Ping by Ani Castillo

Little, Brown, 2019.

Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

Ping was a source of curiosity, that cover and how it landed it on all the lists. Oh, my. Think how picture books like Yamada’s question series (What Do You Do with an Idea?a Problem?, etc.) resonate with an adult readership, to say nothing of the child audiences. Ping is one I will be recommending to my creative friends who’ve put themselves out there on social media.

inside ping 3
interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

Ani Castillo uses the game of Ping Pong to talk about the call and response of relationships. Our Ping may receive a Pong in response and that response can be any number of “feelings, intentions, or ideas” (jacket copy).  What I love is how Castillo reminds us that “although it’s good to image the best possible Ping. It helps to remember that it is not up to you.” She acknowledges how Pongs aren’t always going to be positive, but continues on, herself, in the positive, encouraging the reader to Ping “freely”, “curiously”, “mindfully”, etc. And she includes the reminder that after we Ping, there is a time to wait for the Pong. As with the game, after we Ping, we anticipate a Pong, and Castillo takes time to explore what that could look like.

inside ping 1
interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

The illustrations are bright and expressive, as straightforward and as certain as the text (which is big enough for your beginning readers). The inspirational listings of how we can Ping are accompanied by simple action-focused-images that could translate into adding options of your own.

inside ping 4
interior illustration from Ping by Ani Castillo

Castillo’s use of my favorite color notwithstanding, I’m so excited about this picture book. I would’ve owned it with the daughter (I might still with her aged 19.) It’s a good gift, to yourself, or to anyone one special in your life whether they are an adult or child.

Recommended for all the libraries.


Ani Castillo is a cartoonist, illustrator, and teacher who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and now lives in Canada.



“Something in my core will be different: my body was broken and I nearly lost myself in the mending. Something about God will be reset along with my bones. I will learn what it is to be an ordinary miracle.” –Sarah Bessey, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things


Miracles and Other Reasonable Things : A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God

by Sarah Bessey. Howard Books (imprint of S&S), 2019.

Hardcover Nonfiction, 219 pp.

Put the kettle on, grab some tissues and plan to read this one all the way through. Remember the footnotes, memorize the epigraphs, and engage with your own underlines and margin scrawls, but this is one to enjoy the act of listening through first.

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things is the story of a devastating car accident, the Pope and other unexpected encounters in Rome–and the aftermath of both. It contains the stories Bessey told herself and was later forced to confront and set aside; the process modeling a greater, continual process of a faith deconstructed. She knows her anchors (Jesus, family, community) and finds her metaphors (herons, lakes, gates) amidst the uncertainties After (aka Life) brings.

“I remember church services where healing was spoken of as a certainty, as a formula to enact.  […] We simply needed to expect the bombastic, supernatural, eleventh-hour miracle because we all knew God is never late or early, only right on time.

[…] I began to realize we valued the victory, not the struggle. We wanted the testimony of God’s faithfulness so badly that we didn’t know how to engage in the work of miracles and healing. The victory either came or it didn’t by God’s magic—there was no middle-place theology, a theology of tension, of “yes, and” for those of us who, yes, believed in the supernatural and in miracles and needed a muscular theology of suffering and unanswered prayers.

[…] a theology without language for lament and sorrow was insufficient. (128-9)

If you like Bessey’s earlier books, writings, talks…you’ll continue to delight in Sarah. These books are travel logs, sharing both the experiences and the wisdom she has gleaned from both her life and those with whom she has intersected. Her conversational style deeply resonates, even as it charms the reader. Bessey continues to strive for authenticity, concerned with the gloss spiritual leaders apply to mask the unpleasant and/or inconsistent.

I don’t know if we are doing folks any favors if we act like when we become Christians or when we follow Jesus, all we do is win. I think it’s okay to say that we mess up, that we let people down, that we overpromise and underdeliver, that we go to therapy, that we take our meds, that we go for walks to remember everything good and true, that we’re still in the midst of figuring out where God is in the middle of all this, that we’re learning our capacity and God’s goodness the real way: by living our lives and experiencing both victories and sorrows in the midst. (130)

She demonstrates her own impulses to minimize her suffering, “I’m fine, so very fine.” Much of the book is her coming to terms with how her mind resides within matter. She doesn’t just live in her head, but in a body that also exists in a physical relationship with her environs and other people.

Flannery O’Connor wrote, “I am always astonished at the emphasis the Church puts on the body. It is not the soul that will rise but the body, glorified.” This has always astonished me, too. I used to feel a guilty sort of understanding for the gnostics […] After all, how could the divine be part of this—our flesh, our dirt, our mess, our urges, our desires, our pain, our slobber, our curves, our hunger, our orgasms? Is my body…blessed? As it is, right now, blessed? Part of shalom’s community? (193)

Miracles moves to talk about embodiment with a lighter, seeking touch than I’d encountered with others and so Bessey will continue to be one I recommend for new seekers of a voice and idea outside of their more conservative traditions. I especially love sharing Sarah Bessey with women. In Miracles, she tells stories as a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend; as a woman of faith seeking other women both ancient and present to thrive alongside. She gestures with and towards things deeply understood…familiar.

While Miracles and Other Reasonable Things will feel familiar to fans in the way it explores as much as asserts, Miracles will read more like a story than the previous books, which read closer to collections of essays. That said, placing the story into IV Parts allows for a shift in how the story is told/recorded. Bessey shares her experiences and then her reflections and as the book builds its narrative context the reflections take greater focus. It is self-conscious of the fact that we create narratives, tell stories following any experience.

I ticked all the boxes in public, portrayed myself as resolutely fine, performing not only what I felt Christians expected of me, but also what I expected of myself. I had wanted to have more control of my narrative of God; I wanted to get ahead of the story, to set the time lines and parameters of my own healing. But I couldn’t’ fake my way to the narrative I wanted to believe. I couldn’t heal myself. I couldn’t fix myself. I couldn’t rescue myself from the darkness. (156)


I had failed to be curious about my own healing. I had returned to a one-sided, narrow, restrictive story of miracles. (157)

Miracles is also self-conscious of the fact that we hide in narratives and spiritual explorations—which can prove impractical.

In this turn of transformation now awaiting me, a transformation into the self that would be able to live in the tension of God’s Both/And instead of our human need for Either/Or, I needed to figure out how to embody shalom practically. (168)


Bessey shares moments and offers insights valuable to stepping into a more abundant life. I know I will be revisiting her conversation on Self-care versus Self-comfort. Her son’s drawing. Her realization and subsequent confession leaving the lake. That moment in the early hours in her kitchen taking that bottle off the shelf. The story of the birth of her youngest…. Bessey is vivid, deep in imagery.  I know I will be thinking on the metaphor of the heron for a good long while. As well as that exhilaration of the coastline and the wind.

Bessey’s courage to step through the gate into the wildness of God is inspiring; as is the reminder that God resides on both sides of the gate and is ready and able with a “tender acknowledgement of [our] pain” (171).

While the style of Bessey’s writing is approachable, it doesn’t mean it makes light difficult subjects.  I appreciate how she navigates the differences of wallowing and grief. Bessey speaks of surrounding herself with friends who are both comforting and ass-kicking (that unicorn card is the best); she does the same in the book as a friend to herself and her readers. She, too, is a mother and her addition of God as Mother into her relationship with God is marvelous. I love her approach to it (and her footnote). An excerpt:

Knowing my own father […] gave me a straight path to run on to see God as a good and loving father. But just as my own father gave me a glimpse of God’s good character, so did my mother. She could not be erased from the goodness of God’s expression. Her energy, her nurture, her fierce mama bear protectiveness, her joy and laughter, the ministry of her hands in my hair smoothing away the stress. (172)

[…] I began to picture that strong, wise, capable, patient, non-nonsense, deeply loving mother present in my choosing of life. After all, a peer might indulge my avoidance or self-neglect or selfishness, encourage me to do what feels good instead of what creates good.

But the sort of mother I envisioned—the way my own mum had mothered me when I was small—would make sure we ate well, drank water, went for walks, took our medication, read good books, challenged ourselves intellectually and spiritually, cared about others, managed our money responsibly, all of that good stuff. A mother who truly loved us would establish boundaries and offer wise counsel and tenderness of rest. Perhaps you picture Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series. Or Sister Julienne from Call the Midwife or Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables or Marmee from Little Women. Or maybe you’ll imagine Maya Angelou in your ear whispering that when you know better, you do better. Maybe you imagine your own mum or a Sunday-school teacher or the mother of your best friend—whoever makes you feel safe and secure and cared for in your mind—and then simply do what they say. (173)


1_Yr0GPZwWiPTHaGFE3ColrwAs it warns us in the title, Bessey’s book is a story of Unlearning and Relearning God in all the places God can be found. She writes in her love-letter introduction: “We place a lot of emphasis I our culture on “right learning,” but there is something to be said for the value of “right unlearning” and “right relearning.” We have to be committed to unlearning the unhelpful, broken, unredemptive, false, or incomplete God if we want to have space to relearn the goodness, the wholeness, the joy of a loving God” (5). She offers inspiring glimpses of how that commitment looks and works. It is a messy, vulnerable life; but it looks like a life; there is something miraculous about that because it isn’t what we’re sold; it isn’t traditionally what we’ve been buying.

Bessey closes the book with a Benediction. Her final aspirational pages, turn outward to embrace the reader. The journey is still in progress, but there are things knowable…sealable with that humble touch of anointing oil. She moves to do for the reader what has been done for her. She was drawn out to remember that she was not alone and she draws out the reader and into her own embrace, into her own story. She does what she always so generously does in her writing: she invites us to walk alongside her and the good company she has found and continues to find along the way. We will unlearn and relearn both together and in our own ways.










the ranger


The Ranger by Nancy Vo

Groundwood Books, 2019

Hardcover Picture Book, 44 pp.

Three things drew me to Nancy Vo’s The Ranger. That cover. It’s the rare Western-genre picture book that looks both serious and not non-fiction. The Ranger is a girl, Annie. It involves a fox. Additionally, both Annie and the Fox have stunning portraits.

interior pages from The Ranger by Nancy Vo
interior pages from The Ranger by Nancy Vo

The landscape is a harsh one and you wonder why Annie is wandering it alone, not that she doesn’t prove capable, of course… And just because she is a girl doesn’t mean she goes soft and nurturing on the injured fox. She has the no-nonsense dialog familiar to the Western.

interior illustration from The Ranger by Nancy Vo

But the new companion does prove to be a valuable one. The arrival of the bear is as sudden and unexpected for the reader as it is for Annie. I mean, I forgot that was a plot point, I was so taken with the rhythm of the story and it’s spacious compositions.

Vo doesn’t insult the reader with hand-holding. You’ll absorb the details of the images (like the shadow casts). Vo doesn’t move to over explain why the fox snarled, why the fox was offended. A way of life is established and affirmed, and it wasn’t lonely as it is assumed at the beginning.


I’m going to hunt down a copy of Outlaw, (which is the first book in this Crow trilogy). I’m intrigued by Vo and her inspirations. The tale she tells here is one to own and share; a rarity and a delight.


all images belong to Nancy Vo.

the book trailer.


warm and wild


A Tiger Like Me by Michael Engler

Illust. Joëlle Tourlonias  Translated Laura Watkinson

Amazon Crossing Kids, 2019. Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

Joëlle Tourlonias’ illustrations are worthwhile enough to hunt down a copy of this German Picture Book in translation.* Her tiger-costumed boy and his antics in and out of the house are stunning. They are feast while the reader takes on the voice of the little boy turned tiger as he takes us through his day, showing and telling us the different ways he is as a tiger. You suspect that he is also describing who he is as a human child, too.

Tiger Like Me Interior Illustration by Joëlle Tourlonias

He is fierce and funny and also vulnerable. Plenty of reader/listeners will identify with him, I mean, the tiger.

It’s nice to have a bit of a longer story, too. And it’s one you could skip a page or two if pressed for time at the end of the day. The narrator is imaginative and invites a playfulness and a tenderness that is irresistible. He also has a great vocabulary.


*(The Calvin & Hobbes vibe was a definite selling point).

Noted: the family has a craft time. That is pretty cool.



this one here.

one_is_a_lot_except_when_it_s_not_One is a Lot (Except When It’s Not) by Mượn Thị Văn , Illus. Pierre Pratt

Kids Can Press, 2019. Hardcover Picture Book, 32 pp.

“I had wanted to write a book about numbers for a while and as I joked about how “1 elephant on your head is a lot but 2 is too much,” I thought maybe I could write a story that would expand a reader’s conception of numbers—something less pedagogical and something more philosophical.” — Mượn Thị Văn

Mượn Thị Văn wanted to offer a different kind of counting book, and she’s achieved it. It really is like few other counting books. Here, context matters and quantity is not a hard and fast rule. And the author’s offering involves humor, and a sweet twist there at the end.

Pratt’s illustrations bring movement and energy to the page. And where Mượn Thị Văn is removing hard lines from mathematical concepts, Pratt’s illustrations are also more fluid and generous; shifting perspectives with the context at hand, zooming in and out. The two work together to layer ideas. The acorn, a major character is often both a lot and not; it can be both small and big. And the “One Hello” that is “a lot” means even more at the end when you realize who the parents are under the tree (that you watched grow).

One is a Lot (Except When It’s Not) is an intelligent book, playful and accessible. It’s an absolute must; allow it to inspire further observations of what is a lot (except when it’s not).


Brought to Mind: One Family by George Shannon, Illus. Blanca Gomez. You are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, Illus. Christopher Wyant. A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems.



diana dances cover

Diana Dances by Luciano Lozano 

Annick Press, 2019

Hardcover Picture book, 40 pages

“Diana was bored at school and never got good grades” and when her mother hired a private tutor, she couldn’t concentrate. The doctor recommends a psychologist who recommends he and the mother leave the room for a moment after he leaves on some music. His suggestion: sign her up for a dance class. We learn that Diana learns better when she is able to engage in activities that move her body (like dancing). And it makes sense when we look back and see Diana on/with her skateboard. She is always moving or anticipating the chance to move.

interior illustration from Diana Dances by Luciano Lozano

After we see her in dance classes, she’s riding a bike with a friend and playing basketball. She dances while memorizing multiplication. And my favorite is that illustration of her splashing in a puddle in the rain: vivacious against a backdrop of grim black-clothed adults.

interior illustration from Diana Dances by Luciano Lozano

From the cover alone, I would assume the book is about Diana being different, and she is…just in a way I didn’t anticipate. It is a book about moving about the world in different ways. I appreciate Lozano’s inclusion of a child in a wheelchair and male dancers. And I love the style of illustration. Diana is cute without being precocious, a lively and charming protagonist.

diana dances inset
interior illustration from Diana Dances by Luciano Lozano

Lozano’s Diana Dances is clever and charming, and very straightforward about it. He isn’t coy or cloying with the messaging. A great addition to the family and community library.


The story brought Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk to mind where he tells a story about Gillian who couldn’t sit still to learn and her mother took her to a doctor who (after stepping out of the office to peek in and see her dancing) suggested that Gillian needed to move to learn. There is no accreditation on the book by Lozano or publisher, but here is a link to the talk (which is excellent).


Luciano Lozano was born the same year man first traveled to the Moon, which may be the reason why he has traveled a lot since childhood. Originally self-taught, he has been working as an illustrator since 2007, when he completed a Postgraduate in Creative Illustration at Eina School in Barcelona. In 2012 he won the Junceda Prize for the best book published abroad for Operation Alphabet, published by Thames and Hudson in several countries. He currently lives in Barcelona, Spain.





communal spaces

9783791373973What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street?  by Felicita Sala

Prestel Junior, 2019. Orig. French edition 2018.

Hardcover Picture Book, 48 pp.

This address, like a garden, is full of variety, existing and growing together in proximity and with a shared purpose. The address is an introduction to various cultural inhabitants preparing their individual dishes that they will later carry to a communal space to eat together at a large (round-edged) table.

image-assetEach double-spread yields the place of preparation and the person(s) on the left and the recipe with food-illustrations of ingredients and instructions on the right. The residences are full of cultural ingredients that tell the story of the person, a mirror of how the ingredients on the right come together to contribute (visually) to the story of the recipe.

image-asset (2)What’s Cooking at 10 Garden Street? is a really pretty book for foodies, cultural lovers, and those fueled by ideas/stories of community. It’s a good one for inspiring exploration as a cook and/or eater. Caution: it will make you hungry.


first image via Prestel Publishing. latter two interior images: Avery & Augustine