We may not be able to be in church today, but we can still praise God and thank Him. Let’s do it. Let’s enter His courts and experience the joy of being in His presence. Let’s let Him fill us with His love and His wisdom and His truth.

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite De Angeli is a Newbery Award winner. First printed in 1949, it is 120 pages long, and illustrated with black and white drawings. This pocket-sized book delivers a full-scale adventure story with heart.

Ten-year-old Robin is the son of a nobleman who is off to the Scottish wars, while his mother is an attendant of the Queen of England. Robin was to have been at Sir Peter de Lindsay’s castle, learning the skills of knighthood, but is seized with a mysterious illness that leaves him lame. At the same time, the plague sweeps through town, and all of Robin’s household servants are taken by it.

Found by Brother Luke and brought to St. Mark’s, Robin is gently and skillfully looked after. At first he is arrogant and impatient. His recovery is slow, but his character grows under the influence of kindness and compassion. Robin is strengthened by daily swimming. He learns woodworking, reading, and writing, and how to move about on crutches.

He is able at last to send a message to his father by the hand of a minstrel, John-go-in-the-Wynd. His father writes back that he is to go to Lindsay’s castle accompanied by Brother Luke and John. They are received warmly. Robin continues his studies, although his crippled legs deny him the duties of a paige or squire.

When a band of Welsh soldiers conquer the nearby town and attack the castle, Sir Peter wishes for some way to summon help. Robin believes he can sneak out of the castle disguised in ragged clothes as a beggar, but knows Sir Peter would not want him to put his life in danger.

Will Robin take this perilous journey? Will he ever see his father and mother again? And how can he face a future with crooked legs? Read this beautifully written story to see if Robin finds the Door in the Wall.

You may find this chapter book on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and Christianbook.com in paperback, e-book, and audio book, varying with the seller.

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.

The Way to the Manger, a Family Advent Devotional written by Jeff and Abbey Land and published by B&H Kids (2018) is beautiful. Just beautiful!

I love it’s mixed media, impressionistic artwork in jewel tones. The Way to the Manger draws you from a world of hurry and noise and helps you sit in the presence of an eternal and all-loving God.

The scripture verses, which are often part of the artwork, are well-chosen. There are traditional scriptures from Luke and Matthew, but the authors also use scriptures from the Old Testament, the epistles of Paul and the gospel of John. This reminds the hearers that our God is big and He wants us to understand that Christmas is a big, big story.

Each of the four weeks is themed. Hope is the first week, then love, joy and peace in succeeding weeks. Each day uses scripture, a devotion, questions for discussion and a short prayer to expand on the week’s theme. In terms of time, a day’s entry takes about ten minutes. At the end of each of the three weeks, there is a group of suggested family activities which also tie into that week’s theme.

I think The Way to the Manger would work well if your children are of elementary school age and are generally familiar with the story. This book talks about and provokes thought about elements in the Christmas story, but it doesn’t present the story as whole or in chronological order. You may want to supplement this book with readings from the Christmas story as it is found in Matthew and Luke and so refresh your children’s memories of the entire story. This devotional’s focus, it seems to me, is to help you and your children relate to and go deeper into the elements of the story. I think it will. Though you will only spend a few minutes a day in this devotional time, it will deepen and enrich your lives with God long after Advent is over.

25 Days of the Christmas Story written by Dr. Josh and Christi Straub, illustrated by Jane Butler and published  by B&H Kids (2020)  has the feel of Sunday school lessons. I think it will be a hit with young children, ages preschool to third grade.

Each day features a story about a Biblical person like Gabriel or a place like Bethlehem or an object like gold that plays a part in the Christmas story. These short pieces move through the Christmas story mostly chronologically. I say mostly, because while Day 1 begins with Isaiah, the prophet, Day 2 speaks about David and Jesus being from the line of David. Day 25 is about Nazareth and speaks of Jesus’ and his parents’ return after being in Egypt.

Each short, one-page story focuses on a character trait and offers a life lesson. For example, the story about Mary speaks to the character trait “Humble.” The stated Life Lesson is: God Looks at the Heart. There is a family activity for each day and questions for discussion. Activities are easy to do such as baking a cake, singing carols, playing a board game, going on a prayer walk through your neighborhood, etc.

 Young children will learn a lot from this advent experience and they will have a fun time doing it.   

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

I know; I know; it’s November and Thanksgiving is coming. Somebody–actually a number of somebodies–have told me so. I can’t get my brain wrapped around it. These last months have been surreal and days seem blend into each other.

But despite all that is going on around us, we will give thanks to God. We have much, much to be thankful for. It struck me as I’m writing this that the first Thanksgiving came after a time of great adversity. The Pilgrims saw God’s provision and care even though they had suffered great hardships.

A couple of years ago we posted a review of a picture book that talks about how Thanksgiving became a national holiday in the States. You may have missed it, so I’m posting Patsy Ledbetter’s review again. And keep reading beyond Patsy’s bio to see the titles and the links to some other great books that will help you and kids celebrate the day.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving, written by Laurie Halse Anderson and published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; Reprint edition (2005), is a fun read and a great way to learn historical information.

The main character is Sarah Hale, the woman who was influential in making Thanksgiving a national holiday. This small book written for children ages five to fourteen is cute, informative and inspirational. It is also funny in some parts. Matt Faulkner’s colorful and sometimes humorous illustrations are great, adding a lot to the storytelling.

The book starts by telling how the first Thanksgiving began. As time went on, it wasn’t always observed as it had been before. Sarah Hale, a woman in the nineteenth century, had the passion and the tenacity to make it a national holiday. It took her many years of writing letters to various presidents to finally get her idea approved, but she never stopped trying.

In addition to fighting for Thanksgiving, Sarah Hale also fought for playgrounds for kids, schools for girls, and historical monuments for everyone. She argued against slavery, raised five children, and wrote poetry, children’s books, novels and biographies. She was the first female magazine editor in America, publishing great American authors like Longfellow and Poe. She also composed “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

The story goes on to explain more about Sarah and her letter writing to different presidents. She was passionate about what she believed and never gave up. She also knew how to ask readers to help by asking them in her magazine articles. After trying to influence four different presidents to make Thanksgiving a holiday, she finally had success with President Lincoln. And in 1863, he made it a national holiday. Sarah’s determination had paid off. She can be an example to us to persevere, even when things get difficult.

Sarah was a bold, brave, smart, stubborn lady who used her time wisely. She died at the age of 90, knowing she had accomplished much. She is a great example for children and adults alike. I know readers will enjoy this book 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, one-daughter-in-law and one son-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. Her husband is the church choir and orchestra director. They 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.”

What is Thanksgiving?  – a board book that takes the listener to the heart of the holiday

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving – a picture book about God’s hand in the first Thanksgiving. The whole family will enjoy this one.

Thanksgiving Graces – a picture book about extending ourselves to family, friends and strangers

Molly’s Pilgrim – a first chapter book with illustrations for children in lower elementary grades that may help children consider modern day pilgrims.

An Old Fashioned Thanksgiving – a gentle story about family life at Thanksgiving from 19th century author Louisa May Alcott.  This short book with illustrations would be enjoyed by children ages five to twelve.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (Aladdin: Reprint edition, 2006) with beautifully illustrated black and white sketches by Wesley Dennis is a Newbery Honor winner published in 1947. The novel is classified as juvenile fiction. It is 175 pages long and suitable for elementary aged children.

The author writes delightfully beautiful descriptions of American historical periods. This book tells of little known islands off the coast of Maryland, and it begins a series of equine adventures.

First, she tells us how wild ponies first came to Assateague Island, in the midst of storm and shipwreck. Then we meet the main characters, the brother and sister team of Paul and Maureen. They dream of owning the mysterious mare that islanders call The Phantom, and of racing her at the annual Pony Penning Day.

Paul and Maureen must work together to save money for their dream. They help their grandfather gentle colts. They catch crabs and dig clams. Slowly, they save up. Next they clean a pony pen and prepare it for The Phantom.

When Pony Penning Day arrives, Grandpa and Paul ride out on tame ponies with the other men and take a boat across the sound to Assateague Island where the wild ponies live. There, they split into teams to round up the wild ones and swim them back to Chincoteague Island for the pony sale. For two years, The Phantom has escaped these roundups, but this year she has a newborn colt, and Paul is able to bring them in. He names the little colt Misty.

Before the sale, Paul and Maureen go to the man in charge to ask him to save The Phantom and her colt for them. They promise to work more to cover the extra cost of Misty. But he has already promised the pair to a city man who came by earlier. The children are shocked and sad. Is there no hope of their dream coming true? They felt so certain that the ponies and the race where theirs to win.

It bears mentioning that attitudes about boy and girl behaviors at this time and place are very traditional and this might annoy some present-day girl readers. However, there is a lot of cooperation and love between family members, hard work, self-sacrifice, and a strong sense of community. There are many fun horsey moments with both domestic and wild ponies, sure to please animal-loving readers.

Although the book is classified as fiction, the author includes a note that all the characters are real people and that all the incidents in the book actually took place on Chincoteague Island. Her acknowledgements reflect meticulous historical research. There is nice map at the end.

Misty of Chincoteague is available at bookstores, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and Christianbook.com, mostly in paperback form.

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.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus is Beth Moore’s first novel. It was published in 2017 by Tyndale House Publishers. Beth Moore is a very well-known writer of Bible studies and nonfiction books. She does an excellent job in this fascinating story. 

Most of the characters in this novel do not come to a place of faith in their lives until close to the end. There is some mystery and vengeance that is played out, and therefore, a reader audience of those above eighteen is best. 

Jillian Slater of San Francisco is the only daughter born to Jacyln (Jade) Slater and Rafael Weyland Fontaine. When she was six, she and her mother left New Orleans for California. That was twenty years ago, and she and her mother have not seen her father since. Jillian hears that he has recently drunk himself to death on the streets of New Orleans.

Adella Atwater, the manager of her grandmother’s apartment house contacts Jillian with an expenses paid invitation for her to fly there for her father’s burial. Jillian works at an upscale restaurant and is living with the owner, Vince. She has a few vacation days coming up. She decides to go on the trip. Though her father has passed away, she has a chance to reconnect with her grandmother, Olivia Fontaine. 

Once Jillian arrives in New Orleans, she finds out her grandmother never knew she was coming. The entire plan was contrived by Adella to try and connect the two. Jillian agrees to stay a week in the old apartment building, which is actually a very old church, Saint Silvanus.

The church dates back to 1918 and has a painful history. During the story, there are several flashback chapters describing the church and the pastor, Reverend R. J. Brasher.

Some interesting people live in the apartment building. Jillian meets them and finds them endearing. Middle-aged David is a junior high school choir director. Young Caryn is studying science. Mrs Winsee is a sweet, elderly woman who has mild dementia. Jillian’s grandmother, Olivia Fontaine, has a heart of gold buried beneath a cold exterior. Jillian also meets Adella’s family, her husband Emmett and grown sons, A. J. and Trevor Don.

The police begin to investigate her father’s death. Officer Sanchez and Officer Cal DeCosta also look into strange notes and items left at night on the Fontaine property.

After a week, Jillian and Olivia argue and Jillian, feeling unwanted, flies back to San Francisco. There, she discovers that her live-in boyfriend, Vince has taken up with another waitress.  Humiliated, Jillian flies back to New Orleans with only a purse and the clothes on her back. Olivia offers to help her, but Jillian wants to find her own place and support herself. All of the residents want her there, but she leaves anyway, gets a job, and stays with Stella, a woman she barely knows. Stella offers her a place in her apartment which is close to Jillian’s work.

At this point, the story becomes a mini thriller. Stella has ulterior motives. She wants to destroy Jillian and the Fontaine family name and fortune, 

Eventually, everything gets sorted out. Officer Sanchez and Adella play a role in witnessing to the others of Christ’s love and forgiveness. The main characters turn their hearts and lives over to Christ. All is well.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus is a very long book, over 400 pages, and it kept my interest the entire time. I know you will find it as interesting as I did.  It is heartwarming, and points to Jesus as our one and only Savior.

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.”

cover for P is for Pumpkin

Halloween will be quite different this year, 2020. I doubt there will be school carnivals or church fall festivals. It’s sad because they are always such fun. But I do hope children will still dress-up and that they will still receive special treats. Autumn is a season the Lord has made and so we can rejoice and be glad in it.

If you are looking for a book that views autumn and Halloween from a different perspective than witches, vampires and ghosts, you might consider P is for Pumpkin. This picture book was written by Kathy-Jo Wargin, illustrated by Yawen Ariel Pang and published by Zonderkidz (2008). It is subtitled God’s Harvest Alphabet. An alphabet book, it takes a lively look at the special things and events that occur in autumn such as ripe apples, jack-o-lanterns, barn dances, taking nature walks, jumping in piles of leaves.

The words matched with the letters are quite well chosen and give a child a broader and richer appreciation for the season. Passages such as “M is for Moon,” referring to the harvest moon and “Birds fly in a big letter “V,” referring to geese flying south, encourage children to watch for the beauty and wonder of the season. “D is for Dress-up” is not a big surprise, but that it is included will delight children. Unexpected but totally welcomed was “K is for for Kindness,” which referred to sharing kettles of warm soup with neighbors.

I think some people might be bothered by the word used for “X”–“extra.” It does color outside the lines of traditional alphabet books, but I liked it. I thought it was a clever way to work around that useful but distinctively difficult letter–“Laughing and singing for eXtra big fun.”

God is often mentioned in the explanations that accompany the letters. This is outstanding. It blesses the reader and the listener, helping us all know and remember that our God is in this world and active in this wonderful time of the year.

P is for Pumpkin is easy to read aloud. Children will enjoy its active language, questions to the listener, and rhyme.

The lively illustrations are child-friendly and come dressed in beautiful autumn colors. Children will like looking at and pointing out the many details in the pictures. I think they will particularly like it that the pages often show animals accompanying the child in the activity.

There is a tendency to think that because a child has one alphabet book that another is unnecessary. I’m going to challenge that thought. When children see that a letter and its sound can be at the beginning of more than one word, they begin to discover something important about letters–that they are the building blocks of words.

P is for Pumpkin would find its greatest appeal with three- to six-year-olds.

Another book for little ones that celebrates the season in a way that will bless your child is The Pumpkin Patch Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs. For upper elementary kids, consider getting a copy of When Lightning Struck!: The Story of Martin Luther by Danika Cooley. It was on Halloween in 1517–All Hallows Eve–that according to the story, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg.

Have a blessed autumn!

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.)  Her latest works for children are I Get a Clue and We All Get a Clue, mystery novels for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

Dear Book Lovers,

I majored in English. I trained as a teacher and I taught school. I don’t just believe that good reading skills are valuable. I know it. Children in my classes who did not read well, often struggled in other subjects. They often had self-esteem problems and difficulties socializing with other kids. So, I somewhat get it when some parents say about popular but questionable books, “At least the children are reading.”

However, no one would say, in response to kids chowing down humongous doses of sugars and fats in the form of junk foods, “At least they are eating.” People wouldn’t say that. Everyone knows that if children are to be healthy, they must eat food that nourishes their bodies.

Well, what kids read is food for their minds and their souls. They cannot consistently read materials that contradict God and His word and not become sick—soul sick.

“…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent and praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

Bravo to you parents, grandparents, friends, teachers, and librarians who make the time to learn about kids’ books and encourage the kids in your life to “eat” the good ones.

We have some suggestions for you and your beloved young friends:  Book Lists.

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.

Hearts of Fire, written by those involved in the ministry The Voice of the Martyrs, and published by The Voice of the Martyrs Books (2015), is the story of eight women in the underground church and their stories of costly faith. There is a foreword by Gracia Burnham.

This book will definitely keep you up at night. It is a compelling read. I was captivated with the stories of women who offered every aspect of their lives to the Lord. The women experienced much persecution, but also a large amount of joy in the Lord.

Their stories are absolutely amazing. Most of the women are young when they surrender their lives to Jesus. Each story is about a woman from a different country. Many of these women are beaten by fathers and brothers when it is discovered that they are Christians. Many are imprisoned for their faith and forced to live in deplorable conditions. One woman and her husband are arrested, leaving their twelve-year-old son to be cared for by others.

Even though, their faith in Jesus costs them everything, these women are still passionate about sharing their faith with others. Nothing can stop them. Some of them are freed only after years in prison.

One story of Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand, and their son Mihai, is particularly compelling. After many years in prison for their faith, the other believers in the underground church convinced them to go to the United States so they could be a voice for their brothers and sisters who were being persecuted.

“In October 1967, with only one hundred dollars and an old typewriter that sat on their kitchen table, the Wurmbrands wrote the first issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter. Since then, the newsletter has continued to be published monthly, and distributed through VOM offices around the world in multiple languages.”  This couple tirelessly shared a message of hope and love in the face of persecution.

Each woman in these amazing stories found their lives enriched through their costly faith and the trials they suffered. Hearts of Fire certainly convicted me.

I often think I am being persecuted, but in actuality, I am only experiencing some discomfort. It is not to be compared with the things these women went through. We all have our problems, and God has ordained each one for His purpose to grow us closer to Him. He knows all about each of us, and is always delighted when we draw near to Him. I believe this story will strengthen your faith and motivate you to rejoice in your own trials, as you discover His purpose in your life. I would recommend this book for readers eighteen and above.

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.”

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.

 

Book Reviews

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