Celebrating the greatest Gift: Parent & Child Christmas Reads from Zondervan

Every year during the Christmas season we like to add new books to our collection of titles that celebrate the birth of Christ. We have old favorites but are constantly finding new ones that quickly become dear to us. I thought that this year we would share a few of our favorites.

For Children

Follow the events of Jesus’ birth as you read this lovely picture book written by Max Lucado with Randy Frazee and Karen Hill and illustrated by Fausto. The Christmas Story for Children tells readers about the birth of a special baby whose story is filled with love for us all. Young readers as well as their parents will appreciate the beautiful words and artwork that convey the message that we are loved and cherished.

What I like about this story is that it doesn't stop at the manger. The story goes on to describe Jesus' childhood and how from the outside Jesus' appeared to be just like any other Jewish male. Then the appearance of his cousin John and the baptism of Jesus lead into the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry.

The illustrations by Fausto Bianchi have that soft watercolor effect and are just beautiful. The collaboration between Max Lucado, Randy Frazee, and Karen Davis Hill make this a great retelling. This is a companion book to the award-winning and bestselling The Story for Children.

The Legend of St. Nicholas captivates audiences and tells the story of a young man named Nicholas, who was moved by the plight of the poor and needy. Nicholas spent his life secretly helping the poor all over the world, giving gifts on Christmas Eve to remind people of the greatest Gift of all, Jesus Christ. This gentle Christmas book introduces the original St. Nicholas and offers inspiration for readers to become cheerful givers themselves. The final pages in the book include fun Father Christmas traditions in other lands.                                               
Our family has always chosen to do Santa along with our other Christmas traditions. Once our kids were old enough to understand the story of the original St. Nicholas we shared it with them. This book is a great way to approach the subject and allow the discussion of Christmas being a season of giving rather than focusing on getting. It was written for children ages 4-8 but can be enjoyed by the entire family.

On the first Christmas ever, there wasn't a Christmas tree or stockings by the fire. There was only a stable, some animals and shepherds, and a manger filled with hay. But on that special night when Jesus was born, the world changed forever.                                          

I absolutely love illustrated books by Dennis Jones. His artwork just makes me smile. The exaggerated expressions are sure to captivate your little ones. 

One of the features that I especially appreciate about this book is that when the wise men come to meet Jesus, he is depicted as a toddler rather than a baby still in the manger. I like it when children's books choose to be accurate. Makes my job as a momma so much easier!

It's time for the Yuletide Ice Cube Fair! Veggies gather to eat snow cones, slurp slushies, and ice skate--but the best part of all is the Ice Cube Carving Contest! Join Veggie friends as they discover that it's not what's biggest or best that matters most on Christmas. It's Jesus!

Who doesn't love Veggie Tales?!! Our house is all about the vegetable (the singing ones that is). Karen Poth did a splendid job of using the characters to depict not only what the secular world thinks is important to the Christmas season, but she also nails it with Junior's very small carved nativity.

The last line in the story is perfect, "Christmas isn't all about the big, the bright, the new. Christmas time means Jesus--and the love he brought for you." This is not only a fun rhyming book to read, but one that brings home the true meaning of Christmas.

For Adults

Who was in the manger that first Christmas morning? Some say he would become a great moral leader. Others, a social critic. Still others view Jesus as a profound philosopher, a rabbi, a feminist, a prophet, and more. Many are convinced he was the divine Son of God.

Who was he--really? An how can you know for sure?

Consulting experts on the Bible, archaeology, and messianic prophecy, Lee Strobel searches out the true identity of the child in the manger. Join him as he asks the tough, pointed questions you'd expect from an award-winning legal journalist. If Jesus really was God in the flesh, then there ought to be credible evidence, including:

Eyewitness Evidence--Can the biographies of Jesus be trusted?
Scientific Evidence--What does archaeology reveal?
Profile Evidence--Did Jesus fulfill the attributes of God?
Fingerprint Evidence--Did Jesus uniquely match the identity of the Messiah?

The Case for Christmas invites you to consider why Christmas matters in the first place. Somewhere beyond the traditions of the holiday lies the truth. It may be more compelling than you've realized. Weigh the facts and decide for yourself.

I am a complete news junkie so I instantly fell in love with this book when it was first released. It has been on my yearly Christmas reading list ever since. I like the presentation and the logical thinking approach. It is a very short book and can easily be read in an evening.

Eighteen years after a tragic workplace accident, "crooked lady" Ema McKinley, who doctors believed would never again rise from her wheelchair, experienced an extraordinary healing when Jesus appeared in her room on Christmas Eve. This miraculous encounter is more than an inspiring, compelling story that will capture your attention. It is an unforgettable rush of truth that will open your heart to find lasting joy and peace, no matter what you're going through. You will see your life from a whole new hope-filled perspective.

While this is not your traditional Christmas book, I couldn't help including it. Ema's Christmas Eve miracle is so fitting this time of year. The same Jesus that was a miraculous birth, chose to bring about another Christmas time miracle in the life of Ema McKinley. I found Ema's story to be humbling yet inspiring as I held it up against my own life. During this season of miracles, I think you will really enjoy reading about how the God of Heaven once again touched the life of an ordinary woman.

Sometimes God uses the smallest voices to teach the greatest truths.Every day, one of Amy Julia Becker's children says something that prompts her to think about life in a new way. "Mom, does Santa love me?" William asks, after his mother explains the meaning of Christmas . . . In a chat with her dad about the children who died in the Sandy Hook shootings, Penny asks, "Did they go to heaven?" . . . "You was a jer, Mommy?" asks Marilee one morning in the car.

These conversations deepen Amy Julia's relationships with her children, but they also refine her understanding of what she believes and what God is doing in her own life.

In Small Talk, Amy Julia draws from the wisdom and curiosity of those young voices to reflect on beauty and kindness, tragedy and disability, prayer and miracles. As she moves through the basic questions her kids posed when they were very young to the more intellectual questions of later childhood, she invites us to learn from our own day-to-day conversations with the children in our lives.

This eloquent parenting memoir is about the big questions little hearts ask, the thoughts their words provoke, and the laughter and soul-searching their honesty brings--to adult and child alike.

Again, this isn't a traditional Christmas book, but it is about children and they are definitely gifts from God. A child that doesn't ask questions is rare, if not obsolete. As a momma their continuous questions can drive you absolutely crazy in the moment. The temptation to answer with a "because I said so" type of response is often irresistible. But when all is finally quiet those same questions come back to you and allow you to formulate your response and refine what you believe. Isn't it just like God to take something irritating like sand to an oyster and turn it into a priceless pearl. I recommend this one to all the mommas out there. It will fill you with a fresh perspective and allow you to carry on!


Star Wars Force Grab Fast-Reaction Game from Wonder Forge ~ Christmas Gift Guide Giveaway

Star Wars
Force Grab
Fast-Reaction Game

Force Grab is edge-of-your-seat fun! Race to spot when the Star Wars objects match the pictures. React fast! Grab the correct Lightsabers before the other players! Look out for decoys, bonus scoring twists, and other disturbances in the Force!

Back in 1977 when Star Wars first hit the big screens, who would have ever guessed that it would still be popular 37 years later? It has become an iconic piece of Americana. We all know the characters and the quirky sounds and phrases that they make. And we continue to embrace all things pertaining to the Force.

Much to the delight of this Star Wars junkies family, Wonder Forge has come out with a great new game called Star Wars Force Grab. It is very easy to play . . . in fact there are really only three steps.
  1. Roll the objects.
  2. Look quickly! Did any of the objects land the same as the pictures?
  3. If so, grab the lightsabers that match those colored squares!
Easy enough . . . but look out because the game is fast. If you snooze, you loose! 

We played several rousing games with the older kids and adults. Not one single game was the same. There are so many combinations that it is different every single time. When you think you've got the hang of it you can add in some of the advanced rules that add even more fun elements to the game. 

The set up is for two to four players ages six years and up. I would personally say that playing with four players is much more fun than two. The age rating is appropriate. The playing pieces are pretty tiny and would be tempting to little ones' mouths! My only advice is to try and play with equally matched players. A younger player playing against older players might not have quite as fast reaction times and might be a bit discouraging.

The Giveaway

We have partnered with Wonder Forge to offer one of our readers a copy of Star Wars Force Grab Fast-Reaction Game. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Saturday, December 13, 2014. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Rafflecopter form below. All entries are optional.

 a Rafflecopter giveaway


Animalz Retractable, Volume-Limiting Headphones ~ Christmas Gift Guide for Kids

I really must begin with a confession. We have included this product in our Christmas Gift Guide for Kids, but I'm thinking it may wind up being one of those gifts that the momma benefits from way more than the kiddos!

If your life is anything like mine you can sing along with almost any children's song. Not because you have purposely set about memorizing said songs, but more because you hear them over and over and over again about a million times a day.

When we go on car trips with our family my kids like to play games on their tablets to pass the time. If you aren't the one playing the game the music and sound effects can drive you batty! Now there is the perfect solution. Say goodbye to long, boring hours and squabbles in the backseat and say hello to Animalz headphones for kids! 

Whether at home or on-the-go, Animalz by ReTrak retractable headphones are designed for little ears and feature volume-limiting technology in six lovable soft fabric animal designs: Biker Bearz, DJ Panda, Jam Bunneez, Scuba Shark, Skate Monkeez and Surf Dawgz. Kids can now enjoy listening to their own music, playing games or watching movies all with their favorite Animalz!

Little H is wearing the Biker Bearz headphones.

Another great place to use these adorable headphones is at my parents' house. My dad introduced my boys to videos on YouTube. They love to crawl up into his lap and ask for a video. Being the indulgent Poppy that he is he always obliges. The nice thing about the Animalz headphones is that they can watch all their silly videos while the rest of us continue having a conversation!

One of my worries with headphones has always been the side effect of hearing loss. According to the Journal of Pediatrics, more than 10 percent of children ages 9 to 19 have noise-induced hearing loss. Prolonged exposure to sound louder than 85 decibels can damage a child’s ears, causing permanent hearing impairment. With Animalz’s volume-limiting technology you don’t have to worry about overexposure for developing, sensitive ears. Animalz volume limiter sets 85 decibels as the maximum volume for optimal ear protection.

Little M is wearing Surf Dawgz headphones.
Since the headphones won't hurt my boys' hearing we have also been using them for Little M's daily lessons. We choose to homeschool our children and some of Little M's work is done on the computer. Before we started using the Animalz headphones it was a battle to keep his attention focused on the work at hand instead of the antics of his little brother.

With the headphones he is able to stay more focused on his work. While these headphones are volume-limiting they aren't noise cancelling. So, when I need to get Little M's attention he can still hear me. 

On a side note . . . the headphones are so soft. If you look at my boys when they have them on you will often see them petting the Animalz while they are listening. So cute! These things are built for years of fun, Animalz are backed by a lifetime warranty!

I have one last benefit to tell you about. It's the cord and it's retractable. Yes I said retractable! Nothing is worse than having to constantly untangle cords but with the Animalz headphones you don't have to. With just a gentle tug the cord snugs right up into the headphones. Perfect for storage.

So your next question is Where Can I Buy Them? Animalz are available at more than 15 U.S. retailers including Amazon.com®, Best Buy® and Toys“R”Us®. Go here for a full list of retailers. The Panda and Shark designs are available exclusively at Best Buy until March 2015.

Where Treetops Glisten by Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman & Sarah Sundin ~ Christmas Gift Guide for Book Lovers

Tricia Goyer, Cara Putman & Sarah Sundin
Historical Romance / Christmas

The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime.

Siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, 
filled with the wonder of Christmas.

Turn back the clock to a different time, listen to Bing Crosby sing of sleigh bells in the snow, as the realities of America’s involvement in the Second World War change the lives of the Turner family in Lafayette, Indiana.

In Cara Putman’s White Christmas, Abigail Turner is holding down the Home Front as a college student and a part-time employee at a one-of-a-kind candy shop. Loss of a beau to the war has Abigail skittish about romantic entanglements—until a hard-working young man with a serious problem needs her help.

Abigail’s brother Pete is a fighter pilot hero returned from the European Theater in Sarah Sundin’s I’ll Be Home for Christmas, trying to recapture the hope and peace his time at war has eroded. But when he encounters a precocious little girl in need of Pete’s friendship, can he convince her widowed mother that he’s no longer the bully she once knew?

In Tricia Goyer’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Meredith Turner, “Merry” to those who know her best, is using her skills as a combat nurse on the frontline in the Netherlands. Halfway around the world from home, Merry never expects to face her deepest betrayal head on, but that’s precisely what God has in mind to redeem her broken heart.

The Turner family believes in God’s providence during such a tumultuous time. Can they absorb the miracle of Christ’s birth and His plan for a future?

My Thoughts

If you have an historical romance lover on your Christmas list, get them this book! It is three novellas that weave together the story of the Turner siblings during World War II. Sarah Sundin sets the stage for the whole book in her prologue entitled Winter Wonderland. You are introduced to Abigail, Pete and Meredith and given a bit of background on the whole family. I fell in love with them right from the start!

As you progress through each of the stories you not only experience what was going on during the war effort overseas, but what was going on in America in everyday lives. The story line takes place over a couple of different years and Christmas seasons so by the time you reach Tricia Goyer's portion you have a nice little wrap-up of what the rest of Abigail's story is.

These three authors did a marvelous job of carrying the characters' particular traits and nuances throughout the book. Each author of course has a distinct voice in their particular section but it blended well together, making the book feel whole and complete rather than jumbled. By the time you reach Cara Putman's Epilogue entitled Let It Snow, Let It Snow you will feel as if the Turner family is just a branch of yours.

To cap off the delightful story, the authors have included delicious sounding recipes for a yummy cookie exchange from some of the characters featured in the story. There is also a reader's guide in the back which would make this an awesome selection for your book club.

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Messy Beautiful Love: Hope and Redemption for Real-Life Marriages by Darlene Schacht ~ A Marriage Book Review

Darlene Schacht
Nonfiction / Marriage


Love gets messy.

Financial problems, sickness, aging parents, a chronically unhappy spouse . . . trials will inevitably come that threaten your marriage. No matter how long you've been married or how strong your relationship is, sooner or later you are going to have a mess to clean up.

Messy Beautiful Love is about cleaning up messes God's way, exchanging your ideas for His, and being prepared for both the best and the worst that marriage has to offer. 

When you surrender your relationship to God, then and only then will you experience the blessing of marriage as He intended. This is the blessing of obedience.

Messy Beautiful Love is an invitation to that obedience. The cynical world says marriages don't last, but God knows better. Tune out the world and tune in to Him. When you do that, a beautiful marriage is not only possible; it's inevitable.

My Thoughts

What stood out the most to me in Messy Beautiful Love was the transparent honesty which Darlene Schacht used to tell her story. In the opening chapter you quickly find out that she had an extra-marital affair. I'm not sure that I would be brave enough to put that on paper for the world to see, but Darlene followed the lead of Christ and is using her story to reach those in similar situations.

The title of the book is very appropriate. If you have been married for any length of time you already know that some of the magic fades and real life enters in. Darlene shares about the struggles in their early married life with a candor that is to be admired. It would be easy to say "it was his fault" and go on, but she tells her story in a way that allows you to relate to the whole situation. I can almost guarantee that we've all been there. If you've not had a fixer-upper, or a home-based business, or more than one kiddo under the age of three then you may not relate to how things took a nose-dive. But if you are like most of us you can envision how discontent can settle in.

While the beginning of the book deals with the fallout of the affair the middle to end are all about the hope we can have in building a loving and lasting marriage. This isn't your typical marriage book, but it is one that I think you will benefit from reading if you are married for any length of time at all. 

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