Updated: Feb 28, 2019
I am a firm believer in picture books. And I believe that all of the books introduced below have the potential to nurture your soul as much as they have the potential to nurture the soul of any child. Just like C. S. Lewis wrote,
“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.”
Children and Images Faith development theorists have observed that children (3-11y) crave for acceptance and affection, have vivid imaginations, explore purpose, and understand the hidden meanings that are hidden in images, stories and symbols. All these qualities make for a fertile ground for life-lasting active spiritual habits to grow.
Images and symbols are the language of the soul. It is as if God made children to yearn for images and stories in order to make Himself known to them. Reading children stories with profound meaning, beautiful images, and relatable characters enable them to see and hear God.
A while back I wrote a blog post titled 15 Picture Books That Nurture Your (Children's) Spirituality. It was so well received, and because I keep coming across wonderful books that are simply too good not to share, I decided to review a few of my other favorites. Some of them are all-time classics, some new releases, and some well-hidden treasures!
1. To Everything There Is a Season by Jude Daly
The mystery-embracing Scripture of Ecclesiastes 3 is not only comforting to adults but also profoundly so to children. It reminds us that life is a mystery to be lived rather than understood. Perhaps with a help of a beautifully illustrated book like this we can stay a little better present to ourselves and children in the midst of the unknowns, and the unexplainable facts of life, and rest in the assurance that "to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
2. Maybe God Is Like That Too
The book starts with a little boy's question to his grandmother, "does God live in the city?" The grandmother's answer, "Yes,God is here. You just need to know where to look." is an introduction to the boy's journey of looking for God in all places in the middle of the buzz of the city. The story is a lovely reminder, or an invitation to a discovery of how God can be found in so many places and people right in front of us.
3. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
All the children who I have ever worked with have experienced (and also often express) the feeling of being not listened to. Adults around them, and their peers alike, don't have the time or a genuine interest to pause and listen to their little stories and observations of life. This book tells just that story — and shows us what listening really looks like.
4. Old Turtle by Douglas Wood and Illustrated by Cheung-Khee Chee
This deeply meaningful story moved me to tears. Like Doughlas Wood's other books, it is reflectively and poetically written and deals with some of the most significant matters of human heart. This story focuses on the argument around who God is and who He is not, and who knows Him and who not. The wisdom paired with the skillful art work will leave you contemplative and perhaps feeling a little more soft-hearted.
5. Is God Nice? by David Nagai and Illustrated by Victoria Adhikari
I stumbled upon this treasure on one of my web searches. Children (and grown-ups!) who live in the middle of mixed and confusing messages of what God is really like need to read this book. (That pretty much covers all of us, doesn't it?). The first half of the book shows what God is like through the everyday kindness of different kinds of people. The second half of the book tells the story of how Jesus came to show us who God is and what he did.
6. If Only I Had a Green Nose by Max Lucado, illustrated by Sergio Martinez.
Like Max Lucado's much loved "You Are Special" and "You Are Mine", this profound book explores the desire to belong, fit in and be accepted by peers, and the journey of discovering the way back to the true self by spending time with the Maker. The story is deeply based on the Christian narrative and speaks to all ages about the struggle to be who were made to be.
7. Jesus Showed Us! by Bradley Jersak and illustrated by Shari-Anne Vis.
These lovely illustrations matched with stories of Jesus' life take the reader on a journey of seeing how Jesus showed us who God is and what he is like. I love that they have made all the art work available too! You can download free printable coloring pages of each of the illustration on his website and here, or buy full color prints of them from the artist Shari-Anne Vis here. A lovely resource for exploring God-image.
8. What Is My Song? by Dennis Linn, Matthew Linn, and Sheila Fabricant Linn.
A touching telling of a boy's life and how he connects to his identity and destiny by listening, deep in his heart, the song that his mother sang him when he was born and kept hearing sang to him by his community, reminding him why he was here on earth. The narrative follows the same idea as explored in Discovering Your Personal Vocation: The Search for Meaning Through the Spiritual Exercises by Alphonso Herbert.
9. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and illustrations by William Nicholson
I love this classic story of a toy rabbit becoming real. It can be read, imagined, played, painted, meditated on and used as an introduction to any devotional or lesson on identity, finding yourself, self-worth, trust, relationships, courage, authenticity and so much more. I would love this story to be read to adolescents and adults as much as to children. Some of the lines in the book speak so deeply to my soul that I would like to have them printed on a poster and hang it on my wall.
10. Perfectly Norman by Tom Percival
My kindergarteners and first graders were glued to this book! It is a powerful story of a normal little boy who becomes extraordinary by growing wings. I love how relatable the story's main character is and yet, tickles the imagination in a wonderful way. This story touches the themes of self-acceptance, being different, living out your potential, daring to show yourself, empowering others, problem solving, and dealing with difficult emotions.
The illustrations are gorgeous too!
11. Saint Francis of Assisi by Joyce Denham and Elena Temporin
Real life stories of saints who loved God in radical ways are so inspiring to me! This attractively illustrated telling of Saint Francis' life stirred faith, hope, and courage in me and a desire to love Jesus more radically. As a bonus, children can really relate and feel drawn to the person of Francis because of his tender care for animals and God's creation. Most children's and adults spirituality is strongly connected to nature, and nurtured by their relationship to nature.
12. Here We Are, Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
This book calls for imagination, curiosity and wonder at things we take for granted and most of the time won't even notice! The images are stunning and the message powerful. The narrator's voice is warm and funny. You cannot but be amazed at the masterpiece our world is, and perhaps too... how masterful the Maker must be!
13. Meidän Piti Lähteä (We Had to Leave) by Sanna Pelliccioni
Don't let the foreign (Finnish) language title scare you off! It's a wordless book. It is another powerful illustration of a refugee family's escape to safety. This silent book honors the fact that some experiences are too deep for words, like it often is with the tender places of our souls. In our increasingly multi-cultural and multi-lingual world the interest for wordless books is growing. If you have never read (it is a skill to learn to read images!) a wordless book, this is a stunning one to start with. You might want to frame each page.
14. Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, a Family Celebration of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
Voskamp's way of using words is simply gorgeous and the illustrations are wonderful. I glanced through this book in the summer but saved the joy of reading the whole story for Christmas. Just on a side note, the book is huge! It tells the whole story of the coming of the King from the Creation to the birth of Jesus, so don't think it will be a one night bed-time story.
15. The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin
These endearing, vintage style images invite the reader to imagine all that they can become. I appreciate the added focus on the character and personality rather than a skill or a job. I still often like to ask myself, "who do I want to be?" rather than, "what do I want to do?" The book makes young and old to reimagine what they want to be known for and remembered by.
And there is more...
Obviously, this is not all. I cannot wait to get these new books into my hands: Matthew Paul Turner's new book "When I Pray for You", Amy-Jill Levine & Sandy Eisenberg Sasso's two books on the parables "The Marvelous Mustard Seed" and "Who Counts?", Rebecca Ninke & Kate E.H. Watson's "There Is No Wrong Way to Pray", and Joanna' Rawland's "Stay through the Storm".
Have you read any of them? I would love to hear what you thought!
Stillness and Trust
A good book can have a way of drawing us into a stillness, and settle us in a contemplative mood. When you observe this in yourself, or in the child who you are reading a book with, perhaps this is a signal that it best to not try to explain the book, talk about it, or analyze it. You might want to just be still for a moment, and allow the book to speak to the soul. This could be God's invitation to a silent prayer.
In my previous blog post on picture books, I offered a list of questions that you might want to explore during or after reading. While good exploratory questions are a powerful tool in creating connection and awareness, there are times when words can get on the way of a deeper spiritual experience and encounter with God. If you notice a quiet "thoughtfulness" while reading, I encourage you to carefully discern whether it could be too soon to move to a conversation, and your questions could end up coming across like a reading comprehension exercise rather than actual nourishing of the soul. By allowing the story and the images to speak for themselves can be an act of faith, trusting that the Spirit will meet us in which ever way He wants to without our "help" of checking on the understanding or clarifying the meaning of all the nuances and details.
If you are eager to explore more books like the ones above, I collect picture books that I either have read or want to read on my Pinterest board "Picture Books". I also often share new book discoveries on my Instagram page @kutsucompanions.