Advent in the Home: Developing Family Traditions

advent-Home-Page-Slide Simple Advent traditions that Blacknall members have incorporated into their family life.

Blacknall recently held an event for families to shares ideas about ways to engage with the season of Advent. (You can listen to the full event here.) A key tip was to hold it loosely - it's ok if you miss a day! - and to make it a part of your daily rhythm. Reading a devotion after dinner, opening the Advent Calendar door, or lighting a candle are all ways to signal the season of Advent as we head towards the mystery of Christmas.

Below are ideas to get you started. Consider picking one or two that might fold easily into your life.

Advent Calendar

  • DIY - Paper or muslin bags can be filled with small tokens or activities (ex. Go to Carols and Cocoa, Write a thank you note, Sing a hymn after dinner). The bags can be taped to the wall or strung up with string and clothespins.
  • Buy - A re-usable or paper calendar can provide a way for children to interact daily with the season.

Advent Books

  • DIY - Consider giving a daily book about Christmas. These don't have to be new! Check them out from your local library (or Blacknall's library - view a list of great suggestions here) and wrap them up in fabric, recycled grocery bags, or inexpensive paper from the Scrap Exchange.
  • Buy - Some families purchase books and re-use the same ones each year. If you do want to purchase books, here are a few recommendations.

Advent Wreath 

Jesus Storybook Advent Printables

Names of God Devotional - link coming soon!

Jesse Tree - ornaments and templates can be found online.

  • DIY
    • Make a tree out of construction paper and tape it up on the wall. Children can color ornaments and hang them up daily (you can find printable ornaments online).
    • DIY ornaments for the tree.
    •  If you're crafty, Blacknall often has a group that does a Jesse tree ornament exchange in November.
    • Forage for a small tree branch, place in a vase, and hang your Jesse tree ornaments from it.
  • Buy - There are many great ornament kits, especially on Etsy, although they can get quite expensive. Here are a few:


Do you have any Advent traditions to share? Perhaps a favorite book, craft, or activity? Leave it in the comments or reach out to Beth with ideas!


Long Days of Small Things

52260122 "Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline" by Catherine McNiel

God entered the flesh-and-blood reality of human life, with all its mess and chaos, in the person of Jesus Christ, and God continues to be present in the mess and chaos of our daily lives. This truth pulses through the pages of Catherine McNiel’s book for weary parents, Long Days of Small Things: Motherhood as a Spiritual Discipline.

Long Days of Small Things is not just another book for parents. First of all, it does not offer parenting advice or philosophies. Instead, it seeks to help parents be where they are and to see the ways God is already at work—in the midst of the noise and busy-ness of life with small children, and inside their own parched souls. (And this book is nothing if not realistic and honest about the challenges, frustrations, and failures of parenting.)

In certain Christian circles, much talk is made of “quiet time” with God and other spiritual disciplines. While McNiel is appreciative of these traditions, she points out the ways they can perpetuate a sidelining of family life and, especially, of moms (at least historically). They often unintentionally divide our spiritual lives from the mundane tasks we spend so much of our lives on: cooking, cleaning, yard work, wiping dirty bottoms (you get the picture). In response, McNiel masterfully weaves together Scripture, theological insights, and her personal stories to give us a sense of the sacred in the midst of the mundane. For example, one chapter brings together God’s work of creation and the miracles of pregnancy and nurturing little bodies. Another moves between the service aspects of Jesus’ ministry and the solitude and service of parenting—being woken in the middle of the night to calm fears (as Jesus was on the boat in the storm), being immersed in the grime of life (as Jesus when he washed the disciples’ feet). At the end of each chapter, McNiel offers helpful reflections on three practices we are already doing, and invites us to experience God in the midst of them: everything from breathing and walking to feeding children to menstruation and sex.

McNiel’s book is a healing balm and refreshing cup of water in the midst of a season of life that can often feel like a wilderness experience.

McNiel manages not only to give us a renewed perspective on God’s presence in the ordinariness of our days, but also to shed new light on the character of God and the beauty of the Gospel. The truth of the Incarnation unfolds in a new way as McNiel reflects on what it meant for Mary to raise Jesus: “She labored and pushed, pouring out water and blood and risking her life to give God his first breath…She placed tiny pieces of fish in his hands and taught God-made-boy to take and eat them. The wine she poured out for him, the bread she broke for him.” Here, in the midst of lifting up the holy task of motherhood, McNiel offers Protestants a new way to appreciate Mary, known from the earliest centuries of Christianity as the “mother of God.”

The stories of the Gospels come to life as McNiel paints a picture of the ancient Near East and the teacher named Jesus whose feet were “caked in layers of sweat, dust, and mud” and who told earthy stories of “sheep, fish, bread, and water” that the uneducated, working class crowds could understand—perhaps even better than the elite. We meet Jesus in a fresh way in this book, which is as much as we could ask of any book on spiritual formation.

The content of McNiel’s book would be compelling enough, even if it were written in fairly sterile prose. McNiel’s writing is anything but. There is an effortless lyricism to her writing, and at moments a particular turn of phrase took my breath away. This is a book to be savored, in small chunks—read here and there as you grab a few minutes in between soccer practices and homework help.

McNiel’s book is a healing balm and refreshing cup of water in the midst of a season of life that can often feel like a wilderness experience. It is also an invitation to women to hear God’s voice speaking to them, to own (and share) the wisdom gained through sacrifice and service, and to live boldly into the calling God has on their lives. That invitation is most welcome.

-Mandy Rodgers-Gates, Blacknall Member, Th.D. Candidate at Duke Divinity School


Advent Book Reviews

advent-book-review The following are just a few of the wonderful Advent books that are out there these days, we hope that you’ll have time especially to look at what is available in the Blacknall library! With our book reviews, we hope to give you a little taste of some of the best across the spectrum, which also span a developmental range. Here’s our estimation of where they might “fit." Scroll down for longer reviews!

M is for Manger – 26 letters, for 26 days leading up to Christmas – ages 1 to 4 (or those who won’t sit still for a longer reading of a story.)

B is for Bethlehem – again 26 letters, leading up to Christmas – ages 4 to 8 (or those who like to read or be read to from storybooks with great pictures!)

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift – A newer version of the Jesse Tree with stories, questions, activities & ornaments for each day of Advent & Christmas. Beautiful storybook for reading aloud or reading on your own for older elementary age.

The Advent Jesse Tree – Has devotions for each day of Advent & Christmas, one for children and one for adults, each using the same scriptures, along with songs and prayers for each day. Not a story book.

The Season of Nativity – More a resource book than a devotional or story book. Packed with ideas for parents of all ages of children, or just for being more intentional about Advent on your own.

The Blacknall Advent Devotional – Created by Blacknall members and friends each year, this is a great resource to use with your entire family, especially if you are using an Advent Wreath created at the Wreath Workshop. Pick one up in the atrium throughout the Advent season, or look it up online from the Blacknall website!

M is for Manger

By Crystal Bowman & Teri McKinley, pictures by Claire Keay

“As children turn the pages and follow the letters of the alphabet, the events surrounding the birth of Jesus unfold before their eyes.” This is the description given by the authors in their letter to parents at the beginning of this Advent countdown book. Obviously geared for children up to four years old, each letter has a full page illustration, with simple large text on the opposite page. The rhyming text is short and sweet, followed by a Scripture, which could easily be adapted to be a memory verse even for very young children. For example – “K is for King." “Though he was just a baby, he was born to be a King. Jesus will reign forever, and heaven and earth will sing!” “His Kingdom will never end! Luke 1:33”

By the letter U, the story comes around to “Us," helping children to understand that even they are part of the story of the birth of Jesus. This would be a wonderful simple way to help even the youngest of our children celebrate the Advent season, as they wait for Christmas to come.

B is for Bethlehem

By Isabel Wilner, pictures by Elisa Kleven

Another ABC book, B is for Bethlehem is more of a story book than M is for Manger. However, each day’s letter has such a detailed beautiful collage, that much time could be spent simply pondering the picture on that day. The story goes in order of the story of the Birth of Christ, letter by letter. There are not Scriptures listed for each day, but it also would be easy to go from the story book to the Bible and show children where this part of the story comes from in the Gospels. The text goes on in a rhyming poetry, with only about 2 lines per page. Older children would probably enjoy reading this entire book each day during Advent, and then focusing on talking about one letter each day.

“F is for Flocks of fluffy white sheep, huddled together and soon fast asleep.” A lovely journey through the story of the Nativity, this book is a wonderful way to journey toward Christmas with older children, or anyone who likes to read beautiful picture books.

Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

A Family Celebration of Christmas, by Ann Voskamp

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit…In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him and his place of rest will be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1&10, NIV)

Every year as I pull out our Christmas decorations I come across my husband’s childhood collection of advent calendars. They’re beautiful pictures with tiny little doors numbered for each day of Advent. Every day you open a new door or window until you reach the final window on Christmas Day. These calendars have beautiful “vintage” artwork, but I have to wonder how much of a disappointment they would be to my children, even when they were young. You open a door and find…a tiny picture of a candy cane. Or a tiny picture of a teddy bear. Seems rather a letdown.

One of the things that we teach the children at Blacknall as we tell the stories of Advent in Children’s Worship is that Christmas is a Mystery. It’s such a big mystery that the church created the whole season of Advent – 4 weeks – to get ready to come close to Christmas. Throughout the Bible we see stories that point to this mystery, and the children approach Advent as a wonderful time full of mystery itself. They get so excited as we draw near to those four purple weeks on the calendar of the church year. This mystery seems much bigger than a tiny picture behind an Advent calendar door.

So if not an Advent calendar then what? One of the blessings of working at Blacknall is that I get glimpses of the rich spiritual practices of many families of our church. A beautiful example of this is the Jesse Tree. The Jesse Tree is another way to do a “countdown” to Christmas, but this happens while walking through the words of Scripture that point the way to Jesus’ arrival. Each day, the family reads a Scripture and places a new ornament on the Jesse Tree. And these Scriptures go from the beginning – Creation – through to the birth of Christ, allowing the mystery to show up in each day’s devotion. The Jesse Tree is a practice that can be as easy or as elaborate as you might wish to make it. Some folks sew beautiful felt ornaments for each of the days, and put them on their own little tree. Others cut pictures out of a magazine to represent each day, and paste them to a paper cutout of a tree on the wall. The beauty of this practice is that in reading these Scriptures chosen for each day, the mystery of God’s plan for redeeming the world becomes the focus for each day, and our children learn to focus on what is important in this month of getting ready. I also would guess that they find much more mystery and joy in this practice than in a tiny picture of a teddy bear.

The Season of Nativity

Confessions & Practices of an Advent, Christmas & Epiphany Extremist, by Sybil MacBeth

This book is really more of an adult book – it does read partly like a book of personal stories, partly like a devotional, partly non-fiction information about each of these seasons, and partly like a book of ideas. Sybil MacBeth is the author and creator of Praying in Color, a book that has reshaped the way some of us spend time in prayer, by waking up our imaginations as we put words to our thoughts and longings through doodling and color. In Season of the Nativity, MacBeth begins with simple definitions of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, and then goes on to give deeper explanations of each “season," finally moving on to her own stories and ideas to spark your imagination as you approach each of these seasons.

Advent “recounts and remember the events prior to Jesus’s birth.” Christmas “celebrates the birth of Jesus.” And Epiphany “heralds the ramifications of Jesus’s birth.”

The author lists many reasons to read this book, beginning with “You swore last Christmas that next year would be different.” Another reason that really spoke to me was “You are fidgety, distractible, and word-weary. You want some non-reading ways to participate in Advent.” Honestly, most of the reasons that MacBeth lists resonated with me in some way, so I’ve been sitting with this book and going back to it over and over for snippets of ideas as we’ve approached Advent. I anticipate continuing to go back to it as we move through Advent and into Christmastide. One suggestion that I’ve tried already is that we did put up our tree, but I’ve only put purple lights on the tree. I think we will leave it that way until Christmas Eve, when we will put on the white lights and ornaments. Not only will that mark the transition from Advent waiting to Christmas Christ is here, but we will have more time once school is out to actually decorate the tree together as a family! MacBeth suggests at Ephiphany taking off the Christmas ornaments and covering the tree with stars and gold and white to celebrate that season. We will see if that fits into our family’s life when it gets to be that time!

I did not grow up celebrating Christmastide beyond Christmas day, nor did we ever talk about Epiphany. I’ve learned much through reading this book, and am truly looking forward to incorporating more intentional, thoughtful practices in these upcoming seasons, with my family, and just for myself! I encourage you to pick it up and see if any of the suggestions might be for you!

– Beth Solie, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

For Such a Time as This


Stories of Women from the Bible, Retold for Girls by Angie Smith, illustrations by Breezy Brookshire

This beautifully illustrated book tells the stories of 40 women from the Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Some of these stories are ones that we tell here at Blacknall in Children's Worship or Sunday school, so they are well-known by your daughters. Others we've learned a small bit about during Vacation Bible school or just a story here and there. Many are stories of women that you yourself may never have even heard about from the Scriptures, or just have read their names in passing, let alone teaching their stories to your daughters. Even some of the women that we might avoid teaching about have their stories shared in this book.

My hope is that our girls will see that these are not just Bible stories but our stories.

Aimed at girls about third through sixth grade, each chapter tells the story of a different woman from the Scriptures. At the end of each chapter is a section titled "He," pointing the story to God Himself - what can we learn of God and who He is from this woman's story? Next there is a section called "Me" which aims the story back at the girl reading it - how can the truth from this story be reflected in my life? The last paragraph "She", the part that I like the best about this book, is a prayer written by the author, that a parent can pray for their daughter, based on the Scripture from that story. And finally, there is a Hebrew Word for your family to learn together, and a memory verse from the story - to help seal the story from the Scripture in your heart, both for girls and for their parent.

The author says, "My hope is that our girls will see that these are not just Bible stories but our stories. They are stories of great mercy and grace that make up the history of our faith, and they were put here to guide our daughters through their own walks of faith, passed down to them for such a time as this." As our girls learn more and more what it is to be part of the Family of God, I hope that this storybook will open their eyes and their hearts to see the ways God has worked beautiful things through the women of the Bible, and through the women around them today, and even through them! I encourage you to enjoy this book with your daughter soon!

– Beth Solie, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries


The Day When God Made Church

BBBlog-PentacostA Child’s First Book about Pentecost by Rebekah McLeod Hutto, Illustrated by Stephanie Haig Our children love the story of Pentecost! In Children’s Worship at Blacknall, we set up Pentecost Sunday dramatically at the very beginning of their time with us from the age of three. The children learn that there is one Sunday on the Calendar of the Church Year that is red. We call it the Red Hot Sunday and even when we manipulate the puzzle that represents our Calendar we pretend that piece is hot to the touch. The children aren’t sure what Pentecost is, but they can’t wait for it to get here!

The disciples wait. Something is coming. A sound. The wind. And warmth, heat like fire. Pentecost. The church is born!

And now, a wonderful colorful book which beautifully explains Pentecost and the birth of the church! I highly recommend this book. If you have a child that participates or has participated in Children’s Worship at Blacknall, I would encourage you to purchase this book, wrap it up in red paper, and present it to them on the morning of Pentecost Sunday. The disciples wait. Something is coming. A sound. The wind. And warmth, heat like fire. Pentecost. The church is born!

Rebecca McLeod Hutto beautifully tells the story in very simple language that is at the same time wonderfully descriptive. Words. Words like drumbeats. Words that tiptoe. Quiet. Loud. And the message? Something new: God’s love expressed in Jesus!

Just as Hutto chooses words that capture the story, so the illustrator Stephanie Haig provides beautiful pictures that support the words, that really paint the words. Raindrops and fire. Tiptoeing and loud. Something new. Good news. Joy and laughter and dancing. I love the idea of reading this to a young one who is literally seeing the words in the pictures, who through the words and the pictures gets the beauty and power of this most awesome story! And a new family is born: God’s church!

– Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide

Good Dirt: Lent, Holy Week & Eastertide, A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of FamiliesA Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi The Good Dirt series of family devotionals is becoming one of my favorites as I continue a lifelong search for “just the right family devotional book.” I love the way Borgo and Barczi set the table for families to come together throughout the Christian calendar year (see Good Dirt: Advent, Christmastide, and Epiphany, and Good Dirt: Kingdomtide).

Because of my years of working with our children in worship and the particular method we’ve adapted, I am a big fan of the Calendar of the Church Year and I love the way the authors use it as a foundation for working through an entire year with your family. If you have children between the ages of 3 to 8, or if you’ve had children that age at Blacknall since 2006, they will be familiar with this method of thinking about the church year and so this devotional should click with their understanding of the language of our church life together. Borgo even gives instruction about creating a calendar of the church year with your children in the introduction to each of the books in the series. (There is one significant difference in her calendar and ours. See if your kids spot it!)

Rarely will I say about a family devotional “this book is something you must try,” but I’m saying it with these to myself and to anyone who asks!

What I like about the format of these devotionals is that there is no expectation that all the pieces be done in one sitting. The division of “till, plant, water, and weed” gives you some flexibility with how much to do when you’re together and also the rhythm of liturgy in your days. I love that and wish so much that I had been more liturgical with my own children in those foundational early years of bible reading and prayer. Another favorite aspect for me is how the authors give ideas for engagement and play that work with different ages—some great ones for little kids and sensible and provoking ones for older kids.

In the Lent, Holy Week and Eastertide books the authors do an excellent job of dealing with the seriousness and penitent spirit of Lent as well as the paradoxical wonder of Holy Week and Easter. Their emphasis on “the blessing of ritual” as we go through these seasons is a powerful reminder of how the Holy Spirit uses our life together as family and in the church to mature us in the faith.

Take some time to explore these books and consider them as a guide to praying and reading scripture with your children. Know that these books really do coincide with much of what we do with your children when they are in these four walls; the readings and prayer should provide wonderful connections with home and church.

I’m still working through these books myself, but I encourage you to take some time to consider how to incorporate them into your family life. Rarely will I say about a family devotional “this book is something you must try,” but I’m saying it with these to myself and to anyone who asks!

– Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

The Lenten Tree

IMG_2970Devotions for Children and Adults to Prepare for Christs’ Death and His Resurrection, by Dean Lambert Smith As we journey through the Calendar of the Church Year with our Blacknall children in Children’s Worship, they often remind us that the season of Lent is longer than the season of Advent because it takes longer to get ready. Ready for what? To be ready for the mystery of Easter. It’s such a great mystery that we take six weeks—40 days—to approach Easter.

I know from talking with your children that many of you use the symbol of a tree in your home as you prepare for Christmas during the season of Advent. Specifically, it’s called a Jesse Tree, and you add ornaments that have symbols of the upcoming arrival of the Christ child to the branches each day. One of the authors of a devotional for the Jesse Tree is Dean Lambert Smith. In this book, The Lenten Tree, she has created 40 devotionals to use with special symbols for the season of Lent.

I hope to place the ornaments on a “tree” on the bulletin board by the nursery desk as we walk through Lent—take a few moments to look at it with your children as you pass by.

The Lenten Tree includes beautiful drawings that may be copied for use as ornaments for each day. Each two page devotion centers on the symbol for that day. On one page is a devotion for adults, and on the other, a corresponding devotion for family use. Each symbol is explained with Scriptures, questions, prayers, a memory verse, and songs. Some days also include a Lenten activity to use with your children. As Smith says, “Children learn by doing, and these activities will make the lessons they learn during Lent more meaningful.” In the final Appendix of the book, Smith includes some recipes for dishes that correspond to certain days during Lent, which may be used if you wish—they are a little more in-depth than the typical activities included in the devotions.

Whether you have used the Jesse Tree as a tool for your Advent devotions with your family or not, I encourage you to take a look at The Lenten Tree. I hope to place the ornaments on a “tree” on the bulletin board by the nursery desk as we walk through Lent—take a few moments to look at it with your children as you pass by.

Smith finishes her introduction by saying, “Lent is a time that children can learn how much Jesus loves them and the great sacrifice He made for their eternal life…The adult devotions are intended for realization, reflection, and resolve to walk in His steps.” I pray for each of you that Lent this year will be a time of drawing together with your family to prepare together as you journey toward Jerusalem and the great mystery of Easter—that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again to sit at the right hand of God the Father almighty—for us!

- Beth Solie, Blacknall Director of Preschool Children’s Ministries

God Made All of Me

IMG_2644by Justin S. Holcomb and Lindsey A. Holcomb, illustrated by Trish Mahoney After our Safe Church training this past fall, we want to make sure that we let everyone know about books that can help families talk to their children about their bodies and how to keep their bodies safe. This book provides a good starting place for those conversations.

God Made All Of Me is most appropriate for young children ages 3 to 8. The pictures are simple and the language exact. The book is more a springboard for conversation. I’m not crazy about how it is framed as a conversation between a mom and dad and their children David and Kayla. I think it could say the same thing without being placed in the context of another family’s conversation. However, this third person approach might be helpful if it is being read to a child older than six who perhaps is already feeling self-conscious about talking about his or her body.


The explanation about the difference in secrets and surprises is an important one and well placed at the end of the book.

I like the way scripture is used in the book and I think the verses chosen are the right ones for this age group. I also appreciate the brainstorming exercise where a child and parent can list people with whom the child feels safe. The explanation about the difference in secrets and surprises is an important one and well placed at the end of the book. The final section for parents, “9 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse,” contains much of the pertinent information provided in the Darkness To Light training the church offered in early November.

I would recommend God Made All Of Me if you are looking for a way to begin a conversation about helping your child protect his or her body. You may even read it as an adult and find the information given there something you can transform into a more natural conversation than even a book reading. The book is available in our church library.

- Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New

IMG_2658 by Marty Machowski, illustrated by Andy McGuire

This is another book of all of God’s story, but with the purpose of introducing children to systematic theology in the consideration of the whole of scripture. A storybook for children about systematic theology?? I had the same response and that was why I could not resist reading this book.

Marty Machowski begins with the person of God and his existence outside of time. He moves through the attributes of God to Creation, then Sin, the Promise and the Law, the saving power of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, adoption into God’s family, change, the church, end times, and God’s Word. Whew! It is a very thorough introduction for any child who might be so inclined to learn more about the meaning of God’s story for all of creation and especially him or herself.

Andy McGuire’s simple illustrations seem wonderfully paired with such a dense work of literature. Scripture verses float around the outside of the illustrations to give the reader somewhere to go directly in scripture that connects with the theme of the particular aspect of theology.


I do believe and have known some young children who have really deep theological questions and for them and their families this book may be a treasure trove...

While I appreciated this book’s desire to lay a strong foundation of theological understanding in our children’s minds and hearts, I had a hard time imagining a child that would seriously engage with the book itself. I do believe our children can understand theology. As a matter of fact, I actually believe that sometimes our children understand more simply and purely concepts of theology that many of us as adults have particular difficulty grasping. I believe that children “do theology” all the time (more on that in another blog post)! However, I’m not sure they come to it with a book on their lap spelling out the specifics. I’m more a believer in the idea of storytelling.

The Ology makes a feeble effort at story on its beginning pages as it lays the premise that this book was found in the church cellar by a little boy and girl named Timothy and Carla and magically the words within were revealed to them. From there the book launches into the foundations of Christian theology with only a cursory return to Carla and Timothy. Hardly, a storybook.

I appreciated that most of the theology seemed broad enough to encompass Christians from many denominational backgrounds though some of its attempts lean more to the Armenian line of thinking about salvation than a Calvinistic one. Illustrations of concepts such as justification, faith, atonement and other particularly challenging theological themes abound and in this respect can be helpful to a parent or caregiver who wants to explain something to a child in terms they can understand.

I do believe and have known some young children who have really deep theological questions and for them and their families this book may be a treasure trove, but I don’t think it’s a must have. I think we should always be careful when we try to provide children with just the “right” answer to their deep spiritual questions. This book should be used carefully when helping children understand God. Systematic theology isn’t the last word on our children’s spiritual journey. It can be a useful tool. The Ology is important because it acknowledges that all children can be, and I believe are, theologians, but it falls short in providing the engaging story that will draw children and adults into the deep, deep love of the Father which is truly the foundation for meaningful, life-changing theology, the study of God.

- Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

The Biggest Story

IMG_2665 by Kevin DeYoung, illustrated by Don Clark

“Once upon a time there lived a man and a woman. . .” So begins Kevin DeYoung’s sweeping storybook which in ten short chapters covers the story of God’s pursuit of humankind from the very beginning until the day He returns and we are together again with him in Paradise. I loved this book! It gives a succinct summary of the story of the Bible for children of all ages. Don Clark’s illustrations illuminate the story with wonderful images and amazing symbols that alone can provoke wonderful conversation with our children and any others with whom we read this book.

What I am always looking for in Bible storybooks is the opportunity for questions and wondering and this book provides just that. The story is by no means complete, (most of Joseph’s story is omitted as well as other significant Old Testament stories and the details of Jesus’ life here on earth), but that seems to be the point: there is so much more for us to know! The beauty of the book comes in its simplicity and the theme behind it: The Snake Crusher will bring us back to the Garden. Read this with your children and it will launch you into more and more stories of God’s pursuit that you’ll need to find in other books!


I love it for children – older elementary and the young. I read it recently with my five and seven year old neighbors and they both didn’t want to stop at the end of each chapter!

The brightly colored and amazingly unique illustrations paired with the simple, but contemporary prose powerfully convey God’s story and ours. Look for images and symbols and consider why they are there and how they continue throughout the book. The delight of this Bible storybook is its ability to capture the imaginations of the very young and those who perhaps are more seasoned in their knowledge of Bible stories or even jaded in their considerations of them. I love it for children – older elementary and the young. I read it recently with my five and seven year old neighbors and they both didn’t want to stop at the end of each chapter! (The five year old especially liked looking for the snake symbol in many of the pictures and noticing its disappearance when the Savior arrives.) Some of the pictures can be a bit scary so reading it yourself before sharing it with the children in your life is advised. I believe this book is a book to return to again and again. I love it myself and sometimes find myself reading it and meditating on its captivating imagery.

- Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries

Joy of a Good Book

I am a book junkie. My bedroom floor is literally lined on four sides with rows of books. When we moved three years ago, my husband earnestly and thoroughly culled his collection. He insisted I do the same, but other than some obligatory tosses I was unable to reduce the volume of books I have. With the move, I opted out of bookshelves because I never have enough. Instead I line books along the baseboard of my bedroom and make piles of them throughout my house. I am always reading something and I always have a stack that I’m planning on getting to eventually.

Since my adult children were little I have been one to accumulate and treasure good children’s books. In more recent years, with my job here at Blacknall and perhaps in anticipation of grandparenthood, I have become a collector of young children’s books as well as some older children’s novels. I’m forever trolling my Amazon suggestion list as well as following other book trails from children’s ministry sites. Most of what I have is by no means super spiritual, but I do love something fun to read and especially fun to read with kids!

And then there are the other good books about faith and children, how we as parents, grandparents, teachers, and caregivers can come alongside our children, often with stories, and help form faith in them. I have a list of those and a longer list of those that I want to read!

All that said, the idea of keeping a book blog seemed absurd to me. How could I spend time writing a blog about reading when I could be spending that time reading?! The idea came to me that we could have a book blog for children and family ministry to which all of us could contribute. I hear so many good conversations around the church about excellent books people are reading either with their children or about their children that I feel the need for us to have a space where ongoing conversation and exchange of ideas can happen. I don’t want to be the primary contributor, after all that would take away from my time reading!

I do believe that each of you have things to contribute. You’ve read a good book to a child and you really want others to experience that same joy you felt with a story well told and a child’s mind illuminated. Or you’ve wrestled with some parenting issue and found a book that helps with just the thing you’ve struggled. And what about devotions with your children and family? Maybe you’ve found just the book or maybe not. Maybe you found one that only makes you feel guilty and ill-equipped or maybe you’ve found the one most of us have been searching for that gives guidance about how best to teach and remind our children of the faithfulness of God.

Space to talk about what we’re reading and how it brings us joy or frustration is what I’m hoping this blog will provide. Mostly, I hope we’ll hear about good books. I am convinced that Paul’s words to the Philippians can guide us as we choose what we read today:

. . . always think about what is true. Think about what is noble, right, and pure.  Think about what is lovely and worthy of respect. If anything is excellent or worthy of praise, think about those things.

So, read and then, write on. Join the blog! I would love to hear from you and something tells me that we’d all enjoy hearing from one another!

- Traci Hoover, Blacknall Director of Elementary Children’s Ministries