It’s always exciting to see Australian Christian publishers invest in children’s books. God is: Holy is the first book in Tulip Publishing’s, Little Theologian Books (Yay!). It is written and illustrated by Jessica Scott and is a theologically dense picture book with potential beyond the ‘children’s book’ shelves.
The illustrations in this slim book are striking. Clear and uncluttered, the style is more abstract than descriptive. There is a decent amount of symbolism used, including the cross, light/dark, flames for the Holy Spirit etc. There is also deliberate use of contrast, font size and colour which add to the abstract tone of the text. I liked the way the artwork invited readers to imagine and consider the depictions of theological concepts, rather than offering one-size-fits-all portrayals of complex and multilayered ideas. I also liked the invitational tone of the writing. But despite its beauty, God Is: Holy is not really a simple storybook.
The book reads more like a theological poem or meditation. I found myself wondering (more than once) who its real audience was. The text is packed with assumed knowledge and language familiar to Christians. I wondered what early primary student would understand what ‘morally perfect’ meant or the significance of the word ‘debt’. I wonder whether the simple rhyming text expected too much of its young readers. For a children’s book, there are many ideas (like a mountain’s worth) that could do with further explanation.
As if pre-empting this, the publishers have included further notes at the back of the book. These notes (written by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley) are obviously designed for adult readers. They quote the King James Version, whereas the rest of the book uses ESV. The notes include a theological summary of holiness, some definitions of key words and an explanation of salvation according to Reformed theology. There are also five ‘Questions to ask your children’, which I personally felt were a little abstract.
God Is: Holy is not, in my opinion, a stand-alone children’s book. It’s more like a concentrated shot of theology that needs to be considered with care. Care for who the intended audience might be, and care for how it will be interpreted. Theology is so important. It’s how we learn to understand who God is and what he is like, and I believe kids are more than capable of engaging with it. But when introducing or encouraging children to wrestle with the deeper things of God, we need to remember that calculus follows addition and addition is just as wonderous even if it seems simpler.
If you read this book with your kids, make sure you allow plenty of space and time for working things out. Some of the ideas, vocabulary and concepts will take time to grow and rely on a solid foundation of prior understanding. Don’t rule out using it with older children, teens or adults either. The holiness of God is a concept we are all growing towards, no matter how old we are. In God is: Holy, Tulip Publishing have offered us a useful, though heavy, springboard for this.
All the details you need:
Title: God Is: Holy.
Written and Illustrated by: Jessica Scott (with notes by Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley)
Publisher and Imprint: Little Theologian Books, Tulip Publishing. 2022.
Available at The Wandering Bookseller or your favourite Christian bookseller.
The Penny Drops
In high school I used to write what I'd call 'thinks' - little bits of writing about whatever topic or issue I was mulling over at the time. I still write these little pieces.
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