesn’t save us from pain, but it gives us endurance and perspective when we need it most. God uses our imperfections not just to move our own lives in unexpected ways, but also to help others.

Jory John has a knack for capturing the nuances of childhood, and I’m sure I’ll be featuring other books of his here. Giraffe Problems starts with a Edward the giraffe explaining how awful it is to have a neck like his. Too bendy, too narrow, too stretchy, too lofty… too necky! Everyone stares, and he can’t even hide it behind trees or disguise it with scarves. I think we can all relate. I mean, I have the most unruly head of hair you’ve ever seen, and I’m sure you have a physical characteristic or personality trait that you just CAN’T stand! We’ve all been there.


Edward meets Cyrus, a turtle similarly disappointed with his neck. Cyrus’ neck problems have left him hungry and frustrated, staring up at a banana for a week as it ripens on the tree. It turns out Edward’s bendy, narrow, stretchy, lofty, necky neck is just perfect for helping his hungry new friend. Edward’s neck is still too long, and Cyrus’ is still too short. But grace brings the two together in a way that helps them both.

I would like to mention that no one came up to Edward and said “God has a plan for your neck,” and no one told Cyrus “there’s a reason for everything, even your hunger.” Statements like that are cruel, and I wish they would be abandoned. I know we mean them to be encouraging, but despite what I believe about God using our pain for greater purposes, when someone is hurting, these sentiments don’t help. If your friend is in pain, sweep their floor and make them a meal instead of pointing to a future in which their suffering makes sense.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What don’t you like about yourself?
  • Do you try to hide that characteristic?
  • Do you think everyone has something about themselves they don’t like?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • Edward helped Cyrus get a banana. Did Cyrus help Edward?
  • Did God give Edward a long neck just so he could help Edward?
  • How might God use the things you don’t like about yourself?

Thanks for dropping by! I hope Giraffe Problems makes children’s ministry a little easier for you and more engaging for your little ones! Storybook Ministry is reader supported, so please share this post with others and if you can, consider supporting the blog at Patreon.

A Million Metaphors

Sixth after Pentecost, Reading for June 27, 2021, Psalm 48

I read a lot of books in preparation for writing this blog. I regularly pick up dozens of new storybooks I’ve requested from our local library, and I’m constantly on the lookout for more to request. It’s important to me that I’ve held a book in my hands before I recommend it. There’s some toxic theology in some so-called “religious” children’s books. Before any book appears here, it’s been through my request-read-take notes-return routine.

A few months ago, during my usual search for more books that might be featured here, I heard about What is God Like? and something told me this was a book that needed a permanent spot on my shelf and not just borrowed from the library, so I put my name on the pre-orders list and waited. I was right.

I love this book. It answers a child’s question about God, but it does something else even more important—it teaches children that there is more than one way to think about God. On the very first page, this book acknowledges that no one has ever seen all of God, since God’s just too big for any of us to see fully. Instead, every colourful page points to something familiar to children, like a candle, an artist, or the wind, and helps children know God through metaphors.

And then Psalm 48 appeared in the lectionary! Coincidence? I think not! Many of the Psalms try to answer the same question as this book. Psalm 48 compares God to a mountain, a city, a defense, a temple, and a wind. The psalmist wants us to understand the power and might of God through these heavy comparisons, but something beautiful happens in the very last verse. The psalmist reassures us that, despite the militant metaphors of the psalm, God is our guide. God is our guide forever!

The psalm commands us to tell future generations about God, but when God hides behind the cloud of unknowing, it’s difficult to answer a question like “what is God like?” This book, by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner, gives you page after page of beautiful comparisons and metaphors with which to talk about God with your children. This isn’t a book you’ll read once every three years when Psalm 48 comes around in the lectionary; this is a book your children will turn to over and over again.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What does God look like? How do you know?
  • What does God sound like? How do you know?
  • Does anyone know these things for sure?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • Which comparison did you like the best? Why?
  • Were there some comparisons that made you uncomfortable?
  • What other comparisons might describe what God is like?

Thanks for visiting Storybook Ministry! Please share these posts with your friends and colleagues in children’s ministry so we can make Sunday mornings a little easier for more faith communities.

Storybook Ministry is reader supported. Please consider supporting the ministry at Patreon so I can keep this site ad-free (and buy the occasional book like I did for this post)!

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)

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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.

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Planting Seeds, Planting Love

Year B, Lent 5; John 12:20-33; Lectionary reading for March 21, 2021

Please, plant some seeds. Right now, go to the store and buy some nice big seeds, or better yet, ask a farmer in your congregation to give you some actual wheat seeds, and plant them with your little ones. Fill a jar with dirt, push some seeds down along the sides so you can see them, and witness death and resurrection.

Once you’ve done your planting, choose one of the dozens of great storybooks about seeds and gardens. Some that I wanted to write about but didn’t:

Seriously, so many splendid books. But today, we will plant something a little… unorthodox.

As a general rule, I add every new Peter H. Reynolds book to my library, and when he works with Amy Krouse Rosenthal, it’s twice as magical. Plant a Kiss features simple rhyming text to capture the attention of very young children, but the illustrations and the message will equally interest older children.

Rather than plant a seed, a little girl plants a kiss to the skepticism of those around her. But just as one kernel of wheat that falls and dies produces many seeds, the one kiss multiplies to bring joy to everyone in the community. Towards the end, the little girl runs out of kisses to share and walks away from her empty bowl. Take that opportunity to ask how the little girl might feel, having given away everything she harvested. How would the children in your congregation feel if they made a batch of cookies and gave them all away, getting none for themselves?

Questions to ask before you read:

  • How do you think a seed feels when it is planted?
  • What happens to the seed underground?
  • How does a seed transform into more seeds?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • We can’t really plant kisses, but what are some ways we can spread love?
  • If you could plant things other than seeds to make the world a better place, what would you plant?

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse. Plant a Kiss. HarperCollins, 2011.

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