I am one of those incredibly annoying people who can’t stop themselves from analyzing things even when the “thing” in question isn’t really meant to withstand anything beyond a superficial examination. Books, movies, and casual comments made in passing by my unsuspecting husband all fall prey to my compulsion to contemplate. It doesn’t even matter if the material in question is meant for a much younger audience. Having spent endless hours reading and watching children’s literature and films, I have also spent hours being annoyed by inconsistencies and fallacies of reason. I once almost ruined a perfectly good dinner party arguing over whether or not Dora the Explorer’s attitude towards Swiper the Fox taught children the importance of grace or taught them to tolerate the sins of others whether they repented or not.
Sometimes, however, one stumbles upon the truth repackaged for children in a way that highlights the power of that truth. I would like to share three examples of this that I have discovered in reading with my own kids. I am sure there are countless others. Maybe you will enjoy reading these to the little people in your life or maybe you will find pleasure in being reminded of the simple truths of the Gospel.
The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones—I have to confess that this “Bible” often frustrates me and I find myself frequently interrupting the story in order to clarify a point or express my opposing view. I also grit my teeth through the emotions the author imposes on God. I am sure our sin does make Him literally “sad” or “heartbroken” but this language can diminish the holiness of God in a way I find unsettling. Having said this, there is something to reading the Gospel through the eyes of a child that brings greater clarity to the startling, marvelous nature of the Good News. I also love the way Lloyd-Jones teaches children that Jesus is the thread that binds the entirety of the Bible together.
The Tale of the Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt—I can never get through this one without choking back tears. It kind of freaks the kids out and they pretend not to notice but I can’t help myself. This book communicates so powerfully the idea of God’s working in unexpected ways, both in the big picture, salvation of the world kind of ways as well as the small picture, plans for our individual lives kind of ways. I never thought I would feel such empathy for trees, but I know what it is like to dream and plan only to find yourself in a very different place only to realize that the different place is where you were meant to be all along. Beautifully illustrated, beautifully told.
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein—This is one of the few books I remember from my childhood and it impacts and convicts me as much today as it did then. Not sure what it says about me that it is yet another book featuring a tree as the main character, but anyone who works with children knows Shel Silverstein could make a book about pond scum interesting. A great illustration of the downward spiral of materialism and selfishness, I appreciate Silverstein’s light touch. I know it is sacrilege to criticize Dr. Seuss, but there are times when he is a bit heavy-handed for my taste. Silverstein never loses sight of the fact that he is telling a story. It may have a moral; it may teach a lesson. But it is first and foremost a tale to transport, and he tells it masterfully.
As summer is winding down and we put away our summer reading of mystery novels and chick lit, take a few minutes to read one or two of these gospel-centered tales. Plop a kid in your lap if you fear being discovered reading children’s books alone. Just be sure to have the tissues handy.