Category: Children’s Books

Someone You Should Know: Matthew Paul Turner

I guess you could say I have to thank for my emerging friendship with Matthew Paul Turner, the author of When God Made You. You see, whenever I checked the Amazon listing for Faithful Families *ahem* yes, I look up my own book *ahem* I noticed it said “frequently bought with When God Made You.” (Seriously, check it out, I do not tell a lie). Now, just FYI, in case you don’t know how Amazon’s “frequently bought with” works, it’s basically saying “Here’s a *really fancy* book that people who like your book also like.” And so I thought “hmm…. what’s so fancy about this book?” I mentioned it in an email to Chalice Press’ publicist, (mutual friend of Matthew’s and mine) and she was like “Squeee! Great author! Great book! Gah!” and so I ordered the book.
Y’all. I cried when I read this book. “Mommy, why are you crying?” my children asked. “Because this book is talking about how much God loves you and it’s just like how I love you, and sometimes when you think about all the love, you cry.” I said. I couldn’t get the book out of my mind. The illustrations are captivating. The words are true. I fell in love with the book. Then I got it. The book has sold like wildfire for one simple reason: It’s an amazing book.
Matthew Paul Turner’s book is written for children. It’s a “bedtime story” type a book. But oh my goodness if you are the type of parent who likes Faithful Families type stuff, you will want this book in your library. If you are a parent who wants to connect with your children in ways that make them know in their hearts that God loves them, this is your book. This book is by my people for my people. Go get it.
I asked Matthew if he’d consider answering some questions on the blog about the book for y’all and he very graciously said yes. The answers to the questions made me love the book even more (if that were even possible.) Just hearing the stories about how the illustrator took on the book as a first foray into faith based stuff and how the book was inspired, over time, by looking into the face of a newborn baby boy… sold. Done, done and done. So, without further ado I present: Matthew Paul Turner.

Matthew Paul Turner, Author

TS: You are the author of the bestselling children’s book When God Made You,  a beautifully written and illustrated book for children about their amazing worth in God’s eyes. It’s one of the favorite bedtime stories in our home right now and I love reading it to my children. So excited to have you stopping by the website to talk about the book. How did you get started writing children’s books? Is it something that you always wanted to do, or something you stumbled upon? Tell us the story! 

MPT: First of all, thank you for inviting me to your online home. I’m truly honored.

When I became a parent and started reading picture books to my oldest son, Elias, I was surprised by two things: 1) I was blown away by how involved in the story Elias became as I read to him. Even when he couldn’t say words and sentences, he was fully engaged when I read to him—smiling and clapping and pointing out objects on the pages. Even though I’d always loved children’s books, I’d forgotten how intimate and sincere the connections are between kids and their favorite books. And 2), as a person of faith who wanted to read stories about God and faith to my kids, I became frustrated with the selection of books that are available. So often, I’d be reading a Christian storybook to my kid and I’d think, “this is kind of boring” or I’d sigh, “I wished they’d not included that piece of information.” Now, there are certainly many books about God that are just lovely, delightful reminders of God’s love and goodness. But even many of those books were presented in such a way that they didn’t create the connections with my kids and I that so many other books about everyday things seemed to created. So, amid those experiences, I began to wonder if I’d be able to create a children’s book about God that was fun and positive and easy to read. At some point I mentioned the idea to Jessica (my wife) and she loved the idea. In fact, she started pushing me to do it.

[TS: Interruption — Do y’all know who Jessica is? She runs the Mom Creative, a blog full of all kinds of amazingness. I’m also a fan of the FB live videos she does on her page. Back to the regularly scheduled programming.]

Jessica kept encouraging me for a few months before I actually started putting time and energy into the process. Maybe a year and a couple months later, I’d written what I believed could be my first kids’ book. Little did I know that I would go on to receive some variation of “no, we’re not interested” from 11 publishers. A year or so later, Jessica and I decided to self publish my book. That book—at the time, called God Made Light, but it re-releases in February as When God Made Light—sold 5000 copies in 9 months.

As I was starting to write When God Made You, one of the publishers that had initially said no, came back and said they were interested. Eight months later, I was contracted to release 2 children’s books with Waterbrook Press.

That’s the longer, less glorious answer. *Smile*

TS: I love long answers! When God Made You is a story about every person’s worth. It is a story where children are able to delight in the fact that God delights in them. (Gah! Just writing that gets me a bit teary.) How did you come up with the vision behind the story and the words? 

Writing When God Made You took much longer than many might imagine. As I started the process of writing a second children’s book, the only thing I knew in the beginning is that I wanted the theme to be about God creating us. I jotted down ideas and hooks for at least a month, but I was not happy with any of them.

At the time, Ezra (our youngest) was only a month or so old. I was rocking him one night, singing hymns as well as words I was making up on the fly. Somewhere in the middle of that, I sang something like, “You, you, oh Ezra I love you…” The “you, you” part clicked and as soon as I put him down to sleep, I went and wrote down the first line of the book: “You, you, when God made you, God made you all shiny and new.”

From there, my goal was to create a prose that moved me. I wrote words and phrases and ideas that I not only wished I’d been told as a child, but also messages that I needed to hear today.

I’ll never forget this one moment… Sometimes, for a change of scenery, I’ll drive somewhere and walk around and write on my iPhone. On this occasion, I was walking around a grocery store parking lot on a Saturday afternoon when I wrote the words, “So be you—FULLY YOU—a show-stopping revue. Live your life in full color, every tint, every hue…” I still am prone to get teary when I read that line or I hear Adeline (my 6-year-old) read those words to her little brother.

But that’s how the words to When God Made You came to be… I wrote words that moved me. I wrote words that I wanted my kids to know. I wrote words that I wished I had known as a child.

TS: The illustrations in the book are captivating. Can you tell us about the process of collaborating with the illustrator? How did you two find each other? Did you give direction on what you wanted the illustrations to be or look like? What do you know about the illustrator’s process? 

For years, I have loved and worked with Shannon Marchese, my editor at Waterbrook Press. She’s one of those people whose talent and skill I trust. Between 2008 and 2011, she and I worked together on my two memoirs, Churched and Hear No Evil. I learned so much about storytelling and humor and story arc under her guidance. I really trust her instincts. She’s a big reason I landed a children’s book deal. She believed in what I was doing almost from the beginning. In fact, even when her publisher said no, she took my idea BACK to the editorial board in hopes of changing their minds. That didn’t happen then. But after we self published the first book, she took my ideas back to the editorial board again and got a yes. So, needless to say, I love her dearly, as an editor and a friend.

And she believed in this book as much as I did.

Anyway, as soon as we signed the contract, Shannon and I started discussing possible illustrators. She’d send me portfolios and then we’d talk.

Toward the end of the process, she sent me David Catrow’s portfolio and said, “What do you think?”

I knew David’s art, but I didn’t know his name. I knew of his beautiful and colorful and sometimes humorous approach to illustrating a story, but I honestly didn’t know who he was or how I knew his talent. But after like 2 seconds on his website, I wrote back to Shannon with an exuberant “Yes! I LOVE him.”

But I honestly didn’t get my hopes up. Because my book was about God and as far as I could see, David hadn’t illustrated any religious content before. Which I thought was a huge plus. But still, I didn’t start cheering until his agent said that David was in and that he loved the manuscript.

But contrary to popular opinion, David and I didn’t work together on the illustrations. He’s the artist. And while I saw and approved and offered a few thoughts here and there, the visual magic of When God Made You is all David’s doing. He brought my words to life in a way that I could never have imagined. It’s both human and supernatural. God is present throughout. But God is never seen.

I just got his penciled drawings for When God Made Light a few weeks ago. And oh my gosh… he’s just brilliant.

TS: When God Made You uses gender neutral language for God (on behalf of a bajillion people, thank you for that!) Can you share a little bit about that choice and what it means for you? 

MPT: Thank you for asking this question. I grew up believing God was a “he”. And I engaged God as a “he” during my 20s and well into my 30s. I didn’t realize to what degree my “he” perspective limited my understandings and interactions with God. That started to change in the last 10 years or so. Over the last decade, I’ve come to see how pronouns have affected my view of God—specifically, the male pronoun, since it’s by far the gender that people of faith have used and continue to use the most when talking about the divine.

Now, any time I sing a song that uses a pronoun, I almost always change the lyric to reflect how I think about God and to reflect how I talk about God with my own children.

So, all of that said, when I set out to write children’s books about God, I intentionally set out to create a prose that avoided any language that would assign God a gender. Inserting a pronoun into the text of When God Made You would have immensely changed the book and its message. I wanted this book to be one that, if you believed in God, you could read it. For children who have troubled relationships (or no relationships at all) with their fathers or mothers, I wanted this book to be a safe place for them to engage God’s story. I take very seriously the idea that something I write might help shape a child’s concepts of God. And so, with that in mind, I avoided pronouns because using “he” (or “she,” for that matter) can limit or shape our understandings of who God is and how God sees us and how comfortable we feel interacting with God.

And you know what? As far as I have noticed, only 1 person has complained in a review about me never using “he” in this book. And yet, I’ve received a plethora of comments and messages from people who are grateful that they have a book about God that they can happily read to their kids without tripping over a pronoun for God.

TS: One of the things I feel is true about your book is that it  has great potential to reach folks who have been disillusioned by the church and frustrated with narrow minded messages about who God is and who Jesus is. Have you found the book has that sort of “crossover” potential?  

MPT: The response to When God Made You has been amazing, honestly overwhelming. I’ve received so many messages from a variety of readers from all different backgrounds, and yes, many have come from people disillusioned by church and religion and from those outside of the Christian demographic. It’s been so beautiful to hear from people who are agnostic or followers of Islam or Buddhist, sharing with me how they read my book with their children or how my book is the first Christian book they’ve kept on their bookshelves. Those kinds of letters/messages been a really cool part of this journey.

TS: Resources like When God Made You are so rare. What other resources for children and parents are you excited about these days? 

Some of the books about faith and God that I love are these…

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Images of God for Young Children by Marie-Helene Delval

Maybe God is Like That Too by Jennifer Grant

Children of God Storybook Bible by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

[TS Note: I fully approve of all of these books as well… gold stars!]

TMS: What’s next for you? I seem to remember seeing that you have another book coming out, illustrated by the same illustrator. Is that correct? Is it a new work or a second publication of one of your former works? 

MPT: My next children’s book comes out in February 2018. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s the republication of God Made Light as When God Made Light. It’s been re-edited and David Catrow completely re-illustrated it for Waterbrook Press/Random House.


And God willing, I’ll be writing more. I’ve got a few ideas I’m working on now. Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more soon.

But I have to say: I’m truly enjoying this new creative venture. Writing children’s books has surprised me in many ways—for one thing, it’s more life-giving than anything I’ve worked on before and the process has offered my own soul much healing. So, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue doing it for at least a little while longer.

TS PS (ha! that rhymes!): I don’t have a crystal ball, and I don’t know what MPT’s career trajectory will be. I do know that the “books about God that don’t make us say ‘ugh, this is boring,’ or ‘um, I wish they didn’t say that'” niche is exploding. And, if the sales of Faithful Families and When God Made You are any indication, it’s a shift that will continue. I hope that Matthew continues to write lots of children’s books.

Find Matthew

on Insta, matthewpaulturner

the interwebs:


Twitter @heyMPT

Obviously get When God Made You and preorder When God Made Light.

Thank you so much, Matthew! Congratulations and good luck! Thank you for bringing so much life and joy in to so many homes… keep doing what you do. Can’t wait to see it!



Church “Pray-grounds:” Eight Stories and Inspiring Examples #kidmin

I first learned of the concept of a “pray-ground” in the sanctuary from the beautiful one built by Grace Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, Minnesota.   It’s the first pray-ground I know of to get broad media attention and coverage. We’ll get back to Grace’s Pray-Ground, in just a minute, but first:

What’s a pray-ground? 

The name “prayground” comes from Rev. Catherine Renken, pastor of Kirkwood Presbyterian Church in Kennesaw, GA who brainstormed with others when the prayground at Grace in Apple Valley, MN was being built. The name has caught on!

Though different churches have put it in to practice in different ways, a prayground is a place in the front of the sanctuary where young children can experience worship through age-appropriate worship materials and tools that will help keep them engaged in worship. My own congregation doesn’t have a pray-ground, but it’s a concept I’m interested in and so I set out to hear the stories and collect photos from some churches who do. Read on for eight different stories and photos as well as tips for getting going and links to products you might find useful.

  1. Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Houston, TX

Submitted by Elizabeth Grasham, Solo Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 1 year.


  •  Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It is located on the left of the sanctuary (sanctuary is shaped like a cross).


  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? I talked about it with church leaders for over a year; discussed with elders the details; got approval from the worship committee; purchased all items with Board Chair
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? Make sure kids know what behavioral expectations are; Ask parents what they need or don’t need; take away any toy that might click or clack.

2. First Presbyterian Church, Hays, KS

Submitted by Becky Rogowski, Coordinator of Faith Development

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Since September 2016
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? Front of sanctuary to the side. It has soft toys and two tables and chairs. Bumbo seats and baby “rugs”. Baby “cradle”. Puzzles, books, crayons, paper. Ages infant – kindergarten was the intent.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? Research, presented to session, approved and put in. We wanted to be intentional about including young worshippers and their families.


  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? Sometimes people sneak loud toys from the nursery in. Our elderly and hearing impaired members have been very resistant to it and that’s an issue we are currently working on.

3. Kingo Lutheran Church (ELCA), Shorewood, WI

Submitted by Carolyn Karl, Director of Cross+Generational Ministry

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Since November 2016
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? We removed two pews in the front of the sanctuary and put a throw rug, kids table and chairs, paper and crayons, and soft containers with soft toys. Generally, kids under 5 use it.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary?  The staff, Pastor and Council worked together to come up with different options that were presented to the congregation. The congregation was asked to contact the pastor with questions, and a few concerns were raised. After people saw it in practice, the response and support has been overwhelming.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? When considering where to put it, we spent time sitting on the ground and looking at the view from each location. We moved two pews and moved the very large communion font to provide a clear view of what is going on during worship. (The communion font blocked the view of the altar for the kids but we didn’t realize it until we got to their level). We also chose the location so it is close to the musicians, which the kids love to look at and interact with during worship.

Submitted by Suzy Hutchison, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 2.5 years
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? The playground is in a clear area at rear, that would be a narthex if doors closed. Activities: books, coloring, cardboard blocks, magnetic boards, toy animals, dolls, farm set and a rocking chair. Children from 2-8 years use it.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? My first church council meeting they asked me to name one thing I would change. I said add space in sanctuaryfor kids to participate in child-like ways. They council got up from the table immediately and helped me carry things into sanctuary.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? In our set up, it has to be moved for coffee hour and because it is in the back, there needs to be an adult who keeps an eye on the door, so no one leaves unaccompanied.

Submitted by Karen Ware Jackson, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? Almost 3 years.
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It’s at the front of the church for a variety of reasons. First of all, because I want kids to be able to see and to feel engaged and I think that’s harder to do when they are hidden at the back, balcony, alcove, etc. Secondly, it’s there because that’s where the space was. If the space has to be in the back (or elsewhere) you just have different challenges to make sure the kids stay engaged. I have books, coloring, whiteboard, and various seasonal activities. I always have an activity that connects with the text which I introduce during the “Word and Wonder with All Ages” and then give the kids the materials to work on during the sermon.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? The Worship elder and I dreamed it up. Check out the video where I tell the story.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? You’ve got to keep people engaged. There will be challenges, but you have to keep talking about it. Keep trying. Keep lifting up the blessings. Keep writing. Keep having the pastoral conversations. t was the focus of my ministry for about a year. Now, it’s this lovely thing that everyone understands and supports. But it wasn’t always that way. It’s a constantly growing and evolving experience. I’ve come to believe that there is no “wrong way” to engage all ages in worship. Our PrayGround works for us, but I don’t think it’s the only way to do it and I don’t even think a “PrayGround” is the right thing for every church. You will make mistakes. Some things don’t work. But the effort will take you where the Spirit is leading. There are blessings and challenges about every set-up. Just don’t let the challenges win.

Submitted by Alina Gayeuski, Pastor

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? About 2 years.
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? It is in the back of the sanctuary, in a converted space for coats. It has books, coloring books, Melissa and Doug toys (some put out seasonally – like their Nativity set), soft blocks, stuffed animals, activity bags to take back to the seats – including Autism friendly bags. The age range of children that use this space is from a few months to about 4th grade.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? There was conversation among the pastoral staff team.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thingI think an important part for me has been to include seasonal toys and special need friendly toys as well. The first helps to keep that space changing with the rest of the worship space. The other helps us to be welcoming and inclusive of all people at all ages. We have had a good amount of positive feedback from parents who can be in that space with their children during some harder to focus times of worship (like the sermon). We have had a few noise complaints, but we simply suggested that they sit farther towards the front and that has alleviated the issues mostly. An advertisement for the space is a standard part of the inside bulletin cover welcome page.

7. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Peoria, IL

Submitted by Jenny Replogle, Co-Rector

  • How long has your prayground been in your sanctuary? 9 Months
  • Tell us a little about your prayground. Where is it located in the sanctuary? What types of activities does it have? What ages use it? The prayground is located where 2 front pews used to be located. Our sanctuary has a central altar (pews front and back), with a middle aisle on each side. The soft space is located in the 2 pews closest to the altar and pulpit. There are children’s tables and chairs, foam blocks, stuffed toys, and books. We always have coloring pages and sometimes a coloring poster. Ages 3-10 primarily use it.
  • What process did you go through to decide whether or not to have a prayground in your sanctuary? The church profile stated that the new rector should ‘make the changes necessary to attract young families’ and we have been working on that since we arrived. After being in the parish for a year, we realized that a lot of young parents sat in back pews and tried to keep their kids entertained and quiet, rather than feeling comfortable in the service. We talked to the vestry about the idea of a soft space, showing pictures of another prayground (that was presented in TYCWP) and explaining that kids were more likely to take in and be part of the liturgy if they were close to it. Vestry was very supportive of the idea, so we took out pews, ordered rugs and tables, and implemented the space.
  • What things have you learned in the process of developing or maintaining your prayground that you think might be useful to others who are considering the same thing? We learned that this was needed and longed for far more than was ever articulated, and people of all ages were very happy about it. We also learned that although we had a great deal of support from congregation and vestry, it would have been helpful to communicate to the whole congregation that this was going to happen prior to making the change. We haven’t had too much pushback, but that would have been helpful with the pushback we did receive.

8. Grace Lutheran Church, Apple Valley, MN
Submitted by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, associate pastor

 As I mentioned at the beginning, Grace’s prayground is one of the first and most widely covered praygrounds I know of. Their website has an entire FAQ section where you can go and get answers to anything you want to know about it! Find it HERE.
What do you think? Would you like to have a prayground in your church? Let us know your thoughts or ideas in the comments. Let’s talk about praygrounds!
For more on faith with children and families, check out my book Faithful Families. 

Ten Essential Children’s Books about Grief for Church and School Libraries, and Home Use (+ Additional Resources)

I’m often asked, both in my role as pastor and also as an author of a book on faith and family about what resources I recommend for children who are grieving. In this post I link to ten books I recommend for children and families. Check out the age recommendations as well as a short sentence or two about the style of the book. Read to the end to find general suggestions about using the books as well as additional resources.

Waterbugs and Dragonflies by Doris Stickney

Ages: 4-8+

Speaks of death via analogy and transformation. Ugly bugs turn into shiny dragonflies. This book leads the reader to hope and hopefulness. It reads like a parable. Waterbugs and Dragonflies is probably the most recommended book on the topic of death and dying that I’ve seen. If you’re getting only one book from this list, this is the one to get.



The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst

Ages: 4-8+

Talks about being connected to the ones we care about through love (the invisible string.) Could be used to talk about all kinds of separation, not limited to death. (Moving, divorce or other transitions as well.)





Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert

Ages: 8-12+

Geared more toward older elementary age children, Tear Soup talks about the recipe for grief. It affirms that there are many different responses to grief and opens the door for in-depth discussion about grief and grief responses.




The Fall of Freddie the Leaf: A Story for All Ages  by Leo Buscaglia

Ages: 4-8+

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf speaks about death in a sort of “circle of life” type way, talking about the different stages a leaf goes through. Perhaps particularly helpful for those who live in climates where the trees change in visible and obvious ways.



When Dinosaurs Die, by Laurie Krasky Brown and Marc Brown

Ages: 4-8+

Instead of being a book with a storyline or plot, When Dinosaurs Die is sort of a guided tour through all different questions about death.  Because the illustrations are dinosaurs, it is able to convey the terms and concepts in a meaningful way that connects with children. Straightforward, and very helpful when navigating all different types of death from infant loss to war. There’s also a helpful glossary in the back.

The Goodbye Book by Todd Parr

Ages: 3-6+

The Goodbye Book is the book most appropriate for the youngest children among us of any of the books in this list. With compelling illustrations and very simple statements like “You might be very sad” and “You might not know what to feel,” the book is extremely simple, but also effective. It uses a fish who has lost his/her companion as a jumping off point.


 I Miss You: A First Look at Death, by Pat Thomas

Ages: 4-8+

I Miss You opens the door a direct and straightforward conversation about death using the expertise of psychotherapist/counselor Pat Thomas who wrote it. I Miss You is a lot like When Dinosaurs Die in that it has less of a plot and more of a discussion about what happens in death.


Help Me Say Goodbye: Activities for Helping Kids Cope When a Special Person Dies by Janis Silverman

Ages: 6-10+

A workbook rather than a storybook, Help Me Say Goodbye is a book of art therapy exercises to work through to help a child deal with loss. This book is a great companion to one of the other story/picture books listed.


  I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

Ages: 3-7+

Particularly useful in dealing with the loss of a pet, I’ll Always Love You talks about how we show love for someone we love while they are alive, and then grieve them when we die.


When A Pet Dies by Mr. Rogers

Ages: 4-8+

Another one that deals with the loss of a pet, When A Pet Dies has the  straightforward and sensitive approach associated with Presbyterian Pastor Fred Rogers. The photos look dated, but the message is timeless.




Bonus Recommendation

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith (hey, that’s me!)

Ages: 5-12+

I included my own book in this list, though it’s not a book to sit down and read with children like all of the other books. I like to say that Faithful Families is a recipe book for creating sacred moments at home. There are a ton of activities to do with children that create sacred moments. The activities are divided into traditions, ceremonies and spiritual practices. There are several activities in the book relevant to grief and grieving: a pet funeral to mark the passing of a pet, bubble prayers to mark the loss of another family member, a memory box to mark an infant loss and more.

General Tips for Selecting a Book on Death and Grief to Use with Children

  • Read the book through in its entirety, at least once, before reading it with your child(ren). Just because I (or some other resource) recommends a book doesn’t mean that it’s the right book for your family or situation. You know your family situation and children’s personality best. Return books that don’t suit your needs.
  • Consider whether you want a straightforward “nuts and bolts” book or one that takes more of  a sideways approach: Of the books above, When Dinosaurs Die and I Miss You are both very straightforward about death: what it is, what it means to die,  what happens to our bodies, etc. Books like The Invisible String and Waterbugs and Dragonflies are more metaphorical and indirect. I recommend reading books from both “camps.” There’s no “one size fits all” book for this.
  • Don’t put too much weight in to the age recommendations: Ages are listed as guidelines. As you’ll notice, though, in each case I’ve put a “+” at the end. Who among us can’t benefit from a story designed for a younger child? I tend to think there is no upper limit to the ages for each of these books. As for the younger end of the spectrum… that’s variable too. Read the book in advance and decide what’s best for your child. The book in this list that’s the simplest for very young children is The Goodbye Book. 
  • Supplement with your theological perspective: You might have noticed that none of these books is an overtly spiritual/religious book. This is for a few reasons: 1. There’s considerable variation among religious beliefs about life after death depending on a person’s religious/spiritual tradition. 2. Too much talk about heaven/angels/life after death can be very confusing to young children who understand things quite literally. 3. All of the books listed above are appropriate for those of any spiritual tradition (or none at all.)
  • Follow up with practice: Either Faithful Families  or Help Me Say Goodbye provides activities that can be done to help the child further process his or her grief. There’s also a photo activity included in I’ll Always Love You for use after a pet dies. Oftentimes just reading a story doesn’t provide the closure or interaction that can be so helpful to healing.

Additional Resources For Further Exploration 

When Families Grieve   – An online resource from PBS with links to games and parents guides, as well as other resources.

Maria Papova’s of brain pickings has a delightful list of other children’s books on death, grief and mourning, along with detailed reviews of each.


Note: Links in this article are affiliate links meaning that if you purchase on Amazon after clicking on the link, I receive a small commission. Thank you for your support!

Christmas Love Letters from God by Glenys Nellist: A Review and Giveaway!


Last week when I posted about Advent Calendars, I mentioned that I’m planning on doing the “book a day” calendar with my children, starting on December 1. I’ve already wrapped all of the books (um, it took more time than I anticipated, but I was watching The West Wing, so it’s all good.) and we’re ready to go! The boys have already seen the huge stack of wrapped books and are ready to read them! For the first 20 books, I wrapped and then labeled with numbers randomly, so they’ll be a surprise, even to me, when we open them. For the last five, though, I selecadventbooksted the five most special books from the collection, five books that I think exemplify the Christmas message the best. These are the books that I want to be reading with my kids after school is out, and when we can snuggle up on the couch and savor them. The very last book, the most special book I wrapped up this year is Glenys Nellist’s book Christmas Love Letters from Godadventbooks2

This book is SO precious, y’all! There are seven separate Christmas Bible stories, each with a kind love letter directly from God, to your child. There’s even a blank so that you can pre-fill the child’s name in the book, if you’d like. The recommended age for this book is 4-8, so my two are right in the “sweet spot” for this book, but, honestly, I think it’s a great message for all ages. I’ve even recommended it to folks who are looking for a book to read to the congregation on Christmas morning. The reason is this: each and every story and letter is wrapped up in a single theme: God’s love for us. Everything is connected to that single theme. Is there any theme more important than God’s love for us? For me, that’s the message I want my children to hear time and time and time again. God loves you. You are lovely and beloved. All of these stories we read on Sunday mornings are about this one thing: God’s love. To me, this is the beauty of Christmas Love Love Letters from God.  

I also think you’ll love the beautiful illustrations of this book. To get a taste of it, take a look at the video here.


Pretty, eh?

In addition to Christmas Love Letters from God, Glenys Nellist wrote the original Love Letters from God  (I reviewed it HERE) and LITTLE Love Letters from God (the board book.) She also wrote Snuggle Time Prayers  and Snuggle Time Psalms, both of which my family uses and loves! Any one of those books would make a great Christmas gift or addition to your library.

I also encourage you to keep up with Glenys on her Facebook Page and Blog for information on what’s coming next in her fantastic line of children’s books!

Now for the fun news! The author, Glenys Nellist is graciously giving away a copy of Christmas Love Letters from God to a lucky reader of this blog.  To enter, just comment on this post and say who you’d give the book to (or whether you’d keep it!) and a random winner will be chosen on December 5 at noon! 


UPDATE: I used the simple “random number” generator to generate the winner which was #12, Deana! I used the email address you put in the comment to let Glenys know, and she should be contacting you about your book! Congratulations!


Interested in more information like this? Sign up for my email list. It has resources to family faith books, blogs and other goodies like this. Emails go out about once per month and the addresses are never sold or shared!

Note: This post contains affiliate links and I also received review copies of the books listed. I only link to products I personally use, love and would recommend.


Do Little Girls and Little Boys Need Different Bibles?

One of the things that I’m keenly aware of as a recently published author on spiritual practices for families is how I’m now part of the world of Christian marketing. As I’ve written about before, I believe only people can be described as Christian. I don’t believe there is such a thing as “Christian music” or “Christian books” or “Christian art.” There’s only music, books and art by and for Christian people. As much as marketers try and label everything from breath mints to financial services as “Christian,” what they’re trying to do is get Christian people to buy their products which may or may not be any better or different than products by so called “secular” retailers.

My desire to write and publish Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life was born out of a desire that I think most Christian parents share: to connect with our children, pass on our values and provide meaningful ways to practice our faith together. Since its release, I’ve been interested in other books and products that I might be able to recommend to readers of Seamless Faith. I perked up whenever I find a new book, CD or game aimed at helping families practice their faith together. Enter the Little Girls Bible Storybook for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Bible Storybook for Mothers and Sons:


Suffice it to say, I have a few concerns about these products, but I’ll focus on the two most troubling:

First, in a world where every single product marketed to children is gender specific, it makes me cringe to see a Bible storybook following this trend. In the introduction to the Little Boys Bible Storybook, the author even explains that raising boys and girls are different and that the little boys storybook is more “rough and tumble” than the little girls Bible. I think this is extremely problematic thinking. While my boys may or may not be more active than their girl classmates and friends, the faith that I want to share with them is a faith where gentleness and kindness are of utmost importance. Similarly, I want the girls I minister to (I don’t have daughters) to know that they are free to be strong like Queen Esther and trailblazers like the Daughters of Zelophehad. Incidentally, the story about Queen Esther in the Little Girls Storybook Bible is “Esther Wins a Beauty Contest.” This fact made me simultaneously laugh out loud and and want to cry. What is the message we want to send our little girls?

The second problem I have with the Little Girls and Little Boys Storybook Bible is that both products are marketed to mothers only. Though I’m certain the authors would agree that fathers, grandparents, stepparents and other family members have an important role in sharing faith, the fact that the title of the work is “for mothers and sons” and “for mothers and daughters” implies that it’s the mother’s job to pass on these stories. I much prefer a model whereby the whole family is involved in sharing faith together, and I know many families do too.

For those looking for a great storybook bible for boys and girls, moms and dads (and everyone in between) I recommend

The Children of God Storybook Bible by Desmond Tutu.


What do you think? Does the Little Girls Storybook Bible for Mothers and Daughters and the Little Boys Storybook Bible for Mothers and Sons serve a purpose, or are there some real problems here that need to be addressed? 




Traci Smith is author of Seamless Faith: Simple Practices for Daily Family Life which was published earlier this year by Chalice Press. You can sign up for her monthly email newsletter with practical faith tips for families here

What I’ve Been Reading — Summer 2013 Edition

Things have been so quiet here and over at Mrs. Smith Cooks, that one can actually hear the crickets chirping.  Here I am to help correct that! I hope that now that my manuscript has been turned in to the publisher, I can spend some of my writing time here and at MSC!

Though I was disappointed with the volume of books I was able to read this summer (re: above writing project and some other projects this summer) I wanted my first post back to be about what I *did* read because there are a couple of gems in there.  As I did in the Spring Edition, I’ll give my brief review and my “stars” out of five.

The Still Point of the Turning World Emily Rapp – Best book I read this summer by a landslide. This is a mother’s story of the very short life of her son Ronan who was born with Tay-Sachs disease. The book is agonizingly beautiful in its prose and its descriptions of her beautiful boy. The depth of pain in this story is overwhelming at times, as one can only imagine. I recommend this book to anyone, but particularly highlight it for anyone who is a minister, counselor, or just wanting to be a better friend to someone who is losing (or has lost) a child. Ms. Rapp does a fantastic job of explaining what she needed from friends or helping professionals as well as some of the things that were said or done that deeply wounded her. Love this book and give it six stars out of five.

Son of a Preacher Man: My Search for Grace in the Shadows Jay Bakker Somehow, even though the book was written in 2001, I had never heard of it. Furthermore, I never made the connection that Jay Bakker, cool progressive pastor of Revolution Church was the son of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker. (Guess that he succeeded in making his own path apart from mom and dad, eh?). When I made the connection and learned of the book, I had to read it. I was fascinated by Jay’s story growing up with Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, and to hear some of the details of his experience. Particularly moving for me (in a sad way) was hearing his sense of isolation and abandonment from Christians who cut him off or otherwise abandoned him throughout the scandal that rocked his family. It’s a wonder he returned to faith at all. A wakeup call for Christians to act like it. I give it 3 stars out of 5. The reason for the ho-hum rating despite the great content is that the writing is, well, ho hum. I recommend it for the content but you won’t find yourself glued to the seat.

Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-Child Communication by H Wallace Goddard – Clayton is getting to an age where he is learning how to say “no!” assert his opinion, express his wants and desires. In short, he’s learning to communicate. I was looking for some solid advice about parent/child communication that I could use in the long haul. This book is a classic and recommended by sources I generally trust for parenting advice. Perhaps it’s because I had overly inflated hopes for this book, but I was disappointed in it. (The same thing happens when someone describes a movie as an *amazing* movie. I see it, often and think “eh, it’s fine”). I found it to be mostly common sense (“listen to your child, don’t order her around.”) followed by examples that were painfully redundant. “This is what it means to listen to your child…”) It’s not that the content was bad. (In fact, it was quite good) it was that I was hoping for more. There were select passages where I found myself nodding along or reflecting on what I hope my approach will be in the future, and the book was good reinforcement for some things that I already hope I will put into practice, but it was not life changing. (Perhaps this is because the ideas have spilled over into common theories on parenting? Not sure of the reason, but this was my experience. I give it 3  stars out of 5.

Brim: Creative Overflow in Worship Design by Suzanne Castle and Andra Moran. Awhile ago Chalice Press (the publisher of my upcoming book…. yay!) had a free digital download sale. Did someone say free book? Yes please. I had this book on my list of books to check out and I’m so glad I read it. It’s full of imaginative ideas for worship. The context of your church will determine when these ideas would best be implimented. For my church, I’m planning on rolling some of the ideas out during our quarterly contemplative services. The services have creative prayer stations along with some really fantastic communal liturgies. There is a ton of brilliance in this book. I spent my time thinking “I would go to this service and feel completely at peace and at home.” and then I would turn the page to the next idea and think the same thing. I oohed and ahhed over this book. I give it five stars out of five.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It by Mark Devries I had this book sitting on my desk for months and picked it up one day when I was needing to clear my head for a few minutes. It was engaging and I felt like it spoke to some of the specific problems our church (and so many churches) face. The problems, Devries suggests, have a lot to do with structural componets (job descriptions, planning calendars, databases, etc) and less to do with well designed programs. Without the structure, the program fails. The book is full of very practical ideas and plans. The book also references a study where youth were asked to list the things they think makes a youth group successful. “Having a Sr. Pastor that likes and understands youth” was ranked at #2, higher than almost anything else on the list. I recommend this one to my youth ministry and ministerial colleagues, highly. Five stars out of Five.

Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture by Ellen Ruppell Shell – Have you ever bought a cheap version of something only to have it break and have to replace it, only to have the replacement break and have to replace that, and then realizing “If I would have bought a quality one of these in the first place…” This is where the book Cheap begins. The book explores the US fascination with cheap goods and the industry created to deliver them. I though the book was interesting and worth reading, but I was bored at times. There is excellent information, however. For me, it led to some thoughtful reflection that will result in action. Three and 1/2 stars out of five.

Children’s Books I’ll end with a couple of children’s books my boys adore, as I did in the last review. We’re still in board book land around here. I’m going to highlight two bilingual editions, because there’s a few important things to highlight about bilingual editions.

 Where Is the Green Sheep? / Donde esta la oveja verde? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, translated by Carlos E. Calvo  – The Illustrations on this book are adorable. Brilliant, in fact. It’s a simple, sing songy story about finding the green sheep at the end. Part of the charm of the story, though, is that it rhymes in English. Obviously, when translated, it doesn’t rhyme. It’s not a bad book experience when it doesn’t rhyme (you’re still looking for the green sheep) but it makes less sense as a bilingual book. I think it would have been smarter to publish an English version and a Spanish version, because the resulting bilingual rhymes in one but not another mish mash is less successful, in my opinion. For the book itself 5 stars, for the bilingual edition 3 stars.

Mi Amor Por Ti/My Love for You (Spanish Edition) By contrast, My Love For You is a perfect candidate as a bilingual book. Great illustrations, great simple counting and repetition. I have a lot of love for this book and love to snuggle up with my boys and read it to them. Five stars.

What I’ve Been Reading — Spring 2013 Edition

Between work and home and other endeavors, I don’t read as much as I would like to, but I’m always looking for interesting things to engage my brain and imagination. I’d like to post on what I’ve been reading from time to time. This first edition covers Spring 2013. Hope you enjoy these short reviews complete with my “star rating.”

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

I found a lot of useful information about women leaders from this book. It’s well written, backed up by personal anecdotes as well as research, and it’s an easy read.  I was familiar with the author, Sheryl Sandberg, because of her wonderful TED talk. I was not disappointed. I recommend this to everyone, not just professional women. Women who work at home will benefit from this book as well as men who work in and outside the home. I give it four and a half stars.


Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander

Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander – This is the story of a Neurosurgeon who had a near death experience while he was in a coma. I expected to like this book much more than I actually did. I enjoyed hearing about the details of his illness and peering in to what happened for him while he was in the coma, but I was much more interested in hearing how this newfound belief in heaven or an afterlife changed his life, and he talks very little about this in the book. There was also a few details that come up in the end that feel forced to me and more than a little unbelievable. (I’m being deliberately vague because, although it wasn’t my favorite book of the spring, others might still want to read it, and I don’t want to give anything away.)  I give it two and a half stars.


Two Old Women by Velma Wallis

Awhile ago in an online discussion group I am a part of, someone mentioned this book. I was intrigued because the person recommending it mentioned that it was filled with sermon illustration type material and that it was a very quick read. I’m needing books that are quick reads these days. This book could easily be read in an afternoon. It’s the story of, well, two old women, who are left behind by their nomadic tribe in their old age. Will they give up and die alone, or will they fight to survive? It’s a tale of friendship and survival, and it takes the reader to far away places. I give it four and a half stars.


The Racketeer by John Grisham

This is the first John Grisham novel I’ve ever read! I’ve seen a lot of the movies, however, and when I saw this at the library, I checked it out on a whim. I was hooked at the beginning and really curious to find out what happened at the end when it started to take some detours from where I thought it was going. It was tough for me to plod through the middle of the book, however. I started to feel sort of ambivalent toward the main character. I didn’t dislike him, but I wasn’t really rooting for him either. I would recommend this book for beach reading, but I hesitate to be much more enthusiastic than “Eh, it was ok.” I give it three stars.


The Immigrant Advantage by Claudia Kolker

This book takes the reader through various customs immigrants from other countries bring to the US. It shows how these customs lead to greater health and happiness for the groups that practice them. It does not discuss immigration policy or politics. I loved reading about these different customs and cultures and found the book very worthwhile. I give it four stars.


What is God’s Name? by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Three things I love about this book

1. The illustrations are amazing

2. The story and theology are profound, yet very simple for even a small child to grasp.

3. The author reminds parents in the front cover: “… each child develops an image of God by age five with or without religious instruction.”

I highly recommend  this one. Five stars.


Llama Llama Nighty-Night  by Anna Dewdney

 This book is amazingly charming. It has a special place in my heart because Clayton is learning to talk and repeat things and he says “wwaaaaaama waaaama niiiight niiiiiight” which is heart-meltingly adorable, but I love the simple rhyme and the illustration. I will be looking for Llama Llama Misses Mama next time I’m at the library!

That’s it for now… what did you read this Spring?

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