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Archive for the ‘Children's Books’ Category

Taken at face value, the story of the Pilgrim Fathers has something of the mythic quality about it.  The Pilgrims were a harassed people fleeing their homes under cover of darkness, betrayed by a ship’s captain, arrested, left to languish in prison, and separated from their families. Their eventual escape to Holland and their lives as immigrants presented economic, cultural, and social challenges.  On their trans-Atlantic crossing to the New World, they suffered the wiles of unscrupulous investors, the near sinking of the Speedwell, the miseries of life “tween decks” for nine long weeks, and treacherous gales upon the sea that split their mast and nearly forced them back to England.  Their troubles weren’t over once they reached the New World.  There they suffered disease and death.  Despite all of this, or perhaps because of all of this, the Pilgrim story echoes across the generations with hope in the midst of heartache, and with promise in the midst of pain.

The story of the Pilgrims is a story of persecution.

Convinced by their understanding of the scriptures that the state-mandated Church of England could not lead them into religious truth, the Pilgrims began meeting in secret. This infuriated King James, and he swore to make these Separatists  “conform, or he would harry them out of the land!” Many were arrested and imprisoned. Even the young orphan William Bradford, who joined the Separatists at age 15, was harassed by his own family who threatened to disown him if he continued his association with Separatists. To them he calmly replied:

To keep a good conscience and walk in such a way as God has prescribed in his Word, is a thing which I must prefer before you all and above life itself.  Wherefore since it is for a good Cause that I am likely to suffer the disasters which you lay before me, you have no cause to be either ec641bb454454e98a76916c9cdeb45cfangry with me, or sorry for me.  Yea, I am not only willing to part with everything that is dear to me in this world for this Cause, but I am thankful that God hath given me heart so to do, and will accept me so to suffer for him.”

It is remarkable that a teenaged boy could make such a proclamation, and yet, it was also predictive of his future. William Bradford did eventually lose nearly everything that was dear to him, excepting his faith.  Bradford’s youthful bravado was the type of devotion that enabled the Pilgrims to endure persecution.  Ultimately, King James did drive the Separatists out of England.

The story of the Pilgrims is a story of prison and pain.

The Separatists were Englishmen bound over generations by history, culture, and language to their land. Their attachment to the very soil of England and their English identity was deep and profound.  Making the choice to leave was wrenching and traumatic. It was a painful choice that could only be rationalized by a new identity.  They realized they were no longer just Englishmen, but Pilgrims and sojourners.

Added to the pain of leaving England, was the trauma of the heartbreaking separation of families.  In 1608, when the Pilgrims secretly hired a ship to help them escape to Holland, unforeseen events conspired to separate the men from their wives and children.  When the ship’s captain saw king’s soldiers approaching the families awaiting the ship on the beach, he panicked and sailed off with only the men aboard.  The men were devastated as they watched their beloved wives and children hauled off by the king’s soldiers, completely helpless to do anything.  Their pleas to the captain to let them off the ship went unheeded.  On the shore, William Brewster was arrested once again and thrown back into prison.  The homeless women and children had to find shelter with hospitable neighbors until arrangements could be made once again for the passage to Holland.

The distraught men who sailed to Holland were set upon by a gale that blew their ship mercilessly for a solid week.  Given up for lost, the ship finally reached the shores of Norway and eventually Amsterdam.  On landing, nineteen-year-old William Bradford was promptly arrested by Dutch authorities.  They’d been “informed” by King James’s agent that Bradford was an escaped criminal. The falsehood was eventually cleared up, and Bradford was released as the religious refugee that he was.

The story of the Pilgrims is also a story of providence.

The Pilgrims delight in the freedom of religion they are able to enjoy in Holland.  Life in the beautiful city of Leyden is peaceful and in some cases prosperous.  Though the former landed gentry of England will never completely adjust to being tradesmen, carpenters, and craftsmen, they are grateful for provision. But for these Pilgrims, being sojourners and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, prosperity and provision is not enough.  Fathers and mothers watch their children growing up in this prosperous city with little sense of the destiny they felt when they left all they loved to follow a higher calling.  The Twelve-year truce between Holland and Spain is coming to an end, and English sons will soon be drafted into the Dutch army to fight against Spain. Circumstances, especially difficult ones, viewed through the eye of providence can bring perspective.

The Pilgrims choose to follow providence–a strong leading and sense that they are called to something higher. They call it a New Jerusalem in the New World and they begin to discuss, research and plan.  The timid ones, those who rightly fear the very real dangers of the wilderness or the great length and hazards of the ocean voyage, are encouraged by none other than that former orphan boy, the man William Bradford.  He replies:

All great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties; and must be both enterprised and overcome with answerable courages.  It was granted the dangers were great, but not desperate; the difficulties many, but not invincible.  For though there were many of them likely, yet they were not certain.  It might be that sundry of the things feared might never befall; others, by provident care and the use of good means, might in a great measure be prevented; and all of them, through the help of God, by fortitude and patience, might be either borne or overcome.”

Again, Bradford’s words prove prophetic. Through careful planning, many obstacles are overcome.  But some cannot be foreseen and must be suffered through.  That includes unscrupulous agents who at the last minute change the terms of their agreement, virtually assigning the Pilgrims to seven years of slavery in exchange for their passage to the New World.  This they will not do. So, they must sell much-needed provisions in order to pay the port tax and leave England.  Finally, at sea, the Speedwell begins to leak so badly both ships must return to port. Long delays and expenses ensue while the Speedwell is overhauled from stem to stern.

At last the ships depart, once and for all, they believe.  But 300 miles out, the Speedwell begins to leak again Pilgrims2so badly that the captain can barely keep her afloat. The disheartened Pilgrims return again to shore where the captain concludes the Speedwell is over-masted and unseaworthy. This was suspected to be treachery on the part of the captain and his crew, as they did not really want to sail to America. Now the Pilgrims must abandon one ship, consolidate as best they can on the Mayflower and leave passengers and provisions behind. Valuable time and money have been used up.

At sea, a North Atlantic gale blows up. The Pilgrims pray while the sailors delight in cursing the pious seafarers and their God. But when the main beam buckles under the violence of the storm, it is the Pilgrims who haul out a great iron jack-screw they had brought from Leyden, and fix the buckled beam.

Nine weeks later, on November 20, 1620, the Pilgrims sight land in Cape Cod.  But before the Pilgrims can fully give thanks, the captain announces that the treacherous currents around Cape Cod may run the ship into deadly shoals.  The Pilgrims pray once again and disaster is averted.  As the men explore the land for a suitable habitation, the women and children remain aboard the Mayflower.  Sadly, one day, Bradford returns to find his beloved wife Dorothy has fallen overboard and drown.   Later, when the Pilgrims are finally able to come ashore and begin to build their shelters, the exposure and lack of provisions have devastating effects. Of the hundred Pilgrims who made the journey, only six or seven remain well enough to care for the sick. By the end of the year, half of the Pilgrims have died.

The saga of the Pilgrims is a saga of persecution, prison, and pain.  But it is also a profound saga of perseverance, promise, and providence. By November of 1621, the colony has recovered such that William Bradford proclaims three days of “praise and thanksgiving to God for his mercies to the children of men.”  Despite the profound pain, Bradford has the perspective to see God’s providence and provision.

If ever any people in these later Ages, were upheld by the Providence of God, after a more special manner than others, then we: and therefore are the more bound to celebrate the memory of His goodness, with everlasting thankfulness . . . So that when I seriously consider of things, I cannot but think that God hath a purpose to give that land, as an inheritance, to our nation.”    –Edward Winslow, Good News from New England, 1623

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Dear Friends,

Historic Monday Club

I am delighted to announce that Greta and I are returning for our Second Annual Rea & Greta’s Literature Soirée!  We had such a lovely time last year with all of you, forming friendships, and talking about real things, that we are coming back for more!  We hope you can join us too.  Greta and I have worked up some special topics that we hope you will find engaging, inspiring, and meaningful.  We will be talking about the power of vulnerability in our relationships and what that looks like as we deal with hard times homeschooling, learning challenges, and difficult times in our marriages.  We will also cover academics and how to enrich these in such a way that they cultivate empathy and wholeness in ourselves and our children.  We don’t pretend to be experts on these topics but do hope that by sharing our challenges, failures, and misses, we can all grow together into what we really long to be as homeschooling families.

Here are the details:

Rea & Greta’s Literature Soirée
Date: Saturday, June 30, 2018
Time: 9 am to 4 pm (doors open at 8:30 for registration)
Location: The beautiful Monday Club in San Luis Obispo
Tickets are $50, non-refundable, but transferable.  Link is here.
And yes, we will have a meet-up at Scout Coffee on Friday evening at 6 pm.  So come out for a delicious cup of Scout’s amazing coffee or tea while enjoying the company of other like-minded mamas and make some new friends!

Price does not include lunch, but we will have the amazing Farmhouse Corner Market providing delicious sandwiches, salads, and other fresh and delicious options for purchase.

Teaching Art History

In this session, Rea will be talking about teaching art history in your homeschool. Rea will share how art history came to be of value to her personally and why she believes it is a valuable subject to add to your homeschool studies. Rea will offer practical lesson ideas, ways to incorporate art history into your school days with the youngest kids to your high school students, and, of course, a book list!  We know you’ll find this session to be both practical and inspiring.

Home Schooling in Times of Doubt by Greta Eskridge

In this session, Greta will be sharing from the heart about homeschooling through hard times. It is something we all face, but when we are going through it, we often feel very alone. Greta shares about teaching a child struggling mightily to learn to read, and how the worry of that struggle impacted her marriage. She offers practical advice, encouragement, and hope in the face of hard things. Best of all, she reminds you that no matter what you are facing in this journey of homeschooling, you are never alone.

Coping Skills For Spirited Children

Greta will share her experience raising passionate children. She’ll share the joys and frustrations of educating and parenting kids who deal with intense emotions. And Greta will offer practical solutions thatshe has found to be helpful with her children as well as a book list of resources, followed by a Q & A time. We hope you’ll find it to be both encouraging and timely.

Teaching American History Through Literature by Rea Berg

The pathos, passion, and power, of America’s story, is one that continues to capture the imaginations of students, historians, parents, and teachers alike. From the saga of the Pilgrims plight in their pursuit of religious freedom to the courage of the Founders in their defiance of Britain’s tyranny, there are so many stories that bring delight and inspiration. But for many of us, these stories are not adequate to cultivate the understanding of America’s complex makeup of racial, religious, and cultural diversity. How can we, even as parents of young children, assure that our children have a love and appreciation for all the stories thatmake up the tragedy and the triumphs of America’s story?  This session will explore ways to cultivate a deeper and broader understanding of our history.

 

Greta & Rea and our amazing crew!

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Restored image of Obadiah from Thy Friend, Obadiah. Earlier deterioration at right.

Dear Readers,
I’ve been happily working on a delightful project for the past six weeks to restore the Obadiah books to their original beauty. I’ve loved the Obadiah books since I had little ones in the house, and still have my original copies from 30 years ago, (when the hardbacks were only $3.95!). You may recognize the titles of Rachel and Obadiah and Obadiah the Bold as Beautiful Feet Books has been privileged to publish these for a number of years. But a few years ago, it was brought to our attention that the Turkle heirs were becoming concerned about the quality of their father’s works.  This is due to the fact that often, with every subsequent printing, the further the edition gets from the original, the greater the deterioration. Serendipitously, the Turkle heirs, in conjunction with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books did an exhibit of Brinton Turkle’s work, and it was

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Restored version of Obadiah the Bold harbor scene. Below see deteriorated version.

discovered that for three of the books—the two aforementioned and Thy Friend, Obadiah that the majority of the original watercolors were available.  Since I had an ongoing relationship with the director of the Eric Carle Museum, I suggested to her that Beautiful Feet Books reissue the Obadiah series using these original watercolors.  While this is a labor intensive project, it is just the sort of thing I love to do.  In restoring the original beauty, integrity, and clarity of the artist’s work, I feel I have a small part in keeping a bit of history, literature, and art, alive for another

generation! So, you will see here some examples of the current state of the art in conjunction with the beauty we have been able to restore.

Finally, I’ll close with a quote from Brinton Turkle that resonates beautifully with the vision I have for children’s literature as well as the goal we strive for at Beautiful Feet Books.

In writing, I use all sorts of tricks to capture the attention of my young audience: suspense, humor and even charm, when I can muster it. But no matter how successfully I may entertain, I am really up to something else: subversion. My abilities are implacably lined up against the hypocrisy, materialism, and brutality that so pervade our society. As my readers leave childhood behind, I hope that they will carry with them an appreciation for such alternatives as integrity, mutual respect, kindness and reverence for life. These alternatives are in my books, and I pray that exposure to them will play a part in the construction of a better tomorrow.

Brinton had loaned this dining room scene from Obadiah the Bold to a library where it was hung for visitors to enjoy. Sadly, given the exposure to light over time, the beautiful sea and sky faded completely. See the restored version below.

 

 

 

 

In this scene, Obadiah announces he will be a pirate when he grows up. There is just one difficulty. “Has thee ever heard of a Quaker pirate?” his brother Moses asks.

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ATW Cover shot!Dear Readers,

Thank you to all the friends and literature lovers who have waited patiently for this new study to be available!  It has been quite a labor of love, and it is my fond hope that you and your students will have as many happy, enriching, and rewarding times with it, as I have!

So . . . Here goes!  Around the World with Picture Books Part I is designed to be a notebook approach to world cultures and geography for the primary student. (Part II will cover South America and Europe and is slated for Winter/Spring 2018). Using beloved children’s books, this guide includes nature study, folk tales, fables, art, poetry, history, and gentle Socratic questions to prompt discussion and discovery.  Geographic elements include country maps and flags for students to cut out, paint, or color. The beautifully illustrated Maps by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński acts as the spine of the study and there will be few students that don’t love geography after encountering this work. Beautiful drawings of indigenous animals are included for each country, and will familiarize students with some remarkable creatures, cultivating respect and wonder for the natural world. As the student compiles these elements in a journal, he creates a memorable keepsake recording all he is learning.

Pavlova

When we visit Australia, make this gorgeous Pavlova—a dreamy dessert for which we can thank the Aussies and Anna Pavlova, a famous ballerina!

Part One covers Asia, Antarctica, Australia, and Africa.  In Asia, we explore China, Japan, Thailand, and India.  In Africa, we visit Morocco, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ghana. Each country visited includes additional picture book suggestions as well as biography and history recommendations.  Chapters conclude with a fun foray into the cuisine of the country with recipes, photos, and links to create a memorable evening experiencing unique culinary creations from around the world—a perfect time for students to relate to family and friends all that they’ve learned.

ATWWPB Cover.JPG

The Literature

All of the books chosen for this study are either classic works, award-winning books, or newer selections that have achieved some critical acclaim. As a primary-level study, the book notes presented here are simple and straightforward with comprehension questions designed to enhance and draw out some of the subtleties or nuances of the books.  Most selections included in this guide can stand quite well on their own.  The best literature tends to inspire the student’s interest and curiosity to bubble up naturally and often notes are not necessary.

Nature Studies

Children take to the study of nature with keen interest and delight.  The animals featured in this guide were chosen for their appeal to primary students. Helpful websites and links are included for each animal.Japan NBResearching a few remarkable facts about each of the creatures will help cultivate a child’s sense of wonder at the marvels of the natural world; allow time to ponder the spectacles of perfect symmetry, function, and design.  Even the tiniest creature reveals something marvelous about the mind of the Creator and should inspire awe and reverence.

Notebooking

Tsubame W30SThe notebooks that are included in the Around the World with Picturebooks Pack have been specially chosen for the quality they will bring to your student’s journaling experience.  Imported from Japan, the Tsubame Fools Note Book is made from acid-free paper that is beautifully smooth to the touch, does not bleed through, and is lined for beginning writers but can accommodate a student working on cursive as well. With a sewn binding, this notebook lays perfectly flat wherever it is opened, significantly facilitating all the writing and pasting work in the course. 

Finally, Around the World with Picture Books Part I goes to the press in just a few days, as we make all the final touches!  The good news is that we have a download available now of the first two chapters—China and Japan.  This includes all the lessons, geography, history and biography connections, art connections and nature studies. We expect the guide to be available by the third week of September.  So check our website at http://www.bfbooks.com and let us know how you like the study!  Happy travels!china-maps.jpg

From Anno’s China a scene from the beautiful Guilan province in China. Just one of many scenes visited in Around the World with Picture Books!

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Dear Readers,

I am very excited to announce a new, fun, exciting twist on my regular Summer Literature Soirée!  This summer, the lovely Greta Eskridge of #maandpamodern fame will be joining me to enhance and enrich our time together!  Greta (if you don’t know her–and you should) hosts the very popular At Home Podcast where her lively personality, her disarming humility, and her honesty and vulnerability have earned her a very faithful following!  Greta is one of a few voices in home schooling today that is actually a home school graduate herself (as well as a college graduate–which she did not do at home), and I know you will love her as much as I do!

This year, rather than hosting this at my home, as I have done for the last 6 years (yes, it’s been six!), Greta and I have secured the beautiful Monday Club on Monterey in San Luis Obispo.  This historic building was built by California’s first woman architect–the remarkable Julia Morgan.  Its warm Spanish Colonial style architecture will provide a hospitable and lovely venue for our day of discussing history, literature, poetry and nature!  I so hope you can join us!

And on a side note–we will be serving our local favorite–Scout Coffee, and a delicious sandwich and salad luncheon created my the master Southern Italian chefs at Giuseppe’s Bistro!  So, make plans to join us for a festive day of laughter, learning, literature and life!  Here are the details and here is the link to register:

Rea and Greta’s Literature Soirée
July 22, 2017
9am to 4pm
The Monday Club, San Luis Obispo, CA
Cost: Early Bird $60 by May 31st
$65 after June 1

A free COFFEE MEET UP with Rea and Greta will be held the night before the Soirée at Scout Coffee on Foothill Avenue. Come at 6:30 pm. Cost of admission is a cup of coffee or tea!  Come get a chance to mingle with lots of like-minded mamas and enjoy San Luis Obispo’s favorite coffee hang-out at the same time!

 

Teaching History Through Literature by Rea Berg

Our ancient predecessors, sitting by candlelight or lamplight, reading history, actually read history through literature.  There simply was no other way to study history–as there were no textbooks until the Modern era. History has effectively been taught through literature since ancient times.  Just the last century or so has this vibrant subject been robbed of its human connection by the ubiquitous textbook.  As Neil Postman urges in his book, The End of Education, those who desire to improve teaching ought to get rid of all textbooks which, in his opinion are “the enemies of education, instruments for promoting dogmatism and trivial learning” (116).  Replacing the history textbook with literature not only restores this discipline to its historic roots, but also reinvigorates it with its inherent passion, human interest, and wonder. In the long term, children who are exposed to the best books from an early age, learn the adventure, drama, and poetry of a well-told tale, and discover the truth of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim, “All history is biography.”

The Power of Poetry

 by Greta Eskridge

“Poetry: the best words in the best order.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge



For many of us teachers, poetry is an afterthought. There are so many books to get through, novels, historical books, texts about science and geography, that we struggle to find room for poetry. If there is any time left at the end of a school day or week, we might fit in a poem or two. But we might not. Because we aren’t sure that poetry matters all that much.
However, when we don’t expose our children to poetry we are doing them a great disservice. The author W. Somerset Maughman says, “the crown of literature is poetry.” 
Poetry requires a different kind of reading and thinking from us than prose does. It makes us work a little bit harder. It exposes us to the best language, because it the poet chooses each word so carefully.
In this session, Greta will share with you many ways to bring poetry into your school day. She’ll give you everything from lesson ideas, to lists of best-loved childhood poems, and poetry collections. She’ll share a bit of her childhood exposure to poetry, or more accurately, the lack thereof. And what it was that finally brought poetry to life for her.
More than anything, Greta wants you to come way from this session feeling excited about poetry and inspired to add it to your everyday life. After all,  “teaching poetry is one important way to help children become human beings who are fully awake to the world.” Megan McNamer

Exploring the Great Writers of History for Children–A Practicum on Teaching History Through Literature by Rea Berg

At the turn of the twentieth century, a publication movement arose that recognized the value of children having excellent picture books and history books that dealt with serious subjects, no longer just fairy tales and fantasy–but history and biography.  Recognized experts in their fields were commissioned to write excellent books for children. This movement coincided with an artistic flowering committed to exposing children to the beauty of art at a young age. Combined, these movements resulted in a golden era of children’s literature that provided children (and their parents) with extraordinary books that were not only intellectually satisfying, but also visually pleasing.  This session will explore a number of these works and the ways in which these books can build a rich historical and literary curriculum for you and your students.  

Learning to Love Nature Through Literature by Greta Eskridge

“He does not despise real woods because he reads of enchanted woods; the reading makes all the real woods a little enchanted.” CS Lewis



One might not automatically make a connection between nature and literature. Spending time in nature calls to mind hiking trails and backpacks, dirt and bugs. While literature makes us think of academia, deep discussions, or at the very least, curling up in a comfy spot to get lost in the pages of Jane Austin.
However, many wonderful works of literature are rich in nature, and the writers of these works were great nature lovers. They understood the powerful teacher that nature and literature can be together, engaging us in the wonder of the natural sciences in a way a textbooks never could.  
When we read these works of literature with our children, we expose them to the beauty and marvels of nature in a powerful way.
In this session, Greta will share her own journey of falling in love with nature through reading great books. And she’ll explain why she has made nature study through literature such a priority in her own children’s education.
Greta will share practical tips on how to make nature come alive through books. As well as ways to get more nature into your lives, even if the idea of a hike with your children leaves you feeling slightly panicked. 
You’ll come away from this session with an extensive list of books that are rich in nature. Best of all, you’ll be inspired to add more nature and literature to your school days.



 

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“All beautiful things encourage a child’s sense of wonder–and everything that encourages a child’s sense of wonder is beautiful.” –Mitsumasa Anno

The work of Mitsumasa Anno has been beloved since the 1970s when his first books appearedImage result for Anno's Journey in the United States.  His first US title was Topsy Turvies (1970) and in 1978 the book that acquainted me with his work appeared.  That was Anno’s Journey–a truly inspired and for me, enchanted wordless journey through Europe.  The genius of Mr. Anno’s work is in the delightfully detailed watercolors that lead the reader from pastoral scenes to village and finally to city scenes. Life is presented within the simplicity of quotidian routine–farmers tending their fields, shepherds guarding their flocks, a merchant selling wares, or a child playing hoops.Then suddenly, suddenly, out pops a scene from an Impressionist masterpiece, or a character from a novel, or a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. Traveling with Anno through Anno’s Journey is a delight to any that love art, architecture, literature, geography, culture or children’s books! For instance, hidden within his inviting scenes one will come upon Van Gogh’s Langlois Bridge or George Seurat’s  A Sunday on La Grande Gatte or his Bathers at Asniers.  Less artistically inclined “readers” will find delight in Anno’s hilarious depiction of the silly king from The Emperor’s New Clothes, or the unsuspecting Little  Red Riding Hood innocently picking flowers while the wily fox watches from the woods.   Then there is Pinocchio, running through the streets!  Even young children will experience the thrill of discovery when they notice the four whimsical characters–the donkey, the dog, the cat and the cock from the well-loved Tale of the Bremen Town Musicians or see the iconic red balloon wafting up off the page from the Oscar-winning French film short of the same name.  There is something for everyone here, even the youngest child will love just pouring over the pictures with their intense colors, humor, and variety.

Over two years ago, I contacted the Japanese publisher of Mr. Anno’s work, in order to ascertain if they would be willing to have our

Guilan.JPG

The enchanted Guilan from Anno’s China

company, Beautiful Feet Books, republish Anno’s Spain, which had been out of print for some time.  In the process of that journey, I also found that Mr. Anno had done a Journey book on China, which had never been published in the US before.  Not only that, I also discovered that for each of Mr. Anno’s Journey books (there are now 8) he had written wonderful back matter to accompany each scene. These have never been translated and published in the English language editions, which is a shame, as Mr. Anno’s voice is as endearing and warm-hearted as his art. So for the editions that Beautiful Feet Books is bringing out, we are thrilled to be including these wonderful notes. After that we will begin work on Anno’s Japan and Anno’s Denmark.

annos-china-iphoneJust a few weeks ago we took delivery (like proud parents with a new baby!) on Anno’s China–the first time this beautiful book has ever appeared in America. Just like his other books, “readers” will accompany Anno as he travels through China, exploring life in this vast and majestic land where birds fish for men, where dragons and lions dance, and where thousands of clay soldiers and calvary guard the tomb of China’s first emperor.  Anno’s China received a Kirkus starred review which you can read about here.

I am currently working on bringing Anno’s Spain back into print as well.  I am finishing up editing the translation from the Japanese to English and expect to go to print early Spring. I will continue to post more about Mr. Anno’s work as we continue on this wonderful Journey with him!

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“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us.”  Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23

Image result for tanner mary painting

The Visitation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

This is the season of Advent.  “Advent” comes from the Latin–ad venire–meaning “to come to” and denotes a sense of anticipation or heralding the arrival of something.

For Mary, the arrival meant an unplanned pregnancy, the potential loss of everything–her home, her family, and possibly her life.

To be “found with child” before marriage (and during a betrothal) was a complete disaster in Ancient Hebrew culture. It was a tragedy with dire consequences.  Deuteronomy. 22:20 says, that if a man marries a maiden who claimed to be a virgin, and then finds out that she is not, “they shall bring the girl to the entrance of her father’s house and there the townsmen shall stone her to death.”

And Deuteronomy. 22:23 says, “If a man has relations within the walls of a city with a maiden who is betrothed, you shall bring them both out to the gate of the city and there stone them to death.  But if they were in the open fields, “the man alone shall die,” [because] the betrothed maiden may have cried out for help but there was no one to come to her aid.”

Mary’s unplanned pregnancy made her extraordinarily vulnerable. Vulnerable denotes being susceptible to being wounded or hurt–and what could possibly be more vulnerable than a young maiden with child?  Mary was susceptible to being wounded by her family, her community, her betrothed.

Vulnerable also means being open to moral attack, criticism, or temptation.

“Look! A young woman, a virgin, shall conceive and bear a son!” Yeah, right. Mary was vulnerable to contempt, scorn, to malicious mocking, to pure logic, to reason, to laughable disbelief, to the wagging of heads, the rolling eyes, the knowing smirks.

C.S. Lewis says of vulnerability:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give it to no one, not even an animal.  Wrap it carefully with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements.  Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

Mary allowed herself to become vulnerable–to bear the potential shame, rejection, misunderstanding, disbelief, scorn and contempt that came as an unexpected outcome of her love and obedience to God.

The opposite of vulnerability is to be unbreakable, impenetrable, defensive, oppositional, intractable, insensitive, incapable of empathy or compassion.

Unwittingly, Mary carried within herself the King of Vulnerability.  When the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, took on human form–and not only human form, but the most vulnerable–a tiny helpless babe, he demonstrated the power of becoming powerless, the majesty of laying aside all majesty, the honor of becoming the lowliest.  When the King of all eternity, the maker and sustainer of life, the genesis of all beauty, goodness, truth and light, came into the world he came stripped of everything but vulnerability.

Imagine the scene: the Eternal God has left the beauty, glory, and splendor of heaven–where “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man”–the wonders there, to be born of blood and water in a stable, dark, dank, cold, spread with urine-soaked hay, surrounded by the warm breath of animals, and their dung, and then wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.

Matthew Henry says of the “swaddling clothes” that they signify

“rent or torn . . . his very swaddles were ragged and torn.  His being born in a stable and laid in a manger [reflects] the poverty of his parents–had they been rich, room would have been made for them in the inn–being poor they must shift as they could. [The precious lamb of God] was born into an age of the corruption and degeneracy of manners–that a woman of virtue and honor should be used so barbarously  . . . if there had been any common humanity among them, they would not have turned a woman in travail [labor] into a stable.”

In this scene we see the vulnerability of Mary and the vulnerability of this precious infant.

Five-hundred years before Christ, the playwright Aeschylus wrestled with the fate of the perfectly just man–the man who loves justice for the beauty of the thing itself, and not because being just brings worldly blessings.  Plato recorded the thoughts of Aeschylus:

The perfectly just man must not be just merely for the love of justice, and not on account of worldly blessings that might accrue from  its practice.  Therefore the perfectly just man will be tried, will suffer all kinds of ills on account of his justice, and finally be crucified.  Plato–The Republic II

The King of glory chose the way of vulnerability fully, completely, and without reservation  Having perfect foreknowledge he knew what to expect from broken humanity.

We are called to follow the vulnerable One.  We are called to follow Him, who “made himself of no reputation.”  Becoming vulnerable is painful.  We open ourselves to an unknown future, one we don’t have foreknowledge of.

Bryan Stevenson in his book, Just Mercy says the following:

Paul Farmer, the renowned physician, who has spent his life trying to cure the world’s sickest and poorest people, one quoted me something that the writer Thomas Merton said: We are bodies of broken bones.  I guess I’d always known but never fully considered that being broken is what makes us human.  We all have our reasons.  Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our

Image result for just mercy bryan stevensoncommon humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, healing.  Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion.  We have a choice.  We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing.  Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and as a result, deny our own humanity” (288-289).

I want the compassion and empathy spoken of here, to be a reality in my life.  I know my love for those I ought to love best is often conditional, harsh, strained.  I am so often selfish, prideful, quick to anger, and quick to judge. This is the confession of my own brokenness that in reaching for the light, I might find hope for the darkness in myself.

“Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Emmanuel–God with us.” Our God made himself vulnerable in order to be the God that is with us. He does not stand afar, but stands with us in our sin, our pain, and our brokenness, to bring healing, light, and redemption.  That is the message of Christmas.

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