Tag: poetry (page 2 of 3)

Psalm 23

Of all the psalms, this one feels most familiar. This is the one I recite to myself when I can’t fall asleep, the one I’ve taught my daughters to recite to themselves when they can’t fall asleep, the one whose images are comforting in an unfluffy way: David talks about The Valley of Death, after all, so this psalm is assurance for very real suffering.

There are a number of good picture book versions of this psalm out there, but none that have made it onto this blog yet. I don’t know exactly why that is, but until now, I returned every one to the library without feeling the need to review it. Barry Moser’s version is different.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

By following a shepherd boy through his day’s work, Moser takes a fairly standard approach to illustrating this psalm, but instead of featuring a Sunday-school David in short bathrobe and sandals, Moser models his shepherd on a young Caribbean boy. Moser’s shepherd wears modern day clothes, squints into the sun, and tends his sheep gently as the text of the psalm follows him from scene to scene.

The Lord is my shepherd
I shall not want.

Putting these familiar words into a fresh setting made me listen closely as I read them to my daughters. It reminded me that the Lord is my shepherd, yes, but he is also their Shepherd. And your Shepherd. And the shepherd of the shepherds tending flocks near the equator. His gentle hand guides and comforts me in trial, but his reach extends even to islands in the Pacific, where the trees are laden not with prickly evergreen boughs but with slender palm leaves. His reach extends further even than that.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

The comfort of Psalm 23 runs deeper, then, when I realize that, though the flock of sheep he tends is vast, our Shepherd cares for us all. He knows not only my name, but yours too, and that of the boy Moser modeled his shepherd on.

That is, I think, why Moser’s Psalm 23 connected with me more deeply than any of the other versions I’ve read. His illustrations are light-filled and beautiful, and they present Psalm 23 as a psalm for all of us, no matter where we live or what we look like. He illuminates the goodness of our Shepherd through the picture of one faithful young boy.

Psalm 23, by Barry Moser | Little Book, Big Story

Psalm 23
Barry Moser (2008)

All The Colors of the Earth

With one brief exception, I have lived in this city since I was a toddler. I take my children to play in the same parks where I played as a child; we make our weekly excursion to the same children’s section of the same library I haunted as a girl (it hasn’t changed much since then). I went to college here, got married here, and can see one of my childhood homes from our front porch.

This is a beautiful city, but I have learned that there is a sort of culture shock for people moving here from elsewhere: The annual Naked Bike Race. The independent circus. The organized disorder of the Friday afternoon protests downtown. These can take some getting used to if you’re from a place where folks dress up from time to time and have a well-developed sense of propriety.

But when I ask new friends how they’re adjusting to life in this corner of the country, I almost invariably something about our near-complete lack of racial diversity. It’s very white here, one friend from the southeast said. And I suspect she was right, but I can’t really confirm it: this very white place seems normal to me, and that makes me nervous.

That means that I probably have a blind spot as a parent.

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

We want our children to pursue God’s call, no matter where he takes them. And if he calls them away from here, then they will (we hope) find themselves living among people who differ from them in many respects, including skin color. We don’t want that to seem strange to them as adults. We’d much rather they learn to value those differences now, when they’re forming their understanding of the world.

So when that particular blind spot began to take shape for me, I tackled it the same way I tackle almost any issue that comes my way: I made a plan and bought a pile of books. (Note: I am trying to revise this strategy. I’d like to tackle issues by first praying for wisdom—and then making a plan and purchasing a pile of books. But it’s a process.)

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

I suppose I should have said it earlier, but this post is really about two books: All the Colors of the Earth and the book that led me to it, Jamie C. Martin’s Give Your Child the WorldHer vision for giving her kids a global perspective helped clarify my desire to open our daughters’ eyes to the fact that people all over the world are beautifully different: not all adult men wear plaid and go on at great length about artisan beer. Not all cities have a population of folks who could easily have come from this video.

And not all children have fair skin made extra pale by the long gray winters spent indoors.

With that in mind, I bought my pile of books, and this one was at the very top. All the Colors of the Earth is a slender picture book that opens with the line, “Children come in all the colors of the earth.” Sheila Hamanaka goes on to describe the many varying shades of skin color in terms of nature:

“The roaring browns of bears and soaring eagles,
The whispering golds of late summer grasses,
And crackling russets of falling leaves . . .”

My girls loved this book. I loved it too, because it was a beautiful affirmation of God’s work in making each one of us different: rather than lumping us into groups without subtlety, Hamanaka treats skin color as a spectrum with gradients and variation. My daughters, by this book, are not “white” but “the tinkling pinks of tiny seashells by the rumbling sea.” And I hope that as they befriend children whose skin color varies from their own, they think not in terms of “black” or “brown,” but in words like “cinnamon,” “walnut,” and “wheat.”

All The Colors of the Earth, by Sheila Hamanaka | Little Book, Big Story

Sheila Hamanaka uses the choicest language (and the sweetest illustrations) to describe the children of the world, and in doing so, she affirms the beauty of each child as an image-bearer of God. This is a timely message and one that I’m delighted to pass on to our daughters.


All the Colors of the Earth
Sheila Hamanaka (1999)

Give Your Child the World
Jamie C. Martin (2016)

5 Poetry Books That Our Family Loves

I missed National Poetry Month by a solid month with this post, but you seem like a forgiving bunch, and one who doesn’t mind reading about poetry out of season, right? Of course, there is no “out of season” for poetry, really. It’s perfect for reading in the spring, when garden beds and sunsets seem to speak in verse, and for reading on sunny summer afternoons—preferably on a picnic blanket in a backyard, perhaps with chickens clucking nearby and bees weaving in and out of the flower stalks. Poetry is just right for fall, too, when the rain hits the windows with its own poetic rhythm, and for winter, when the warmth of fleece blankets and black tea are worth a stanza or two alone.

Over the years, our family has collected a number of poetry books, perfect for all seasons. We don’t read from them as often as any of us would like, but we have a few collections that get pulled off the shelf, passed around and read aloud more often than any of our other poetry books. Some are old—very old—and some are new. But all of them are lovely and worth sharing over lunchtime quesadillas or steaming cups of tea.

5 Poetry Books That Our Family Loves | Little Book, Big Story

A Child’s Garden Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

Andrew Pudewa once described this as “A Girl’s Garden of Verses,” but of course, that doesn’t trouble our family one bit. These poems have been among our most-read, much-beloved, highly-dogeared favorites for years. (Read the full review.)


A Child’s Calendar, by John Updike

A Child's Calendar, by John Updike | Little Book, Big Story

John Updike takes us through the months of the year with twelve lovely poems. Trina Schart Hyman’s illustrations put those poems in the context of one family that you can’t help loving by the end of the book.

A Child's Calendar, by John Updike | Little Book, Big Story

Anything by A. A. Milne

The Poetry of AA Milne | Little Book, Big Story

Just the rhythm of Milne’s poetry is addicting. He gives snippets of it in Winnie-the-Pooh, but his volumes of poetry are so much fun to read. We’re not always sure what happening, but we always love the language.


All the Small Poems and Fourteen More, by Valerie Worth

All the Small Poems, by Valerie Worth | Little Book, Big Story

These poems are lovely—beautiful and accessible and about the most ordinary things. (Read the full review.)


The Golded Treasury of PoetryEdited by Louis Untermeyer

The Golden Book of Poetry | Little Book, Big Story

I found this behemoth in an antique store and purchased it on a whim. When we did sit down with it, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it contained everything from silly rhymes to giant narrative poems of the old school. Our favorites have to do (rather predictably) with Robin Hood. We read them dramatically—with flair. Over and over again.

A Child’s Garden of Verses

I didn’t sit down and think, “A ha! I have it—the perfect edifying exercise!” It happened on its own one day at lunch, when I picked up A Child’s Garden of Verses and began reading poetry to the girls as they finished their quesadillas.

What happened next surprised me. They asked for another poem, and then another. And the next day at lunch, they wanted me to read to them again. And so it began: we assembled a small library of dinner-table books and began thumbing through one or two of them at each meal.

Mary Oliver. A. A. Milne. Billy Collins. Shel Silverstein. Valerie Worth. Some were written for adults, some for kids, but all of them are lovely, hilarious, sustaining poetry.

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

We don’t do this at every meal, or even every day, but when I do grab a book from the shelf, four little eyes light up as the girls wait to see which poem I’ll choose. And when it’s from A Child’s Garden of Verses, one of their very favorites, they often put their forks down and listen closely.

Robert Louis Stevenson’s poems have a peace to them and feel for all the world as though you’re sprawled in the grass of a Scottish lawn as you listen. He had a sharp memory for the joys of childhood and a knack for choosing the perfect words to describe it. Poems like “Keepsake Mill” move me, while the girls can’t get enough of “The Cow,” “The Lamplighter,” or “My Bed is Like a Boat.” I mean, the man wrote half a dozen poems about bedtime, and every one of them is enchanting!

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

The only thing that could improve it, really, are Joanna Isles’s illustrations. Detailed and gorgeous, they show children doing what children do best: playing, inventing, imagining, creating little worlds within their games.

There are a number of editions of this book available, all with different illustrators, but we are all so smitten with Isles’s interpretations that I firmly encourage you, if possible, to track down her edition. We found our copy at Goodwill, and my oldest daughter spent the next day tracking a small orange cat through every single picture in the book. That’s still a great game for us, one that my youngest now loves as well: “Where is the cat in this poem? Can you find him?”

A Child's Garden of Verses | Little Book, Big Story

A Child’s Garden of Verses is classic children’s poetry at its best, a charming book that would fit right into any library. (Plus, it’s perfect for reading together over peanut-butter sandwiches.)


A Child’s Garden of Verses
Robert Louis Stevenson, Joanna Isles (1885, repub. 1995)


This week’s summer rerun originally published on April 26, 2013 (my 30th birthday!).

First Coming

First Coming

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the maker of the Stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane,
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Merry Christmas!