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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Have You Read a Children's Book Lately?

When I finished my term in congregational leadership in 2005, I took a sabbatical. As part of my sabbatical I enrolled in two classes: a scripture course and a children’s literature course. The children’s lit course was taught by Sister Regina Alfonso, now semi-retired, who had taught children’s lit for many years at Notre Dame College. She and I met regularly in a small room in the Notre Dame College library. Just the two of us and our stacks of children’s books.

Children’s books aren’t just for children, you know. They can speak important truths to us adults as well, often very creatively, in simple language, and with stunning or fun illustrations. Here are some of the books I read in that class. I hope this list nudges you to go to a library or book store and treat yourself to a few children’s books.

  1. Nana Upstairs & Nana Downstairs by Tomie de Paola: a poignant story about a little boy and his affection for his grandmother and great-grandmother. It deals with intergenerational relationships and with death.
  2. The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes: written over 50 years ago, this book is a classic about a girl, Wanda Pretonski, who wears the same dress to school every day. She is mocked by the other students, especially when she claims she has 100 dresses at home in her closet. The story, with an unusual twist at the end, explores bullying and the power of forgiveness.
  3. Miss Malarky Doesn’t Live in Room 10 by Judy Finchler: the story of a kindergartner who thinks his teacher actually lives in their classroom. In fact, he thinks all the teachers live at school. The illustrations contribute much to the delight of this story.
  4. Bull Run by Paul Fleischman: a slim volume that describes the first battle of the Civil War from 16 different points of view. Each of the characters tell their experience of the battle. Whether Northerner or Southerner, soldier or civilian, man or woman, rich or poor, free or slave, each person is quickly disillusioned with war.
  5. The Giver by Lois Lowry: a science fiction book that tells of Jonas, a young boy who lives in a perfect society where there is no war, no crime, no pain. But there are no choices either and no memories of the past. The only person who remembers the past and feels true pain is the Giver. When Jonas is selected to receive special training from the Giver, he will never be the same again.
  6. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin: when the cows in Farmer Brown’s barn find an old typewriter, they type him a letter requesting electric blankets for the cold nights—or else! Both the story and the illustrations will make you smile!
  7. Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale by John Steptoe: this Cinderella-theme book earned the Coretta Scott King Award for illustrations. It tells of two daughters vying to become the wife of the king. One daughter is mean and vain; the other is good-natured and kind. The illustrations alone are well worth the trouble of finding this book.
  8. Uncle Willie and the Soup Kitchen by Ryan DiSalvo: a little boy goes with his Uncle Willie to help out at a soup kitchen where he learns firsthand about poverty, homelessness, diversity, and love.
  9. Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Cheng-Khee Chee: all of creation tries to answer the question: who is God? The wind, the stars, the stone, the lion, the robin, the fish and others set forth their answers until an argument ensues. It is Old Turtle who restores peace. The watercolor illustrations are lovely.

Questions for reflection/sharing.

  1. Have you read any of these books. If so, what do you think of them?
  2. Was there a book(s) you read as a child that made a big impact on you? Why?
  3. Are there other children’s books you would recommend? (I’m counting on all you elementary teachers, librarians, parents, and grandparents to recommend some books for our readers!)

Our song today is an old Church song, “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” This rendition is sung by children for children. But that means it’s for adults too, for didn’t Jesus tell us we must all become as little children?

Any responses to this reflection and/or music?

PS: Reminder: My new book on hope is now available at or Twenty-Third Publications. It’s called Hanging onto Hope: Reflections and Prayers for Finding Good in an Imperfect World.

36 Responses

  1. Sr. Melannie,

    Thanks for sharing your favorite children’s books. What a wonderful idea!

    I like Goodnight Moon. Just a fun book.

    God bless!


  2. So loved listening to the children’s voices singing the song and the tiny laugh at the end. Cannot even remember when I last read a childrens book. Do love the VELVETEEN RABBIT.

  3. I worked with kindergarten through 3rd grade children and one of my favorite authors was Patricia Palocco. Her stories were often from her childhood and were very touching, sometimes bringing me to tears. To this day, I have fond memories of her stories.

  4. This brought back wonderful memories of reading to my granddaughters. They are now grown women with children so I shall forward this to them and to my daughter – now a grandmother. The particular book, which I still have, is “Please and Thank You” by Richard Scarry in the Random House Pictureback Series. Its title describes the message.

  5. Sr Melannie:

    From a long-time reader (and Mom/Grandmom to 14 more readers) a heartfelt Thank You. Most of the books you list I have not read so will head for the bookstore.

  6. One of my favorite children’s books…actually two of my favorited are Robert Munsch books. “Love you forever” and “Moira’s birthday”. These have deep stories of inclusiveness and unconditional love. As a lay minister I use these often for children’s time.

  7. One of my favorite children’s books is called “Peach and Blue” by Sarah S. Kilborne. It’s about the unlikely friendship between a frog and a peach that falls to the ground. It is beautifully illustrated. My children are in their 20’s but I still have a whole bookshelf of their children’s books – for my (hopefully) future grandchildren!!!

  8. Leo Lionni books. . .SWIMMY, FREDERICK, FISH IS FISH come to mind. Have often thought Lionni’s books would make wonderful material for a retreat/conference.
    Then there’s the Chinese tale THE EMPTY POT. . .children’s literature abounds in adult themes.

  9. Thank you for the list of children’s books. I can’t wait to get some of them to read to my two little granddaughters. My favorite book to read/sing to my own children and now grandkids is Love You Forever by Robert Mensch. It tells the love of a mother no matter what the age. The ending is tearful as the mother and son experience role reversal. Highly recommended. Congrats on your new book, Melannie. I am looking forward to receiving and reading it!

  10. The Velvatine Rabbit is a wonderful book about love. Very beautiful and touching story. Illustrations are great.
    Thanks Melannie for your book suggestions

  11. What first came to mind was Stone Soup by Marsha Brown; The Story about Ping, by Marjoie Flack, Kurt Wiese; Aesop’s Fables; Mother Goose…I guess you can tell what generation I am from!
    I remember reading Goodnight Moon to our sons.

  12. Melanie,
    I read children’s books all the time especially to my little grandson Bobby who lives in Germany and is 3 years old. We skype every Sunday with piles of books at both ends …he shows me his new ones and I have a stack of my own. He is way into dinosaurs his favorite is a very old one we bought at a used book store called Dazzle the Dinosaur by Marcus Pfister. His very new favorite is “Have You seen my Dinosaur?” by Jon Surgal. Of course all the National Geographic books on dinosaurs and Wooly Mammoths! thank you for this great blog on children’s books

  13. Like you,I love children’s books. Some I can think of right now…..of course, the Velveteen Rabbit…..then Stephen’s Feast which we use for PSR and a rather new one called I Wish You More. Another favorite of mine for graduates is The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss. There’s another called Ten Minutes til Bedtime and Goodnight Gorilla. Isn’t it fun to have all these stories and so many with wonderful messages. Thanks for helping me remember.

  14. Heard a homily once based on the Velveteen Rabbit and the hunger to be real. It was awesome. I remember it years later.

  15. The Giver is only the first of a series, and good for adults as well. My 13 year old is reading many alternate reality/ post apocalypse type books, for school as well as for pleasure.

  16. Thanks for sharing your favorites, Mellanie. Two of my favorites are How Full Is You Bucket(Tom Rath/ & Mary Reckmeyer) and for Christmas time, The Mysterious Star ( Joanne Marxhausen). Old Turtle is also one of my favorites

  17. Related to this issue of how much adults can learn from children’s books is my experience that the homilies which adults seemed to understand and remember the best were those given at Masses for children.

  18. For the first time in my life, I started writing children’s books. Corina Finds Her Own Way, Cat Library, Paulina’s Purpose, Cat in the Grass, and The Green Chartreuse Dress were published this year and can be read online for free. The link is on my website : I like to not only bring joy through my books but include an important message.
    I am grateful that at 70 years of age this blessing came to me.
    Sonya Gonzalez

  19. Yes, I love children’s books. My friend of 40 years, and myself have enjoyed and good even these books for years. They explain feelings, situations, problems and living so son Lee and lovable.

    Thank you Sr Melanie,

  20. Sr. Melannie,
    The book you mentioned, The Giver, is a movie. It is very good. I recommend it.
    The book that touched me tremendously when I was very young…and still does is…The Velveteen Rabbit. So much so, that I bought a copy of it .

  21. One of the most wonderful collections is that of the Treasury of 20th Century Children’s Literature. It appears not to be in print any longer, but I have found copies on Amazon (I’ve given quite a few as gifts). It has a great many of the stories I grew up with, including all the wonderful drawings. A treasure is exactly what it is & true delight to be able to share with a new generation.

  22. I also love children’s books. My favorites are the Narnia series by C S Lewis, Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter series. I also loved a book by Arthur Ransome…Swallows and Amazons. As you can tell, I’m not American. These are all English books. Others I still read are Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows and The Jungle Book.

  23. Any book by Gary Paulsen: Hatchet, Brian’s Winter – are books about survival in the wild.
    Scott O’Dell – Island of the Blue Dolphins – young girl survives alone on island for 18 years. Inspirational books .

  24. Here are a few I used very often.
    -The Giving Tree
    -Any of Leo Lionni’s books
    – Eric Carle’s are my absolute favorites. His simple but profound stories plus his watercolor illustrations are delightful.

    Sit back, relax and be inspired!

  25. I, too, learned to be the best children’s literature I could be from Sr. Regina. I am also honored to have her as a lifelong friend. She is an amazing woman, author, teacher and crochet artist. Thanks to her I continue to bring the joy of reading to both children & adults through tutoring & writing. Also, your song selection brought tears to my eyes because that is the song I sang to my children as babies when I was rocking them to sleep. They still remember & cherish this childhood memory.
    Here are my two favorites
    Dr. DeSoto by William Steig and Perfect the Pig by Susan Jeschke are two of the best books EVER!!! I used them every year in my middle school reading & writing classes for most of my career. Chock full of character building themes as well as life lessons, these two are great conversation starters for kids & adults.

  26. I love children’s books and have a number on my book shelf still. The Dr. Seuss books are great fun and a great way to start kids reading. My mom read short stories to my sisters and me every night from a big book of children’s stories. I read from the same book to my children. Our teachers read to us on Friday afternoons. The one I remember most was about children in Sweden or Norway hiding gold bouillon from the Germans during the 2nd world war. They carried them on their skis on the way to school. I can’t remember the name. That was a long time ago. Non-fiction is still my favorite reading.
    “Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge” by Mem Fox It is about a little boy who visits an elderly neighbor and learns some of the difficulties of aging. The song brought back many memories. As a first grade teacher in a Portland, Or. public school the children requested that we sing “Jesus Loves Me” almost every day after lunch. No one ever objected.

  27. I have your new book, Melannie. It’s great! Each chapter I read, I think: “this is even better than the last chapter.” Or one chapter really touches my heart, and I think of someone to whom I should give this book. And, of course, I have bought several copies (eight) to give away for birthdays and Christmas. Thank you for your continued work in the ministry of writing on the important subject of spirituality. May you be blessed 100-fold!
    Much love, dear friend! ~ Betty

  28. I am a retired Children’s Librarian and I have read most of them. I still get picture books out of the Library when I go. Thanks for your blog.

  29. Dear All, Thank you to all of you for the many recommendations of children’s books you have given us! I’ve already made one trip to the library and picked up a small stack of children’s books. I’ll be making more trips soon! Sr. Melannie

  30. I’m a cradle Catholic but I was raised in a small Methodist town and always attended their vacation Bible School. “Jesus Loves Me” is indelibly imprinted on my heart and I absolutely loved this rendition!
    I remember reading many children’s books but I especially liked Heidi and the Chronicles of Narnia. Several years ago I actually wrote a little book for a granddaughter called, “Grandma’s Closet”. Since I know little about publishing a book it remains in a paper and pencil version.
    Last Christmas, my husband and I received a book from one of his childhood friends called, “You’re Only Old Once!” A Book for Obsolete Children, by Dr. Seuss. I highly recommend it for any child over seventy.

  31. Dear Melannie, l just love children’s books. My favorite is the Fall of Freddie the Leaf byLeo Buscaglia, phd. About a leaf named Freddie who
    Does not want to fall and die. It illustrates the delicate balance between
    Life and death. Thank you for your blog and your talk Saturday. I just love
    Your new book on hope. God Nless you , Melannie❤️

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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