A Glimpse at “A Taste of Paradise” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Gather together with young friends and their furry companions to share A Taste of Paradise, written by Katherine Bolger Hyde and illustrated by Anastasiya Sokolova. Ancient Faith Publishing’s brand new picture book offers story after story of saints throughout history who have experienced comradery and even friendship with animals. Each spread of the book whisks the reader to a different time and space, ranging from Biblical times to recent eras. Readers will learn about the featured saint who lived in that place, and the beautiful way in which they interacted with animals. 

The book is framed within the context of Paradise. It begins by reminding us that long ago, in Paradise, animals and people both walked and lived together in peace. Then, one by one, the book introduces each saint, capturing a glimpse of their friendships with animals. The book ends by inviting each reader to choose to befriend and more carefully tend to the animal (or animals) around them, thus helping to restore the beauty of Paradise.

Katherine Bolger Hyde’s masterful use of words is carefully exhibited, once again, in this book. Each saint’s story is told simply enough that young children can listen and enjoy it, but also complexly enough to engage older children’s interest. Between the text and the illustration, the reader feels completely surrounded by the reality of that saint’s life and interaction with God’s creatures. It is likely that readers of all ages will meet a “new” saint (or more) in these pages, and want to learn more about that saint and their animal friend(s).

Anastasiya Sokolova’s delightful use of watercolor splashes the book with rainbow hues. The saints are genuinely welcoming, like a friend the reader would really like to have in their own life. The animals are realistic, but enchantingly approachable. Joy and friendship are palpable in these illustrations.

This book will be read again and again, (and, probably, yet again) by anyone who loves saints, animals, and/or beautiful illustrations. And this reader, at least, steps away, inspired to treat God’s creatures with even more kindness. May we all imitate these holy saints, and do our part to help restore Paradise. 

Purchase A Taste of Paradise here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-taste-of-paradise/ 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

A Glimpse at “A Long Walk With Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God” by Brandi Willis Schreiber

A Long Walk With Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God, by Randy Willis Schreiber, is the perfect canteen for readers whose relationship with the Mother of God is even a little dry. Schreiber offers long draughts of refreshment in each chapter, as she pairs the story of her own personal search with her findings along the way. Her intimate thoughts, queries, and learnings delightfully intertwine throughout the text, seeping slowly into the reader’s soul.

The reader is invited to accompany Schreiber on her journey over the course of a year, as she seeks to learn more about Mary, the Mother of God; while simultaneously yearning for a child of her own. and wondering how to be a good mother. Equal parts memoir, faith journey, and truths (gleaned from both Scripture and tradition), this book is easy to read, whether in small sips or in great gulps. Schreiber’s beautiful writing style soothes the reader. Her story encourages their heart, and her findings deepen their own understanding of Mary, the Mother of God. 

The book consists of 15 chapters and an epilogue, followed by suggestions for additional reading and exploratory questions. (This reader recommends perusing each chapter’s questions along the way rather than all at once, at the end of the book.) Book study groups will find ample opportunities for discussion as they read and engage with this book, together. 

Schreiber writes in such a way that the reader feels that they are sitting shotgun on a road trip with her, enjoying the sunshine and the scenery along the path, all the while carrying on an easy conversation about the Mother of God. Orthodox Christians (especially women) of all ages will be encouraged by Schreiber’s story and her learnings. Readers will step away from each chapter of the book feeling a little closer to the Mother of God. 

A Long Walk With Mary: A Personal Search for the Mother of God is a good way for a reader to begin to quench their curiosity about the Theotokos, and to rehydrate their love for her and her Son.

Find the book (available in paperback, ebook, or audiobook – read in the author’s beautifully calming voice) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-long-walk-with-mary-a-personal-search-for-the-mother-of-god/ 

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Additional readings on this blog about the Holy Theotokos:

“On the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos (Sept. 8 or 21)”, The very first feast of the new Church year is the Feast of the Nativity of the Theotokos, and it is a very good place to start! After all, the birth of the Theotokos is where many of the other feasts begin.

“On the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25)”, The Feast of the Annunciation is a very important feast of the Faith. Did you ever stop and think about why that is true? Why is the Annunciation one of the twelve great feasts of the Church? Let us take a moment to think about what happened at the Annunciation, so that we can be better prepared to lead our family in celebrating this great feast.

“On the Theotokos as Mother”, ways in which mothers and all women who care for children can aspire to be like the Theotokos.

“On the Mother of God: Quotes from the Church Fathers”, We have gathered quotes from the Church fathers about the Theotokos. Many of those quoted here lived in an age closer to her earthly life than the current era. We plan to share these quotes for you to ponder throughout the (new calendar) Dormition fast. As you read each quote, may you be inspired to be as genuine, humble, and obedient as she has been.

“On the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (August 15 or 28)”, links to resources that will help your family learn more about the Feast of the Dormition.

I Spy! Activity Page for “Beautiful Pascha: An Orthodox Coloring Book for Children”, Illustrated by Megan E. Gilbert 

Ancient Faith Publishing recently released a beautiful coloring and activity book called Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children. The pages are full of delightful illustrations, drawn by Megan E. Gilbert, related to the themes of Great Lent, Holy Week, and Pascha. Some pages are intended for coloring, while others are activity pages. Every page helps to point the reader/colorer towards the joy of the resurrection of Christ.

There are many details tucked into the book’s 64 pages. In order to maximize those details, and to add a fun challenge, there is now an I Spy! activity page of 33 things to search for as you read/complete the book. Some listed items are only found at one place in the book, while others are scattered on multiple pages. How many of each can you find? Happy hunting, blessed Lent, and a joyful resurrection to you and your family!

I Spy! activity page for Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children

Find the book Beautiful Pascha: an Orthodox Coloring Book for Children (including free pages that you can download and use while you wait for it to arrive) here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/beautiful-pascha-an-orthodox-coloring-book-for-children/

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

A Glimpse at “Northern Lights of Christ: Lessons on Faith from Above the Birch Line” by Nic Hartmann

Winter approaches in the northern hemisphere. This season often feels dark, chilling, and lonely, but it does not have to be so. There is much to be learned from the Nordic lands, where winter is darker, chillier, and lonelier than most of us will ever experience: whose inhabitants have learned to not only endure, but embrace the season by virtue of the values at the core of their being (and their society).

Folklorist and author Dr. Nic Hartmann knits together his love for Nordic cultures with the Orthodox Christian faith in his book Northern Lights of Christ. The book introduces the reader to a handful of values esteemed and practiced by people in Nordic countries. Dr. Hartmann entwines these values with stories from the lives of Orthodox saints, stitching in glimpses of how each value is reflected in Orthodox practice, and breathing in the warmth of stories from his own life.

Northern Lights of Christ takes a look at five Nordic values: Hygge, Koselig, Lagom, Sisu, and Ísbíltúr. The book explains each in its particular cultural context while also demonstrating how beautifully it relates to the Orthodox Faith. Readers will quickly warm up to each value, as they recognize the ways in which it can (and should!) be a beneficial part of our Faith journey. 

The first chapter focuses on the Danish concept of hygge, a mindset of pursuing coziness/contentment through embracing light and simplicity, while engaging all of our senses. The second chapter introduces the Norwegian value of koselig, a deep contentment experienced by slowness, creating, and simplicity. The third chapter discusses the Swedish practice of lagom, a pursuit of balance in life, achieved by simplicity and moderation. The fourth chapter considers the Finnish characteristic of sisu, the stamina and resilience that is required of us in adversity. The fifth chapter focuses on the Icelandic practice of ísbíltúr, literally “a drive to get ice cream” that is more about the drive and the companionship on the journey than it is about a destination or even about the ice cream.

This book can be read by an individual, who will certainly learn and grow through reading it. But reading (and processing) Northern Lights of Christ together with a group will add a great dimension to the learning. After all, each of the Nordic values addressed in the book is best practiced in community, as is our Faith. The questions at the end of each chapter will make it easy to discuss the book with others.

Warm your heart and grow in the Faith alongside good friends as you gather around a handful of candles with hot drinks and the Northern Lights of Christ.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can purchase a copy of Northern Lights of Christ from Park End Books https://parkendbooks.com/shop/northern-lights-of-christ/ . It can also be found on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

A Glimpse at “Beyond the White Fence” by Edith M. Humphrey

Whether or not you are part of a tight-knit extended family, Beyond the White Fence offers a taste of such kinship. Can you imagine what happens when you gather a close group of cousins at Gramgon’s (their grandma’s) house? It follows that they will have experiences together in the valley beyond the white fence in her backyard…

Katie, Rachael, Madeline, Naomi, and James each (sometimes together, and other times on their own) experience extraordinary adventures in the valley. Every time they see a pair of fawns in the meadow beyond Gramgon’s white fence, an escapade follows. The cousins know that they are not supposed to go down there without a grownup, but they also can’t resist getting a closer look at those fawns! Every time that they follow the young deer, they find themselves transported to other places and eras. With each new experience, the children meet amazing people facing difficult circumstances while trusting God to carry them through their trials.

Beyond the White Fence is a tale of familial love in the context of extraordinary events. It offers believable glimpses into the lives of a handful of saints. Their stories are seamlessly infused with the children’s exploits throughout the book.

Edith M. Humphrey has woven a beautiful story that children (especially those aged 8-12) will enjoy because of its myriad of adventures. They will come away from the book having found new friends (a handful of saints) that they may not have met before. Emanuel Alypius Burke’s illustrations, sprinkled throughout the book, embroider the text with their charm and depth.

This reader was delighted to learn that the author is a grandmother to many, the first few of whom are named (and their saints are featured) in this book, and can’t help hoping she will write additional books, introducing all of her grandchildren‘s saints!

Spoiler alerts: don’t worry, parents, after every adventure in the book, the children safely return to Gramgon’s house before they have even been missed, regardless of how much time has passed during the adventure. Oh, and don’t be surprised if, after reading this book, your children will want a peacock feather of their own, just in case…

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can buy your own copy of Beyond the White Fence here:  https://store.ancientfaith.com/beyond-the-white-fence/

Other Orthodox Christian books that we have reviewed which could be of interest to this age group:

101Orthodox Saints  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2021/09/14/a-glimpse-at-the-book-101-orthodox-saints-by-sarah-wright-and-alexandra-schmalzbach-illustrated-by-nicholas-malara/

The Cross and the Stag  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/08/28/gleanings-from-a-book-the-cross-and-the-stag-by-gabriel-wilson/

Spyridon’s Shoes  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2019/05/08/gleanings-from-a-book-spyridons-shoes-by-christine-rogers/

The Broken Wheel  https://www.facebook.com/orthodoxchristianparenting/posts/10158579524755743

In the Orthodox Church, we are each admonished to learn about the saints. We quote the Holy Fathers and are encouraged to study the lives of all the saints who have gone on before us. But do we ever take a moment to consider why are we encouraged to do this? What value is there in learning about the life of someone who lived so long (years or even millennia) before us? This blog post will take a look at a few of the reasons why we should learn about the saints; through the words of Holy Fathers and saints.  https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2018/07/18/on-learning-about-the-saints/

A Glimpse at “The Cellarer’s Celery” by Fr. Jeremy Davis and Illustrated by Luke Garrow

What happens when things don’t go the way that you planned? Especially if the turn of events is out of your control, how do you handle the mishap? The Cellarer’s Celery approaches this struggle in a deliciously refreshing way.

Things go all wrong for the Sower (the monastery gardener) and he is disappointed. But the Cellarer (who tends the cellar where the monastery’s foods are stored), who will now have to be without his favorite snack, has a heart full of love for God and for others. Instead of expressing his disappointment, the Cellarer helps the Sower learn how to respond. He models what is most important, even though things are not going his way.

This endearing picture book features Luke Garrow’s playfully expressive illustrations. Fr. Jeremy’s spirited verse tells the story of a monk who loves celery, but loves God and His people even more. The Cellarer helps the Gardener to embrace the lesson that God offers both of them in the context of a failed celery crop.

This little book packs a powerful punch, featuring refreshing splashes of humor braced with sturdy truth. The exuberant verse and jolly illustrations are vibrantly green and full of life, just like the celery for which it is named. Children and their grownups will enjoy sharing the story and its lessons together, perhaps over a bowl of celery…

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can buy The Cellarer’s Celery at https://store.ancientfaith.com/the-cellarers-celery/

Have you ever visited a monastery? Monasteries are such holy places for us to visit, where we can pray and rest. When we spend time in one, it is good for our souls and we come away refreshed and grateful for the experience. Visit one as a family and see for yourselves how the nuns (or monks) like everybody! Ask your priest to recommend one for you to visit. (Look here for additional ones: http://www.orthodox-christianity.org/orthodoxy/countries/usa/usmonasteries/)

A Glimpse at the Book “101 Orthodox Saints” by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, Illustrated by Nicholas Malara

Ancient Faith Publishing has just released a gift to the English-speaking Orthodox Christian world. Wrapped in a sturdy hardcover and crammed with art, stories, and facts, this gift is the beautiful book 101 Orthodox Saints, written by Sarah Wright and Alexandra Schmalzbach, and illustrated by Nicholas Malara. This book is a breath of fresh air, bright with color, alive with stories and facts, and filled to the brim with intrigue.

From its introductory pages, the photos and illustrations draw the reader in, and they become curious to learn more. What are saints? How does someone become one? What does it mean to venerate a saint? Who is called to be a saint? How can this book be used? All of these questions (and more) are answered in an engaging manner in the few pages at the beginning of the book.

The bulk of the book is a page-by-page alphabetical sharing of information about 101 carefully-selected saints from all regions of the world and from all generations, who cross both continents and time to breathe the life of Christ into the reader’s soul. An abridged version of each saint’s story is told on their page. The page also includes important details about the saint’s life (including a map of where they are from, several fun facts, and the dates of their birth and repose, as well as their feast day), their icon, and related photos. Artist Nicholas Malara’s rendition of each saint beautifully reflects their love for God and gives the reader a realistic glimpse into a moment of their life. 

The authors have sorted the particular vocations of each saint, marking their page with simple sketches explained in a legend at the beginning of the book. (For example, St. Columba of Iona was a priest, a missionary, and a monastic so there are three sketches right under his icon that identify him as such.) This marking system allows readers to quickly flip through, find, and read about all of the saints that were royalty (or fools for Christ, hymnographers, wonderworkers, etc.). The book includes a beautiful timeline that places Malara’s illustrations in the order of when in time each saint lived. The authors have also included a glossary that is both thorough and accessible, along with an extensive index. 

Young children will be mesmerized by the beautiful new friends they will see in this book. Some older children will flip through and read all of the fun facts, making connections between the saints in the book and the places and history they are learning about at school. Some will read the book from cover to cover. Even adult readers will “meet” new (for them) saints and be challenged to live in the same godly manner. 

This book offers 101 refreshing glimpses into what a life truly lived for Christ can look like. Each of the 101 saints’ lives are unique, and they differ in many ways. But all of them share one thing in common: their complete dedication to and love for Christ.

It is a good thing that this book is so sturdily bound. Whether it belongs to a child, a family, a Church school class, a Church library, or a classroom, it will be poured over again and again. And, each time the reader inhales a bit more about the saints whose stories are told in its pages, they will grow closer to God and to His holy Church. What a gift.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/101-orthodox-saints/

A Glimpse at the Book “Nine Deer & Me” by Melinda Johnson

If an angel appeared before you, and told you to begin a journey to your true home, what would you do? This very thing happened to Saint Abigail, many years ago. “Nine Deer & Me” tells her story. 

Author and mother Melinda Johnson has given young Orthodox children yet another beautiful picture book to enhance their library. “Nine Deer and Me“ is a counting board book. But it is no ordinary counting book: this book encourages children to practice their counting in the context of a beautiful recounting of Saint Abigail‘s journey. 

Illustrator Amandine Wanert brings Saint Abigail to life in her simple, but eye-catching, drawings. Each scene includes items that readers can count each time they read.  Wanert’s playful use of lines and light enhance the charm of the animals and characters found in the book.

Readers will be encouraged by Saint Abigail’s diligence in following the angel’s directions. They will rejoice with Abigail to see how God provides for her along the way! And readers can count on being challenged to follow God‘s instructions in their own life.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

Purchase your own copy of the book here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/nine-deer-and-me/

A Glimpse at the book “Little Lost Nun” by Melinda Johnson

Melinda Johnson’s brand new book, Little Lost Nun, published by Park End Books, is the tale of a tiny peg doll. The little lost nun doll is important to the narrative, to be sure. But what happens because of the small doll – the bulk of the book – is really about big love. The characters and events surrounding the little nun reveal the hope and kindness that are available to every person who listens when God’s love tugs at their hearts.

Nina and Tabitha do not know each other well on the day that they visit the monastery. That is the same day that the little nun disappears from her spot in the peg doll nun procession to the little church found in the monastery garden. One girl is quite upset by the other’s actions (and she has no idea what that one’s life is like, or why she does what she does). One girl experiences a big loss (that might actually be a huge gain). The girls do not spend any time together again until the end of the book. But, oddly enough, together is where they each find the love and/or forgiveness that they need. And they find it back at the place where their struggle began: in the monastery.

It may not look like it at first, but this book is also about the power of prayer. Readers will get a whiff of monastic life, and will feel the peace that surrounds a “mother” (in this case, the gerontissa, the head nun) who has no children of her own, but chooses a life of prayer and dedication to God. They will also catch the scent that is left in the wake of a “mother” who cares little for her own child or about God, and could care less about praying. Even young readers will observe the stark contrast between these “mothers” and the aroma of that prayer leaves in its wake.

Melinda Johnson wove the words of this story so carefully that children can read (or hear) it and feel its warm embrace. But even grown readers will step away from this tale of a “lost” peg doll and tuck it into their pocket for later pondering. The story in these pages opens its readers’ eyes to losses (whether their own, or in the lives of those around them) and touches their hearts with the hope that comes through prayer and forgiveness.

(Thanks to Park End Books for the advance reader copy so that I could write this, and to Annalisa Boyd for the peg doll so that I could include her in my photo!)

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

You can buy this book at https://parkendbooks.com/shop/little-lost-nun/, and a Little Lost Nun peg doll (hand painted by Annalisa Boyd) at https://parkendbooks.com/shop/little-lost-nun-peg-doll/

Kristina’s Note: A Cell for the Little Lost Nun Peg Doll

In the book Little Lost Nun by Melinda Johnson, one of the characters recycles things to create other nuns to keep company with a little peg doll nun. If you have a peg doll nun, you can do the same! If your little nun(s) needs a cell to live in, here is a pdf tutorial with some ideas of how to recycle things to make a cell.

Reviewing “A Sacred Beginning: Nurturing Your Body, Mind, & Soul During Baby’s First 40 Days” by Sarah Brangwynne & Sasha Rose Oxnard

A Sacred Beginning serves as a doula to the new mother’s soul: holding her up and encouraging her; while also strengthening her resolve and gently pushing her to do the hard work set before her. Sarah Brangwynne and Sasha Rose write from depths of insight garnered by experience. In their work as a therapist and a family physician, as well as in their personal lives, they have walked these 40 days time and again, holding each other (and others) up along the way. Through these pages the authors reach out to embrace their reader, bolstering her climb up the ladder of divine ascent; soaking her in the wisdom of the Church fathers and the Scriptures; and fortifying her with whispers of camaraderie.

The authors’ experience as mothers is not their sole qualifier for the writing of this book: they both also work in related fields. Sarah is a therapist and Sasha is a family physician. The marriage of their occupations with their personal experience with motherhood lays a sound foundation for this book. 

The introduction of the book lays a good foundation for the 40 days’ meditations, and readers are encouraged to read that part prior to meeting their new little one. The book is divided into 40 days’ readings, all focused on a step (or part of a step) of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. Each day’s reading contains a meditation, quotes from the Fathers and/or Scripture, and personal stories/encouragement from the authors. Many times the day’s entry will contain a look at a way for the new mother to practice what the meditation is about through a physical or spiritual exercise or a suggested journal discussion question.The book concludes with appendices of helpful, related information. Throughout the book, the reader is challenged to do the hard thing to the best of her ability, to ask for and accept help, and to bathe her mothering with prayer.

This book is full of encouragement, helpful quotes and insights, and support for a mother; whether she is welcoming her first child or her last. If the reader wades deep into each day’s reading or is merely able to dip in one toe, the waters will refresh her, buoying her soul as she cares for her new little one. Sarah and Sasha’s supportive words are right there with her, ready to hold her up as a doula does, and she will find that their words, in this book, truly have “got her back”.

Reviewed by Kristina Wenger, educator, podcaster, co-author of Tending the Garden of Our Hearts

The book is available for purchase here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/a-sacred-beginning/