Orthodox Board Books by Angela Isaacs

Goodnight Jesus published by Ancient Faith and illustrated by Nicolas Malara

This was the first Orthodox board book I ever saw or owned. We have gone through 2 copies amongst my 4 kids and I have gifted it to all my godsons and many of the kids at our parish. Note the bite marks and worn cover above! If you want a comforting, lyrical, and sturdy book for toddlers and babies, then this is an excellent choice.

The Myrrhbearing Women and Zacchaeus

With illustrations that are definitely Orthodox and a variety of familiar saints, this board book captures the attention of the littlest ones and is easily read out loud by emerging readers. An excellent bedtime go-to to focus our thoughts on God and family before rest.

A simple prayer: Lord have mercy.

In case you already own “Goodnight Jesus,” then another excellent addition to your liturgy bag or night stand is “I Pray Today.” We were gifted this by my youngest daughter’s godmother when she was baptized. In this book as the children go through their day from breakfast to bedtime, they repeat the prayer Lord have Mercy. This one is especially great for helping little ones memorize a short prayer or begin to pray for themselves. I also appreciate the various activities where the children turn to prayer to help them refocus.

As a Mama who loves to read, this book’s pleasant illustrations by Amandine Wanert make it one I don’t mind reading over and over again with my babies.

If you have kids under 5, then I would recommend you add this to your nightly rocking chair reading time. Or if you have many small children at your local parish, consider donating a copy of each to the church school nursery class teacher or if you have a basket of books for kids to look at during Liturgy, these are excellent choices!

Both can be purchased from the Ancient Faith Store: https://store.ancientfaith.com/goodnight-jesus-board-book/

Catherine’s Pascha by Charlotte Riggle

My kids know when I pull out our copy of “Catherine’s Pascha” by Charlotte Riggle that I’m going to cry. I can’t help it. You might think that means this is a sad story, but in fact it’s the brightest story we could have in the Orthodox faith.

This book does an excellent job of viewing the Paschal Midnight Service from the eyes of a young girl (I would guess 8-10 years old), her family, and friends. What I love about this book is that on each page in the background is a different Orthodox Church from around the world. RJ Hughes takes us across the globe on that Holiest of nights when we as Orthodox celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.

Holy Resurrection Cathedral in Tokyo, Japan (background)

Catherine is determined to stay awake through the service with her best friend Elizabeth. They get up to normal kid stuff during Liturgy (dripping wax from their candles on their hands), which I appreciate as a mom of 4. This book is realistic in both the artwork and storyline, you can insert your family into this night of worship quite easily.

If you’re wondering about the part I cry in each read, it’s when the family is outside the church and the Priest knocks on the door and someone inside asks “Who is the King of Glory?!” Why does this part make me cry? It is one of my most vivid memories as a convert of my first Paschal celebration in 2008. It is also perhaps one of the most important services as Christians. Other than the Nativity service where we celebrate how Christ came into this world as both God and a babe, the defeat of death by his death and resurrection is key to our life in Christ as Orthodox Christians. He is the light and by his light we spread that to others through loving them in this life and worshipping him in both this world and the Three me to come.

“Lift up your gates so the King of Glory May come in!”

There are also some fun Pascha basket traditions in the book, Catherine’s mother makes Sticky Bubbies and my kids ask me every year to make them! Sticky Bunnies Recipe from the book: https://charlotteriggle.com/honey-bunnies/

Photo used with author Charlotte Riggle’s permission from her website.

I pray this book helps your family celebrate the night of Pascha year round and that it encourages you to have conversations with your children about our faith. -Kathryn Reetzke

“The Saint Nicolas Day Snow,” also by Charlotte Riggle and RJ Hughes

You can order Charlotte’s books from her site for bulk orders or follow the directions there: https://charlotteriggle.com/store/

Little Lost Nun by Melinda Johnson

Little wooden nun by author and artist Annalisa Boyd, available at @ParkEndBooks.com as a set.

Nuns, both little and life-sized are featured in this book about two friends who overcome sadness and experience the resurrecting power of love.

My oldest making Sister Mary and Nun Anna as part of the #summerofthelittlelostnun activity.

I was honored to be asked to write an author’s review (and read the manuscript) of Little Lost Nun by Melinda Johnson before it was sent to the printer. My daughters and I had been talking about the book because we saw Melinda’s post about her sweet paper nun exploring nature and having adventures of her own. My daughters took to this hands on experience by making nuns of their own. Their nuns went on walks with them, smelled flowers in our garden, stood with us at prayer time, and my oldest even kept hers under her pillow to talk to at night.

Nun Anna stops to pick a flower.
Sister Mary slides with a friend.

This adventure with nuns was also an excellent opportunity to talk to my kids about Orthodox monasticism. Where we live we are a long trip away from a monastery and my kids haven’t experienced a visit to a monastery garden, as is described in this book. After we received our print copy my oldest daughter and I read a chapter each night before bed, learning with the two main characters, Nina and Tabitha how grace can cover a multitude of hurts. Nina and her mother visit the monastery for a women’s weekend retreat, Tabitha’s mom joins them on a whim and displays a flighty parenthood throughout the book.

Sister Mary and Nun Anna go to church.

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot or conclusion, but there is a thread of redemption, hope, and love throughout the story. Each girl has a contrasting family life and yet both are loved the same by Gerontissa (the monastery Abbess). This book is an excellent read along with your children or one for 8-12 year olds to read on their own. Make sure they have a little nun (wooden, paper, or fabric) to take them with on their adventures.

Little Lost Nun may be purchased directly from @ParkEndBooks.com here (with a nun): https://parkendbooks.com/shop/little-lost-nun-and-peg-doll-set/

Nun Anna eats a snack.

This Lent, Park End Books is doing a special “Lent with Little Lost Nun,” each Sunday my girls and I will sing, pray, and adventure with our nuns. Please join us!

Kelsey’s Review of God’s Saintly Friends

This is a sweet book about what saintly people do, focusing on their relationships with others. Each page is laid out so that it is predictable to emerging readers, with words on the left and art on the right. The beautifully simple line-drawing illustrations focus on the main characters; the color palette is gentle and pleasing.

The theme of describing what a saint is like is clear throughout the eight stories in the book, and is made understandable with relatable concepts. Sparking curiosity for “the rest of the story,” older kids will likely ask for more details about some of the saints. For younger kids, they can be asked to point out similar experiences in their world.

The words on each page are separated into a short factual statement and a longer description with some details, making it easy to read to children of all ages. Children can visit with each page, soaking in the details and pondering the story.

It is the perfect size: large enough to read to a lapful of kids, small enough to fit in a diaper bag, and takes about 3 minutes to read. For our family, it will be a perfect addition to our rotation of books for the kids’ church bag, and as a short story break for when I’m asked “can you read me a book?” while I’m in the midst of folding laundry or vacuuming.

This book is 100% American made by Orthodox Christian mothers who run small businesses when not busy with their children. It was written, illustrated, edited, printed, and packaged in the USA. (Not every Orthodox publisher prints in the US.) My kids love it, and we’re excited to add it to our collection of Christian kids books!”

God’s Saintly Friends is available from the publisher and in the Ancient Faith Store.

Kelsey is a mom of three who sometimes gets to design fabric and sew, but always makes time to read to her kids and to herself.

Alyson’s Review of Spyridon’s Shoes

Cover of Spyridon's Shoes
This book is also available as a paperback.

Set on the Greek Island of Corfu, the audiobook Spyridon’s Shoes by Christine Rogers is written for the seven-year-old to the pre-teen, but can be appreciated by any age. The historic fictional child Spiro and his environs are described in colorful language and details as we learn how he catches fish and octopuses to support his family. The choice expressions the author uses are dramatic and paints pictures of the playful and realistic antics of your everyday beach-loving boy. She also reads the story aloud with expression that matches the lively action.

The author brings to life the historical character of St. Spyridon who young Spiro encounters multiple times while fishing at the shore. He helps the boy when he injures his foot and nobody else is nearby to help him home. The boy looks for his kindly friend and repairs the ripped sandal tall Spyridon loaned him to walk home in. In later encounters, they become friends as he tells the white-bearded man about his worries and dreams and is consoled and encouraged. I loved the drama of the relationship that unfolded as the fatherly man shared his thoughts and aspirations about how to know God and confide in Him about everyday matters.

The traits of St. Spyridon such as his habit of helping people in need are based on actual stories passed down for centuries in Corfu. I enjoyed the author’s creativity in adding drama that aids the imagination to picture the skeleton story-line we are often left with in historical accounts. This allows the reader to appreciate the historical figure and for a child to encounter him or her more fully.

I came away with a vivid picture of the generosity and kindness of our historic saints who labor for us in invisible ways. And also the profound reminder of what saints’ lives constantly remind us of: that our connection to God is vital for the everyday things we need and prayers are what create and continue this connection.

Spyridon’s Shoes is available on Audible, and as a paperback from the publisher and on Amazon.

Alyson d’Arms is a homeschool education specialist and teacher who dabbles in poetry and historical fiction writing. She is currently exploring the trails and stories of wild Alaska.

Garrett’s Review of The Cellarer’s Celery

Cover of The Cellarer's Celery

The Cellarer’s Celery is a joyful tale that will draw the reader along as it explores some deep truths of the Christian faith and its practice in the world.

First, I want to draw attention to the rhyme and rhythm of the book. Fr. Jeremy Davis’s writing style is so fun and whimsical. The style and language of the book beg for it to be read aloud, which I did several times with my 3-year-old daughter—who also enjoyed the story.

Second, the story offers a very simple yet profound lesson on the Christian life. A few things jumped out at me during my repeated readings of this with my daughter:

  • The sower prays nightly for the flourishing of the celery crop. He doesn’t do this because he wants praise, but rather because he loves the cellarer and knows that he enjoys the celery;
  • The sower’s despondency when the celery is destroyed and his concern on how to let the cellarer know is so useful in presenting how we oftentimes face dread when we have to ask forgiveness of another;
  • The cellarer’s response and the imagery of celery as life is simple but so true and helps readers of any age remember that our life here on earth is not meant to be one of ease and comfort, but of struggle and trying. Nevertheless, our life—like celery—is savory and refreshing.

I highly recommend this book for anyone with young children as the story and illustrations—by Luke Garrow—are a delight to view and inspect. My daughter was especially fond of finding the cellarer’s mouth as it is hidden in a big beard.

Now I’m off to go enjoy a nice stick of celery.

The Cellarer’s Celery is available from the publisher and on Amazon.

Garrett is a teacher at a classical charter school in Texas, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

The Dog in the Dentist Chair, by Peggy Frezon

Reading The Dog in the Dentist Chair, I imagine Peggy Frezon like a reporter, walking around with a microphone in her hand, interviewing the special animals she’s discovered and getting their stories straight from the source, even though cats, dogs, and pigs can’t talk to us with human words. Her careful, loving observation of their personalities, their work, and the relationships they’ve built with their human friends make this the book our animal friends would write for us, if only they had opposable thumbs.

Peggy does an excellent job of blending points of view in each chapter. She helps us see the action from the animal’s point of view, but also from the child’s. The emotions and needs of both children and animals are noted and respected in each account. Peggy’s sympathy shines through the simple prose, inviting her young readers to feel recognized and understood.

I also like two other features of the book. Each chapter ends with fun facts about the animal we’ve just met – how big is he, what does she like to eat and play with, where does he live, what does she look like. The fact list is satisfying to the curious and a subtle reminder that these animals, and all the good things they represent, are real. That sense of happy reality is capped off with an aptly chosen Bible verse – short, sweet, and the perfect final touch. I love the rhythm this builds in each chapter, moving the child reader from curiosity to sympathy to comfort to confirmation, emotionally and spiritually.

The Dog in the Dentist Chair is also valuable for an adult reader. We grown-ups love animals too! But more than that, it’s an inspiring resource for parents, teachers, and care-givers looking for ways to reach and heal the children in their care. The book recounts a diverse array of human situations and needs, and the variety of animals who meet those needs, and the ways they do it, are thought-provoking and encouraging. I can readily imagine a reader finishing this book and going straight to the internet or library to find a local program to connect them with a helpful furry friend just like the ones in this good book.

The Dog in the Dentist Chair is available from Paraclete Press and Amazon

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Charity’s Review of Fancy Nancy: My Family History

Fancy Nancy likes to explore big words. In working with genealogy, a fancy word for family history, there are a lot of big words and concepts. Fancy Nancy encounters many of these concepts in her class assignment to write a report about an ancestor, someone in her family who lived a long time ago. However, in the process of writing her report, Nancy falls prey to the temptation that all family historians encounter at some point in documenting their family. She decides that the ordinary, every-day lives of her great-grandparents were not exciting enough for her report, so she decides to add some made-up parts to her report so that it would be more interesting. While it made her story sound better, it was not accurate (a big word for true), and she did, at the last minute, decide to just tell the real story without her embellishments.

In the world of family research, it is always good to find out as much as you can about each person you add to your family tree. It is a lot more interesting if you have more than just name, birth date, marriage date, death date, and locations lived. Those are good facts to start with, but they don’t tell the story of who the person was, fun details about them, or what made them real, beyond the dry facts.  Nancy was on the right track with telling the story rather than just the facts for her great-grandfather, but where she went off-track was in making up fancier parts of the story rather than telling the actual details.

Nancy started out well with interviewing her grandfather about his parents. This is a great first step in finding out more about your ancestors because some of your best starting materials are the older people in your family, the photos you may have, and other documents that may have been kept by family members. As a Local History and Genealogy Librarian in a public library, I work with people of all ages in how to get started with recording and researching their family history.

If you want to work with your kids (or get started in genealogy yourself), there are some great resources out there to help. Check with your local library, genealogy society, or historical society to see if they have resources or people who can help you get started. Some books that are helpful for beginners are:

Guide to Genealogy: Tips & Tricks on how to Uncover your Roots and build your Family Tree by T.J. Resler available from National Geographic Kids, Washington, DC, 2018.

Basic Genealogy for Kids by Bonnie Hinman available from Mitchell Lane Publishers, Hockessin, DE, 2012.

Climbing Your Family Tree: Online and Off-Line Genealogy for Kids (the Official Ellis Island Handbook) by Ira Wolfman, available from Workman Publishing, NY, 2002.

A couple of websites that can be helpful for working with your kids are:

The Family Tree Kids section of the Family Tree Magazine website. https://www.familytreemagazine.com/kids/familytreekids/

Family Search (largest, free, genealogy database in the world)  Kids resource pages. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Family_History_Activities_for_Children:_3-11

The In-Depth Genealogist Kids Korner. http://theindepthgenealogist.com/resources/kids-korner/

Within these resources and at your local library, you will find forms to help you organize the information you find, lists of questions to ask relatives, and a lot more. It always helps to start with yourself and gather your own information (birth certificate or announcement) and the information about your parent’s birth and marriage before moving back in time to your grandparents and great-grandparents.

Happy Researching!

Fancy Nancy: My Family History is available from Amazon in paperback, hardcover, Audible, and Kindle editions.

Charity C. Rouse is a Local History and Genealogy Research Librarian, here to share her professional perspective on Fancy Nancy: My Family History.

Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt

Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and play in the same park, but while Sofia’s fridge at home is full of nutritious food, the fridge at Maddi’s house is empty. Sofia learns that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to fill their fridge and promises Maddi she’ll keep this discovery a secret. But because Sofia wants to help her friend, she’s faced with a difficult decision: to keep her promise or tell her parents about Maddi’s empty fridge. Filled with colorful artwork, this storybook addresses issues of poverty with honesty and sensitivity while instilling important lessons in friendship, empathy, trust, and helping others. A call to action section, with six effective ways for children to help fight hunger and information on anti-hunger groups, is also included.

There is so much to love about Maddi’s Fridge, but perhaps the best of its strengths is that the reader learns from the book by falling seamlessly into the main character’s perspective – facing her problem, feeling her feelings, considering her alternatives, and pondering the outcomes of her choices. A human being of any age will learn something about how we confront hunger in actual life – not as an issue we can click and post about, not as a disturbing statistic, not as a box of cans for the food bank we can drop some beans into as we push our loaded cart out of the grocery store. This is the story of two girls who care about each other – girls with names and faces. We can see clearly how both friends can be helped or hurt by the ways they choose to confront their situation.

Respecting the Child’s Eye View

I like the many subtle ways Maddi’s Fridge shows us that hunger is both a simple and complex problem to solve. Sofia tries to feed her friend several times. She can’t ask for food because she can’t tell Maddi’s secret, and sneaking food to school turns out to be more complicated than she thought (some food doesn’t survive an overnight visit to a grade-school backpack). Her failures introduce humor into the story, but also engage the reader’s sympathy (Sofia is trying so hard!) and subtly remind us that there’s no quick-fix to this problem.

I like the author’s respect for her characters. We never lose the child’s-eye view on the situation, but even when we giggle over fish in the backpack, we aren’t invited to scorn Sofia. Maddi’s patience with her friend’s attempts to help is also beautiful. By the third attempt, she’s expecting something “gross”, but she’s still willing to engage with her friend. Maddi, Sofia, and the reader can all tell how much love their is between these good friends.

The parallel chain of effort, in which Sofia is trying to climb the rock wall at the park and Maddi is encouraging her, adds depth to the characterization and the story. Each girl has something to offer, some advantage. Maddi is without resources in one sense, but she can climb the wall and coach Sofia to climb it. I liked this as a frame for the attempted feeding, but also as a reminder that a hungry person is still a whole person, with skills and interests. The rock wall scenes remind readers to see Maddi and Sofia as equals.

Trust and Betrayal

Maddi’s Fridge raises an important question that applies across many aspects of child safety. Secrets can be part of the innocent fun at a birthday party, or dangerous weapons against children being drawn into the power of those planning to harm them. A secret between children can be a matter of trust, but it can also be a tool for bullying, or simply the result of a childish attempt to solve a problem that requires more mature judgment.

In one sense, Sofia has to betray Maddi’s trust to get her family the help they need. The fact that their conversation AFTER the betrayal is included in the story is important. Sofia broke her promise. She broke it for the best of good reasons, but she still needed to talk it over with Maddi. Their friendship and their understanding of each other’s needs and motives shines through in this conversation. I was glad it was included in the story.

Why Vin Vogel’s Illustrations Are Just Right!

The story begins the minute you open Maddi’s Fridge because there are pictures on the end sheets – I love that! It’s morning in the front of the book, evening in the back of the book, and the illustrations here and throughout the story are chock full of details. The friendly, quirky drawings look like something a child could draw – almost – which shows an exceptional level of care and sophistication in the artist, in my view. Like the text of the story, the illustrations encompass both the depth of the subject and the child’s-eye-view of the characters and readers. There’s plenty to point at and talk over if you’re sharing this book with your littlest littles, and plenty to support an older child’s reading of the story and attract the eye even for grade schoolers who can appreciate the point and make use of the helpful resources at the end of the book.

Interview with A Seventh Grader

I happen to have a seventh-grader handy around the house, and I was interested in her perspective on the story. She recognized the book when I opened the box from the publisher, and I decided to include her views in my review.

Where did you first read this book?

I read it in second grade, and I didn’t remember even about the cheesy pizza bombs. I just remember Maddi’s Fridge and the picture on the cover.

Tell me the story again in your own words.

There are these 2 best friends named Maddi and Sofia. Sofia is slightly better off than Maddi, and Sofia always has food in her refrigerator, while Maddi only has a jug of milk. Maddi made Sofia promise not to tell anyone about her empty refrigerator. Because she wanted to help, Sofia told her mom anyway. They packed food into grocery bags and gave them to Maddi’s mom. Maddi did call her on breaking her promise, but they made up and ate cheesy pizza bombs with their families.

What do you think about Maddi and Sofia’s relationship?

I think that they are thick-and-thin best friends.

Why did Maddi make Sofia promise not to tell about her empty fridge?

Either she was embarrassed about it, or she didn’t want to accept help.

Do you think Sofia should have told her mom about Maddi’s problem? Why or why not?

Yes, because Maddi might have starved otherwise.

What do you think the mothers are talking about in their conversation when they finally meet near the end of the book?

Why Sofia’s family had no money, health food (obviously), and momish things.

How do you think this book could help someone who was hungry?

It would encourage them to stop by their local soup kitchen, or food bank instead of slowly starving themselves.

How do you think this book could help people who want to take care of their neighbors?

It will let them know what they can do to help, which saves thinking about what they could successfully (keyword: successfully) do.

Maddi’s Fridge is available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle editions. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.