These days, many of us are spending more time with our families. This is an opportunity to develop the habit of family devotions. There are many ways of doing this. One way is to use devotional books. This review will offer three options for your consideration: Kingdom Family Devotional, by Tony Evans and Jonathan Evans, Faith Forward Family Devotional by Ruth and Patrick Schwenk, and Grace for the Moment Family Devotional by Max Lucado. I sampled selections amounting to about half of each book.

Pray about which book is right for you. If you choose one for your family, read it in advance. You may not agree with the writer one hundred percent or your family may not be at ease with all of the suggested activities. Use wisdom and discernment regarding what will encourage and build up your children in their faith and adapt your use of the devotional readings accordingly.

Dr. Tony Evans is the highly respected pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas; an author and speaker. He is also a father and grandfather. Jonathan Evans is his son. The Kingdom Family Devotional, published by Focus on the Family (2017), has 52 five-day themed chapters, one for each week of the year. Dr. Evans believes that parents are the primary teachers of children, before schools or the church.

The purpose of this book is to “instill biblical truth and spiritual values in the minds and hearts of the next generation,” based on Psalm 145:5. He encourages parents to read each devotional ahead of time and adjust it to the ages of their children, adding illustrations appropriate for them. He suggests having family devotions at the dinner table, with devices turned off. He recommends that children read scripture out loud and pray as part of this time together.

Dr. Evans is very creative in the activities he recommends, including singing, writing, and dancing. Here are some of the important themes he addresses: love, respect, purity, spiritual growth, manhood, womanhood, self-control, friends, forgiveness, witnessing, integrity, peace, communication, fear, unity, temptation, and courteous speech. Each devotional includes scripture, a short message, an activity, and prayer.

While parenting four children, Ruth and Patrick Schwenk blog and write books on marriage and parenting. Patrick is the Discipleship Pastor at the Refuge Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Their vision for the Faith Forward Family Devotional, published by Zondervan (2019), is to help parents shape their children’s hearts.

This devotional takes your family through the whole Bible in one hundred devotionals, each with a scripture passage, key idea, discussion questions and a family prayer. The wording is very approachable, the ideas are easy to follow. The presentations are both gentle and engaging. At the very end of each reading, the authors include a list of other Bible verses for further study.

Some of the themes are: God creates, friendship with God, when waiting is hard, everyone has a choice, no one like our God, God always provides, a new way to live, God works through the weak, asking for wisdom, things fall apart, people are watching, growing up, loving people more than possessions, let your light shine, worry less, trust more, the good shepherd, He is risen, and courageous faith.

Max Lucado is a well-known devotional author and the Teaching Minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas. Grace for the Moment Family Devotional, published by Thomas Nelson (2020), is full of comfort, mercy, and grace.

The book contains one hundred pairs of devotional readings. Each set has a reading for parents and a reading for children. They include a short message and a Bible verse (or verses). Parents and children may read their devotionals separately and then come together to read the verse and talk about it, or both versions may be read aloud for greater insights into each idea.

After every set of devotionals there is a Growing in Grace section that suggests an activity to bring the idea into practice in daily life. For example, “Write a favorite Bible verse on sticky notes. Then stick them by your light switch….” Topics included are: God lives here, serving Jesus, sowing seeds of peace, God always gives grace, good habits, God’s goodness, listen for His voice, dark nights-God’s light, God’s child, Jesus’ broken heart, the worshipful heart, character creates courage, God’s in charge, and the purpose of life.

You may enjoy one, two, or all three of these devotionals, depending on the kind of experience you want to create for your family as you study God’s Word together.

The Faith Forward Family Devotional, Grace for the Moment Family Devotional, and the Kingdom Family Devotional may be purchased from bookstores, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and Christianbook.com. They are available in paperback or e-book forms. These books are good reading to help nurture your family’s faith and unity during this unusual time.

 

Donna Fujimoto’s children love to read. She is a graduate of Alliance Theological Seminary. Her collection of short stories, 9 Slightly Strange Stories with an Uplifting Edge  is available as an e-book at Amazon.

 

Sheltering in Place and all that it entails. Civil unrest. Fierce wildfires here in the West. Weeks of air that were filled with smoke and ash and an eerie sky that one day was the color orange. (I am so glad to report to you and so grateful to God that I can now open the windows and see blue skies.) There’s been plenty of bad news! I need good news and I get the best from God.

The news from Him: He is still my and our refuge. He is still on the job, creating and moving in our behalf. He still loves us with an everlasting love.

Seeing it in print helps me know it is so, when everything else I see says it’s not. I read God’s word. I think on it. Then I can keep going. Devotionals help me connect with God and His Word.

Patsy has found two storybooks for you to share with your children. We think they will help you and your kids know how devoted our God is to you and yours.  — Nancy

P.S. This morning it occurred to me, too, that grandparents, aunts, uncles could share these books via Skype or Facetime with their beloved young ones. Parents could listen in and enjoy the story as well.       

 

Two Bible storybooks for young children have really impressed my own grandchildren, and I think your little ones will appreciate them as well.

The first, The Jesus Story Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name, written by Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrated by Jago, is published by Zonderkidz (2007). It is full of bright and beautiful illustrations, and it presents each Bible story in a way that children can understand.

Uniquely, it focuses on the story beneath all the stories in the Bible. “At the center of the story, there is a baby, the Child upon whom everything would depend. From Noah to Moses to King David, every story whispers his name. Jesus is like the missing piece in a puzzle–the puzzle that makes all the other pieces fit together.” (from the back cover)

This storybook is definitely one that your children will enjoy. It is well-written and exciting. Recommended for children preschool age through sixth grade, I think children as young as two years old will like it.

The second Bible storybook, God Gave us the Bible: Forty-five Favorite Stories for Little Ones is written by Lisa Tawn Bergen and illustrated by David Hohn. It is published by Waterbrook (2019).

As in Bergren’s other picture books, (see God Gave Us the World, God Gave Us Easter, God Gave Us Christmas) the characters in this Bible storybook are animals. “Mama Bear gathers Little Cub and all her forest friends to tell them the story of God’s love–through the Bible.” (from the back cover) This storybook has lots of animals and they are adorable. Children love animals and they will love these.

God Gave Us the Bible is a book young children can easily relate to and understand. It includes questions that children might ask. Bergren has the young animals ask the questions and Mama Bear answer them. For example, Little Moose asks this question, “What’s a parable?” Mama Bear replies, “It’s a kind of story that Jesus used to help his followers understand the truth. And it helps us understand God better too.”

One of the pictures in this book I really enjoy is a big table with all the animals gathered around listening to Mama Bear read Bible stories. I know that children enjoy seeing pictures of animals communicating with each other.

This book is recommended for children preschool through second grade, but I think younger children and even some older children will enjoy it.

I believe the children in your life will find these storybooks very interesting and fun as well.

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her six children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. She and her husband have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

An Appalachian Summer by Ann H. Gabhart and published by Revell (2020) is cute, informative and fun. This would be a great read for women 16 and above.

It takes place in Kentucky in 1933. As the country still reels from the Great Depression, Erwin and Wanda Mae’s daughter, Piper Danson, age twenty, is about to make her debut with a lavish debutante ball in Louisville. The only problem is that she doesn’t want to be there.

She is a simple young lady, preferring to be outdoors riding her horse and spending time with her lifelong friend, Jamie Russell. During the depression, Jamie’s father lost his fortune and passed away. Jamie and his mother are now living with his Uncle Wyatt in Danville, Kentucky.

Piper’s escort to the ball is Braxton Crandall, of the Crandall Railroad fortune. He is her parent’s perfect choice of a suitor. Piper is disinterested and barely knows him. She wants to eventually marry, but only for love. Jamie fits the bill, but now with his family situation, her parents would not agree to a match between the two.

Piper’s Aunt Truda, her father’s sister, works at his bank and is an accomplished accountant. At forty-five, she is unmarried. Some years ago, she met a young medical student and was quite taken with him. Jack Booker was also enthralled with Truda during the short time he spent with her. But when he sent her a letter, her parents confiscated it and never let her know he had written. She found this out much later, and although disappointed, accepted it as God’s will for her life. She is content.

Aunt Truda hosts a fundraising tea for her friend, Mary Breckenridge, who has begun a Frontier Nurse Midwives Ministry in Hyden, Kentucky. Hyden is located in the Appalachian Mountains where mothers are not able to travel to hospitals to give birth. The midwives and helpers proceed up the mountains on horseback to help deliver babies and treat those in need of medical attention.

Piper and her mother attend the fundraising event. Piper is taken with the idea of becoming part of this ministry for the summer. Aunt Truda offers to sponsor her in the endeavor. Piper’s mother is not at all in favor of Piper’s participation. She would much rather see Piper attend the balls of the social season and end with getting engaged to Braxton Crandall. Piper disagrees and can’t escape the social events soon enough. She is young and ready for an adventure. She desires to spend her summer doing something she has never done before and learning new skills that can help others.

Piper is a churchgoer, but in the mountain country of Kentucky her faith becomes much more real. She meets new people and befriends the other couriers, Marlie and Susan. Piper learns how to care for the horses, and even accompanies the nurses on their mountain visits. She helps deliver several babies and she works at the Hyden Hospital.

While at the hospital, she runs into Dr. Jack Booker, the man who had impressed her aunt twenty years ago. Piper just happens to mention this in a letter to her aunt. Truda is overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of visiting Hyden and running into Jack once again.

Truda, Jamie and Braxton Crandall all eventually end up in Hyden, Kentucky. Each with their own agenda. Fun, crazy times are in store for all. You will laugh at the episodes that follow.

The story ends on a happy note, with several characters finding love, joy and peace. Eventually, all of the characters seek the Lord’s purpose in their lives. They find great joy and value in helping others. They make friends with the amazing Appalachian people who have much to teach.

This was a fun novel. Characters grow, and those in need are helped. Many of the shenanigans are hilarious. It is my hope you will enjoy An Appalachian Summer as much as I did.

 

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her six children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. She and her husband have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

Melanie on the Move (The NorCal Girls) written by J.D. Rempel and published by Ambassador International (2020) is so appropriate for this season of change. Pre-teen girls will relate and be encouraged.

Twelve-year-old Melanie overhears part of a conversation between her parents and it scares her. But she doesn’t know what to do with the fear. It pops into her head what her best friend said, that when you are afraid you can pray and ask God to help you. Melanie decides she doesn’t need God.

However, life is about to hand her some difficulties and Melanie is going to re-think that belief. Melanie and her family are going to have to move. They need to sell their house with its pool—Melanie is a champion swimmer and on the swim team—and move to a cabin they own about an hour and a half away. Her father has been doing contracting jobs since he lost his job, but the work is not as lucrative. Melanie will have to leave her friends, her swim team, and her school. Her best friend tries to assure her that God will take care of her. Melanie is not having any of it.

But when she arrives at the cabin, she sees that it is not as bad as she thought. The cabin is homey and full of sweet memories. A kind neighbor, Vivian, who keeps birds and teaches music invites the family to dinner. During dinner, the neighbor invites Melanie to come back in four days and see her birds. Melanie wonders why not tomorrow.

Before Melanie is finished unpacking, she encounters a new difficulty. Her dad will not be staying with them during the week. Further unsettling is his statement that the new job that he’s on could be permanent, if so, they will all move again.

At Vivian’s house, Melanie meets Cindy, a girl her age. Cindy invites her to youth group at her church. Melanie goes reluctantly, but then Cindy introduces Melanie to her friends. The youth pastor speaks about Romans 8:28, saying God uses circumstances to draw people closer to Him. Melanie wonders if this is true and begins a faith journey which will end with her having a different attitude about God and prayer.

The novel is on point for the interests and concerns of pre-teen girls—friends, family, sports, boys, parties and camp. Melanie’s faith journey with its ups, downs and ups is totally realistic. Discussion questions at the end of the novel will deepen and enhance a pre-teen’s enjoyment of the book.

Though I think most of the girls who read this novel will already have a relationship with God, even they, at times, doubt His goodness and care. Melanie on the Move will help them consider and encourage them to watch for His goodness and care in their own lives.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Psalm 32:8 (NIV)

Indescribable: 100 Devotions about God and Science

Jesus Calling: 365 Devotions for Kids

Little Visits

We think the above books for school age children would be terrific as family devotionals. They would bless the kids and they would bless you. And don’t we all need to experience the blessing and presence of God these days?

We are looking into a few other devotional books for families. We hope that we can, in the future, recommend them to you as well.

The Book of Lost Friends, by one of my favorite authors, Lisa Wingate, published by Ballantine Books (2020), is guaranteed to enlighten you. You will love Lisa’s descriptive writing and character sculpting. This story is fictional, yet it is based on stories from actual “Lost Friends” advertisements that appeared in Southern newspapers after the Civil War, as newly freed slaves searched for loved ones who had been sold.

It takes place in Augustine, Louisiana, in 1875. After the war, three young women set off for Texas on a dangerous journey. Hannie is a freed slave, along with Lavinia, the heir of the plantation where Hannie lived and worked, and Juneau Jane, Lavinia’s Creole half-sister. Lavinia and Juneau Jane are searching for their father, William Gossett. They are hoping to receive their inheritance. Eighteen-year-old Hannie, is seeking the family she lost years ago.

This story also includes a separate tale of Benedetta Silva, who in 1987, comes to the same area in Augustine, Louisiana, where the Gossett Plantation remains. She ends up renting one of the cottages at Gossett Grove, now under the ownership of Nathan Gossett. She is a first-year teacher with a subsidized job at a poor rural school. She is seeking to pay off her student loan debt, but quickly becomes immersed in the lives of her poverty-stricken high school students. Her favorite, LaJuna, has a difficult home life and challenges to overcome, yet LaJuna turns out to be her most promising student.

Hannie has a degree of faith in God which grows as the story unfolds. Hannie’s family, her mother Mittie and eight siblings, along with other relatives, lived with William and Maude Loach Gossett of Gossett Grove.

At one point, everyone takes a trip to Texas along with Maude’s nephew, Jep Loach, who steals Hannie and her entire family and sells them two at a time along the way. He is the villain in this story. He is not able to sell Hannie, the last one, because it is discovered that she has been stolen. An angry William Gossett is summoned and comes to her aid, taking her back to his plantation. At the same time he is married to Maude, William takes a second wife in another area of Louisiana, and fathers Juneau Jane La Planche and her brother. Eventually Maude discovers this and is very unhappy.

Meanwhile in 1987, Benedetta, or Bennie, is digging into the history of the Gossett family. She and her students, especially LaJuna are working on a project to portray many of the characters from the past, and make their stories come to life. Bennie become friends with Nathan Gossett, a descendant of William Gossett.

Many adventures and close calls follow Hannie and her friends as they travel from place to place. She encounters advertisements, a column in the newspaper, the Southwestern Christian Advocate Newspaper. Freed slaves are looking for their lost relatives–those separated from them by slavery and war. Other people tell her they are also looking for their loved ones and hoping to reunite with them They give her their information and names of family members. She promises to ask after these people as they travel. She begins the biggest project of her life, a compilation of this information. She names it The Book of Lost Friends.

“Having found many members of my [own] family” Hannie remarked, “This was an impassioned service I could provide for others. The greatest hardship to the heart is to endlessly wonder about your people.”

When Bennie’s students finally perform their program to represent characters from the past who did not have a voice of their own, it is LaJuna who portrays Hannie Gossett. She also comes to discover that Hannie was her great-grandmother.

The story ends happily. The main characters feel a sense of accomplishment. Joy comes as they realize they have helped others and told stories that may not have been otherwise known.

I really enjoyed this read. It was told by a master storyteller. My hope is that you will enjoy it as well. God is good. He loves us and is delighted when we used our gifts in the way He intended, blessing others as a result.

 

Patsy Ledbetter says she has many titles, but her favorite is being mom to her six children. Her two daughters, two sons and one son-in-law and one-daughter-in-law are her joy. A teacher with forty years experience Patsy has taught children of all ages and also special needs children and adults. She writes occasionally for a local newspaper and performs in church theater productions on a regular basis. She and her husband have been married for more than 35 years. She says, “It is my desire to bring honor and glory to my Lord Jesus in every area where He has allowed me to minister.”

 

 

 

 

When I Pray for You by Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by Kimberley Barnes, and published by, Waterbrook (2019) is a good bedtime read for children, ages 4-7. And because raising children has more than its share of challenging moments as well as joys, this thoughtful book may just help parents too.

The book begins in the past. The parent/reader tells the child that the parent prayed for him when he was first held, took her first steps, said his first words, skipped in the sun and played pretend with friends. It then switches to the present time and the parent/reader assures the child that she is being prayed for when she jumps out of bed, when his feelings are sad or mad or happy, when she is playing or learning at school. The story then looks into the future. The parent/reader says he/she will be praying as the child grows, becomes a teen and beyond, “At the moment you realize it’s time to explore, I’ll pray God gives you wings …”

I like this progression. It reassures a child that he was loved and cherished in the past, is loved and cherished in the present and will be loved and cherished in the future. And loved and cherished no matter what!

This is a particularly important concept for children of this age group. They are becoming more aware that they and the world sometimes fall short of perfection. It troubles them. Turner understands that and focusing on the positive, his parent/reader prays for the child to have God’s protection, that the child will grow in confidence and that “all that God sees comes alive in you.”

Looking into the future, Turner sees some of its struggles and packs this little book with a parent’s promises of faithfulness. The parent prays that the child, as he grows, will choose “hope should you ever face fear” and “love others, whether strangers or friends, with the same kind of love that God feels for them.” The parent/reader assures the child he will pray “When you know all the answers or just think that you do. When you find out the hard way you know less than you do.”

Kimberley Barnes’ illustrations are child-friendly–lively, expressive, and colorful. Children will especially enjoy looking at all the children and animals depicted on the pages.

When I Pray for You is a great picture book to add to your collection of end-of-the day reads—good value for your money. (And because little ones often ask at bedtime for one more story, bedtime story will take you to more good reads.)

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

I think subscriptions to Christian kids’ magazines are a good, good use of your money. The articles and stories are kid-friendly and age appropriate. They build kids up in the Lord, helping them to know God and believe that He cares about them–their interests, their needs, and their lives. Many of those magazines have though, sadly disappeared. (Sadly–actually I’m horrified. Kids need these magazines more than ever.)

I am so happy to tell you that Focus on the Family is still publishing Clubhouse Jr. and Clubhouse. These are great publications–thoughtful, informative, and did I mention, fun.

Clubhouse has short mysteries in each issue. I really like these. (The solutions are on a different page and so challenge the reader to think on their own what the solution might be.) Clubhouse values kids. It has articles and short stories on kid problems: relationships with friends and family, helpfulness, anger, school, etc. Choose-your-adventure stories help kids see where a choice might lead them. The magazine encourages kids to act out their faith in God in articles about kids who are involved in ministry or in the arts or in sports.

Both Clubhouse Jr. and Clubhouse do re-told Bible stories with illustrations. Both magazines also have fun puzzles, many of which make use of Biblical verses or themes. I like the science articles (with great photos or illustrations) that explore aspects of nature or the human body, but then relate these aspects to how wonderful God, the Creator, is.

Kids’ magazines help children become better readers. The pieces are short, and the vocabulary of the articles and stories is controlled. Kids will read a magazine that has been created for them because they are able to read them. And so, they practice reading, becoming in the process, better readers. It is a good thing.

But reading Christian kids’ magazines will do more. It will not only help kids become better readers, it will feed their souls.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

OK, they or events–you decide–cancelled summer this year. Or did they? We can still go camping or have picnics (if only in our backyards), sip lemonade, ride bikes and daydream summer dreams. Summer fun and adventures are still open.

You and the kids can still go places. Think of it. You can go to Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Or visit Prince Edward Island with Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables. Or if you dare, what about going to Ireland in the days of the Vikings, Raiders from the Sea? You could choose your own sea adventure: Journey under the Sea or you could visit a small town in the woods of California’s  Sierra Nevada: The City Bear’s Adventures. How about solving mysteries in Botswana?  The Great Cake Mystery is the first one in that series for young readers. Or if you want a cooler climate you can help solve mysteries with Libby and her friends in Edinburgh, Scotland: I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue. (Get your umbrellas out of the closet and keep them handy. It rains in Scotland even in the summer. :))

Those are just a few suggestions. We have others. Here’s some more. (Titles are linked to our reviews.) Let the adventures begin!

The Avion My Uncle Flew
Chancey of Maury River
Cheaper by the Dozen
Escape from Warsaw
Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition
Horse to Love, A
In Grandma’s Attic
The Incredible Journey
Jungle Doctor Meets a Lion
Little Lord Fauntleroy

McKenna
Meet Josephina
Meet Kaya
Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West 
Nick Newton Is Not a Genius 
Pollyanna
Running with Roselle
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Scout
Secret Garden, The
The Tarantula in My Purse and 172 Other Wild Pets
The Trumpet of the Swan

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

And while you are at it, maybe you would like an adventure–that is, after the kids are in bed. (Or maybe you could read your book sitting next to them while they are reading theirs. It’s a good thing for them to see you reading–so say some studies.) Take a look at the list for College Age/Working Person under Book Lists. Ah, an adventure in England! Ah, the American West! Hawaii, anyone?

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) You can learn more about her and her books at www.nancyellenhird.com .

For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

 

“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter hidden things, thing from of old–
what we have heard and known
what our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from the children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
his power, and the wonders he has done. ” Psalm 78: 2-4 (NIV)

In the previous post I wrote about A Life Intercepted. After I had posted, I felt drawn to read it again. I don’t usually do that. But as I  re-read, I saw that I had missed something.

It was utterly important that the QB, Matthew, continued to encourage and train the young would-be QB even though Matthew’s own life and his world had unraveled and was threatening to become more so.

God was whispering to me about my life.

Though we are, these days, sometimes overwhelmed by the circumstances of our own lives, we must continue to encourage and train the next generation. We cannot wait for easier times.

What kids and young adults read now, matters! I know you believe this and you are pointing your loved ones to books and materials that will feed their souls and their faith in God, not their fears. Keep on doing it. Keep on. God is smiling.

If you need some more suggestions of worthy reads check out Book Lists in the menu at the top.

Book Reviews

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