There are so many wonderful children’s books that we have in the store – old ones, new ones, well-loved classics, obscure one’s you’ve never heard of – we hardly know where to begin.
For those bookish parents who want to give their children, grand-children or God-children something more lasting than chocolate eggs this week, how about a few of these?
By the way, if you are asking us to send an item to another address on your behalf, let us know if we can tuck in a little note (and what it should say.) We do complimentary gift wrapping, too, so do let us know how we can make your gift-giving easy for you.
(Check out last year’s Book Notes column “Easter Basket Suggestions” for some others ones, here).
Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible Elizabeth F. Caldwell and Carol A. Wertheim (Westminster John Knox) $25.00 I have been wanting to describe this marvelous new children’s Bible for a while now and it never seemed to fit our Book Notes schedule and I now realize I want to shout about it here – it is very thoughtfully done, a rare and intentionally created storybook Bible done by very highly-respected Presbyterian educators. But a longer more serious review will have to wait as I’ve got so much to say about it.
For now, just know these vital facts about it. As I said, Libby Caldwell (of Vanderbilt) and Carol Wertheim (a Christian educator at a church in Princeton NJ) are both really important figures in the literature and conversations about children’s religious education. You may recall an amazing book I touted by Caldwell called I Wonder: Engaging a Child’s Curiosity About the Bible, which, among other things, compares and contrasts and often criticizes many popular children’s Bible storybook bibles. I don’t agree with her, always, but I note this important book because it shows that she has thought long and hard about what should be in a children’s Bible, how to explain the stories, how to capture the best illustrations and so forth. Growing in God’s Love is, in many ways, the outgrowth of their years serving churches and teaching educators and evaluating what is most needed in a resource like this.
Growing in God’s Love has great illustrations – not all the same style, too. They are attentive to issues of accuracy but also aesthetics and playfulness, not to mention happily having it be multi-ethnic and somewhat global-looking. The pictures are wonderful. The design is superb.
They say it is ideal for children ages 4 – 8 I think it could be used with somewhat older children, too. It features 150 stories that are divided into thirteen themes that relate to the lives of children.
At the end of each story there are three reflection questions – Hear, See, Act – to help children and families ponder. I like how the questions leave a few things open-ended, inviting wonder, curiosity, faith, and deeper reflection on the meaning of it all.
Each story starts with a question to the child, so it isn’t just a straight narrative of the Bible in paraphrase. Some may not like this, adding a modern voice directed to the child in the first sentence of every Bible story, but it works.
Prayers for Young Children Martina Steinkuehler, illustrated by Barbara Nascimbeni (Eerdmans) $16.50 We have really liked Steinhuhler’s illustrations in the excellent Images of God for Your Children so was glad to see her slightly modern, just a little choppy artwork to bring interest and color to these marvelous re-telling of Biblical prayers. The prayers are not sentimental or dumbed-down; there is an index showing the Biblical allusions in each of the nearly 80 pages.
Headings follow a pattern of a child expressing a situation and, in italics, a headline of guidance, which is at once is practical and relevant as well as connected to the ancient Scriptures. For instance, one has the heading of “I feel small (and big)” and the subtitle of that page is, Pray like Peter when he recognized his own weaknesses. Another says, “I am angry” and the advice is, Pray like Martha when Mary didn’t want to help her.” Another is titled “I am in a new situation” and it is followed by the advice, Pray like Daniel when he arrived in Babylon.”
The prayers are arranged by various themes, naming feelings of worry and happiness and situations like being sick. One called, “I am so happy” is followed by the line Pray like Sarah when she held her son Isaac in her arms. This is truly remarkable, Biblically-literate, thoughtful prayers, maybe not just for young children.
God’s Very Good Idea: A True Story About God’s Delightfully Different Family Trillia Newbell, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99 We announced this here last fall and thought I’d just copy my review here, again: I think I will name this as our top children’s book of the year, or very near the top. It’s just stunning in how interesting it is, how it relates the simple gospel to remarkable implications, and how it gets the full-orbed vision of the Kingdom of God being that redemptive force which rescues and renews the very creation. We sometimes talk about creation-fall-redemption and this book gets it! God’s very good idea was a good and safe and colorful creation and God is not giving up on God’s good idea. Jesus will come –as the big story of the whole Bible shows in it’s unfolding drama – to save the lost and redeem the creation, which includes a restoration of the (get this!) ethnic and personality and gender diversity of the original creation.
I simply know of know other book that so faithfully tells the gospel story in terms of the rescue of creation, the restoration of humankind’s role in God’s good world, and how racial reconciliation is central to that. God’s Very Idea of a church that models racial and ethnic diversity so that God’s plan of restoration of the diverse creation is seen by the whole world, is nothing short of brilliant. If only adults understood this creation-regained, racially diverse, upbeat and visionary theology! This book is whimsical and clever and witty and fun, and one heckuva story. The author has written an adult book on themes of racial reconciliation (called United) and the artist that did the illustrations is very accomplished. This is the real deal, friends, a gospel-centered, Kingdom book for Christian kids about stuff that matters in our world. And anybody else who needs to hear the old, old story in fresh, fun ways. Highly recommended.
The Garden The Curtain and the Cross: The True Story of Why Jesus Died and Rose Again Carl Laferton illustrated by Catalina Echeverri (The Good Book Company) $14.99 The playfully excellent Cataline Echeverri did the artwork on this one, too, and fits nicely to offer this overview of the big Biblical story – a good garden, a sinful mess, a savior who comes as a serving King, and that great episode of the curtain in the temple torn. God’s redemptive vision of reconciliation and restoration in Christ’s death and resurrection is shown here in a way that is better than almost any children’s book I know – so well done, so creatively offered, so insightfully wise about capturing Christ’s work in the context of the bigger Scriptural framework of promise and deliverance. Do you want kids to be a part of this grand story to be invited in? This is a very useful resource and very cool at that.
Not Especially Special Katie Savage illustrated by Emily Henebrey (Katie Savage) $16.99 This is brand new and I bet you haven’t heard of it yet. But you just might because this book is so good it is only a matter of time until it gets known and widely loved. We so appreciated Katie Savage’s previous book, a wonderfully realized set of thoughtful reflections, sort of a memoir about her finding God in ordinary life called Grace in the Maybe: Instructions on Not Knowing Everything about God (Howard Books; $15.99) that when we heard she was doing a children’s book we just had to see what it would be like. It is, as we expected, very impressive, a fun and winsome story well told, with a lovely message of God’s love for everyone, for the specialness we all have, despite our various callings and gifts.
The story is about the animals being summoned to Noah’s ark and in that sense it is well-worn ground but in Not Especially Special the good words and interesting plot and fun illustrations are less about the redemptive power of God’s historical work in the flood narrative but more about the specialness of each animals role. Mostly the birds. I won’t spoil the whole story but the last line goes like this:
God had used an ordinary dove to bring a bit of hope in the midst of a great storm. And just like you, she did not need to catch up. She did not have to struggle to be heard or feel desperate to be seen. Because, you see, she already was exactly who she needed to be.
Here is a very nice, brief video clip of Katie talking about her book and why she wrote it and what you can expect in sharing this good news of God’s love for each and all with children. Enjoy. Why not order more than one — it’s exciting to be among the first to support an innovative project like this.
When God Made Light Matthew Paul Turner illustrated by David Catrow (Waterbrook) $11.99 Turner became know a decade ago as a sassy and funny voice for an emerging generation of open-minded, post-evangelical leaders. I think he wrote for the likes of Relevant and wrote some fun books poking at the silly, insular stylings of in-house evangelicalism. One had to like his boldness and his wit. I’m a fan.
A few years ago he and his very creative illustrator David Catrow did a great book called When God Made You that we loved. This one moves from God making you, to when God made everything – starting with light. This powerful book reads well out loud although the illustrations are busy and wild and although not quite surreal, they are a bit weird. As it even says on the back cover “Through lyrical verse and wild, vivid illustrations, When God Made Light encourages young readers to revel in creation’s awe-inspiring light and to ignite the world with the God-given spark found within.” Yep, it shows and shouts:
In the beginning space became bright, ‘cause God filled it with twinkles of yellowy white. Brilliant stars gleamed. Swirls of light streamed. In that once empty space, a galaxy beamed.
And all that light – every bright, golden hue – is the very same light that God put inside you.
We are made of dirt, the Bible says, so I’m good with that. Are we “stardust” like Joni sang? Matthew Paul Turner makes a really good case, and with very nice lines in very nice cadence assures us that light breaks through our own darkness and can inspire us all. I like this odd book a lot. I think your little ones will, too.
Herodotus the Hedgehog Jen-Luc Buquet (Eerdmans) $17.00 Eerdmans Books for Young Readers brings to North America a lot of books from overseas and they are often exceptionally creative, curious, eccentric even. They do solid Biblical and theological stories and then they do stories with good moral messages about kindness or justice or creativity and such. And then do remarkable books like Herodotus the Hedgehog.
I do not like this book on the face of it. I teased my sales rep that the legacy Christian publisher has done over the edge, promoting a book that is both relativistic and pantheistic. Ahh, but there’s the curiosity and possibility – this is a great, fun, tender, interesting, story that opens doors for the very best conversations about the very things that matter most.
Here’s the plot, as they tell it on the back cover:
Herodotus was a curious little hedgehog who loved exploring the gardens and meadows and forests around him.
On day he saw a bear worshipping the Might Bear Spirit, and he began to wonder what other animals believe in.
So he asks them – the fox, the raven, the sheep, the wolf – and he discovers a fascinating range of beliefs different from his own.
The first part of the book shows some lovely things the hedgehog discovers about the natural order; his curiosity and wonder are sweet to behold! But then he starts wondering what animals believe, if they pray and to whom. The animals are confident, which struck me as funny and maybe a bit too close for comfort. Most worship a God who favors their own species and, uh, looks a lot like them. And some of them speak in derogatory ways about the other (false) Great Spirits that the other (foolish) animals believe in. One doesn’t believe in any – atheist critters, who knew? — another mocks others by saying “we’re too modern for that.” Ha.
Dear little Herodotus doesn’t resolve this very well, in my view, which is why a kind and careful parent will have to help talk about all this. But for introduction to what we call pluralism and the religiosity of the human condition, our hedgehog friend helps us model a healthy, respectful curiosity, at least.
The NIV Action Study Bible (David C. Cook) $12.99 This uses some of the art of the graphic novel/comic book stylings of the Action Bible and puts it with the full text of the NIV. If I had this Bible as a boy, I’m telling ya, man… well. Who knows? I do think this will appeal to many, from little ones who like comics to even older ones who like graphic novels and action-adventure stories. There are nice sidebars and introductions to each book and some info graphics but the heart of this Bible are the many Action Bible illustrations. Three cheers!
Reformation ABCs: The People, Places, and Things of the Reformation – from A to Z Stephen Nichols, illustrated by Ned Bustard (Crossway) $16.99 This came out just one year ago and since we are now in the middle of the extraordinary 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant reformation (how often does a culture commemorate a 500th anniversary of anything!?) I figured we should run this again, from last year’s Easter Basket Suggestions post.
We cannot tell you how thrilled we are to tell you about this, although a fuller description will wait for some future list about the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. Steve Nichols is one of our best popularizers of great insights from church history (seen especially in a good series of biographies he’s done, showing great insights from people in church history.) His book appropriating Bonhoeffer for daily Christian living is remarkably helpful. So I like Steve a lot. He serves currently as the President of Reformation Bible College and is the chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. Ned Bustard should be a name you recognize as he comes up from time to time here at BookNotes since he is the man guy managing Square Halo Books, known not only for doing my own book, Serious Dreams, but the widely acclaimed recent volume Deeper Magic: The Theology Behind the Writings of C.S. Lewis by Donald T. Williams (Square Halo; $16.99.) Ned’s last Square Halo Book release, by the way, was co-edited with Gregory Thornbury, Bigger on the Inside which pop culture aficionados will immediately recognize as a study of the long-running British TV show, Doctor Who. The subtitle is simply “Christianity and Doctor Who.” That’s Ned’s work on the cover of that one, too.
Nichols and Bustard teamed up before in a truly wonderful The Church History ABCs (Crossway Books; $16.99) which came out a few years ago as a slightly oversized hardback, counting down all kinds of good stuff from church history as an ABC book. Like some ABC books, it works on two levels — yes, for young ones learning to play with letters and learn various words across the alphabet. But these sorts of books can be deceiving — there is a lot of content, and will be sure to inform and even delight anyone with a bit of interest in history. I bet you will learn something!
This new one, of course, is about the themes of the Protestant Reformation Nichols gives us tons of good info, really interesting, usually important (although there is some goofy trivia included, too. Did you know that there were 5 guys named John who drafted the famous Presbyterian Scot’s Confession? Did you know that Lady Jane Grey sat on England’s throne for only nine days before she was martyred for her faith when she was just 16 years ago? Did you know that the father of the famous Irish leader, Archbishop James Ussher, was actually an usher? And I bet you’ve never heard of the Walloon Confession of Faith which as signed by 48 men, 18 women and 1 infant. I didn’t think so.)
But it is the artwork that makes this interesting book so incredibly wonderful. I anticipate it will get some award at the end of the year by Christian Publishing associations for being such a fabulously designed book. Bustard’s playful, colorful, and very well informed illustrations (sometimes cleverly overlaid with photographs) have so much going on in them that not only invites but demands repeated readings.
This book is smaller in shape than their previous The Church History ABC book, and it works marvelously. This is just perfect for a medium sized gift, fitting nicely in any Easter basket. It is explicitly Protestant and it is clear that the author and artists are themselves more than fans of the Reformation tenants. They would stake their lives on this stuff, and their passion for teaching kids the background of these tumultuous times is inspiring.
All the Tales from the Ark Avril Towlands (Lion Press) $9.99 In the mid- 1990s there were a set of three books that were very popular, first in England, and then in the US; these tales about Mr. and Mrs. Noah managing a menagerie were fabulously entertaining, curious stories that told the imagined stories of what different animals experienced on the ark. This new edition offers over 400 pages of these great stories in one hand-sized paperback. And what stories they are – what fun! This isn’t a picture book and although you could read it out loud as a family even for little children, the reading level itself is probably about a third grade level.
Here’s how they set it up:
Mr. Noah could not sleep. So he lay in bed, listening to the snuffles and grunts of the animals, and he talked to God. “Listen, God, it’s not too late. You need a lion tamer for this job, or a big-game hunter, or a zookeeper. And I’m scared of spiders and we’ve got two on board.” Spiders aren’t Mr. Noah’s only problem. The lion wants to be in charge and then the animals threaten to revolt!
The Day God Made Church: A Child’s First Book About Pentecost Rebekah McLeod Hutto, illustrated by Stephanie Hig (Paraclete) $15.99 Again, I’ve recommended this here before and we display it at churchy events and folks love it. There is very little on the Pentecost story and this is one which – in really colorful design and creative text — captures the mystery and importance of this day which many consider “the birthday of the church.” This very colorful paperback uses powerful storytelling and healthy Biblical education and a stimulating, creative picture book helping us learn to celebrate a day in the church calendar that is sometimes overlooked. Pentecost is 50 days after Easter so this is great to give now. It is stunning.
The Marvelous Mud House: A Story of Finding Fullness and Joy April Graney illustrated by Alida Massari (B+H) $14.99 I do not have to explain much about this book other than to assure you it is so rich, so lovely, so nicely done that we are very, very enthused about it and happy to suggest it.
The story is interesting, full of details, and readers will learn much about life in the Great Rift Valley of Kenyan when they learn about the homes of George and his farmer mother, there. Yes, it introduced us to third world families and their life, but the bigger back-story is this: Ben and his American family live in a large ranch house the narrator calls “hungry” because they are “always wanting more.”
Here is how they put it on the back cover:
But then they travel far across the world to Kenya and visit the marvelous mud house where George and Mama George live. There, among the mango trees, they discover a marvelous lesson about what it’s like to be full of joy instead.
This beautiful story takes us across the globe to remind us that joy and faith are the truest riches, wherever we may be.
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