This picture-book adaptation of the Burpos’ 2010 account for adults of then-4-year-old Colton’s near-death experience comes with a built-in audience but doesn’t reach much further than it.
A note to parents and grandparents precedes a two-page explanation that, during a visit to the hospital, “Colton closed his eyes, and when he opened them— / Jesus was with him!” The boy’s brief sojourn in heaven is related in an ingenuous child’s voice laced with exclamation marks. Readers learn that “Heaven is not scary—ever!” and that “Everyone is happy there!” He meets a number of biblical celebrities, his great-grandfather and—tellingly and horrifically—“my big sister [who] was so excited to see me that she wouldn’t stop hugging me!” Several pages of description of heavenly delights follow before Jesus explains that he is “answering your dad’s prayer” and returning him to this vale of tears. Children entranced by the happy animals and Michael’s awesome flaming sword will feel that Colton got a very bad deal. Ong paints a supersoft-focus heaven populated by white-robed angels and a crowned Jesus. Aside from an appealingly rainbow-maned white horse and the welcome inclusion of dark-skinned angels (none of them named characters), the aesthetic is one that recalls mass-produced mid-20th-century Sunday school materials. Believers may well be charmed by Colton’s close encounter; nonbelievers will suspect that Colton’s account of heaven owes more to his parents’ stories of his big sister’s afterlife than actual experience.
Is heaven for real? Maybe, but this book is not likely to persuade any skeptics. (Picture book. 4-8)
Rhyming text and colorful multicultural illustrations reassure young readers of God’s omnipresence and still small voice.
“Where in the world is God’s voice found?” Perhaps in ocean waves, bird song, or mountain vistas, suggest the couplet rhymes. Even when readers might be faced with difficult emotions and distractions of all kinds, the text reassures them that God is still there and still speaking, if only one pauses to listen. His voice can be found in nature, in starlight, in the love of family and friends, in dreams, and “through His Word.” Admirably, the bright illustrations, reminiscent of mid-20th-century Disney artist Mary Blair’s stylings, depict children and families with a diverse array of skin tones and ages. There is also a refreshing mix of urban, suburban, and rural settings. Yet, despite the appealing illustrations, the rhymes and scansion are often forced (“your feelings, they matter, / even if they’re all mixed up like / pancake batter”), which detracts from the overall message. Contrived couplets notwithstanding, this title will likely find an audience among Christian households seeking reassuring bedtime reads.
Though the rhyme tumbles and at times bumbles, enticing imagery will lure readers in.
(Picture book. 4-6)
Teaching our daughters how to love themselves is the first step toward the next generation’s owning its power.
It’s heady stuff for a picture book, but it’s never too soon for a woman—even a little woman—to know her worth. Denhollander (the first of sex offender Larry Nassar’s abuse victims to speak out) presents a poetic discourse that resonates beyond its young intended audience. Her simple rhyming couplets speak to the power of image and the messages that shape how we become who we are. The eloquence comes not from the words or phrasing as much as the message as well as the passion. Denhollander, an attorney, a mother, and a former gymnast–turned-coach for a time, delivers stanzas infused with sweet sentimentality as well as fiery fierceness. New artist Huff provides lovely, expressive illustrations depicting girls of many racial presentations in various stages of self-discovery and acceptance. The figures are smiling and cartoonlike, with oversized, round heads and sturdy bodies—though none could be called fat, none exhibits twiglike proportions. Denhollander’s book is unapologetically Christian in approach, with more than one reference to “Him” or a creation by a greater power. With sincerity helping to mitigate occasionally artless text, this is a worthwhile message for young girls who, in an age of shrinking women’s rights, need all the encouragement possible to find their voices and love themselves.
Girls will hear the answer to the titular question.
(Picture book. 4-8)