“And the tree was happy.” Perhaps like me, this short sentence evokes for you powerful feelings of nostalgia and loving relationships. Shel Silverstein’s words in The Giving Tree transport me to my beloved Camp Sumatanga, where my weeks as a United Methodist camper in North Alabama grounded me in Christ-inspired service and life-long community. Another legacy of this book is its inspiration for my life’s vocation, Picture Book Theology (PBT). I still love The Giving Tree, that’s why I featured it on Day 68 of my Picture Book a Day for a Year series. But I must tell you… newer picture books are even better than The Giving Tree and getting better every year!
On the PBT website, www.picturebooktheology.com, I encourage those in children and adult ministry to discover the evocative, spiritual content of children’s picture books. PBT is a resource with hundreds of featured books, varied ideas for use, valuable scripture connections, and a vast search
engine. Most of the books are secular, with amazing theological content swimming just below the surface. They are also the hardest to find without a title or author. Many PBT books are what I call “God books,” books about the nature of God. Think Old Turtle by Douglas Wood or the books of Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso. Some of you are nodding your heads right now.
Even those who think kids’ books are just for kids can learn to find connections to everyone’s spiritual journey in picture books. The concept of prayer can be expanded through the simple classic The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crocket Johnson. The benefits of lamentation can be explored via Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Thank you very much, Judith Viorst! Jeff Brumbeau’s Quiltmaker can inspire youth who are considering service vocations. And E. B. Lewis’ depiction of a well-known African-American spiritual can broaden a child’s potential for shining their own little light. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.
The beauty of PBT is that many of these treasures can be found for free in your local library or easily purchased online. You probably have some of them already; perhaps you haven’t looked at them with PBT eyes. I’ve done that for you! Besides my work on the website, I also offer adult and children’s lessons inspired by some of the best of PBT. These lessons work great as fill-ins when you need to take a break from the usual routine of your ministry activities or as a summer series.
Want another great reason to check out PBT? Maybe like my church, you have a hard time finding curricula that meets your specific theological needs. My church family is two blocks from 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham where four young girls were killed in 1963. For this heartbreaking reason, our diverse family of faith is eager to teach and learn about themes of social justice, so I have dozens of such books at PBT. Perhaps your church is in need of healing from an emotional issue such as a leader’s death or a sudden crisis. As a school psychologist, I highly recommend beginning a small group’s healing conversation with a picture book. In this context, issues can be brought forth in a non-threatening manner. Many such books are on the PBT website. Want to introduce your children to a Christian role model? Robert Coles’ book about Ruby Bridges tells a story they won’t forget. Ruby even prays for her tormentors who yell at her as she walks to her newly integrated elementary school. What a hero!
PBT is fun, but that’s not why I work so hard to bring it to you. Making personal connections with scripture via relatable characters, engaging plots, and interesting non-fiction information encourages long term learning. The benefit that is gleaned with PBT is strong, broad, and deep learning. It’s the kind of Christian education that sticks with people, young and old, because it is especially meaningful and accessible, and really, really FUN!
Hanna Schock is a CEF member and the creator of Picture Book Theology. She is also the writer of Manna & Mercy: An Elementary Curriculum based on Daniel Erlander’s popular book for adults. Because of her training as a teacher and school psychologist, Hanna is passionate about Christian education that is easy to relate to, is rich with meaning, and leads to deep learning.