Category Archives: Picture Book

A Thirst for Home

A Thirst for Home: A Story of Water across the world
Christine Leronimo (author) Eric Velasquez (illustrator)
Walker Books for Young Readers, 2014

Thirst for HomeEach day Alemitu and her mother leave their small Ethiopian village to fetch water from the watering hole. Water, she learns, is more precious than gold.

On the long walk back, hunger often roars in Alemitu’s belly like a lion. One day, Alemitu’s mother brings her to a place where she tells her the lion will never roar again. Thus begins her journey from an orphanage in Ethiopia to her adoptive family in the United States.

Eva Alemitu (Eva is the name she takes after she goes to the U.S.) observes the world around her as she moves through her journey. She cannot take for granted the cool clean water from the tap, or food on her plate. She comes to appreciate that the sun that shines on her in her new homeland is the same sun that still shines on her first homeland.

Christine Leronimo’s book uses a gentle, even tone to portray some very intense experiences for any child. The book works because Leronimo allows the character’s experience of loss to speak for itself. The author’s tone is greatly helped by Velasquez’ illustrations, which convey a sense of both beauty and dignity.

Of course, the story cannot offer complete resolution. How could it? Because of the intensity of the issues portrayed in the book, worship leaders and religious educators will want to think carefully about their own context and be prepared for the questions the story might raise for young listeners.

This picture book is beautifully illustrated by Eric Velasquez in mixed media and oil on watercolor paper. His illustrations of Alemitu in Ethiopia have a particularly luminous and sun-touched quality. With about a thousand words from the first person perspective, this story probably works best read as a picture book. That said, a very skilled storyteller could pull-off this story, but telling it in Alemitu’s voice without either trivializing or over-dramatizing her experiences would require both lots of rehearsal and the right touch.

Themes: Adoption, Family, Hunger, Thirst, Inequality, Loss, Change, Homeland, Identity

Motifs: Lion, Water, Food, Puddle, Sun, Gold, Ethiopia, Feet, Mother


Possum Magic

Possum Magic
Mem Fox (author), Julie Vivas (illustrator)
Voyager Books – Harcourt, 1983

Australian author Mem Fox has written so many gems over the years.  Here is one she wrote years ago that would be a great story for worship settings.

In this tale, GraPossum Magicndma Poss uses her magic to make the kookaburra pink and the wombat blue.  For her little possum friend, Hush, she does something extra special.  She makes Hush invisible.

Hush has all sorts of adventures in her invisible state, but what Hush really wants is to be seen.  The trouble is, Grandmas Poss can’t exactly remember the recipe to make her visible again.

This is a fun story with charming characters presented in a gentle and playful way. The story speaks to the basic human need to see and be seen and holds the potential to mine all sorts of themes around theology, community, and self-worth.

Mem Fox’s flowing verse and splashes of rhyme work well with the delightful and delicate watercolor illustrations. Perhaps in part because the illustrator was depicting invisibility, the illustrations may be hard to see from a distance. The picture book would work best with a small group or with a projection of the images.  Telling the story is a great option, though would require a little work to capture the flow and rhyme Mem Fox uses so well.

Themes: Magic, Possum, Being Invisible, Being Visible, Safety, Reflection, Recognition, Acknowledgment

Motifs: Possum, Australia, Magic, Recipe, Food, Spell

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

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse
Leo Lionni (author and illustrator)
Alfred A. Knopf, 1969

Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse coverAlexander, an ordinary, flesh and blood mouse, is not so appreciated by the human family where he lives. Oh, how he wishes he could be like the wind-up toy mouse the family seems to adore.

The wind-up mouse tells Alexander of a lizard that can change one animal into another. All Alexander needs to do is find a purple pebble to bring to the lizard.

When the family grows tired of the wind-up toy and he is put out with the garbage, Alexander has a decision to make about whether he really wants to be changed.

There are multiple theological and moral themes that rise out of this story and make it a good fit for sharing in a worship or religious education setting. In the tale are layers of meaning about valuing and accepting oneself, about helping others, and about the human tendency to discard what no longer holds our attention.

Lionni’s writing is well structured and clean and thus can adapt nicely to telling. Of course, Leo Lionni’s artwork is as classic as his story and would work wonderfully to read as a picture book.

For those interested in Leo Lionni’s creative process, check out his biography on Random House Kids .  This four time Caldecott Honor author and illustrator tells it like it is when it comes to writing.

Themes: Being Oneself, Self-acceptance, Celebrating the Ordinary, Helping Others, Jealousy, Being Content, Change

Motifs:  Mouse, Toy, Garbage, Magic, Pebble

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

The Story of Ferdinand

The Story of Ferdinand
Munro Leaf (author), Robert Lawson (illustrator)
Viking, 1936

You knoThe_Story_of_Ferdinandw a book did something right if it was burned by the Nazis and banned in Franco’s Spain. Who would have thought that this sweet classic book about the Bull who liked flowers more than fighting could raise such a fuss?  And yet, published in 1936, just around the outbreak of the
Spanish Civil War, it became an instant success and just as instantly controversial. Ferdinand became know as the “peaceful bull” and the book was understood by many to be a criticism of the anti-Republic coup that would soon break out in Spain.

Though this children’s book’s relationship to its political context is fascinating, you don’t need to know anything about the Spanish Civil War to see the charm and beauty of this book. Through a twist of circumstances, the gentle, flower-loving Ferdinand is mistaken for an angry and ready to fight bull.  He is taken by cart to the city to be entered in the ring of a bull fight. Ferdinand is far more interested in the flowers on the ladies hat than in the red cape of the matador. This book speaks to themes of peace, non-conformity, the breadth of gender expression and potentially the unfair treatment of animals.

The cruelty of bull fighting is treated very lightly in the book, which helps it to be not-so-traumatizing for younger children. However, it left me feeling as if something more needs to be said. One approach is to offer a simple, age-appropriate statement about bullfighting when introducing the book. For example, I might say: “I am no fan of bull fighting.  I think it’s mean to the bulls.  I am a fan of The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, though.  It’s been a classic for over 75 years now.  I hope you like it too.”  Also, the story could be further softened if you are telling it rather than reading it.  A more direct point could then be made through the sermon or by other means with adults.

The classic narrative structure and language already suited to the spoken word make it a great story for telling – no adaptation required.  If you do share the picture book, the black ink line drawings are charming, though perhaps hard to see unless fairly close up.

Themes: Peace, Non-aggression, Non-conformity, Gender Identity, Difference,

Motifs: Spain, Bulls, Fighting, Flowers, Bees, Red

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

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale

Martina the Beautiful Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale
Carmen Agra Deedy (author), Michael Austin (illustrator)
Peachtree, 2007

Product Details Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha has reached the age when  a cockroach looks for a spouse. Martina’s grandmother gives her some very surprising advice for meeting her suitors – spill coffee on their shoes. Young and old  alike will be terribly curious about happens when she follows her grandmothers advice.

While some might look at you askance for bringing cucarachas into a sanctuary, even cute ones in story form, this Cuban folktale holds some powerful truths worthy of entering a worship space. The story affirms that the most important thing in a relationship is being understanding and kind even if someone spills coffee on our shoes.

Every religious tradition worth its salt calls us to treat other human beings with compassion and kindness – and this story encourages our children (perhaps especially our girls) to expect kind treatment even when they might spill a little coffee. When a recent study tells us that 1 in 10 adolescents report experiencing violence in a dating relationship, it’s time to make sure this lesson is taught in our worship communities, too.

Fortunately, the lesson is wrapped in a folk tale with a strong narrative structure that lends itself particularly well to telling. There is a nice pattern of repetition that will make learning the tale easier, and distinct characters that the teller can have fun with. If the story is being read rather than told, the illustrations are bright and lively. They tend to be a little over-caricaturized, and my preference is for telling rather than reading, but it is a good picture book to share as well.

Themes: Kindness, Forgiveness, Respect, Mistakes, Difference, Dating, Anti-Violence,

Motifs: Animals, Cockroaches, Rooster, Pig, Mouse, Grandmother, Coffee, Spill, Spanish, Cuba

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