Firstly, wow. Email me, I said. I don’t know what I expected after that last post—a high five gif from a friend maybe, and one or two emails saying, “Yes, we’ve been here this whole time”? I did not expect a swell of emails, all of them thoughtful and kind and so sweetly specific. You gave me glimpses into your lives and let me see how God has used all these good books in them and, honestly, you just kind of blew my mind.
Because this is what this blog looks like from my end: I sit here at our kitchen table at 5:47 a.m. and I write these posts and then they kind of disappear. I mean, I know they’re there—but does anybody else? Your emails told me most emphatically that yes, you know they’re there. I felt like I put a seed in the dirt and went back inside, thinking, Well, I hope that works out, and God just brought me back outside and showed me a dazzling patch of sunflowers. It was moving. You guys: I needed tissues.
And now, enough about me. Let’s talk about Ned.
Ten years ago, I discovered Church History ABCs. I bought it on a whim—no one had recommended it to me; I’d never seen it reviewed. I just happened across it on Amazon and thought, That looks awesome. And while I loved everything about that book—the historical depth, the wordplay, the way it made my daughters belly-laugh—the illustrations were what really stuck with me. They were arrestingly different from the cartoons or soft watercolors I’d encountered in other Christian picture books. There was nothing soft about them: they were all crisp edges, bright colors, clean lines. They were playful and witty and I remember thinking as I studied them, Christian art can look like this? I made note of Ned Bustard then and have devotedly followed his work ever since.*
You may recognize his art from the Every Moment Holy books, or maybe you (lucky you!) have one of his linocuts hanging in your home. Maybe you know him from the Rabbit Room or The O in Hope or you own an album or two with his work on the cover. (If his name is new to you, seek him out. You won’t regret it.) But for me, it all goes back to that book—the one I wanted to share with all my friends so badly that I started a blog to get the word out.
And so it feels fitting to celebrate this blog’s tenth anniversary with Ned Bustard’s newest book, Saint Patrick the Forgiver.
Like Saint Nicholas the Giftgiver, this book introduces readers to the saint behind a holiday and tells that saint’s full story (the facts and the legends, too). This book is short and a lot of fun to read aloud, but don’t let that fool you: it deals in some deep themes. The first half of the book, for example, is a complete story: Patrick is kidnapped by pirates, saved by God, and then restored to his family (huzzah!). God could have stopped there and still given us a satisfying story about how he works out his good plan even on pirate ships or in muddy pastures. But no! The story doesn’t end there, so Bustard’s telling doesn’t either. Patrick says,
And to this day I’d still be home,
but for another vision . . .
This story isn’t simply about God’s provision during difficulty (though that’s certainly in there), but about God’s call upon Patrick to forgive his captors and return to the very place he’d just escaped. So Patrick returns to Ireland and ministers to the people there. But Bustard makes it clear that this is not the product of Patrick’s general awesomeness and budding saintliness—it is the fruit of God’s work in Patrick:
They stole me from my parents!
How could that be forgiven?
The only way I could return
was by the strength of heaven.
Bustard places God at the center of this story, just as he does in Saint Nicholas. Patrick’s faithfulness is wonderful and inspiring, but as he narrates his story, Patrick makes it clear again and again that it was God’s work in him that enabled him to return to Ireland. And so, when we reach the stories of miracles and legends, we know that this was a man acting in obedience to God and serving by God’s strength alone.
And then there are those illustrations: I suspect that there is a whole visual language at work in Bustard’s illustrations—every detail seems to carry some added meaning, from the Celtic knots to the animals to the composition of each page. The art combines with the story to give us a full, exciting picture of Patrick’s life, but I suspect that the illustrations, if you were to dig deeper into them, tell a whole story unto themselves.
In short, Saint Patrick the Forgiver is exactly the sort of book that got me writing book reviews in the first place: one excellent in every aspect, that points readers from a good story to the Greatest Story, and that reminds readers that God is at work always, in every time and place.
*Very closely, in fact, as I now work for him through Square Halo Books (huzzah!).
Saint Patrick the Forgiver
Ned Bustard (2023)
Disclosure: I did receive a copy of this book for review, but I was not obligated to review it 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.