Book recommendation

I’m going to recommend a book that is not for children, not about children, not about children’s ministry, not about church, doesn’t mention God once, and which may be one of the most relevant books for ministry you can get.

It’s called “That’s Not How We Do It Here!” (sound familiar?). The subtitle is “a story about how organisations rise and fall – and can rise again.”meerkats

It’s an easy read – I read it in an afternoon – because mostly, it’s a story about meerkats. The meerkat colony’s habitat is changing, there are new threats, and the old way of doing things isn’t working. So young meerkat Nadia leaves the group and finds a new colony with some fresh ideas – but their way of doing things has problems too. Can Nadia and her fellow meerkats figure out the “best of both worlds” and help both colonies function well and adapt to change?

Definitely one for your PCC to read and discuss, if possible. I have a copy in the office, so do let me know if you’d like to borrow it and we can post it to you!

 

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The Lord is my Shepherd

Psalm 23. One of the first bits of Scripture many of us learned. One of the few Bible passages most people still recognise and find comforting. The theme tune for The Vicar of Dibley.

It’s worth breaking out of the Bible STORY mold occasionally and introducing children to the other parts of the Bible – primarily the poetry and prophecy. This has several benefits – first of all, the rich imagery of these passages can be very meaningful to children, and secondly, it plants the idea, early on, that the Bible is a complex book full of many genres of writing.

Here are a few of my favourite Bible books that can help do this, starting with two retellings of the classic 23rd Psalm.

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FOUND, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, illustrations by Jago.

Simple text and beautiful illustrations remind children of God’s enduring love and care. A perfect book to read aloud at bedtime, give as a baptism gift, or have in your church creche/children’s corner. You can also use it as the story in Junior Church for an under-5s group. (We have a copy of this in the Resource Centre if you’d like to borrow it.)

 

psalm23-2PSALM 23, illustrated by Barry Moser.

This one was available in the UK when I bought it for my church, but doesn’t seem to be now. It’s worth keeping an eye out for, however, as it uses the Biblical text and the illustrations have lots of details that can start discussions with children about what the psalm means and how they feel about it.

The imagery – a modern-day child like them, in a T-shirt, and other details – helps ground the psalm’s reassurances in a world familiar to children.

 

PSALMS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN, and IMAGES OF GOD, both by Marie-Helene Delval and illustrated by Arno.

These books have a simple format – a line or two of Scripture on one side of each spread, and a beautiful illustration on the other to bring it to life. The text is accessible even to toddlers, without diminishing the richness of it, and each page has a Biblical reference, so parents and older children can look up the original line and its context. These are also in our Resource Centre.

graphic-bibleFor older children, the LION GRAPHIC BIBLE, by Jeff Anderson and Mike Maddox, is very good at showing how the prophecy and poetry came to be written, and when in the story of God’s people the different parts of it appear. You see the Babylonian exile, and then you read the psalms written at that time, and hear the words of the prophets. It’s a very good introduction to some of the story of how the Bible came to be, and how the poems and prophesies fit into the whole. (Bear in mind I haven’t read all of this book, so there may be glaring problems with it I haven’t caught. But I’ve used parts of it with small groups and it’s all been good so far.) Again, we have a copy of this in the Resource Centre, so do borrow it.

What books have I missed? Add your recommendations in the comments!

 

 

New Christmas books!

Just in time for Advent, I’ve bought a bunch of new Christmas books for the resource centre. They should be here within the week, so pop in and check them out if you’re around!

For those churches in our Diocese who are far from St Albans – if any of these look good, email me, and we can send around an APB to Holywell Lodge staff for anyone who will be in your area in the next few days and can bring you what you’d like to borrow.

cover1So without further ado, here’s what we now have …

Lois Rock is basically the rock star of under-5s Bible stories and prayers. This collection helps adults and very young children together explore the wonder and mystery of the Christmas season through prayer. Perfect for a toddler group, a creche, a visit to your local nursery, inspiration for your crib service …

 

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Another Lois Rock one – I first discovered this when my nephew was three and I gave it to him as a Christmas present. What makes it special is that it includes not only the Christmas story itself, but a wonderful collection of folklore and legends surrounding Christmas. The stories come from all around the world, making it a subtle way of teaching diversity and inclusion, and Alex Ayliffe’s wonderful illustrations are simple and colourful, but include interesting details for children to spot.

 

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As Elena Pasquali’s simple yet beautiful text tells the Christmas story, Giuliano Ferri’s illustrations tell a second, unspoken one – that of the peaceable kingdom. Bit by bit, the animals gather together around the manger. Lions and lambs lie down together. Bears and donkeys gather in peace. At the end, the text of Isaiah 11 connects this imagery to the prophesy of God’s Kingdom, where “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

 

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Another one that combines the Biblical Christmas stories with folklore and legend, this time aimed at older children. Here’s what the publisher says: “This beautifully presented volume of classic Christmas stories from around the world is written for children aged 7+ to enjoy reading alone, or for reading aloud in a classroom setting or with family sitting round a log fire! A mixture of stories from the Christian heritage and more secular tales, these retellings all evoke the true spirit of Christmas around the world. Included are Nativity stories from the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, the stories of Baboushka and Papa Panov, Fir Tree and The Nutcracker. The whole collection sparkles with colourful and detailed artwork from Jane Ray.” (It’s also worth pointing out that Jane Ray’s Mary and Joseph look genuinely Middle Eastern.)

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I’ve been an adult for a while now, but this book still sends a shiver of wonder up my spine whenever I read it. It’s based around the Mexican community in the American Southwest, and the tradition of Las Posadas – when Mary and Joseph go around the town looking for a safe place to stay. Here’s the publisher’s summary: “This year Sister Angie, who is always in charge of the clebration, has to stay home with the flu, and Lupe and Roberto, who are to play Mary and Joseph, get caught in a snowstorm. But a man and a woman no one knows arrive in time to take their place in the procession and then mysteriously disappear at the end before they can be thanked. That night we witness a Christian miracle, for when Sister Angie goes to the cathedral and kneels before the statue of Mary and Joseph, wet footprints from the snow lead up to the statue.”

I’d love to hear your recommendations for the Advent and Christmas books we should add to our library – do leave any thoughts in the comments! And let me know if you’d like to borrow any of these.

 

 

New books!

I’ve just bought some new books for the Diocesan Resource Centre – they’ll be officially catalogued soon, but you can borrow them informally immediately if you want.

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Diddy Disciples is a wonderful resource to help you worship with babies and toddlers. You can use it on Sunday mornings in the creche, or in toddler group, or anywhere else you meet with this age group. It’s very user-friendly for the adults, and physically engaging for the kids. You can find out more (and see sample videos and materials) on their website.

The Story of King Jesus, by Ben Irwin is a beautiful re-telling of THE WHOLE BIBLE, from Genesis to Revelation, in child-friendly language. Full of awe and wonder, this book is especially good for situations where you might only have one or two sessions with a particular group – school visits (“this is what the Christian story is”), holiday clubs, etc – though of course it’s great for Junior Church, Messy Church, etc. as well.

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Outdoor Church, by Sally Welch is a terrific and accessible resource for helping churches connect with God’s creation.

It’s ideal for rural churches, but her introduction includes ideas for how to make it work even in churches with very limited outdoor space (or none at all – suggestions are included on how to bring the outdoors in).

Each season has five sessions included, focusing on Bible stories and parables. There is an emphasis on COLLECTING, CREATING, FEASTING, and CELEBRATING, which allows room for people with different spiritual styles and gifts to participate. books3

If you would like to borrow any of these books, get in touch on cme@stalbans.anglican.org . And I’d love to hear your recommendations – what should we add to our Resource Centre to help your ministry?

Author we love: Lois Rock

If you work with under-5s, you probably know Lois Rock. If you don’t, you have a treat in store.

Probably best known for her toddler-friendly “My Very First Bible,” Rock has also edited and written books of prayers, and authored “My Very First Christmas,” which includes Christmas folklore and legends as well as the Christmas story.  She has also written Christening gift books and some secular non-fiction that can be used for pastoral care of families, like helping children adjust to a new baby in the house.

Many of the stories from “My Very First Bible” are also available as individual books – some in big-book format, which is great for large groups.

Her writing is clear and simple without being simplistic. She doesn’t talk down to children. She includes some of the non-story parts of the Bible, such as the Lord’s Prayer, by showing how they came to be told. And, in many cases, she adds vital details that are often left out of retellings for very young children – for example, it’s made clear, in her retelling of the Good Samaritan, that Jesus’s listeners wouldn’t have liked the Samaritans. So the crucial element – that the parable isn’t just about “being nice” but about rethinking who your enemies are – is maintained.

An extra note of praise must be given to the illustrator of many of her books, Alex Ayliffe. The illustrations, like the text, are simple without being simplistic, and contain lots of little details that children will notice. The colours are bright, and the shapes attractive even to babies. Sophie Allsopp illustrates some of her others, with wonder and charm.

Author we love: Jenny Koralek

Jenny Koralek has written three retellings of Old Testament stories for children aged 7 – 11: Queen Esther, The Moses Basket, and The Coat of Many Colours.

She’s also done collections of classic fairy tales, and a retelling of a Christmas legend about the Flight into Egypt.

The books tell the stories in beautiful, clear prose, and give enough background detail on the political situation in which they occurred – not always easy when working with the Moses and Esther stories for children.

Her illustrators (Pauline Baynes for the Joseph and Moses stories, Grizelda Holderness for Esther) do beautiful, intricate work that complements the text perfectly. It’s also worth pointing out that both illustrators use realistic flesh tones for the characters – they look like Middle Easterners, not Northern Europeans.

Highly recommended, especially the Esther story – it’s one of the few Old Testament stories with a brave female heroine, and you don’t see enough versions of it for children.

Book review: The Art of Curating Worship

curating-worshipMark Pierson’s book is subtitled “reshaping the role of the worship leader.” Based on years of experience in ministry, including founding new churches and supporting artists, he proposes an approach to worship that is democratic, interactive, and based on the principle of “curation” – arranging items and experiences in a meaningful way, to create worship.

Given the way this book has been received, as revolutionary and groundbreaking, I was surprised by how familiar and traditional much of it seemed.  I suspect that’s because I’m Anglican, while Pierson’s audience is much more on the Baptist/Methodist side – much of what he suggests draws on ancient liturgical practices that Anglicans have never really discarded. But he does reframe them in a new and thoughtful way, and suggest useful guidelines for incorporating this particular type of worship planning into your community, whatever their style would be.

There is very little that is explicitly about children (and what is there is disappointing – he once suggests a separate “children’s station” during worship, with “colouring in, etc.”, rather than thinking about how a children’s element could be added to all the stations).  However, it’s easy to see how his principles could be applied to worship that includes children, given how rich, interactive, and multi-sensory his approach is. He also regularly reminds readers that the theology needs to come first – this is something that’s easy to forget in children’s ministry, as we latch on to a great new idea or activity without necessarily thinking first about what it says or why we’re using it (yup, guilty as charged!).

What Evangelicals might like: The focus on reaching out, being missional, engaging with public spaces, and trying bold new forms of worship.

What Traditionalists might like: The affirmation of the importance of ancient forms of liturgy, with inspirational thoughts on how to adapt them to modern times without losing their soul.