Today we’re launching a new series that surveys some of the best picture books for children, Christian and non-Christian alike. We pray these roundups would offer opportunities for conversations with children, stir faith in Christ, and point to the things that are good, true, and beautiful.
How does reading a picture book with a child help fulfill The Gospel Coalition’s mission to “equip the next generation of believers . . . to shape life and ministry around the gospel”? I can think of at least three answers.
First, when I read a book aloud to my child or my nephew or the neighbor’s kid, I introduce that child to the topics the author presents. Dangerous characters can warn, and noble characters can inspire. Good books contain ideas that are beautiful or true or challenging. They raise subjects we may not think to discuss with a child in our everyday conversations. And they can cast everyday situations in a new light: Frodo’s perseverance in Mordor can instruct our kids in how to approach math—or temptation.
Second, when we share books, we have opportunities to engage the ideas on the pages and to offer our interactive commentary on what we are reading. In moving from “Can you find the bunny on this page?” to “Wow, that was a pretty brave thing for that bunny to do” to “Can you remember a Bible story about someone who was brave?” we are equipping our listeners with skills and values to apply biblical truths to new situations they may experience in the real world.
Third, and probably most powerfully, we minister through reading by simply sharing an experience, giving our time and our attention to our listener as an act of love. As Meghan Cox Gurdon points out in The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction, “When we read to other people, we show them that they matter to us, that we want to expend time and attention and energy in order to bring them something good.”
So when we read a good book aloud to a child, we have the opportunity to speak of God’s character with both the author’s words and ours, while simultaneously showing that child a glimpse of God’s character through love in the act of reading together. We partner with the text to incarnate the truth.
With that in mind, here are five lovely, funny picture books my family has enjoyed for discussing the hardships and the joys of waiting as we develop the spiritual fruit of patience.
1. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss (1940)
The Story: Mayzie, a lazy bird, wants to ditch her nest for a Palm Beach vacation, so she recruits stalwart Horton the elephant to sit on her egg while she’s gone. Poor Horton experiences a sad series of trials (rain! snow! mocking friends! hunters!) as he steadfastly awaits Mayzie’s return, and the whole story resolves in a deliciously improbable and perfect ending that I don’t want to spoil for you here.
Why We Like It: I read this book as a child, and my mother and my grandmother both remember reading it when they were children. Dr. Seuss’s meter and rhymes have stayed with me for my whole life, especially Horton’s mantra: “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. . . . An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!” When I was introduced as an adult to J. R. R. Tolkien’s concept of “eucatastrophe” (a sudden and unexpected turn of events that leads to a happy ending, like Christ’s resurrection in the story of the world), I thought of Horton Hatches the Egg.
2. Corduroy by Don Freeman (1968)
The Story: Now considered a classic by many teachers and librarians, Corduroy is the story of a toy bear in a department store waiting for a child to love him. One day he meets a little girl named Lisa who seems to share his sense of destiny, but practical considerations conspire to keep them apart. This leads Corduroy on an adventure through the department after closing time.
Why We Like It: In this story Corduroy waits “day and after” for someone to take him home. Lisa’s mother cannot buy the bear for her daughter, so Lisa waits to come back the next day with money she has saved up to bring Corduroy home. In addition to modeling patience, the book also has themes of redemption, love, friendship, and longing for a true home.
3. Waiting Is Not Easy! (An Elephant and Piggie Book) by Mo Willems (2014)
The Story: The slightly neurotic elephant Gerald and his eternally optimistic foil Piggie star in an extensive series of Early Reader books chronicling their escapades in various activities like learning to dance and throwing a ball. The characters are simple line drawings who speak in text bubbles, and a significant level of the delight in each book is in their expressions and interactions. In this book, Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, but Gerald has to wait all day to receive it.
Why We Like It: Gerald begins his wait with initial excitement, then feigns indifference, fusses, complains, and in a few dozen words moves through the entire range of emotions that we experience when forced to wait. The conclusion of the book, though, is that some things are clearly worth the wait, and that’s a good reminder for kids (and adults) who must learn to live with patience.
4. Waiting by Kevin Henkes (2015)
The Story: In this Caldecott Honor book, toys sit on a windowsill and wait patiently for things to happen. Things do happen, but the real action of the book is in what the toys experience while they wait.
Why We Like It: For Christians, our whole lives are, in some ways, a time between times: waiting for God’s leading, waiting for Christ’s return, waiting for our real lives to begin after death. This book is a sweet and gentle reminder that joy and meaning can be found amid in-between times.
5. Stormy: A Story About Finding a Forever Home by Guojing (2019)
The Story: Stormy is a wordless book about a woman who finds a scruffy, skittish dog too afraid to accept her offers of help. The beautiful illustrations show the woman returning to the park again and again over several days to slowly build a friendship with the little dog. Eventually, persistence, courage, a tennis ball, and a thunderstorm bring the two together.
Why We Like It: The pictures are detailed and effused with a lovely golden glow, but what makes this book an exceptional read for Christian parents are the themes of patience and sacrificial care for others. It could also open opportunities to talk about the joy of friendship and the reality of a true forever home with our Rescuer.