I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin
Walter Wangerin, Jr. & Don Tate
Paraclete Press, 2007
I’ve written before about how much I love Walter Wangerin’s children’s books, and I can assure you that this won’t be the last you hear from me about him. My first review of one of his books was a bedtime story; this time it’s I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin, a book about losing a grandparent. It’s a challenging topic, but as usual Wangerin rose to the occasion and created an excellent book to be lingered over and treasured.
One of the things I love about I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin (enkelin is the German word for granddaughter) is that the story begins long before Grandpa actually passes away. In fact, if you picked up this book off the shelf and started reading you might not guess at first that the climax of the story is a heart-wrenching one. And yet there are hints. For one, the story is told in the context of seasons, and as Christians we understand that this life is just one season of our everlasting life in Christ. Moreover, we know that during this life there are seasons of joy and seasons of sorrow, times to rejoice at birth and times to grieve at death.
Through the pages of this book we get to see a little girl grow up. We get to observe, in a way reminiscent of the Little House books, the farming way of life that was once so common in this country. (There is much more of this than my review might lead you to believe, and it is all delightful.) We get to see the true affection between Enkelin and her grandfather. And we learn the lessons that her grandpa teaches her about the life of faith and ending well.
Another thing I love about I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin is the way Wangerin writes about death and what happens afterward. On one hand, he doesn’t gloss over the grief that we feel when we are bereaved. It is good to acknowledge this, because death is (was!) our enemy; it is not what we were created for, and only because Christ rose victorious do we have hope for everlasting life. On the other hand, Wangerin points to the hope of resurrection and not just to a disembodied idea of heaven-in-the-clouds. We aren’t going to be spirits floating around in the sky for all eternity; one day we will rise again and live with new bodies on a new earth! That’s something that we want to be careful to convey to our children when talking with them about death because there are so many confusing and conflicting messages out there, even in the church. (For futher reading on historic Christianity’s understanding of this topic, I would point you to Surprised by Hope, a very good book I’m currently reading with my church small group.)
It’s difficult to convey in a review the beauty of Wangerin’s storytelling. He is a gifted artist and this book, like his others, is lyrical and overflowing with truth and grace. I would also be remiss to not mention the lovely illustrations by Don Tate. Wangerin and Tate are a great match for one another; I hope they will collaborate again in the future.
I Am My Grandpa’s Enkelin isn’t a comprehensive theology on death, heaven, and resurrection – your little ones will likely have many questions that the book raises but doesn’t answer in detail. But it is a wonderful story with deeply theological themes about the seasons of life, the meaningfulness and joy of family, and what it means to simultaneously grieve and hope.