Having spent the last four posts talking about childhood reading in general, it seems appropriate to move onto this. Those familiar with the Jesus Storybook Bible will know (and no doubt love) the style. That is easily the best of its kind for young children. Sally Lloyd-Jones and artist Jago have followed up with Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. It’s ostensibly for children – though it mustn’t be reserved only for children. I found it thrilling – having expected just to dip and out, I found myself reading cover to cover.
So what’s the big deal? Well, it gets things right at so many levels.But in truepreacher’s style, I’ve tried to whittle it down to a just three points (ho ho).
There is so much dross out there in the kids’ Christian books realm. Either too wishy washy or too complicated or too, just well, meh. Far too much degenerates into other-worldly fairy stories and/or moralism. This book almost entirely manages to avoid either.
It is always risky to construct ‘thoughts’ around just one biblical verse whatever age one writes for – the danger of eisegesis and hobby-horsing is very great. When writing for children, the risk must increase ten-fold. However, it was clear that each entry is founded on a wealth of exegesis, understanding and pastoral experience. If you’re familiar with Tim Keller’s preaching, you’ll certainly detect his influence here.
But what I particularly liked was the unpatronising way of introducing young people to bygone divines and preachers. The list includes luminaries such as Calvin and Corrie ten Boom, John Newton and John Stott, Amy Carmichael and Martin Luther. It’s never done in a heavy way – they’re just slipped in almost in passing, but they reveal deep moorings and pastoral wisdom. The crucial thing is that it is all soaked in gospel grace – a crucial element if classic Sunday School moralism is to be avoided. I might have quibbled with one or two verse usages, but hey; that would just be nit-picking.
Clarity and accessibility are the sine qua non‘s of children’s writing. This has both in spades. Each entry is no more than perhaps 100 words, with most being around the 75 mark. Perfect for a quiet time or family prayer time. Each focuses on just one idea, rooted in the text – but they often open with an unexpected or quirky idea. Leafing through, we move from a jousting knight to World War 2 airmen stranded in a life-raft at sea; Zacchaeus in his tree to an astronaut floating in space; a giraffe licking its ear with its own tongue to cars in a petrol station.
The variety would make it compelling in itself – were it not for the stunning illustrations.
Jago’s images are a far cry from Christian clipart downloads that get plastered over a lot of such stuff. Each is a well conceived and beautifully executed piece, with a rich, shimmering palette and compositional depths that draw the eye in (as every good picture needs). The artistic influences are many, but it hardly ever feels derivative. Some are surprising but explicit (like Piero della Francesca on p120 or the Bayeux Tapestry on p142!); the general style reminded me of the great Eric ‘Hungry Caterpillar’ Carle, both N.C. & Andrew Wyeth, Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings.
Jago’s sense of colour electrifies every page, making each one a sheer pleasure in itself. (Just look at some of the images below, filched from the official website.)
If, as J I Packer often intones, all theology should lead to doxology, then this is a book that gets it spot on. What is so refreshing is that not only do the thoughts make your heart sing. The pictures do too.