A note to three-year-olds everywhere: if your parents buy you this book for your birthday, they are almost certainly hinting that it is time to start sleeping through the night. (We were when we bought this for Josie.)
Lisa Tawn Bergren’s God Gave Us series is lovely and I’ve reviewed a few of them here. But none have garnered as dedicated a following in our home as this one: for a time God Gave Us Sleep was Josie’s favorite pre-nap read. She flipped through it after I put her to bed, and I often found it on the floor beside her when she woke up, as though it had slipped out of her hands when she drifted off.
And it is a book worth reading and re-reading. Bergren explores sleep and why it matters; through the story, she shows what happens and how we feel when we don’t sleep well, and she reminds readers that sleep is not a punishment or an inconvenience but a gift from our loving God. Exhausted parents know this. Three-year-olds don’t always, so I’m thankful for a book that gently explains it.
Josie has finally started sleeping through the night, though she will sometimes come quietly into our room and wait for us to wake up and take her to the bathroom. She never tells us she’s there, but lets us become gradually aware of her presence by singing “Happy Birthday” softly to herself. That’s so much better than how she used to wake us that we don’t even mind.
This isn’t technically a Christmas book, I know. But many of us are preparing to sleep on hide-a-beds in basements and fly red-eye flights cross country and pack wilting kids up for the fourth family engagement, so I thought maybe this might the right time for a little picture book moral support.
Lisa Tawn Bergren—author of God Gave Us You, God Gave Us Easter, and many other beautiful books—reminds us, in her new book God Gave Us Family, that family is a good gift in all its varying configurations. Through the curiosity of Little Wolf, she introduces us to a number of family shapes and connections, and she covers each one with gentleness and grace. This is not a book interested in showing what a family ought to look like, but in helping kids understand that many families just do look different without going into the reasons why.
I grew up with divorced parents, and so I appreciate the mention of the goose family whose father lives in another pond. The childlike way that Bergren addresses that, giving just enough information without delving into the specifics of marital difficulty, custody plans, or even the value of an intact home, was beautiful. I could imagine myself as a child finding comfort in that the same way I did when I read The Babysitter’s Club for the first time and learned that Kristy, too, had been through her parents’ divorce. I didn’t know that I would be grateful for that, but I am.
We want our kids to be wise and grounded in the Word of God, rich in his Spirit, so that they can discern the thread of truth amid the knot of lies the world presents them with daily. That means talking to our kids about what a family ought to look like, how it is meant to function. It also means loving others well whatever their families look like, while still helping our kids put the wiring in place so that one day their own families, should they have them, might shine like lights in a dark and broken world.
But it’s important to see, too, that the children reading this book—whatever their constellation of relatives looks like—did not make the decisions that shaped their families. Some might expect Bergren to sermonize a bit on the beauty of God’s purpose for families (I thought I wanted her to, at first), but I’m glad she didn’t. Kids so often feel responsible for the shape of their family, as though they caused it to be what it is somehow or as though they’re the ones who must fix it: perhaps it would be a gift to them to show them that their family, too, is a family, and it is the one they have been given.
Bergren and illustrator David Hohn do this beautifully, through the warm conversation of Little Wolf and his parents as they prepare for a family reunion. Little Wolf is candid about his thoughts on his own family (especially some frustrating younger cousins), and his parents gently show him, by contrasting their own family with those of their friends and neighbors, that his family is unique. It is something to be grateful for; it is a gift. And that message is itself a gift to young readers.
On a Completely Unrelated Note
Phoebe turned four this week! Tomorrow we celebrate with a giant birthday donut and presents and probably a dance party.
I originally wanted to share with you one of the sweet, professional photos we had taken recently, one of just Phoebe, by herself, being Phoebe. But I couldn’t resist sharing this one instead, because that wrinkled nose, those big brown eyes, the evidence of a marker recently applied to her cheek, that big sister caught in the act of teaching her little sister how to climb up onto the forbidden window sill—that is Phoebe in a nutshell right now. Disarmingly sweet and often plotting something nefarious. We love her.
Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this for review, but I was not obligated to review this book or compensated for my review in any way. I share this book with you because I love it, not because I was paid to do so.
A few months ago we learned that our family is going to grow bigger by one! We have been thinking (and speaking) in exclamation points since then. I mean, Mitch and I are excited, but the enthusiasm of these two knows no bounds:
Phoebe has no idea what’s coming.
It’s too early to tell yet whether this will be our fourth daughter or first son, but the girls have put their vote in for a little brother, to be named either Robin Hood or Peter (as in, Peter “The High King of Narnia” Rosenburg). We, on the other hand, have only seriously discussed girl names. Whether they get their wish or not, we do know that this baby will be well-loved by not one, not two, but three big sisters.
To celebrate, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite books about babies:
Sally Lloyd-Jones writes a charming manual on how to be a baby—from the perspective of a six-year-old girl. So funny, you’ll laugh a little too hard when reading it aloud (I’ll say only this: “baby jail”). (Read the full review.)
If you, like me, are a chronic over-explainer who dreads those “How did the baby get in there?” questions not because you fear you’ll say the wrong thing but because you fear you’ll say too much, this is a great book to have on hand. Jim Burns says just the right amount about babies: how they’re made, why they’re made, and what life will be like when they’re born. (Read the full review.)
On the other end of the spectrum is this sweet book. Perfect for little kids who don’t need a biology lesson, just a lesson in where they came from, God Gave Us You is a keeper. (Read the full review.)
So, you (or some folks you love) are having a baby, and you want a book that touches on the sweetness of a new baby’s birth without introducing the, ahem, biology behind it all? Look no further.
God Gave Us You follows an inquisitive polar bear’s line of questioning as she asks her mother (also, obviously, a polar bear) how it was she came to be. Mother Polar Bear then fills her child in on the joy and anticipation of pregnancy while high-lighting, again and again, the fact that little bear is an irreplaceable gift from God: “God gave us you.”
I understand that there is a companion book out there for those families graduating from one child to two called God Gave Us Two, but I haven’t read it yet: all I know is that this one was awfully fun for our girls (especially Sarah) as we prepared for Phoebe’s arrival. The story’s refrain served them as a sweet, insistent reminder that God gave us each of them—and we wouldn’t trade our girls for any other baby in the world.
Hi, I'm Théa! I review classic literature, poetry, nonfiction, fantasy, picture books—children's books luminous with grace and beauty. These are books our family loved and that I think you'll love too. Thanks for stopping by!
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