Children’s Books for All God’s Children
By Susan Young Thornton
We often think that picture books are for those who cannot yet read or are, perhaps, just learning to read. But, when we take the plunge into such books, we discover that most are rich in meaning, explore big questions, explain difficult concepts in ways that are easier to understand, trust our intuition, and open us to wonder and reflection.
As promised in the last edition of the eNews, we are sharing more than a few books that address themes that impact God’s children of all ages and just might be useful to our ministries, too. We know this is a long list, if you’re short on time it’s OK to jump to the final paragraphs and save the list for an occasion when you can leisurely explore its riches.
Stories About Identity and Belonging
Whoever You Are, Mem Fox, Leslie Staub (illustrator). “A celebration of diverse childhoods, and the essential things that make us all the same.”
No One Else Like You, Siska Goeminne, Merel Eyckerman (illustrator). Explores the incredible diversity of the earth’s seven billion inhabitants and celebrates the uniqueness of each one of us.
These Hands, Margaret H. Mason, Floyd Cooper (illustrator). “Joseph’s grandpa could do almost anything with his hands. But in the 1950s and 60s, he could not bake bread at the Wonder Bread factory.”
No, David!, David Shannon. David’s shenanigans are legendary and he is constantly being told, “No!” What happens at bedtime may surprise you. The first in a series of books about this deeply loved troublemaker.
Stories of Generosity and Community
Four Feet, Two Sandals, Karen Lynne Williams, Khandra Mohammed, Doug Chayka (illustrator). When relief workers bring donations to their refugee camp, two young girls each find one sandal. Might each belong to the same pair?
14 Cows for America, Carmen Agra Deedy, Thomas Gonzales (illustrator), Wilson Kemeli Naiyomah (contributor). “… legendary Maasai warriors offer their gift to a grieving people half a world away.”
Bagels From Benny, Aubrey Davis, Duyan and Dusan Petricic (illustrators). Benny leaves a bag of bagels at the synagogue as a gift for God. He is surprised when he discovers what happened to it.
Stone Soup, Marcia Brown’s retelling and illustration of a French folktale. A classic tale of greed growing into generosity.
Values and the Best Ways to Live
The Empty Pot, Demi. Ping plants flower seeds in hopes of pleasing the Emperor and is very disappointed when nothing blooms.
The Three Questions, Jon H. Muth. “Young Nikolai is searching for the answers to his three questions: When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?” Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy.
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, Mem Fox, Julie Vivas (illustrator). Young Wilfrid helps his 96 year-old friend, Miss Nancy, regain some of her memories.
Desmond and the Very Mean Word, Desmond Tutu, A.G. Ford (illustrator). “Based on a true story from Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s childhood in South Africa, his story reveals the power of words and the secret of forgiveness.”
Grief, Loss, and Death
Water Bugs and Dragon Flies: Explaining Death to Young Children, Doris Stickney, Meredith Gould (illustrator). “ …tells the story of a small colony of water bugs living below the surface of a pond. Whenever a bug leaves the pond, those left behind are faced with the mystery of their absence.” An accompanying coloring book is also available.
Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children, Bryan Mellonie, Robert Ingpen (illustrator). “… tells us about beginnings. And about endings. And about living in between.”
What’s Heaven?, Maria Shriver, Sabdra Speidel (illustrator). “This treasure of a book, for people of all faiths, is a starting point for parents who must talk about the difficult topic of death with their children.”
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss, Pat Schwiebert. “… Grandy, who has just suffered a big loss… blends emotions and memories into Tear Soup… to work through the healing and grieving process.”
Explicitly Religious Themes
Jesus the Word, Mark Francisco Bonzutti-Jones, Shelley Hehenberger (illustrator). “…helps children explore Jesus’ importance, as revealed in John 1:1: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Lyrical language and evocative illustrations are woven together to reveal how God has created and redeemed all life through Jesus, God’s Word in the flesh.”
God’s Dream, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams, Leuyen Pham (illustrator). “With warmth and humor, Archbishop Desmond Tutu distills his philosophy of unity and forgiveness into a picture book for the very young.”
Mr. and Mrs. God in the Creation Kitchen, Nancy Wood, Timothy Basil Ering (illustrator). A whimsical rendition of the creation story.
God’s Paintbrush, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Annette Compton (illustrator). “Through fantasy, involvement and imagination, … invite[s] children of all faiths and backgrounds to encounter God openly through moments in their own lives—and help the adults who love them to be a part of that encounter. … provides a gift of images that nurtures and encourages children in making meaning of their world.”
Anything written by Rabbi Sasso is a treasure.
A new imprint of Presbyterian Publishing Corporation dedicated to high quality, value-based children’s picture books. “Flyaway Books embraces diversity, inclusivity, compassion, and care for our world. Many of our books explore social justice and other contemporary issues. Some retell familiar religious stories in new ways, while others carry universal themes to those with any, or no, religious background.”
Downloadable discussion guides, coloring and activity sheets accompany all books. Some titles are now available in Spanish and Korean.
A Brief Sampling
Children (and all of us) Live in a Complex, Confusing World
My Elephant Is Blue, Melinda Szymanik, Vasanti Unka (illustrator). Explores “living under the weight of sadness.”
Grandpa’s Window, Laura Gehl, Udayana Lugo (illustrator). Addresses grief and a child’s experience of loss.
The Coat, Severine Vidal, Louis Thomas (illustrator). “… a glimpse at the hardships confronting those who are experiencing homelessness.”
For Beautiful Black Boys Who Believe in a Better World, Michael W. Waters, Keisha Morris (illustrator). A father helps his young son grapple with big, hard questions.
Arthur and the Forgetful Elephant, Maria Giron. “… a tale of memory and kindness.”
Apple and Magnolia, Laura Gehl, Patricia Metola (illustrator). Unveils the connections between all living things.
Inspired by Scripture
Baptism Promises, Carol Wehrheim, Roz Fulchur (illustrator). Helps children understand “the promises their family and church community made to them” at their baptism.
Psalms of Wonder, Carey Wallace, Khoa Le (illustrator). The authors of these songs “bring it all to God—their mess, their pain, and their joy.”
Who Is My Neighbor, Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Denise Turu (illustrator). Yellow and blue encounter one another along the road.
The Marvelous Mustard Seed, Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Margaux Maganck (illustrator). An itty-bitty seed seems so very ordinary, until…
Who Counts, Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Margaux Maganck (illustrator). 100 sheep, 10 coins, 2 sons.
The Good for Nothing Tree, Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Annie Bowler (illustrator). “… patience, care, and love can change everything, making what may appear ‘good for nothing’ very good.”
Bundles for church use and gifting to families are available.
Using Children’s Books for Ministry
Ideas for using children’s picture books for ministry can be found at Storypath: Connecting Children’s Literature with Our Faith Story, a cooperative resource from both the Richmond and Charlotte campuses of Union Presbyterian Seminary and the William Smith Morton Library on the Richmond campus. The site includes book reviews, links to both the Revised Common and Narrative Lectionaries, scripture and theme indices, and is a place for questions, conversations, and collaboration. While it is no longer being updated with new content, it remains an incredibly rich and imaginative resource.