Because we are a Matthew 25 presbytery, our Faith, Education & Leadership Development (FELD) Committee will be promoting a book of the month for both adults and children. These books are recommended to individuals and to church book groups. Click here to read more about what it means to be a Matthew 25 presbytery or church.

In April of 2022, we began a Movie of the Month offering. Click here to see those.

December 2021/January 2022

FOR CHILDRENWhy Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, by Richard Schneider

Long ago, in a small kingdom far beyond the Carpathian Mountains in Europe, all the Christmas trees sought to be perfect. Each year, on the first Saturday of Advent, the queen came into the forest to pick the perfect tree to put in the center of the great hall of her castle. But one tree, Small Pine, had a tender heart. Small Pine allowed a rabbit to hide under her branches, a wren to seek shelter in her upper branches, and a fawn to nibble on her needles.

When the Queen came to the forest to pick her Christmas tree, at first, she dismissed the less than perfect Small Pine. But then she noticed the wren feathers and the footprints around the tree and realized that Small Pine was the perfect tree for her castle.

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect is a child’s story of Matthew 25 – of taking care of the least of Christ’s siblings among us. The story is well told and the illustrations are lovely. (review by Becky Balestri)

FOR ADULTSBecoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women, by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn

A review on Amazon by Frank Coyle well describes this book “[Becoming Ms. Burton] is the story of a remarkable woman who overcame sexual abuse as a young girl, drugs, and multiple incarcerations to create an organization called A New Way of Life that helps women leaving prison get their life back together. Even that description doesn’t cover the depth of the book. Underlying all of this is a vicious cycle of drugs and prison that is extremely difficult to escape. Somehwo Sue Burton managed it. It’s a very engaging read. Well written, although the subject matter is tough in places. I gained an understanding of what many young girls are subjected to and from which there is little hope of escaping. I learned of the inequities of the judicial system and the prison system. Sometimes it was mind-boggling how unjust politicians were, but fortunately in several cases, Ms. Burton prevailed. She is an astonishing woman.”

This is a Matthew 25 book because Ms. Burton helps formerly incarcerated women overcome poverty and live meaningful lives. (review by Becky Balestri)

November 2021

FOR CHILDRENDo You Speak Fish? by DJ Corchin, illustrated by Dan Dougherty

Do You Speak Fish? is a delightful new children’s book written by DJ Corchin, illustrated by Dan Dougherty, and published by Sourcebooks. The book gently and humorously reminds us of the error we make when we expect everyone to communicate in the same language we use. And the fun and experiences we miss out on when we dismiss those who communicate differently.

The main character is a little boy who ventures out into the world meeting many different animals along the way. It’s just one frustration after the other as he talks to them in people talk and they do not respond. Then a wise tree shows him the error of his ways. It’s a fun book to read aloud and every child I have read it to has quickly become engaged. And the discussion afterward about what the little boy learned and what we might learn is eye-opening for adults and children alike. (review by Linda Reffert)

FOR ADULTSAnatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings of How Congregations Avoided Death, by Thom S. Rainer

Matthew 25 includes a focus on congregational vitality, so this month, our presbytery’s Faith, Education and Leadership Development Committee (FELD) recommends that congregations and/or sessions read Anatomy of a Revived Church: Seven Findings of How Congregations Avoided Death, by Thom S. Rainer.

The seven findings in this 140-page book are accepting responsibility, overcoming the traps of traditions, expanding the scorecard, committee to powerful prayer, dealing with toxins, seeking silver bullets no more, and choosing meaningful membership. Each chapter describes what a church did to change and move toward thriving, rather than only surviving. And each chapter has discussion questions to get church members engaged in what they might do to become a thriving congregation.

This book — and did you notice it’s only 140 pages — is ideal for session studies, congregation-wide book study, and/or book groups. As a Matthew 25 presbytery, let us commit to congregational vitality! (review by Becky Balestri)

October 2021

FOR CHILDRENWho is My Neighbor? by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso

Who is My Neighbor? tells the story of the inhabitants of two towns. In one town, all the residents are various shades of blue. In the other town, all the residents are shades of yellow. The two towns do not mix. Children are taught from a very early age that their color is best and that they should be very suspicious of anyone who is the other color. That other color is not trustworthy or desirable. Blues teach their children that there is no such thing as a good blue.

Then one day, a blue falls and gets hurt, and while other blues pass by, they do not stop and help. Along comes Lemon Yellow, and while she is very scared, she stops to help. And while Midnight Blue is scared to accept help from Lemon, he does. Things change for everyone after that.

I think this story is a lovely reminder not to judge others by the color of their skin, and a neat variation of the story of The Good Samaritan. My single favorite line says, “Love your neighbor as yourself, and love the stranger, because you know what it was like to be a stranger.”

There are all kinds of good talking points throughout the book and a free coloring page is available from the publisher. (review by Linda Reffert)

FOR ADULTSYou’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar

This book is the true story of two African American sisters growing up in a large Midwest city, encountering racism and ignorance wherever they go.

One of the sisters, Amber, moves to New York and becomes a breakout star on Late Night with Seth Meyers. The other, Lacey, remains in the same Midwest city, still encountering the same racism as she works in healthcare and human service, hence the title.

This book is hilarious. It is also shocking. And it was painful for me to read personally, because as you may have guessed, the large Midwest city is Omaha, my home and the city where I was raised and educated.

It’s painful because we all like to think that we live in an enlightened place that is above problems like racism. But the fact is, we don’t. I don’t. The story details the racism that the family faced at places that aren’t directly named in the book, but if you are familiar with Omaha, you will recognize them, including Westroads Mall and Nebraska Furniture Mart. I enjoyed the book and it made me laugh out loud, but also challenged me to look at my city with new eyes. (review by Cindy Harvey)

September 2021

FOR CHILDRENCrocodile’s Crossing: A Search for Home by Yoeri Slegers

Crocodile’s Crossing, A Search for Home is a lovely, sensitive children’s book by Yoeri Slegers. The publisher is Flyaway Books and it was published in 2020. This book tells the story of Crocodile, who must leave the home and the family he loves to search for a new place to live. Along his journey, Crocodile encounters fear, discrimination and compassion.

Crocodile Crossing tells the story of an immigrant from the perspective of an immigrant, who would not choose to leave home but whose home is not a safe place anymore. He searches and searches for somewhere to belong, and is rejected multiple times until he is desperate. Readers can’t help but be surprised where Crocodile finds acceptance and welcome. It is a vibrantly illustrated, sensitive story that teaches about acceptance and welcome. There is a free downloadable discussion and activity guide available from the publisher.

FOR ADULTSA Warrior of the People: How Susan La Flesche Overcame Racial and Gender Inequality to Become America’s First Indian Doctor by Joe Starita

Susan La Flesche was a member of the Omaha tribe here in Nebraska. She earned her medical degree in 1889, becoming the first Native American doctor in the U.S. La Flesche earned her degree 31 years before women could vote and 35 years before Native Americans could become citizens in their own country.

As a reviewer for Goodreads wrote, “This is the story of an Indian woman who effectively became the chief of an entrenched patriarchal tribe, the story of a woman who crashed through thick walls of ethnic, racial and gender prejudice, then spent the rest of her life using a unique bicultural identity to improve the lot of her people – physically, emotionally, politically, and spiritually.”

As part of being a Matthew 25 presbytery, FELD invites you to read this book about a woman of Nebraska who overcame inequalities in multiple ways to serve the poor and sick. And the theme of worship at the November presbytery meeting will be focusing on our Native American brothers and sisters. If these two reasons aren’t compelling enough, here’s a third reason to read this book: the author will donate all royalties from this book to a college scholarship fund he has established for Native American high school graduates.

July 2021

FOR CHILDRENThe Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson

(Review by Rev. Becky Balestri) As I share this review of the children’s book, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, it may be helpful for you to know that my daughter was born in Korea, her partner is biracial, having a mother who is White and a father who is Black, and so my grandsons are tri-racial, with a White grandma. My grandsons, with their nearly black, curly hair, beautiful almond eyes and olive skin will look different than other children in their schools.

The story begins, “There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you. Maybe it will be your skin, your clothes, or the curl of your hair…” The story continues, acknowledging that other children may laugh, and that there may be many, many kinds of differences. A child may feel insecure or jealous, although those exact words are not used. The story moves to a place of belonging, saying, “And all at once, in the room where no one else is quite like you, the world opens itself up a little wider to make some space for you.” This book opens up a conversation with children, both the children who may be different than others and how they may feel, and for adults to help children be kind to other children who are somehow different. We invite you to read it to the children in your life and start talking about belonging.

FOR ADULTSReading While Black by Esau McCaulley

(Review by Rev. Christine Dempsey) Esau McCaulley, in Reading While Black, takes a look at the relationship between the unique culture of Black America, the church and the words of scripture. As an African-American man growing up in the historically black church, he enters as a man of faith trying to understand the disparity between a Eurocentric reading of scripture and the experience of African-Americans. He offers all his readers a chance to step into the world and into the dialogue between the unique experience of African-Americans and history. He tackles traditional interpretations of biblical passages and figures that have been used to justify slavery in the past, he questions the dismissive attitude of those who feel that the church has nothing to offer, and he instills a promise of hope carried in the breadth of scripture. The book is both historical and forward-looking and helps all of us as we seek to find God’s call on our lives to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement with intelligence and grace.

June 2021

FOR CHILDRENOur Skin by Megan Madison & Jessica Ralli, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Our Skin is a children’s book by Megan Madison and Jessica Ralli, with pictures by Isabel Roxas. It was published in March 2021 by Penguin for children ages 2 through 8. It contains 36 pages of colorful pictures and open-ended discussion questions. Kids notice so much more than we used to believe, things like skin color, race and racism. Adults can struggle with the right words to use to begin conversations or to answer questions. But ignoring or avoiding the conversations gives the rest of society too much power to influence our children in ways we would never choose. This book provides a great starting place for conversation about similarities and differences and injustice.

FOR ADULTSNative American Resilience: A Story of Racism, Genocide and Survival by Patricia S. Streng

Native American Resilience: A Story of Racism, Genocide and Survival is available on Kindle and in print. It was published in 2021 by AuthorHouse Publishing and was written by a member of Heartland Presbytery, Patricia S. Streng. Proceeds from book sales go to The American College Fund in Denver Colorado.

I purchased the book, intending to skim a little bit and quickly got sucked in. It is well worth reading and a topic that too many of us know too little about.

The author shares, “With an awakened awareness of racial disparity within today’s society and its ramifications, both serious and subtle, it has become even more important that we understand the multiplicity of races and cultures in our country. This includes Native American cultures and Indigenous societies.”

The book has two parts. The first focuses on the Cherokee people and their struggles to survive. The second part of the book focuses on Native Americans and their relationship with American society and the government.

The author shared that the book took 30 years to research and write and she writes with passion, knowledge and skill.

May 2021

FOR CHILDRENCaste by Isabel Wilkerson

Caste is a book that is about the way we live in a world full of people who have been hurt and healed by other people. Caste is about how we have lived in an age where ignorance was forgivable. Yet while reading Caste I saw where in 2021 that time has passed for ignorance. This is a time for healing. Healing begins with introspection and recognition of our own caste, our own biases, and our own discrimination. From reading Caste the reader will get several takeaways. Caste is the invisible code that guides the way people see and interact with each other. There have been prominent caste systems in human history, world history and the history of the United States of America. The reader will find that caste is not the same definition as race. Race and caste are social constructs that can coexist together, as happens in the U.S.

While reading Caste, I felt the author was trying to covey several messages about what a caste system is built upon – divine will, inheritability, endogamy, purity and pollution, occupational hierarchy, dehumanization, stigma, terror and cruelty, and last but not least, inherent superiority and inferiority. Wilkerson does a good job of explaining how racism, classism, ageism, homophobia, religious intolerance, xenophobia and sexism help to define the caste system in the United States and how it affects what is going on in this country due to the civil and social unrest. I would recommend this book for people who would like to get a better understanding of how, at times, the word “caste” defines how we are thinking of how one can peel back the issues of racism that seem to be rearing its ugly head. I would recommend this book for anyone who would like to delve into the issues of race and racism, most of all a racial caste system.

FOR CHILDRENLast Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

The Day You Begin was written by Matt de la Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. It was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, in imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. The suggested reading range is 3 to 8 but would work well for all lower to mid elementary grades to read and discuss. In a Matthew 25 context, it seems to fit best under a fight against systemic poverty.

This book was a New York Times #1 bestseller as well as being a Newbery Medal winner, a Caldecott Honor book and a Coretta Scott King Honor book. It has colorful illustrations of children and people of all ages.

This book tells the story of CJ and his nana as they ride the bus across town on a rainy day, on their way from church to volunteering in a soup kitchen. CJ can think of other ways he would like to travel and other things he would like to do with his afternoon. I love the relationship between CJ and his nana and the way that she, in a very low key non-preachy way, teaches him how to live out their faith in their actions.

April 2021

FOR ADULTS – White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo

White Fragility isn’t an easy book to read. The language is not obscure – it is clear and direct. But it is not an easy book to read if you are white, even if you consider yourself as someone progressive and unprejudiced on race.

From the book, “We are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people, rather than a complex, interconnected system. And in light of so many white expressions of resentment toward people of color, I realized that we see ourselves as entitled to, and deserving of, more than people of color deserve.”

That is a challenging sentence to read.

As reformed Christians, we believe that we all participate in a system of sin. We are powerless in this system and must rely upon God’s grace. Racism is also a system of sin. It empowers some people and disempowers others based on perceived differences that come down to skin color. My white skin makes me safer and gives me advantages in many systems: encounters with law enforcement, seeking healthcare, looking for a job, education – the list is endless. But I am not powerless in this system of sin. I have the power to challenge it and change how I behave and think. I have the power to challenge the people in my life to examine their own attitudes and behaviors.

As I write this, I am listening to reports of the trial of white former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, for the murder of George Floyd, a black suspect in his custody. There was yet another report today that made national news about an attack on an Asian American. White prejudice is literally killing people of color. It is also injuring them in other ways, which may not be a physical attack, but is harmful. It is our duty as Christians, as Presbyterians, to challenge this privilege. The most difficult part is starting with ourselves. White Fragility is a starting point in that struggle.

FOR CHILDREN – The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez

The suggested reading range is from five to eight, but it could easily be read and discussed in most preschool or elementary classrooms.

This book was a New York Times #1 bestseller and is a personal favorite. It has beautiful illustrations of children of a big variety of ethnic and socio-economic groups. The story grabs you immediately and is touching, positive and encouraging.

There are so many reasons to feel different when a child walks into a new situation, and the story illustrates how to bravely proceed when you seen no one who looks like you. And how to find common ground anywhere. It encourages children to value commonalities while appreciating differences too. It’s a delightful children’s book!

March 2021

FOR ADULTSBecoming Ms. Burton by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn

Becoming Ms. Burton is Susan Burton’s story of childhood abuse, leading to drug use and prostitution, to prison and eventually to recovery. Recognizing the needs of recently released women, Ms. Burton started A New Way of Life, providing housing and resources for previously incarcerated women. As she saw the needs of her clients, she advocated for restoring civil and human rights to those who have been incarcerated.

Ms. Burton was a winner of AARP’s prestigious Purpose Prize and has been a Starbucks® “Upstander,” a CNN Top 10 Hero, a Soros Justice Fellow, and a Women’s Policy Institute Fellow at the California Wellness Foundation. She lives in Los Angeles.
Ms. Burton’s memoir is easy to read, and inspiring.

Discussion questions for book groups are at the back of the book.

FOR CHILDREN – Black, White and Beyond by Vera Heath

The suggested age range is 0-12 years. The publication date is October 2020.

This book is set to serve as an introduction into the truth about racism and how it affects society. Its aim is to help children understand the concept of equality of persons young enough so as to open their minds to see people equally, regardless of skin color or race. The book explores these key areas:

•The different skin colors that exist and why there are variations in them
•Colorism and how it affects our views of a lot of things
•What society thinks of skin color and how it has served as a basis for racism
•Recent real life accounts of Racist attacks
•7 major ways to contribute to the Anti racist movement as a child
•Powerful ways to speak up against racism
•The KEY difference between a non racist and an anti racist
•Why being anti racist not only helps the individual but helps us all

There are many board books that are excellent to read to your child. Check online or at your local library. They are never too young to open their minds to a better and more loving world.