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)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


If my daughter had time to blog, I'm pretty sure she'd pass along today's latest conversation with her five-year-old son.  Since I'm a doting Grandma, I'll let you in on their day...

My grandson woke up this morning and was so excited to see that Advent had arrived.  My daughter had made and set up a Christmas tree of cardboard that he and his little brother can take turns hanging little cut-out ornaments on after they unwrap a Christmas book each night during Advent. (For my daughter's guest post on How to Make a Library Book  Advent Calendar, go here).

Click here

He then told his little brother, "We are not having Dutch Babies for breakfast (that's what our family calls a German pancake made with eggs, flour, milk, and butter, that puffs up when it cooked and is then doused in maple syrup or fruit, and whipped cream) because that's a fancy food and during Advent we eat simple food...like pancakes!" So they had regular pancakes for breakfast.

The rest of the day he kept asking my daughter when it would be nighttime so he could open and read their first book.

Traditions are so important to kids. I've blogged a LOT about Advent and how to create fun book calendars as a countdown to Nativity.  Go here for my list of favorite Christmas books.  So many to choose from, but these are my special favorites - tried and true by our family!

Click here

Whether you, like we, begin Advent on November 15th according to the Eastern Orthodox Christian tradition of 40 days, or you begin to observe Advent on December 1st, I pray that you and your family have a blessed and prayerful season as we await Christ's Nativity!

To visit all my posts about Advent, go to my "Advent and Christmas Resource page", here.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Boo - Guess Who? Just Me!

Kids love dressing up for Halloween. 

I think it's reassuring for them to know that on Halloween they can assume any persona, but under the costumes and masks it's still just them.

Our own children certainly enjoyed the costume aspect of Halloween, and these days we enjoy hearing our grandsons tell us what they want "to be for Halloween".   

This year my older grandson decided on a Great White Shark.  And his little brother, who loves anything having to do with Thomas the Tank Engine and loves to be just like his brother, at first said he'd be a "Gordon Shark".  

Eventually that changed to "just Gordon", and today his talented Mama crafted an amazing Gordon costume for him.  Sadly he ended up getting a fever, but even though he couldn't wear his costume or join in the trick-or-treating, believe me: he will wear that Gordon costume a lot.  Probably everyday for awhile!

Today I have two books that are obviously fun Halloween stories -  but I think most kids would asked for them to be read over and over, no matter what day it happens to be!

Space Case (originally published in 1980) never gets old!  After landing on the corner of Maple and Elm on Halloween night, a Thing from Outer Space - sent to observe Earthlings - joins a group of kids as they go trick-or-treating. The fun continues when the Thing ends up going to school with a boy and acts as his space project for class. A silly Halloween story that kids ages K-3 will enjoy.  Our kids wanted to hear it again and again. 

Pre-schoolers will be happy that The Little Blue Truck and his friends are making a costumed appearance in Little Blue Truck's Halloween...Beep! Beep! It’s Halloween! Little Blue Truck is picking up his animal friends for a costume party. Just lift the flaps in this large, sturdy board book to find out who’s dressed up in each costume! Will Blue wear a costume too?  Of course he will - but don't worry, it's still just good ol' Blue!

Do you and your children have a favorite Halloween read?

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Thanks for the Memories, Dad...

It's finally here! My Dad's last book Memories of His Mercy, published five years posthumously, just arrived on my doorstep...
Memories of His Mercy, by Fr. Peter Gillquist, is available from Ancient Faith Publishing.

It's a true labor of love, and feels like a gift from him (and Ancient Faith Publishing) to our family.  But although it's a treasure for us, my father's motivation in writing it was "to share with other people the faithfulness of God in a way that I hope will motivate them to trust in Him more than they do now". 

Dad thought about doing this book for a long time.  Finally, early in 2012, he dictated most of the chapters in a recording session at his home with John Maddex, CEO of Ancient Faith Ministries.  

But in June of that same year, Dad was told by his doctors that (after thirteen years) his metastatic melanoma cancer had returned, was already in stage 4, and was untreatable.

My father had hoped finish work on the manuscript before his death, but his health declined too rapidly. After Dad's passing, John talked with my brother Greg about the recordings and Dad's wishes, saying we could proceed if and when we were ready. 

John sent us the audio files of Dad's dictation. How comforting our father's voice sounded to my mom, siblings, and me as we were able to listen to the recordings on our home computers!

Last Father's Day - it had been four years since Dad's death - we finally felt ready to begin the process of honoring Dad's wishes in getting his book published.  I called my mom and she said my brother, Fr. Peter Jon, just that morning, had mentioned the book too. 

We knew the project would bring emotions and require much attention: delving into the manuscript, organizing the chapters, and finding someone to help in compiling and doing the work of editing the material.  

God brought us the perfect person for the job: Ginny Nieuwsma, a sincere, tender-hearted woman and gifted editor who knew and loved my Dad.  We felt very confident in trusting her with his manuscript. 

Memories of His Mercy is really a framework to Dad's prior best-selling book, Becoming Orthodox - it's pretty much "the rest of the story": a remembrance of God's mercy throughout my father's life. 

Ginny seamlessly pieced together and edited the chapters, and we contributed clarification and family photos - starting with my father's earliest childhood memories, to meeting my mom, to their work in Campus Crusade for Christ, their first fixer-upper, and then Dad's years at Thomas Nelson (and meeting Johnny Cash), the Orthodox Study Bible, and Dad's fight with cancer.  

The chapters are book-ended by a gracious Foreward, written by one of my Dad's dearest friends, my father-in-law V. Rev Jon Braun, and an Epilogue, written by my mother, Marilyn. She reflects on their last move -  to Bloomington, IN - and recounts the weeks leading up to my father's repose.  

At the very end of the book you'll find several tributes (the first from Fr. Gordon Walker, of blessed memory), and an interview with my Dad, reprinted from AGAIN Magazine.

I hope you'll enjoy this labor of love from my Dad and all the people from Ancient Faith Publishing (with special thanks to John, Ginny, Katherine, Carla, Matt, and Melinda), who worked tirelessly to make this book available to you.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Don't Miss Out On These Two Beautiful Adoptive Stories for Mother's Day!

Mother's Day is around the corner, and I'd like to introduce you to two newly published books about adoption that celebrate both birth mothers and adoptive mothers. The first one is a cozy picture book for children; the second one is a book for adults written by an adoptive mother of two Ethiopian girls.

Wonderful You: An Adoption Story [Random House Books for Young Readers] is a magical story with a happy ending. The fairy-tale-cuddle-factor of this book is evoked by the lyrical story telling of author Lauren McLaughlin and the dreamy, bright watercolor illustrations of artist Meilo So.

Lauren says in a note at the beginning of the book "I'll never forget the first time I saw my adoptive daughter.  She was perfectly formed and full of life.  When I extended my little finger toward her, she gripped it.  That was it. I was hers forever.  Since then our life together has been a wonderful adventure.  I wanted to celebrate this adventure, and the birth mother who made it all possible..."

The fairytale begins,

In a faraway land lived a lady in blue
with a babe in her tummy named Wonderful You.

The Lady in Blue finds parents for her baby after searching high and low.  They have waited so long and promise to love the child...

We will hug her and kiss her and tickle her too.
Forever and always, our Wonderful You.

In the rest of the story we read about the magic of childhood that the new family of three experiences together: adventures like birthdays, schools day, the zoo, snow days, and the seashore.

Although the experiences of adoption are as varied as families, this book would make a lovely gift for anyone who has been part of an adoption journey - a birth mother, an adoptive mother and father, or an adopted child.

My second book recommendation is from Ancient Faith Publishing.  It gives us a different perspective of the adoption journey: one of international adoption. The honesty which Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp shares with us in her inspiring personal story, Children of My Heart: Finding Christ through Adoption, will be appreciated by anyone who has considered adoption.  

Her purposeful story recounts not only the ultimate joy of seeing her children-to-be for the first time, but the doubts, fears, and challenges that parents face during an international adoption process.  Ashley also reveals insight into the real pain and adjustment that her adopted children experienced in going home with a Mommy and Daddy after spending years in the orphanage that was their haven and home.

From the first chapter, I was completely drawn into Ashley's story. As a young professional working in Jerusalem with her husband and experiencing a bit of a faith crisis, she struggled to embrace and live out her Serbian Orthodox faith with all her heart.

She never dreamed her search for an intimate relationship with Christ would lead her to a nuns' Monastery school for orphaned girls and then ultimately to Ethiopia and into the hearts and lives of two precious little orphan girls.

Adoption is definitely at the center of Ashley's story, but this is also a book about faith.  It's about those we may not think about often: Palestinian Orthodox Christians living in the Holy Land, and about the many Ethiopians who live everyday in poverty. A inspiring read for all! You can listen to Ashley talk about her book here.

Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp is an international consultant for Girl Child Protection and Adaptive Behavior Change. She works for international humanitarian and development organizations on issues pertaining to adolescent girls and women. She specializes in prevention of harmful practices such as female genital mutilation, child marriage, and trafficking. She currently resides in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, with her husband, daughters, and cat. She attends St. Frumentius Greek Orthodox Church.

See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.
- 1John 3:1-2

[Disclosure note:  Both books above were sent to me as review copies by the publishers.]

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Littlest Bookworm

The blond head, the pjs, the chair, the owl on the bookshelves...I love this sweet illustration.  Just wish I knew what it was from and who the artist was!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Boo and Baa in Windy Weather

Had enough of Winter Storm Stella? Say goodbye to March!

Boo and Baa in Windy Weather by Scandinavian author and illustrator (a husband/wife team), Lena and Olof Landström, was the perfect read for my grandsons in New York during the snowy, windy winter days that were brought on by Storm Stella a couple of weeks ago. 

After reading the story, the boys had so much fun making little masterpieces inspired by the book.  They used Q-tips, glue, construction paper, and my daughter's cut out renditions of Boo and Baa for their cute craft project!

Boo and Baa in Windy Weather follows the misadventures of Boo and Baa as they try to get home with their groceries during a snowstorm.  Their trip starts off well enough (they are sledding downhill), but the trek back home is "slow as a snail" as they push their sled uphill.

They pull their caps down so no snow will get in their eyes.  (My older grandson did the same when he went out to play - maybe he was inspired by Boo and Baa!)

Things really become difficult for Boo and Baa when their cabbage suddenly rolls off their sled.  Preschoolers will enjoy the antics and humor of Boo and Baa, as well as the problem solving at the end of the story.

Growing up, I always loved snow days!  They're such a perfect time for catching up on reading. 

But with April around the corner, hopefully much of the northern and eastern U.S. can say "goodbye" to snow.  I'm sure we'll still have wind - time to break out the kites!

I always think of Winnie-the-Pooh when the wind kicks up! What books do you like for Blustery Days?  Here are a couple I can think of...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Kingdom Travel: How to Pack Your Bag

"Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matt 9:14

More often then not, we adults can learn important things from young children. Jane G. Meyer's newest picture book The Suitcase has us doing just that!  This sweet story celebrates a young child's enthusiasm to put into practice the words of Christ: to feed and clothe the poor; help the needy; and love one's neighbor.

Thomas feels safe in his ordered life on his family's farm. He happily spins in circles for hours while reciting the alphabet, chats with his goat each morning, and then lines up his whole collection of blocks - starting from his upstairs bedroom and ending down in his backyard.

But one Sunday, after coming home from church, Thomas does something unexpected. To the surprise of his questioning family, he shows up at the dinner table with...a suitcase!

When his mother asks him where he's going, he replies, "To the Kingdom of Heaven." As he begins to show his family the contents of his suitcase, they (and we, the readers) are touched by what he's packed, and how he's literally taken to heart the messages of Jesus' parables.

If you're a parent, you have undoubtedly observed that for young children (and especially those on the autism spectrum), abstract ideas can be difficult, so things they hear are often interpreted in a very literal, concrete way.

But shouldn't we all be more like children?  Thomas has packed food and clothing for the poor, a platter to serve them, some coins, a mustard seed, and a pearl, among other things.

And thank goodness no one laughs at him when he asks, "So, can I go now?" His father gently explains that the Kingdom of God is right here, and that Thomas - because of his giving heart - has already gone through its gate and is on the path.

The story ends with Thomas's family joining him on his journey, as they share the Kingdom with others by serving a meal to the homeless.  May we all be inspired to "pack our bags" with good things for God's Kingdom.

Nor will they say, "Look, here it is!" or "There!" For indeed, the kingdom of God is in your midst. - Luke 17:21

Chiara Pasqualotto's warm and soothing watercolor illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Jane's sweet storytelling.
Published by Paraclete Press, The Suitcase is available there, and on Amazon.
Click here for Jane's awesome Activity Guide to the book.

NOTE: I received an advanced copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Brontës on Masterpiece (After a stint at The Morgan)!

Are you going to watch To Walk Invisible: The Brontës on PBS Sunday night, March 26?  It follows the Brontë sisters in the eventful three-year period that saw them rise from ordinary, unmarried women, taking care of the household and their widowed father, to the secret authors of the world’s most sensational literature.

The only existing portrait of The Brontë Sisters, this Portrait (1834) was painted by their brother,  Branwell Brontë.  (The ghostly figure that was once covered by a pillar is Branwell.)

“This portrait has really influenced people’s image of the Brontës because it’s the only surviving image of them. They look so somber and so depressed... yet it’s worth remembering that this painting is not a depiction of novelists at the height of their power, but a brother’s portrait of his teenage sisters. They’re ten years away from publishing their novels...As wonderful and haunting as this painting is, it’s skewed our perception.”  
-Christine Nelson, curator of The Morgan Library's Charlotte Bronte, an Independent Will

After seeing the Charlotte Brontë exhibit with my daughter at the Morgan Library in New York this past December, I'm especially interested in the Masterpiece special tomorrow! (I'm sorry I'm so late blogging about this amazing exhibit - it left The Morgan in January.) You can read in fascinating detail about The Morgan's Charlotte Brontë, An Independent Will exhibit here and watch a video about it here.

The exhibit included a Frontpiece (with an engraved view of Haworth parsonage and churchyard) to The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell (1810–1865) - which I really want to read now.

Curator Christine Nelson gathered interesting personal effects and manuscripts associated Charlotte Brontë for the Morgan's exhibit—from brother Branwell Brontë’s portrait of his famous sisters to  miniature books, fair copies of novels, letters, and watercolor paintings of the author and her sisters. I've shared some of my photos here on my blog for you...

Entering the exhibit, the first thing I saw was one of Charlotte Brontë's few surviving garments.  She was a tiny woman!  Seeing her dress and shoes brought tears to my eyes!

I also shed a tear seeing her portable writing box and a first edition of Jane Eyre.

Jane Eyre, An Autobiography, edited by Currer Bell, New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848. First American edition. 
(Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell were the pseudonyms of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë.)

If you watch it, let me know what you think of the special on the Brontë sisters that aires on PBS March 26, 2017!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Glowing Candles

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a beautiful new picture book, In The Candle's Glow, by Elizabeth Crispina Johnson, illustrated by Amandine Wanert.  I can guarantee it will warm your heart...

Felicia will light her candle, pray, and watch as a breeze carries the wisp of smoke from her candle flame up to heaven along with her prayers.  But where did the candle come from?  The story begins with a breeze, some bees, and a beekeeper (who happens to be a singing nun!)

While preparing for this post, I began thinking about all the symbolism associated with lighted candles and why in the Orthodox Church our candles are made from pure beeswax. I came across from very enlightening information that I'd like to share with you.

Blessed Simeon of Thessalonica (15th century), a commentator on the Liturgy, wrote about six things that candles symbolize for us...
1. The pure wax (bees wax) of a candle reminds us that our hearts should be pure.

2. The softness and pliability of wax speaks of our readiness to obey God.

3. We are reminded of the sweet aroma of God's Divine Grace in our souls because the wax comes from fragrant flowers.

4.  The burning of the candle as it mixes with and feeds the flame represents man’s deification, his becoming a new creature through the fire of God’s love.

5. As the candle lights the darkness, so must the Light of Christ shine before men in our hearts.

6. Lastly, it symbolizes the love and peace that should characterize every Christian, because the wax that burns down when it illuminates, is like our love for our fellow man; but it also comforts man with its light in the darkness.

Today I'd like to dedicate my post to two gentle men whose lives glowed like bright candles, with the Light and Love of Christ for those around them.  Like wisps of smoke that rise after a candle is blown out, they left us this month (which ironically began with Candlemas on the 2nd) to move heavenward.

During an Orthodox funeral service, as well as at memorial services, the faithful stand with lit candles as a sign that the deceased's soul has left this world and entered the Kingdom of Heaven and the Unwaning Light of God.

Ray was 93 years young and lived a long life, taking tender loving care of his wife for many years before she died.  This precious man missed her dearly ever since, and finally went to join her a couple of weeks ago.  I enjoyed countless visits with both him and his wife.  He was our "bell-ringer" at church - letting us know each Sunday when our Priest was ready to give the blessing for our food at coffee hour!

I was not able to attend Ray's funeral, because the day before it I got the devastating news of a second death...

Kevin (who happens to be the brother-in-law of my sister) was 33 years too young to die, but left this earth last week after a brave fight with cancer. He and his wife Angel, in true warrior fashion, started "Packed Kits" after his wife's sister sent him an amazing care package to help get him through his hospital stays.  The kits are based on her original care package and contain everything a chemo patient could need during treatment.  Please visit their website, and consider "Giving Pack" to help fight cancer!
Packed Kits

Please light and candle and send up prayers for the souls of these two men - and for their families.  And share In The Candle's Glow with a child you love!

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Long March of A Dear Soul

There has been a lot going on in the past couple of weeks.
About being "pro-woman".  About being "pro-choice".  About being "pro-life".

Last night, the Orthodox world lost a very wise and loving woman who had a lot to say to women.  She lectured tenderly, yet boldly, about motherhood and the participation all women have in creation... 

"Carriers of life" she'd say.
March daily. 
"An upward ascent towards the Kingdom of God."
With your families and friends.
While finding joy, gratitude, and freedom in your vocation as Women of God.


Juliana Schmemann, wife of the late Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann (the prominent Orthodox theologian and past dean of St. Vladimir's Seminary), passed away peacefully last night at the age of 93.

I find it unspeakably touching that she died in her sleep the evening before her wedding anniversary.  

Matushka Juliana was a working mother of three, grandmother of nine, great grandmother of 22, great-great grandmother of four, a lifelong educator in New York girls’ schools, and former headmistress of the Spence School.

Mat. Juliana and her husband had been dear friends of my parents. In the 1990's, I had the honor of hearing the ever-energetic Matushka speak to their parish women.

At the time, I was homeschooling our three children and experiencing the daily challenges that come not only with motherhood and the responsibility of educating my own children, but also with fatigue from various health issues.

Her words of encouragement gave me much hope, as I resolved to not "just cope", but to be with God, having gratitude and finding joy in my everyday living, throughout all the seasons of life.  

If you never had the chance to hear Mat. Juliana give a lecture, I have some good things linked below - an interview and lecture, as well as two books authored by her.  

My mother and my daughter were able to visit dear Mat. Juliana this past December.  She was as always, joyful and attentive.  They spent the morning remembering her husband, as well as my dad and my mother-in-law: those gone before.  

I know she encouraged my mom and my daughter to keep marching. Towards the Kingdom!  May her memory be eternal.

Matushka Juliana was interviewed in 1998 by her daughter for The St. Nina Quarterly. The article, "Joy, Gratitude, and Freedom" is still pertinent for what only seems today to be an even more challenging time for Christian women...

M.T.: Since the death of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, you have traveled extensively, addressing the concerns of Orthodox Christian women in this troubled secular world. What concerns have you encountered most often, and how did you attempt to address these concerns? 

 J.S.: Most of the time women wanted to know what should be their role in the Church. That question troubled me, since I think that playing a role is not a Christian way of looking at one's life. Did Mary think of her "role," her "rights," her "privileges"? Women are often quite confused about the way the Church views them. In fact, in the Church's tradition, beginning with the Virgin Mary, women have a unique and most beautiful place. There are the Myrrhbearers with their total dedication, love, and faithfulness; Martha and Mary who knew the one thing needed and chose it; the Samaritan woman who experienced the joy of faith at her encounter with Jesus. The Church is us - now. The ethos of the world changes, evolves, so do ways of dressing, appearances, but the total gift of self by women, as well as by men, is where it starts. Dedicating one's talents and faithful service to the Lord are the responsibility of all. 

Whatever the needs of the Church are, or the demands of the job, or of the family, or of the parish, that is where the woman (as well as the man!) serves, in whatever capacity that she is called to serve. Since ordination [to the priesthood] is not an option, there are so many other ways to use one's talents, not by playing a role, but by being a role model, by giving oneself. What should be nurtured is the unique gift of womanhood, of a woman who follows Mary's living example. [source]

by Mat. Juliana Schmemann
My Journey with Father Alexander 

The Joy to Serve 

Below I've linked a wonderful talk, "On Motherhood" that Mat. Juliana gave in May 2014.  She thoughtfully notes that motherhood is "not only a biological fact of life.  It's a talent.  In the Gospel sense of the word...to be given back to the creator."  Motherhood is life giving - to an infant, godchild, friend...we are called to "exude life...an upward ascent to the Kingdom. The only goal...it's a continuous mission. A vocation of women."

Friday, January 20, 2017

Library Baby

I just learned from my mother that the first street I ever lived on was "Library Place" in Evanston, Illinois. 

That explains a lot!  

I feel so at home in libraries - especially old, historic ones - with shelves full of books all waiting to be read.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolve (Pray) To...

Be a good parent.  
Not just for the New Year.

Looking for some inspirational reads as you journey with your children into 2017? I've got a great book stack for you! 
(all books available from Ancient Faith Publishing) 

I'm very excited about this book on parenting by Dr. Philip Mamalakis.  He spoke at our church a few years ago, and his talk was full of wisdom on the importance of careful child-rearing.

In his introduction, Dr. Mamalakis (a father of seven children) clearly communicates that there is no greater vocation than that of being a parent "...because nothing shapes the soul and the life of a person more than how he interacts with his parents or primary care providers."

Parenting Toward the Kingdom is organized into six Principles:
I: Always Parent with the End in Mind
II: Respond, Don't React
III: Understand Struggles in Terms of the Values and the Virtues of the Kingdom of God
IV: Separate Feelings from Behaviors
V: Teach the Joy of Obedience
VI: Teach the Joy of Repentance

The book ends with a helpful Appendix of Further Reading (more about this book here).

Go here to read my past post about the beautiful prayer book, The Ascetic Lives of Mothers by Annalisa Boyd...

If you are contemplating adoption, Children of my Heart: Finding Christ Through Adoption by Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp, might be the read for you.

Ashley Lackovich-Van Gorp shares her inspiring journey as a young professional working in Jerusalem who struggled to embrace her Orthodox faith with all her heart. She never dreamed her search for an intimate relationship with Christ would lead her to Ethiopia and into the hearts and lives of two little orphan girls—now orphans no longer. (Go here for more information about this book.)

Lastly, in celebration of our journey into 2017, I'm offering a GIVEAWAY of the book Following a Sacred Path: Raising Godly Children by Elizabeth White.

Experienced educator Elizabeth White offers practical advice on raising children to understand and love their faith.

Focusing on the church year, she offers a new way to talk to children about the faith, along with activities the family can share that encourage children to discover spiritual truths for themselves and own them for life.

To enter my New Year Giveaway, please leave a comment with your first name and last initial here on this post before midnight on January 9, 2017.  Winner announced Tuesday, January 10, 2017 - be sure you check back!