This series 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.
Spring is a beautiful time to talk to kids (and adults) about rebirth, new life, resurrection, and redemption. Here in Southeastern U.S., spring trickles in slowly, with leaps and occasional backtracking—sort of like some parts of Christian life, except with pollen. On most sunny days, you can find a branch somewhere that looked dead in the chill morning but is swelling with obvious life by the sunny afternoon. We’re past the time for daffodils now, and the azaleas are just starting to come into full glory.
A new set of beautiful children’s books is blooming as well. It includes Bible story books, theology for kids, and stories to inspire laughter, inspiration, and wonder. Here’s a list of books to help celebrate the season and life in Christ.
Polly and the Screen Time Overload
Betsy Childs Howard
Technology can be a helpful tool and source of enjoyment for many families—a way to aid children with learning, to connect with loved ones, and to provide entertainment. But as with many good gifts from God, tech devices are best used in moderation.
In this new picture book, readers meet Polly while on a trip to her grandparents’ farm. During her visit she spends all her time on her new tablet instead of enjoying the farm animals and playing with her cousins. A chat with her grandfather teaches her that, though screen time can be good, it can also keep kids away from better things. Using simple language and beautiful illustrations, children ages 3–7 are introduced to the idea that technology is best enjoyed within boundaries.
1. Polly and the Screen Time Overload by Betsy Childs Howard, illustrated by Samara Hardy (Crossway/TGC, available now)
“You know, this is actually a really good story,” my 10-year-old son said as he flipped thoughtfully through Betsy Childs Howard’s new picture book. “It makes you think about, you know, real things.” Managing screen time is definitely a “real thing” for my son and his peers. A study from last November showed that kids between the ages of 10 and 14 spend an average of almost 8 hours per day on screens in addition to screen time spent on school work.
Polly and the Screen Time Overload, the newest book from TGC Kids, is geared toward a younger audience but asks a question even adults might have to give some careful thought to answering. Be honest: if you were given a week to spend time outside with nature and family, but you also received a brand-new tablet on the first day of your trip, how well would you use the time? Polly explores the options through a relatable story filled with addictive, inane computer games (“the one where you throw tomatoes at cats”) and joyful illustrations of life on a farm with friends.
2. The Apostles’ Creed for All God’s Children by Ben Myers, illustrated by Natasha Kennedy (Lexham Press)
A note in the back of The Apostles’ Creed for All God’s Children says, “Families are little churches” where instruction “in the basics of Christian faith has taken place throughout the history of the church.” This picture book follows in that tradition, helping parents disciple their children through the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Every page has text from the creed and a poetic explanation, exploring the meaning and purpose of each phrase or sentence. Even the pictures are intentional and meaningful, laden with scriptural imagery that’s explained at the end in a list of Bible cross-refences. (And, in a nice touch for younger readers, there’s a gray cat hidden in every picture.) As a read-aloud, the text of every page ends with a statement that’s powerful for children to hear their parent affirm: “That’s what I believe.”
3. God’s Daring Dozen: Habakkuk’s Song, Obadiah & the Edomites, Haggai’s Feast, and Zephaniah’s Hero by John Brown and Brian Wright, illustrated by Lisa Flanagan (CF4Kids)
I’m going to be honest: I’ve been in churches my whole life, and I’m not sure I could articulate the major theme of the book of Haggai. These picture books are here to fill that gap, summarizing the minor prophets in ways that are surprisingly readable and understandable. The books are written and illustrated with preschoolers in mind, with bright illustrations and lots of animal pictures. At around 30 pages each, they may run a little long for some preschool attention spans. Overall, though, they stay limited to just a few words on each page, and the images are strange enough (like sharks swimming through ruins) and vivid enough (people dancing, deer on the mountains) to keep even little listeners engaged.
Each story identifies a main theme of the biblical book, incorporates imagery from the text, and shows how the prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus in the New Testament. They take thematically complex writings without clear narrative arcs and tell them in ways that are brief, memorable, and cohesive. In reminding readers that Zephaniah is a part of God’s Holy Word, just like the more popular narratives of heroes like Noah or Esther, God’s Daring Dozen provides a fun and helpful way to increase biblical literacy and open some less familiar parts of Scripture to young listeners.
4. God Made Me for Heaven by Marty Machowski, illustrated by Trish Mahoney (New Growth Press)
Anyone who works or lives with preschoolers knows that little people can be deep thinkers with tough questions. The phenomenon is so widespread that the New York Times ran an article a couple of years ago with the headline, “Why Do 4-Year-Olds Love Talking about Death?”
It can be challenging as a parent or caretaker to know how to respond when a child asks about dying. Just like he did with his earlier book God Made All of Me, Marty Machowski comes to the rescue with a preschool-appropriate resource to help with tackling a difficult subject. The book has a lot of words, but my very curious and invested preschool audience wanted to hear all of it. The overall tone of the illustrations and text is bright and hopeful, with a clear presentation of the gospel and a message that one day “Jesus will put an end to the curse of sin, suffering, sickness, and death.”
5. The Forgotten King by Shay Gregorie and Kenneth Padgett, illustrated by Stephen Crotts (Wolfbane Books, pre-order for May 10, 2022)
C. S. Lewis wrote that “the value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the ‘veil of familiarity.’” The Forgotten King is a mythical story that points to biblical truths. It’s rhyming tale of a king whose son rescues his people from the control of an evil wizard, tapping into a long Christian tradition of telling a true story through fiction. A well-paced and delightful read-aloud, this story teaches and inspires as a magical adventure rather than a didactic text. The intricate, beautiful illustrations done in a classical woodcut style by Stephen Crotts help make this story a standout.