Jesus Loves Me

Jesus Loves MeJesus Loves Me
Tim Warnes
Little Simon, 2008

With a nearly 4-year-old and a 9-month old in the house, our family’s literary life consists of simultaneously re-visiting favorite board books and branching out into new territory: chapter books!  Although I thoroughly enjoy introducing my son to the books I shared with my daughter during her babyhood, it’s been harder to regularly set aside time specifically for board book reading.  He’s usually around when I’m reading picture books to my daughter, and it’s been easy to forget that the little guy deserves reading time just for him, too!

We already have lots of favorite board books, but of course there are many that have been recently published and we’re staring to explore those as well.  Back when my daughter was a baby I lamented the fact that there were so few theological board books.  (Ones that were well done, that is…)  Lately, though, I’ve found several really good ones that I’m eager to share!

Jesus Loves Me comes in hardback and board book formats (kindle too, actually) and is best suited to kids up to age 3.  The text is, as you might have guessed, simply the lyrics to the children’s hymn Jesus Loves Me.  Did you know that there are actually 12 verses to that song?!  There are 3 included in this book: the one that nearly everyone knows plus two more.

Jesus loves me this I know
As he loved so long ago
Taking children on his knee
Saying, “Let them come to me”

Jesus loves me still today
Walking with me on my way
Wanting as a friend to give
Light and love to all who live

I’ve sometimes been tempted to label this song as overly sentimental or flippant, but I’ve decided that those critical inclinations are completely wrong.  After all, what is the basic building block of what a very young child needs to know about God?  He needs to know that He loves him, welcomes him, and is with him each day – which is precisely the message of Jesus Loves Me.

Here is my simple test for artwork in books I’m considering reviewing here on the blog: If I put it on our display bookshelf with the rest of our library books, does it fit in?  Or does it look out of place because it’s done with less excellence?  Happily, Tim Warnes’ artwork in Jesus Loves Me fits in very well next to other books we love for their artistic beauty.  The book follows a bear family of three as they go about daily activities like reading, eating, gardening, fishing, hiking, and going to bed.  The images bring to mind Deuteronomy 6 and the commandment to talk about God with children wherever you go, whatever you do.  The bears are a warm and playful bunch, and I can pretty much guarantee that watching them in this book will make you want to give an extra snuggle to the little people you love.

Jesus Loves Me has made its way onto my list of favorite books to give for baby showers, and I’d encourage you to share it with to the babies and toddlers in your life as well!


One Night in Bethlehem

One Night in Bethlehem

One Night in Bethlehem
Jill Roman Lord & Paige Keiser
Ideals, 2011

Today’s book is a board book and a touch-and-feel book and a theologically meaningful Christmas story.  Triple whammy for the under-3 age group!

One Night in Bethlehem tells the story of a boy who imagines himself present at the first Christmas.  Here’s how the opening page reads:

Each time I see the manger scene
I try with all my might
to dream of what I might have done
if I’d been there that night.

The boy goes on to explore how he would have reacted to the birth of Christ if he was a lamb, cow, angel, shepherd, star, and wise man.  In each of these roles, he can barely contain his excitement!  He speaks of singing the loudest, running the fastest, and offering the most precious gift he can think of.  I absolutely love how the author makes clear the reality of the Christmas story by helping us imagine ourselves being present – the birth of Christ was a historical event, and we could have been there!  This imagining isn’t just an interesting thought exercise, though, because the boy in the story leads by example in creatively and jubilantly praising God.   This isn’t a sit back and relax kind of book, it’s a kind of book that is going to get you and your children truly excited about Jesus’ birth!

I never thought I’d say that a rhyming touch-and-feel book would lead me into worship, but there you have it.  Needless to say, One Night in Bethlehem is a wonderful choice for the youngest children in your life.  My own son might even find a copy in his stocking this year (shhh!).

At Your Baptism

At Your BaptismAt Your Baptism

Carrie Steenwyk and John D. Witvliet, illus. Linda Saport
Eerdmans, 2011

A couple of months ago, I was sitting amidst the variously strewn odds and ends of my life, trying to organize it into boxes, and chatting with the children’s pastor from our church. She asked if we had come across any good books on baptism, and I had to admit that I at least hadn’t.

A week later, those same boxes and I arrived at the doorstep of our house in San Francisco. And just inside the door was a package from Eerdmans, containing a review copy of At Your Baptism. I love getting books in the mail! And really, it couldn’t have been more timely: my conversation with Liz was fresh in my mind, and our son was baptized this year at Easter. Only – drat. Here came the movers with all those darn boxes.

Once we got it all cleared away, though, I was delighted to sit down with this little volume. It is that most rare of things: a board book simple enough to read to a baby, but with theological acumen and depth. John Witvliet is the director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; his co-author, Carrie Steenwyk, is a project manager at the Institute. Together, they’ve crafted a book that is short and simple – but deeply grounded in God’s covenant promises imparted at baptism.

The text itself is taken from the French Reformed baptismal liturgy. The book opens with, “At your baptism, God tells you that…” and what follows, at the top of each page, is a simple recitation of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. And each page reminds us that he did it all for us, before we knew him or desired him.

I love this book’s emphasis (in keeping with the Reformed tradition) on how unconditional God’s promises are. Baptism, this book reminds us, is where we hear God’s promises and find out that they’re really for us. He makes promises to his people, and then makes us his people by washing away our sin. “All this he did,” this book reminds us, “before you knew anything of it.”

Obviously this book would be ideal for a family that practices infant baptism – I, for one, have placed it prominently in my son’s book corner. But although it is a board book, I’d still consider giving it to an older child being baptized as a believer. What child doesn’t need to hear these beautiful words of encouragement? “Remember that you are part of God’s worldwide family. No one can ever take these promises away from you!”

Who Is Coming to Our House?

Who Is Coming to Our House?
Joseph Slate & Ashley Wolff
Putnam, 2001 (board book edition)

It’s true: the first Sunday of Advent is less than three weeks away!  We’re starting to review Christmas books now not to stress you out but to give you plenty of time to get your hands on some great seasonal books before Advent starts.

The other reason we wanted to start reviewing Christmas books now is that there are so many good ones out there!  It’s truly a great time of the year for Christian kidlit.

Even though one of my biggest pet peeves with Christmas books is when an author creates a side story based on the animals in the stable, I have to admit that sometimes it really does work.  Take, for instance, Who Is Coming to Our House? by Joseph Slate.  It’s one of the few truly Advent books out there because it’s not a Nativity story.  Rather, it’s a story about expectancy and preparation, which is precisely what the upcoming season of the church year is all about.

Who Is Coming to Our House? tells a story about stable animals excitedly getting ready for Mary and Joseph to arrive.  Each animal does his own part to get ready for the special visitors – they clean, decorate, and try to make their home comfortable for the soon-to-arrive guests.  If you, like me, are generally intent on finding Christmas books that stick closely to the biblical accounts, this isn’t it (one of the animals is a peacock…).  But if you’d like to be able to read your children a book that will pave the way for a discussion about how we, too, can get our hearts ready for the great Christmas celebration, I commend it to you!

This book is currently only in print in its board book form.  That’s fine with me, because that’s what my 19-month-old prefers, but if you have slightly older children you might want to track down used copies in hardback or paperback.  In any form, though, this is a great book to kick off Advent in your home.

You Are Special

You Are SpecialYou Are Special

Max Lucado & Sergio Martinez
Crossway, 2007
A confession: when Haley first gave my daughter the board book edition of You Are Special, I was suspicious. It took me awhile to sit down and actually read it. After all, it’s by Max Lucado, and I harbor in my heart and uncharitable and unwarranted suspicion of authors who become franchises.I stand corrected, and in need of Mr. Lucado’s forgiveness, because this is a simply charming book. Beautifully illustrated by Sergio Martinez, You are Special tells the story of Punchinello the Wemmick. The Wemmicks – small wooden people – spend their days constantly measuring one another’s worth through a system of awarding star and dot stickers. Poor Punchinello is covered in dots, and believes that to be the true measure of his worth as a Wemmick, until one day he meets Lucia, to whom neither the dots nor the stars will stick. What could be her secret? Punchinello gathers his courage and goes to meet Eli the woodcarver to find out.

Underneath the fairy tale setting and puppet-like appearance of the Wemmicks lies one of the deepest truths our children can hear: the only word that matters on their worth is that spoken by the One who crafted them, and His pronouncement is, “You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

You Are Special offers fertile ground for discussing with children the true source of self-worth, as well as the ways in which we sinfully take part in the dots-and-stars system ourselves.  It is a delightful reminder to parents and children alike that the praise and judgment of others is worthless in light of the creative love of their Maker, and winsomely calls us all to trust in that love.

Baby’s Hug-a-Bible

Hug a BibleBaby’s Hug-a-Bible
Sally Lloyd-Jones & Claudine Gevry
Harper Festival, 2010

One of my major frustrations with Christian books for kids is sub-genre of board books.  To be sure, there are many to choose from, but most of them fall into at least of one three traps: poorly illustrated, too much text, or ceasing to be about God.  Just when I was about to throw up my hands in surrender, Sally Lloyd-Jones (of Jesus Storybook Bible fame) came to my rescue and published Baby’s Hug-a-Bible. It has quickly become one of my favorite books to read my 1-year-old and I am so pleased to have a Bible storybook for babies and toddlers that I can wholeheartedly recommend.

The Hug-a-Bible is written in the best kind of rhyme: catchy but not annoying or forced.  There are ten stories in all (with 6-8 lines of verse apiece), and each of them conveys the heart of a biblical text in a way that is succinct and theologically rich.  For example, the story about Moses includes these lines: “Who loved that baby in the reeds? / Who knows just what a baby needs? / Who cares for you in just that way? / And gives you all you need today?”  One of the best things about this book is the way that all of the stories point to God (without getting sidetracked about animals like so many toddler Bibles do) and then give sincere application to the everyday lives of young children.

The illustrations by Claudine Gevry are a welcome departure from the lackluster pictures in many children’s Bibles I’ve seen.  They are bright and bold and, most importantly, my daughter enjoys looking at them while I read aloud.  My one initial concern about the Hug-a-Bible was the reason for its name: it has a soft, fleecy cover.  My daughter loves it (by the way she squealed and hugged it when I took it out of the box for the first time you’d have thought she was a paid advertiser!), but I feared it would get dirty and be difficult to clean.  However, we’ve had ours for several months and I can report that it still looks as good as new.  I now predict that it will hold up over time better than traditional board books because my daughter can’t sink her teeth into it as easily.

[Updated to add: There’s now a wonderful album by Rain for Roots called Big Stories for Little Ones that puts this book to music. Do check it out!]