Learning God is there

The Birthday Party coverI have a nephew about to turn two, and a week ago I went to visit for the first time in a few months. The last time I’d seen him, the only word I was certain he understood was ‘no’ (even if understanding didn’t always result in the desired outcome). This time I stepped off the train to find him saying ‘tain’ and ‘toot-toot!’, all the while looking at me with admiration for having actually ridden on the object of his affections. When he beamed at me and chirped “Hi!”, I was as smitten as when he was first born.

Once we arrived at my sister’s house and sat down on the floor so he could show me all his toys, I discovered he could discuss more than just trains. After my sister did some quick translation work for me (‘uck’ is ‘truck’, ‘boh’ is ‘boat’, ‘eez’ is ‘cheese’), we made siren noises for the fire engine, roared like lions, and talked a lot about his cars being up on the table or down on the floor (both up and down being favourite concepts). I tried hard to keep the conversation away from ‘bikkies’, another of his interests. I was also gratified to discover that my plan of being ‘Auntie Mac’, in order to make way for his other aunt Rachel, was going very well indeed, since ‘Mac’ is one of the only names he can say. I’m now fourth after ‘mum’, ‘da’ and ‘Tim’.

Grumpy Day coverAs a childless person with little experience with babies, all this was amazing to me, but old news for my sister. Like any parent, she knows that her child understands more of what is going on around them than meets the eye. My nephew is quickly grasping how the world works, from the names of things he sees to the ways they can change. I suspect the word ‘why’ is just around the corner. Good luck, sis!

Of course, we can do more than just wish parents well and leave them to it. There are great opportunities to be teaching children from a young age about God, and how he’s made and looks after them and their lives. That’s why Stephanie Carmichael wrote the first two picture books in the Emily Stories series, the well-received Over the Fence and The Rag Doll. Their popularity with parents and requests for more have led to two new books, The Birthday Party and Grumpy Day.

The books use everyday settings for talking and thinking about God naturally, like all Christian parents would be trying to do. The Birthday Party is a cheerful story of helping others feel special and being loved by God. Grumpy Day deals with God being in control even when we feel disappointed. Both concepts are foundational to a God-centred view of our place in the world, and Stephanie’s years of experience in writing teaching material for young children means that she has a great ear for language and situations that kids can follow and relate to. Jessica Green’s watercolour illustrations are warm and inviting, with soft colours and quiet details that help children quickly catch on to the story.

Each book in the Emily Stories series comes with ideas for how parents can expand further on the main points raised in the tale, with tips for activities, prayers, and more. This really just underlines the primary advantage these picture books have over secular stories: not only do kids find them fun to read with their parents and later on their own, but they are taking in more and more of God’s care for them, and will be able to expand the implications of that to their own lives as their understanding grows. I myself was challenged by Grumpy Day to remember that God’s view of my life is clearer than my own when things are tough. Part of their beauty comes from their reflection of a world where God is involved, which most other picture books ignore.

The books are recommended for children aged three to six, or for older children to read to themselves. My little nephew is still more interested in turning the pages than hearing a story, but he does like pointing and naming what he sees in pictures. He’s old enough to see that there’s a world out there; come Christmas time, I can’t think of a better present that he’ll enjoy and that will help him begin a life of loving the one who made him.

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