Children's Book

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!


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

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