Category Archives: Picture Books

The Hidden Saint

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I’ve begun the daunting process of trying to organize my e-life. Part of this is taking on my formidable Google Drive account and deleting irrelevant files and organizing others into safekeeping. Back in late 2009, I was part of the genesis of Soul Gardening Journal, which was a printed quarterly that existed for nearly a decade before I quietly resigned while grappling with an oxygen mask during some of the most turbulent years of my life. Another issue was printed after my exit, and there was some talk of a printed anthology of our work, but I’m not sure if that ever materialized. As far as I know, the journal is either on a serious hiatus, or totally defunct.
But I have found some nostalgia in reading some of my old articles and thought it might be good to recirculate some of those words in no particular order for the first time online.
May some of these thoughts be useful to someone, somewhere…

The Hidden Saint

She walked into the empty church wearing some heavily worn, solid-colored, comfort sneakers that are all the rage in elderly circles. She was a tiny, Filipino woman in her late sixties or so and she slowly shuffled down the aisle with an obvious pain in her hip. I watched with curiosity; it was later in the evening and I was glad to be jolted awake during my Adoration hour. This woman was a welcome distraction from my feeble and failed attempts at deep thought and prayer during this time.  

She bowed reverently toward the Tabernacle before heading toward the side altar with a statue of Mary. Once arriving there she didn’t do what I expected (light a candle, kneel down and pray fervently for some wayward child like I often see so many other women of her demographic do). She pulled out a plastic grocery bag from her sweater—Why the sweater? I wondered; it had been a hot day and muggy in the church. (There was no hope of dutifully attempting a prayerful state now; she had all my attention.) She very delicately peeled back the plastic bag to reveal a cheap, spritzer bottle filled with water. And then what she did nearly brought me to tears. She misted Our Lady’s roses. There were a few vases of flowers in front of the statue, that were not quite in their prime and this woman brought them a drink. She very gently moved the blooms and sprayed each flower in a determined but incredibly tender way.  

When finished, she conscientiously put the spray bottle back in the plastic bag, trying to minimize the crinkling sound and she moved back toward the center aisle. After bowing again to Our Lord, she tottered back out of the church and left me alone with my thoughts. I was fully awake now. 

I don’t know anything about this woman, what her home life is like, what relationships she has, or any other facts about her. In fact, I don’t remember ever seeing her again at our church either. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. She is how I envision so many saints—living hidden lives of holiness. She simply did what needed to be done with love and it wasn’t the greatness of her act that left me floored (How hard is it to wet some roses?!)… it was the apparent and abundant love with which she did it. This beautiful old woman taught me something very valuable in that hour as she embodied a quote from St. Teresa of Avila that I’d seen before but had struggled to internalize in a meaningful way: “In prayer, what counts is not to think a lot but to love a lot.”  So many of my efforts in dedicated prayer have felt so seemingly dry, distracted and fruitless. But God is not measuring the amount of profound reflections and beautiful sentiments we have—far from it. He is simply measuring our love. In seeing that little, nameless, nothing-of-a-woman offer what she did, how she did, I am certain I witnessed one of the greatest acts of love I had seen in a long time.



Adulting Wins of 2017-2018

When I’m aching for a shot of encouragement, I try to pause and begin counting the things that are going right, rather than the things going wrong. This was extraordinarily effective as a homeschooler. And I’m finding it useful as a… “denizen” of Life in Plan B: the unforeseen divorced-mother-of-seven life I now live. Rather than tallying all the things that have been taken from me, or things gone wrong, I am counting up my wins. I started this list off in mild jest before it ended in sort of a “Wow” realization, even for me. It was all a blur when I was going through this. But, through the grace of God alone, I came through. There’s still a long way to go— many things yet to learn. Major transitions still to conquer and difficulties every day. Yet here I am, looking upward and sometimes even laughing in spite of it all… fully alive in spite of it all.

Feel free to snicker at some of these things: “How is this woman 36 years old and just now learning this stuff?!” But, I’m not really embarrassed by that. Happy to count my littleness. Even happier to count the ticks on my growth chart. I highly recommend you creating your own list of  “wins” just to give yourself a change of perspective: 

  1. Learned how to change a drill bit.
  2. Learned how to drill.
  3. Learned what to look for in a breaker box.
  4. Drove 900 miles in one day, solo.
  5. Spider sprayed the perimeter of my home, solo.
  6. Assembled IKEA furniture.
  7. ^Learned to ask for help.
  8. Learned how to operate a weed whacker.
  9. Took apart and repaired a freezer.
  10. Discovered Jameson.
  11. Learned how to grill (not exactly well, yet).
  12. Navigated Craigslist transactions without getting killed.
  13. Navigated the lightbulb aisle of the store without killing myself.
  14. Grew plants without killing them.
  15. Learned to kayak. 😀

… and 16 is sort of the “blur”:

Recovered from a minor surgery, got a job, found childcare, learned how to pump breastmilk, balanced having five children in four different schools, hired and fired lawyers, represented myself in court, paid a mortgage, slept on a hospital couch for a few days with a hospitalized child, survived significant, interpersonal trauma… all while being partially homeless for six months, ended 2017 watching my father die and enduring an awful, expensive trial, and opened 2018 with a horrific parenting plan and my mother’s heart attack.

But there’s even a 17 that’s emerged from the fog of 16:

Applied to grad schools, got accepted, worked hard through the busy days with too many demands and not enough hours while several other imperfect circumstances drizzle all around me, began 2019 with a 4.0 GPA, managed to happily read a large number of books, keep coffee and cheese stocked in the house, retain a passionate curiosity for the living world and those who travel with me here, and have allowed myself the tiniest—oh so fragile!— beginnings of long term dreams once again.

So there’s that. See the good. Count the growth. All will be well. And the lessons learned, extraordinary.



Notes from a Divorced Catholic

This could have just as easily been titled “Notes from a Mid-30s Mother” or “Notes from a Melancholic-Choleric Grad Student”. Or any other combination of personality ticks that could be labeled and hyper-linked on a social media profile. The difference and danger of identifying myself as a divorced Catholic is that somehow, the impression is given that I am the self-nominated voice of this particular demographic. And I reject that. Emphatically and with fervor. Every person on the face of this planet has his or her own story. We each have to put a signature at the end of our own life and despite trends and statistics, none of us are interchangeable with any other in whatever minorities or groups or demographics we happen to belong. Are you a homeschooling mother of four? You’re not like any other. Are you a faithful, stay-at-home father of two children? You’re not like any other. Are you a single, early twenties, same-sex attracted woman? You’re not like any other. Each of us is unrepeatable. Each of us is not the sum of society’s definitions about our character…

With that disclaimer, I offer some simple notes on a life that is a bit… different. It is my own random bits, in no particular order, from my own scattershot brain and not meant to speak for any others.

According the the NY Times there were about 5,000 households like mine in 2011: a single woman with seven biological children. That is 5,000 out of about 122 million households. Catholics make up about 22% of Americans. Less than 1/10 of Catholic households have more than three children in it. If I calculate my rough numbers correctly, this means there are about 100 households like mine across the United States. If we are generous— given population breakdowns— there might be two in my entire state?

-^ That?! That… is an incredibly sobering and isolating statistic. I’m a demographic unicorn. And I never wanted to be one.

-I have learned so much about my own judgemental attitudes. Because of how the social aftershocks have continued to play upon my life, I can see echoes of who I used to be in many of my friends… and in the social distancing that has happened in my life. Here’s the thing about the word “judgemental” though. Most people don’t know any better. We’re the product of our upbringing and our catechesis, which is so often lacking in any comprehensive “how to” lessons on integrating separated and divorced families into the normal, healthy parish life. Good, practicing Catholics simply don’t know how to “do” this. And I don’t hold this against anyone. I was the same. I can think of some single mother families I used to know and I was kind and charitable and “let me know if you need anything” just like everyone else. But I simply didn’t know *how* to integrate these women or their kids into my wholesome, stay-at-home, homeschooling mother life. So I kept them at an arm’s length. Just to be safe. Being on the other side of the arm now, I feel that pain and that isolation. But I understand it… and try not to take it personally.  The Church Militant has some hard, serious work to do on coexisting in this hospital of sinners.

-Yes, I’ve heard of Retrouvaille. Yes, I’ve read (and would recommend)  Primal Loss. Yes, I’ve seen that one Fulton Sheen video about how marriage is hard work. Yes, I know the Church’s teachings about separation and divorce. Yes I know about annulments. Thank you for the prayers for my family. That’s all. Some very well meant comments can sting… partially because folks can be insensitive. And partially because my heart is still defensive.

-It is a difficult thing to balance authenticity and discretion. Airing out the truth and protecting my family. I am doing the best I can. And this is my discernment to do. Not anyone else’s.

-The hard thing is that my world has to become, by necessity, very small anyway. I don’t usually have *time* for mommy’s groups or nature outings or Rosary Makers or whathaveyou. I barely have time for the small handful of friends I somehow have retained. When I am with my children— 63.3% of the the time— I am with them. And it is hard. Grueling. There are seven of them. There is one of me. There are three different schools. And two toddlers. And extra-curriculars. And doctor appointments. And potty training. And driving lessons. And teeth to brush and breakfast to make and stories to read and laundry to fold and bills to pay. And, and, and… all the demands of large family life with the exception of there being only one adult at the helm. Very little time or breath to answer phone calls or make room for the social life I need.

-What about the other 36.7% of my life? When I am not with the children? Do I get to live it up, wild and free in a sick sort of quasi-bachelorette way? No. The first thing I do is drink. Silence, that is. I drink the silence deep into this parched soul. (Maybe followed by a good, red wine…) The noise of large family life is utterly overwhelming for my introverted, abstract thinking brain. And so, when I wave goodbye and blow kisses to my babies when they go to their dad’s house… I return to my home and shut the door and pause. And listen. And begin the act of self-restoration. Books. Poetry. Music (I live somewhere between Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” and Brother Isaiah’s “Jacob’s Song”). Saltwater. Fresh air. Meandering in my mind and neighborhood.

-But it can’t be too long-lived. I have to have a future for these children after all. And there are seven of them. Being out of the workforce for 15 years means that I have very few options. As such, I study for a professional career in counseling. The 36.7% of my life is my book time. Reading. Writing papers. Studying. Being willfully distracted by anything other than studying. Then drinking more silence. This time neat. Running to the waterside if I feel overly emotional. Running to a friend if I feel isolated. Guarding and cultivating my need for laughter. A reminder that life is short and Calvary is actually lined with fragrant roses if only we stop to smell them along the way. Trying to not take myself too seriously… but to take myself measurably.

-The glorious thing the past two years have taught me is gratitude. Is a man ever able to appreciate a piece of bread more than when he is starving? Have ever the simple joys in life meant so much as when that is all there is in which to delight? There is something about being utterly crushed and weighed down by the monstrosity that is your life at the moment… that gives you such an acute awareness of and appreciation for the most primitive or nondescript sensations. A child’s smile. Hot water. The smell after a fresh rain. A pillow. Suddenly, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. And what a gift it is to be enlivened by the ordinary. Not everyone has that.

-Last year I woke up one day on a murphy bed at a friend’s house and had no idea where I was for a solid three minutes. I cried out in a half-awake state, as if crucified: “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me!” I had been in and out of temporary, residential schedules, bouncing around friends’ homes, sitting on the floor pumping breastmilk and storing in friends’ freezers, working at a restaurant, begging for free childcare, writing court declarations, and being sucker punched by the horror of what I read in return. I wept whenever I had to leave my baby. I lost a lot of weight. I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t make a decision. I was skittish and dissociated from what I was experiencing. I was in the throes of trauma. And I was held up by my community and by my family at a distance and by strangers and by those very dear to me who became forever grafted to my heart.

-^That was about 14 months ago. It feels like 14 years ago.

-Answering the question “How are you?” has never been more challenging. Are we grading on a relative curve to how I *have been*?  Then, fabulous!  But are we prepared to hear how I really am sometimes?  Because folks generally tire of hearing about the same “Busy. Overwhelmed. Guarded. Dealing with nonsense you’d rather not hear about. Busy.” hamster wheel that is my answer more often than not. However: in a brilliant sort of irony… when the complexities are SO overwhelming in my world… I actually am able to access a tiny bit of interior freedom that is imperturbable.  There is so much that I can’t control that I very often just live 15 minutes at a time and can marvel at the quivering birch leaves behind my house or savor my cup of coffee or check out to a lengthy scroll through Pinterest… and I’m fine.  Very often full of joy. Happiness is from without. Joy is from within. I turn within a lot to be able to say “Fine” and mean it, when others ask.

-The grace of the sacraments is real.

-The experience of having my entire life utterly ripped out from underneath me has been a gift.  A most painful, beyond-the-pale gift that I would never wish on anyone. But I am grateful. So grateful for the ways I have grown to know myself. I’ve never really gotten to know this woman in depth… she has been a shell for a long time. And I am able now to see me for who I am, weak and flawed and desperately in need of grace… but also a beloved, chosen-before-all-time daughter of an incredible Father. He had to hit me pretty hard in order for me to wake up to all the goodness and beauty He has in store for me. And I am grateful.

-I live on quotes. And books. And poetry. And beauty. And delightful pockets of random joy.

-Being an adult is hard! I don’t know anything! I am 36 years old and still don’t know some very basic life skills! I just learned how to change a drill bit and identify a breaker box last year. This year, my goal is to figure out how to check my oil and try to understand what the stock market means. Thank the good Lord for YouTube tutorials.

-I don’t like attention. And I don’t want to be a poster-child for “divorced, Catholic, veiling, INTJ  mothers of seven who’d rather be homeschooling”. I don’t see myself as one. If I had my way, I’d be living happily under a rock somewhere in the woods, reading books and listening to birds and marveling at the moon. Yet, I am here. In this world. On Facebook. And Instagram. And responding to the call to use the gifts He has given me. I don’t know what God is asking of me yet. I only hope to always be obedient to the promptings He puts on my heart. And those promptings nearly always whisper: Write! I am a poor co-author of this story that He is weaving in me and through me. But I still have an obligation to tell it.  

-Having some very nearly libertarian leanings… I am thankful for public assistance. And I think shame is fascinating. And I am thankful for feeling genuine, accurate empathy for so many people in this world now that I never felt before. And I think the human heart is fascinating. And I’m thankful to be growing one.

That’s all I really have to say tonight… peace to you and yours.



In honor of something real

There are many things I will not be able to pass on to my children. There are many flaws I have. I can’t give them horseback riding lessons. I don’t have an inheritance set up for them, much less a college fund. They also don’t have a mother who knows how to knit, or throw specially themed birthday parties, or who can teach them about which fork is the right one to use at a dinner party.

They will learn other things from me of course; I do have some gifts and skills to pass on to them that are unique to me, because I am not their mother by accident and I know God has allowed me to raise them for a reason and for them to raise me for a reason.

And given the context of who we are and what we can offer them, I think mothers generally want to capture or honor our children’s childhood and experiences in some sort of way. We are cognizant of how precious and short the time is that we are allowed to raise our children so we each sort of find our own ways to memorialize that. I am not a scrapbooker. I tried for a few months once with my first born but quickly abandoned it. I admire those women who do have the patience and skill and organization to devote to scrapbooking but that is not me.

I am however, a writer. And I write to my children. I began before they were even born. And want to encourage others to do so as well. I fully believe that the permanence of ink on paper is different than the old family blogs we all used to keep. I love media and I love my computer. But my flesh and blood child needs to know that I intentionally turned off the glowing lights every now and then, and that this woman placed herself in silence and thought of nothing but communing with him, whether he was in the next room sleeping or in a whole different state at the moment. My thoughts were with him. And the paper was touched by me. And the ink stained my fingers and sometimes smudged the page. And I breathed on my words. Occasionally there is even the stain of a teardrop on the paper.

When we write with pen on paper; it is real, and tangible and permanent. And the very medium is part of the message. I keep a journal for each child and write whenever I make time to… (sometimes it’s even months or years in between entries!) The journals evoke the sense of sight, touch, and smell. They are more real than the pictures I post online gushing about my children. I sometimes paperclip a real photo in the book. I sometimes keep the little scribbles they’ve made on the church envelopes and tuck those into the books.  This is effortless scrapbooking. When each child turns 18, I will surrender their journals to them. So far, they don’t even know of their existence. And they can look back and know the inner parts of me at certain points of their life. The mystery in the question “What was my mother thinking?!” will be partially answered… not exactly with abandon (I am mindful that they are still my children… not the keepers of my every heartache), but at least with authenticity.

Write to your babies. It doesn’t have to be a long, multi-paged ballad singing their praises. It can be a simple note that you were praying for them that day or a funny thing they said or something you appreciated. The point is to do it. To make incarnate the fact that you were thinking of them.

I imagine our grown up children being delighted and grateful to be given something real in a world where real seems increasingly difficult to find. 



Saints Through the Year in Picture Books

While I have a “motherload” list of Catholic picture books, I wanted to update and talk specifically about saint books.

When you find a beautiful picture book about a saint… you have a treasure indeed. And this book will do more to form the heart and mind of your child than dry readings from a text or even a decent saint anthology.  The Church Triumphant is our victory crown—our brothers and sisters in Christ who’ve run the race and attained the prize. Nothing in life matters except getting to Heaven.  So emphasizing the stories of those who’ve gone before us in a lovely and accessible way is of extraordinary importance to a child’s education. Many books exist that are great for read aloud times and don’t need picture illustrations. (I am a big fan of the Once Upon a Time Saints series for example, especially to share more obscure saints with kids) But picture books specifically, offer a unique way for young children to metabolize and begin admiring their faith.

How to Incorporate Saint Stories into Your Day

There is no sense in purchasing saint books if all they do is sit on your shelf making you feel guilty for never using them.  I have three favorite methods of incorporating saint picture books into our lives, for three types of people:  The Ambitious Ones. The Focused Ones. And then The Rest of Us. Many of the picture books on my list focus only on a particular legend or anecdote of a saint’s life or even just illustrate a prayer they composed. I like to follow up these books with a very brief biography from a solid anthology of saints.

-For The Ambitious: The answer is obvious. Read the saint stories on their feast days. In my glory years, I had created a liturgical year booklist complete with all the titles I owned and their corresponding feast days. I would pull out the books each month and have them sitting in our monthly picture book basket along with our other seasonal titles and simply read that saint’s story on his or her feast day.  It worked very well. I still practice this method when I can, although my summer saints suffer from neglect with more outdoor/less scholastic-reading time in general. So I just do a modified version of this and try to read about the saint in the month the feast is celebrated. A goal of mine was to have at least one or two saint picture books in the book basket for each month of the year. This is why I’m listing them in monthly order on my site.

-For the Focused: Save all your saint picture books for November—the month of All Saints. And dedicate that month to getting to know our heavenly family better through the reading of their lives. Consider using All Saints Day as an excuse to gift picture books on saints to your family or godchildren.

-For the Rest of Us: Practice the ancient art of “strewing”… and simply leave saint picture books lying about where children can discover them at their own leisure. On coffee tables, in the bathroom, on nightstands, etc. Making sure the saints are part of our everyday lives is important in demystifying them and living the faith in a holistic way.

Disclaimers, Exclusions, Alternatives

As with all my picture book categories, I don’t list every single book on the market simply because life is too short for the mediocre. You’ll find other St. Francis of Assisi books than the ones I have listed, for example. But I only bother including picture books if they are worth the time and can hold their own on at least some level of beauty.  Children are naturally attracted to the beautiful and the true.  So I avoid the Saturday Morning Cartoon illustrations even if they are saintly themed! This last point is personal preference. You may find a deep enjoyment of titles like this or that. Further, perhaps there is a great place for graphic comics like this for your older children.  That’s fine! Just not the focus of this post. The picture book industry has boomed in recent years with its offerings of faith-themed books. Sadly, most of these are repeats of older stories… that had better illustrations anyway. (How many new St. Patrick books do we need anyway?!  Why can’t someone produce an excellent picture book on St. Kateri or St. Francis Xavier)

I have (with hesitation) decided not to include some beautiful books that have been published regarding saints of the Orthodox Church. If the saint is recognized in the Catholic Church as well, those are included.

I have read most, but not every single title here. I included books that appeared—from reviews and research— to be worthwhile. Lastly, while you can be sure that despite my passion and diligence in research to create a very thorough and quality list… I may have overlooked some books that rank as treasures in your mind. In all things, to God be the glory.

The Books

Onward now to the list.  I intend to keep this post updated with the best of what’s out there and encourage you to chase down the out-of-print titles listed here as well… they are worth it.





St. Anthony the Great

St. Felix

St. John Bosco


St. Brigid

St. Pascual

St. Scholastica

St. Modomnoc

St. Valentine

St. Valentine


St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Patrick

St. Cuthbert


St. Bernadette

St. George

St. George


St. Brendan

Our Lady of Fatima

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc


St. Kevin

St. Boniface

St. Columba

St. Columba

St. Josemaría Escrivá


St. Junipero Serra

St. Benedict

St. Benedict

St. Christopher

St. Christopher


St. Clare

St. Tekla


St. Teresa of Calcutta

St. Joseph of Cupertino

St. Ciaran

St. Hildegard

St. Sergius

St. Wenceslas

St. Wenceslas

St. Jerome


St. Barnaby

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis of Assisi

St. John XXIII

St. John Paul II


St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Martin de Porres

St. Frances Cabrini

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Catherine of Alexandria


St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

St. Lucy

“In every young person, a point of goodness is accessible and it is the primary duty of the educator to discover that sensitive cord of the heart so as to draw out the best in the young person.”

–St. John Bosco 


Littleness, Truth and Happy Endings.

Last week, I worked particularly hard one day. Hard for one not accustomed to fast-paced, public work anyway. And I walked home. And it was hotter than the breath of a devil. I collapsed on my couch, curled up in the fetal position and just wanted to be left alone. Ironic since being alone is so manifestly available to me lately—and resented.  Yet there I was. Ever the ingrate. Ever self-seeking. And my beautiful seven babies were restless. They did not see the grueling pace of what I had been doing for the past several hours. They could not understand why I didn’t want to bounce right up and devise infinite avenues of fun to be had in the heat of this evening’s devil breath. And they begged. Bordering just enough on whining but still able to stay on the side of rational where I would hear them.  “Mama, mama! Come play!” “We need to do something!”

And I resented them. And my body screamed “Go away! I love you to pieces but I want you all to just snuggle here with me and fall into blissful slumber. But you want to actually be active right now?! You want my attention right now?!  Dear God, say it ain’t so!” But—to my surprised horror– I heard my mouth utter a “Fine, go load up in the truck and we’ll take the kayak out”…  granted, it was spoken with a few extra pounds of resignation, and not nearly the levity of cheerfulnesss that I wished I could’ve mustered.

And we went. And we made the best of it. There were a few minor scuffles about who sat where in the truck and who got to be first on the water but by and large, a solidarity is usually found at the water’s edge for my family. Hermit crabs were poked and prodded and captured. Baby bums were soaked at unbalanced tottering along the rocks. And so on. The older children loved being in the kayak. They loved the freedom and independence of paddling out there alone. The little ones loved going out for rides with Mama. I loved… well, pretty much only that they loved it. And the fantasy that I could potentially love kayaking someday if only it came dressed up in peace and solitude.

Then the fight to get everyone loaded back up and home. The ill-timed bathroom needs. The smell of seaweed and the grit of sand in the folds of skin.  And it was hard. And my patience had run out. So we bumbled our way home and ate some cheese and crackers called dinner and tottered into bed, with protests and resistance.

Then I cried. And I let exhausted tears wash my cheeks and then my valiant mind tried to war with my bitter heart for being such a weakling… but my heart won. And my “Yes” to the present moment was nullified since it decided to show up heavily saddled with all the baggage of qualifications and conditions of my will that a selfish woman like me likes to carry around. So I rebuked myself and fell asleep.

The end.

It’s true. There was no happy ending that day.  When I wrote this initially, I wanted to be able to weave in a tidy,  little lesson of virtue here.  I’ll even share with you what I drafted out:

Then, I leaned into my weakness by clutching my miraculous medal and recited my favorite 3-word prayer (“God have mercy”) and allowed myself to fully feel my littleness. My reluctant will. My incomplete surrender.  My heart empty of virtue. And instead of turning in on myself and filling this vacancy with thoughts of shame and disgust and irritation… I offered it to Him. My baby Jesus to come fill this filthy-barnyard, smelly, manger of a soul with His presence.  And my pride died a mini-death. And what I then said “Yes” to… was my very inadequacy to do or be any good outside of Him.  And I nearly smiled in being nothing—yet everything— because I was simply His tiny, pathetic daughter. My ramshackle soul presented so much space for HIM to transform and heal and fill…. I imagine like those fixer-uppers on TV who get so excited transforming homes when they have a generous amount of money with which to work.  How excited must my Jesus be to fix-up my heart when His budget and energy are inexhaustible?! I am His perfect project.

And I found some freedom in that. And peace. And God. What else could I possibly want?!

I know. It sounds so meaningful and heartfelt, right?! And it was.  But it wasn’t very honest. I didn’t end that day with holy, peaceful inspirations. I fell asleep on a pillowcase wet with tears and drool and completely devoid of sanctifying thoughts. (And if, through writing, I am anything other than honest, I have no business saying anything at all.)  As it is, I wrote that little paragraph as an editor would like to revise a script that she just read. “Well, everything seemed to be going smoothly, with a moderate amount of interest… but your ending was just really, really crappy. So let me fix that up here…”  That’s the ending I wish I would’ve had to that night.

But I have to believe there is some merit in retrospective goodwill. I have to trust that the desire to revise my life script counts for something… and further, that it inspires something for future chapters. Sometimes  writers or bloggers seem to have the pretense of authority or “figured-it-out-iveness” that has always bothered me.  (Pride hates pride, see…) And I never want to be like that. The intention of this little corner of cyberspace isn’t to preach anything to anyone about how I’ve mastered my vocation, my faith, or life.  I am here as a fellow sojourner… pointing out interesting sights along my path… offering to share a bench with others as needed… chattering about beautiful books to read along the way… running out of fuel sometimes… and wiping off my face, just like anyone else who bites the dust often. I’m little and foolish, that much is true.  But that much does indeed purchase a liberty in which I will be delighted to end my life’s story.



Springtime with Kevin Henkes

In the same way that Jan Brett shines best in winter, Kevin Henkes was made for springtime.  While he is now a prolific picture book author/illustrator, it seems that all his best works embody spring somehow. Maybe it’s his color palette… simple but strong colors in very restrained but delightful shapes. Whatever the case may be, his books are always strong favorites in my house for the younger set… so I wanted to highlight his best of spring themes. I’ve always thought it would be fun to gift a certain THEME of books among my children— I’m thinking Easter baskets here; certain author themes would fit this well too!

Brand new this year and nearly wordless… four eggs hatch and an unexpected friendship ensues.

Last year, this book stole my heart for its burst of color and sweet text. A wonderful primary-age celebration of spring.

The sweet little “Mama loves you” story… also available as a board book!

Let the birding season begin! This is my very favorite *early* bird book.

A board book perfect for a toddler’s Easter basket… an ode to candy basically. 😀

A potentially bad day… reframed. Not just for kids.

Gardening season is beginnning! Kick it off with this imaginative girl…


Catching up with 2016, Christmas and Otherwise

So it’s been an off and on year with blog writing for me. But I finally took a morning and traipsed through the bookstore grabbing a large stack of new picture books to settle down and preview. Coupled with a flurry of library holds, I feel adequately qualified in my investigative research now!  My finger has not been on the pulse of all immediate releases this year until now and I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered:

jefFirst of all, the rather depressing news.  There are no brand new Christmas themed books that really blow my dress up this year.  I mean sure, Gingerbread Christmas will get Jan Brett’s typical cult following.  If one is an accomplished enough artist, customers are willing to overlook a weak story.  And well, I just felt like it was a bit contrived. I liked Gingerbread Baby as a fresh spin on the old tale but kind of thought the mischievous whimsy should’ve stopped there. Incidentally, last year’s re-release of Gingerbread Man, illustrated by Richard Scarry is still one of my favorite renditions of the folktale and at less than $4, it’s a bargain.  And then there’s the one that’s getting the biggest press from publishers: Christmas Boot.  But while Pinkney never disappoints in his illustrations, I personally felt like the story was kind of a tired sort of regurgitation of a dozen other Christmas stories. That’s not to say it’s bad… but after reviewing hundreds of Christmas stories, I am looking for novel stories at this point. Christmas Crocodile was somewhat novel… and I always appreciate a good humorous break from the saccharine, emotional stories.  So that was pretty fun…

Honestly, I think the best Christmas-specific book released this year is actually another Golden Book by Richard Scarry… that of The Animals’ Merry Christmas. These vintage tales never go out of style and they stand head and shoulders above some of the newer fare that tries to force a Christmas SOMETHING down our throats.  Other than that, Christmas Fox is the only other title that peaked my interest but I’ve not had a chance to see it in person yet. And the Ephipany book The Christmas Horse and the Three Wise Men looks really lovely but not particularly novel. Epiphany suffers from the Thanksgiving syndrome… where it seems like the majority of picture books related to those holidays get in the rut of just rehashing the same story in different words each time.  This is why The Third Gift was the best thing to happen to Epiphany books since… well… ever. I consider it a must-have.

So let’s dive into some of the more exciting titles of the year…

 Before Morning is the only book in this post that I haven’t actually seen yet, great! Saw it! Love it. A contemporary story with just a working mother shown (no explanation of dad’s absence which I like) but with very classic illustrations. Beautiful! but illustrator Beth Krommes has never disappointed me yet. It looks absolutely glorious and seems to have that magical, lyrical perfection down of text matching illustrations…My very favorite book (so far) illustrated by Krommes is Blue on Blue but Grandmother Winter is a close second!


 And check it out!  Marla Frazee was able to nail an excellent, equally delightful sequel to Boss Baby about the new baby sister.  Bossier Baby is just as much fun and Frazee still stands out as my favorite baby illustrator of all time!



 Coupled with ABC Dream, Kim Trans has created a beautiful duo with 123 Dream.  Her artwork is stunning and the subtlety with which she illustrates her point is so appreciated.  These books would make a wonderful gift for a toddler… a gift that the adult would appreciate too.



 Circle is a living book that any curious child would be lucky to stumble upon.  Collage artist/writer Jeannie Baker first made her mark on me with the innovative book Mirror and she continues her excellence here. The story follows the migration of the world’s farthest traveling animal, the godwit.  And the spreads that show the curve of the earth are exquisite…


 Fun, bright, fold-out pages make Hocus Pocus, it’s Fall! a charming addition to any autumn book basket. There’s nothing profound here, just magical words on each page and rich, vibrant colors to get you in the mood for the season.  The first book here was Abracadabra, it’s Spring, which I thought equally gorgeous. I hope they end up doing a title for Summer and Winter also… they’d all make a lovely gifting set.


 Donkey-Donkey is an old title from 1940 that was reprinted this year much to the delight of Roger Duvoisin fans like myself.  It’s the classic tale of an animal unhappy with his lot who tries to be like everyone else before realizing that he’s just fine being himself.  It’s the modern theme of “celebrate your unique self” done with natural taste and charm.  I love how Duvoisin speaks occasionally to the reader, similar to Beatrix Potter and other children’s authors who don’t take themselves too seriously.

“But pigs have slow minds. Donkey-Donkey waited a long time. He counted up to one hundred but Rosa was still thinking. I suspect in fact that she just went to sleep.”

* Intermission Nota Bene…*

Unlike a lot of other picture book reviewers, I’m skipping over several other 2016 titles that  have made news lately. There is a large movement from publishers to produce books that are excellent in graphic design lately. Seems like all the ‘cool, new, hip’ picture books are ones that feature a particular flavor of simple, contemporary graphic art. Now, a lot of this is great art… don’t get me wrong. I just think that picture books deserve to be published only if there is a great marriage between word and image… and I for one am not willing to suffer through a mediocre story just to see some hipster images…

 But hey, look at this!  Pond by Jim LaMarche!  It’s been 16 years since we’ve delighted in La Marche’s naturalist beauty found in The Raft, and I’m not sure if Pond is designed to be a sequel in the proper sense, but it’s hard not to draw parallels. The story does the same thing in paying attention to the natural world while still progressing the plot… it begins in mid-winter and goes through the year.  After La Marche illustrated the superb Winter is Coming, it’s evident that he just keeps getting better and better with each title.

 The Bear and the Piano.  Easy. Fun. Great illustrations.  A sweet little story to delight all budding musicians or those unsure of their own talents. Definitely worth checking out.



 I finally got to see The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles and, as suspected, I loved it. Erin Stead’s illustrations are perfect, soft and inviting in this evocative, simple story about a lonely man who finds friendship… really well done!



 Finding Wild is one of those graphic arts tour de excellence that I stuck my nose up at in the intermission.  The difference is the text. It reads like spoken word poetry and manages to encourage people to appreciate wild spaces, big and small, without becoming preachy about environmental issues.


 The Night Gardener.  Simple, beautiful, whimsy.  This is one of those fun little stories that aren’t necessarily the most profound or gorgeous things in life but has the potential to be a child’s favorite.  I have learned with my own kids, that there are certain flavors of quirkiness in tales that they just adore and beg to have repeated again and again.


Let’s see, I already raved about The White Cat and the Monk, which leaves only one last thing I need to gush about: A Child of Books… the pièce de résistance of 2016… and that’s only because I feel like this book is my autobiography. I’m not sure I would’ve initially picked Oliver Jeffers to be the illustrator in my life story but upon reflection, it makes sense… his work is messy and stylistically unorthodox but simple and authentic too.  So those adjectives probably fit me quite well.


Beautiful Tidbits… not just for kids!

Just wanted to share some recent picture book treasures we are enjoying. Some are old, some are new… but these are what I love today. And all happen to be fitting for adults.

The White Cat and the Monk is a somber, stunning little delight. It’s a retelling of the old Irish poem “Pangur Bán” (about which I knew nothing until just now…). It’s the simple story of finding light and truth… a beautiful book for children and adults.




Wherever You Go is the new “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” While I love Dr. Seuss, this particular discover-the-world book is graphically much more inspiring and fun. The text is all about how different roads will do different things and lead you in different ways… superb for those bound for a new adventure or at a crossroads in their life.


All in a Day is older but needs to be read often. By all ages. Today I read it for the first time and wanted to cry. Granted, I’ve got a swirling load of thoughts that contribute to this, but I was so delighted and relieved in some sense just to read the hopefulness in this book!  Who says therapy has to be expensive!


The Whale is the newest addition to my favorite wordless books.  Wordless books know no age boundaries. The artwork by Vita and Ethan Murrow in this is exquisitely realistic.  



 The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is my “not yet seen” addition to this list. The story sounds absolutely charming… from Amazon: “The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles spends his days watching the waves for a glint of glass and delivering messages near and far. His only companions are an orange tabby cat and a cow. Befitting the slightly melancholy tone, Cuevas’s text is appropriately lyrical (“Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall. Sometimes the messages were written by a quill dipped in sadness.”). When he discovers a bottle with an invitation to a party the next evening—with no recipient specified—the Uncorker is curious. After asking the maker of cakes, the candy shop owner, several townspeople, a seagull, and a one-man band if they recognize the handwriting (no one does, though they all profess a desire to attend such a party), the Uncorker decides to go to the event himself in hopes of returning the message to the original author.”





Beetle Mania!

With the arrival of Diana Hutts-Aston’s newest title in her exquisite series— A Beetle is Shy— I thought it would be an opportune time to celebrate all my favorite beetle books.

Listen, I don’t love bugs. Especially not ones that venture into my house. But I do love a few other things that make this subject worth pursuing, namely trivia, art, science, alphabetized lists and vintage readers.  Titles in this collection cover all these areas quite well. And some of these books had me in rapt attention far beyond what I expected.  Beetle books make for excellent strewing titles since there is so much fascinating information to be found in this animal family…



 First, as mentioned, is the latest from the Hutts-Aston and Long duo: A Beetle is Shy.  I only own ONE of the books in this series, but as a homeschooler and as a curious human being, I hope to acquire all of them someday.  Each one is a graphic feast and beetles are no exception. Couple the facts, lovely text and gorgeous art, and this is a book you will want to pass on to your children some day…

Jerry Pallota is an alphabet wizard. He loves creating alphabetized lists too and has a wonderful line of books covering a broad range of subjects.  The Beetle Alphabet Book delivers large, colorful images and excellent nuggets of trivia for every letter of the alphabet,


This book is what kickstarted my beetle fascination.  It had me delighted for the better part of an hour with its beautiful illustrations (stink bugs are beautiful people!) and curious facts.  Did you know that 1 in 5 every living being is a BEETLE?!?  Isn’t that just riveting?!


P.D. Eastman is at his finest in this old tale about mischief being righted.  The wee firefly causes mayhem with his messages he lights up around the sky until a wise old owl corrects him… you really can’t improve on some of these old reader books.


I admit it. The only reason we love The Grouchy Ladybug (other than it being by Eric Carle) is that it lends itself so well to the arbitrary bully voice that I like to inject whenever possible into stories: “Hey you, wanna fight?” Yes, it teaches manners and how nice it is to share… fine. But I’m not really into stories for the moralizing. I just like to frolic along the pages with different voices.

Dung beetles.  Behold. This is one of the rare times that I break my rule on entertaining “potty humor” in picture books.  And that’s only because it’s educational to learn about how these unfortunately named beetles are able to survive and thrive off of the excrement of animals. Very well done!


Here is the classic book that’s listed on most bibliophile’s “Best Summer Picture Books” lists.  The evocative tale of trying to capture the magical light of fireflies and the consequences that come of it. Fireflies and ladybugs are probably the most (and the only) well loved beetles out there…


Gail Gibbons has just never failed me yet. Ladybugs, like all of her informational titles, offer just enough information to engage children without overwhelming them.  Perfect for leaving on the back of a toilet for a child to pick up and read! Ha!


The Very Clumsy Click Beetle is one of Carle’s lesser known titles but I think it’s just as much fun as his more popular ones. Follow along with the the beetle as he figures out how to the nail the landing on his click-jump.


What would one of my Top Ten lists be without an exception?  This isn’t strictly a picture book… more of a coffee-table book actually. But it. is. stunning. If you ever doubted that the world of beetles and bugs could be a beautiful world, this is the book for you. Pheromone is a magnum opus. Check out author Christopher Marley’s website for a taste of what he does.  This book would be an excellent inspiration to budding artists everywhere…