Psalms for Young Children
Marie-Hélène Delval & Arno
Back in college, I suffered a brief bout of Benedictine-envy after reading Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk. (Never mind that I was engaged to be married and my theological background is thoroughly Protestant; the book is that good.) Looking back now, I think the most inviting part of the monastic life she describes is the practice of praying through the Psalms as a community, over and over and over. What better way to move through the whole range of human emotion and relation to God, and, over time, to be formed by them so that the Psalmists’ honesty, praise, and intimacy with God become our own?
Hoping to introduce my young daughter to just that beauty and possibility of the Psalms, I put Marie-Hélène Delval’s Psalms for Young Children into her Easter basket this year, and I haven’t been disappointed. This lovely little volume is a collection of paraphrased Psalms, rendered (in the publisher’s words) in “language and imagery appropriate for children while remaining faithful to the spirit of the biblical text.” In other words, it makes the power of the Psalms — the ability to cry out in rawness to God, the permission to question and doubt, and the freedom to praise wholeheartedly — available to very young children.
The simple paraphrases of each Psalm are easily grasped by small children, but they retain the colorful imagery and emotional resonance of the originals. Think of them as distilled into their emotional essence — some of the nuance may be lost, but the brightness of intention is all there. Delval doesn’t shy away from the pain and fear found in the Psalms; her rendering of Psalm 88 is particularly poignant:
God, please listen to me. / I am full of sadness, I am crying. / I feel lonely and scared. / Do you really love me? / I’m calling you, God. / Please comfort me!
These texts are set alongside gorgeous illustrations by Arno, which don’t attempt to straightforwardly portray some image in the Psalm so much as illuminate the meaning of the whole. Spend some time poring over the pictures with a child, and you’ll see what I mean. Together, words and pictures evoke the prayerful spirit of each Psalm and invite us to linger there. Give this book to a child you know, read it along with her, and you’ll not only introduce her to the Psalms as wonderful, poetic prayer, but hopefully be moved by them yourself as well.