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 2, 2021

Sisters, Sisters...

There were never such devoted sisters!

My granddaughters are the cutest.

We love singing them the "Sisters Song" from White Christmas - especially in light of the fact that Maria (the youngest of my daughter's four children) was born in December - on Christmas Eve!

My husband recently found a long lost box high up on a shelf in our garage.  It was full of some of our kids' favorite childhood picture books!  I separated them out according to each (now adult) child so they can pass them along to their own kiddos.

When I came to the pile of my daughter's books I smiled as I thought of her little girls enjoying their mommy's old books...because they already love books!

Today I'd like to highlight a story about two sisters, Snow White and Rose Red, heroines of one of Grimm's fairytales. I remember it being a favorite of my childhood fairytales.  Growing up, we had a recorded version with a follow-along Little Golden book.

There was once a poor widow who lived in a lonely cottage. In front of the cottage was a garden wherein stood two rose-trees, one of which bore white and the other red roses. She had two children who were like the two rose-trees, and one was called Snow-white, and the other Rose-red... 

I loved Gustav Tenggren's illustrations of the blonde and brunette sisters, as different in their personalities as their red and white rose bushes - and I could never decide which girl I'd rather be. The story also features a bear, and an ungrateful dwarf (who always reminded me of Rumplestiltskin).

This beautiful version, Snow & Rose written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin, was gifted to me by my daughter! It's a nice chapter book version for kids 8-12, with beautiful illustrations throughout.

From Publisher's Weekly:

Sisters Snow and Rose once lived a charmed life in a grand house with a beautiful garden. After their father disappears into the woods, the girls and their mother are forced to move into a small cottage in the same forest. There, they befriend a boy named Ivo, discover a mysterious library filled not with books but objects, are tricked by a strange little man, and bond with a protective bear. 

Unfolding over episodic chapters that build to a well-deserved happy ending, this moody fairy tale emphasizes family, friendship, and the powerful bond of sisterhood. Martin’s characterization of the two contrary sisters is especially moving: Rose is the type of person who “holds on to a thing she loved as tightly as she could,” while Snow wants “to see or hear or taste something she loved over and over again, to remind herself that it was real.” 

The sisters’ contradictions make their relationship all the stronger, and Martin’s prim full-color paintings and spot illustrations tenderly highlight key characters and moments. Ages 8–12.

Incidentally, when Maria was born, I gifted her with one of Emily Winfield Martin's picture books, The Wonderful Things You Will Be.

And this past Christmas, we gave her a cute little stuffed doll of the protagonist baby (her doppelganger), who, along with sister Lexi, keeps Maria company day and night.

Oh, how I miss our little Snow (Lexi) and Rose (Maria)!  Such devoted sisters.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Love at Lent - Family Activity Pack Giveaway

Blessed Feast of the Annunciation! Today, I'd like to highlight Love at Lent, a new offering from Ancient Faith Publishing.  Orthodox Lent and Pascha are a bit late on the calendar this year, and so am I in getting this post out, but nonetheless, here you go... 

Michelle Bonanno Triant, along with illustrator Maria Constantinescu, has curated a sweet boxed set of 50 Lenten activity cards for the whole family that will encourage forgiveness, gratitude, generosity, prayer, and love. 

These daily tasks and prayer cards will get your family involved in the Spirit and work of Lent.  You can choose one each day of Great Lent and Holy Week to discover a new simple task to complete. The cards can also be utilized in other settings, such as Sunday school, church ministry groups, and homeschool cooperatives.

I just LOVE Maria Constantinescu's illustrations on the front of each card.  So bright and perfect for spring!

I think parents will appreciate that the tasks on the back of the cards are simple and straightforward, and not overwhelming at all. They don't even need to be done in a specific order (although there are a few that go especially with Holy Week and Pascha.) Along with the activities, all the cards include "Tips" and "Bonus Fun".

Here are a few examples of specific tasks:

Read a Bible Story

Say "I Love You" in Another Language

Give Away a Toy

Take a Family Walk


Decorate a Pascha Card

GIVEAWAY: I know this fun pack of sturdy activity cards will be anticipated by kids and used year after year!  I'd love to send it to someone.  

Be the first parent, grandparent, godparent, or Sunday school teacher to leave a comment and the pack is yours. Then send me an email {wendyb[spam]1963@sbclgobal.net} with your mailing address. 

*Of course anyone is welcome to leave a random comment and not enter in the giveaway, but please specify that. Giveaway is only open to my readers with children in their lives that could benefit.  Not to be re-sold under any circumstance!  The cards are available here from Ancient Faith Publishing.

Monday, February 1, 2021

A Hymn for Saint Brigid's Day


"St. Bride", John Duncan 1913

O holy Brigid, you became sublime through your humility,

and flew on the wings of your longing for God.

When you arrived in the eternal City and appeared before your Divine Spouse wearing the crown of virginity,

You kept your promise to remember those who have recourse to you.

You shower grace upon the world, and multiply miracles.

Intercede with Christ our God that He may save our souls.

The well-known founder and abbess of the Monastery of Kildare has been revered and loved throughout Europe for almost fifteen hundred years. While she was still a young woman, her unbounded compassion for the poor, the sick and the suffering grew to such proportions as to shelter all of Ireland. St. Brigid’s tonsure at the hands of St. Mael of Ardagh inaugurated the beginning of women’s coenobitic monasticism in Ireland. St. Brigid soon expanded it by founding many other convents throughout Ireland. The gifts of the Holy Spirit shine brightly upon all through her—both men and beasts—to this day. After receiving Holy Communion at Kildare from St. Ninnidh of Inismacsaint she gave her soul into the hands of her Lord in 523. [Source: http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/irishorthodoxchurch.aspx#brigid]

Happy first day of February - St Brigid's Day! You can read my past post, here, with a book recommendation for today The Life of Saint Brigid, Abess of Kildare, by Jane Meyer.

Tonight, on the eve of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, we will have our candles blessed at church. This February 2 feast day (called Candlemas in the West) commemorates a prophecy and blessing given by St. Simeon in Luke chapter 2: 

"Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. 
For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation 
which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. 
To be a Light to enlighten the nations 
and to be the glory of Thy people Israel."  

Tomorrow is also Groundhog Day - he'll be looking for light too! Will he see his shadow?  Traditionally, if the sun shone on "Candlemas Day", Europeans believed the hedgehog (groundhog) would cast a shadow and another six weeks of winter was inevitable.

"If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings cold and rain, 
Go winter, and come not again."

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Need a Hug?

Around this time of year (and especially this year), we all could use a warm, cuddly hug. With  Groundhog Day and Valentine's Day approaching, I thought I'd share a heartwarming book with you that features a hedgehog (hey, it's pretty close to a groundhog!)

"Why will no one hug me?" Hedgehog sniffed. 

"You're just a little bit tricky to hug," replied Owl, "with all your prickly prickles.  But don't worry, there's someone for everyone."

The Hug, written by Eoin McLaughlin, and illustrated by Polly Dunbar, is a unique format picture book that flips over, providing two narratives - and two characters - to love.

Book description: Both a hedgehog and a tortoise are feeling sad and looking for a hug.  They ask all the animals they come across, but for some reason, no one will hug them. Until a wise owl explains: Hedgehog is too spiky; Tortoise is too bony.  And that's when they find each other!

What your child will like about this book: The story read from the front cover to the middle is Hedgehog's story; you turn the book upside down and read from back to middle for Tortoise's story.  Both creatures have the same problem: no one wants to hug them and everyone has an excuse.  Both their stories collide - with a big hug - in the middle of the book.  These two just had to wait until they found their match. 

One more from this writer/illustrator duo: While We Can't Hug, a new picture book for kids in response to social distancing. Hedgehog and Tortoise find other things friends can do besides  hugging - they can wave at each other, write letters, make funny faces, and sing songs...all in a show of their friendship.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Good-by Amazon, hello bookshop!

I don't know about you, but I'm doing all I can for local businesses.  Yesterday I visited a new independently-owned little bookstore in quaint Old Town Tustin, here in Orange County, CA. It's the Arvida Book Co. 

I've often dreamed of opening a little bookshop like this on Main Street, USA, complete with used and new books, a great children's area, cozy reading spaces, bookish merchandise, local art, and good coffee

Our local newspaper had carried a story about the bookshop, and I finally made it for a visit. The owner, Sam Roberston (who chose the name "Arvida" in homage to her South American grandfather) has really gotten this book space right - with tons of help from her friends and family. 

She and her husband Mike opened the shop in October of 2020 - right in the middle of a pandemic situation that has had everyone shopping online!  

Brave Mama (she has two young children) - good for her!

In a second interview (here), Sam said, "The pandemic has given Amazon this crazy leverage over everything. We're not going down without a fight. We're not going to play their game." 

Don't you love her?

Shopping here is waaaay more fun than Amazon anyway! And everything at Arvida is very Covid-conscious, in a non in-your-face way.  They've got cute little book pages and pillows on all the chairs and couches, as a gentle reminder not too stay and read (until this is all past us).  Masks required, of course.

Did I mention there's coffee? From White Sparrow Coffee. (The Robertsons' landlord introduced them to the local vendor.) I didn't get a cup, since it was too late in the day for me, but I can hardly wait to go back for a morning visit! 

With hanging plants and succulents, the whole space is light, bright, and open, but still cozy.

There's a hip, creative funkiness...

...but all the books and antiques make it timeless as well.

And, saving the best for last, there is an awesome children's corner!  Take a closer look...

Sweetly curated, but not too precious. Lots of rustic cubbies for used and new books, 

...and billowing cloth for a tent-like ceiling that hangs over a little table and tree stump stools. What child wouldn't want to plop down here with a book?

There's a campy feeling of the outdoors, with lots of greenery around (even lining the backs of the bookshelves!) It reminded me a little of Neverland.

This place is so fun and inviting. Truly a little "Shop Around the Corner".  Lots of other unique shops and restaurants surround it, all ready and waiting for customers. 

Here was my take-away: a gorgeous new Chiltern's Classic edition of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility and a $2 used hardcover 1952 copy of Charlotte's Web. A good day. Even with a mask.

You might also like my past post, "Word Lovers UNITE! (With E.B. White and Others...), here.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thumbelina? No, Saint Ia on a Leaf!

Melinda Johnson has a new picture book about St. Ia.  Her hagiography (which we'll get to in a minute) is fairytale-like and her mode of transportation reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina

Children love fairytales, which, much like stories of the saints, have a lot to teach us. When I was a little girl, Thumbelina was one of my favorite fairytales.  We had the Little Golden Book version, with illustrations by the Swedish artist, Gustaf Tenggren

Thumbelina was as small as your thumb. As fairytales (and some saints' stories) go, the beautiful girl had several mishaps involving unsuitable and unwanted suitors.  But luckily, several creatures took pity on her and came to her rescue.

Thumbelina may have been defenseless, but she was not helpless. She made do with what nature could give her to survive (a leaf for a boat, blades of grass for a bed, honey for food...). One day she found a swallow, numb with cold and near death. She wove him a blanket from hay and took care of him all winter long.

To repay her kindness, in the spring the swallow let her fly away with him on his back to avoid her unwanted marriage to a mole.  The swallow took her far away to a lovely lake and put her down on a flower petal right next to a little man just her size.  He was the King of the flower spirits. 

You can guess the ending: they got married and lived happily ever after.  Is it irresponsible to read children fairy tales, or can they point us to our King? Go here for thoughts from Fr. Stephen Freeman: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2015/10/28/about-fairy-tales/

So now to Saint Ia of Cornwall, an Irish Virgin-martyr, remembered on February 3. 


I first came across Saint Ia's story in a lovely new book, Seven Holy Women, just put out by Ancient Faith Publishing.  This not-to-be-missed collaborative book was Melinda Johnson's brain child.  I could hardly wait to gift Seven Holy Women to several close friends, my daughter, and our new daughters-in-law for Christmas.

The lives of the saints are important for us to read, especially now during our Covid-enforced isolation - many of the saints certainly lived in isolation. We can definitely learn from their example of time spent with God. 

The science and news of Covid has become for many a distraction during the boredom that can come from isolation. We want connection with life outside our small space. We want answers. So we turn to the news/internet, and as we are inundated with daily (even hourly) updates, science and politics become THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. Suddenly everyone has an opinion to share on their facebook and instagram feeds because we also want people to pay attention TO US. And the more urgent, the more of a possibility that we'll get people to pay attention to us, but unfortunately away from THE ONE THING NEEDFUL. We all need to try our best to use this extra time found in isolation for meditative and fervent prayer and inspiration from our Saints. The last thing we need is more distraction from this.

Some in the world may tell us our saints' stories aren't important, that only truly historically accurate and scientifically explainable stories are to be taken seriously. For more thoughts on this, please refer to Orthodoxartsjournal.corg for excellent articles, especially several from Nicholas Kotar regarding the truth of the Lives of the Saints, here.

Nicholas Kotar says: Seen from the prism of today's mundane reality, which has been rendered practically black and white by the precision of the scientific method, these events [he is referring to a historical mythical event he previously recounted] are simply impossible. But every wise man from time immemorial has warned about judging the past through the lens of the present. Who's to say dragons didn't threaten the monks of the Egyptian desert...that's a question one would be foolish to try to answer until one has tried to understand what these dragons really are, and not in the sense of trying to find a specimen to dissect.

The poet, then, instead of assessing the truthfulness of a certain aspect of a Life or of the Life itself, has a much more important calling - as an apologist of the mythical and improbable in the lives in general.

Back to today's picture book...

As mentioned at the top of my post, Melinda Johnson is also the author of this new little board book, Saint Ia Rides a Leaf. I think it will help parents to know a few details of the life of St. Ia before reading the picture book to their children. 

Saint Ia was an Irish virgin-martyr saint born around 480.  She was baptized into the Christian faith around the tender age of thirteen and wanted to go to Cornwall with missionaries Sts. Fingar and Piala to help teach the Gospel of Christ. 

However, when she arrived at the shore the morning of their planned trip, the ship had already set sail (they probably thought the undertaking too dangerous for her and left early).  Distraught, Ia prayed to God for help.  And He brought it - in the form of a miraculous leaf.

The leaf grew when St. Ia's staff touched it, and she stepped in and was transported across the Irish Sea to England. This is where the simply-told picture book story ends in its telling. 

Saint Ia ultimately ended up landing in St. Ives in Cornwall. She actively evangelized across the countryside. There was a chapel erected by her in Troon, fourteen miles inland to the east. You can read about it here, on historicengland.org.  Ia was eventually martyred under the persecutions of the wicked Breton Prince Tewdwr in the middle of the sixth century.

Author Melinda Johnson is an excellent story-teller, and you will love her fun, energetic portrayal of sweet Ia.  Young children will enjoy Kristina Tartara's cute, colorful illustrations as well as Ia's three companions - a fish, a crab and a sea bird.  

Did Ia really sail to England on a leaf?  She certainly did get there, as history shows. As much as we can learn from a fairytale Thumbelina, we can learn much more from a historical young girl named Ia who loved God with all her heart.  Saint Ia, pray for us! 

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is available here, from St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.  It can also be found from the Ancient Faith Publishing Store, along with Melinda Johnson's other books Letters to St. Lydia, and the Sam and Saucer chapter books. 

Go here, to Raisingorthodoxchristians.com, for some fun activities as well as a cute coloring page to go with this book!

Monday, January 18, 2021

The People Could Fly: Remembering Those Gone As We Continue To Move Forward

If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. The will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

-Isaiah 4:21-31

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, I offer two beautiful books written by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon:

The People Could Fly. 

William Kilpatrick (from Books That Build Character) writes, "Myths and folktales reflect man's attempt to understand both his greatness and his ability to inflict and to endure suffering". The 24 folktales in this book were mostly shaped by the "given" of slavery in America and are offered in a wide range of imaginative telling...the title story is a hauntingly beautiful tale of slaves on a plantation who recall the ancient African incantations that allow them to fly. There are also riddle stories and the comic tales of Brer Rabbit - which represent the slaves' need to find ways to maintain dignity while evading their masters' cruelty.

Many Thousand Gone. 

From Publisher's Weekly: "The inspired pairing of this Newbery winner and these two-time Caldecott recipients has yielded a heartfelt and ultimately heartening chronicle of African Americans from the earliest days of slavery to the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery in this country. Made up of succinct yet compelling profiles of celebrated and lesser-known individuals, Hamilton's narrative deftly peels back time's layers and lends an unusual immediacy to this critical chapter in American history."

The stories are heroic and the illustrations are beautiful. Many Thousand Gone is a must-read in helping our children understand the horrors and honor the bravery shown by so many during the time of slavery in our country. It traces the history of slavery in America in the voices and stories of those who lived it. 

Both good reads for this day, as we remember a courageous man who wanted to change the world through his life example of non-violence, belief in equality for all, and civil rights activism.

You may also be interested in my past post about Ruby Bridges, here.