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New Picture Books (Fall 2023)

Editors’ note: 

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.

In The Brothers Karamazov, one of the brothers is a young monk who quits his formal education because he thinks he’s ready for “immediate action.” Dostoyevsky, the author, notes that young men like him “unhappily fail to understand that the sacrifice of life is, in many cases, the easiest of all sacrifices, and that to sacrifice, for instance, five or six years of their seething youth to hard and tedious study” would “multiply ten-fold their powers of serving the truth and the cause they have set before them as their goal.”

As Christians, we’re each on a type of quest to serve the truth by following God as he leads us. While quests often include grand adventures, they also involve tedious trudges (like the midgewater swamp in Lord of the Rings or that cold trek across the giants’ ruins in The Silver Chair).

Indeed, as Chesterton reminds us, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” Those of us in school are putting the time into training now, persevering through the difficult bits by rightly reckoning them part of the adventure—all to glorify and enjoy the Lord where he’s placed us while multiplying our ability to serve him wherever he leads in the future.

As we embark on the next part of our quests, here are some new educational—and lovely—picture books to bring on the journey.

Lucy and the Saturday Surprise

Melissa Kruger

Lucy and the Saturday Surprise

Melissa Kruger

Crossway/TGC. 40.

Everyone struggles with wanting what others have. Lucy and the Saturday Surprise helps children understand the dangers of letting desire fester into envy. Through colorful illustrations and engaging characters, Lucy’s story shows kids how to fight against envy and reminds us all that Jesus offers freedom from both the penalty and power of sin.

Crossway/TGC. 40.

1. Lucy and the Saturday Surprise by Melissa Kruger, illustrated by Samara Hardy (Crossway/TGC)

In the newest release from TGC Kids, Lucy and her brother each get to pick out a candy from the store, but Lucy quickly regrets her decision when her brother’s giant lollipop lasts much longer than her piece of chocolate. Lucy sinks to envy and then works through the consequences with the gentle help of her family.

The book points out that sin often follows a pattern portrayed in the Bible and lived out over and over again in our everyday lives: see, covet, take, hide. Lucy’s identification of this pattern helps children (and adults) to recognize temptation and to seek repentance, rather than getting trapped in cycles of sin, deception, and shame.

If all that sounds like a heavy topic, it’s lightly told in a sweet and relatable manner, with bright illustrations and a happy, forgiving family helping each other in a way that ends with joy and unity.

2. God, You Are: 20 Promises from the Psalms for Kids by William R. Osborne, illustrated by Brad Woodard (Crossway)

In the introduction to this book, William Osborne writes about how grateful he is for the gift of bedtime prayers with his children. He designed God, You Are as a series of readings to help parents seize a few quiet moments amid their busy lives. Each reading focuses on simple statements from the Psalms about God’s character, such as “God, You Are Righteous,” “God, You Are a Shepherd,” and “God, You Are My Refuge.”

Reading God, You Are made me realize how particularly well suited the psalms are for teaching children about God’s character. So much of the poetic imagery works by taking abstract concepts, like God’s omnipotence, and providing sensory, poetic metaphors (a shield, a king, a fortress) that give a tiny taste of who God is. The psalms’ poetry lends itself well to concrete illustrations to teach kids the Scriptures, God’s character, and how they can interact with both.

3. Your Brave Song by Ann Voskamp, illustrated by Amy Grimes (Tyndale Kids)

A little girl named Una Rayne leaves her house one foggy day to go to a place full of unknowns, where she struggles to fit in with new kids. Her mother has armed her with a song for the journey: “Jesus loves you, makes you strong. In Him you’re brave and you belong.” The song gives her the courage to try new things and make friends.

I appreciated that the book doesn’t simply end with a happy resolution. Instead, Una goes to bed glad she made friends but also thinking about how there’ll be hard days ahead. She reminds herself, “On those days, there was a bigger song within her that was louder than any lies, a song that was stronger than any sadness.” And when she looks out her window, she finds the fog has cleared.

Your Brave Song isn’t a sad book. It depicts joyous children in lovely outdoor settings. But it wisely leaves room for sadness while pointing its readers to the truth.

4. God Speaks to Me by Kristen Wetherell, illustrated by Grace Habib (Crossway)

God Speaks to Me is part of a new series of board books for toddlers by Kristen Wetherell that includes God Hears Me and God Cares for Me. Each book is deceptively simple, with a few sturdy pages full of brightly colored illustrations of kids and animals—and probably fewer words than it takes to write this review. But they pack in a surprising depth of practical, thoughtful theology.

For instance, God Speaks to Me begins with Jesus speaking through the glory of creation: “Yes, Jesus speaks without a word through every tree and sky and bird!” The center of the book focuses on the goodness of God speaking clearly through his Word and describes how his words are honey sweet, a lamp to guide us, a sword, a rock. Then it points to Jesus being the Word, “the truth about God’s grace,” and the way we can be saved.

You can introduce your toddler to the basics of divine revelation with practical applications in fewer than 300 rhyming words. For readers who want to dig deeper, the last pages provide “A Note to Parents” with more ideas to teach and engage kids with the scriptural concept of God speaking.

5. The Things God Made: Exploring God’s Creation Through the Bible, Science, and Art written and illustrated by Andy McGuire (Zonderkidz)

Andy McGuire provided illustrations for both The Ology by Marty Machowski and The World Book Student Encyclopedia. That experience is on full display in The Things God Made. The book tells the story of creation, weaving the biblical account with intricate illustrations and scientific facts. Most pages include boxes of information related to the story, like the reason plants look green, the definition of bioluminescence, and why Canada geese fly in a V formation.

The author includes notes in the back of the book about his attempt to “be faithful to Scripture and interpret it with humility,” while recognizing others may interpret the same things differently. He writes about the challenge and ambiguity of drawing something formless, for example, or of visualizing God making “the raw materials of the universe.” In general, though, the book manages to walk the solid line of known truth between the mysteries of Scripture on one side and the mysteries of science on the other, without too much speculation in between.

The illustrations are some of the most beautiful and detailed I’ve seen in any new book, from Christian or secular publishers. My own children found it highly engaging, and their questions about some of the pictures and text led to insightful discussions.

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