Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Paul Turner, illustrated by Ying Hui Tan
Convergent Books, 40 pages
In 2019, I stood at the kitchen counter, paralyzed as I read and reread the online announcement.
“Why are you crying, Mom?” my 10 year-old asked. I took a deep breath and forced myself to speak gently and clearly, “Rachel Held Evans died.”
“Did you know her?” he asked tentatively.
“No… but I feel like I did.”
If, like me, you feel like Rachel Held Evans is a dearly departed friend, you will find bittersweet pleasure in “What is God Like?” — her posthumous collaboration with Matthew Paul Turner. Held Evans’ husband, Dan, in his heartfelt introduction, explains that Rachel had drafted children’s books just months before she died. Turner, a dear friend of the Evans family and a prolific children’s author, transformed her words into this fully realized picture book as a gift to Rachel and Dan’s own children, and to us.
The result is poetry, art and biblical interpretation — all aimed at 3-7-year olds (and their grown-ups). “What Is God Like?” encourages children to wonder, using the printed page as a jumping-off point for conversation and imagination. It practically begs to be read aloud, with melodic rhythms perfect for story time or even lectio divina-style activities with elementary-age children and youth. Each page is simple enough for a child to appreciate on their own with ample room for an adult to expand, asking, “I wonder if you have ever experienced God in that way?”
Illustrator Ying Hui Tan’s pictures are bold and joyful, depicting children of many races and abilities exploring the magic of God’s creation. Sometimes the illustrations interpret the words on the page quite literally, while other times they offer a mystical hint of God as light, wind or “three dancers, graceful and precise.”
What is God like? The authors “answer” this question in ways that are open-ended, inclusive and biblically based. “While nobody has seen all of God (because God is far too big for any of us to fully see),” they write, “we can know what God is like.” Similes such as an eagle, a river, a shepherd and more are offered, while making it clear that kids should, “keep searching. Keep wondering. Keep learning about God.”
Parents seeking something entirely new may be disappointed, as this book mines familiar territory rather than breaks new ground. Fans of Lawrence and Karen Kushner’s “Because Nothing Looks Like God” and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s “In God’s Name,” for example, will see the similarities. But this book deserves to take its place alongside them in the “canon” of Christian children’s literature, as new generations inspire children to witness God’s presence in our lives.
I suspect, however, that this book will not remain on the preschool bookshelf, but will quickly find fans of all ages. It’s a meditative read for adults, a bedtime tale for all and would be a welcome addition to any Christian educator’s curriculum.
Or simply buy it for the church library and invite someone young and curious to share it with you — you will be glad you did.
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