I was first introduced to Shoemaker Martin during a chapel service at Wheaton College. I was a junior, I think, and the chapel speaker that day (I wish I could remember who it was!) read the text of the book to us while the illustrations were displayed to the entire student body via powerpoint.
The message of the book stuck with me over the next few years and when I started collecting kids lit Shoemaker Martin was the first theological book that I bought.
Shoemaker Martin is a retelling of Where Love Is, There God Is Also, a short story written in 1885 by Leo Tolstoy. Perhaps if you are more well read in Russian literature than I am, you are already familiar with it! It is the story of a Scripture-loving man who is told to expect a visit from his Savior the next day. While he keeps watch he meets several people who are in need and gives them what they lack: shelter, clothing, food, and mercy.
…the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
If you know that passage from Matthew 25 you probably already guessed the ending to this book. At the end of the day, Martin is at first disappointed that he had not seen Jesus face to face. However, his disappointment turns to joy when he learns, through a vision, that Jesus had visited him. When Martin was serving his visitors he was, in fact, serving Christ himself!
Bernadette Watts’ text and illustrations bring life to Tolstoy’s story in a way that is accessible to children without dumbing it down. It is a powerful story of how love for God leads to love for neighbor, and I commend it to you as part of your theological library. Even though it’s out of print, used copies are fairly easy to find at reasonable prices.