Tuesday, June 06, 2023

Book Review--36 New and Laughably Random Poems by Sheila Petre

I'm going to review Sheila Petre’s Thirty-six New & Laughably Random Poems today. But first, a story.

Once upon a time I was a flighty young schoolteacher living with another teacher, named Cynthia, who was the oldest daughter in her family and very responsible and good.

We lived about a hundred yards from a grass-seed warehouse, and the owner had told us we could go into the workers’ lunchroom and help ourselves to hot chocolate packets and other supplies.

One night I wanted a cup of cocoa and discovered we were out. I ran out the back door and dashed across a few backyards to the warehouse, where I found the empty, dusty lunchroom, grabbed a few packets, and ran back to the house.

When I returned, Cynthia sputtered, “You just DO things!”

I was confused.

“You just decide to go get something and you run over to the warehouse IN THE DARK with who knows what guys working the night shift, and you don’t even THINK or PLAN or SAY ANYTHING. You just up and DO THINGS.”

My normal bent at that time was to immediately melt into a puddle of shame when a big sisterly type of person defined me, but because Cynthia was more flabbergasted than judgy, and because the logic outweighed her opinion, I was fine.

In my mind:

1. We were out of hot chocolate.

2. Jason had said we could get more in the lunchroom.

3. Therefore, it made sense to go get more.

Cynthia and I didn’t get along very well, until we did, and that happened only because Cynthia was much better than me at sitting down and having hard conversations. We came to accept our differences, for the most part. I hope if she were alive today she would tell me that I still just DO THINGS, and we would laugh.

I recalled that story because I want to review Sheila’s book, and if ever there was someone who just up and does things, it’s Sheila. She does things the rest of think, vaguely, would be fun to do someday, but we never make it happen. She also does things we haven’t thought of or don’t have the nerve to do. And she has a lot of fun in the process.

I wonder what it would have been like if she had been my age and a part of my life at age twenty. I think I’d have learned to have adventures far beyond running to the warehouse for hot chocolate mix.

Sheila actually has connections with the West and my past. For the MennoConnectors among us, her mom used to be in the same youth group as Cynthia. Sheila and her family travel out West every so often and attended at least two of our annual Western Anabaptist Writers’ Dinners, held at our house every August. We never have enough time to talk.

Despite all she’s been through, and it’s a lot, the word that always comes to mind when I’m with her is “fun.” I admit it’s an unlikely description of a mom of nine who dresses in very plain Mennonite styles and ties her covering strings and doesn’t access the internet.

I find that she’s hilariously and thoroughly honest, immersed in real life but given to poetry and nuance, impulsive yet deliberately figuring out how to make things work, and conservative in appearance while liberal in acceptance of others.

Sheila doesn’t have a social media presence, but she’s widely known among Anabaptist readers and probably outside that circle as well. She’s found ways to communicate, write, and publish where she’s at, with what she has. Like I said, she does things.

Many of us writers are angsty and agonized, loving to have written but hating to actually write. We make heavy weather of writing, editing, publishing, and marketing. We are like Cynthia, always wanting to do things the Right Way, unable to think of other ways that would also be perfectly fine.

Sheila writes and publishes like it’s no big deal, and has lots of fun in the process. She isn’t stopped by circumstances or custom or nine children. For example, she hires house help so she has time to write. She walks to the post office to mail books with half a dozen children in tow. When her new book comes out, she tells her friends she’ll trade books for casseroles, and ends up with a bunch of meals in the freezer.

Many of us rely on social media as a platform for expressing ourselves. Sheila pours her words into emails. I don't know if she sends out a group newsletter, but I know she doesn’t consider it wasteful to channel her considerable talent and limited time into individual emails to very fortunate friends.

She also bypasses all the traditional publishing channels and protocols to do things her own way. 

Which brings us to Thirty-six New and Laughably Random Poems.

Here’s how it came about:

I mean, who does this, following whims and collecting talented help until a whole book emerges?

Most of us, my children included, don’t have moms who send us poetry prompts. We also don’t tend to publish our poetry with this many quirky details, such as the ducks that waddle along and leave their tracks throughout the book, or the many different bindings available, invented and twisted and tied by the many little Petres.

Look at all those creative bindings!

I tell you, Sheila does the things, and she has fun.

The prompt for December 23 was “write a love poem.” Sheila wrote:


in which I say “I do” again

When you are absent

I yearn for you.

When you are present

I know why I do.

Another sample—


The dark space there between each span of light

Not only keep the days apart,

But gives their brightness depth.

Its quiet hours hold

This contradiction:

Doing nothing fuels the heart

For doing more. We would grow old

Too young, grow weak, and die,

If between our labors did not lie

This gift from our Beloved:


The prompt for December 6 was, “Choose an author. Make his or her name the title of your poem.”

I think every writer should contemplate the poem Sheila wrote:


If a cause you love has merit,
You are not ashamed to share it.
Unscathed by private complication,
Falsehood froths a fearful nation.

Behind a hundred walls you cower,
Loath to own your face or power.
You frame your novel, pen your ode,
And let unnumbered dozens shoulder
The fame and blame, which being bolder,
You might have carried as your load.

Even if you don’t feel like you “get” poetry or speak the language, I think you’ll enjoy Thirty-six Poems. It’s accessible and fun, but the imagery and the twist at the end of each poem will stay with you.

I also need to mention Sheila’s other book, Thirty Little Fingers. It was written a few children ago, and it will make you gasp, think, and feel understood. You will also shriek with laughter when Sheila and her family go to the potluck with all the foreign students and their hosts.

I mentioned Sheila having been through hard things. I know I have Anabaptist readers who will wonder if I feel it necessary to Take a Stand about Sheila and what she believes and writes, because she sat down some time ago with a concordance and Bible and decided to research what Scripture says about the afterlife.

She wasn’t reading Preston Sprinkle or listening to podcasts and didn’t know this was a hot button topic in current Christianity. She was just curious. So she found passages on the subject and wrote about some of her conclusions. These were somewhat different from traditional Mennonite beliefs, and she was consequently dropped from publications, distributors, and speaking opportunities.

Here is my response, in case it matters to you:

1. I haven’t read Sheila’s writings on the subject and haven’t studied it in depth myself, so I can’t say if I agree or disagree with her conclusions. At this point, I don’t need to dig deeper than that.

2. I don’t tend to dismiss or cancel or cut off people for what they believe. I have atheist and non-religious friends whose company I enjoy, who have taught me a lot, and whose books I recommend. I also appreciate many different kinds of Christians, even the ones who weary me with repeating the same pronoun-heavy phrase 17 times during their worship time on Sunday mornings, something like “He is there and this is what it is."

3. I avoid people or choose not to associate with them based mostly on their behavior and how they treat people. If they are dishonest, arrogant, selfish, harsh, abusive, or grasping for power or money, I keep my distance and don't endorse their work.

4. I am uneasy about discouraging people from studying the Bible for themselves, reaching conclusions, and writing about them. After all, our denomination began when men like Conrad Grebel and Felix Manz did that very thing.

Sheila is a kind person and an amazing writer. She does things, she has fun, and she tells the truth. I recommend her and her books. She inspires me to enjoy writing and to publish for fun. I hope she motivates you to go out and do something you've been wishing you could do.

The illustrations are lovely

Sheila and I are doing a giveaway of both of her books! She is generously offering two copies of each title.

To enter, comment on the blog or Facebook or Instagram with your name and which book you would like most—36 poems or 30 Little Fingers. You can comment once on each platform if you want to enter multiple times. If you want to, share something you’d like to do but haven’t done yet.

You can choose the "anonymous" setting for your comment below, but please include your name somewhere in the comment itself so I can reach you when you win.

I’ll pick the winners on Saturday, June 10.

To order a copy of either book,  Sheila says, “If people want to buy, they’ll have to send their payment (cash, money order, check) to 

Sheila Petre

P.O. Box 127

Mercersburg PA 17236

Price is $15 per book, and includes shipping.

For bulk orders, contact Sheila at sheilajoyful@emypeople.net


  1. Destinie Krabill, 30 Little Fingers

  2. I'd like the 30 Little Fingers book most. And I want to take photography and computer classes some day.

  3. Linda stoltzfus6/07/2023 3:10 AM

    I’d love to own the poem book! My friend Hannah is the art illustrator and she loaned the book to me so I could enjoy her art. A copy of my own would be wonderful

  4. Lydia Fisher - 30 poems.
    I would love to make a braided rug.

  5. Renita Kauffman6/07/2023 4:16 AM

    Thirty Little Fingers

  6. 36 Poems. This book sounds fun and interesting!

  7. I read 30 fingers and would enjoy reading her newest one, 36 Poems. She is an interesting writer I couldn't help but read her book all in one day .

  8. Jennifer Jantzi6/07/2023 5:50 AM

    Oh I’d love to own either of these books. I’ve read her first one and enjoyed it immensely. Something I’d like to do but haven’t yet is read Sheila’s views on the afterlife. You’ve made me very curious. Has she written publicly about it anywhere?

  9. Two things immediately strike me, if I were to buy one, or both of these. The unique binding intrigues me, and, the duck footprints wandering through the pages. These would not be the only reasons to buy. The thoughts expressed are very interesting to me as well; views of life through another lense.

  10. I would like 30 Little Fingers by Sheila Petra

  11. I enjoyed the sample poems and choose "36 Poems" as my first choice--since you're forcing me to make that difficult, heavily-freighted decision.

  12. I don't know which book I would choose... They both sound delightful!

  13. I would love a copy of 36 poems!

  14. 30 little fingers please!

    Heidi Shank

  15. I enjoyed the poem samples and would love to own a copy of 36 poems. I have 30 little fingers and enjoy her writings very much.
    I would like to kidnap my husband for a vacation!

  16. Dawn Harshbarger6/07/2023 12:51 PM

    I would love the poetry book. Both books sound lovely! We are hoping/planning to go to Norway for a visit this summer if everything works out.

  17. I would love to read 36 poems

  18. Laura Sporre
    I would enjoy owning either book although I haven't read the poetry book yet! I would like to write my own book someday.

  19. These sound delightful! I would choose 36 poems.

  20. Zonya Gingrich6/07/2023 2:31 PM

    I think I just accidentally commented as Anonymous. Trying again. Those sound delightful. I would choose 36 poems.

  21. I would like to win 30 Little Fingers. Someday, I would like to take my daughter back to Korea, so she can see where she was born and where we used to live. A. Z.

  22. Naomi Miller. I'd love either book!

  23. I would enjoy either one of these books! Thanks for the opportunity to win one.

  24. The Poem book!


  25. Pam Mast I would like 36 poems please!

  26. I would love to have a private back yard. I already have 30 fingers, so I would like the poem book. Linda Rose

  27. Bertha Mast
    Both books sound interesting, but I tend to get bored with poetry fairly quickly, so I think I’d choose Thirty Little Fingers. ๐Ÿ˜„

  28. Bertha Mast
    Thirty Little Fingers

  29. Sandra Musser
    36 poems

  30. The book of poetry looks delightful, in words and illustration. I would like to make morning buns with laminated dough.

  31. Joyce Haarsma6/08/2023 4:22 AM

    Thirty Little Fingers. Last week a mom of 9 was asking for summer reading ideas on Facebook. I gave a shout out to Thirty Little Fingers! Imagine my surprise when I opened your blog post today and discovered a write-up about one of my favorite authors! :)

  32. Oh, how I enjoyed the 30 Little Fingers book!!! I'm sure I'd like the Poem book too! Jolynne Weaver

  33. Rachel Zimmerman6/08/2023 4:54 AM

    I would enjoy the 36 poems and I would like to learn how to crochet some day. Thanks for the review and your additional thoughts on her writings in the afterlife. I am not a fan of cancel culture just because we don’t see life or our faith the same.

  34. Rachel Zimmerman6/08/2023 4:55 AM

    I would enjoy owning the 36 poems and someday would like to learn how to crochet.

  35. Melissa Kauffman6/08/2023 4:59 AM

    I would love to own the poem book because it looks lovely and I already have Thirty Little Fingers. Something I haven’t done and would like to? Meet Sheila!

  36. Anita Smucker6/08/2023 5:15 AM

    30 Little Fingers. I'm past the 'littles' stage in my life, but I know my daughter would enjoy it. Her heart and hands are full! I've always enjoyed Sheila's writing ๐Ÿ˜Š

  37. Enjoyed your comments and esp. Sheila’s poem about anonymous-expressed my feelings. But I spent more minutes than I want to recount trying to set my google account so I wouldn’t be seen as anonymous ๐Ÿคฃ๐Ÿฅบ and no go.
    Lois Graber

  38. I love Sheila's writing, and Sheila too! I already a stack of her poetry book I want to give as gifts, but I would love to own another copy of Thirty Little Fingers to share with some lucky mom.

    What would I like to do someday? Write a fantasy novel.

  39. I would enjoy reading 36 Poems. It would be the perfect size to pack to read on my flight to Spain to visit my sister & brother in law there. (A trip that's been a mirage just beyond the horizon for the last few years here.)
    Rachel Graybill

  40. I like Sheila’s artistic writing style and would love to read the book of poems. Some day I want to learn to write better poetry pieces. :)

  41. I enjoy Sheila's writings, and I have Thirty Little Fingers. I would like to read 36 Poems. ~Marilyn Martin

  42. 36 poems. I'd love to go up in a hot-air balloon! - Joanna Embry

  43. I have been a fan of Sheila's writing for years and would love 36 poems. Some things I would like to do but haven't yet would be visit Oxford, ride a horse across a Middle Eastern Desert and visit North Korea. All of these are on my current bucket list.

  44. Angie Eshbach6/08/2023 6:24 AM

    I was gifted her thirty fingers book and really enjoyed her writing style! Now I would love to read the 36 poems as well.

  45. I enjoy my copy of Thirty Little Fingers-it’s fun to grab and read one story when I need a break! So I would love to get 36 Poems.

  46. Another book of Sheila's that I really enjoyed is one she co-authored with Janice Etter and Marilyn Martin called From Joy to Joy. It's a collection of poems dealing with grief. I first read it over 10 years ago and even though I didn't have have heaps of grief, or perhaps what most people would consider grief, it touched me deeply. I still read through that book every now and then.

  47. M @ westisbest28@gmail.com
    The poems! I love poetry! I was gifted 30 Little Fingers and loved it.
    God Bless all you writers out there!

  48. Laura Miller6/08/2023 8:57 AM

    I would love to own and read the 36 poems! Sheila's 30 Little Fingers is excellent! :)

  49. I would like the 36 New and Laughably Random Poems...mostly because of the great title! I would like to be a person who is brave enough to just DO things.

  50. 36 poems I would like to go on a hot air balloon ride sometime.

  51. Beth Hochstedler
    36 poems, because I already have 30 Little Fingers. Whenever I see the name Sheila J Petre; I know it’ll be worth reading! Something I would still like to do is see the Grand Canyon.

  52. Rose Kauffman6/08/2023 1:54 PM

    I'd choose 36 poems.

  53. I wouldn't mind the poem book-something I'd like to do? Many things; but one that sticks out right now would be to trust God, as a little child trusts his parents.

  54. I would love to meet Sheila Petre in person some day. I would be honored to have one of her books.

  55. Yes! I’m grateful for Mennonites who are willing to serve God, stand out, and be themselves. I would love to read 36 poems.

  56. Marlese Anderson6/08/2023 9:06 PM

    I would love to own 30 Little Fingers. I LOVE Sheila's writings!

  57. I would like the book Thirty Little Fingers. And something I like to do is take a leisurely trip through the Deep South. Linda

  58. I’d be happy to win either book. I enjoy Sheila’s writings a lot!
    Marnita Kornelsen

  59. The Baritone6/08/2023 9:57 PM

    I'm not here to enter for the giveaway, and I don't have time to write anything about The Afterlife, I just wanted to comment that the stories about "poem prompts" reminded me of a trip that AHQ took with you and Paul and Emily (maybe to Idaho? Not sure anymore), and she wrote limericks (in only a few minutes' time, I think) about each of us quartet members, based on a few details we each gave her about ourselves. It was quite entertaining. I don't remember what they all said, but she definitely showed her creativity. :-)


  60. I'd love to win the 36 poems book. I've written poetry ever since I was a child, but I've never tried to publish it. If I don't win one I'll buy it!

  61. I would like 30 Little Fingers (and the illustrations make me want to learn to draw!). Thank you both! - chailibrarian @ gmail.com

  62. I’ve given away several copies of Thirty Little Fingers, but I’d love to have one of my own!

  63. I would like the 36 poems book. A hot air balloon ride is on my bucket list.

  64. I would like the poems and I would like to publish a cookbook Lucy Martin

  65. I like your comments about being friends with people who have different opinions. If you truly know what you believe you will not be so scared to be friends with people who have different ideas or beliefs.

  66. Melody Trejo6/09/2023 11:20 AM

    I forgot to put my name with my post. And I think it would interesting to have her poem book. I enjoy reading her writings!

  67. 36 little fingers. Laura Friesen

  68. If I remember correctly, Sheila once told me that she was working harder than usual with a poem an editor had asked her to expand. And her mother told her that now she knows what it is like for other people. So I'm guessing that her poetry-prompting mother knew it wouldn't be an overwhelming job for her. I would enjoy having the poem book. - Crystal Shank

  69. 36 poems, Elise Conley

  70. Bertha Dueck6/09/2023 6:20 PM

    Thirty Little Fingers!

  71. Tena Miller I enjoy poetry so I would choose 36 poems but as a former teacher, 30 little fingers sounds good, too.

  72. I’d love a copy of her 36 quotable poems! Something I want to do someday…is also get a copy of the book mentioned earlier in the comments, Joy to Joy. My name is Anna L. Martin, I’m posting as Anonymous because of some glitch that won’t let me use my name ๐Ÿ™ƒ

  73. Smuckerstuff6/15/2023 10:51 AM

    People like Sheila and Dorcas are what every denomination needs.