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, December 31, 2010


HAPPY NEW YEAR (almost!)  I hope you make a New Year's Resolution to read aloud more books with your kids in 2011!  Check out this great list of Caldecott Medal winners.

Below I've posted a couple of ideas I found from Family Fun Magazine for New Year's Eve.  We used to love opening up our mailbox each month and finding this magazine waiting for us with tons of ideas for great crafts, recipes, parties, and family get-aways.  (Now they have a website too!)

My favorite New Year's Eve memory is when we celebrated the beginning of the 2000's with our close friends who also had three kids.  Every hour, starting around 8:00 PM, we had a different theme until midnight.  We centered the table decorations and food around the themes - we had a teddy bear theme, Star Wars theme, doll theme, etc. When the clock struck midnight, we went outside and did the "bubble wrap stomp" (below), blew horns, and popped little canisters of confetti.

MIDNIGHT BALLOON SHOWER (a bit involved, but fun)
Line up two rectangular paper tablecloths and punch holes every 2 to 3 inches down one long side of each.
Stitch the tablecloths together with yarn, leaving a foot or so at the end for a rip cord.
Tape the cloth to the ceiling on three sides, leaving the side opposite the rip cord open. Tape the cord up separately, so it's accessible. Let the center of the cloth hang down to allow space for the balloons.
Blow up at least 75 balloons. (you can store the balloons in large garbage bags until it's time to fill the cloth.)
Buy thin streamers and metallic confetti (as opposed to paper confetti - you might end up with stained floors, if someone spills any kind of liquid on the paper kind).
Stuff the cloth with balloons, then add the confetti and streamers on top. (Reverse it, and the confetti will weigh down the cloth and filter out ahead of time.) Tape up the last side of the cloth.
Let her rip! At the stroke of midnight, just one strong pull tears through the paper, releasing a cascade of balloons and confetti--followed by stomping feet and a cacophony of pops.

BUBBLE WRAP STOMP (super easy!)
Looking for a way to ring in the New Year that will have the crowd on its feet? Look no further than a packaging supply store. For just a few dollars, you can pick up several yards of large Bubble Wrap (or recycle Bubble Wrap that comes with holiday gifts). Just before midnight, unroll it on a hard surface, such as a wooden floor or driveway, and when the countdown concludes, GET STOMPING on that bubble wrap!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Snowflake Bentley (Caldecott Medal Book)Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, illustrated by Mary Azarian. (ages 4-8) This beautiful picture book (1999 Caldecott Medal winner) is the biographical story of W.A. Bentley. Young Wilson Bentley was fascinated by the six-sided frozen miracles that are snowflakes, and once he acquired a microscope with a camera, his childhood preoccupation became a scientific life study. His countless exquisite photographs examining the tiny crystals and their delicate, mathematical structures are still used in nature photography today.
The wonderful woodcuts by Mary Azarian perfectly highlight the author's tender storytelling and help communicate the homey-ness of the life of this determined and often misunderstood boy, who lived in Vermont with his very supportive parents (they spent their own savings to buy him the special camera when he was only 17 years old!)  When Bentley first begins to use the camera, he makes mistake after mistake, but he doesn't give up!  After much perserverance, he finally figures out how to photograph snowflakes, all the while enduring criticism and scoffing from his neighbors and the local farmers.

Bentley later wrote:  The average dairy farmer gets up at dawn because he has to go to work in the cow yard.  I get up at dawn, too.  But it is because I want to find some leaf, hung with dew; or a spider web which the dew has made into the most delicate ropes of pearls...I take my camera with me, get down on my knees in the wet grass, and photograph these exquisite bits of nature. Because I do this I can show these lovely things to people who never would have seen them without my help.  They will get their daily quart of milk, all right.  Other farmers will attend to that.  But I think I am giving them something which is just as important. 

His hard work paid off and his gift to the world - a book about snowflakes - was finally published.  It's still available today, and if you child is interested, I would encourage you to find it at your local library, or buy it:

SNOW CRYSTALSSnow Crystals (Dover photography collections) - by W.A. Bentley and W.J. Humphreys, contains over 2,000 photomicrographs of snowflakes, plus slides of frost, rime, glaze, dew and hail. The introduction by meteorologist W. J. Humphreys discusses techniques of photographing snow crystals, the science of crystallography, classification and markings. Your child will enjoy thumbing through page after page of the beautiful snow crystal photographs!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I first came across Tolstoy's short story about Martin the Cobbler in an anthology of Russian stories, and was excited to discover there was a wonderful picture book adaptation for kids ages 4-8.
Shoemaker Martin (North-South Paperback)SHOEMAKER MARTIN, adapted by Brigitte Hanhart, translated by Michael Hale; illustrations by Bernadette Watts. This wonderful children's adaptation is out of print, but I hope you can find it at your local library!  Leo Tolstoy's poignant short story follows the changed life of a lonely Russian cobbler, who, as he begins to read the Gospel, acquires a deep yearning to learn to live his life for God.  His chance comes one night after reading his Bible, when he hears a voice saying that Christ will visit him the very next day.  In the morning, he watches excitedly out his window as first one, then another person passes by...

I've printed the full, unabridged text of "WHERE LOVE IS, GOD IS" below:

WHERE LOVE IS, GOD IS by Leo Tolstoy
In a certain town in Russia there lived a shoemaker named Martin Avdeitch. He lived in a basement room which possessed but one window. This window looked onto the street, and through it a glimpse could be caught of the passers-by. It is true that only their legs could be seen, but that did not matter, as Martin could recognize people by their boots alone. He had lived here for a long time, and so had many acquaintances. There were very few pairs of boots in the neighbourhood which had not passed through his hands at least once, if not twice. Some he had resoled, others he had fitted with side-pieces, others, again, he had resewn where they were split, or provided with new toe-caps. Yes, he often saw his handiwork through that window. He was given plenty of custom, for his work lasted well, his materials were good, his prices moderate, and his word to be depended on. If he could do a job by a given time it should be done; but if not, he would warn you beforehand rather than disappoint you. Everyone knew Avdeitch, and no one ever transferred his custom from him. He had always been an upright man, but with the approach of old age he had begun more than ever to think of his soul, and to draw nearer to God.
His wife had died while he was still an apprentice, leaving behind her a little boy of three. This was their only child, indeed, for the two elder ones had died previously. At first Martin thought of placing the little fellow with a sister of his in the country, but changed his mind, thinking: "My Kapitoshka would not like to grow up in a strange family, so I will keep him by me." Then Avdeitch finished his apprenticeship, and went to live in lodgings with his little boy. But God had not seen fit to give Avdeitch happiness in his children. The little boy was just growing up and beginning to help his father and to be a pleasure to him, when he fell ill, was put to bed, and died after a week's fever.
Martin buried the little fellow and was inconsolable. Indeed, he was so inconsolable that he began to murmur against God. His life seemed so empty that more than once he prayed for death and reproached the Almighty for taking away his only beloved son instead of himself, the old man. At last he ceased altogether to go to church.
Then one day there came to see him an ancient peasant-pilgrim—one who was now in the eighth year of his pilgrimage. To him Avdeitch talked, and then went on to complain of his great sorrow.
"I no longer wish to be a God-fearing man," he said. "I only wish to die. That is all I ask of God. I am a lonely, hopeless man."
"You should not speak like that, Martin," replied the old pilgrim. "It is not for us to judge the acts of God. We must rely, not upon our own understanding, but upon the Divine wisdom. God saw fit that your son should die and that you should live. Therefore it must be better so. If you despair, it is because you have wished to live too much for your own pleasure."
"For what, then, should I live?" asked Martin.
"For God alone," replied the old man. "It is He who gave you life, and therefore it is He for whom you should live. When you come to live for Him you will cease to grieve, and your trials will become easy to bear."
Martin was silent. Then he spoke again.
"But how am I to live for God?" he asked.
"Christ has shown us the way," answered the old man. "Can you read? If so, buy a Testament and study it. You will learn there how to live for God. Yes, it is all shown you there."
These words sank into Avdeitch's soul. He went out the same day, bought a large-print copy of the New Testament, and set himself to read it.
At the beginning Avdeitch had meant only to read on festival days, but when he once began his reading he found it so comforting to the soul that he came never to let a day pass without doing so. On the second occasion he became so engrossed that all the kerosene was burnt away in the lamp before he could tear himself away from the book.
Thus he came to read it every evening, and, the more he read, the more clearly did he understand what God required of him, and in what way he could live for God; so that his heart grew ever lighter and lighter. Once upon a time, whenever he had lain down to sleep, he had been used to moan and sigh as he thought of his little Kapitoshka; but now he only said—"Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee! Thy will be done!"
From that time onwards Avdeitch's
It happened once that Martin had been reading late. He had been reading those verses in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke which run:
And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Then, further on, he had read those verses where the Lord says:
And why call ye Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to Me and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will show you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the storm beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.
Avdeitch read these words, and felt greatly cheered in soul. He took off his spectacles, laid them on the book, leaned his elbows upon the table, and gave himself up to meditation. He set himself to measure his own life by those words, and thought to himself:
"Is my house founded upon a rock or upon sand? It is well if it be upon a rock. Yet it seems so easy to me as I sit here alone. I may so easily come to think that I have done all that the Lord has commanded me, and grow careless and—sin again. Yet I will keep on striving, for it is goodly so to do. Help Thou me, O Lord."
Thus he kept on meditating, though conscious that it was time for bed; yet he was loathe to tear himself away from the book. He began to read the seventh chapter of St. Luke, and read on about the centurion, the widow's son, and the answer given to John's disciples; until in time he came to the passage where the rich Pharisee invited Jesus to his house, and the woman washed the Lord's feet with her tears and He justified her. So he came to the forty-fourth verse and read:
And He turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman 1 I entered into thine house, and thou gavest Me no water for My feet: but she hath washed My feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest Me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss My feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed My feet with ointment.
He read these verses and thought: "'Thou gavest Me no water for My feet'... 'Thou gavest Me no kiss'... 'My head with oil thou didst not anoint'..."—and once again he took off his spectacles, laid them on the book, and became lost in meditation.
"I am even as that Pharisee," he thought to himself. "I drink tea and think only of my own needs. Yes, I think only of having plenty to eat and drink, of being warm and clean—but never of entertaining a guest. And Simon too was mindful only of himself, although the guest who had come to visit him was—who? Why, even the Lord Himself! If, then, He should come to visit me, should I receive Him any better?"—and, leaning forward upon his elbows, he was asleep almost before he was aware of it.
"Martin!" someone seemed to breathe in his ear.
He started from his sleep.
"Who is there?" he said. He turned and looked towards the door, but could see no one. Again he bent forward over the table. Then suddenly he heard the words:
"Martin, Martin! Look thou into the street tomorrow, for I am coming to visit thee."
Martin roused himself, got up from the chair, and rubbed his eyes. He did not know whether it was dreaming or awake that he had heard these words, but he turned out the lamp and went to bed.
The next morning Avdeitch rose before daylight and said his prayers. Then he made up the stove, got ready some cabbage soup and porridge, lighted the samovar, slung his leather apron about him, and sat down to his work in the window. He sat and worked hard, yet all the time his thoughts were centred upon last night. He was in two ideas about the vision. At one moment he would think that it must have been his fancy, while the next moment he would find himself convinced that he had really heard the voice. "Yes, it must have been so," he concluded.
As Martin sat thus by the window he kept looking out of it as much as working. Whenever a pair of boots passed with which he was acquainted he would bend down to glance upwards through the window and see their owner's face as well. The doorkeeper passed in new felt boots, and then a water-carrier. Next, an old soldier, a veteran of Nicholas' army, in old, patched boots, and carrying a shovel in his hands, halted close by the window. Avdeitch knew him by his boots. His name was Stepanitch, and he was kept by a neighboring tradesman out of charity, his duties being to help the doorkeeper. He began to clear away the snow from in front of Avdeitch's window, while the shoemaker looked at him and then resumed his work.
"I think I must be getting into my dotage," thought Avdeitch with a smile. "Just because Stepanitch begins clearing away the snow I at once jump to the conclusion that Christ is about to visit me. Yes, I am growing foolish now, old greybeard that I am."
Yet he had hardly made a dozen stitches before he was craning his neck again to look out of the window. He could see that Stepanitch had placed his shovel against the wall, and was resting and trying to warm himself a little.
"He is evidently an old man now and broken," thought Avdeitch to himself. "He is not strong enough to clear away snow. Would he like some tea, I wonder? That reminds me that the samovar must be ready now."
He made fast his awl in his work and got up. Placing the samovar on the table, he brewed the tea, and then tapped with his finger on the window-pane. Stepanitch turned round and approached. Avdeitch beckoned to him, and then went to open the door.
"Come in and warm yourself," he said. "You must be frozen."
"Christ requite you!" answered Stepanitch. "Yes, my bones are almost cracking."
He came in, shook the snow off himself, and, though tottering on his feet, took pains to wipe them carefully, that he might not dirty the floor.
"Nay, do not trouble about that," said Avdeitch. "I will wipe your boots myself. It is part of my business in this trade. Come you here and sit down, and we will empty this tea-pot together."
He poured out two tumblerfuls, and offered one to his guest; after which he emptied his own into the saucer, and blew upon it to cool it. Stepanitch drank his tumblerful, turned the glass upside down, placed his crust upon it, and thanked his host kindly. But it was plain that he wanted another one.
"You must drink some more," said Avdeitch, and refilled his guest's tumbler and his own. Yet, in spite of himself, he had no sooner drunk his tea than he found himself looking out into the street again.
"Are you expecting anyone?" asked his guest.
"Am—am I expecting anyone? Well, to tell the truth, yes. That is to say, I am, and I am not. The fact is that some words have got fixed in my memory. Whether it was a vision or not I cannot tell, but at all events, my old friend, I was reading in the Gospels last night about Our Little Father Christ, and how He walked this earth and suffered. You have heard of Him, have you not ?"
"Yes, yes, I have heard of Him," answered Stepanitch; "but we are ignorant folk and do not know our letters."
"Well, I was reading of how He walked this earth, and how He went to visit a Pharisee, and yet received no welcome from him at the door. All this I read last night, my friend, and then fell to thinking about it—to thinking how some day I too might fail to pay Our Little Father Christ due honor. 'Suppose,' I thought to myself, 'He came to me or to anyone like me? Should we, like the great lord Simon, not know how to receive Him and not go out to meet Him?' Thus I thought, and fell asleep where I sat. Then as I sat sleeping there I heard someone call my name; and as I raised myself the voice went on (as though it were the voice of someone whispering in my ear): 'Watch thou for me tomorrow, for I am coming to visit thee.' It said that twice. And so those words have got into my head, and, foolish though I know it to be, I keep expecting Him—the Little Father—every moment."
Stepanitch nodded and said nothing, but emptied his glass and laid it aside. Nevertheless Avdeitch took and refilled it.
"Drink it up; it will do you good," he said. "Do you know," he went on, "I often call to mind how when Our Little Father walked this earth, there was never a man, however humble, whom He despised, and how it was chiefly among the common people that He dwelt. It was always with them that He walked; it was from among them—from among such men as you and I—from among sinners and working folk—that He chose His disciples. 'Whosoever,' He said, 'shall exalt himself, the same shall be abased; and whosoever shall abase himself, the same shall be exalted.' 'You,' He said again, 'call me Lord; yet will I wash your feet.' 'Whosoever,' He said, 'would be chief among you, let him be the servant of all. Because,' He said, 'blessed are the lowly, the peacemakers, the merciful, and the charitable.'"
Stepanitch had forgotten all about his tea. He was an old man, and his tears came easily. He sat and listened, with the tears rolling down his cheeks.
"Oh, but you must drink your tea," said Avdeitch; yet Stepanitch only crossed himself and said the thanksgiving, after which he pushed his glass away and rose.
"I thank you, Martin Avdeitch," he said. "You have taken me in, and fed both soul and body."
"Nay, but I beg of you to come again," replied Avdeitch. "I am only too glad of a guest."
So Stepanitch departed, while Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it. Then he cleaned the crockery, and sat down again to his work by the window—to the stitching of a back-piece. He stitched away, yet kept on looking through the window—looking for Christ, as it were—and ever thinking of Christ and His works. Indeed, Christ's many sayings were never absent from Avdeitch's mind.
Two soldiers passed the window, the one in military boots, and the other in civilian. Next, there came a neighboring householder, in polished goloshes; then a baker with a basket. All of them passed on. Presently a woman in woollen stockings and rough country shoes approached the window, and halted near the buttress outside it. Avdeitch peered up at her from under the lintel of his window, and could see that she was a plain-looking, poorly-dressed woman and had a child in her arms. It was in order to muffle the child up more closely—little though she had to do it with!—that she had stopped near the buttress and was now standing there with her back to the wind. Her clothing was ragged and fit only for summer, and even from behind his window-panes Avdeitch could hear the child crying miserably and its mother vainly trying to soothe it. Avdeitch rose, went to the door, climbed the steps, and cried out: "My good woman, my good woman!"
She heard him and turned round.
"Why need you stand there in the cold with your baby?" he went on. "Come into my room, where it is warm, and where you will be able to wrap the baby up more comfortably than you can do here. Yes, come in with you."
The woman was surprised to see an old man in a leather apron and with spectacles upon his nose calling out to her, yet she followed him down the steps, and they entered his room. The old man led her to the bedstead.
"Sit you down here, my good woman," he said. "You will be near the stove, and can warm yourself and feed your baby."
"Ah," she replied. "I have had nothing to eat this morning." Nevertheless she put the child to suck.
Avdeitch nodded his head approvingly, went to the table for some bread and a basin, and opened the stove door. From the stove he took and poured some soup into the basin, and drew out also a bowl of porridge. The latter, however, was not yet boiling, so he set out only the soup, after first laying the table with a cloth.
"Sit down and eat, my good woman," he said, "while I hold your baby. I have had little ones of my own, and know how to nurse them."
The woman crossed herself and sat down, while Avdeitch seated himself upon the bedstead with the baby. He smacked his lips at it once or twice, but made a poor show of it, for he had no teeth left. Consequently the baby went on crying. Then he bethought him of his finger, which he wriggled to and fro towards the baby's mouth and back again—without, however, actually touching the little one's lips, since the finger was blackened with work and sticky with shoemaker's wax. The baby contemplated the finger and grew quiet—then actually smiled. Avdeitch was delighted. Meanwhile the woman had been eating her meal, and now she told him, unasked, who she was and whither she was going.
"I am a soldier's wife," she said, "but my husband was sent to a distant station eight months ago, and I have heard nothing of him since. At first I got a place as cook, but when the baby came they said they could not do with it and dismissed me. That was three months ago, and I have got nothing since, and have spent all my savings. I tried to get taken as a nurse, but no one would have me, for they said I was too thin. I have just been to see a tradesman's wife where our grandmother is in service. She had promised to take me on, and I quite thought that she would, but when I arrived today she told me to come again next week. She lives a long way from here, and I am quite worn out and have tired my baby for nothing. Thank Heaven, however, my landlady is good to me, and gives me shelter for Christ's sake. Otherwise I should not have known how to bear it all."
Avdeitch sighed and said: "But have you nothing warm to wear?"
"Ah, sir," replied the woman, "although it is the time for warm clothes I had to pawn my last shawl yesterday for two grivenki."
Then the woman returned to the bedstead to take her baby, while Avdeitch rose and went to a cupboard. There he rummaged about, and presently returned with an old jacket.
"Here," he said. "It is a poor old thing, but it will serve to cover you."
The woman looked at the jacket, and then at the old man. Then she took the jacket and burst into tears. Avdeitch turned away, and went creeping under the bedstead, whence he extracted a box and pretended to rummage about in it for a few moments; after which he sat down again before the woman.
Then the woman said to him: "I thank you in Christ's name, good grandfather. Surely it was He Himself who sent me to your window. Otherwise I should have seen my baby perish with the cold. When I first came out the day was warm, but now it has begun to freeze. But He, Our Little Father, had placed you in your window, that you might see me in my bitter plight and have compassion upon me."
Avdeitch smiled and said: "He did indeed place me there: yet, my poor woman, it was for a special purpose that I was looking out."
Then he told his guest, the soldier's wife, of his vision, and how he had heard a voice foretelling that today the Lord Himself would come to visit him.
"That may very well be," said the woman as she rose, took the jacket, and wrapped her baby in it. Then she saluted him once more and thanked him.
"Also, take this in Christ's name," said Avdeitch, and gave her a two-grivenka piece with which to buy herself a shawl. The woman crossed herself, and he likewise. Then he led her to the door and dismissed her.
When she had gone Avdeitch ate a little soup, washed up the crockery again, and resumed his work. All the time, though, he kept his eye upon the window, and as soon as ever a shadow fell across it he would look up to see who was passing. Acquaintances of his came past, and people whom he did not know, yet never anyone very particular.
Then suddenly he saw something. Opposite his window there had stopped an old pedlar-woman, with a basket of apples. Only a few of the apples, however, remained, so that it was clear that she was almost sold out. Over her shoulder was slung a sack of shavings, which she must have gathered near some new building as she was going home. Apparently, her shoulder had begun to ache under their weight, and she therefore wished to shift them to the other one. To do this, she balanced her basket of apples on the top of a post, lowered the sack to the pavement, and began shaking up its contents. As she was doing this, a boy in a ragged cap appeared from somewhere, seized an apple from the basket, and tried to make off. But the old woman, who had been on her guard, managed to turn and seize the boy by the sleeve, and although he struggled and tried to break away, she clung to him with both hands, snatched his cap off, and finally grasped him by the hair. Thereupon the youngster began to shout and abuse his captor. Avdeitch did not stop to make fast his awl, but threw his work down upon the floor, ran to the door, and went stumbling up the steps—losing his spectacles as he did so. Out into the street he ran, where the old woman was still clutching the boy by the hair and threatening to take him to the police, while the boy, for his part, was struggling in the endeavor to free himself.
"I never took it," he was saying. "What are you beating me for? Let me go."
Avdeitch tried to part them as he took the boy by the hand and said:
"Let him go, my good woman. Pardon him for Christ's sake."
"Yes, I will pardon him," she retorted, "but not until he has tasted a new birch-rod. I mean to take the young rascal to the police."
But Avdeitch still interceded for him.
"Let him go, my good woman," he said. "He will never do it again. Let him go for Christ's sake."
The old woman released the boy, who was for making off at once had not Avdeitch stopped him.
"You must beg the old woman's pardon," he said, "and never do such a thing again. I saw you take the apple."
The boy burst out crying, and begged the old woman's pardon as Avdeitch commanded.
"There, there," said Avdeitch. "Now I will give you one. Here you are,"—and he took an apple from the basket and handed it to the boy. "I will pay you for it, my good woman," he added.
"Yes, but you spoil the young rascal by doing that," she objected. "He ought to have received a reward that would have made him glad to stand for a week."
"Ah, my good dame, my good dame," exclaimed Avdeitch. "That may be our way of rewarding, but it is not God's. If this boy ought to have been whipped for taking the apple, ought not we also to receive something for our sins?"
The old woman was silent. Then Avdeitch related to her the parable of the master who absolved his servant from the great debt which he owed him, whereupon the servant departed and took his own debtor by the throat. The old woman listened, and also the boy."
God has commanded us to pardon one another," went on Avdeitch, "or He will not pardon us. We ought to pardon all men, and especially the thoughtless."
The old woman shook her head and sighed.
"Yes, that may be so," she said, "but these young rascals are so spoilt already!"
"Then it is for us, their elders, to teach them better," he replied.
"That is what I say myself at times," rejoined the old woman. "I had seven of them once at home, but have only one daughter now." And she went on to tell Avdeitch where she and her daughter lived, and how they lived, and how many grandchildren she had.
"I have only such strength as you see," she said, "yet I work hard, for my heart goes out to my grandchildren—the bonny little things that they are! No children could run to meet me as they do. Aksintka, for instance, will go to no one else. 'Grandmother,' she cries, 'dear grandmother, you are tired'"—and the old woman became thoroughly softened. "Everyone knows what boys are," she added presently, referring to the culprit. "May God go with him!"
She was raising the sack to her shoulders again when the boy darted forward and said:
"Nay, let me carry it, grandmother. It will be all on my way home."
The old woman nodded assent, gave up the sack to the boy, and went away with him down the street. She had quite forgotten to ask Avdeitch for the money for the apple. He stood looking after them, and observing how they were talking together as they went.
Having seen them go, he returned to his room, finding his spectacles—unbroken—on the steps as he descended them. Once more he took up his awl and fell to work, but had done little before he found it difficult to distinguish the stitches, and the lamplighter had passed on his rounds. "I too must light up," he thought to himself. So he trimmed the lamp, hung it up, and resumed his work. He finished one boot completely, and then turned it over to look at it. It was all good work. Then he laid aside his tools, swept up the cuttings, rounded off the stitches and loose ends, and cleaned his awl. Next he lifted the lamp down, placed it on the table, and took his Testament from the shelf. He had intended opening the book at the place which he had marked last night with a strip of leather, but it opened itself at another instead. The instant it did so, his vision of last night came back to his memory, and, as instantly, he thought he heard a movement behind him as of someone moving towards him. He looked round and saw in the shadow of a dark corner what appeared to be figures—figures of persons standing there, yet could not distinguish them clearly. Then the voice whispered in his ear:
"Martin, Martin, dost thou not know me?"
"Who art Thou?" said Avdeitch.
"Even I!" whispered the voice again. "Lo, it is I!"— and there stepped from the dark corner Stepanitch. He smiled, and then, like the fading of a little cloud, was gone.
"It is I!" whispered the voice again—and there stepped from the same corner the woman with her baby. She smiled, and the baby smiled, and they were gone.
"And it is I!" whispered the voice again—and there stepped forth the old woman and the boy with the apple. They smiled, and were gone.
Joy filled the soul of Martin Avdeitch as he crossed himself, put on his spectacles, and set himself to read the Testament at the place where it had opened. At the top of the page he read:
"For I was an hungred, and ye gave Me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave Me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took Me in."
And further down the page he read: "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren ye have done it unto Me."
Then Avdeitch understood that the vision had come true, and that his Saviour had in very truth visited him that day, and that he had received Him.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Happy Feast of St. Stephen!

Saint Stephen is commemorated on December 26 in the West and on December 27 in the East.  At the bottom of this post, I have linked two excellent books that we read to our children about King Wenceslas, who himself died a martyr's death and became a saint...

Good King Wenceslas looked out
on the feast of Stephen,
when the snow lay round about,
deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel,
when a poor man came in sight,
gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know'st it, telling:
yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence,
underneath the mountain,
right against the forest fence
by Saint Agnes fountain."

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch, forth they went,
forth they went together
through the rude wind's wild lament
and the bitter weather.

"Sire, the night is darker now,
and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps my good page,
tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter's rage
freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's step he trod,
where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
wealth or rank possessing,
ye who now will bless the poor
shall yourselves find blessing!

STEPHEN'S FEAST by Jean Richardson, illustrations by Alice Englander
Stephen's Feast
"The carol about "Good King Wenceslas'' is expanded into a sentimental story in which a rather thoughtless young page is taken along to see how the less fortunate live; the bounty he and his king take to the humble cottage is shared in a sumptuous feast after the king himself builds up the fire. The telling is adequate if prosaic; it does serve to explicate John Mason Neale's verse, which younger children may find obscure. Englander's attractive illustrations set the story appropriately in medieval Eastern Europe; the page (also named Stephen--it's his birthday as well as the saint's day) looks like an appealing blond member of a modern third grade, while the grandly clothed king is thoughtful and suitably benign. Not essential, but enjoyable." (ages 4-8) -- quote from Kirkus Associates.

GOOD KING WENCESLAS  by Pauline Baynes
Good King Wenceslas (First Books (Lutterworth))
Pauline Baynes' (Chronicles of Narnia) beautiful Byzantine-influenced illustrations accompany her exciting telling of the story behind the carol of  King Wenceslas.  (Ages 8 and up)  Her historical note at the end of the book says:  "Wenceslas probably lived between AD 907-929, and began ruling Bohemia about AD 925.  He founded many churches, but his attempt to convert all his subjects to Christianity was not popular.  The precise date of this assassination is not certain, but it was probably September or December AD 929.  He was later canonised, and became a patron saint of Bohemia.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Most of us remember from childhood singing a song about the gifts "My True Love Gave to Me" for the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS... including a partridge in a pear tree

turtle doves
french hens
calling birds
...but have you ever wondered WHAT the 12 Days of Christmas are?

Advent (or the "Nativity Fast"), ended Christmas Day and is followed traditionally in both the East and West by twelve days leading up to January 6th.   Epiphany, or Theophany as it is referred to in the East, falls on this day and is the climax of the Christmas season and the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Following the traditional custom of counting the days beginning at sundown, this liturgical service is typically celebrated on the night of January 5th - the "Twelfth Night".

The term Epiphany means "to show" or "to make known" or even "to reveal." In Western Catholic and Protestant churches, it remembers the coming of the Wisemen bringing gifts and visiting the Christ child, who by so doing "reveal" Jesus to the world as Lord and King.

In Eastern Orthodox churches (where the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child is commemorated on Christmas Day) Theophany, which means "appearance of God", commemorates Jesus’ baptism.  The feast is called Theophany because at the baptism of Christ the Holy Trinity appeared clearly to mankind for the first time -- the Father's voice is heard from Heaven, the Son of God is incarnate and standing physically in the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit descends on Him in the form of a dove.

Here are some beautifully illustrated offerings of the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS SONG that I am sure you and your child will enjoy (click on the image of the book cover for information) :

Jan Brett
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Gennady Spirin
The Twelve Days of Christmas
Robert Sabuda
The 12 Days of Christmas Anniversary Edition: A Pop-up Celebration
Don Daily
The Twelve Days of Christmas

Friday, December 24, 2010


Artwork by Niko Chocheli
This is the greeting that is happily proclaimed among Orthodox Christians on Christmas Day.  Not that there's anything wrong with "Merry Christmas!" - we exchange that greeting as well - but "CHRIST IS BORN!  GLORIFY HIM" just really says it all, as it carries in it the meaning of life for us as Christians.  And I can't think of two better books that "say it all" for December 24th and 25th, than these:

PREPARE O BETHLEHEM:  THE FEAST OF THE NATIVITY, by Niko Chocheli. Luminously illustrated verses from Orthodox hymns of the prefeast and feast of the Nativity.  To read my past post about this artist and his books, click here.

THE NATIVITY OF OUR LORD by Sister Elayne (now Mother Melania), illustrations by Bonnie Gillis.  Beautifully rendered watercolors accompany the poetic telling of the birth of Christ.  To read more about Mother Melania and her books, click here.  (Be watching for a post from me about all her books, coming soon!)
That's the end of my "40 Books for 40 Days" Advent Christmas book list.  I hope you liked it!   Have a Merry Christmas as we celebrate our Lord's Nativity...

What shall we offer You, O Christ, 
who for our sakes has appeared on earth
as a man?
Every creature made by You 
offers You thanks,
the angels offer You a hymn;
the heavens a star; the magi gifts;
The shepherds, their wonder; the earth
its cave;
the wilderness, the manger;
and we offer You a virgin mother.
O pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!

Thursday, December 23, 2010


In this sweet book, delicate paintings by M.I. Hummel are paired with well-loved verses full of the joy and hope of children, and the angels that watch over them...

Sister Maria Innocentia 1934
Who was M.I. Hummel?  Berta, as she was named by her family, was born in 1909 in Bavaria.  From childhood, she displayed a promising artistic talent.  She studied at the Munich Academy of Applied Arts, where she met sisters of the Franciscan Order from a nearby teaching convent.  She, herself, entered the convent upon graduation from the academy in 1931.  That is when the young artist Berta took her new name, Maria Innocentia.

Before long, her artwork caught the attention of Franz Goebel, a local ceramics factory owner.  He had been searching for ideas for a new line of collectible figurines.  The first M.I. Hummel figurines, delicately crafted in three dimensions from the charming sketches and paintings of Maria Innocentia, were introduced to the public in 1935.

The young nun died of tuberculosis in 1946.  Even today, the ceramic figurines inspired by her tender artistry continue to be lovingly collected by admirers around the world.

Christmas Angels is available from Amazon or at your local library.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


PETER SPIER'S CHRISTMAS!  In his wordless book, Peter Speir takes us through all the sights and happenings of the season and gives us glimpses of the happy chaos of being part of a big family.  Each of us has our own unique version of this celebration with our loved ones, but the peek into this family's is like a walk down memory lane for me!  

Some details have changed over the years, but the traditions are timeless: decorations going up in the town and at the mall, looking in toy store windows, addressing Christmas cards (I remember helping my mom by licking the stamps, before self-adhesive options were available), picking out and bringing home a Christmas tree, listening to holiday music (vinyl records are now cd's), wrapping gifts, the wonder and peace as we set up our our Nativity scene, baking, going to Church, waking up Christmas morning, a turkey dinner with Grandpa and Grandma, a messy kitchen, wrapping paper everywhere, then the clean up - all with a cat and dog underfoot!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS (ages 4-8) by Ruth Robbins, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov, is the story about an old woman who, on a cold winter's night, hears a knock on her door.  She lifts the latch and looks out, to see three strangers standing in her doorway.  She stares in wonder at "their elegant dress, their frosted beards, their kind eyes."  They tell her they have been following a bright star to where a Baby has been born, but have become lost. They invite her to come with them in order to try to find the Child and offer Him gifts. But Baboushka is cold and hasn't finished her day's work.  She asks them to stay the night so that she can go with them in the morning.  They tell her there is not time to linger and they continue their journey without her.  She finishes her work, sits down to her lonely supper and begins to feel "a sudden tenderness and joy for the new born Child".  She becomes determined to find this new Babe and offer Him her poor, but heartfelt gifts.  She leaves at dawn but never finds Him, as she wanders from village to village.  She renews her search year after year at the time of His birth, and the children of the villages find joy "in the poor but precious gifts she leaves behind her in the silent night."

A little trivia (or controversy, depending on how you look at it):
The inside title page of BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS says the story is "Adapted From A Russian Folk Tale"; and at the end of BABOUSHKA AND THE THREE KINGS is the text of a poem, "BABOUSHKA, A RUSSIAN LEGEND", written by an American, Edith M. Thomas, in 1907.  In reality there is no such tale from Russia!  But there is a legend very much like this from Italy - about Old Befana.  (author and illustrator Tomie dePaola has a wonderful version of this story).

OLD BEFANA retold by Tomie dePaola (ages 4-8)