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Children’s books pastors should have

Pastors should keep some books in their offices “for such a time as this.” Books to help parents support their kids through life’s milestones top that list. Pastor/parents review their recent favorites below.

Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash

Greenlee Is Growing

Anthony DeStafano
Illustrated by Louise A. Ellis | Convergent Books
Ages 4-8

Greenlee journeys through the seasons of life as the seasons of nature unfold — first a childhood of spring landscapes and tea parties populated with hedgehogs, onto the warmth of teen friendships, a beach adventure with dolphins playing, and blossoming young love. The seasons of autumn and winter, accompanied by trick-or-treating, falling leaves, snow angels, ice-skating and evenings by the fire, parallel Greenlee’s adulthood, experience of loss, and growth in wisdom as a parent and grandparent.

While illustrated churches and textual references to “sacred” spring and the “year God … has made” hint at the Christian liturgical year, the predominant annual milestones are somewhat incongruously secular, including Halloween jack-o-lanterns and the jingle bells on Santa’s Christmas sleigh. Even so, each page is a successful narrative in motion, with text and illustrations working in harmony to make Greenlee and all that surrounds her bloom, zoom, run, spin and flutter in the wind.

Reviewed by: Rev. Jessica Hawkinson Dorow, who lives with her husband and young daughter in Monmouth, Illinois.

Since the Baby Came

Kathleen Long Bostrom
Illustrated by Janet Samuel | WaterBrook
Ages 3-7

Since the Baby Came is an adorable romp through a big sibling’s stages accepting, and eventually enjoying, a new baby. Bostrom uses catchy rhymes, along with Samuel’s lively pictures, to address the understandable resentment of a young child sharing their parents before swiftly moving her young protagonist toward happier times.

This is the perfect book to offer an expectant parent. They can use it to encourage young children to share their feelings about the new baby, either selecting an individual poem that corresponds with their child’s emotional state or encouraging them to anticipate easier times ahead. With poems of children asking God for help or wondering about the baby Jesus, Since the Baby Came also sets the stage for a lifetime of faith.

Reviewed by: Rev. Amy Pagliarella, Outlook book review editor.

Grandpa’s Window

Laura Gehl
Illustrated by Udayana Lugo | Flyaway Books
Ages 3-7

Grandpa’s Window is a heartfelt (and heartrending) meditation on grief and loss, centered around Daria’s final days with her sick grandpa.  Even though our kids have not yet experienced the loss of a grandparent, our five-year-old talked about someone in his class who had a grandparent pass away — and we talked about how precious and important it is to spend time with the people we love. Our three-year-old noticed that there was a bad thunderstorm but that it became sunnier by the end — an example of how the book smartly uses color and setting to underscore how Daria is feeling. I really appreciated the lack of words on the pages after Daria’s grandpa dies, helping kids know that sometimes our feelings are too deep for words. This book would be an excellent resource for any child who has lost a loved one.

Reviewed by: Rev. Matt Helms of Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, with Elliot (5) and Simon (3).

Dear Mama God

Daneen Akers
Illustrated by Gillian Gamble | Watchfire Media
Ages 3-7

This beautifully illustrated book invites children into that sacred space called thanksgiving and is a lovely way to encourage bedtime rituals. Here, thanksgiving is anchored both spiritually – evoking God’s mystery through biblical examples like seeds rivers, and trees – and in the lives of children, connected to the divinity they experience through friends, stuffies and hula hoops. The aim of the book is not to justify the divine feminine, as the title might suggest, but to correctly assume its validity, moving on to give thanks. It’s a great resource for faithful people who desire to establish for their children that God’s mystery goes far beyond gender, without being heavy-handed. My two-year-old was drawn in by the beautiful images and has asked to read it several times.

Reviewed by: Rev. Will Bouvel, Episcopal priest and cofounder of “Tell Me the Truth About Racism.” Will lives with his family in Chicago, Illinois.

A Family Prayer

Shay Youngblood
Illustrated by Kristina Swarner | Convergent Books
Ages 3-7

With illustrations as soft and gentle as nighttime snuggles, this book opens the door to Jesus’ wise command to love our neighbors as ourselves. Framed as bedtime prayers for a little girl’s extended community and family, Youngblood not only encourages children to remember the loving relationships that surround them but also to offer gratitude for the gifts each offers. Perhaps most importantly, children are reminded that they are also a blessing, and deserve the same care and affection they show others. By connecting the care we take with others with the love we show ourselves, A Family Prayer takes children and adults deeper into one of the central wisdoms of Christian faith. It’s already got my young daughter recalling all the friends, animals, and family she’s thankful for.

Reviewed by: Rev. Will Bouvel, Episcopal priest and cofounder of “Tell Me the Truth About Racism.” Will lives with his family in Chicago, Illinois.

I Am Not Afraid: Psalm 23 for Bedtime

Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
Illustrated by Marta Dorado | Beaming Books
Ages 4-7

This imaginative retelling of beloved Psalm 23 is experienced through the eyes of a little girl afraid to go to bed. All three of my children (ages two through eight), were rapt with attention as I read, finding themselves in the child who wants to know she is not alone. I did too. We were drawn in by the book’s warm, reassuring style that names God as “Comforter.” Sasso is both creative and tangible, pointing to literal comforts – a soft blanket, bottle of cool water and bright dove nightlight – and grounding the fear we experience in our bodies, while also illumining God’s Spirit within us. Dorado’s beautiful illustrations bring the book to life, including sheep in the bedroom! Additional resources for adults provide context, as well as a reflection on how to live authentically and bravely amid our fear. This will become a regular read in our household, blessing us with the bedrock promise we all need to end the day — we are held and never alone.

Reviewed by: Rev. Arianne Braithwaite Lehn, author of Ash and Starlight: Prayers for the Chaos and Grace of Daily Life. She lives with her clergy-couple-husband and their three children in Wilmette, Illinois.

Flipflopi: How a Boat Made from Flip-Flops Is Helping to Save the Ocean

Linda Ravin Lodding and Dispeh Pabari
Illustrated by Michael Machira Mwangi | Beaming Books
Ages 4-8

What seems impossible becomes a reality with the help of a community, as we witness the overwhelming problem of plastic waste transform into something beautiful. With gorgeous illustrations, Flipflopi concretely and simply teaches readers of all ages about the problem of single-use plastics. I also appreciated the integration of Kenyan native words throughout; my children easily picked up on the meaning by context. A beautiful book based on a true story!

Reviewed by: Rev. Irene Pak Lee, associate pastor at Stone Church of Willow Glen in San Jose, California, and mom to two spunky young children, Ezra and Eden.

My Elephant is Blue

Melinda Szymanik
Illustrated by Vasanti Unka | Flyaway Books
Ages 4-7

How do we broach the difficult subject of depression with our youngest children? Rather than assume they are too young to understand, we can offer age-appropriate language to both normalize their emotions and remind them of their own agency in moving past difficult feelings.

In My Elephant is Blue, depression is personified as a weighty blue elephant. Despite the good intentions of the child’s family, their suggestions to go outside or “smile” don’t make the depression go away; the child needs to work with and through their “elephant” until the sadness dissipates.

Full disclosure — we road-tested this one with some young children who found the metaphor unhelpful. It may be that My Elephant is Blue is more useful to parents and caregivers, offering them language and activities to gently engage with a child experiencing the blues.

Reviewed by: Rev. Amy Pagliarella, Outlook book review editor.

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