A thousand apologies to our readers who got this morning’s blog post via email. Emailed posts don’t show the task bar. I forgot that. Again a thousand apologies.

If you read a post on the web, Book Lists appears on the task bar above the post. (They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I thought . . . )

A dear reader who gets a post via email just called me and said about this morning’s post, “I’m confused. What Book Lists?” Thank you, thank you dear reader.

Here is how this morning’s post should have read: I moved the Christmas books to the top of Book Lists. https://nancyellenhird.wordpress.com/book-lists/ I thought it would make it easier for you to find the books with a Christmas theme that we have have reviewed. Scroll down then on Book Lists to find middle grade fiction and non-fiction titles, YA fiction and non-fiction, picture books, etc.

I’m so glad God is running the world and not me.

Nancy

I moved the Christmas books to the top of Book Lists. I thought it would make it easier for you to find the books with a Christmas theme that we have have reviewed. Scroll down then on Book Lists to find middle grade fiction and non-fiction titles, YA fiction and non-fiction, picture books, etc. I hope Book Lists helps you if you are looking to give a book as a gift. And you just might be. Christian books and books with a Christian world view make wonderful gifts. Their themes can bless a reader long after the story ends.

I have some other news. Ann Cavera, a former a middle school reading teacher, has a heart for middle school children. This month she is going to be featuring middle school books and their authors on her podcast, Speeding Past 80. Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 6, I—or so I was told— am going to be one of the authors she talks about. I listened to two of her earlier podcasts and she is looking into some interesting books. Why not have a listen? https://ccavera.podbean.com/

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.

Synopsis

The House on East 88th Street kicks off Bernard Waber’s Lyle the Crocodile series. The story opens with the Primm family discovering a large crocodile, Lyle, in the bathtub of their new brownstone house. After realizing Lyle is a loving entertainment animal that was left behind by his trainer, Hector Valenti, the Primms welcomes him into their family. Lyle lives happily with Mr. Primm, Mrs. Primm, and their son Joshua until his trainer shows up one day to take him on the road to perform. While on the road, Lyle gets homesick and becomes depressed. He can’t entertain audiences, and Hector is forced to return him to the Primms. Lyle returns to his normal happy self when he is reunited with his new family.

Despite Lyle’s best efforts to befriend the neighbor Mr. Grumps in the next book, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Mr. Grumps has Lyle locked up in the city zoo after he does an impromptu performance with Hector Valenti at Mr. Grumps’ department store. Hector gets a job as a zookeeper and frees Lyle from his cage. Lyle knows he can’t return to the Primms and accepts Hector’s offer to travel and perform. While driving to the Primms’ house to say farewell, they notice smoke coming out of Mr. Grumps’ house. Without hesitation, Lyle rushes into the house and rescues Mr. Grumps and his cat. Out of deep gratitude, Mr. Grumps publicly apologizes to Lyle and begs him to stay in the neighborhood.

A new character is introduced in Lyle Finds His Mother, the 5th book in the series. Lyle’s former trainer, Hector Valenti, falls on hard times and tricks Lyle to leave his happy life with the Primms by promising Lyle he would help Lyle find his mother if they do performances to cover the travel expenses. Once the money rolls in from the performances, Valenti conveniently forgets his promise. But, when Lyle refuses to perform, Valenti half-heartedly embarks on a search for Lyle’s mother in crocodile land. Just when Valenti wants to leave, Lyle’s mother emerges. Lyle and his mother return to 88th East St, and his mother joins the Primm family.

Lyle and his mother, Felicity, in Funny, Funny Lyle, help the Primms prepare for the arrival of their new baby Miranda. On a shopping trip for baby supplies, Felicity becomes fascinated with perfume bottles. Unfamiliar with store rules, she leaves the store with the bottles in purse without paying and is arrested for shoplifting. The judge reprimands her and sentences her to community service. While volunteering at the hospital, she discovers she has a gift for nursing and becomes Miranda’s nurse.

Reading Level

2nd graders would enjoy reading this picture book series. It is rated at levels M-N in the Guided Reading Level system and 530L-840L in the Lexile Framework for Reading system. The books are available at local public libraries as well as online retailers.

My Opinion

Fun and educational, the Lyle the Crocodile series is a perfect Christmas gift for a 2nd grader. It is an advanced picture book series that captivates young readers’ minds and hearts. Lyle’s kindness and loyalty immediately draw children to liking him and wishing for a human-like pet or best friend like Lyle. Children’s attention is held from start to finish by the hero-villain and problem-solution plots with unexpected twists and turns. Though the illustrations are plainer and not as colorful as in books targeted to kindergarteners and 1st graders, the illustrations bring the text to life and help readers visualize the stories.

Hidden in the stories are a number of Biblical principles on how to interact with difficult people and handle challenging situations. These principles aren’t explicitly discussed but are communicated through the characters’ actions. In Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and Lovable Lyle, young readers learn to not retaliate evil with evil but to turn the other cheek and love their neighbors as themselves. Lyle shows children, in Lyle and the Birthday Party and Lyle at Christmas, why it is more blessed to give than to receive. As Joseph in the Bible didn’t complain about being imprisoned unfairly but worked diligently unto the Lord, readers see how Lyle, in Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, makes the best of his unfair lockup in the zoo. Children learn from the characters Clover and her mom, in Lovable Lyle, as well as Mr. Grumps, in Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, to look at a person’s heart more than outward appearances. 

The series contains eight individual books, with a Christmas special, Lyle at Christmas. The books can be given as a set or individually as stocking stuffers. Merry Christmas and Happy Reading to your young reader!

Carissa Excelsis is a storyteller and a mom. She has been telling original stories ever since she captivated her kindergarten classmates with her story about a mama bunny going to the hospital to have a baby bunny. She loves to capture children’s imagination through oral and written stories. Prior to being a mom, she created product branding strategies and wrote marketing copy. She hopes one day to have her children’s stories and God-stories published.

Many of us watch a nativity play at Christmas, but few of us actually get to be part of one. Our jobs, our family responsibilities, our health restrictions, keep us from it.  So we watch. And don’t get me wrong. It is a good, good thing to be an audience member. Still, when it comes to a nativity play, sometimes . . .  sometimes, we yearn to be in the scene. It was during one of those seasons for me that I wrote and produced A Shoestring Nativity. I’m putting it up now on the chance that one of you also has such a longing, but you don’t know how to get started.

A Shoestring Nativity : It’s up on my author website. This activity was originally written for publication with a personal experience story at the front end. I’ve included the story because it shows a little of how the groups can be organized for the preparation time and then how the “performance” can be managed by the director.

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The producer/director will need to gather the materials, tools, song sheets, and do some drawing and some cutting ahead of time. The preparation time of the “players” is minimal.

“Players” will need only a few minutes to complete the construction of their costumes and/or props, put the costume pieces on and practice their song (or songs). This creating of the costumes and/or props and practicing the songs is valuable for the whole experience and is part of the fun of doing the “play.” Readers will only need a few minutes to read over the Bible passages that they will read aloud during the “performance.”

The materials suggested (construction paper, wrapping paper, gold ribbon, brown wrapping paper, baker’s twine, macramé cotton rope) can be found on Amazon. An old sheet cut into the appropriate size will work for head pieces for Joseph and the shepherds. A long oblong scarf or shawl will work for Mary. If you do buy rolls of wrapping paper, you might think of using the cardboard tubes that the paper comes wrapped around. Give them a bend and voila you have shepherds’ staffs. The producer will also need texts of the songs–several copies of each song. Texts are online.

I’ve done this “play” with a home Bible study group of 12—adults and children. I’ve also done it with a women’s Bible study group of nearly 40 women. In terms of the number of participants it can have, A Shoestring Nativity is flexible. We have also done this activity as an after dinner program with mentally and physically challenged adults.

In the year, 2020, my husband and I did this pageant on Zoom with family members and friends near and far away. As the producer/director, I sent my costume suggestions and instructions, and the words to the various songs ahead of time to the participants.

I think I can say that each group that I have done this activity with has enjoyed doing it immensely.

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A side note: In the Zoom production my husband and I were the Wisemen. Problem–there were only two of us. I would have said if anyone asked, “The third Wiseman is behind us out of view.” My husband wouldn’t have that–the song is We Three Kings of Orient Are– and he disappeared into our workroom. Ten minutes later he reappeared with a king. Not exactly a reasonable facsimile, but clever–it worked. It has a handle on the back and he held the third king up so that everyone could see him.   

The DIY nativity pageant will help you and your family or you and your friends tell each other the Christmas story. It’s fun and for some it can even be very meaningful.

I’m telling you about this now because there is some preparation required. Mostly you have to decide on a date and time when you can do it and then invite friends and family to join you. (They will need to put it on their calendars. Making time for it in our busy, busy world is perhaps the hardest part, but it’s so worth it.) If you are doing this activity in person, as the host /hostess you will want to gather ahead of time the materials needed for the costumes and props. But don’t stress, remember the materials are easily available.

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.

May your day be blessed with the remembrance of God’s goodness in the past, your pleasure in the goodness of the present, and your hope in the goodness that is yet to come.

Now Thank We All Our God

Nancy–Here I am again as I promised you on Thursday. And now I can tell you–Focus on the Family’s Brio Magazine, https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/brio-magazine/ is having a promotion and you’re invited. As I wrote last week this magazine is a Christian magazine for teen girls and it’s a good one.

The promotion starts on November 20, 2022, and goes to January 15, 2023. During that time, you and your teen can go to BrioMagazine.com/digital to find the digital version (PDF) of the Dec/Jan magazine. If you put the Dec/Jan version of Brio in your cart, at checkout, you can type in the promotional code GiftOfBrio. With that code, you will get the Dec/Jan digital issue of Brio for free. And you can tell your friends or family about it, and your friends or family can do the same to download this issue.

If you have any problems doing this (after November 20), you can call 800-232-6459 or email HELP@focusonthefamily.com.  

Enjoy! 

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 do like to buy gifts. In case you like to buy gifts too, I can point you to some worthy ones for kids–gift subscriptions to magazines.

There are some terrific magazines available for Christian kids. Focus on the Family currently produces two magazines for kids and one magazine for teen girls. Clubhouse Jr. is targeted for children 3- to 7-years old; Clubhouse is written for 8- to 12-year-olds and Brio is for teen girls. Nature Friend is a special interest magazine for families.

I am the the most familiar with the magazines from Focus on the Family. Written to encourage and support kids in their walk with God, Clubhouse Jr. and Clubhouse contain articles, short stories (mysteries, re-told Bible stories, contemporary stories with a point, humorous short pieces), quizzes, games, crafts and even recipes. These magazines come eleven times a year to a child’s doorstep and with his/her name on it. They will bless a child all year long.

Brio, which comes out six times per year, is an outstanding magazine that teen girls will love. Its articles, profiles, quizzes and journaling opportunities will help and support Christian girls as they navigate the new worlds of middle school and high school. (Brio is doing an exciting promotional with its December/January issue, but I can’t tell you about it until Monday, November 21. So, watch your email, if you receive our posts that way, or come back to the blog on Monday.)

The magazines are written with kids in mind and they present topics that interest kids. When the stories or articles wrestle with a life difficulty, the subject is handled in a way that kids can relate to and is appropriate for a child. Oh, and did I forget to mention that the mags are fun?

I’ve been giving subscriptions to the Focus on the Family magazines for many years and the kids have loved, loved them. It has been such a pleasure for me to give gifts that are affordable and good value for your money. As a former teacher, I think magazines can be particularly valuable. Short, informative, well-written pieces with great pictures encourage a child to read and enjoy reading, even a child who may still be struggling to read.

I spoke with the staff at Nature Friend and they have a lot going on. Browse their website to read a few of their fascinating articles about our natural world and see the fun activities that they suggest for the whole family. Nature Friend wanted me to particularly tell you to take a look at and consider their contests and events pages.

It has been suggested to me that Keys for Kids, which is for children 6- to 12-year-olds, and Unlocked, which is for teens, are worth kids’ time. These are devotionals. From their online samples, they look good.

The websites below will give you more info.

Briohttps://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/promos/brio-parents

Clubhouse Jr.https://www.focusonthefamily.com/clubhouse-jr-magazine/

Clubhousehttps://www.focusonthefamily.com/clubhouse-magazine/

Nature Friendhttps://www.naturefriendmagazine. com

Keys for Kidshttps://www.keysforkids.org/

Unlockedhttps://unlocked.org

Shopping savvy: I spoke with Focus on the Family’s subscription line and the agent said that a postcard will be sent to the gift’s recipient and should arrive about two weeks after you place the order. He also said it would be better to place an order by phone and he gave this number: 1-800-A FAMILY (1-800-232-6459).

If you are going to give a gift subscription to your child, you might also consider giving a gift subscription to the same magazine to one of your child’s grandparents or a beloved aunt or uncle. This could give that adult and your child some good conversation starters. And if you are the grandparent or aunt or uncle who is giving the subscription to your special child, why not get a subscription for yourself? The magazines are fun, informative and interesting, even if you grew up a while ago. — Nancy

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.

Set aside a time and step away from all the activity of the Christmas season and let God feed your soul. Spend some special moments letting Him show you how He loves you, how He kept His promise and how He is keeping His promises. It will enrich your life way beyond the days of the Advent season. It will be beautiful. Advent begins this year of Our Lord, 2022, on Sunday, December 4.

I think the following devotionals will help you and your family.

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.

The Way to the Manger, a Family Advent Devotional written by Jeff and Abbey Land and published by B&H Kids (2018) is a feast for the eyes. I love it’s mixed media, impressionistic artwork in jewel tones. This devotional 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.

I also recommend Christ in the Carols, for music lovers and for families with high schoolers and college students.

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.   

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1 (NIV)

” . . . give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Last year I suggested a November/Thanksgiving activity that we were going to try at my house. My husband and I were blown away with how wonderful it turned out. I’m sharing it again this year because you might have missed last year’s post.

From post November 2021: A sweet board book I reviewed a while ago, The Blessings Jar, has inspired me to create a great activity for this Thanksgiving season. I’ve made a “Thank you, God . . .” jar. (It’s actually, as you can see, a vase.) I’ve put small pieces of paper next to it with a pen. Each day until Thanksgiving my husband and I will be writing on the papers things that happened that day that we are grateful to God for. We will then fold the paper (or papers) and put it (them) in the vase. On Thanksgiving we plan to empty our vase and read the papers. I think it is going to be lovely and meaningful.

Fast forward to 2022: That activity was an experiment for me. Doing it blessed me in so many ways. Every day I saw more than one thing to thank God for. It is true what it says in Psalm 23: “Surely goodness and mercy follow me {us} all the days of my {our} lives.” That is not to tell you that there were not some sad moments or even angry ones. (Oh, yes, there were!) But in watching for and recording God’s grace even on those days, I found more peace, more strength, more joy than I thought possible. And it was beyond amazing and delight for my husband and me to take the papers out on Thanksgiving and take turns reading them. How great is our God!

I’ve put the vase and the papers out on the table again this year.

Maybe you and your family will want to do one too. The container doesn’t have to be clear and the papers don’t have to be colorful.

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.   

The Pilgrims of Plimoth, written and illustrated by Marcia Sewall and published by Aladdin (1996) is very interesting and informative. It is the perfect read for the Thanksgiving season. The author uses “we” to tell the the story of the Pilgrims which makes it sound very personable. She includes quotes by their governor, William Bradford, who became governor after John Carver, the first governor died. 

In September 1620, 70 men and women and 32 children along with some animals gathered on a dock at Plymouth, England. They were ready to set sail for America in a small ship called the Mayflower. The English merchants loaned them money, hoping to prosper in time from their successful settlement. The Pilgrims wanted to be free to worship God as they felt he was leading them to. 

They were bound for the area of the Hudson River, but ended up off course. While still on board and “in preparation for life in America, we agreed upon laws of behavior. The freemen signed their names to this document.” (Note from Nancy: This document later became known as the Mayflower Compact.) They elected John Carver to be their governor.

On November 12 they landed in America and thanked God for their safe journey, challenging though it was. They first landed on the point of Cape Cod in New England. They discovered Indian seed of many colors, stored in baskets under mounds of earth. The seed was desperately needed. 

Half of the Pilgrim community died the first winter, including Governor John Carver and a little baby, Oceanus Hopkins, born on the Mayflower. This was very sad, but they looked to the Lord for comfort. Putting their hope in the Lord, the people chose to remain in America regardless of the challenges. They elected William Bradford as the new governor.

The story continues to explain what life was like for the community and tell about their friendship with the Indians. One of their Indian friends, Squanto, was especially helpful. Reading The Pilgrims of Plimoth, I learned about the first Thanksgiving, and how the Pilgrims gave praise and thanks to God for his provision. 

Though some of the vocabulary of the book will be unfamiliar to young readers, there is a glossary in the back. Colorful detailed illustrations also help to tell the story.

I really enjoyed this story and remembering why we celebrate Thanksgiving. It is very helpful to read about the sacrifices the Pilgrims made to lead the way for others to come to America. I would recommend it for readers in upper elementary school and above.

Books 4 Christians Kids can also recommend other books about Thanksgiving that you and your family may enjoy:

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.

Thank you, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving — a picture book about the determined woman who helped make Thanksgiving a national holiday. It will interest school age children and adults.

Patsy Ledbetter has written poetry, short stories, devotionals, and book reviews for many years. She has also been a drama instructor, special needs teacher and substitute teacher. She and Kevin have been married for 41 years. They recently lost their oldest son Craig, age 33. They now have three children, Vanessa, Bethany and David. They also have four grandchildren, Elyse, Aurora, Hayden, and Molly. Kevin has been a music pastor most of his life and together they serve the Lord in a local church. Patsy loves to read, pray, and spend time outdoors and with family and friends. Her main desire is to bring glory to God through all the talents He has given her.

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.   

Book Reviews

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