When you’re a parent, you read a lot of picture books. You become picture book experts – not really a transferable skill, sadly. And these books can be enjoyed in their own right, and we can thank God for Julia Donaldson and those like her who can create such well-loved stories to share over and over (and over and over) again.
But I’ve also been thinking that if these stories (although fictional) contain any truth at all, then we can link that truth back to the one who is himself the Truth (John 14:6). (This is where I would insert a profound quote from the excellent book Lit! by Tony Reinke, if I hadn’t lent it to somebody. Sorry.)
To you this might seem a) completely mad and unnecessarily intense or b) blindingly obvious and patronising. If so, sorry. It is how my brain works and can, of course, be done in a not-intense way. If it is obvious, then I don’t mean to patronise you, and I apologise, but I’m not sure everyone’s brain does work this way so it might help some parents. If it’s helpful, I could do some more so let me know, esp. if your child’s favourite book is one you’re a bit stuck on, regarding gospel links! Hopefully it will give you a fresh take on the books you might be growing somewhat weary of, and give you a little teaching opportunity while you sit in the doctor’s waiting room etc.
Sorry these are almost all Julia Donaldson books. That’s mainly because we have the audio books in the car and have been driving a LOT lately (visiting family up and down the country). Which reminds me, Happy New Year!
Monkey Puzzle – Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (JD & AS)
This is a good opportunity to talk about the variety of God’s creation. He could have made just a few types of animal, but he made millions, to show how amazing he is.
You could also talk about how the butterfly is a bit silly (metamorphosis complication notwithstanding) for not realising that the monkey’s mum would look like him, because we do look like our parents. Then you could talk about how, since God is our Father, we are (and should be) growing more and more like him (e.g. 1 John 3:1-3, printed below).
You could also point out that this is a good lesson in not wandering off in the supermarket, because you never know what kind of numpty will end up “helping” you find your mum!
A Squash and a Squeeze – JD & AS
The little old lady has a completely different attitude at the end of the book compared to the beginning, but nothing in her circumstances has changed – only her perspective on her circumstances. Often we grumble and grouse over things, whereas if we allow God to give us a new perspective we may find we become full of frolicks and fiddle-de-dees.
The most obvious application I can think of is that if we begin to give thanks for what we have (instead of focusing on what we don’t have), we will start to be truly thankful and rejoice. Often we might be praying for a bigger house/a better job/a nicer bike/more friends, when we could actually be thankful instead and in doing so become content and joyful over what we do have. I certainly want to live in a joyful, fiddle-de-dee house rather than a grumbling one, don’t you?
Room on the Broom – JD & AS
The lovely thing about this story is that the characters who’ve been rejected a bit by the world are welcomed onto the broom, and although they’re all different there is room for all of them. This is a nice little picture of God’s kingdom/the church. There’s always room for more people, for anyone who wants to enter, and it’s often those who’ve been rejected or let down by the world who want to be a part of it. The (important) difference between the church and the broom (!) is that we all enter through Christ, so we have a special connection unlike any other, which makes us family despite our differences.
Guess How much I love you – Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram
Although it’s very sweet that Big Nutbrown Hare tells his son that he loves him ‘right up to the moon and back,’ that doesn’t really mean a lot in reality. It’s not concrete, it’s just a nice thing to say. But our Heavenly Father proved his love for us once and for all by sacrificing his one and only Son for us when we didn’t deserve anything from him except judgement. We can be thankful that our Father does tell us he loves us in beautiful ways (E.g. ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye‘ Ps17:8), but he also proved it in a unique and most amazing way: This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16). And like Little Nutbrown Hare, any love we give in return is small in comparison, although still welcome. We can never outlove God. (Thanks to my husband Mike for pointing this out.)
The Smartest Giant in Town – JD & AS
The world usually thinks that the best people are the ‘smartest’ people. The best dressed, the best looking people. That’s what adverts want us to think. But it’s not what God thinks.
The animals in the story don’t care what George looks like: they care that he’s made an impact on their lives. He’s helped them, because he’s kind. It’s his character that matters most. (As my son said, ‘I like the bit where they say ‘the kindest giant in town.’)
And that’s what God thinks too: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7.
Stick Man – JD & AS
Stick Man knows who he is, but nobody else (except his family) does. They think he’s a stick/a bat/a twig for a nest/an arm for a snowman etc., but he knows his true identity. He’s Stick Man, he’s Stick Man, he’s Stick Man, that’s him.
If we’re Christians, we’ve been given a new identity. We’re in Christ. We’re born again. We’re adopted. We’re holy. We’re new creations. We’re heirs. We’re treasured. But most people don’t see that, and they will call us other things. Again, 1 John 3 is helpful:
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (v1-3)
So no matter how people label us, we can keep on remembering our true identity, just like Stick Man does. And we can keep living for the day when Jesus (not Santa, who is a big fat lie), will take us home, to the place where everyone knows who we really are. And we’ll stick right there, in the Family Tree, forever.
What the Ladybird heard – JD & Lydia Monks
This is the hardest one so far. I’m hoping you have stopped reading by now! But I couldn’t leave it out because it’s my 2-year-old’s favourite. i.e. I know it off by heart. It’s a tricky one. So much deception!
You could talk about God’s variety in creation again – how God has made all kinds of animals, with different noises to boot. How clever of him.
You could talk about how God has given Julia Donaldson an amazing gift for writing stories!
You could maybe talk about how sometimes it’s right to lie or deceive, if it’s protecting someone or something important (like Rahab, or when David pretends to be mad), but that would certainly be too much for my 2-year-old! Maybe my 6-year-old daughter would enjoy that discussion (which reminds me, I need to find out if Antarctica has been evangelised yet, because that was last night’s question from her).
But I suppose a big theme of this book is loyalty. Loyalty is a good one to talk to our children about. We should look after each other, especially those who are in danger. The Lord is always loyal/faithful to us, looking after us and defending us, and he is the protector of the weak:
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Ps 82:3-4
As I wrote above, do let me know if you’d like more of these.