World Read-Aloud Day 2018

Make plans now to be sure to read aloud to your child or grandchild tomorrow! February 1 is World Read-Aloud Day, a day to enjoy reading aloud with children and to develop awareness of literacy needs around the world.

Did you know, for example, that

o A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five than a child born to an illiterate woman. (UNESCO)

o According to the latest report (2016), 758 million adults – two thirds of them women – lack basic reading and writing skills. (UNESCO)

o Poorly literate individuals are less likely to participate in democratic processes and have fewer chances to fully exercise their civil rights. (UNESCO)

o Reading aloud to children every day puts them almost a year ahead of children who do not receive daily read-aloud time, regardless of parental income, education, or cultural background. (Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research)

One of my favorite stories of reading aloud is found in the Book of Nehemiah, in the Bible. The Jewish people had been exiled in Babylon for 70 years. They rebuilt the temple when they were allowed to return to their own land, but the walls of Jerusalem remained in ruins. Then Nehemiah came on the scene. He made a plan and organized the workers, and despite opposition and harassment from enemies of the Jews, the wall was completely reconstructed in just 52 days.

Then the people gathered inside the walls and asked Ezra the priest to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, “which the Lord had given for Israel to obey.”

“So on October 8 Ezra the priest brought the Book of the Law before the assembly, which included the men and women and all the children old enough to understand. He faced the square just inside the Water Gate from early morning until noon and read aloud to everyone who could understand. All the people listened closely to the Book of the Law. … When they saw him open the book, they all rose to their feet.

“Then Ezra praised the Lord, the great God, and all the people chanted, “Amen! Amen!” as they lifted their hands. Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

“The Levites … then instructed the people in the Law while everyone remained in their places. They read from the Book of the Law of God and clearly explained the meaning of what was being read, helping the people understand each passage. …

With understanding came weeping. But Nehemiah and Ezra and the Levites comforted the people and encouraged them to be joyful instead.

“So the people went away to eat and drink at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.” (Nehemiah 8)

Reading aloud to children benefits them in so many ways, as I often share about on my Facebook page DianeStortzBooks. Teaching them to love books and reading is one of those, and that just might be part of the key that unlocks a lifelong love of reading and understanding God’s Word.

So find a child, find a book, and get ready to read aloud. Tomorrow is World Read-Aloud Day!

World Read-Aloud Day is a project of LitWorld, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded by literacy expert Pam Allyn in 2007. LitWorld works with a broad coalition of national and international partners to ensure that young people worldwide can experience the joy and transformation of reading, writing, and storytelling.

– Diane

How to Face Challenges

I’m prepping this month to start on a new project. It feels overwhelming. I feel a little like Moses when God called him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. “Moses again pleaded, ‘Lord, please! Send anyone else’ ” (Exodus 4:13 NIV).

But then I glance over at the shelf where my foreign editions are lined up.

So far I have books in Afrikaans, South African English, Spanish, Korean, and Arabic. There are more to come—Finnish, Swedish, Slovak, and Portuguese!

I feel like they are sort of smiling at me. “Moses didn’t lead the Israelites out alone,” they say. “You’re not sitting there alone at your desk either.”

Oh right.

God can, and does, do so much more than we ever ask or imagine!

What’s Facing You?

Now, you might not be writing books, but I know you’ve got challenges.

Here’s the thing. No matter what the voices in your head say, you do have abilities. You can face the situation, take action, make progress.

And no, you’re not as talented or as educated or as energetic or as connected or as able as somebody else. But that’s OK. (Just remember Moses!)

And whatever it is you need to do, maybe you can’t do it all by yourself, but you don’t have to.

Because God hasn’t left you all by yourself.

And the results? Well, they’re just likely to be waaayyyy bigger and better than anything you have ever imagined!

    

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think (Ephesians 3:20 NLT).

– Diane

Just the Facts—A Bible Story Quiz

While I was deep in finishing up a new preschool devotional, my editor and I were also going over the final proofs of a Bible storybook for toddlers.

On the third time through the proofs, she discovered a simple factual error that we had all missed previously, a question of who made a particular statement.

ACK! Writers and editors alike hate it when that happens. But at least we caught and fixed the error before the book went to the printer.

I had to look back through other books I’ve written, of course. The story is in two other books. Right in one, wrong in the other.

Hurray for reprints!

This episode got me thinking about the importance of handling biblical details carefully. I have always believed this matters. Why teach children—or adults, for that matter—something they’ll need to unlearn later? And didn’t God preserve the details he thinks are important for a reason? Why would I want to change or ignore them?

The challenge for me as a children’s writer is to be true to the details of Bible events while still communicating to children the real message of the event. It’s not always easy to do.

Sometimes details must be left out.

If you’re two or three or even five, the point of the story of Noah’s ark is that God kept the people and animals safe and dry in the ark, not that everyone else outside the ark perished.

Sometimes details can be included but not in a too-specific way for children.

I can say that Joseph was thrown in prison after getting in trouble for something he didn’t do, for example, not because Potiphar’s wife accused him of attempted rape. And it doesn’t matter how many pairs of clean and unclean animals went into the ark—“pairs of every kind” will do just fine.

Sometimes details must be combined.

The Bible has more than one account of some events, sometimes with slightly different details in each. (Which makes sense, because eyewitnesses never all see things the same way, and writers of all kinds include and leave out details according to their purpose for writing.)

Your turn—a quiz for you

We’ve often heard a Bible story told a certain way so many times that we believe all the details are true even when they’re not. For me as a writer, at least, it pays to check. But if you’d like to test your knowledge too, here’s a little 12-point quiz.

1. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating an apple from the tree of life. True or false?

2. Noah closed the door of the ark when everyone and all the animals were inside. True or false?

3. David fought Goliath when he was still a young boy. True or false?

4. God sent a whale to swallow Jonah. True or false?

5. Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. True or false?

6. Angels in the sky sang praises on the night Jesus was born. True or false?

7. The wise men followed the new star to Jerusalem. True or false?

8. The star led the wise men as they journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. True or false?

9. The wise men found Jesus in the Bethlehem stable soon after his birth. True or false?

10. A boy brought his lunch to Jesus for the feeding of the five thousand. True or false?

11. How many angels did the women at Jesus’ tomb encounter—1 or 2?

12. When some of the disciples had fished all night without catching anything, who recognized the man standing on the shore calling to them, Peter or John?

Let me know how you do. But I’m not going to give you the answers. Instead, I’ll encourage you to do some fact checking on your own. Enjoy!

– Diane

Nonfiction for Tweens = Great Christmas Gifts

Are there book-loving tweens on your Christmas gift list this year? Help them know God better and enjoy a great read at the same time with any of these four new nonfiction titles.

      

Cold-Case Christianity for Kids and God’s Crime Scene for Kids: Investigate Creation with a Real Detective, by J. Warner Wallace and Susie Wallace (David C. Cook). by J. Warner Wallace and Susie Wallace (David C. Cook).

Between the ages of 8 and 12, kids often start to wonder if the Bible is true. In these books, real-life detective J. Warner Wallace helps tweens learn how to think rather than telling them what to think.

Both books read like novels as a team of junior police cadets train as detectives. The simple mysteries they attempt to solve lead them to much more important investigations—Does God exist? Was Jesus really the Son of God? Did God really create the world?

A Kid’s Guide to The Names of God, by Tony Evans (Harvest House Publishers).

With my books I AM: 40 Reasons to Trust God and I AM Devotional, you know I’m all about kids learning to love and trust God more as they learn about his names. So I am glad to see this one for tweens now available.

Ten chapters each spotlight a different name and give kids understanding of the name plus practical application to their own lives. Writing spaces in each chapter help kids process the information as they read.

Indescribable: 100 Devotions About God & Science, by Louie Giglio (Tommy Nelson).

Fun and fascinating facts about space, Earth, weather, animals, the human body paired with   Scripture teaching and encouragement give kids an in-depth look at God’s indescribable power, love, and creativity.

Colorful illustrations and a cool design paired with the text make this devotional one that tweens will look forward to opening up each day!

Which one of these new books will end up under the tree at your house?

– Diane

Children’s Books for Advent and Christmas

Books should be part of every child’s Advent and Christmas, whether you give them as gifts, stuff them in stockings, or pile them under the tree to enjoy throughout the season. Here’s a look at some of this year’s new Advent and Christmas books for the kids on your list.

Snuggle Time Christmas Stories, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Cee Biscoe (Zonderkidz).

Introduce all the characters in the Christmas story to toddlers and preschoolers with this one. Short, sweet rhyming verses and cute artwork tell the story and explain that Christmas celebrates Jesus’ birthday and Jesus is the best gift.

The Littlest Watchman: Watching and Waiting for the Very First Christmas, by Scott James, illustrated by Geraldine Rodriguez (The Good Book Company).

Like the other Watchmen in his village, young Benjamin watches for the sign of the arrival of the Maker’s promised King—a new branch coming from the stump of Jesse. Watching and waiting are hard, and Benjamin’s about to give up, until one night on the Bethlehem hillside, everything changes!

The author’s note, “You Can Join the Watch,” helps children sort out the facts and the fiction in the story, and encourages them to watch and wait for Jesus to come again with excitement every day.

An Advent calendar coordinated with the book also is available, and includes a booklet with kid-friendly family devotions for December 1-25, each one planned to help children watch and wait!

Look! A Child’s Guide to Advent & Christmas, by Laura Alary, illustrated by Ann Boyajian (Paraclete Press).

This thoughtful book with lyrical prose looks back at people in the Bible who for God, looks around at our world and what needs to change, and looks ahead to Christmas and what happens whenever we say yes to God. Savor this one and enjoy the wondering!

One illustration includes prayer beads, which you might want to explain if that’s not your tradition.

That Baby in the Manger, by Anne E. Neuberger, illustrated by Chole E. Pitkoff (Paraclete Press).

How can children understand that Jesus came for people of all races and ethnicities when the baby in the church’s nativity scene doesn’t look like them? A first-grade class figures it out with help from a kind old gentleman and the parish priest.

Twas the Evening of Christmas, by Glenys Nellist, illustrated by Elena Selivanova (Zonderkidz).

This time it’s sleeping, dreaming stable animals who are startled awake by the unfolding events of Christmas Eve. Rhyming text (with a nod to Clement C. Moore) and amazing illustrations bring Christmas close in this beautiful, jacketed hardcover picture book.

I prefer not to see the wise men at the stable, since they arrived much later, but I do love these three!

See some of my other Christmas favorites in my post
The Twelve Books of Christmas.”

Next week I’ll highlight giftable Christian nonfiction books
for elementary and middle grades.

Thanks for reading! If you know someone who would like to know about these books for kids too, please share this post with them.

– Diane

A Thanksgiving Time Line and Cast of Characters

Painting by Jennie A. Brownscombe

Brush up on your understanding of the roots of Thanksgiving Day. Does anything here surprise you?

The Cast of Characters, Major and Minor Roles

King James I … he’d been persecuting the Separatists because they wanted to leave the Church of England.

Separatists … not to be confused with the staid and drab Puritans, who didn’t arrive in the New World until ten years later.

Christopher Jones … captain, or “master,” of the Mayflower and its crew.

Pilgrims … the term first meant the Separatists because of their wanderings in search of religious freedom, but today it’s applied to everyone on the Mayflower.

William Brewster … leader of the group of Separatists who sailed on the Mayflower.

The “strangers” … others who joined the Separatists on the Mayflower.

Oceanus … the baby boy born to Stephen and Elizabeth Hopkins during the voyage.

John Carver … first elected governor of the Plymouth colony.

Miles Standish … led an exploration party onshore before the Pilgrims disembarked.

Samoset … native American of the Wampanoag tribe who brought Squanto to help the Pilgrims.

Squanto … his perfect English and knowledge of fishing, planting, hunting, and trapping saved the Pilgrims who had survived the first harsh winter.

Massasoit … chief of the Wampanoag tribe, who signed a peace treating with the Pilgrims.

William Bradford … the colony’s second governor, who instituted the three-day feast we call the first Thanksgiving in order to acknowledge the blessings of God.

A Thanksgiving Time Line

1524-1614. European explorers visited the Cape Cod area.

1611-1614. A total of 32 native men were captured and kidnapped to be sold as slaves. Among them was Tisquantum (Squanto), who went first to Spain and then to England, where he learned the English language.

1616-1620. European diseases, for which the native people had no immunity, hit the northeast. So many from Squanto’s village of Patuxet died that the village was abandoned.

1618. Squanto came back to his homeland and discovered his village was gone.

September 6, 1620. Just over 100 men, women, and children—including a group of English Separatists—set out from Holland on the Mayflower, a wooden cargo ship no more than 150 feet long. Holland offered them freedom of religion but they feared the effects of living in a materialistic culture. Although they intended to sail to the Hudson Bay area, a storm blew them off course during their difficult, unpleasant 66-day journey. They reached land on November 11, 1620.

December 11, 1620. The Mayflower anchored at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts. The travelers went ashore on December 16. All around them looked like wilderness, but it was actually the lands of Patuxet, Squanto’s abandoned village.

Winter, 1621. The Pilgrims experienced severe sickness, starvation, and exposure. Nearly half of the Mayflower settlers died.

March 16, 1621. Samoset visited the colony. Soon after, he brought Squanto, who agreed to live with the colonists and teach them how to survive in his homeland. The Wampanoag chief Massasoit and John Carver, the English governor, formed an alliance.

Early fall, 1621. The colony had a successful harvest. William Bradford, then the governor, called for a feast to celebrate and to acknowledge God’s blessing. The feast might have taken place in October. Some say the colonists invited some Wampanoags to join them; others say the native Americans came to investigate the gunfire they heard as part of the Pilgrims’ festivities. However it happened, 90 Wampanoags, including Massasoit, ended up joining the three-day celebration and provided five deer for the meals.

November 1, 1777. The Continental Congress called for the first national day of Thanksgiving on December 18 to commemorate victory over the British at the battle of Saratoga.

October 3, 1789. President Washington proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving for the United States Constitution.

1846. Sarah Josepha Hale, editor of Godey’s Lady’s Book, began to campaign for an annual Thanksgiving holiday.

1863. President Lincoln called for two national days of thanksgiving, one in August after the battle of Gettysburg, and one in November to give thanks for “the blessings of the fruitful field.” The idea of an annual day of thanksgiving caught on.

November 26, 1941. President Roosevelt signed a bill making the fourth Thursday in November our national Thanksgiving Day.

 

– Diane

Teaching Children to Be Thankful (and a Conversation About Poop)

Thank You for the world so sweet,
Thank You for the food we eat,
Thank You for the birds that sing,
Thank You, God, for everything.

Do you remember learning this little rhyme? I do. And children still learn it and use it as a table grace. One of my pre-K grandsons recited it just the other day.

A Focus on Thanksgiving

November’s arrived, and that means “the holidays” get underway too. A focus all month long on thankfulness, and then figuring out how to carry that over into the plans and dreams your kids have for Christmas, right?

How DO we teach children to be thankful? Grateful even? Not entitled?

You can find a lot of good advice if you go looking. Just today I discovered this post from Tyndale House Publishers, with a new book about raising grateful kids at the end.

My one piece of advice is simple: Direct your child to the Giver.

A Conversation About Poop

Just today (after he had a ginormous poop), that same pre-K kid wanted to know WHY we poop.

“Well,” I said, “it’s from the food you eat. The part of your food that your body doesn’t need becomes your poop. God made your body to work like that.”

“Yeah,” he said, “and my body gets well. Like that scratch I had on my leg. It’s gone.”

“Yep.”

“Why did God make my body like that?”

“Because He loves you!” I said, with a hug for emphasis. I should have added, “Thank You, God!”

See, even a conversation about poop can become a time for turning a child’s thoughts to God and His great love for us, for which we are thankful and glad.

Growing in Gratitude

As children grow, projects like a Gratitude Jar or a Thankfulness Journal (or even a Thanksgiving Cootie Catcher!) can help children focus on their blessings.

So can sponsoring a child in poverty through a Christian organization as a family, or giving away possessions to benefit others.

The important thing, I think, is to direct your thankfulness to God.

It’s good to be thankful for beauty, for kindness, for fun, for family and friends. But all those things come from God, so focus on that with your child in all you do, in conversation, prayers, and songs. In big and little things, easy and hard things, be thankful to God.

I grew up singing the Doxology every Sunday:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Praise Him above ye heavenly host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

I actually haven’t thought about those words or that tune for a long time, but both are there, stored in my memory by their repetition, and floated to mind as I sit here writing this post.

A good reminder that our being thankful should begin and end with God.

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– Diane

4 Easy Ways to Show an Author Some Love

Photo, Morguefile

I wouldn’t want to be “lost” in a corn maze. That feeling that your friends are somewhere, but at the moment you’re alone.

Being an author can feel like that. Writing a book is solitary to begin with. You know your readers are out there, but where? How do you find them?

Authors reach out to readers with newsletters, social media, speaking appearances, book signings, launch teams, and contests. But it’s still a lonely trek through a corn maze unless readers reach back in return.

Want to show a favorite author you’re out there? Want to reach back? Here are four easy ways.

1. Sign up for the author’s newsletter.

Did you know that with Facebook (and other social media), authors have no guarantee their posts will even show up in your news feed? That’s all controlled by the social media platform. But an author can communicate directly with readers with a newsletter!

2. Like and follow the author on social media.

Christian authors, especially, try hard not to measure their success by the numbers. But we’re all human, and creating and curating content to share with you on social media takes time. Let us know you’re out there and interested!

But just hitting Like or Follow on an author page isn’t enough (although we appreciate it very much!). Which leads to the next point …

3. Like, comment, and share the author’s posts.

Publishers do watch the numbers, by the way, so the number of people following an author does matter. But engagement matters even more. Authors care about what you think about what we’re doing and posting, and publishers care that we’re connecting with you.

In addition, responding to an author’s posts ensures that you’ll actually get to see most of them in your news feed. It only takes a few seconds to hit Like or Share or leave a quick comment. The more you do this, the more posts from that author you’ll see—the more often the author gets to connect with you on that particular social media platform.

Your responses share author posts with your friends … letting them know about your favorite authors and their books—a win for everyone involved.

4. Let the author know that you or your children have enjoyed a book.

Here are two easy ways to do this.

One is to write a short review on an online site. Don’t let the word review scare you. Just a sentence or two about why you like the book is all you need.

The other is to communicate directly with the author. Yesterday a friend posted a photo on my Facebook page—two little boys she cares for sitting side by side, one with an open copy of my Say & Pray Bible and the other looking at Say & Pray Devotions. Along with the photo, she wrote, “These two have been ‘reading’ your Say & Pray books for over 20 minutes!!!”

That kind of encouragement feels just like finding a friend when you’re lost in a corn maze. Finally,  you round a corner and see a friend up ahead. Relief!

Now, if you’d like to show this particular author some love today:
Sign up for my newsletter using the box on this site.
Like Diane Stortz Books on Facebook (help me reach the 600 mark!).
Go to amazon or christianbook.com and leave a short review.

Thanks SO much, and let’s stay connected!

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– Diane

“Thinking Bigger” at the Ark Encounter

Photo, Ark Encounter

“Think Bigger.” Last month I obeyed the ads and finally was able to visit the Ark Encounter theme park in Williamstown, Kentucky.

At the center of the park, of course, is a life-size Noah’s Ark, built according to the dimensions given in the Bible.

And it is BIG.

510-feet-long-85-feet-wide-51-feet-high-BIG.

According to the Ark Encounter website, the ark is “the largest timber frame structure in the world, built from standing dead timber.”

I had anticipated this visit a long time, and I expected the ark to overwhelm me at first sighting. But it didn’t.

My husband in front of the ark

Yes, it is impressive. And did I say it’s BIG? The closer you get, the more you know that.

But something other than size impressed me even more.

The “doableness” of the ark.

Building it, stocking it, filling it, living in it—all doable! The three decks inside show you how.

Photo, Ark Encounter

From how the animals were housed, to living quarters for Noah and his family, even to how waste could have been disposed of—doable.

I’ve always believed it. But now I can visualize it. And I was reminded of this verse in 2 Corinthians:

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”  2 Cor 1:20 NIV

One of my favorite exhibits inside the Ark Encounter ark is Noah talking to visitors and answering questions. He’s animatronic, not an actor, but so realistic that was hard to remember.

Another area reminds visitors that God himself is the one who shut the door to the ark after everyone was in, and that just as the ark served as the door to safety from the destruction of the flood, Jesus is our door to eternal life with God.

As we headed back to our car, we spotted my friend Jenna, who lives nearby and now works at the ark, answering questions from visitors about the exhibits.

“I love it,” she told us. “We ‘have church’ up there!”

If you have the opportunity, visit the Ark Encounter, and take your children! Older kids and teens can enjoy many of the exhibits inside; with younger ones you’ll probably need to keep moving and pass up taking in all the information that’s available.

But that just means you’ll want to go back again.

 

– Diane

Praying for California

The devastation of the California fires this week shocks me. Have you seen the images and listened to peoples’ stories in the news and social media?

Photo, The Digital Story

I grew up in Anaheim, ten minutes from Disneyland, where eerie orange glowing skies and falling ash taunt the theme park’s “Happiest Place on Earth” slogan.

Two agents and a staff member from Books & Such Literary Management, including my own agent, Janet Grant, evacuated their Santa Rosa homes earlier in the week. Agent Rachel Kent’s husband is one of the firefighters bravely battling the flames. Assistant and author Michelle Ule has two adult children who live in homes in the affected neighborhoods as well—one of them in the house he was raised in.

Will they will lose everything or return to their homes? It’s impossible to know. So they wait.

Needless to say, the authors in the agency are praying. And watching Facebook for updates.

These three women aren’t just agents and office staff. They are their clients’ friends.

Would you take a moment to ask the Lord to comfort and sustain them? To calm the wind, and even to send rain? To ease the suffering throughout the state? To strengthen those fighting the flames?

Thank you!

– Diane

Freebie

You CAN Read the Bible in a Year … Here’s How!