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)