Co-authors Levine (New Testament and Jewish Studies/ Vanderbilt Univ.) and Sasso, a rabbi, turn their accumulated theological training to adapting a biblical parable of Jesus into a picture book.
Based on the short parable that appears in the three Synoptic Gospels, the picture book presents the story of a small seed growing into a large tree. Opening with two children preparing to plant a mustard seed in winter-brown ground, soft colored-pencil illustrations show just how small and seemingly useless a mustard seed is until it is planted. Then, away from prying eyes, the seed sends out roots, sprouts, and grows beyond the usual botanical limits of a mustard plant, into “a humongous tree.” Through most of the book, this literal depiction of a uniquely large mustard plant and how the community interacts with it and uses it is the focus, making a turn toward the familiar comparison of the mustard seed to the kingdom of God near the end feel as though it comes out of left field. Even the crowds who heard the original telling of the parable in ancient Palestine, who had more context, may well have found this teaching bemusing. Contemporary children, lacking that context, will find it even more so. While Meganck’s illustrations of a diverse community surrounding the tree are endearing, the book fails to engage as either a celebration of botany or a picture of a heavenly kingdom come to Earth.
An enigmatic parable that fails to bloom. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)