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Two great new books for teaching social justice

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I love reading books with my kids before bed.  It’s especially fun when it’s a book I enjoy too, and not, say, something inspired by Legos or Transformers.  To me, the ideal bedtime storybook is colorful and well-paced and has a little spiritual weight to it, too.

So I was only too happy to receive review copies of two new children’s books from Loyola Press.  Both are part of their Two Feet of Love in Action series, a collaboration between Loyola Press and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Department of Justice, Peace,  and Human Development.  The goal is to help kids recognize the link between faith and social justice, and to build awareness of the importance of concrete actions to make the world a better place.

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They’re terrific books, each one taking on a different aspect of social justice.  In Green Street Park, a little boy realizes that the park where he loves to play basketball is actually littered with trash and full of weeds.  He sees the need and, with the guidance of his teacher and mother, is inspired to mobilize his friends and start a campaign to clean up the park.  (In a nice touch, the book invokes the example of St. Francis of Assisi as a model of someone who cared about the earth and the environment).

Drop by Drop tells the story of a girl named Sylvie, who lives with her family in the West African country of Burkina Faso.  Because her village has no running water, she must walk three miles each day to the river to fill a large water jug for the family.  Sylvie desperately wants to go to school, but her family needs her to fetch the water.  Finally, one day Catholic Relief Services builds a well in her village, and Sylvie’s wish of attending school comes true.  In the book, her story inspires schoolchildren in the US to raise money of their own to build wells in other villages.

I love how the books show two different faces of charitable works. One focuses on a need close to home, the other on a need far away.   There are so many ways to work for social justice; that’s a great lesson for kids to learn early on.

The books are gorgeously illustrated, too.  Green Street Park has vivid primary colors that pop off the page; Drop by Drop has softer, more muted tones that capture the colors of the desert, punctuated by the bright colors and lively patterns of the clothing worn by Sylvie and her family.  They’re lovely to look at and their strong visual appeal is perfect for sparking young readers’ imagination.

What’s great is that there are also supplementary materials that go along with the books.  Each book can be purchased alone or with the Pray Me a Story guide, short guides that parents or teachers can use to help kids engage prayerfully with the story they have just read.  They include questions and a guided meditation to help kids bring Jesus into the story and into their own lives.  They’re a great way to help kids process the books and help the lessons stick.

All in all, these are engaging, colorful ways to introduce kids to the connection between faith and social justice.  It’s fun to plant the seeds and see when and how they bloom.

In fact, the other night, we read Drop by Drop before bed, then I tucked the kids in for the night.  As always, I asked my kindergartener who he’d like to pray for.  He looked at the world map posted by his bed and waved his arm.  “All of the people in the world,” he said.  He paused, then added, “Especially those who don’t have water.”

I think it’s working.

Check out the Loyola Press website for more information about these books, and the Two Feet of Love initiative.  (Both books are also available on Amazon.com)  And if you like the idea of Pray Me a Story, you can see the whole range of guides they offer, including for picture books you probably already know and love.

Summer books and TV — ’tis the season for getting lost in a good story

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Ah, summer.  I am loving it: the slower pace of life, the lack of papers to grade, the chance to catch up on reading and writing (more on that later).  And sleep!  No longer does that alarm go off at the brutal hour of six.   That may be the best thing of all.

BOOKS

The kids and I are in reading mode, with another trip to the library planned for today.  Matthew and I just got a kick out of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which I read as a kid and loved.  It was pretty darn fun as an adult, too.

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On my summer radar is introducing Charlotte’s Web with the kids.  They haven’t read it yet, and I haven’t read it in years, and can one properly be a child without this marvelous book?

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I’m engrossed in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I’m reading it with an eye to improving my teaching practice (sometimes you end up with a classroom full of introverts, and you can feel it), but a plus is that I’m starting to understand myself better as well.

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On a whim a while back, I also picked up Pray Like a Gourmet:Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul by David Brazzeal.  It’s a book on expanding your prayer repertoire, offering a whole smorgasboard of things to try, and it’s a beautifully-designed book as well.  A very unique approach … sort of like fusion cuisine for the spirit.

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TV SERIES

‘Tis the season to get lost in a series, and luckily Masterpiece Theatre is about to oblige.  Tomorrow night is the start of “Poldark,” and I am counting the hours.

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I’ve read the first three books in the series, and they’re fabulous, so my hopes are high.  Apparently the series was a colossal hit in the UK (they got to see it a few months ago), so the advance buzz is good.  Tomorrow night it starts — set the DVR!  And check back here Monday for some post-show thoughts.

Intrigued?  Here’s the PBS preview.

What are YOU enjoying this summer?

Lord, that I may see

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This window is in the beautiful little chapel of the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos, California.  I’ve been there several times, and it was on this most recent visit that the words resonated with me.  Lord, that I may see.

What in my life do I see clearly ? What in my life do I miss?

Like many of us, the sense that I rely upon the most to engage with my world is the sense of sight.  It helps me do the things I classify as unexciting and mundane, like drive and cook dinner.  It helps me survive.

But sight also brings joy to my life.  With sight, I can fully experience things like this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this.

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But it’s not enough just to see these things.  To live richly and gratefully, I need to be conscious that I am seeing them.  I need to pause in the moment, or at the end of the day — or both — and let the miracle of those flowers, that sweetly absorbed reader, those vivid red radishes, sink into my soul.

In the Gospel story referenced in the window above, the beggar wants to go from blindness to sight.  My challenge is not literal blindness, but taking sight for granted.  My challenge is to recognize that God’s grace drenches this world, and that my sense of vision is one of the primary ways that God chooses to share that grace with me.

Lord, that I may see … what a beautiful challenge for the week ahead.

The fortune cookie said I had to do it

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If it’s on my fridge, I might just remember to do it.

I opened a fortune cookie a while back and this was the message inside: Treat yourself to something of quality.

My first reaction was Oh, goodie, can I?  And my second was to start thinking about what “something of quality” actually means.  What comes to mind when I read this phrase?

Here are a few things:

*A day at a high-end spa

*A crazy-expensive bottle of really good wine, the kind you drink only once in your lifetime

*A handbag that is a cut above my usual Old Navy/J C Penney ones

*800 thread count sheets

*A night at, say, The Ritz

*A first-class airplane ticket (whenever I fly steerage — which is all the time — I look covetously at first class and their leg room, their real meals and dishes, their private bathroom.)

None of these is actually likely to happen, given the reality of the Moyer budget, but this is still where my mind went first.  And then I thought: Why do I hear the phrase “something of quality” and automatically think of pricey things?  Aren’t there plenty of other quality things and experiences that don’t cost half my monthly salary?

*A cup of really good coffee

*A walk in a beautiful place  (like Filoli, where I hope to go again soon)

*A feel-good movie (lately I’ve rediscovered “Strictly Ballroom,” which is one of the most happy-making films I know)

*A quiet summer evening in the backyard

*A book that you just can’t put down

*A book you loved as a child and revisit as an adult, realizing that it’s just as good — or even better — than you remembered

*Some really focused writing time at a favorite cafe

*A quiet half-hour spent in prayer

The items on this second list are, actually, within my budget.  With a little planning and dedication, I can make them happen.  In fact, I think I’ll regard this as my “summer to-do” list; I will probably add to it as the weeks go on.

What about you?  What is something of quality that you’d like to treat yourself to this summer — or maybe even this week?

 

Thought for the day

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“[W]e believe that God desires us into being.  He desires our wholeness so much that he allows himself to be broken for its sake.  He awakens our desire for him by pouring his own Spirit into our lives.  Our hearts long for him, we say, just as a river seeks its ocean home.  The whole of creation lives and grows under the impulse of desire.  Every new life springs from a moment of desire.  Every flower is pollinated by attraction and desire.  Every step of discovery is made out of a desire to go beyond, always beyond, the horizon of the known.  Every meal we eat, the very sustenance of our living, is taken because our bodies express their need of food in the desire that we call appetite.

Why, then, do we feel the need to suppress our own desires?  Is it possible that our deepest desires flow in the same eternal stream as God’s desire for us and for all creation?”

– Margaret Silf, Close to the Heart: A Practical Approach to Personal Prayer