Category Archives: Picture Book

What Do You Do With an Idea?

What Do You Do With an Idea

Kobi Yamada (author)
Mae Besom (illustrator)
Compendium, 2013

Kobi Yamada’s story follow a little kid who gets an idea. His first reaction is curiosity, “Where did it come from? Why is it here?”  What follows is an exploration of the emotional landscape any kid or adult might travel as an idea grows within.

Yamada explores the “strange and fragile” nature of an idea and the vulnerability a person of any age might feel when contemplating owning something truly original.   As the story progresses, the child character moves from a place of reticence to an embrace of the ability to “change the world” with an idea.

The illustrations move from winsome and subdued charcoal or pencil and slowly grow to winsome and celebratory full watercolor.  The illustrations are engaging but never overwhelming.

Themes: Vulnerability, Transformation, Change, Hope, Power, Ownership, Discovery, Judgment, Disbelief, Confidence

Motifs: Idea, Egg, Crown, Child.

The Light of Christmas

The Light of ChristmasRichard Paul Evans Light of Christmas
Richard Paul Evans (author),
Daniel Craig (illustrator)
Alladin, 2002

Every Christmas since he could remember, young Alexander walked many miles to the town of Noel, to watch the Keeper of the Flame light the torch of Christmas.  This year, the Keeper of the Flame is going to choose someone new to light the torch, but Alexander’s mother is not well enough to make the trip.  Alexander heads toward Noel on his own. Along the way, he finds an old man in the snow.  Will he stop and help even if it means he will miss the lighting of the torch?

Richard Paul Evans’ fable-like story speaks to the themes of genuine giving, the true meaning of Christmas and being a Good Samaritan. It’s gentle suspense is appropriate for all ages and would be a good compliment to biblical stories on Christmas Eve or during the advent season.

Themes: Generosity, Genuine Giving, Christmas, True Meaning, Helping Others, Sacrifice, Good Samaritan, Charity, Compassion

Motifs: Christmas, Flame, Torch, Gift, Heart, Winter, Snow,

William’s Doll

William’s Doll
Charlotte Zolotow (author), William Pene Du Bois (illustrator)
1972, HarperTrophy
William's Doll - Story in Worship

More than anything William wants a doll. He wants to take the doll to the park, push it in the swing, bring it home, kiss it goodnight and wake it up again in the morning, just as if he were its father and it was his baby.

William dutifully plays with the train set his father gives him. He gets quite good at shooting the basketball from his father. Still, though, he wants a doll.  His brother and friends call him a creep, but what will Grandma say when she finds out?

William’s Doll has been in print for forty-plus years because it does what a really good story is does best; it allows the reader to enter someone’s experience in a meaningful and touching way, without schmaltz or heavy-handed moralizing.

Zolotow’s tone is warmly matter of fact, as if written in the voice of the grandmother character. The grandmother in the story is what we should all aspire to be  if we are blessed with a grandparent role.  She is interested, attentive, kind, and gives her grandchild the space to be who he is.

Part of the beauty of Zolotow’s book is that she expresses the tension of the character’s experience with gentle, skilled, and spare writing.  When William confesses his desire to care for a doll, his grandmother’s simply says, “Wonderful.” When he explains that it isn’t wonderful to his brother or father, she simply says “Nonsense.”

Without ever sounding heavy handed or appearing to baldly push home a point, Zolotow’s story makes several very strong ones. The nurturing capacity of men and boys and the importance of fatherhood ring throughout this book. The innocent nature of children simply being who they are regardless of gender is made abundantly clear. The power of caring adults to gently and clearly speak out on a child’s behalf is evident.

There has been much change in our society and our congregations in the forty some years since this book was written.  Men are allowed and expected to play nurturing roles as parents and grandparents in ways they rarely were allowed when the book was written.  Men and children have benefited from that greatly.  And yet, we have not come so far that this book is no longer relevant. Far from it.

At various developmental stages, children tend to take in and amplify gender expectations. They are trying to make sense of the rules of the world and how they fit in. This book, read in their place of worship, will help them to understand that a loving, kind, and accepting response is more important than whether someone fits into “the rules” of convention. This book will be especially powerful in helping them know they are each valuable and okay as they are, even if they are different than their peers. It is a powerful illustration of non-judgment and compassion, cornerstones of every religion.

Themes: non-judgment, compassion, acceptance, difference, bullying, gender, fatherhood, parenting, teasing,

Motifs: Doll, Toy, Train, Basketball, Father, Son, Grandparent, Grandmother

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story

Exclamation Mark

Exclamation Mark
Amy Krouse Rosenthal (author), Tom Lichtenheld (illustrator)
2013, Scholastic PressExclamation Mark

There comes a time when every worship leader just needs a cute, pithy little story with a message that says, “Be yourself!”  This is that story.

Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld have put together a very clever little take on punctuation.  Sound dry?  Not at all!

Exclamation Mark is surrounded by periods.  He tries to fit in, but everywhere he goes he just sticks out.  It isn’t until he meets question mark that he begins to see that he has something unique to offer.

The illustrations are simple but engaging.  School-aged children (first grade and up) who have learned about punctuation will get more out of it than preschoolers, but even very young children will understand the emotions of the main character and his attempts to be just like everyone else.  Adults and older youth will get the visual and textual puns.

It isn’t a super emotional book for sharing in worship, but it is a fun book with a solid underlying message. It is short – approximately 300 words – and some of those words are more for visual effect and would not need to be read.

Because the humor is largely visual, the children (and adults) will need to see the book – this would be a very challenging story to tell in a way that would be understood.  If you use a projection screen in your service, that will help everyone to see the visuals of the book. (When in doubt, seek permission from the publisher, especially if your service is recorded in any way.)  Occasionally interjecting descriptions of the visuals can help adults in the back of your sanctuary follow the action if they cannot see the book.  For example, I might say, “Oh, look.  Exclamation Mark is sleeping on his side so he doesn’t stick up so much. ”

Themes: Being yourself, self acceptance, friendship, conformity

Motifs: question, sentence, writing, punctuation, exclamation, running away

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story


The Mountain that Loved a Bird

The Mountain that Loved a Bird
Alice McLerran (author)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird is one of my all-time favorite books. Ever. I have told it numerous times and invariably listeners find themselves enraptured.

The Mountain that Loved a Bird -by Alice McLerran, Eric Carle (Illustrator)

The Mountain that Loved a Bird - by Alice McLerran, Stephen Aitken (Illustrator)






It is the tale of a mountain made of bare stone. No rivers or streams flow from it. No plants or animals have ever touched its surface, until one day a small bird stops to rest on its side. The mountain has never known anything like this bird and desperately wants it to stay, which of course it cannot. That deep desire to connect and the kind loyalty of the bird, however, are enough to crack open big changes in the mountain.

This story is beautiful, the language spare, and the outcome completely uplifting. It is a story of renewal and hope, loneliness and connection, and ultimately the irrepressible force of life in and around us. It has found world-wide acclaim and has been translated into many languages.

There are two English language versions that I am aware of.  The first was illustrated by Eric Carle and is no longer in print, but can be found in many libraries and through used book stores. The other English version was illustrated by Stephen Aitken and is published by Tulika Books in India.

The author, Alice McLerran, negotiated the rights to the text shortly before the book publishing world was rocked by the forces of e-books, print on demand, and looming e-tail monopolies.  She is currently looking for a publisher to release the book again with its new artwork from Stephen Aitken. Let’s hope she finds one soon – this is an enduring and beautiful tale that should be in the hands of adults and children in the US too (it’s all over the rest of the world).

As I mentioned above, I have told this tale many times in worship services and it has always played very well.  It can be read of course too, but the narrative structure is very strong, the characters solid, and the plot fairly easy to follow. It is fairly long, so requires more effort to learn than say a 500 word story, but it is well worth that effort.  Either way you present it, this one will be a joy!

Themes: Rebirth, Connection, Life, Hope, Joy, Separation, Healing, Home, Longing

Motifs: Mountain, Bird, Water, Tears, Seed, Flight, Sky, Stars, Joy, Green, Tree

Reviewer:  Kristin Maier
author, A Good Telling: Bringing Worship to Life with Story