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)

Thursday, December 13, 2018

"With Light in Her Hair"

Today's post was inspired by the traditional Swedish song about Santa Lucia and these photos from my daughter, who was up late into the night baking Lussekatter ("Lucia Cats"). Such a nice treat for the children this morning as they lit their Advent Wreath candles and read the story of Saint Lucia!

Night walks grand, yet silent, 
Now hear its gentle wings,


In every room so hushed, 
Whispering like wings. 

Look, at our threshold stands, 
White-clad with light in her hair, 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Darkness shall take flight soon, 
From earth's valleys.
So she speaks Wonderful words to us:
A new day will rise again 
From the rosy sky… 
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Saint Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily, during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. Making a vow of virginity, she gave away her dowry to the poor, and an angered suitor reported her to the authorities. She was condemned her to a brothel, but she miraculously became immoveable. After being set on fire she remained unhurt. She finally suffered martyrdom by sword. A tradition says her eyes were gouged out in torture, so she is considered by some as the patron saint of the blind. In Sweden, her feast day is also celebrated as the first day of Christmas. Traditionally, some families celebrate this day by the oldest daughter wearing a white robe with a red sash and evergreen wreath with candles.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Two Young Kings For Your Christmas Reading

A King of Kings and a King of Bohemia... I have two Christmas picture books that I'm recommending in today's post: The Christ Child by Maud and Miska Petersham, and Good King Wenceslas by Pauline Baynes. As I mentioned in my last "Prague Blog", both books have ties to my recent trip there.

THE CHRIST CHILD (ages 6 and up)
I found a used library copy of this book (published in 1931) by Maud and Miska Petersham at Shakespeare & Sons in Mala Strana, the "Little Quarter" in Prague.  (Whenever I come across an affordable old book by this incredible husband-wife writing and illustrating team, I buy it!)

The Petershams were truly pioneers in the world of children's picture books from the 1920-50's.  Maud was born in New York, and her husband Miska was a Hungarian immigrant. Their quaint and stylistic approach to story telling and illustrating is a unique blend of their backgrounds.

This book brings to life in vibrant color and small "chapters" the story of the birth and childhood of Christ from the text of the Gospels of Mark and Luke.

(Other books by the Petershams in my collection include The Circus Baby, Nursery Friends from France, Tales Told from Holland, and The Rooster Crows.  Many of the Petershams picture books can be found online, but it's a lot more fun perusing used bookstores, don't you think?)

GOOD KING WENCESLAS (ages 6 and up)
Pauline Baynes (well-known for her illustrations of C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia) does not mince words in this re-telling of the exciting story of the young Bohemian Prince, Wenceslas - patron saint of Prague and the Czech Republic.

There are many legends surrounding this good saint, and his tragic death is recorded in history.  As with many saints' stories, Wenceslas faced his martyrdom bravely, and Baynes' hopeful re-telling (published in 1987) is book-ended with the words of the well loved Christmas carol about this good and brave King.

The other hero/saint in this Bohemian story is Wenceslas' grandmother, Ludmilla.  She brought him up in the Christian faith.

During our tour of Prague Castle, my mother and I were privileged to see both the Wenceslas Chapel (which contain his relics) in St. Vitus Cathedral, and St. Ludmilla's tomb in St. George's Basilica.

St. Wenceslas' relics are in the Wenceslas Chapel in St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague Castle.

Stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral by Mucha depicting (in the center) a young Wenceslas at his Grandmother Ludmilla's knee.

St. Ludmilla's tomb is located in a chapel in St. George's Basilica, Prague Castle.

A painting in St. George's Basilica near the tomb of Ludmilla, showing Wenceslas being taught by his Grandmother to care for the poor.

Just outside the walls of Prague Castle, I took a quick photo of my mom next to the statue of Wenceslas.

It had rained all day, so on our walk back to our apartment, we stopped at a little cafe for some hot tea. It was the perfect end to our wonderful time at Prague Castle!

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Time Out for a Prague Blog

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Well, I took a little break from blogging to travel with my family to Prague.  After our last trip in 2011 (our son was at school there), you may have read my post about the Strahov Monastery Libraries 

On this trip we not only re-visited those libraries, but amidst the Christmas markets, cathedrals, a castle, incredible music and architecture, we discovered some English bookstores!

At Shakespeare & Sons (just around the corner from the Charles Bridge in Malá Strana), I immediately gravitated to the back room full of children's books and found several by the very talented Czech-born American author and illustrator Peter Sis.

Can you spot his picture book, Madlenka?  Madlenka's tooth is loose, and she wants everyone to know! Talk about an international city block! Her neighbors are -- a French baker, an Indian news vendor, an Italian ice-cream man, a Latin American grocer, a retired opera singer from Germany, an African American school friend, and an Asian shopkeeper.  As we look through die-cut windows to the images and memories they have carried from old country to new, we can see that Madlenka's block is as richly varied as its inhabitants.  (ages 4-8)

I was beyond excited about the second book I found by Peter Sis - The Pilot and the Little Prince.  My grandson is going to LOVE it!  Did you know that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was a pilot before he was an author??  This fascinating biography is beautifully written and illustrated by Sis.  A must read for aspiring little pilots! (ages 5-8)

We also found an Expat bookstore - the largest English-language bookstore in Prague, with a cafe that serves an "American Style Weekend Brunch" and good coffee (yay!) - The Globe Bookstore and Cafe.

This bookstore caters to students, but on Sundays they offer a Storytime for Kids! 

They have a great children's section and I was super excited to find this brand new edition of P.L. Travers Mary Poppins illustrated by one of my favorites: Lauren Child!!!

Take a peek at my photos from the Christmas Market in Prague's Old Town Square...it was lovely!

Such a sight! Stay tuned: I found a beautiful used Christmas picture book (from 1931) at Shakespeare & Sons that I'll post about later, along with a favorite book about the Bohemian Good King Wenceslas!  

Monday, November 19, 2018

This Thanksgiving be Thankful for Sarah!

This year, I'm re-recommending a children's book with a historical heroine who finally found success in securing our nation's unique Day of Giving Thanks. Told in a humorous style with silly caricatures, this book will interest children ages 5-10. (and parents will like it too!)

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrations by Matt Faulkner.

Do you know about the (Superhero!) woman attributed to saving Thanksgiving?  Sarah Josepha Hale married David Hale in 1813, and they had five children. Left in financial straits by her husband’s death in 1822, she embarked on a literary career, becoming a poet and editor.  (She penned a very well know nursery rhyme: "Mary Had a Little Lamb"!) 

Love this version, illustrated by Tomie dePaola!

Sarah Josepha Hale loved Thanksgiving.  But the tradition began to fall on hard times, not being kept in the Southern, Midwestern, and Western United States.  

For 36 years she published numerous editorials and sent scores of letters to governors, senators, presidents and other politicians to garner support in making Thanksgiving a national holiday. Her request was rejected by four presidents, until finally President Abraham Lincoln said "yes" during the height of the Civil War.

President Abraham Lincoln and magazine editor Sarah Josepha Hale.

If you can't find Thank You, Sarah at your library, click here to let your kids watch a digital reading of the book on Youtube.

If you'd like to learn more about Sarah Josepha Hale, go here to read the Pilgrim Hall Museum's article, "Godmother of Thanksgiving".

Thanks, Sarah!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


It's coming!  As you get ready to prepare your homes, make your lists, and gather gifts in celebration of the coming of the Babe in the Manger, don't forget that most important preparation: our hearts, to welcome our Savior!

I know it's not even Thanksgiving yet, but planning is key!  For those of us who are Eastern Orthodox Christians, Advent begins every year on November 15 - tomorrow - as a time set aside for fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Western Christian Traditions begin Advent a little later, with four Sundays preceding Christmas instead of six.  

I think most people in our culture, whether secular or Christian, like to somehow countdown the 25 days of December leading up to Christmas. 

Every year I share new Christmas picture books that I've collected and saved in my little trunk. Our family loved picking a book each night to read together as we lit our Advent Wreath Candles for our nightly Scripture devotional and counted down the days until Christmas.

So watch my posts for this year's Christmas book finds! 

In the meantime, please visit my Advent & Christmas Resource Page, here, (or in the sidebar of my website) to see my past recommendations of fun activities like Making An Advent Calendar of Books, Christmas Traditions Around the World, and celebrating St. Nicholas, St. Lucia, and the Twelve Days of Christmas.  

Here's my current list of Christmas Book Favorites.

click for book list

And don't forget to go to my last blog post and leave a comment with your name for a chance to win my Book Bundle Giveaway!

Click here to leave a comment for my giveaway.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


My giveaway today has something for everyone...a board book for your toddler/preschooler, a chapter book for your 7-12 year old reader, and a devotional book for the family.

First, the board book: 
I Pray Today by Angela Isaacs, illustrated by Amandine Wanert.  This precious new book published by Ancient Faith is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers.  It's all about their day - its ups and downs.  And one small prayer goes with each: "Lord have mercy".

We follow a little girl from the time she gets up through the time she goes to bed. Among other things, the in-between time is filled with prayer for a sick friend, prayer for her picnic, prayer when she gets hurt, and even when she has a tussle with her little brother.

I really like the illustrations.  They are as cozy and sweet and simple as the text.  Your child will love this book!  For bedtime or anytime.

Book number two: 
The Barn & the Book.  I reviewed this chapter book in my last post, here.  It's the second in a fun series by Melinda Johnson.  I think girls and boys alike with really enjoy this story - and feel like they've visited a monastery without even leaving home.  (But I hope you actually do consider taking your child to visit a monastery!)

The third book in today's Book Bundle:
A new offering from Fr. Lawrence R. Farley. This not-to-be missed devotional will be a welcome addition to your daily prayer time.  It's A Daily Calendar of Saints.  Fr. Lawrence's short accounts of these ancient men and women of faith are very readable, and great for personal or family devotions.  Or or two saint's lives are shared each calendar day, and at the end of the book readings for the Paschal Cycle are also included.  And the cover is gorgeous! 

So, I hope you like this bundle!  Leave a comment and your name on this post by Friday night, November 16, 2018 for a chance to win.  Comments must be posted by 11:59 PST.  And tell a friend!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Visit a Monastery - in a Book!

Those of you who follow my blog regularly know that I am an Orthodox Christian. I like to share books and little tidbits about my faith when I can in my blog posts because there are lots of folks in America who don't know much about the Orthodox Church.

And this is one of those posts. I'm excited about a new children's book by Melinda Johnson, (the second in a series - hope there are more to come, Ancient Faith Publishing!) 

Melinda's newest book, The Barn & the Book again centers around characters from her first story Shepherding Sam: a dog named Saucer, who happens to live at a monastery, and a boy named Sam.

With Advent and Christmas fast approaching, The Barn & the Book is a perfect reading choice for ages 7-12. 

Sam wants to know if the monastery farm animals (especially Saucer!) will talk at midnight on Christmas Eve...should he spend the night in the barn?  And Sister Ana has been given the task of having her Sunday school students write a story about the monastery for a book that will soon be published for the anniversary of the monastic community.  Grace and Macrina volunteer right away. 

But doubts and insecurities, frustrations, and competitive spirits rise - and not just among the kids!

The Barn & the Book is a story about the traps we build when we try to see in the dark.  We tumble into trouble and confusion on our own, but God can steer us clear of our traps and shine His kindly light into our darkness.

Monasteries are great places for families to visit!  My daughter and her children just visited the Monastery of the Transfiguration (a women's monastery) in Ellwood City, PA on their drive back from New York to Michigan.  There was much to see and inspiration to be had (a new icon being installed!), services to attend, and walks to take.

If you saw my blog post about the book To Live Again, the memoirs of Mother Alexandra, a Romanian-Princess-turned-Nun, you'll be interested to know that the Monastery of the Transfiguration was founded by her in 1967!

The current Abbess is Mother Christophora.  In 2012 she celebrated her 25th year as Abbess.  She made some interesting observations about how the experience of visiting monasteries abroad affected her.  I wanted to include some of her thoughts...

In Europe, one of the refreshing things that we have noticed when we have traveled—we always travel two or three sisters at a time on a trip like that—they are just so natural. They are not so insecure, always looking at the neighbor. The nuns there are very simple, very happy in life. The monastic life is just life, and that is what we have to strive to find. If somebody comes here and says, “Oh, the nuns are so normal!” I always say, “That is the biggest compliment you can give us.” Jesus Christ, being truly human, was normal—in a healthy way. And that is how we would like to be. Emotionally and spiritually, we get a little “Oh, is this or that right? How many times do we have to do this? How far do you bow when you bow?” So it was refreshing to see their monastic life lived simply and so naturally. 

Mother Alexandra was a Romanian princess, part of a royal family that has a centuries-long history. After she had to leave her country, she raised her children and then got to fulfill her dream to become a nun. She was living in America but she went to France to become a nun. She saw our country was very rich materially but very poor spiritually, and she wanted America to have an Orthodox monastery. This was her gift; this was what she did. She gave America an Orthodox monastery, because she knew that it would add to life here. But she did not give America a Romanian Orthodox monastery or a Russian Orthodox monastery or a Greek Orthodox monastery. She gave America an Orthodox monastery for Americans. 

 In the 1960s when very little English was used in Orthodox churches, she was determined that everything would be in English from day one, that American women of all backgrounds would feel welcome here. I think her dream is being realized and has been realized. She saw that you do not have to be—and we all know this, but it still bears repeating—Greek or Russian or Ukrainian or Serbian to be Orthodox. America needs Orthodoxy. She knew that. We can also, as Americans, be comfortable in the Orthodox Church in our own way. Here we have enjoyed discovering that—like watching petals of a flower open as we live out our monastic life as Americans in this Orthodox monastery.

Want to visit an Orthodox Monastery?  Some, like The Monastery of the Transfiguration mentioned above, have guest quarters.  Here is a list of several Orthodox Monasteries in the U.S.

And stay tuned!  I'll be giving away The Barn & the Book and a new board book from Ancient Faith Publishing soon!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

If You Have a Garden and a Library....

"...you have everything you need."

Phew!  I really can't believe it's November!!!!  July, August, September, and October flew past without me doing much blogging.  

After my daughter and her husband and our grandchildren left this summer and moved to Michigan, we devoted a few months doing some new hardscape and landscaping to augment our recent home remodel.

So I finally have a home library, and new a little garden

So here was the challenge:  I'm a reader, but not much of a gardener!  So I decided to go with galvanized containers - not only to keep out all the squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons, but also because three containers shouldn't be too overwhelming...right?  

A sweet young friend came and helped me out. We'll see how it goes!  Right now I've got tomatoes, herbs, some snap peas, strawberries, kale, chard, and lettuces. Since I got a late start, and didn't plant until mid-October, the only thing I sowed from seed was lettuce.  

Did you notice the little statue by the fence?  It is of boy holding a jar with fireflies.  It's solar powered and lights up so sweetly in the dark!  I found it on Wayfair.

Some friends of ours recently had several big pine trees removed from their property.  I asked them for their biggest stump so I could fashion a little sitting area for my grandchildren in our side yard by the container garden.  I still have to get the little log stump stools, but the stump table is ready!

And our library is coming right along - it is a lovely, cozy space!  The rug, new chair and bird print really warmed it up.

Speaking of libraries, this week I got back from a quick visit to my daughter's new home in Michigan.  She has a sweet homeschool room set up, and a little library, too!  You really just need a place for shelves and, voila!

I have some new book reviews and give-aways coming up this month, so I hope you stop back by!  Happy November!  Happy Fall!