The Bible Story Retold – an idea for Christmas 2020

This post is a follow up from yesterday’s on ideas for using my children’s picture book, The Little Christmas Tree, this year for Advent and Christmas. You can read that post here.

I’ve also been contacted by another person who’d like to use my retelling of the Bible this Christmas. My old friend Rev Jenny Tebboth of Chalfont St Giles has had a lovely idea for involving families in an alternative crib service out of doors, which should be possible even if there are restrictions. Jenny has very generously given me permission to share the outline of her idea, in case it is of any help to another community trying to plan Christmas activities…. It’s well worth thinking about if you are puzzling over what to do for a crib service, or nativity of any sort.

It’s like a treasure trail…..

“Families will work through the story in six scenes round the village, read part of the story at each scene, pray and listen to a carol – ending behind the inn for hot chocolate.”

I’m so excited to think that my retelling will form the framework for such a lovely idea. The book is in twelve chapters, and Chapter 8 is mainly the birth and early life of Jesus, so there is a good flow of narrative for the six scenes. It’s a very exciting and innovative way to do a socially distanced Christmas adventure. Being out in the cold of winter will be a powerful way of entering into the Nativity story imaginatively, and offers something new and memorable to do to feel involved in Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter, and the birth of Jesus. It’s a beautiful idea, and I look forward to hearing more about it. I’ll post an update when I know more.

If you’d like to read more of my Christmas Retold, you can do so on a previous blog post, here. There, you’ll also find some prayers from my book, Prayers and Verses, and some beautiful pictures.

Here’s some of the story, though, to give you an idea:

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles.  The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night.  The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable.  There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay.  Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago.  The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch.  Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful.  All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness.  The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!”  The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light.  “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place.  In the town of David, a saviour has been born.  He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for.  And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

From The Bible Story Retold in Twelve Chapters


If you’d like a copy of The Bible Story Retold, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….

Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.

If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Bible Story Retold on sale there. It may be they don’t have many copies, so….

You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.

Once again, it’s so good to hear and share these ideas. If you’d like to use any of my material, I’d love to hear from you. If you’d like, I can share what you plan to do on this blog nearer Christmas. You are very welcome to use my material whether you get in touch or not. Please do acknowledge where it’s from, and that will be good.

The Little Christmas Tree – some ideas for 2020

Last year, I shared with you how my children’s Christmas book had taken on a new resonance as we considered the need to protect our wild spaces – the home of so many beautiful creatures. The story is set in a wood, and the characters are the woodland animals. You can read more about it in last year’s post here. As we’ve been in lockdown, many of us have experienced a closer bond with nature, realising how important the natural world is to us. In simple ways, we can deepen that bond. I am finding it helps to care for the creatures I share my garden with – in the last few weeks I’ve built – or assembled – a hedgehog house, and put up a new bird feeding station. It gives me joy to watch the birds through my window, even as I’m typing away here.

This year, the story’s themes of kindness and hospitality, of gentleness and welcome, matter greatly. At a time when so many people in our community are facing loneliness and hardship, considering how we can best help when our usual practices of hospitality are not possible is very important. For instance food banks, and our Little Free Pantry, are a good way of giving and sharing if we can. A reverse advent calendar, where you add something to a box for every day leading up to Christmas, can be a way of sharing.

So that’s a couple of ideas that draw on the themes of the book. They might be appropriate for Advent this year, things we can do as individuals, households, or maybe schools. I’d like to share with you some ideas from other people, too…

I’m finding it’s really hard to think about Christmas this year – what might be possible, and what might be wise. It’s hard to think of not seeing those we love as we would wish, and it’s hard not being able to plan ahead. But we can begin. I am greatly encouraged that people are making plans, and beginning to get in touch and share how they’d like to use my books this year.

Here is the sparkly paperback edition

I’ll share something else about The Little Christmas Tree here, and then, an idea for another book another day!

The first idea comes from Janeene Streather, who makes engaging Youtube videos using BSL. Her videos are for the deaf community, their families, and schools – many of whom integrate some BSL into their classrooms and assemblies. You can find a link to her channel here.

She would like to make a BSL video of The Little Christmas Tree, as part of her series of stories for children. Once again, I’ll post more details when I have them. I hope to share the link with you, so you can easily watch Janneene.

For all of us, we are used to being able to visit schools, or churches, or share our work with communities in other ways, and are unable to do so this year. But we can share here.

Please do use these ideas and resources, acknowledging the source. If you’d like to use my book, I’d love to hear your ideas from you, and share them on here if you’d like me to.

If you’d like a copy, you may well be able to order through your local bookshop even if it’s closed. Alternatively, there are the usual online places. I’m particularly excited about this new venture, though, and commend it to you….

Bookshop.org is a new enterprise which supports local bookshops while selling online. It’s applying for B corporation status in the UK, which means it operates to high ethical standards and makes a positive contribution to communities. You can read a newspaper article about it here.

If you follow this link, you’ll find my book The Little Christmas Tree on sale there.

You can also find it on Eden bookshops, and all the other online shops.

Note and Correction:

In an earlier version of this post, I shared an idea for an outside nativity. I’d got my wires crossed and thought it was using The Little Christmas Tree. It will be using another of my books, The Bible Story Retold. You can read all about that here. Apologies for the muddle!

Advent 4 – Love – Christmas Readings

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It’s getting close now….
It’s nearly midwinter, nearly the shortest day….
It’s nearly Christmas.

And I want to give my attention to the story, to let the wonder of it seep through me, and there is a pile of ironing, and things in the kitchen that need attention, even though I am keeping things simple, even though.

It’s easy to feel the darkness closing in, even though there are lights and music flashing and blaring out there. In here, it’s cosy, and the sun is setting already. I will hold on to the wonder of love being born among us, even though the circumstances could hardly have been less promising – for circumstances are never quite what we hoped, and there’s the lesson. To look deeper than circumstance. To make a courageous decision to hold on to hope, and peace, and joy, and love, even though. For these things are real, and true, and enough. These things are golden strands, woven through the dark fabric.. It is where they can be found. And the One who is coming will light the way, and scatter the darkness, and hold out a helping hand.

I’ll hold on to the message of “Love came down at Christmas”, and light my candles in the fading light, and watch the rain clouds sweep across the sky, rain falling on all of us, just the same.

Perhaps later, the skies will clear, and we’ll see the stars.

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You can find out more about the candle ring, and the words around it, here.

From The Bible Retold

The Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, had ordered a census throughout the whole empire, when all the people would be counted, and taxed. The orders spread along straight Roman roads, and were proclaimed first in the white marble cities and ports, and then in the towns and villages of the countryside.

Even quiet Nazareth heard the news, and Mary and Joseph began to gather together their belongings, ready to travel to Bethlehem. That was Joseph’s family home: he was descended from King David, of Bethlehem. They set off south on the crowded road, for the whole empire was travelling. But, for Mary, the journey was especially hard, and the road seemed never ending. It was nearly time for her baby to be born.

At last they came to Bethlehem, but it was not the end of their troubles. The city was noisy, bustling, and heaving with crowds, and Joseph searched anxiously for somewhere quiet for Mary to rest – her pains were beginning, and the baby would be born that night. The inn was already full of travellers, and the only place for them was a stable. There, among the animals, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him up tightly in swaddling bands and laid him in a manger full of hay. Then, she rested next to the manger, smiling at the baby’s tiny face.

There were shepherds who lived out on the hills nearby – the same hills where King David had once watched over the flocks, long ago. The sheep were sleeping in their fold under the shining stars, while the shepherds kept watch. Their fire flickered and crackled, and the lambs would bleat for their mothers, but they were the only sounds. All was peaceful. All was well.

Suddenly, right there in the shepherd’s simple camp, appeared and angel of the Lord, shining with God’s glory and heaven’s brightness. The shepherds gripped each other in terror, their skin prickling with fright.
“Don’t be afraid, I’m bringing you good news – it will bring joy to all people!” The shepherds listened, awestruck, their faces glowing with the angel’s light. “This is the day the good news begins, and this is the place. In the town of David, a saviour has been born. He is Christ, the Anointed One, the one you have been waiting for. And this is the sign that these words are true: you will find a baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands, lying in a manger.”

The shepherds watched as light was added to light, voice to voice, until they were surrounded by a dazzling, heavenly host of angels, all praising God and saying
“Glory! Glory to God in the highest,
And on the earth be peace!”

And then, in an instant, the angels were gone, and the shepherds were left in dark night shadows, listening to the sound of a distant wind. But their eyes still shone with heaven’s light.
“Let’s go and see for ourselves!” they called to one another as they raced over the dark, rocky fields to Bethlehem. There, they found Mary and Joseph, and, just as the angel had said, they found the baby wrapped tightly in swaddling bands and lying in a manger. They saw him with their own eyes, and spread the angel’s message to all they met.
“The Promised One has come! The Christ, the Anointed One, has been born!” The angel’s words were on everyone’s lips that night in Bethlehem. And, as the shepherds made their way back to their sheep, bursting with good news, Mary kept their words safe, like treasures, in her heart.

And from Prayers and Verses

Love came down at Christmas
Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.

Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love shall be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.
Christina Rosetti
1830-94

O God,
be to me
like the evergreen tree
and shelter me in your shade,
and bless me again
like the warm gentle rain
that gives life to all you have made.

Based on Hosea 14:4-8

The Little Christmas Tree

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Please feel free to use any of the material that you find helpful, saying where it is from.

Have a peaceful and joyful Christmas, and thank you so much for giving your time to read this blog

The Little Christmas Tree – I’ve been thinking ….

I was checking availability of my Christmas book, and was very pleased to see that Amazon had rustled up a few more copies, when I looked at the cover, and started thinking…..

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I was thinking of how much more I know now about how precious woodland is to all the life of the planet.  The story came to me years ago now. I have always loved woods, but this year the urgent necessity of protecting the natural world – and forests in particular – has really come home to many of us.  Including me.

And so as I read this simple story again, I read it with a deeper awareness of the peril all us creatures face, and how vital it is that trees remain to shelter the creatures of the wood – and indeed all of us, one way or another. The kindness, the interconnection, the sanctuary provided by one small fir tree  provides safety for all the other creatures in the storm.  That kindness is blessed by the smaller stars of Christmas night, and the angels who fill the sky with their songs.

Now, as well as a tale of Christmas night, and Christmas itself, I see it as a story of hope for all of us who are trying to feed and shelter nature over the winter – in our own gardens, or in the wider countryside. A story of hope for all of us who are trying to do small and simple things to make the world safer and better for all its inhabitants – whether it’s reducing plastic, or taking the bus. These small acts matter, the Little Christmas Tree shows us.  They matter a great deal.

I hope that children, and their parents, will feel that message of hope, and the love of natural places, running through the words and beautiful pictures of this storybook.

 

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You can, of course, ask your local bookshop to order you a copy, or order one from any number of online book places.

The Little Christmas Tree – some copies still available!

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In case you were interested in a copy of my Christmas children’s book, it’s available at the moment, although stocks are quite low.  You should be able to order it from your local bookshop, or online – for instance at Eden Books , Waterstones or Amazon.

Here’s some pictures to give you an idea of Lorna Hussey’s beautiful illustrations.  I took the pictures in my garden – the book is clearer and lovelier.
This is how it begins……

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Here is the wood, and the little Christmas tree……

 

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Here are some foreign language editions – I don’t think you can get any of these in the UK!

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The Little Christmas Tree – still some copies available!

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Just in case some of you are beginning to think of buying or ordering books for Christmas, I thought I’d let you know that there are copies of my first book, The Little Christmas Tree, available.  You can order it from Lion, the publishers, as well as other online places like Waterstones  and Amazon, if you like to order things online.

Of course, if you have a local bookshop, you can always give them a ring and ask them to get it for you, if they don’t have it in stock.

It is always a pleasure to hear people say that their children have really enjoyed the book, and that it is part of their Christmas.  That’s such a privilege.

Here is another of the beautiful illustrations by Lorna Hussey – this one is the endpapers, of the wood after the storm.

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And a photo of the woods near where I live.

The Little Christmas Tree – A good time to order!

I know, it’s still a long way off, Christmas.  I know, we don’t really want to get started yet.  Some shops, however, do seem to be trying to get us started, and October half term is the time when I try to begin thinking about mincemeat making, or some long term baking to be doused with brandy.

And yet, I notice that sales of my picture book, The Little Christmas Tree, are picking up, so some of you good people must be getting organised!  As of today, there are only three copies left on Amazon.

There are still copies available elsewhere – for instance through the publishers Lion, and other booksellers such as Waterstones.  So, if you were thinking of getting hold of a copy, now may not be too soon at all!
It is beautifully illustrated by Lorna Hussey, and the sparkly edition is a particular joy.  Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

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Last year, I took the book to the fascinating Cribfest at St Mary’s Church, Grundisburgh.
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I hope you and the young children in your life enjoy it as much this year as you have in previous years.

The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

It was such a pleasure to visit the Abbey School this week, as judge of their prose reading competition. Such wonderful expressive readers – it was a real treat, and very hard to chose a winner.
They kindly let me show them some of my books, and they did enjoy playing “guess the language” with the foreign editions, and guessed very well!

Andrea Skevington

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I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon…

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The Little Christmas Tree and Mary’s Song

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Today was the first really frosty day of the winter,  so I took my camera out for a walk with me, through the woods to the river.  As I walked, I was thinking about the story of The Little Christmas Tree, and how it connects with the story of Mary, mother of Jesus.  It had been on my mind since going to a talk by Rowan Williams at Grundisburgh Church (you can listen to the talk here , it is well worth listening to).

The Little Christmas tree is not strong and proud, thinking itself important.  It knows it is smaller than the other trees, and far less imposing.  What it does have to offer is shelter, hospitality, for the small animals and birds who are blown about in the storm.  It also has a song to sing, a lullaby, at which “even the wind hushed to listen”.

Early in her pregnancy, Mary escapes from the storm that is brewing about her, to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who offers her refuge, caring for her as she shelters her growing child.  They, two women with unexpected pregnancies, offer the profoundest hospitality to each other, that of love and acceptance. On her arrival, Mary pours out her joy in a song traditionally called The Magnificat

Here it is from The Bible Retold

I’m so full of joy my spirit is dancing
before God, my Lord, my Saviour.
God did not turn away from me
because I am poor, and now
I will be called blessed by
all the generations yet to come
God, the great, the holy,
has done so much for me.
God brings down the powerful,
but lifts up the weak.
The well fed are empty,
and the table of the hungry
is piled high with good things.

God looks at us with kindness,
giving hope to the hopeless,
caring for those who trust him,
remembering his promises to our people.

You can read Luke’s account here

And from Prayers and Verses

O God,
be to me
like the evergreen tree
and shelter me in your shade,
and bless me again
like the warm gentle rain
that gives life to all you have made.
Based on Hosea 14:4-8

Let there be little Christmases
throughout the year,
when unexpected acts of kindness
bring heaven’s light to earth

Earlier this year we spent a few nights in Canterbury, and made evensong at the Cathedral part of of daily practice.  It was as glorious as you might imagine!  One thing that made a profound impression was hearing Mary’s song, the Magnificat, every day.  It felt a powerful reminder how God does not favour the rich, even in the richest of cathedrals, but the poor.  It helped me to see the homeless, those lacking shelter, on the streets of Canterbury, it helped to soften my heart.  I picked up a stack of gift cards from various cafes to pass on to people, after I had sat with them a little and asked them their names and their stories.  A very small gesture, I know,  but perhaps a beginning.

Cold nights make me think of those who have no shelter.Perhaps it can be part of our Advent preparations to support those who do not have a room, and have to take shelter in the most inhospitable of places.  Some suggestions are below.

Hope into Action

Ipswich Night Shelter

Porchlight in Canterbury

Salvation Army

Shelter

Habitat for Humanity

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Grundisburgh Cribfest, and The Little Christmas Tree

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Rev Wendy Gourlay’s beautiful collage

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from the Polish mountains

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Cardboard City Crib – some interesting characters here.

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Angel from recycled materials – Jesus is made from a book, among other things….have a look! by St Mary’s School, Woodbridge

I have just spent a beautiful morning at St Mary’s Church, Grundisburgh, Suffolk.  Rev Canon Clare Sanders and her team were putting the finishing touches to their Cribfest, which opens tomorrow November 16th.  The church is full of Christmas cribs from around the world, with such variety of figures and materials.  It glitters with precious things made from sweet papers, it is full of wood and stone in its natural state, of Russian eggs, of tiny figures and huge angels.  Each one has a story to share, something to tell us.
There is also artwork from the village art club on display in the choir, and two large pieces made of Christmas cards.  The faces and hands are cut from the inside, showing the words of love and greeting that people have sent.

The more you look, the more you see.

I was there to read The Little Christmas Tree to children from the local school which was such a joy.  One half of the class was looking at the cribs, while the other listened to the story.

Do go to visit the Cribfest if you are in the area, it is well worth it.

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