Smack Dab in the Middle of God’s Love
Brennan Manning, John Blase, & Nicole Tadgell
Tommy Nelson, 2011
When I saw that Brennan Manning, author of The Ragamuffin Gospel and other devotional books, had recently written a book for children my interest was piqued. Forgive me, C.S. Lewis, but I’m usually skeptical of authors who suddenly decide to write for children after exclusively writing for adults for most of their career. Sometimes I’m wrong, but often it seems that many authors don’t quite get it right when they try to genre-switch. Anyone else feel that way?
Brennan Manning, I’m happy to report, has done a wonderful job in his first book for children. Smack Dab in the Middle of God’s Love has earned a permanent spot in our home library and each time I read it to my daughter I find myself appreciating it more. It offers us a glimpse into the lives of Willie Juan and Ana and a pack of neighborhood children who flock to their home in Hopi, Mexico every evening. The children gather there to share in the bounty of Ana’s fresh sopapillas and to ask questions about everything from hummingbirds to God. I’ve grown to love this book because it so beautifully captures both human and divine love… and, I’ll admit it, also because after I read it I was struck with an irrepressible desire to make sopapillas and found this recipe which I plan to make as soon as I can possibly manage.
The main conversation captured in this book stems from a question that Willie Juan asked the children: “Someday, when you are in heaven, what do you think Abba will ask you?” As the children respond, a number of themes emerge but they all have to do with God’s love. God is pleased when we care for others, but we will never do so perfectly – and his love never fails even when ours does. God loves even the least of these. Every good thing we have flows from God’s love and he desires for us to enjoy those gifts with a joyful, grateful heart.
Where some theological books for kids are weak on narrative, Smack Dab gives us authentic characters and a real story. Where some are overhanded or dry in their approach to communicating theological truth, Smack Dab tells us of God’s love naturally and memorably. It’s not a complete theological treatise (hint: no children’s books are) and it’s not a “here’s the core message of the gospel” book, but I love it for what it is: a reminder of the depth of God’s love for us, and a nudge to see that love in the small gifts we receive from his hand each day. It’s a wonderful read any time of year, but it’s a particularly fitting choice for November as we get our families ready for Thanksgiving.