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)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Beauty! Joy! And Sewing...?

Let us rather love one another, and work and rejoice.
-Mr. Emerson to Miss Honeychurch
from A Room with a View by E. M. Forster 

Have you ever seen the beautiful Merchant Ivory film "A Room With A View"? Today I'm feeling rather like George Emerson in the scene that has him up in a tree, embracing the eternal "yes" and yelling, "Beauty! Joy!"

Because my weekend was all about Beauty.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian I have not yet celebrated Easter, but did have an incredibly joyous weekend in spite of that fact. (Go here to read the explanation Rita Wilson - wife of Tom Hanks - gives about Orthodox Easter, "Pascha", and why it's usually celebrated on a different date than Western Easter.)

Every year on the Saturday closest to March 25, our parish women's fellowship group celebrates the Annunciation with a tea for our women and young girls.  Our ladies host tables by bringing their own dishes and teapots, and we engage a speaker to come.

This year our Annunciation Tea speaker was Krista West.  As an ecclesiastical tailor, author, and lecturer, Khouria Krista has done a staggering amount of research on the history of ancient textiles and vestments. I hope you'll take some time to visit her engaging podcast, "The Opinionated Tailor", here on Ancient Faith Radio, where you can listen along as she discusses everything from Orthodox church vesture to faith and motherhood.

I can heartily say our women were all inspired by Khouria Krista's talk on the special role the Virgin Mary plays in our lives.  She also encouraged us to intentionally use BEAUTY in our churches and homes, and gave us tips on some of the practical and spiritual ways we can do that.  I look forward to exploring more about historical liturgical garments of the Eastern Orthodox Church in her book The Garments of Salvation. 

Krista and I share a love of books.  Knowing I have a blog about children's books, she asked me for some recommendations for her website because she wants to include a list of children's books about sewing.

Looking over some past posts I've done on the subject of sewing, I found a post about Beatrix Potter's Tailor of Gloucester here; one on quilt stories here; a post about a favorite dress, an overcoat, and yarn here; and the sewing of the flag that became the Star Spangled Banner here.

I did a little research today, and  I think Kh. Krista is going to be super happy with these unique books for her website...

The first book I have to mention is Tapestries: Stories of Women in the Bible by Ruth Sanderson. (ages 5 and up)
This book is stunning, and I have it in my home library. Here are stories of twenty-two Biblical women. Some of their stories are tales of bravery and cunning; other tales make use of traditional skills such as spinning, weaving, and sewing. Their stories are illustrated with lush portraits rendered in the style of tapestries, rich and decorative cloths of great beauty.  I have featured Ruth Sanderson's books on my blog before, here and here. A gifted artist and illustrator, Ruth's website is a joy to visit, here.
Pockets by Jennifer Armstrong.  Illustrations by Mary Grand PrĂ©.
Booklist Review says: From Armstrong and GrandPre (of Harry Potter books fame!), a lyrical tale of imagination's transformative power. The story is framed in nautical imagery and metaphor. When "a slim schooner of a woman, driven by strong winds and a broken heart," fetches up outside a prairie town, the industrious residents take her in as their tailor, on the condition that she make only practical, unornamented clothing. She agrees--but in subtle rebellion begins lining pockets with glorious embroidery of ships and fish, shells, and mementos of exotic ports of call. Soon the townsfolk are learning the names of stars, discussing poetry, dreaming of Constantinople, and, hands in pockets, scanning the far horizons. In GrandPre 's rolling, expressionistic painted scenes, the dusky purple light that falls on dreary buildings and shadowed faces is deepened and enriched by the golden visions that swirl about people's shoulders and fill the sky. In the end, heart healed, the mysterious woman sails off alone through seas of grass, having worked a profound change through hidden means. (K-3)

Brave Girl by Michelle Markel.  Illustations by Melissa Sweet.
From acclaimed author Michelle Markel and Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet comes this true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history. This picture book biography includes a bibliography and an author's note on the garment industry. It follows the plight of immigrants in America in the early 1900s, tackling topics like activism and the U.S. garment industry, with hand stitching and fabric incorporated throughout the art.  (I found this book from Anita Silvey's Book-A-Day Almanac.  Today, March 28, marks the birthdate of Clara Lemlich, born in 1886!)  For ages 4-8.

Rumpelstiltskin, retold and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky. (ages 4-8)
This fairytale is about spinning straw in to gold, not sewing it, but I couldn't leave it off my list of recommendations!  It is beautifully illustrated, with oil paintings by Paul O. Zelinsky.  After a recent trip to the main branch of the NYC Public Library, my daughter told me about the library's "Picture Collection" exhibit, where she read about this book's illustrations.  The show featured an original oil painting from Rumpelstiltskin and one of the reference pictures Mr. Zelinsky used to figure out how to paint straw.
image source here
Do you have any others to add?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Two Picture Books for the Irish!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Today I'm reposting my two favorite books for this Irish Saint from the 4th Century...
You can read my post about this fun alphabet book, S is for Shamrockhere.

I also highly recommend a more serious book, The Life of Saint Patrick: Enlightener of the Irish. (My past post reviewing this lovely book can be found here.)
Not to worry if you don't have it!  Kids will enjoy listening to the book, read by Chrissi Hart on her podcast "Under the Grapevine",  here.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Little Book Stack for Lent and Holy Week

Whether you're about to start Lent as an Eastern Orthodox Christian (we start Lent and celebrate Easter - Pascha - according to the Julian Calendar), or are anticipating Holy Week as a Western Catholic or Protestant Christian (according to the Gregorian calendar), I think you're going to like what I've got in my little book stack today!

1. Lent! Wonderful Lent! a picture book by Debra Sancer (ages 4-10)
2. Queen Abigail the Wise, a chapter story by Grace Brooks (ages 8-12)
3. The Mystery of Art, a meditative book by Jonathan Jackson (teens and up)
4. The Life of Christ in Icons, a Bible story board book by Marina Paliaki (preschool)


Lent! Wonderful Lent! is like a mini Lenten catechism for kids.  The author, Debra Sancer (a good friend who used to go to our Parish!), starts the book with a beautiful explanation of repentance, and then highlights each Sunday of Lent, starting with Forgiveness Vespers. 

Sweetly illustrated by Amy Stokes, this book can be approached in whatever way best suits your family.  With younger children, you might read from it on Saturdays or Sundays as Lent progresses, in preparation of the services.  Older kids might like it read aloud in one sitting as an introduction (or review) of what each Sunday of Lent will focus on.

Debra also devotes a couple of pages as an explanation as to why we sing an Akathist Hymn to the Virgin Mary in prayer services during Lent.


I was sooo excited when Queen Abigail the Wise arrived in the mail a few months ago!  For two reasons: reason #1 - because the author, Grace Brooks, a dear friend of mine who was in our Parish and sang in choir with me for many years; and reason #2 - because it's a chapter book about young Orthodox girls - and we need good books for the 8-12 age group!

In a moment you'll see why I was saving my review for Lent... 

Grace has written a fun book.  Her engaging story involves a ten-year-old girl named Abigail who faces ten-year-old challenges.

Our young heroine is grappling with things like how to pay attention in church, how to understand her faith, and how to interact in a loving way with her family and her friends.  Abigail wants to do the right thing, but faces constant distractions!  She wants to do something important, but is challenged with insecurities. She likes being a leader, but is struggling with jealousy.

Abigail is sure if could just have an icon of her patron saint, maybe she could learn to be more like her.  When her priest encourages her to first try to help people in their parish, she elicits the help of some of the other girls in her church (even though she doesn't know all of them very well), and they form the "Every Tuesday Girls Club".

You'll be swept right along with happens after that.  The story begins at the start of Lent (with a fly, and the Sunday of Orthodoxy.  Yes, you read that correctly!), and it ends with Pascha.

As you can see, the girls in my parish are devouring this book! One told me, "It was AMAZING." Another, in true "Abigail style" said she started reading it, lost it, found it, started it again, and lost it again (but really likes it so far). 

Queen Abigail the Wise would be the perfect companion for your daughter during her own Lenten journey - or as a Pascha gift!  You can find "Queen Abigail the Wise" on Facebook or her own website, here.


If you have a young adult in your life who happens to be an artist, drama student, or musician, The Mystery of Art by Jonathan Jackson would make a wonderful Lenten read (or Pascha gift) for them.  I've given this book to both my adult sons.

[In case you don't know Jonathan Jackson, he began his career in Hollywood over twenty years ago on the soap opera General Hospital.  He has also performed in many feature films, including The Deep End of the Ocean, Tuck Everlasting, and Insomnia, and is currently one of the stars of the ABC primetime drama, Nashville, a show centered on the inner workings of the Nashville music scene. Along with acting, Jonathan is also the lead singer of the band Enation and the author of Book of Solace and Madness, which was published in 2012. Jonathan is an Orthodox Christian and resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Elisa, and their three children.]

In The Mystery of Art, Jonathan describes the relationship between his personal theology and his work.  He explores the profound implications of human creativity in the image of God, along with the process of becoming an artist (of any sort) dedicated to practicing his or her art from the context of a deep relationship with God.


This beautiful book is exactly what it says "The Life of Christ in Icons".  It's one of a series of three from Athos Children's Books by Marina Paliaki.  (The other two in the series are The Birth of Christ and The Mother of God.) 

I was excited to find this gem for my little grandsons at All Merciful Saviour Monastery during my recent trip to Seattle. This board book is a perfect size for preschoolers - roughly 8 1/2" by 7 1/2 " - so that the icon details show up nicely.

And its sturdy pages makes it a perfect companion in church for little hands during Lent and Holy Week.  There are questions throughout, that make the book very interactive for home or church. (Any of the three books in the series would also make perfect gifts for little ones' Pascha baskets!)

The gift of Lent is that it is a time of preparation - to draw closer to God and to acknowledge that He is the reason that we exist. We need to seize this opportunity with our children to grow spiritually, so that it doesn't become just a "what-food-are-you-giving-up-for-Lent?" experience.

I hope you liked my little Lenten stack o'books!  Go here for my other Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha posts...as you prepare your hearts during this holy season.

Click here

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Seattle's Best: Storytellers

When my husband and I made plans with my brother and his wife to visit Seattle together, I had no idea how much our little vacation would be shaped by stories and storytellers!  Every place we visited had a unique tale to be told...

Storyteller #1:  A Monk on Vashon Island

I could hardly wait to see Abbot Tryphon again.

Just a few months ago, he had visited our parish to give a lecture series. He looked like a cross between Gandalf and Dumbledore, and his lecture series turned out to be more a "Treasury of Modern Parables"!


Like Christ told.

About real people who are hurting and healing. And the love, hope, and forgiveness we can offer them.

Fr. Tryphon had lovingly talked about Vashon Island and his Monastery in many of his stories, which inspired us to visit the All-Merciful Saviour Monastery during our trip to Seattle.  As we ferried across Puget Sound, it was barely 20 minutes until we could see the trees on the steep shore of Vashon Island.

The drive across the whole length of the small forested island to reach the Monastery was around 15 minutes.  After driving through the gate, we encountered several deer along the roadway into the beautiful wooded grounds.

As we visited with Fr. Tryphon and Fr. Paul in the library, they related that the monks first came to Vashon Island in 1988 and instantly felt at peace about calling it their home.

During the Vespers service later that evening in the candle-lit chapel, we couldn't help but note how the monks' solemn chanting and the beauty of the icons mirrored the beauty and reverent stillness of the monastery's wooded surroundings.

The All-Merciful Saviour Monastery sits on eleven acres, and is a lovely place for families to visit. But you must make an appointment.  The property is made up of woods, a large garden with chickens, and several Scandinavian looking buildings - including the monks' cabins, a small chapel, a library, a building that houses the kitchen and dining area, a bookstore, and Abbot Tryphon's beautiful study full of many of his Norwegian treasures.

We enjoyed buying gifts from the gift shop and bookstore, where I picked up a lovely picture book that I'll be reviewing in my next post.

You can read Abbot Tryphon's reflections on contemporary life in his book The Morning Offering, or on his blog of the same title.  (You can also listen - here - to his daily podcasts).

Storyteller #2: A Seattle Glass Blower

At the base of Seattle's famed Space Needle (built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair), is one of the most unique museums I have ever seen.  I wish we had visited the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum when my kids were young.  They would have loved it!

Dale Chihuly has perfected storytelling in glass.  His collection represents about 50 years of work. The glass sculptures are so breathtaking, it almost hurts to look at them.  We saw fragile blown glass cylinders fashioned after ancient Indian woven baskets, a brightly colored ceiling gallery of glass, a garden exploding with stunning glass creations, and my favorite: a rowboat full of glass sea life! (More info, events, and purchase opportunities here.)

Storyteller #3: Seattle's Underground Passageways

If you happen to visit Seattle, please don't miss the Underground Tour!  It's a fascinating way to learn about the city's past, as you go beneath the streets to roam the subterranean tunnels that were once the main roads and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.  (The city had to re-think its engineering and architecture after a destructive 1889 fire that burned 31 city blocks!)

At first (because of cost), just the streets were raised, but not the sidewalks, so the citizens had to climb ladders to get up to the new street-level businesses.

At first, merchants carried on business in the lowest floors of buildings that survived the fire, and pedestrians continued to use the underground sidewalks lit by thick chinks of glass embedded in the new grade-level sidewalks above (still seen there today).

Storyteller #4: Seattle's Public Library

The Seattle Public Library has stories to be found on the inside and outside of its windowed walls. Starting on the ground floor, you can find plenty of kids' books inside the children's library; and high on the 10th floor Reading Room, in between reading chapters of your book, you can gaze out at the stories going on below, as you people watch from the walls made of windows!

Storyteller #5: A Seattle Coffee Roaster

What goes better with books than coffee?  Especially in Seattle!  After we left the library, we were eager to see what other freshly roasted beans Seattle could offer besides Starbucks.

A few blocks away, my brother and I found the perfect spot: Storyville Coffee!

Besides the amazing aroma coming from our french pressed pot of coffee, I was immediately taken by the Storyville logo: a little boy playing with a toy airplane.  I asked the Barista what inspired the image and name, and he told me that the owner really likes planes, and also how children create stories and adventures with toys.

Upon further investigation for this post, I learned a little bit more of the backstory of this company - involving the owner's son, who has Down's Syndrome.  You can read about it here.  And you can order coffee and brewing "hardware" here, from their website.

Storyteller #6: The Chittenden Locks

Did you know that salmon can climb ladders?  Well, they do exactly that at the fish ladders in Ballard, WA.  Thanks to Hiram Chittenden, the journeying salmon are not endangered by the locks he was named for.

Salmon have always been vital to the Pacific Northwest’s ecosystem. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District Engineer Maj. Hiram M. Chittenden, for whom the locks are now named, understood this and planned on incorporating a fish ladder in the designs when he proposed building them in the early 1900s.

Go here to see more photos. We enjoyed watching a small sail boat go through the locks, but if you want to watch the salmon migrate up the fish ladder, you have to go in mid-June through October.  The Visitor Center has a great selection of children's books!

Storyteller #7: Last, but not least, our Hotel had a Story to Tell

Seems that another - more famous - Foursome stayed at the Edgewater Hotel overlooking Elliott Bay back in the '60's.  Their picture was one of many hanging in the cute rustic lobby...

THE FAB(ulous) FOUR(some).

Yes, that's a framed photo taken of the Beatles while they were fishing from the window of their hotel suite at the Edgewater in 1964.  You can read about it and see more photos here.

Now go make some stories of your own!
Other fun family things to do in Seattle:
Seattle Aquarium
Seattle Children's Museum
Seattle Space Needle (make sure to look down at the giant spiders! Here)
Museum of Flight
EMP Museum of Music - Sci-Fi - Pop Culture
Pacific Science Center
Pike Place Market

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Happy Birthday to Mr. Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss)

5 Fun Facts about Dr. Seuss and his books:

1. The Geisel Library at UC San Diego is named after him.

2. The Cat in the Hat led Geisel to found Beginner Books, a publishing company specializing in easy-to-read books for children. In 1960 Random House acquired the company and made Geisel president of the Beginner Books division.

3. Theodor Seuss Geisel also wrote some children's books under the pseudonym of "Theo. leSieg"? (LeSieg is Geisel spelled backwards.)

4. If I Ran the Circus is one of Weird Al Yankovic's favorite childhood books. How do I know? He told me - here.

5. Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, loved to wear crazy hats to parties. When he was having a hard time coming up with rhymes, he would sometimes put on one of his many “thinking caps” for inspiration - go here.