Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit
By Esau McCaulley
Illustrated by LaTonya Jackson
IVP Kids, p. 32, $18
The Celebration Place:
God’s Plan for a Delightfully Diverse Church
By Dorena Williamson
By Luci Shaw
By Ruth Goring
By Tish Harrison Warren, Flo Paris Oakes, and Katy Hutson
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By Dane Neufeld
I suspect many Christians parents struggle to find artistic and engaging books that also offer a stable and traditional theological vision. More than once I have been excited about a new book, only to feel by the end that the author was trying to push an unwanted or divisive agenda. I like to enjoy a book with my kids without worrying about what it is communicating about the Christian faith that my wife and I have tried to instill in our children.
Five recent books from IVP Kids accomplish this very thing. Josey Johnson’s Hair and the Holy Spirit by Esau McCaulley tells a simple story about an African American girl who learns about the creative power of the Holy Spirit, and the love God shows in the wide variety of creation. My daughters sat still and attentive beside me, enjoying vibrant illustrations of Josey in the hair salon, while the meaning of Pentecost was brought home in a very concrete and practical manner.
The Celebration Place by Dorena Williamson is another story about the place of racial diversity in God’s kingdom. While such a theme could slip into Sunday school clichés, the illustrations have an immediacy and realism that stand off the page. The themes of the cross, Pentecost, and new creation anchor a narrative that touches briefly on African American and Indigenous peoples.
The O in Hope by poet Lucy Shaw is a different kind of book that meditates on the typology of the letter O and its various shapes in the natural world. This may not sound like a gripping theme for 6-year-olds, but each page offers a surprise both visual and linguistic. The final page links this collage of resemblances and patterns within the embrace of God’s love and illustrates how, beneath all these various connections, there is a good and loving Lord.
For the child who cannot fall asleep and for the parent who is out of ideas, Ruth Goring’s Isaiah and the Worry Pack tells the story of a young boy’s struggle with insomnia. Through a dialogue with his mother, Isaiah imagines walking and talking with Jesus in the woods and the fields.
Isaiah learns to tell Jesus about his worries and fears, and Jesus speaks to Isaiah through the objects and ideas the young boy already understands. This is a touching story that describes the life of prayer in the heart of a child, without having to use the word. It is a wonderful imagining of how a young person can converse with the Lord and draw comfort from his presence.
Finally, Little Prayers for Ordinary Days by Tish Harrison Warren, Flo Paris Oakes, and Katy Hutson is a real gem. These prayers are clearly written by parents of young children, or by people who are still children. The language is simple but expresses the emotion and urgency of a child’s world. Most of the prayers brought knowing smiles to my children’s faces, and we will certainly use these in the future.
There are prayers for waking up, playing with friends, and going to bed. A number of prayers will be favorites of parents, such as “For waiting” which begins, “God, it is so hard to wait!” or “For doing chores,” which begins, “Dear God, sometimes it’s hard to do work.”
My kids suggested I might benefit from “For when I have lost something.” Typical of all the prayers, this one begins with a common occurrence and challenge, and ends by relating it to a deeper theological truth. Next time I’m rushing around the house searching for my phone, I will try to pray: “Thank you that you love me so much that you always — always, always, always — come after me to find me.”
These are lovely books that could easily find a place in any home or church library. The authors and illustrators have done a good thing to support families and church communities, as we work together to share the wisdom and love of the gospel with the next generation.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld is incumbent of St. James Anglican Church, Calgary.