The Book of Jonah
I love the book of Jonah. I love how richly Christological it is. I love how funny it is. I love Jonah’s grouchy honesty; and I love God’s gracious, hard humor in dealing with him. It’s such an odd book, in so many ways – God is dead set on showing mercy to the Ninevites, drowning in their wickedness; God’s prophet is dead set on letting them justly perish; and it ends with the Gentile sinners repenting while the Hebrew prophet smolders under God’s rebuke. Oh yeah, and there’s a giant fish.
At last, I’ve found a children’s retelling of this story that faithfully captures those elements. Yes, the fish is there, prominently displayed on the cover (with a resigned-looking Jonah ready to be swallowed), but Peter Spier’s lovely Book of Jonah doesn’t pander to children by making it the center of the story. This edition is, quite simply, about the mercy of God and an unwilling messenger. It tells the Biblical story in its fullness, odd though it is.
If you’re familiar with any of Peter Spier’s other work (we love Noah’s Ark and People at our house), you’ll recognize his wonderfully detailed illustrations. There is much here to capture little eyes and draw them in. The text is an adapted translation of the 17th-century Dutch Statenbijbel (Mr. Spier is Dutch), and mirrors the starkness of the original Biblical account. There is no easy resolution, no unseemly happy ending when the fish coughs up Jonah: his anger over Nineveh’s repentance, his withered vine, and his pleas with God to end his life because God has mercy on Nineveh are all there.
The Book of Jonah has been a great starting point for some simple conversations with my four-year-old (as in, “So, Mommy, why did Jonah run away?”); although it’s a picture book, I think it would be appropriate for sharing with kids up through age 10 or so.
This book is going to have a regular place in our Lenten reading rotation, largely because it poses the issue of God’s mercy so starkly. While we are spending 40 days repenting of our own sin, are there ways in which we are like Jonah and don’t wish to extend grace to others? Are we as honest with God as Jonah is? How are Jesus’ three days in the grave like (and unlike!) Jonah’s time in the fish? (We’ll be doing this Jonah project during Holy Week, as well!) It’s such a lovely illustration of how far God’s grace extends, and how hard (when we’re being honest) it can be to accept it, or wish it for others.
**A note: you might find this title just a bit tricky to track down. A few sellers were offering it on Amazon, used and new; I found it on the shelf of my local branch in the San Francisco library. One option is to order it from the folks at Hearts and Minds Books: they can track down just about anything that’s in print. And they’re a fabulous store. You should support them.