Category Archives: Adaptable for Telling

The Light of Christmas

The Light of ChristmasRichard Paul Evans Light of Christmas
Richard Paul Evans (author),
Daniel Craig (illustrator)
Alladin, 2002

Every Christmas since he could remember, young Alexander walked many miles to the town of Noel, to watch the Keeper of the Flame light the torch of Christmas.  This year, the Keeper of the Flame is going to choose someone new to light the torch, but Alexander’s mother is not well enough to make the trip.  Alexander heads toward Noel on his own. Along the way, he finds an old man in the snow.  Will he stop and help even if it means he will miss the lighting of the torch?

Richard Paul Evans’ fable-like story speaks to the themes of genuine giving, the true meaning of Christmas and being a Good Samaritan. It’s gentle suspense is appropriate for all ages and would be a good compliment to biblical stories on Christmas Eve or during the advent season.

Themes: Generosity, Genuine Giving, Christmas, True Meaning, Helping Others, Sacrifice, Good Samaritan, Charity, Compassion

Motifs: Christmas, Flame, Torch, Gift, Heart, Winter, Snow,

William’s Doll

William’s Doll
Charlotte Zolotow (author), William Pene Du Bois (illustrator)
1972, HarperTrophy
William's Doll - Story in Worship

More than anything William wants a doll. He wants to take the doll to the park, push it in the swing, bring it home, kiss it goodnight and wake it up again in the morning, just as if he were its father and it was his baby.

William dutifully plays with the train set his father gives him. He gets quite good at shooting the basketball from his father. Still, though, he wants a doll.  His brother and friends call him a creep, but what will Grandma say when she finds out?

William’s Doll has been in print for forty-plus years because it does what a really good story is does best; it allows the reader to enter someone’s experience in a meaningful and touching way, without schmaltz or heavy-handed moralizing.

Zolotow’s tone is warmly matter of fact, as if written in the voice of the grandmother character. The grandmother in the story is what we should all aspire to be  if we are blessed with a grandparent role.  She is interested, attentive, kind, and gives her grandchild the space to be who he is.

Part of the beauty of Zolotow’s book is that she expresses the tension of the character’s experience with gentle, skilled, and spare writing.  When William confesses his desire to care for a doll, his grandmother’s simply says, “Wonderful.” When he explains that it isn’t wonderful to his brother or father, she simply says “Nonsense.”

Without ever sounding heavy handed or appearing to baldly push home a point, Zolotow’s story makes several very strong ones. The nurturing capacity of men and boys and the importance of fatherhood ring throughout this book. The innocent nature of children simply being who they are regardless of gender is made abundantly clear. The power of caring adults to gently and clearly speak out on a child’s behalf is evident.

There has been much change in our society and our congregations in the forty some years since this book was written.  Men are allowed and expected to play nurturing roles as parents and grandparents in ways they rarely were allowed when the book was written.  Men and children have benefited from that greatly.  And yet, we have not come so far that this book is no longer relevant. Far from it.

At various developmental stages, children tend to take in and amplify gender expectations. They are trying to make sense of the rules of the world and how they fit in. This book, read in their place of worship, will help them to understand that a loving, kind, and accepting response is more important than whether someone fits into “the rules” of convention. This book will be especially powerful in helping them know they are each valuable and okay as they are, even if they are different than their peers. It is a powerful illustration of non-judgment and compassion, cornerstones of every religion.

Themes: non-judgment, compassion, acceptance, difference, bullying, gender, fatherhood, parenting, teasing,

Motifs: Doll, Toy, Train, Basketball, Father, Son, Grandparent, Grandmother

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Possum Magic

Possum Magic
Mem Fox (author), Julie Vivas (illustrator)
Voyager Books – Harcourt, 1983

Australian author Mem Fox has written so many gems over the years.  Here is one she wrote years ago that would be a great story for worship settings.

In this tale, GraPossum Magicndma Poss uses her magic to make the kookaburra pink and the wombat blue.  For her little possum friend, Hush, she does something extra special.  She makes Hush invisible.

Hush has all sorts of adventures in her invisible state, but what Hush really wants is to be seen.  The trouble is, Grandmas Poss can’t exactly remember the recipe to make her visible again.

This is a fun story with charming characters presented in a gentle and playful way. The story speaks to the basic human need to see and be seen and holds the potential to mine all sorts of themes around theology, community, and self-worth.

Mem Fox’s flowing verse and splashes of rhyme work well with the delightful and delicate watercolor illustrations. Perhaps in part because the illustrator was depicting invisibility, the illustrations may be hard to see from a distance. The picture book would work best with a small group or with a projection of the images.  Telling the story is a great option, though would require a little work to capture the flow and rhyme Mem Fox uses so well.

Themes: Magic, Possum, Being Invisible, Being Visible, Safety, Reflection, Recognition, Acknowledgment

Motifs: Possum, Australia, Magic, Recipe, Food, Spell

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
Leo Lionni (author and illustrator)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969

Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse coverAlexander, an ordinary, flesh and blood mouse, is not so appreciated by the human family where he lives. Oh, how he wishes he could be like the wind-up toy mouse the family seems to adore.

The wind-up mouse tells Alexander of a lizard that can change one animal into another. All Alexander needs to do is find a purple pebble to bring to the lizard.

When the family grows tired of the wind-up toy and he is put out with the garbage, Alexander has a decision to make about whether he really wants to be changed.

There are multiple theological and moral themes that rise out of this story and make it a good fit for sharing in a worship or religious education setting. In the tale are layers of meaning about valuing and accepting oneself, about helping others, and about the human tendency to discard what no longer holds our attention.

Lionni’s writing is well structured and clean and thus can adapt nicely to telling. Of course, Leo Lionni’s artwork is as classic as his story and would work wonderfully to read as a picture book.

For those interested in Leo Lionni’s creative process, check out his biography on Random House Kids .  This four time Caldecott Honor author and illustrator tells it like it is when it comes to writing.

Themes: Being Oneself, Self-acceptance, Celebrating the Ordinary, Helping Others, Jealousy, Being Content, Change

Motifs:  Mouse, Toy, Garbage, Magic, Pebble

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale
Carmen Agra Deedy (author), Michael Austin (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2007

Product Details Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha has reached the age when  a cockroach looks for a spouse. Martina’s grandmother gives her some very surprising advice for meeting her suitors – spill coffee on their shoes. Young and old  alike will be terribly curious about happens when she follows her grandmothers advice.

While some might look at you askance for bringing cucarachas into a sanctuary, even cute ones in story form, this Cuban folktale holds some powerful truths worthy of entering a worship space. The story affirms that the most important thing in a relationship is being understanding and kind even if someone spills coffee on our shoes.

Every religious tradition worth its salt calls us to treat other human beings with compassion and kindness – and this story encourages our children (perhaps especially our girls) to expect kind treatment even when they might spill a little coffee. When a recent study tells us that 1 in 10 adolescents report experiencing violence in a dating relationship, it’s time to make sure this lesson is taught in our worship communities, too.

Fortunately, the lesson is wrapped in a folk tale with a strong narrative structure that lends itself particularly well to telling. There is a nice pattern of repetition that will make learning the tale easier, and distinct characters that the teller can have fun with. If the story is being read rather than told, the illustrations are bright and lively. They tend to be a little over-caricaturized, and my preference is for telling rather than reading, but it is a good picture book to share as well.

Themes: Kindness, Forgiveness, Respect, Mistakes, Difference, Dating, Anti-Violence,

Motifs: Animals, Cockroaches, Rooster, Pig, Mouse, Grandmother, Coffee, Spill, Spanish, Cuba

Reviewer: Kristin Maier, author
A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story