To Everything There Is a Season
Less than a month ago I told Sarah that I was giving up on picture books about Ecclesiastes. I had read several and was, to be frank, astonished at how some illustrators chose to depict certain verses. But here I am a few weeks later and guess what? I found an Ecclesiastes book that I like!
Jude Daly’s To Everything There Is a Season pairs Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 with beautiful illustrations of rural South Africa. A farming family’s day to day life is the backdrop for the text. A sense of continuity runs through the pages, conveying that our lives are made up of different seasons but somehow it all comes together into one story. There are sorrows, yes, but everything (as the Scripture says) has a season. Our sorrows and all that is wrong with the world won’t last forever.
Even so, you might be thinking, isn’t Ecclesiastes 3 a bit too… difficult? scary? unsettling? That’s a fair question. Let me back up a bit and tell you why I think it’s not.
I’m sure you’re all familiar with Maurice Sendak’s picture book Where the Wild Things Are. But did you know that when it first came out, many parents were vehemently opposed to it? Walter Wangerin Jr. tells the story in an essay in Swallowing the Golden Stone:
They believed it would damage the children, implanting frights and fears in innocent brains, inspiring nightmares. Sleep? Sendak hath murdered sleep.
As it turns out, of course, the book became a classic. Why?
Because the book was right… Far from inaugurating fears in children, such books as his gave a habitation and a name to fears the children already experienced, but amorphously, perplexedly. One of the most important commandments for the creation of an effective children’s tale is: thou shalt not condescend!
The text of Ecclesiastes 3 is challenging, to be sure, and children and parents alike will have to grapple with its meaning. But like Where the Wild Things Are (more so, actually!) this book is right, which makes it worth reading. My hunch is that if our children already have a real life context for what it means that there is a time to be born and a time to die (for instance) we don’t need to worry that it will be too much for them to handle. Actually, it might be comforting to them to know that the Bible doesn’t ignore pain, sadness, and other difficult issues. And that their parents won’t either.
Think carefully before sharing this book with your children and be prepared for lots and lots of questions. It’s not for everyone – there are certainly some children who are too young or inexperienced to grasp it – but don’t avoid To Everything There Is a Season just because it brings up topics that aren’t easily explained. Let us not, as Wangerin implores us, condescend to our children by only giving them books that are all rainbows and butterflies.