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.

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.

Meh: A Story about Depression, by Deborah Malcolm

Meh: A Story about Depression is a wordless picture book with remarkably evocative, content-rich illustrations leading the reader on an emotional and spiritual journey through an episode of depression and recovery.

The concept of using a picture book to launch a conversation about depression with a child is fascinating and brilliant, in my view. You’ll want to see the book for yourself, through your own lens, and no doubt it will bring to mind memories of experiences and observations. It’s also a testament to the miraculous quality of art – I read all of the following from a book that has no words!

The Title

The title is a word made popular by the “meh” emoji (star of the recent Emoji Movie), and it’s a fascinating choice for two reasons. Emojis are a regular part of life for children and teens, and it’s telling that this emoticon was chosen as the main character in the film. Like the film, this picture book’s choice of “meh” is an important nod at research linking technology use with anxiety, and depression, especially in younger users. It’s one of many aspects of the book that lead easily into a conversation that’s essential for a child encountering depression, or anxiety.

But the title is also an immediate, powerful statement of understanding. “Meh” means “I’m not strongly negative or positive.” It suggests an absence of feeling where feeling would be desirable, so there’s an overtone of wishfulness. This is a simple, one-word verbalization of the complex numbness that’s often a hallmark of depression. And the choice to describe this feeling with a word anyone under 30 will immediately associate with an emoji is a message to a child reader that whoever wrote this book “gets it” and is familiar with the world the child is confronting. Loneliness is depression’s weapon, and to be understood is the first, best antidote.

No Text

One difficult but important task in caring for a child suffering from depression or anxiety is to leave space for them to vocalize what’s happening. It’s so tempting, in our effort to show understanding and support, to rush in with our own words, covering over their experience with our perception of it. The wordless pictures in Meh remind us to ask and then be quiet, letting the words come from the child. The book includes a list of questions to encourage discussion, along with a kindly reminder to be clear that there are no wrong answers.

In addition to the questions provided, Meh lends itself to the kind of simple, non-threatening questions you would ask about any picture book you’d read with a child. But in this case, those natural questions lead straight into important conversation because the illustrations are creative and intelligent. These questions could include the following, and more:

  • Why is there so much blackness in the picture now?
  • When did you first notice the cat?
  • Why do you think the cat is light-colored?
  • How do you think the boy feels about the cat?
  • How do you think the cat feels about the boy?
  • Does the cat remind you of any people you know? Why?
  • What decision do you think the boy is making on this page where he’s looking up at the cat?

Two Roles

That last question highlights another vital strong point of the book. In the depths of those black pages (and moments), our first reading of the picture is that the loving little cat is leading this boy out of the darkness (sorry for the spoiler!). The cat is rescuing the boy. This is true, but it is not the whole truth, either in the picture or in life. The boy is choosing to follow the cat.

One illustration is especially poignant. On the left page, we see the boy standing at the bottom of a formidable rocky hill, looking up at the cat, who is looking down at him from the top. On the facing page, the boy is struggling hard to climb over the ledge onto the top of the hill, where the cat is waiting for him. Just below that image, we see the boy and the cat resting together. The message is clear – the cat is not rescuing the boy single-handedly. The boy is rescuing himself, with merciful and responsible guidance from the cat.

This is an enormous truth. All of us in the darkness need that leading light, AND we need the gritty, hang-on-by-your-fingernails effort to work our way back to healthy life.


Meh is an excellent tool for reaching children struggling with depression or anxiety. But it can also inspire informed sympathy in children who may see a classmate or cousin who needs help. You can read the book through the eyes of either character (or both!). Children will notice that the cat enters gently – at first, we see only the tiny paw prints on the dark earth – but becomes powerful as a lion when strength is needed. The cat is encouraging, but not enabling. And the cat stays with the boy through the entire journey, even the end of the journey, in peace and celebration. I would love to see the #bethecat hashtag taken over by children and caregivers who are choosing to walk into the darkness, and out again, for the people they love.

A paperback edition of Meh: A Story about Depression is available on Amazon. 

I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Swimmy, by Leo Lionni

The gorgeous, Caldecott Honor-winning tale of a very clever fish by beloved picture book creator Leo Lionni.

Deep in the sea lives a happy school of fish. Their watery world is full of wonders, but there is also danger, and the little fish are afraid to come out of hiding . . . until Swimmy comes along. Swimmy shows his friends how—with ingenuity and team work—they can overcome any danger.”

Swimmy is a classic. Why haven’t you read it?!? There is so much in this book!

Personally, I have used it at work to train authors, bloggers, and podcasters how to succeed at collaborative marketing. But it works just as well in the classroom and at home, to help little readers ponder how important they can be to one another. This is a book about grief, fear, friendship, and the ways beauty and purpose heal us. And all these BIG topics are handled with a light, clear touch. Just right.

But the sea was full of wonderful creatures, and as he swam from marvel to marvel Swimmy was happy again.

The water-color illustrations are wonderful. Water-color is the lovely for a story set entirely under the sea. The words are wonderful too, simple but so lyrical and perfect. The descriptions of the creatures Swimmy encounters will make you say, “Oh, my, yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!” I especially like the lobster “who walked about like a water-moving machine” and the eel “whose tail was almost too far away to remember.”

Although this book was originally released in 1968 (and there are still hardback originals available on Amazon), I am delighted to tell you that there’s a new paperback edition! You can find it HERE!