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)

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Humble Message from a Blockbuster Movie: "Have Courage and Be Kind"

I think that she [Cinderella] learns to turn the other cheek with strength. She has no sense of self-pity, no sense of being a victim. She makes her own choices, she doesn’t indulge in her own pain or hardships. She looks at the world with compassion. I find her such good company because she’s so un-showy, and yet she’s so charismatic. I think she really knows herself.
-Kenneth Branagh, director of Cinderella

A young and beautiful Lily James portrays Ella.

A couple of nights ago, my daughter, Mary, and I went to see Disney's new live-action Cinderella film, directed by Kenneth Branagh (it was my second time seeing the movie, Mary's first.)

BRAVO, Mr. Branagh (Sir)!!!!

The humble message of this fairytale - to "have courage and be kind" - danced right off the screen like a shining beacon of light.  It's a message that will never grow old, and that all young people - boys and girls - in our modern times can certainly benefit from!

Dancing with the Prince (Richard Madden)

If you haven't been exposed to the fairytale of Cinderella beyond Disney's 1950 animated version, go here to read my daughter's past post (she has some experience with Cinderella - she loved many picture book versions of the story as a child and portrayed Cinderella as a princess at Disneyland Paris for nine months!)

It takes Courage to be Kind...
Cinderella is a different kind of heroine than most kids may be used to. Like many modern-day female characters, she is strong and courageous, but Cinderella's strength of character stems from patience and love. Most of all, she is kind. As my daughter wrote in a past post (here in 2010) about this fairytale character:

"Cinders" is a beautiful and lovely girl, who, even in what should be her moments of greatest despair, never loses hope, respect, patience, or love. Children can relate to and learn so much from this story. While we may not have all grown up with an evil stepmother and mean, tormenting stepsisters, or had only animals for friends, and endured patiently - until one day we stumble upon our fairy godmother who helps us meet our prince and makes all our dreams come true - any person can empathize with this story. In various ways we've been there - we've all lived through a painful situation in life. But who can say that they offered kindness, respect, and love in return for the harsh treatment or hatred that might have been given?

The tale of The Little Glass Slipper has never gone out of style!
Disney's new film was beautifully done, and I am so happy with Branagh's decision to keep it a traditional telling.  The true heart of the tale is there, complete with darkness and light, the sadness balanced with a happy ending.  Regarding the film's on-screen scenes dealing with the death of both of Ella's parents, Branagh said:

The responsibility of introducing loss on that profound level to children made me understand why fairytales perhaps should not be dismissed [as trite]. They become ways in which we manage these very difficult life issues when we’re involved in talking to our children.

Some of my personal favorite things about this movie:
  • Sir Derek Jacobi as the King!
  • Gus-Gus was there, and chubby.
  • Cate Blanchette's green-with-envy gowns, and her porcelain complexion that, at 45, rivaled 25-year old Lily James' glowing face - wow!
  • The on-screen transformations of the pumpkin, mice, lizards, and goose into their respective magical roles involved in Cinderella's conveyance to the ball.  The visual effects were amazing!
  • The lavish sets.
  • All the literary and biblical symbolism (go here for an excellent article).
  • The film score. Make sure you stick around for all the credits - you'll hear songs from the Disney animated film, sung by Lily James and Helena Bonham Carter!

In defense of Cinderella...
As expected, there has been some negative feedback about the movie; but I've been happy to read several positive essays and reviews about this new live-action film. Two I'd like to specifically mention are Cinderella, the Fool For Christ by Gabe Martini, and The Audacity of Cinderella by Rebecca Reynolds.

My daughter's favorite Picture Book versions of Cinderella...
MARCIA BROWN'S sumptuous watercolors illustrate the Charles Perrault fairytale.

RUTH SANDERSON'S retelling (and don't miss her adaptation of The Twelve Dancing Princesses).

K.Y.CRAFT'S illustrations are reminiscent of opulent 17-18th Century France.

SUSAN JEFFERS' adaptation has very natural looking artwork.

WALT DISNEY'S, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by MARY BLAIR.

THE EGYPTIAN CINDERELLA, by Shirley Climo, illustrated by RUTH HELLER.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bright Week Picture Book Giveaway..."An Orthodox Christian Alphabet"

For us as Orthodox Christians, the week following Pascha - "Bright Week" - is a joyful time of basking in our Lord's resurrection - a week of celebration, feasting, and special hymns and prayers in our homes and churches.

It ushers in the next 40 days leading up to Ascension; we begin our morning and evening prayers with the words, "Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death!  And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!". And we greet each other with, "Christ is Risen!", responding with, "Truly He is Risen!"

I've decided to have a little post-Easter celebration here on my blog.  I'm giving away my hardcover review copy of a lovely new picture book just out from Ancient Faith Publishing:  H is for Holy: an Orthodox Christian Alphabet by Nika Boyd, illustrated by Heather Hayward.

One thing I know parents and kids will really like about this picture book is its interactive quality: there are questions and observations that accompany each letter, making it a good read for families with kids of different ages.

For example,
C is for CROSS
When Christ died for us, He was on the cross.  We kiss the cross to worship Him as God.
Can you make the sign of the cross on yourself?
Can you find a cross in your home, in your church, or in your neighborhood?

E is for EPISTLE
"Epistle" means "letter".  The Bible contains many letters written by Christ's apostles.
Do you write letters to your friends?
Listen for the epistle next time you're in church.

M is for MARY
Mary is the mother of God; she gave birth to Jesus.
The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her she would be Jesus' mother.  Mary listened to God.
How can you listen to God?

As you can see from the book's cover art and example below, the illustrations are done in pen and ink, with bright watercolors - one full page for each letter of the alphabet.

Oh, and at the end of the book Nika has included a bonus page: the numbers 1-10, each with its corresponding Orthodox Christian reference.  ("1 - for the one true God, who is all in all.  2 - for Jesus Christ, who is God and man.  3 - for the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit...")

This picture book is perfect for ages 2-8!  (Two year olds will like simply repeating the letters and words and pointing to the the pictures that will help give them a good introduction to their Orthodox faith.  Older children will appreciate discussing the explanations and answering the questions that accompany each alphabetical word.)

To enter my giveaway, simply leave a comment here at the end of this post.  Giveaway concludes Saturday, April 18, 2015 at midnight.  Winner will be announced on Sunday, April 19, 2015, and I'll mail out your book on Monday!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Greeting

I'll be celebrating Orthodox Easter - Pascha - in one more week, so I'll be posting Easter greetings again on April 12! We are just starting Holy Week, and I'll be taking a little break from blogging...but to all of you who celebrate Easter today:
A Happy Easter to You!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Back Porch Ponderings: The Jesus Prayer, J.D. Salinger, and Introverts

Yesterday I basked in a beautiful spring day in Indiana out on my mom's back porch, doing one of my favorite things:  reading!  During my visit, while my mom recovers from her second hip-replacement surgery (she's doing GREAT!), I'm determined to finish up The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World  by Marti Olsen Laney.  I'm also re-reading Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger.

According to Laney's helpful assessment of introversion, "The strongest distinguishing characteristic of introverts is their energy source:  Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions  They are energy conservers.  They can be easily over stimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of 'too much'." Ahem.  That's me.

An introvert of celebrity status, New York native J.D. Salinger was famous for not wanting literary fame.  Beyond mere introversion, he fiercely guarded his privacy, ultimately choosing seclusion for more than a half century.

In 1953, two years after the publication of Catcher in the Rye, he withdrew from the outside world for over half a century in the small New Hampshire town of Cornish. You can see his home here (I have to admit, it looks very tempting! I can see why he loved it.)  And you can read his neighbors' defense of his seclusion as being more of an attempt of a quiet man needing privacy, than that of a reclusive man wanting isolation, in this article from the NY Times.

J.D. Salinger
January 1, 1919 - January 27, 2010

Back to my mom's back porch. I enjoyed a quiet spring afternoon Salinger would have relished: solitary time with my books, a mug of coffee, a view of the stark leafless trees in the woods against a pale blue sky, with music from a CD of Puccini's opera arias floating on the breeze through the open (not bolted) sliding glass door out to where I was sitting!

My attempt at Salinger's brooding stare!

J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey (1961) reads almost like a script for a play, complete with stage setting, props, and characters' movements noted in detail.  The intellectually charged "lines" of dialogue between the characters is full of italicized staccatos.

The narrative is in two parts.  The short story, Franny (originally published in The New Yorker, 1955), takes place in a college town and involves an undergraduate girl who has become disenchanted with - and lost respect for - those in the academic environment around her. Franny is seeking answers from a book, The Way of a Pilgrim, that one of her professors has recommended to her. The novella, Zooey (published in The New Yorker, 1957), refers to Zooey Glass, Franny's brother and the second-youngest member of the Glass family (the Glass siblings, all rather brilliant, had each, as children, participated in a radio quiz program "It's a Wise Child".) In this second half of the book, Zooey confronts his younger sister, Franny, as she suffers a near mental and spiritual breakdown in their parents' Manhattan living room apartment - leaving their mother, "Bessie", worried and concerned.  He offers Franny rather sage advice, along with brotherly love and understanding.

I decided to re-read Franny and Zooey this year during Lent because of the spiritual lesson Franny learns in the story. She has become obsessed with saying "The Jesus Prayer", Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, which she has learned from the Pilgrim book.  But she has been praying it as a religious mantra, as opposed to a loving request, and without understanding the point of it.

Zooey helps her understand that the Jesus Prayer is about finding unity with God, and that all humankind deserves our love and respect.  He tells her:

We're carrying the Kingdom of Heaven around with us, inside...I swear to you, you're missing the whole point of the Jesus Prayer.  The Jesus Prayer has one aim, and one aim only.  To endow the person who says it with Christ-Consciousness.  Not to set up some cozy, holier-than-thou trysting place with some sticky, adorable divine personage who'll take you in his arms and relieve you of all your duties and make all your nasty Weltschmerzen ["evils of the world"] and Professor Tuppers go away and never come back...

And isn't this the point of Lent?  We strive to come back to God and the mercy that He offers to us through His Son Jesus, who will "trample down death by death" on Pascha!

Last night I attended the beautiful Orthodox Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts, a mid-week Lenten Eucharistic service.  My ears perked up as my brother - the priest at my mom's parish - quietly spoke the barely-audible words, "Through the prayers of the Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us," over and over, while he solemnly transferred the pre-sanctified gifts to the holy altar table, his head covered in reverence.  The congregation quietly knelt in prostration, then rose, as the choir intoned: 

Now the powers of heaven do serve invisibly with us. 
Lo, the King of Glory enters. 
Lo, the mystical sacrifice is upborne, fulfilled. 
Let us draw near in faith and love, and become communicants of life eternal. 
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.

You can read my past post about the children's book The Jesus Prayer and Me, here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Poem for March, as April Comes Knocking...by Emily Dickinson

photo source

Dear March - Come In! 
by Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) 

Dear March - come in! 
How glad I am! 
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat -
You must have walked - 
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest? 
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh March, come right upstairs with me, 
I have so much to tell! 

I got your letter, and the bird's; 
The maples never knew 
That you were coming - I declare - 
How red their faces grew! 
But March, forgive me - 
And all those hills 
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable;
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year to call,
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial  
As soon as you have come,   
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Born in 1830 in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world and is now considered, along with Walt Whitman, the founder of a uniquely American poetic voice.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Pascha Book Giveaway Winner...

Thanks to all who left comments and entered my Pascha Giveaway!
Congratulations to Robin Levy!  She is the winner today, chosen by list randomizer (courtesy of random.org), for my giveaway book Meditations for Pascha.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A New Children's Book for Pascha (and a Giveaway Book of Eastertide Devotions for Moms)

Catherine's Pascha, by Charlotte Riggle, is a new picture book that follows a sleepy little girl on Pascha night. (Pascha is the Orthodox celebration of Easter.  "Pascha" comes from the Hebrew word for Passover, because the Passover feast was being celebrated when Jesus was raised from the dead, and because in his Resurrection Christ fulfilled the promise of the Passover sacrifice.)  

Illustrated by R.J. Hughes, this book has a lot going on...
Your child will follow along, as late at night Catherine and her family leave their home with their Pascha basket full of goodies and arrive at their darkened church.  Once there, Catherine and her friend Elizabeth light a candle with others from their parish, sing, walk in procession, and proclaim "Christ is Risen!" as they celebrate the joyful Resurrection of Christ.
The pictures on each page in the book are framed by an illustration of a building. At first, it’s Catherine’s house. The picture within the frame follows the action of the story. Once Catherine arrives at her parish, the frames on page after page show a different Orthodox church building from around the world. Inside the frame - which follows earthly time and earthly place - we see Catherine at her parish church, yet there is a sense in which all distinctions of time and place have collapsed. Because of the different church buildings that frame her story, there is a sense in which she stands together with Christians from all times and places to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ!

How about putting a copy of Catherine's Pascha in your child's Easter basket this year? Be sure to visit the wonderful website for the book - you'll find copies of Catherine's Pascha available for purchase there.


Ever wonder how Easter got it's name? You can find out on the Catherine's Pascha website. There are also lots of fun activities, recipes, and information about traditional Pascha eggs and baskets!

Now for the Giveaway...for a lucky Mom (or Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, or other adult who may be following my blog)!

Would you like to have a devotional book for the days that follow Pascha? Far from being merely a “vacation from fasting,” the Pascha season (or "Eastertide", the 40 days between Pascha and Ascension) is a time that, properly understood, can greatly enrich our faith.

The Pascha season is certainly a time for rejoicing, but this should not lead us to forget that it is a preparation for another great feast: Pentacost. During the Pascha season, we celebrate and rejoice in our Lord’s Resurrection and we prepare for the great feast of the Holy Spirit descending upon us.

Today I'm giving away the book Meditations for Pascha: Reflections on the Pentecostarion, by Vassilios Papavassiliou.  He is also the author of Thirty Steps to Heaven.

Each short chapter in this lovely little yellow paperback volume gives us reflections and Scripture readings about Bright Week, Thomas Week, Week of the Myrrh-Bearing Women, and so on...

Vassilios Papavassiliou's Meditations for Pascha is his fourth in a series of pocket devotions: Meditations for Holy Week, Great Lent, and Advent.

  • Please leave a comment here at the end of this post to enter my giveaway for Meditations for Pascha.  
  • Giveaway ends Friday, March 27, 2015
  • One winner will be chosen at random (I use random.org list randomizer.)  
  • Winner announced Saturday, March 28, 2015.