SURPRISE! Was written and illustrated by Caroline Hidilaksono. Arthur A. Levine Books published it in 2018.

This is a fun read about forest friends who get bored. They want to make new friends, go on a new adventure. But other animals in the forest are busy doing their own things.
Then, one day some strange looking “animals” come to the campsite with their car and tent.

Our heroes decide to surprise their new friends with a party. A huge mix-up in communication results!


The heroes keep trying to show their new “friends” their intentions. But the campers completely misunderstand everything!

The resulting confusion makes for an interesting and laugh-out-loud funny story.

Kids will enjoy the mix-ed up humor and you can sneak in a lesson on clear communication, too.

Eat Your Veggies

Summer gives us a bounty of luscious fruits and vegetables. I love them. But your kids might not be so big on treats that “come in their own packaging.” Here are a few ideas for sneaking fruits and vegetables into their diets.


Combine fresh and fruit, yogurt or milk (or substitutes like almond milk or coconut milk or orange juice), a small amount of vegetables and blend. If you don’t have frozen fruit add ice. For one 8 oz. serving always add a ½ stalk of celery, or ½ of a carrot (cut into small pieces), or a ½ peeled cucumber or zuchinni. They won’t taste it, I promise. Using a banana or an apple makes the smoothie thick and creamy.


Cut fruit (apples, strawberries, melon, pineapple) into bite-sized pieces. Add grapes. Let the kids thread the fruit onto wooden skewers. If you lay them on a metal cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for one or two hours they are really refreshing.
Or, when cooking outdoors put the kabobs on the grill for two or three minutes. Delicious.


Cut apples or pears into thin slices. Give each child peanut (or other nut butter) for dipping.


Let the kids fill the “trough” of a celery stalk with nut butter, then line up raisins on the top.


Who doesn’t love meatloaf? I make mine with oatmeal as a filler and eggs as a binder. But you can substitute milled flax seed mixed with water (1 T. flax seed + 2 T. water for each egg). I add tomato sauce and catsup. I also add strained baby food vegetables—carrots, squash, or sweet potatoes. For a family of six I use 1 ½ pounds of meat and one 4 oz. container of baby food along with tomato sauce. The kids will never taste the veggies.


In the same way I add strained baby vegetables to every dish that has a red sauce: chili, spaghetti, lasagna, chili-mac, enchiladas, soups, stews.


Root vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, potatoes, beets) take on a different flavor and added sweetness when they are dry roasted on your oven. Just cut them into bite-sized pieces and spread them on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle a little olive oil over them, then stir them to coat them. Dry roast at 350° for 30 – 40 minutes. Dump them in a bowl and let the kids dig into a “community pot” with their own forks. It’s much more fun than sliding carrots around on their plates.


Hash is usually a combination of meat (use your favorite) and an equal amount of potatoes cut into bite-sized pieces. It looks beautiful and tastes great. Add to the pan one serving each any of these: diced carrots or sweet potatoes, garden peas, butter beans, mukimame, black beans, corn kernels, chopped peppers and onions combined. Stir over medium high heat until the potatoes are fork-tender.


Stir fry cooked brown rice with a little finely chopped onion and garlic. Add veggies like those in the hash, broccoli, zuchinni, or shredded cabbage. Add a little soy sauce and serve for lunch. Give them chopsticks and see how much fun they have. *You can use prepackaged salad mix that has these same veggies in it. Cuts down on your prep time quite a bit.



If I Didn’t Have You

Time for another seriously silly book.

If I Didn’t Have You was written by Alan Katz and illustrated (with alligators!) by Chris Robertson. Simon & Schuster published If I Didn’t Have You in 2018.

This is a silly but touching story about family and love. Mike the little alligator and his Dad Alligator run through silly scenarios of things they could have or do if they didn’t have the other person. Things like staying up all night, eating only candy and skipping school to play video games.

Of course, Dad could take sky-diving lessons, become a rock star or have a personal butler if he didn’t have Mike.

As you’ve already figured out they both decide that they had rather have each other than any of that other stuff.

Then Mom Alligator comes home to the mess their silly antics have created.

Read it to see if she’d rather have a clean house or you-know-who!

Advice from Dr. Kevin Leman

Parenting Advice from Dr. Kevin Leman in Have a New Kid by Friday (Revell, 2008)

Just some tidbits of advice from international Christian speaker, radio personality, and psychologist Dr. Kevin Leman. Most of this advice pertains to parenting OLDER children. So, please consider carefully the ages of your children. If they don’t apply now just tuck these tidbits away for a few years down the road.

About attending your place of worship:

Don’t make a federal case out of it. Simply get ready for church and leave. After church, do one thing different: don’t come home.

About bathing and brushing teeth:

Don’t make a battle out of it. Insist calmly that these are routine daily things. It’s just ‘what we do’ in our family. Don’t cave in.

About bedtime:

Have a bedtime routine and stick with it. Pick it very carefully. Once chosen, it will be difficult to change. Children have a huge arsenal of things to pull out to delay bedtime and to needlessly involve their parents. Calmly stand firm.

About bed wetting:

Research shows that children who wet the bed have deep-sleep patterns. The majority of children will eventually grow out of those patterns and stop wetting the bed. Be patient.

About spending money carelessly:

If your child tends to spend money carelessly, simply let reality be the teacher. Do not rescue them.

About household responsibilities:

Every child will forget every once in a while. When a child forgets don’t make a big deal out of it. But if forgetting becomes a constant thing, you need to do something different to get your child’s attention. The best thing I’ve found is to hit the child financially in the pocketbook. There are no warnings, no threats, no whining, no fighting. Simply pay someone else (or yourself) for doing that task, then deduct the money from the child’s allowance.

About good manners:

If you haven’t taught your children basic manners, it’s never too late to start.
Try playing the “Catch Someone Not Using Good Manners Game.” At the table or anytime it’s fun and gets the point across.

About getting your kids to communicate:

If you want your children to talk to you about anything, don’t ask questions. Instead, get quietly involved in their world. Talk about what they’re interested in—even if it’s not what you’re interested in.


Possum and the Summer Storm

Possum and the Summer Storm

This is the third Possum book by Anne Hunter. Possum and his passel of joeys face a summer storm. It wipes out their home. So Possum sets out to find a new home for his family.

Possum and the Summer Storm is a lovely story of friendship, cooperation and community. It was written and illustrated by Anne Hunter. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published it in 2018.

The illustrations are both quirky and sweet. The story is all about Possum’s neighbors pitching in to help him and his passel build a new home. Great lessons to learn in this little book. But it’s also a fun read.

I think kids will see themselves in the scampy little joeys. I think they’ll feel the comfort of home and friends in the satisfying ending.

Fathers Day 2019

We just celebrated Father’s Day in the U.S. It always puts me in a pensive mood.

How do you picture God? Do you see Him as an old man? Do you seem Him as gentle and quiet? Perhaps you see God as austere, demanding. Perhaps you see Him as absent, disinterested in your life.

father-looking-lovingly-at-baby-daughter llahwehttamPsychologists tell us that the images and impressions we have of life with our physical fathers establish our mental and emotional images of God.

In other words, the relationship we have with our Dads directly impacts the way we relate to God.

If your Dad was kind, gentle, fair that’s the way you’ll understand God to be.
If your Dad was honest, truthful, dependable then you’ll think God to be the same way.

I believe the main reason I personally find it easier than many people to trust God and to have deep faith in Him is because my Dad was strong, dependable, truthful, dutiful. He lived by the motto that his word was his bond. If he promised something, he did it no matter the cost.

Now my Dad had faults. Yep. But his particular strengths paved the way for me to trust my Heavenly Father totally.


But not all of us had Dads like that.

If your Dad was distant, uninvolved in your life you’ll believe God is the same way.
If your Dad was not trustworthy, if he was cruel, capricious you’ll see God the same way.
If your Dad was never around, you’ll think God doesn’t care either.

If I were a Dad it would frighten me to realize that what I say to my kids, what I do for them or to them, how I do or do not relate to them not only shapes them into the adults they will become, but it also shapes their relationship to God with eternal consequences.

A father’s relationship to his children puts them on a path toward a loving, forgiving God—or a path that leads them away from God. A path that makes it tremendously difficult for them to trust God.

And, if someone believes subconsciously that they can’t trust God it makes it hugely difficult for them to accept His love, His untethered gift of salvation that He offers through the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus.

Dads, what a tremendous responsibility you have. I’m praying for you.

Ephesians 6:4 Amplified Bible

Fathers, do not irritate and provoke your children to anger [do not exasperate them to resentment], but rear them [tenderly] in the training and discipline and the counsel and admonition of the Lord.

Colossians 3:21 Amplified Bible

Fathers, do not provoke or irritate or exasperate your children [with demands that are trivial or unreasonable or humiliating or abusive; nor by favoritism or indifference; treat them tenderly with lovingkindness], so they will not lose heart and become discouraged or unmotivated [with their spirits broken].

If the S in Moose Comes Loose

Another 2018 picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall.

Hilarious! If the S in Moose Comes Loose written by Peter Hermann and illustrated by Matthew Cordell is stunningly hilarious. Judging from their short bios both the author and the illustrator are hilarious themselves. Go-figger!

Harper Collins Children published it in 2018.

I love picture books filled with wordplay but this one tops them all! It’s wordplay and letter play scrambled together.

Cow’s best friend MOOSE loses his S and his E falls off. Cow is distraught without her best friend. So, she launches a plan to GLUE the letters back into place. But she’s out of GLUE and winds her way through a complicated scheme to borrow the letters G-L-U-E.

Of course, each time she borrows a letter the friend she borrows from changes into something else entirely.

Kids will love this book as they unknowingly spell their way through all sorts of one-syllable words.

Whatever kind of school your children are enrolled in they MUST read If the S in Moose Comes Loose aloud!

Here’s an interview with the author.


Loved to Bits

Another review of a 2018 picture book by Jean Matthew Hall.

It’s an ode to childhood imagination, and a tribute to loyalty and love.

Loved to Bits was written by Teresa Heapy and illustrated by Katie Cleminson. Roaring Brook Press brought it to life in 2018.

Loved to Bits is definitely proof that quiet picture books, gentle picture books are not a thing of the past. In fewer than 250 words Heapy tells the story of a young boy and his beloved Teddy bear.

Loved to Bits makes an excellent snuggle-up-and-hug-me read. And it will work great for a bedtime book, too.

I never had a Teddy bear as a child. Reading this lovely picture book makes me sorry that I didn’t.

Ready for Kindergarten?

Here’s an amazing and inciteful article in the Washington Post. Every parent of a preschooler or kindergartener needs to read this, please! And share!




Another 2018 picture book review by Jean Matthew Hall.

Elmore was written and illustrated by Holly Hobbie, author of the Toot & Puddle books. It was published in 2018 by Penguin Random House.Toot Puddle

Such precious illustrations! They remind me of the Beatrice Potter books and the original Pooh books.

But Elmore’s story is just as precious. He’s a prickly little porcupine who is lonely. He has no friends because getting too close to a porcupine can be dangerous.

Elmore ponders his situation for days. Then a bit of encouragement from his uncle gives him the determination to find a solution to his problem. After all, everyone needs friends.

In the happy ending Elmore finds a unique solution, of course. And it makes him and all the other woodland creature sooooo happy!

If your child is a bit of a loner, I think they’ll love this book. And it might just inspire them to find their own  way of making friends.

And Elmore is so cotton-pickin’ cute!

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