Purpose of this Blog...

You may have noticed that not all books are equal in capturing children's imaginations and in cultivating those innocent, tender souls. My goal is to help you find the ones that do!
(Painting by Mary Cassatt: "Mrs Cassatt Reading to her Grandchildren" -1888)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Why We Need Frog, Toad, and Flannery O'Connor

Yes, you read that correctly!  So what on earth do Frog and Toad have in common with Flannery O'Connor?

Well, it all started with a trip to Savannah.  Then my friend sent me an insightful blog post about Frog and Toad.

First, Flannery. 

I recently returned from a trip to Savanah, Georgia, birthplace of Flannery O'Connor.  If you've been to Savanah, you know it is made up of all these shadowy, tree-filled town squares - 22 in all, each with it's own park (think Forest Gump, on a park bench in Savanah waiting for his bus).

Anyway, when we first arrived, we happened upon the CUTEST bookstore: E. Shaver Fine Books, right next to Madison Square.

I was in heaven, especially when I found a little corner dedicated to Flannery O'Connor!  I bought two books: A Literary Guide to Flannery O'Connor's Georgia and Flannery O'Connor: Spiritual Writings.

Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) has always held a fascination for me.  Maybe because I'm from the South.  I was introduced to her not through her novels or short stories, but through her essays in Mystery and Manners and then her letters in The Habit of Being.  Full of quick wit, self deprecating humor, and wisdom, her thoughtful letters and essays brought me comfort and many "aha!" moments.  Then I read her short story Parker's Back! (More about her short stories in a minute.)

From the bookstore, we moved on to Lafayette Square. 

At one end is Mary Flannery O'Connor's birthplace and childhood home - now turned museum - dedicated to her.

Mary, as she was known until college, grew up on Lafayette Square during the depression and attended nearby Catholic schools.

At the other end of the square is the church Flannery attended, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist .  It's a truly gorgeous building, inside and out, and the oldest Catholic Church in Georgia.

So that brings me to Flannery O'Connor's faith and writings (and eventually to Frog and Toad - stick with me here!)

Not familiar with Flannery?  She is considered one of the great American storytellers. Before her tragic death which claimed her young life at the age of 39, she had written two novels and thirty-two short stories, as well as commentaries and reviews.  (She died from Lupus, as did her father, who died when she was just fourteen.)

Flannery O'Connor at her home in Milledgeville, Ga., 1962. [source] Credit

A devout Roman Catholic, O'Connor wrote from a foundation of a profound Christian faith and an experience of illness and suffering.  Her Southern characters battle between good and evil, sin and redemption. Her deep stories, though harsh and violent, often have another side: a humorous, yet grave commentary on the human race.

Why the dark stories? Flannery was always concerned with mystery and grace, and through her characters she felt she had to shock contemporary readers out of their complacency in order to consider life's biggest concern:  sin and salvation.

For the hard of hearing you shout, 
and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.
-Flannery O'Connor

Okay, crazy segue (not Segway, though we did see lots in Savannah), but we have finally arrived at what I have to share about Frog and Toad...  

Turns out that Arnold Lobel's short (very short) stories of Frog and Toad had a concern for sin and salvation as well!

In his blog post "Why We Need Frog and Toad More Then Ever"here, Joshua Gibbs, shares some wise insight about the moral universe of these two amphibious characters, as opposed to the lack of moral universe in many contemporary children's books that mainly focus on praise and celebration of the characters:

Like many children’s books from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Frog and Toad stories involve the two titular characters overcoming common problems which arise from vice. “Cookies” is about gluttony, “The Lost Button” is about anger, “Tomorrow” is about sloth, and “A Swim” is about pride. In each story, the only way to beat vice is through some form of suffering. Good things do not happen in Frog and Toad stories apart from suffering, self-denial, or self-control.

Do you remember what Frog and Toad did in order to stop eating the cookies?  They tried to get will power.  After putting the cookies up in a box and tying it up with string, Frog and Toad realized they could simply climb a ladder, reach the box, and untie the string.  So they decided to feed the rest of the cookies to the birds.  Frog said they now had no cookies, but lots of will power.  But Toad announced he was going to go bake a cake!  (I wonder who he fed that to. Ah, temptation!)

Joshua goes on to note:
As opposed to teaching our children that their problems can be overcome, we have lately begun telling them, “You are good. Your problems are part of who you are. Your problems do not need to be overcome, because you do not actually have any problems. The problem is with the world. The world has not properly understood you or celebrated you.” In this, the secular world has largely followed the late Christian tendency to rob people of their right to struggle against sin. “Not perfect, just forgiven” and “God accepts me as I am” are nothing more than half-pious ways of saying, “I was born this way.” No wonder we are such a stressed-out people. We speak as though fighting sin were treason against the self. [source]

Do "good books" matter for young souls?  

Yes! Flannery would concur (and does):
...the greatest dramas naturally involve the salvation or loss of the soul. Where there is no belief in the soul, there is very little drama. The Christian novelist is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin. According to his heritage he sees it not as sickness or an accident of environment, but as a responsible choice of offense against God which involves his eternal future. Either one is serious about salvation or one is not. And it is well to realize that the maximum amount of seriousness admits the maximum amount of comedy. Only if we are secure in our beliefs can we see the comical side of the universe. One reason a great deal of our contemporary fiction is humorless is because so many of these writers are relativists and have to be continually justifying the actions of their characters on a sliding scale of values. (From "Novelist and Believer", here)

Well, Frog and Toad are definitely comedic!  
So there you are.  
We need Frog and Toad (and Flannery O'Conner)!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Now, THIS Is What I Call A Princess Book!

Brand new from Potamitis Publishing...
Your daughter needs this book, and so do you!  It is sure to become a family treasure.

Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis' gorgeous jewel-tone illustrations accompany the fascinating stories of twelve brave, royal women saints in My Holy Queens and Princesses.

This lavishly illustrated, large format hardcover book by Dionysios and Egle-Ekaterine Potamitis is 100+ pages and includes audio CD. 

- It's about queen and princess saints.
- The illustrations are beautiful (did I mention that already?)  

- The introduction pages for each woman saint look like illuminated manuscripts.
- The stories are thoughtfully told and presented within a historical context.

- Boys will like this book too - there are lots of kings and princes in the stories!

- Each story concludes with a short summary of the saint's life and her feastday date.

-The audio CD included with the book is an added bonus.

*There are twelve saints stories in all - including some of our personal family favorites: Alexandra (Queen who followed the God of George), Esther (Old Testament Queen of Persia), Olga (Queen of the North and Grandmother of Prince Vladimir), and Ludmila (The Queen of the Czechs and Grandmother of King Wenceslas).

Potamitis Publishing is a family publishing ministry that is known for producing dogmatically correct, beautiful, and intriguing books for Orthodox children. As of October 2018, they have published more than 160 books in English, as well as in Greek, Romanian, Russian, and fourteen other languages.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019


Thanks to all who participated in my Three-Book
 -Pascha-Giveaway!  I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment, as well as your pursuit of good books! 

Robyn, Christy, and Amy were the giveaway winners. 

Keep reading!  And have a Blessed Pascha!

This beautiful image is from a card from St. Vladimir's Seminary.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Psst...Pascha Giveaways

Giveaway #1 - A Child's Guide to ConfessionThis wonderful book (companion to A Child's Guide to the Divine Liturgy) is a great little volume to tuck inside a child's Easter basket! Perfect size for young hands, with lovely and colorful illustrations.
From Ancient Faith Publishing: 
This 100-page, easy-to-use aid will help a child understand and prepare for confession. Designed for both younger and older children, this book assists the child with brief, inspirational thoughts followed by prayers and an age-appropriate self-examination based on 1 Corinthians 13 (the "love chapter").  Available from AFP, here
Leave a comment (by 4/23/19) at the end of my post telling me you'd like a chance to win this book - be sure to leave your email so I can contact you!

Giveaway #2 - Spyridon's Shoes by Christine Rogers. Your kids (especially boys!) are in for a treat with this chapter book.  Spyridon's Shoes is a fun read, and Christine Rogers has done an amazing job in introducing young readers to the special-ness of having a relationship with the saints gone on before.
From Ancient Faith Publishing:
Young Spyros spends his days fishing, octopus hunting, and dreaming of attending school like his best friend, Niko. When he encounters an elderly man on the beach after an accident, his whole life begins to shift and change. But who is this mysterious, saintly man, and why is his friendship so important? Take a short trip back in time to the Greek island of Corfu and discover the real reason for the mystery surrounding Spyridon's shoes.  Available from AFP, here.
Leave a comment (by 4/23/19) at the end of my post telling me you'd like a chance to win this book - be sure to leave your email so I can contact you!

Before seeing "The Durrells in Corfu" series on PBS, I had never heard of the Greek Island on which St. Spyridon lived. Both the television series and Gerald Durrell's entertaining account of life on Corfu, My Family and Other Animals, mention a comedic, rather than mystical, encounter with St. Spryridon's relics. I highly recommend the book (which by the way, is child friendly, whereas the TV series is not) as a read aloud to kids who love animals and nature. (Not part of my giveaway.)
The youngest of the family’s four children, Gerald, whose love of animals drove him to become a famous zoologist, wrote in his 1956 book how the family stayed for five years in this Mediterranean paradise until the onset of World War II. ‘Living in Corfu,’ he concluded of the hilarious adventures he recounted, ‘was rather like living in one of the more flamboyant and slapstick comic operas.’ [source]

Giveaway #3 - The Resurrection of Christ, translated by Fr. John Hogg from the Russian, by Elena Trostnikova with colorful iconographic illustrations by Olga Podivilova.  
Fr. John has recently started a publishing company, Exaltation Press, so that he can begin publishing good quality Orthodox books in English that he's translating from other languages as he works with Orthodox publishers from other countries.

This is the Paschal book from the series “Scriptures and Feasts for Children” (books are all pictured at the top of this post). This book goes through the events of Holy Week — the Entrance into Jerusalem, the Mystical Supper, the betrayal, crucifixion, Death, burial, and Resurrection of Christ.  Each scriptural evenT is explained in a clear and simple way that is suitable for the very youngest children.
The illustrations are gorgeous!  Look at the end covers...
At the end of the book is a glossary and "How to Tell Children about the Resurrection" section that goes into a more detailed explanation of the events for parents.  (One thing to note is that since the books are translated from Russian, some of the traditions mentioned in celebrating Pascha - "kulich", cheese Pascha, and pussywillows (for Palm Sunday) - may or may not be unfamiliar to readers from Antiochian or Greek Orthodox traditions.)

Fr. John has done a series of three books, "Scripture and Feasts for Children". All these beautiful books are available from Exaltation Press, here.
Leave a comment (by 4/23/19) at the end of my post telling me you'd like a chance to win this book - be sure to leave your email so I can contact you!

1 - Leave a comment telling me which book (or books) you'd like a chance to win for your children (or grandchildren, godchildren, nieces, or nephews!) 
2 - There will be three winners, with one book per winner.
3 - Be sure to include your email so I can get in touch with you.  If you are uncomfortable leaving it in the comment section, just send an email to me:wendyb1963@sbcglobal.net.
4 - You must leave a comment by midnight on Tuesday April 23, 2019.  Closed for comments after that time.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Palestinian Girl's Easter Traditions...

Today I'm reviewing a new book, Easter in Ramallah, written by Wafa Shami, with illustrations by Shaima Farouki.

This book focuses on the springtime Lent and Easter traditions of the author's remembered childhood in Ramallah. The Orthodox Church serves as backdrop of the story, without explanation given as to the spiritual meaning behind the somber and celebratory services and traditions that are the focus of the story.  Depending on the reader, this omission may or may not feel like there is something lacking in the message of the book. 

The story centers on a Christian Palestinian girl named Noor.  Her best friend Laila lives next door, and the two eight year olds are enjoying a spring day during Lent. 

They share a sweet and honest friendship and are comparing their families' fasting practices. Laila, a Muslim, thinks Noor's fasting tradition sounds more difficult than hers. And Noor thinks the same about Laila's!

Noor's family has another Lenten tradition besides fasting - they attend church services during Holy Week.  The beautiful Good Friday Mass is Noor's favorite.

Saturday arrives with its Light Parade.  People line the street, lighting their candles from the Clergymen who have come with long candles lit in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.*  There are marching bands of girl and boy scouts.

After the parade, Noor returns home for another tradition - one that is familiar to Americans: coloring Easter eggs.  But Noor and her mother use boiled vegetables to make the colors to dye their eggs!  Earlier in the week they also baked special Easter treats - Ka'ek and ma'moul cookies.

Easter Sunday arrives and Noor goes off to church in her beautiful dress, carrying her Easter basket.  Afterward, her whole neighborhood celebrates... 

 "The neighborhood was just filled with joy, neighbors going from door to door offering their holiday greetings. The kids' excitement with eating Easter chocolate and cookies and smashing the colorful Easter eggs filled the place with laughter, love and the holiday spirit."

Laila joins in the neighborhood fun later in the day and Noor shares some of her Easter Eggs.  Leila is excited to share her Eid El Fitr celebration with Noor at the end of Ramadan.

I think this story is a lovely look at the Easter traditions of another culture, as well as an example of the harmonious relationship that is possible in the innocent friendship of children from two different religious cultures.  May we all aspire to that!

Easter in Ramallah is available on AMAZON.  You can also find Wafa Shami online - at her website, "Palestine in a Dish", here.

*For 1,200 years, every Great and Holy Saturday, the Greek Patriarch has awaited the light in a small dark chamber of the church. After a time he emerges with a lit candle and reassures the gathered throngs that the miracle has occurred again. That flame is used to light many candles, which are then transported to Christian towns throughout Palestine and placed in churches. Some people take the light home and try to keep it flickering throughout the year.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

"Spring Is Here Today! Winter's Gone Away!"

I brought out my vintage 1953 copy (second printing - it was originally published in 1945) of Lois Lenski's adorable SPRING IS HERE to show you, as I gather some things for our upcoming annual Annunciation Tea at church.

The Feast of the Annunciation, on March 25, falls close to the first day of Spring every year.  I find it a happy irony that in the midst of Lent, as we are saying goodbye to winter, the Annunciation is an event that reminds us to look forward to Christ's birth in nine months on December 25!

The women and girls of our parish always have a Lenten tea in March in honor of the Virgin Mary, celebrating the day she said "yes" to God when the Archangel Gabriel visited her.

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!"

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.  You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob's descendants forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God..."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered.  "May your word to me be fulfilled."

I love what our Bp. BASIL said in his essay, Mary Our Cause Of Rejoicing:
"In a very real way, she [at just age fourteen] became the first to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior. She alone among all humanity can say that she not only received Jesus into her heart spiritually, but she housed Jesus in her womb, in her body."
(This essay originally appeared in The Handmaiden, Vol. 1 No. 1, published in the winter of 1996 by Conciliar Press. Bishop BASIL [Essey] is Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and Mid-America, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. You can read his essay in its entirety, here, on the Antiochian.org website.)

 Scripture above quoted from Luke 1:26-38 NIV

Monday, March 11, 2019

Lenten Meditations for Families

Can you feel your soul beginning to quiet?  Lent is here!  As I type this, my house is so still.  No television.  No music.  Peace.

Ancient Faith Publishing has a new book, Tending the Garden of Our Hearts, Daily Lenten Meditations for Families by Elissa Bjeletich and Kristina Wenger.  (I'll be giving this away, please read on!)

Parents/Grandparents, if you've read and enjoyed Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by one of the foremost Orthodox Christian theologians of the twentieth century, Fr. Alexander Schmemannyou know how helpful it is to have some insights and explanations of our services and meditations during this time of fasting, prayer, and contemplation.

It's wonderful to finally have a book that offers Lenten meditations for the whole family! This lovely volume offers devotionals for families based on the scriptures for each day of Great Lent, including explanations of various lenten services and questions to discuss and ponder. You'll also find an appendix at the end with hands-on activities to bring the lessons of the season to life for your family.

Need some other good books for Lent?

Adults and Teens:
Orthodox Worship: A Living Continuity with the Synagogue, the Temple, and the Early Church.
This is my new favorite!
Ancient Faith has produced a fresh update and redesign of a book cherished by a generation of seekers. Written in an accessible manner for the average lay person, Orthodox Worship offers insights into the Orthodox liturgy. Early Christians preserved a continuity of worship from the Old Covenant to the New, employing elements from the Jewish Temple liturgy, the synagogue liturgy, and the rituals of the Jewish home. The book shows how divinely revealed Old Testament worship is not only continued but also fulfilled in the Orthodox liturgy. A line-by-line explanation of the liturgy is included. A must read - you will come to love and appreciate the Liturgy more than ever.

The Tale of Three Trees:  A Traditional Folktale by Angela Elwell Hunt.
Once upon a mountaintop, three little trees stood and dreamed of what they wanted to become when they grew up. Each of their dreams come true in an unexpected way in this lovely retelling of an old folk tale that points to Christ.

St. Christoper, The Holy Giant by Tomie dePaola.
This is dePaola's interpretation of the legend of St. Christopher, who originally had been a giant named Reprobus out to serve the world's most powerful king - - a ruler he finds when he carries the young Christ across a river. 

The Selfish Giant by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger (I love this edition - Zwerger's illustrations with Wilde's telling are so poignant.) 
A once selfish giant welcomes the children to his previously forbidden garden and is eventually rewarded by an unusual tiny child. I cry every time I read this.

Those are some of our family's tried and true favorites.  I'd love to hear about yours!  
I'll send Tending the Garden of Our Hearts to the first reader who leaves a comment (please include your email so I can contact you for your mailing address)!

Go here to see my past Lenten/Easter blog posts and book recommendations. Have a blessed journey!