By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Welcome to what might become a yearly tradition on Being in Community. I have put together for you a post full of book and gift recommendations, coupon codes and THIRTEEN giveaways! In order to enter the giveaway and get a chance at the item you want, you must subscribe your email to Being in Community AND comment below to tell me which giveaway you would like to be entered for. (Current subscribers need only to comment). Choose up to three of the below items. The chance to enter will close on Monday, December 12, at 11:59 pm EST, so don’t wait! I can only ship to US addresses.

A beautiful gift for the whole family, Charles Dickens’ classic novel, A Christmas Carol, gets a printed makeover that includes illustrations from the original 1834 publication by Paraclete Press. This book makes a great addition to a family “literary Advent calendar,” which Lisa Vanderkam recently blogged about: she squirrels away all her Christmas themed books and wraps them up to choose one to read every day with her children until Christmas. This version of A Christmas Carol is unabridged and illustrated, with a text format that makes it easy to read. It is a perfect gift for the whole family or for anyone who wants to curl up to this story with a cup of hot cocoa, relive Scrooge’s ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, and commit like him to “honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.” Paraclete Press is providing me with FIVE print copies of A Christmas Carol to give away!


Because I am an urbanite, accustomed more to fighting nature rather than understanding it, I was taken into another world in All Creation Waits: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings. The title of this beautiful Advent book comes from Romans 8:19-21: “All of creation waits with eager longing for God to reveal his children. For creation was condemned to lose its purpose, not of its own will, but because God willed it to be so. Yet there was the hope that creation itself would one day be set free from its slavery to decay and would share the glorious freedom of the children of God.”  It includes 25 days of meditations and artwork on how animals in nature survive winter. Rather than a typical Advent calendar about the Nativity, Gayle Boss created an advent calendar with her children that addresses the need for Christmas. These meditations reflect what she shared with her children every Advent. They are well-researched, making it a treat for animal lovers, life scientists, and otherwise ignorant urbanites like me. Rather than interpreting everything for us, she leaves the reader to consider how each of these animals points us to the new beginning of the birth of Christ. Consider this line, about the bees surviving winter: “The whole hive knows they will only survive if they shiver together.”  Although my seven year old enjoyed me reading aloud the first meditation about the painted turtle, because of the vocabulary and the reference to various animals’ mating habits, I would recommend this particular book for older children and adults, though the book can serve as inspiration for the animal/advent idea for younger ones. This is a book I will return to again and again during the Advent season. Paraclete Press has provided me with a print copy of All Creation Waits to review and give away.

The Nativity Advent Calendar in front of our bay window.


Speaking of children and Advent, if you celebrate Christmas on January 7th according to the Julian Calendar (as Coptic Orthodox Christians do), this wonderful Nativity Advent Calendar set counts down from December 25 to January 7. This will be the third year I have used it with my children, and they are already asking me this year, “When are we going to start the countdown?” Each day on the countdown is represented in a small drawstring bag with a card inside that tells one part of the Christmas story, until on the last day, we read about the birth of Christ. The bags are suspended on a rope that can be hung over a mantle or, in my case, over the bay window. Printable coloring pages that match each day’s theme are also available. I have one kit to give away, and the kit only costs $35, and with the coupon code $10OFF, you can buy two for $60, one for yourself and one for a friend.





My 16 month old baby will be unwrapping Good Night Jesus, a beautiful board book with simple repetition and gorgeous illustrations in the Orthodox Christian iconographic tradition. A perfect bedtime book for little ones, the baby gives bedtime kisses to everyone – to Jesus and His mother, the disciples, saints, angels, parents, even grandma living far away on the webcam, siblings, and pets. My only gripe with this book is that the siblings are all brothers. I plan on reading it to him saying “kiss big brother and sister,” but it would have been nice if author Angela Isaacs and illustrator Nicholas Malara had included both. On the other hand, the “brothers” are also clearly multi-racial, which is a very nice and subtle visual message for children at a young age about our common human family. Ancient Faith Publishing has provided me with a copy Good Night Jesus to review and giveaway.



Though not specifically Christmas themed, I am very excited about Sandra Boyton’s newly redrawn alphabet book, A is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet. I have always been a fan of Boyton’s children’s books, and love this unique take on an ABC book (I’m on child number three and am a bit bored with “A is for apple”). I also love how many of the words express emotions, like “M is for Merry,” “E is for Energetic,” “B is for Bashful.” Toddlers and young children are still gaining mastery over their language and often lack the vocabulary to describe their emotions, hence the frequent meltdowns. This book, which will likely be on our reading rotation for some time (the way Dr. Suess’ ABC has been), and so the repetition of these words can only help expand my young children’s emotional vocabularies. The quirky illustrations do not disappoint. Workman Publishing has provided me with a print copy of A is for Angry to give away.


Adult and child fans of Sandra Boyton alike will love this calendar for 2017, 365 Startling Days of Boyton. Every day on the calendar features one of Boyton’s famous animal illustrations, some classic and some newly drawn for the calendar. The calendar notes the usual memorial days and holidays, but also includes some lesser known days that are worthy of our attention, including “Penguin Awareness Day” and “Ice Cream for Breakfast Day.” Workman Publishing has provided me with 365 Startling Days of Boyton to give away.

Speaking of calendars, I have a Wonder themed wall calendar to give away today to Wonder fans from Workman Publishing. Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is a fantastic young adult book about a boy with an unusual face integrating into a new middle school. While the book certainly addresses bullying by peers, it is also about how much young people are capable of. What I enjoyed most about this book is the way it is written from different perspectives – the main character, his older sister, his friends, classmates, and even his bully. It achieves all of this without being didactic and hitting readers over the head with a message. I think the book is appropriate for as early as third or fourth grade children. The Wonder wall calendar includes inspirational quotes and activities to do, making it useful beyond its year of use.


My fellow blogger and clergy wife Laura Michael published a wonderful book, Becoming Tasoni, this past year. It is a reflection on her experience during the time her husband was called to be ordained a priest in the Coptic Orthodox Church. It’s not just a book for those contemplating ordained Christian ministry, but for anyone who wants a window into the journey of figuring out how God is working in his or her own life. Enter GIFTWORTHY20 at checkout and receive 20% off the cost of the book (this code is good until December 13, 2016). Laura will also give away one AUTOGRAPHED copy of Becoming Tasoni to give away to a lucky reader!



Finally, for the young adult or adult in your life, All Shall Be Well: A Spiritual Journal for Hope and Encouragement is a beautiful, inspirational journal, written and illustrated by Hilda St. Clair. This is a unique, colorful journal that inspires writing by incorporating quotations from different saints and philosophers and questions to prompt writing. One example is a page with a quote from St. Teresa of Avila, “Anyone who truly loves travels securely,” with the following writing prompt: “On your journey called TODAY, List 5 things you want to put on your carryon. Give specific examples of things you might want to carry: faith, positivity, pictures of loved ones, your favorite book – whatever means most to you.” Another page includes a quote by St. Catherine of Sienna: “Start being brave about everything” and the opposite page includes a picture of a shield and a scroll with the prompt: “Choosing to act in the midst of fear is one attribute of courage. In each of the 4 sections of this shield, write one area in which you’d like to be more courageous. Choose a personal motto and write it on the scroll. (Some samples to choose from are…Stand firm…Go forward, Pilgrim…Always faithful…Live life to the fullest… or write your own).” All Shall be Well is the kind of journal I would take with me on a spiritual retreat. It’s also perfect for those graduating from high school or college, for anyone embarking on a new path in life, for new parents, and even for those who are going through a struggle. I plan on keeping a few of these myself on hand as gifts for the right occasion, and Paraclete Press has provided me with one giveaway copy of All Shall Be Well.

To enter the giveaway and win one of the above publications, please subscribe to Being in Community via email and then make a comment below on which of the above you would like to be entered to win. If you can’t wait for the giveaway (or you don’t win), most of the links above are affiliate links for purchasing the products. If you choose to make a purchase via those links, I will receive a small commission for referring you at no extra cost to you. You are under no obligation to purchase the items through my links, but if you do, you will be helping support the cost of running this blog and providing you with the writing and reviews you enjoy. Your support is much appreciated!