The Theological Easter Basket

Theological Easter Basket.png

As I mentioned on Sunday, this is Holy Week and properly a time for quieting down, lingering, waiting with Jesus. The temptation is there to rush through to Easter – especially for those of us hosting friends or family on Sunday, since we do have to plan ahead – but if we let ourselves, this week can be received as such a gift. It’s a chance, briefly, to taste eternal time; to let all the many things that occupy us pale a bit as we let ourselves be swept into these most momentous days of God’s story.

However. Those of us with kids still have lunches to pack, clothes to wash, baskets to fill, not to mention some planning to do as we prepare to usher our children through the transition of Jesus’ final days, his death, and his rising to life.

I can’t pack tomorrow’s lunch for you. (Sorry: I’m a pretty good lunch packer, but it is one of my LEAST FAVORITE chores.) And I can’t help with your laundry, either. (Sorry again: I love getting things clean, but I do so dislike the whole process of putting it all away.) But ideas for a theologically-rich Easter basket? That I can do.

Each year, I try to fill my children’s baskets with things I hope will encourage them to love Jesus more and want to know him better. To let them know that his love for them is the most important thing in their lives. (Also some Peeps, but that’s because I’m a traditionalist even when it involves disgusting over-sugared marshmallows.) In other words: I try to give them theological Easter baskets, Easter baskets that say something about God and why we’re hunting behind the couch for baskets filled with disgusting over-sugared marshmallows anyway.

So from me to you: some ideas for filling the baskets of your own small ones, with love and hope for a blessed week. Tuck one or more of these inside your child’s basket and commit to enjoying it together during the Easter season. Peeps optional.

(especially if you have an older child who wants to stay up just a little later: make some tea and read a little together!)



  • Slugs and Bugs Sing the Biblewe haven’t reviewed this yet, but rest assured – we will. Because trust me, you didn’t know that you needed a song about Deuteronomy 14:21 BUT YOU DO.
  • Resurrection Letters: vol. II
  • Amy Grant CollectionBecause it still stands up, and is super accessible for kids. And it gives you an excuse to sing along to El Shaddai one more time.
  • Jim Weiss CDs: these aren’t explicitly theological, but they’re such a treat. If you haven’t discovered Jim Weiss yet, Do It Now. If you have, then you know what I mean.


(A few Easter stories from Worship Woodworks – you can buy or make the materials, and tell the story throughout the season)

We’ll be quiet here the rest of the week: see you on the other side, when everything is “turned inside out and upside down” (Godly Play)  – or, in some of my favorite words, when we find the answer to our question “is everything sad going to come untrue?” (Tolkien) in the empty tomb.


Theology for Three Year Olds and Second Children


Those of you who have more than two kids are probably going to start laughing in just a few sentences. Those of you who have just one may swear you’ll do a better job with your second child. And if any of you happen to have two kids, one of each gender, say three-and-a-half years apart: well, maybe you’ll nod Amen.

See, I was running for Super Amazing Literary Mom during my daughter’s first four years. (See last week’s post for evidence that I have resigned this title, along with any aspirations in that direction.) I had our reading lists curated; we enjoyed an intentional mix of new books and well-loved titles; I kept seasonal books at the bedside. It turns out that she is a remarkably easygoing child who is happy to let us choose books to share with her. I learned this, you see, as soon as her little brother became old enough to express an opinion.

Oh, and express them he does. He is reading the books he chooses at bedtime, or none at all. He is singing the same three songs before bed every night. He never takes the Johnny Cash out of the CD player. Once he has chosen a book, Lord help the poor parent who attempts to substitute something else and any neighbors with their windows open.

Combine his energy of will with my divided attention. Add in the sad fact that my second child is largely getting the replay of my moves with the first, and, well: let’s just say Super Literary Mom of the Year is going to someone else this year. The poor kid hasn’t read nearly the variety that his sister had at this age. So I’ve decided to do something about it.

This probably continues in the vein of posts I’m writing mostly for myself, but I sat down the other day, pulled up our (extensive! and growing! hooray!) book list, and compiled a list of some of my favorite theological books for three year olds. Some we own and I need to pull out; others are going on the request list at the library. I’m going to have to stack them in front of the Richard Scarry books in the bedside basket, or they’ll never have a chance.

I share it with you (linked to reviews), should you have one of those magical, mercurial people somewhere in your life. It’s such a sweet age for reading together, and I want to get on top of it before it passes. Because it will. Too fast.

Favorite Theological Books for Threes

The Big Picture Story Bible, David Helm
Stories Jesus Told, Nick Butterworth
Read Aloud Bible Stories, vol. 1, Ella Lindvall
Animals of the Bible, Marie-Helene Delval
Bible ABC, Eric Metaxas
At Your Baptism, Carrie Steenwyk
What is the Church? Mandy Groce and Bill Bell
All Things Bright and Beautiful, Ashley Bryan
Glory, Nancy White Carlstrom
I Will Rejoice, Karma Wilson
He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, Kadir Nelson
Bedtime Rhyme, Walter Wangerin
When Daddy Prays, Nikki Grimes
Why Do You Love Me? Martin Baynton
You Are Special, Max Lucado

Other favorites that I’m forgetting?

Books for a New Baby

For the next installment in our series of booklists, we thought we’d address books for one of my very favorite kinds of people: new babies!

The books listed below are the ones I reach for first when I want to read theologically with my 10-month-old son, and they’re also the same ones I buy over and over to give expectant parents and their babies.  They are each well crafted, beautifully illustrated, theologically accurate, and developmentally appropriate for the youngest of readers.  Next time you’re shopping for someone under the age of 2, be sure to check them out!


Perfect Books for a Baby Shower, Infant Baptism, or 1st Birthday

Board Books

Picture Books

Lastly, I would be remiss not to mention Honey for a Child’s Heart.  If you’re buying gifts for a family who hasn’t yet discovered this treasure trove, by all means introduce them to it!  Gladys Hunt is one of the best guides to the world of children’s literature, and she has much to offer parents who are new to that delightful world as well as those who are well acquainted with it.

Best Books for Lent

Between the two of us, Sarah and I have reviewed nearly 80 books since we’ve been blogging.  We’re still discovering new ones all the time, but one of the things we’d also like to do this year is go through the archives and pull together some best-of lists on a series of different topics.  Today is Shrove Tuesday (pancakes for dinner, anyone?), so we thought we’d start with our favorite books for Lent.  Our hope is that the list will help us fully enter into the Lenten season with our families.

In making the selections we were looking for books with four different themes: (1) books placing Jesus’ life and death as the main subject,  (2) books that help children understand the dynamics of sin, judgment, and grace, (3) books that show us the way of humility, and (4) books to guide the daily living-out of our faith.  No matter how you do (or don’t) observe Lent, there’s something for everyone here!

You probably already know that Sarah and I both love Lent, and in previous years we’ve written a lot about this particular season of the church calendar.  After the booklist we’ve provided links to those posts in case you’re in need of fresh ideas for how to set aside the next 6 1/2 weeks in meaningful ways.

Books for Lent

Jesus at the Forefront!

Sin, Judgment, and Grace


Spiritual Disciplines and Holy Living

Food for Thought about Lent (and Easter)

Bookish Gifts for Grown-Ups

You’ve probably figured it out by now: Haley and I are both inveterate listmakers. And one of my favorite things about Christmas is the excuse to make lots and lots of lists. Gifts I want to give. Gifts I’m going to give. Gifts that I would give if I could afford them. Gifts that would be perfect for teachers, friends, and my kids in a few years. And for you: some bookish gifts for grownups!

This isn’t a “best books” list; it’s much more idiosyncratic. Whenever I finish a book I’ve loved, I immediately begin casting about for someone to give it to. Think of this as an odd collection of notes that either or Haley and I have jotted down, over the year, when we’ve read something and enjoyed it. Maybe one of these would bring some joy to someone you love, too.


  • The Brothers K: Baseball. Family. Religion. A shout out to Dostoevsky. Baseball. What more could a novel-lover want? (And if you don’t think baseball is novelistic – please, please, reconsider this position.)
  • Excellent Women, Barbara Pym. “I was so astonished that I could think of nothing to say, but wondered irrelevantly if I was to be caught with a teapot in my hand on every dramatic occasion.”
  • Peace Like a River, Leif Enger. If you haven’t read it yourself, put it on your list. If you know anyone who loves a good story, put it on theirs.
  • Sense and Sensibility – pair it with this amazing movie version. Because, really – Jane Austen is always, always appropriate.
  • That Distant Land, Wendell Berry. Introduce someone you love to Port William. Only, watch out: they may not want to come back.
  • Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset. Fourteenth century Norway. But a universal story. For some of us, this has been a life-changing trilogy.
  • Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West. If you have a travel or history buff on your list, this book is the best of both. And actually, it’s a classic of English letters. History, politics, culture, theology, music, art – it’s all there. In an intelligent, penetrating voice.


Non-Book Gifts

  • Christian Seasons Calendar Haley and I both have one. The art is gorgeous. And I love being reminded what time it is, not as the world measures time, but as God’s people do.
  • Book Embosser For anyone who needs to channel that inner librarian. Plus it gives the reader in your life a good excuse to buy more paper books!
  • Framed Literary Quotation I want one! ASAP! Also, one of these. And some Shakespeare hairpins in my stocking wouldn’t go amiss, either.
  • eBook Cover For the loved one who has made the digital leap.
  • Books & Culture subscription Anyone who loves books, loves ideas, and is interested in an intelligent Christian literary review. I have about 8 years’ worth of past issues sitting in my attic.
  • Image Journal subscription A beautiful journal of the arts. Literature, visual arts, essays, and interviews. Again, boxes of past issues are weighing down my attic. They’re so beautifully produced, I can’t part with them.
  • Moleskine journals. For starting a commonplace book!
  • Donation to International Justice Mission. It’s not bookish. But it is an amazing organization, and a cause close to the Lord’s heart.

Bookish Gifts for Kids

Last year in the weeks leading up to Advent we shared a variety of non-theological books that would make great Christmas gifts.  We covered quite a bit: board books, picture books, family read-alouds, and great books for adults.  More recently I posted my list of favorite picture books for 2-year-olds.  This year we thought we’d tackle gift lists from slightly different angles.  Today I’m talking about gifts for kids who love books; check back next week for a list specifically for grown-up readers.


Book Related Stuff 

And now, because we can’t pass up an opportunity to share books, here are some additional (non-theological) titles we haven’t mentioned elsewhere to consider giving to the children in your life.  There’s something for just about everyone on this list!


Books for Kids


Non-Theological Books for 2s

If you’ve been reading here for a while, you may remember that I solicited your advice last February.  My daughter was about to turn 2 and I needed some help making the jump into the wonderful world of non-board picture books.  You all had such great suggestions, and we’ve enjoyed reading most of them over the past six months.

Now that we have a nice list of favorites that we love and have been repeatedly reading, I thought I’d revisit the topic and share with you my running list for 2-year-olds, just in case any of you are looking for some new titles for your library list or Christmas wish list.  Most aren’t theological, but I heartily recommend them all!

I know there are many, many more great books for 2-year-olds out there, so please chime in and let me know what I’m missing!

Family Gifts: Read-Alouds & Award Winners

I firmly believe that the best gifts are things that are rare.  And what is more rare today, when we are all so busy, than time?   In light of that fact, why not consider giving a family Christmas gift that combines two wonderful things: time together and books? By giving a book that shines as a read-aloud, you’ll bring the family together on a regular basis and create powerful memories of sharing stories.

There are many wonderful read-aloud booklists out there, but Sarah and I wanted to focus on books that are part of a series.  That way, there’s no wondering about what to read next, and you’ll get to enjoy each other’s company for an extended period of time.   If finances allow, you could spring for the whole series instead of just the first book.  That way you wouldn’t even have to make a trip to the bookstore or library when it’s time for the next installment!

Most of the books on the list would be appropriate read-alouds for elementary school kids of any age, but many preschoolers could handle the first few titles and the final few are best reserved for those a bit older.

Another great way to include books into celebrations is to start a tradition of getting a certain award winner each year.  One of my favorite family traditions is that for Mother’s Day I always receive the year’s Caldecott winning picture book, signed by my family, in lieu of a card and gift.  If you want to start a similar tradition at Christmastime, just pick an award (there are many to choose from), track down this year’s winner, and then keep it up in following years.  You may not always love the book the award committee choose, but you’re bound to like most of them!

If your children are too young for chapter books, why not make your own read-aloud?  The biggest hit from my daughter’s first Christmas was a Blurb photo book that I made using pictures of all of the people in our extended family.  Every page displays one family member and tells a few things that he or she likes so that she will get to know each person by reading the book.  If a photo book is too expensive or time consuming for you, go a simpler route: print out 4×6 photos and slide them into a small photo album.  You could even write captions on index cards!

Picture Books to Give and Get

Doing any Christmas shopping for the small people in your life? Buy books! Toys break, take up space, and are outgrown – but building a child’s library is an investment that lasts. What follows is a list of some (and only some!) of the books we think every child should have in his or her permanent library. Want to make it an extra special gift? Include some of these dear bookplates from SarahJane Studios!

Happy browsing!

Sometimes you don’t need words to tell a fantastic story!

These are some of our favorite books about friends and companions.


Everything on this list is good for reading aloud, but these books are especially delightful when heard. I have yet to get tired of reading any of them to my kids!




I love these books. They’re a little over my four-year-old’s head, but they’re smart and funny and fun to read. And really – I much prefer these versions of Cinderella!

Books for Grownup Readers

If you’re anything like me, whenever you walk into a bookstore to choose books for your children you usually walk out with one (or two! or three!) for yourself. Whether you’re buying a gift for a fellow bookworm, or looking for books to add to your own holiday list, look no further! Following are some of the reads that we’ve loved, either on our own or together in book club. Happy reading! And happy Thanksgiving!

Novels to Read, Re-Read, Share and Discuss

Billiards at Half Past Nine, Heinrich Böll
Hannah Coulter, Wendell Berry
Cathedral, Raymond Carver
The Maytrees, Annie Dillard
Middlemarch, George Eliot
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Till We Have Faces, C.S. Lewis
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
Love in the Ruins, Walker Percy
My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok
Gilead and Home, Marilynne Robinson
Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner
East of Eden, John Steinbeck
Saint Maybe, Anne Tyler
Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Poetry, Even for People Who Don’t Read Poetry

Selected Poems, WH Auden
Four Quartets, TS Eliot
Murder in the Cathedral, TS Eliot
Poems (Everyman’s Library Edition), Gerard Manley Hopkins
Selected Poems, Denise Levertov
Thirst, Mary Oliver

Culture, Politics, History (a.k.a. Thought Provoking Reads)

Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt
What Are People For? Wendell Berry
Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Culture Making, Andy Crouch
Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, William Cavanaugh
Signposts in a Strange Land, Walker Percy
Leisure the Basis of Culture, Josef Pieper
The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, Marilynne Robinson
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West

Memoir and Literary Essays

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill
An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis
The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work, Kathleen Norris
Mystery and Manners, Flannery O’Connor
The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. Sally Fitzgerald
Letters to a Diminished Church, Dorothy Sayers
Travels with Charley in Search of America, John Steinbeck

Mystery and Spy Novels, Just For Fun

Whose Body, Dorothy Sayers (the first in the Lord Peter Wimsey series: read them all!)
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, John LeCarré