As I was driving back home last night after a long day of working the election polls I saw my first holiday lights near by neighborhood. White lights hanging from the gutters along with windows outlined in white lit up the night, even brighter than the now waning full moon. It’s only November 9th!
But it reminded me that I am overdue in sharing my thoughts on a children’s book I recently received with a request to offer a review. Reading about the wise men in October was not exactly high on my list. However, this latest book would make a wonderful Christmas (or Epiphany) book for preschool or early elementary children. Nicely bound in hardcover with a dust jacket, the illustrations pop right off the page and will surely engage a child at home or in church.
Today I received a copy of the newly released second edition of Klara Tammany’s book, Living Water: Baptism as a Way of Life. First published in 2002, it had an unusual trim-size and layout that was cost-prohibitive to reprint so it went “out of print” despite numerous backorders. During my last years at Church Publishing, I advocated it be re-published as Klara agreed to update it. Approved for publication (again) in 2019 right before my retirement, it fell to two colleagues – Wendy Claire Barrie and then Milton Brasher-Cunningham – to see to its completion. I give thanks for their passing the baton toward publication. I had been asked to write the foreword, but alas the page count was tight, so it was not included. So I share it here:
My first memory of God involves a baptism. I was almost four years old, gathered with family around a font in what seemed like a private room adjacent to the church sanctuary of my childhood. Sunshine streamed through the stained-glass windows, dancing on the concrete baptismal font and red carpet. It was the occasion of my brother’s baptism and I knew that I was present for something important. I experienced warmth, community, the sacred — the important stuff of life that I could not yet articulate. I felt love. That visual and visceral memory has been etched into my being and has sustained me throughout my life.
The Episcopal Church has changed since that day of private baptism in which only family and close friends participated following the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. As a child I did not know what it meant to be a full member of the worshiping community and receive Holy Communion. Baptism was not central to Episcopalians at the time — at least not overtly. Being a Christian and going to church each Sunday was a given. Being formed in faith was not a common phrase; I needed to memorize the Apostles’ Creed, the Ten Commandments, and “My Bounden Duty” before I could be confirmed at age twelve, allowing me to receive communion (once a month). Four generations (the Lost, the Greatest, the Silent, and Baby Boomer) of a single family could fill a church and Sunday School classrooms; Sundays were days for worship and family, with local sports’ fields dormant and stores locked up tight.
It was fitting that I received a copy of Absalom Jones: America’s First Black Priestwritten by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones in early February, Black History Month. Exactly two years ago I wrote about Absalom Jones, sharing resources for learning about this man of faith, courage, and commitment. So it is fitting that I share a new resource for children (ages 8-12) close to his Feast Day – February 13 – that explores the history of this man and the context in which he lived and came from. The people of God are all people – all colors, all races, all languages – from all over the world.
One is immediately caught by the visually stunning cover of this book that shows what Absalom might have looked like today, surrounded by other people of faith who were instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, including the first Black woman to be consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, Barbara C. Harris, who died in March 2020. Illustrator, Christopher Michael Taylor describes his image on the cover as “a modernized and unique interpretation,” while each black and white artwork that begins each of the eight 3-page chapters can be described as “comic book realism.” They pop next to the text, engaging the reader in wanting to read on to see how a man, born a slave in 1746, earned his freedom and was ordained a deacon in 1795 and a priest in 1802.
One of my favorite moments when my 6-year-old granddaughter comes to visit is bedtime. Besides being tired myself after a long day of active and imaginative play with her, it provides us a moment to settle down into our nighttime routine of choosing some books to read before we snuggle up on “her” bed in our guest room. Praise be, she loves reading and being read to. And she has become quite the critic of children’s books.
Recently I received an advance review copy of Jennifer Grant’s new children’s book Once Upon a Time Not So Long Ago. Reading it ahead of time, I knew what its subject matter was and decided it was an opportunity for Miss M to share her thoughts with me. We began it like we do with all the books before opening the pages; looking at the cover we try to figure out what the book is about. “It’s a boy talking to his grandfather.” “I wonder what they are talking about?”
Resilience. Empathy. Courage. Gratitude. These are all just a few descriptions of what I assume all parents (and grandparents) wish to instill in their children. I believe being part of a faithful, worshiping community is an avenue to supporting us in this endeavor, as it is a hard, if not impossible road to follow on one’s own. But not all families are connected to a faith community and certainly during this pandemic, we are now isolated from many of those personal face-to-face support systems.
COVID-19 has “simply” added to all the reasons why parents (and any adult) despair over the world that we will be leaving to our children: climate change, political division, civil unrest, and racial injustice. And many couples have chosen not to have children as they do not want to add another individual into a world with a fraught-filled future.
Then along comes Amelia Richardson Dress’ new publication, The Hopeful Family: Raising Children in Uncertain Times(Morehouse Publishing, 2021). Asked to be part of the “launch team” of the book I agreed, despite wondering if this was going to be another book about children and spiritual practices (as the early descriptions shared) to hold them up against the evils in this world. I was more than pleasantly surprised. From the moment I held the soft, smooth cover of the book in my hands and discovered the beautiful layout and interior design, The Hopeful Family evoked feelings of calm; each chapter begins with an unexpected quote about parenting (with hope) and a lovely blessing is offering in conclusion.