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, November 19, 2020

The Grinch Can't Cancel Christmas

For Orthodox Christians, the second Sunday of Advent is almost here (we celebrate 40 days of Advent, with six Sundays as opposed to four), so we started our journey well before Thanksgiving! 

Across the U.S. we are still in various stages of COVID and feelings regarding lockdown.  Especially here in California, where cases are up and deaths are way down, we are sadly expecting not to be allowed to gather in our homes with large extended families and friends for Thanksgiving, or in our churches for our Advent and possibly even Christmas services - even if we are healthy, wear masks, and practice physical distancing of six feet, as we've been asked to.

But even if our governor(s) make these decisions and end up cancelling Christmas services, this time of continued isolation is a good reminder that our homes are all little domestic churches, and there are so many things you can still do to make this a joyful season for your children!  

If you haven't had time in the past to make an effort for family Advent traditions at home, this is definitely the year to start! So, what can you do to help your kids enter into Advent and the Incarnation of Christ?


Last week, I gathered candles for my six-candle Advent Wreath [Note: a seventh white candle will be placed in the middle of the wreath, to be lit on Christmas Day.] 

This is a tradition I learned from a book by Fr. Anthony Coniaris (of blessed memory), Making God Real in the Orthodox Christian Home. I highly recommend the book, which is in its 13th printing.

"The circle (wreath) is a symbol for God who is eternal. The evergreen branches symbolize eternal life, or the life of God, of which Jesus came to make us partakers. The candles represent Christ who is the light of the world. The color of each candle expresses something special that will be discussed each week of Advent as the family celebration unfolds. One candle will be lit each week by a different member of the family." 

Father Coniaris outlines a family devotion time for each of the Sundays of Advent, including Scripture readings, prayers, Christmas carols, and topics for discussion, all based upon the meaning of the candle colors. 

The basic meaning of each candle color follows, together with a brief statement for the head of the family to read when lighting the candle - you can find this adapted here if you need the Sunday Advent readings (but I highly recommend the book for great ideas all year long):
https://www.st-philip.net/files/Bulletins%20plus/Advent-Wreath.pdf .


Go to my Advent and Christmas Resource Page for lots of ideas of how to make your family reading time special for all 40 days of Advent (or you can simplify the idea to all 25 days of December). 

Need Christmas book recommendations?  You'll find all mine here, 

I pray you have a blessed Advent. Stay healthy: pray, sing, exercise, breath fresh air, take your vitamins, eat right, keep washing those hands, hug your kids. And if you are high risk, health-compromised, or have been exposed to sickness, be safe and stay isolated to avoid - or avoid spreading - illness (Covid included) this holiday season.  

Monday, November 16, 2020


Two books for Advent Meditations, and a prayer to start...

Lord Jesus, You have come so many times to us and found no resting place...

forgive us our overcrowded lives,

our vain haste 

and our preoccupation with self.

Come again, O Lord, and though our hearts are a jumble of voices, and our minds overlaid with many fears, find a place however humble, where You can begin to work Your wonder as your create peace and joy within us.

If in some hidden corner, in some out-of-the-way-spot, we can clear away the clutter, and shut out the noise and darkness, come be born again in us, and we shall kneel in perfect peace with the wisest and humblest of men.

Help us to enter into this Christmas Fast with humility, yet with joy.  

And finally Lord, give us Christmas from within, that we may share it from without, on all sides, all around us, wherever there is need.  God help us, every one, to share the blessing of Jesus, in whose name we keep Christmas holy.  Amen. 

-Opening Prayer from Daily Meditations and Prayers for the Christmas Advent Fast and Epiphany, by Presbytera Emily Harakas and Fr. Anthony Coniaris.

The second book that helps my heart, mind and soul during Advent is Meditations for Advent, preparing for Christ's Birth by Vassilios Papavassiliou.

This year, more than ever, with all the unrest and uncertainty in our nation and world, we need to make a place for Him.  

May God bless our efforts. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

The Broken Wheel: A Graphic Novel for a November Saint

Ancient Faith Publishing as just released Gabriel Wilson's latest graphic novel, THE BROKEN WHEEL, the Triumph of St. Katherine. 

Gabriel has done an excellent job of adapting the story of the Great and Holy Martyr Katherine (305-313) into a gorgeously illustrated graphic novel for ages 10 and up.  

What a role model we find in this saint, especially for girls! This young heroine loves learning.  A governor's daughter, she is intelligent, brave, and beautiful, but also very confident.  She tells her parents that she will enter into marriage only with someone who has surpassed her in nobility, wealth, beauty, and wisdom.   

With the help of her secretly Christian mother, an elder monk, and a miraculous dream, Katherine does find this Bridegroom, as she ultimately chooses a Prince (of Peace) and puts her trust and hope in Him.

Later, Katherine's city is visited by the emperor Maximian. He comes to Alexandria for a pagan festival and Katherine is horrified that Christians are being burned alive and sacrificed because of their refusal to deny Christ.  She is compelled to speak with the emperor and tell him about the True God, asking him to stop the human sacrifices.

Katherine is cast into the dungeon and is visited by St. Michael the Archangel. After the emperor sends 50 of his most renowned philosophers to debate Katherine, they not only believe in Christ, but bravely face death for their belief. 

Now comes the part of the story that really sounds like it was made for a graphic novel: The Wheel. Katherine, our brave heroine, will not deny Christ and voluntarily walks up to her declared method of cruel torture.  Suddenly, St. Michael appears and blows the dreaded wheel to smithereens! 

Witnessing Katherine's bravery and faith, Maximian's wife also comes to believe, along with the emperor's military commander and 200 soldiers, who are beheaded.

And that's not all...though St. Katherine herself is ultimately is beheaded, angels miraculously transport her body to Mt. Sinai, where it was discovered years later.  To this day, her relics are still on Mt. Sinai, at St. Katherine's Monastery. 

At the end of the book is a historical note, along with several icons and the Troparion and Kontakion to St. Katherine.

From Ancient Faith Publishing:
Young Katherine, born into noble wealth with an insatiable hunger for knowledge, surpasses even her tutors when it comes to learning. But her learning counts for nothing when she meets the only man worthy of her - her heavenly Bridegroom. Trading worldly knowledge for eternal wisdom, Katherine challenges even the emperor himself - and he prepares a cruel invention to break her. Meet this great bride of Christ in the second graphic novel in the Among the Saints series - written to inspire both children and adults.

About the Author: Gabriel Wilson lives near his childhood home in rural Indiana with his wife Emily and their three daughters. Their home is over 100 years old - a true fixer-upper - and the subject of many of his woodworking projects. In his free time, he pursues carpentry and music and enjoys making homemade tacos with his wife and sketching with his daughters. Graphic novels are his favorite form of artwork, and aside from his comics based on the lives of saints, he has other secular novels in the works. His first graphic novel was The Cross and the Stag. (read my review, here)

Blessed first day of Advent (if you're an Orthodox Christian). St. Katherine/Catherine is commemorated in the Orthodox Church on November 24 or 25, depending on the tradition. The Broken Wheel is a nice sized soft cover book, 7 x 10 inches, with 104 pages. It would make a wonderful gift for any Katherine/Catherine in your life.

Friday, November 6, 2020


A new book just arrived and is on my desk ready for my review. 
Ready and waiting, since I just finished throwing ingredients into my crockpot for a batch of apple cider (recipe below) to enjoy with guests for a weekend of anticipated rain.

The spicy aroma is starting to fill my house and will keep me company as I peruse and share about the book, A Mother's Prayer, written and illustrated by Megan E. Gilbert (hardcover, 24 pages, from Ancient Faith Publishing). 

It's small in size (only 7.5 x 4.5 inches) and would make a perfect shower gift for a new mom (or for any mom, as a Christmas, Mother's Day, or birthday gift!)

Each colorful page has a different brief prayer, accompanied by Megan Gilbert's precious and delightful mixed media illustrations. 

Though this is a perfect book for moms, I think children will enjoy having it read by their mothers to them - they'll love the seeing the cozy illustrations of mothers and children, and knowing that these are the prayers their mothers pray for them.

About the author: Megan Elizabeth received a BA. in Fine Arts and Art Education from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, while also getting to study in France and Greece.  She has taught art to people of all ages in Canada, the US, and Europe.  She and her husband and their four children are currently residing at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York.

Crockpot Apple Cider Recipe

Put all ingredients in a crockpot: 
8 Cups Water 
4 apples, cored and quartered 
1 pear, cored and quartered 
1 cup sugar 
4 cinnamon sticks 
2 T mulling spices 
1/4 c pomegranate seeds (optional) 

Cook on low for 8 hours, then scoop out and discard the cooked fruit and spices from of the crockpot bowl. Pour remaining liquid through a strainer to remove any leftover bits. Serve warm - with a slice of apple, a stick of cinnamon, or drizzle of Jack Daniel’s (for adults only, of course.)

Notes: I like to use any variety of sweet apple (Honeycrisp apples are especially good!) I store any leftover cider in a large Ball jar in the refrigerator, ready to be microwaved a cup at a time! I found mulling spices at a specialty kitchen store, but you can also make your own. Recipe linked here https://inspiredbycharm.com/mulling-spices/.