Rachel in Review: Empowered by Picture Books
For those of you who don’t yet know me, I’m Rachel, and this is my column.
Some of you might remember me from my previous work on EerdWord, the grown up big sister blog of Eerdlings. I’ve been writing for EerdWord since 2011, and if you have been following my semi-occasional posts there, you’ll likely already know a few things about me:
- I love books and reading. (Duh.)
- I have four children. At the moment, they range in age from one to ten. (That could change, though. The little rapscallions always seem to get older on me when my back is turned.)
- My life revolves around family, books, and faith. There are lots of other things crammed in around the edges as well, but those are the biggies.
- When left entirely to my own devices, I just about only (ever, always) read children’s books.
What you might not know about me, however, is that I just started a new job here at Eerdmans. As of this month, I’m now director of marketing for both Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. and Eerdmans Books for Young Readers.
It’s a big job. (Not quite as big as my colleague Anita’s big new job, but still pretty big.) Thankfully, two new picture books have been adding a dash of delight to what might have otherwise been a daunting transition for me. Both are sitting on my desk right now, and I don’t foresee them going anywhere soon.
The first of this pair of empowering picture books is Sarah Bee’s The Yes.
It begins . . .
In a soft comfy nest in a safe warm place there snoozed a great big orange thing called the Yes. He was snug, but the Yes had a Where to go to. So he left his nest and went trundling out to see.
Isn’t that always the way of it? We feel so safe and snoozy in our comfy status quo — and yet. And yet! We have a Where to go to, and the big orange Yes in us just can’t stay put when there’s a Where to go to.
The “big and lumpen” Yes comes to a tree he wants to climb, a bridge he wants to cross, a river he wants to ford — but everywhere he goes, he’s swarmed by gnat-like Nos.
There were Nos in the air, Nos by his feet, Nos in his fur, Nos up his nose. ‘No!’ said the Nos.
It is what Nos do and what they are.
The Yes, though, doesn’t turn back. He doesn’t gripe; he doesn’t quibble. He just says “YES!” and does whatever the thing is that’s in front of him to do — again, and again, and again, “until the noise of the Nos in their no-ness and not-ness grew smaller and smaller, and fainter and fainter, until there was no more no and never had been.”
Reading this book for the umpteenth time, I still can’t decide whether I think Sarah Bee’s lyrical writing is more reminiscent of Dr. Seuss, e. e. cummings, or Lewis Carroll. (Maybe you can help me figure it out.)
I also haven’t yet been able to figure out exactly what to feel when I read this book: do I sigh or smile? Do I laugh or cry? (The answer, I think, must be YES.)
The other book that’s been encouraging to me during this season of big new things is about as different from the first as it could be.
Just for Today began as a devotional text from Pope John XXIII (known affectionately as “Good Pope John”), who reigned from 1958 to 1963 and was canonized in 2014.
“Just for today,” it begins,
I will try to live for this day alone, without wishing to solve my life’s problems all at once.
Bimba Landmann’s serene illustrations follow a young boy through an ordinary day, as he puts into practice the good pope’s advice for living a life of peace and virtue.
Just for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the world to come, but also in this one. . . .
Just for today, I will do a good deed and tell no one about it. . . .
Just for today, I will have no fears. . . .
When we originally began talking about Just for Today here at EBYR, we envisioned it as a gift book for young readers preparing for first communion, confirmation, and other religious rites of passage — and it would indeed be an excellent book for all such occasions. The more time I spend with it, though, the more I truly believe it has something inspiring to say to a much broader range of readers —
- To children starting out in a new home or a new school — anywhere strange and a little bit scary, for whom daily life may suddenly become daunting and complex.
- To people of all ages living with chronic illness, disability, addiction, or other hardships that make getting through every day a struggle. (I really could have used this book when I broke my ankle three years ago.)
- To anyone (including me and Anita) who might need a little holy encouragement at the beginning of a big new adventure — an adventure that might at first seem far too big to tackle but that, taken hour by hour and day by day, gradually begins to seem doable after all.
As the sainted man reminds me,
I can easily do, for twelve hours, what I would find discouraging if I thought I had to do for a lifetime.
* * *
About Rachel in Review:
Life for this kid lit enthusiast and working mother of four can be messy. Confusing. Painful. Funny. Breathtakingly beautiful.
Enter the Eerdmans books. So, so many of our books, whether they’re bedtime books for babies or coming-of-age novels for young adults, seem to have a single uncannily common quality about them: they just fit. These wise, wonderful books somehow manage to tie into — and by so doing, help me sort out — the knotty complexities of life as I actually experience them.
Come along with me as I read life, live books, and put the two together. Things around here may occasionally get a bit random, but with a little luck, they’ll never be boring.