Tag: elementary (page 3 of 19)

The King of Christmas

Where is the King of Christmas? Where can we find him?

At this point in the Christmas season, I sometimes find myself wondering: Is he in the piles of presents accumulating in closets around our house? Is he in the minivan with us, as we drive to one gathering after another? Is he in the kitchen with us as we bake, or in the bedrooms with us as we fall asleep, exhausted after a Christmas recital, a December birthday party, a family gathering?

Where can we find him?

And so I love Todd Hains’s new book, The King of Christmas, which follows the wise men, who follow the star, asking as they search: “The heavens where the stars shine—is the King of Christmas there? The thrones where the mighty sit—is the King of Christmas there?” The answer, of course, is “no”—until they reach the manger where animals eat, and the cross where criminals die. Jesus’s throne room is found in the lowly, humble places; his court serves all who search for it—they have only to ask to gain admission.

The King of Christmas, by Todd R. Hains | Little Book, Big Story

This book is a lovely addition to Lexham Press’s FatCat books (see also: The Apostle’s Creed). Natasha Kennedy’s illustrations are filled with details for young readers to find (every page, for example, features FatCat, the series mascot), which add another layer of depth to the story. With these engaging illustrations and the musical, repeated refrain, this book is a delight for the youngest readers. But though we no longer have any of those “youngest readers” in our house, we read and enjoyed it together all the same.

Of course, today the Lord—through the Spirit—is with us everywhere. He is in the minivan, the kitchen, the dim, quiet bedrooms. This is the truth I return to here, near the end of Advent: the Lord is in all of it, working in ways we do not see just yet. So we rejoice in him! As we wrap one last present, write one last card, pull one last pan of sugar cookies from the oven.

Where is the King of Christmas? He is here, with us.

Merry Christmas, friends.


The King of Christmas
Todd R. Hains; Natasha Kennedy (2022)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

Seek & Find: The First Christmas

I am about to reveal one of my top-tier parenting secrets. Are you ready?

I never leave home without a deck of cards and a tiny tin of thinking putty. (And at least six different kinds of lip balm, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Many mid-sermon fidgets have been averted by that tin of putty, and many a restaurant tantrum has been defused by an impromptu game of War. For a full decade, we had either a baby or a toddler (occasionally both at once), so I became adept at keeping small hands busy whenever we encountered a lull.

For car rides or waiting rooms, here is my other secret: seek-and-find books. I Spy, Where’s Waldo, Things to Spot books—these are crisis-averters, road-trip-savers, Makers of Happy Hands and Calm Hearts. Though my daughters can manage most car rides without diversions these days, I still like to keep a few of these around, just in case.

So, how wonderful to discover a seek-and-find book for Christmas!

Seek and Find: The First Christmas, by Sarah Parker | Little Book, Big Story

Each spread in Sarah Parker’s The First Christmas features a short, paraphrased passage from the Christmas story, accompanied by brilliant illustrations filled with things to find. From hanging baskets to the charming Ruth Wren, there are treasures tucked into these pages that draw our attention into the story and invite us to pause and reflect on what’s happening.

This book moves at a different speed than the typical picture book does: “Here is the story,” it says. “Let’s sit and study it together for a while.” I think that’s part of why these treasure-trove books keep appealing to my kids even after they outgrow other books meant for young readers. Seek and Find: The First Christmas invites them to pause and consider; to stop fidgeting for a moment, to settle. To meditate again on the humility of Christ, the God born as a baby.


Seek and Find: The First Christmas
Sarah Parker; Andre Parker (2022)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

Unwrapping the Name of Jesus for Kids

The bedtime stories my dad told us were were usually about things he did before we were born. Back then he was a pirate, he said, and—briefly—a human cannonball. These careers ended abruptly and disastrously and elicited more than a few giggles from my brother and me as we listened from our beds.

When I tell my own daughters stories, they often fit in one of three categories: a) hilarious things my dad did when I was little, b) stories about sweet girls who live in treehouses or cozy boats and encounter some kind of magic, and c) retellings of stories from Scripture.

But Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids somehow captures the magic of all three of those genres and combines them into one story: as the narrator’s mother tells a story from her own childhood—of the time her family spent following Jesus during his ministry—readers get to delight in a good story that is true, joyful, and feels magical, while also hearing the story of Jesus’s years on earth in a new light.

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids, by Asheritah Ciuciu | Little Book, Big Story

As this story unfolds, Asheritah Ciuciu connects each scene to one of Jesus’s names—Prince of Peace, etc.—an act that reminds us, as we read, that the story of Jesus has its roots in every other story in Scripture. This reminds us, too, that though we celebrate Jesus’s birth at Christmas, we don’t only celebrate his birth. This season reminds us of both what came before his Incarnation and of what is yet to come.

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids, by Asheritah Ciuciu | Little Book, Big Story
Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids, by Asheritah Ciuciu | Little Book, Big Story

Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids is an offshoot of Unwrapping the Names of Jesus, Ciuciu’s Advent devotional for adults. But it doesn’t feel derivative: it feels, instead, like a bud on the same branch. Reading the adult version highlights for me how much research and thought and preparation must go into writing a picture book like this one, which condenses all that study into a warm, engaging story. This book is a great read for Advent, as it tells not just of Jesus’s birth but of his whole ministry, death, and resurrection. It reminds us where he was headed, why he came, and what it looks like for us to follow him today. In that, it is the best kind of story.


Unwrapping the Names of Jesus for Kids
Asheritah Ciuciu; Jennifer Zivoin (2022)


Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.

The Jesse Tree

Years ago, I wrote about our family’s Jesse Tree tradition. And then our girls grew older, and a few of our ornaments broke, and that one book felt a little tired after several straight years of readings. We decided it was time for a change, so we tried a different devotional each year; we sampled some Advent calendars and some reading cards. And we liked them all—the stickers, the paper ornaments, everything. They were fine.

But a few weeks ago, my eldest daughter (now fourteen) mentioned our Jesse Tree wistfully. “I liked that,” she said. And I felt resolved: our youngest is six—we haven’t done a Jesse Tree since she was a baby. So I ordered a new set of ornaments—a beautiful, lasting set that I could see the girls reminiscing over when we pull them out decades from now for the grandkids to play with. And I pulled out a book I’d bought, oh, years ago but never really used as a devotional.

My friends, the Jesse Tree is making a comeback. (At our house, at least.)

The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean | Little Book, Big Story

Geraldine McCaughean’s The Jesse Tree tells the story of Jesus’s birth from the very beginning—the garden. And it tells the story not through a series of Scripture readings—which, just to be clear, is a wonderful way to tell the story—but through a narrative. A young boy meets a cantankerous woodcarver and invites himself to watch the man at work. And as the woodcarver works, he finds himself telling, one day at time, the story of each element as he carves it. From the garden, to the desert, to the stable, he tells this delightfully pesky child the story of Jesus’s birth.

This is a warm, comfortable way to hear the story. It’s inviting and funny, and I can see it aging well as our girls (continue to) grow older.

The Jesse Tree, by Geraldine McCaughrean | Little Book, Big Story

Will we ever not do a Jesse Tree again? Who knows! I don’t. (God does.) But this feels like returning to our roots—like remembering what we’ve loved about Advent and gathering together around it. Remembering, I suppose, God’s faithfulness not just to His People, but to the six people here in our home and—Lord willing—the generations that will follow us.

Edited 12/7/22: It is worth noting, now that we’re a ways into this year’s reading, that there are some theologically sticky spots in this book—particularly around the stories of Noah and Mary. There’s nothing major, though, and even those spots made for good conversation around our table. I do still recommend this book, but I thought you’d appreciate a head’s up.


The Jesse Tree
Geraldine McCaughrean; Bee Willey (2003)

5 Lovely Collections of Prayers

I came to faith in a church that emphasized personal experience, where prayer was something instinctive—the more free-form, the better. And there’s something beautiful and true about that. But when I first encountered written prayers, I was struck by how quickly they transformed my own prayers by giving me words for those feelings I couldn’t name or that, when joy or grief submerged me, I couldn’t articulate.

As my daughters grow and we look for ways to help them deepen and mature in their own faith, I find myself reaching for written prayers—not because they teach us The Only Way to Pray, but because they connect us to the Christians who came before us, those who wrote their verses on papyrus or in ink dipped from a pot nearby. These old prayers remind us that the psalmists and writers of long ago wrestled with doubts and praised the Lord with emotions still recognizable to us.

But there are new prayers being written today, too—in a coffee shop, maybe, with a phone buzzing nearby, or on a park bench, as the writer looked out over the water. The means and the language differ, but the things the writers wrestled with rarely change. The conviction of sin; the delight of grace; the blank absence of doubt; the joy of deliverance—all are familiar to us, from the time King David penned his psalms to today.

I love how these collections of prayers set our aim a little higher than we might think to reach on to our own. They draw us out of our own particular worries (though God loves to hear about them, too) and remind us just who it is we’re talking to: the God of all things, the maker of the universe. The God who tends to needs both big and small.

And so, I love a good collection of prayers, whether old or new. Here are a few favorites we’ve gathered over the years that have blessed our family with words when we struggled to find our own and that have inspired us to praise the Lord from the heights as well as the depths.


The Valley of Vision, ed. by Arthur Bennett

This classic book of Puritan prayers was my first introduction to written prayers. These are beautiful, theologically rich prayers that model a deep, stirring, challenging faith, and they cover everything from confessing sin to praising the Lord to preparing for the Sabbath.


Every Moment Holy, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

These books (both Volumes 1 and 2) encourage us to meet every trial and celebration by drawing near to God. Though they’re meant to be read corporately as liturgies, these work well as private prayers too. I love how specific these prayers are: some deal with small concerns and others (especially in Volume 2) deal with some of the deepest griefs we can face. (Read the full review.)


Into His Presence, by Tim Chester

Into His Presence reads like an updated, more accessible version of Valley of Vision, with prayers drawn from the Puritans and lightly edited so they read a little more like contemporary works. Each chapter deals with a different circumstance (“Prayers of Gratitude,” “Prayers for the Lost,” etc.) and reminds us that the Lord meets us in every season.


Sheltering Mercy, by Ryan Whitaker Smith & Dan Wilt

Sheltering Mercy is a collection of responsive poems written in the wake of Psalms 1-75. These read beautifully as prayers and show us that Scripture is something we can engage with: we can read it, pray it, and write poems by its light. (Read the full review.)


And one late addition, discovered after I photographed the other books. But I just couldn’t leave it off this list!

Jesus Listens: 365 Prayers for Kids, by Sarah Young

Our family is reading Jesus Listens right now and it’s an unexpected pleasure. This collection of prayers includes one for each day of the year, each accompanied by a few verses that connect the prayers to Scripture. The language in this book is so warm and inviting, it deserves (and shall receive!) a full review, but I couldn’t bear to pass over it here.