Thoughts To Make Your Heart Sing

ThoughtsThoughts to Make Your Heart Sing
Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago
Zonderkidz, 2012

I bought Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing – a devotional by Sally Lloyd-Jones released in 2012 – for my 6-year old daughter for Christmas. We’re big Sally Lloyd-Jones fans around here, and I figured I would definitely have a review of it up by January at the latest. But I’ve had trouble getting it written: mostly because I just love it so much, I’m having a hard time getting past “I LOVE IT. PLEASE GO BUY IT NOW. THE END.”

But that’s not responsible reviewing, now is it? And if we take anything seriously around here at Aslan’s Library, it’s writing recommendations that help parents understand why we think a book deserves precious space on their shelf and in their child’s life. I’m guessing an all-caps-gush doesn’t cut it. So here’s my best go. I will keep the capital letters and exclamation points to a minimum, I promise.

An honest confession: this is the first “devotional” format book I’ve actually liked and consistently read with my daughter. And I’ve sorted through a number of them. (If there is one out there that I am missing, or that you can’t believe I didn’t love, do let me know in the comments!) There are no corny, moralistic stories; unbelievable kids who end each episode by perfectly displaying some biblical virtue; or patently misapplied Scriptural verses (Jeremiah 29, anyone?). That’s what Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing isn’t.

What it is is a series of daily meditations, gorgeously illustrated, that invites children to know the goodness and majesty of God, and his love for his broken and beautiful creation. There’s deep theology at work in these short pieces: the already-not-yet character of faith; a thorough and multifaceted explanation of Jesus’ atonement for us; God’s covenant with his people and its fulfillment in Christ. I especially appreciate Ms. Lloyd-Jones’ treatment of sin: nowhere does she gloss over its reality, even in the hearts of our children. She’s frank in giving kids words to understand their own wayward hearts:

What is sin? Sin is trying to get away from God who loves us – it’s wanting to go our own way without him. But the Bible says it’s not like simply wandering off the path and getting lost by mistake. It’s like a horse charging at full speed away from him. We want to get away from God that badly! We are like horses galloping headlong after the things we want.

And yet every meditation on sin (and there are multiple: any good devotional takes note of its persistent reality and addresses it likewise!) includes God’s final word on it: he can lead us back; he kept the covenant on our behalf; in Jesus, God finished the power of sin, although it is still dying a slow and ugly death.

Another repeated emphasis I loved, and wished I had understood as a child, is that even faith itself is a gift. Any parent of an anxious child (and I was one) should bookmark “Believing and Doubting”:

But, someone is saying, what if I can’t believe enough?…Our strong God is the one who rescues us – not our strong faith. Because faith isn’t just you holding on to God. It’s God holding on to you.”

But as rich as these meditations are theologically, they are – more importantly – lively, accessible, and gracious. Each and every one is shot through the the joyful realization of God’s radical grace. For all of its depth, this book is not a theological treatise. It’s an exuberant invitation to to know, love and trust the God who wildly, heedlessly loves us first; to find ourselves amazed and overjoyed at being created, found, redeemed, and included in God’s life.

So there you go. And now, because I can’t resist: I LOVE IT. PLEASE GO BUY IT. THE END.

He Is My Shepherd

Lord Is My Shepherd-001He Is My Shepherd
Helen & David Haidle
Multnomah, 1989

Of all the images of God in the Bible, surely the image of the Shepherd is one that resonates most deeply with children.  Last year, when my daughter and I participated in a family preschool program, we observed a Godly Play presentation each week.  All of the stories were captivating (our teacher was incredibly talented!) but the presentation of the Good Shepherd was one that stuck with us all year long.  In fact, I even purchased some felt and figurines so we could replicate the story at home.

Ever since then I’ve been on the lookout for a good children’s book that explores the imagery of God as Shepherd, and today I’m happy to add He Is My Shepherd to Aslan’s Library.  This book goes through Psalm 23 and offers insight and a short prayer for each beautiful, meaning-laden line.  Here is the portion on the valley of the shadow of death:

A dark valley is a scary place to be.  Sheep do not want to walk through shadowy pathways and deep ravines, but they learn to overcome fear when the shepherd is by their side.  They huddle close to him as he leads them through the valley.

Lord, you know everything that scares me.  You even know the things I’m afraid might happen to me.  I’m glad you’re with me no matter what happens.

The goodness and tenderness of God shines through the words and images of this book.  It’s a perfect choice for just about any scenario I can think of: a child in need of comfort, a child struggling with fear, a child who struggles with pursuing their own ways instead of Christ’s ways, a child who doesn’t want to go to sleep.  The message of this book, and of Psalm 23, reaches deep into the human heart.  Wherever we are, whatever we are facing, there is a Shepherd who is ready to give us the care and guidance that we need.

He Is My Shepherd is older than many of the books we’ve reviewed, and I’ll admit that its illustrations may not be as remarkable as those in, say, Love Is or He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.  Nonetheless, the warmth of the shepherd towards his sheep comes through quite clearly.  I found myself endeared to the sheep who are in such clear need of their master’s care.  At the end of the book we read that “they have learned that he is completely trustworthy,” and I daresay that as you turn the last page you’ll be refreshed in your own trust in our Lord, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise
Tomie DePaola
Putnam Juvenile, 2011

This Christmas my daughter was given a copy of one of Tomie DePaola’s most recent books, called Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise, and after a single reading I knew I wanted to review it here.  It’s a wonder that we haven’t reviewed more of DePaola’s books, actually: he’s written dozens of great books in both theological and non-theological genres.

Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise is a simple, Scripture-inspired book that calls for all of creation, from the sun and moon to people everywhere, to praise the Lord.  Thematically, we’ve already reviewed quite a few books that are similar.  What strikes me about DePaola’s version, though, is how well it would work with a very young child.   The words and illustrations are both simple (though profoundly meaningful) and when you turn the last page you can hardly keep from following the book’s advice and bursting into praise.  In fact, I think that perhaps the ideal reading of this book would be as a final bedtime story for a 2-3 year old, followed by the Doxology or a favorite hymn.

I can’t imagine that most of you aren’t already well acquainted with DePaola’s works of kidlit fiction and theology, but if you’re not – oh my!  Head straight to the nearest library and do yourself a favor by checking out whatever they have, including this one.

The Bedtime Rhyme

The Bedtime Rhyme
Walter Wangerin & Benrei Huang
Reprinted by Paraclete, 2008

This bedtime story is not for the faint of heart!  Walter Wangerin is one of my favorite authors of theological kids lit, in part because he does not talk down to children or spin sentimental tales.  The Bedtime Rhyme is no exception; what looks like a simple rhyming goodnight book is actually a powerful story about the presence of a God who neither slumbers nor sleeps.

The Bedtime Rhyme is narrated by a mother who is tucking her child into bed and telling him how much she loves him.  She describes the extent of her love in the language of protection: she would rescue him from robbers (yes, robbers!), keep him from floating away into the sky, fight off monsters, and save him from intimidating owls.

Needless to say, such scary images are not typical of bedtime stories, but somehow in this book it doesn’t seem terribly out of place.  That’s not to say that some of the pages in this book wouldn’t be frightening to some children, but the scary parts lead to a conclusion that is all the more powerful because of them.  The last five pages of the book point to the loving presence of the Holy Spirit:

“…You’re not alone / If you call my name, I’ll come. / So you and me / That’s two of we / But there’s three of us here!  There’s three!”

The boy’s mother shares that ultimately, God is the one who watches over and keeps us safe.  He is stronger and wiser and kinder than even the best parent, and he is the one in whom a child can find true comfort and peace.

While this book is certainly not for every child, it is an outstanding choice for some.  Wangerin’s poetry and the imaginative illustrations are a perfect pair, and if your child is not easily frightened I dare say that The Bedtime Rhyme might become a fast favorite.