Category: reviews

Someone You Should Know: Matthew Paul Turner

I guess you could say I have Amazon.com 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.
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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.
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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.
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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: www.matthewpaulturner.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/matthewpaulturner

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!

 

 

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

 

christmasloveletters
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!

randomnumber12

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.

 

Q&A with Kyndall Rothaus, Author of Preacher Breath

Front Cover

It’s with great joy that I’m hosting this Q&A with my friend Kyndall (pronounced like Kindle. In fact, we call her Kindle Fire in our house.) Rothaus.  Kyndall is a preacher-poet. Ever met one? Me neither. Let me say this: everybody needs a preacher-poet in their life. Kyndall recently published a book all my preacher peeps have to read, and I asked her to do a Q&A for the blog to start getting the word out. 

TS: Kyndall, thank you so much for stopping by my blog and doing a Q&A about Preacher Breath. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time! Ok, how about I give you a question that sounds kind of artsy and awesome and gives you a wordy challenge. You are a poet, after all. Here goes. Give us your resume in 10 words: 

KR: pastor, poet, lover-of-words-and-nature, very solidly human

TS: Yup. That describes the Kyndall I know, at least. Ok, how about something juicy. Three pet peeves: 

KR: ?

TS: Seriously? No pet peeves to report? I assume those will be revealed in your second book. Moving on… Three hidden talents?

KR: I am an eighty percent free throw shooter, I can fit in small spaces, and I am almost always the coldest person in a room no matter how many layers I am wearing, which I find remarkably inexplicable.

TS:  How about three writers who influence your work?

KR: Hard to narrow it down to three! At the current moment, these three writers are near the top of the list: Anne Lamott, Richard Rohr, and Alice Walker.

TS: Ok, so the reason we’re all here. You just published a book! Tell us a little about your book, Preacher Breath

KR: Preacher Breath is a written reflection of my ongoing journey to live as a wholehearted person, to preach with sincerity and imagination, and to approach both Scripture and world with a sense of wonder and playfulness. The last two years of my life have been extremely difficult, but out of that dark place emerged this book—evidence to me of the light that dawns after long nights.

TS: Who is the target audience?

KR: I sorta see Preacher Breath being for anyone on the journey towards an authentic life, but of course I imagine it having a special appeal to preachers who are fed up trying to be perfect.

TS: Wait, I’m supposed to be trying to be perfect? Ha! I know what you mean. As a pastor, I found it to be so affirming and just… gentle. I love how yur book is organized around the human body. There are chapters like “Heart: Purpose in Preaching” and “Veins: Emotion in Preaching.” So clever and so true. How did you come up with that? Was there one chapter/part of the body that inspired all the others? 

KR: The chapter titles sort of just poured out of me. But I think the chapters happened that way because the connection of the body to the soul has been a significant aspect of my spiritual growth. I want a full-bodied faith, you know? It’s easier for me to stay stuck in my own mind, but I’m on a quest to let faith seep all the way down to my toes. A disembodied religion just doesn’t do justice to the miracle of the

preacher, poet, friend, Kyndall

  incarnation. 

TS: The chapter that was the most interesting to me was “Skin: Vulnerability in Preaching.” With Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, it seems to be a “hot topic.” For me, I always feel like I’m walking a thin line between some of the things you say (vulnerability is good for the congregation when tastefully expressed) and some of the other wisdom I’ve heard (namely that too much vulnerability or “falling apart” is unhealthy for the congregation.) How do you balance the two? How does a preacher know when she is being “tastefully” vulnerable, or just a wreck? 

KR: Well, the preacher rarely knows for certain when she is being tastefully vulnerable versus being a wreck. You have to make your best guess and go with it. I know my natural tendency is to be private and to hide, so if something is prompting me to be more honest and open, that prompting is probably exactly what I need to do. I don’t know how to balance it perfectly, but I do think it helps to pay attention to your motives. If you’re being “vulnerable” to get attention, to make people feel sorry for you, or to try and feel better, that may be a sign you are falling apart and expecting the congregation to fix you, which won’t work. If you’re self-disclosing your human struggle and feel scared to death what will happen when you do, chances are, you’re on the right track.

If you believe your troubles are worse than anyone else around you, and that by sharing them, you’ll get sympathy, this is not good. If you think by daring to expose what is most personal to you may in fact have the capacity to resonate with other hurting people, this is good. Very good. I think it means you’re getting it—that we are all having a hard time and that we are all connected.

Share in order to connect, not to get attention. But do share. If you want your people to stop hiding, you have to be willing to go first.

TS: Which chapter/passage of the book are you most proud of, and why? 

KR: Well, I feel proud of “Bones,” but it is hard to explain why—I’m not even sure I know myself. I can tell you I am most surprised by “Legs”—the last chapter of the book. It was the unexpected chapter that came to me after all the others were finished. I wrote about “authority in preaching,” which just shocked the socks off me as I was writing it, because I’m rather averse to the word authority. But as I wrote, I redefined the word, and I was startled to learn I rather liked my own definition.

TS: I rather liked it, too. In fact, I loved the whole thing and encourage everyone to get it. Get it from the publisher HERE or Amazon HERE. Keep up with Kyndall at KyndallRae.com

Thanks for stopping by, Kyndall and congratulations on Preacher Breath!

A Mary Carol: A Delightful Christmas Pageant by Katherine Willis Pershey

Mary and Joseph Ride to the Templesharefaith

I’m delighted to be reviewing Katherine Willis Pershey’s new Christmas Pageant A Mary Carol written for small to medium sized congregations. I’ll get to all of the reasons I love this pageant, but first, a little about the author.

Katherine Willis is Associate Minister of First Congregational Church of Western Springs, IL (A few train stops over from where I grew up!) She is also author of Any Day A Beautiful Change: A Memoir of Faith and Family, published by Chalice Press in 2012. She writes beautifully and from the heart. Check out the book or her blog!

Ok, on to A Mary Carol. So much to love about this Christmas pageant.  Before we get to the gushing, let me just say: I received a copy of this script for free so I could give my honest review. No other compensation was received for writing this post. I say this 1., because of the FCC, but 2. Because the gushing is going to make it sound like I was bribed or paid or something… it’s really just that great. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way. Here are five reasons I love it:

1. It’s written to be played by adults, youth or both. Rare, in my experience, is the Christmas pageant that is interesting enough for adults to enjoy and simple enough for children to present. To me this is the hugest selling point of A Mary Carol. If my congregation were presenting this, I’d absolutely advise it be done as an intergenerational play. How great would it be to get the adults and children together in presenting this story?

2. It’s not fussy – Seriously, don’t we all have enough to do at Advent without hunting down a zillion props or harassing our congregation members to sew special costumes? The cast of characters is traditional (more on that in a minute) so most churches will have the costumes lying around. There are a few props, but nothing that can’t come together in a couple of emails and a phone call. Done.

3. Refreshing, but traditional – This is another balance that is hard to achieve, in my opinion. We want the basic story to be told in Christmas pageants, but we want to present this really familiar story in refreshing and new ways. It’s hard to make something new without it turning corny or far removed from the original story. This pageant isn’t at all corny or far removed. The storyline focuses on the the night of the Annunciation, and Mary has the opportunity to learn about who Jesus is from the past (oh! Isaiah is a character in this script. What?! It’s awesome.) the present and future.

4. It’s funny – Not *groan* funny a lighthearted “I love this!” funny.

5. It’s a good value. Ten dollars and you can make as many copies as you need for your congregation. Seriously? Ten bucks. You can get it here.

Thank you, Katherine, for allowing me to review your lovely work. It is truly a gift to churches who are looking for something “just right” for their church this Christmas.

(Oh, if you’re wondering why I’m reviewing a Christmas Pageant in June, it’s because, well, summertime is when many of us start planning this stuff. It’s true!)

 

 

 

Reviewing #Her (the new movie by Spike Jonze)

When a friend encouraged me to see the movie Her a few weeks ago, my obligatory “What’s it about?” was met with “Huh?” when I learned it was about a romance between a human being and an operating system. “You will love it,” was the confident response. I did.

The film is stunning on many levels with beautiful cinematography and art direction and a thought-provoking screenplay. Most of all, though…

 

[Read the rest on The Jesus Review at Fidelia’s Sisters]