Grumpy Day is a picture book from Matthias Media which I agreed to review as part of their Free-For-Bloggers promo. It begins ‘It wasn’t a very happy day for anyone’ and we’re introduced to three kids: Ben who can’t get his blocks to stack; Emily who can’t get her toys to sit straight on her train (no gender stereotyping in this story!); and Luke who can’t kick his ball outside because it’s raining. Ben and Emily’s problems are easily solved by Mum and then the focus turns to Luke. It’s really his story. The main lesson Luke learns is that God is in charge of the world, not him. So God decides when it rains, not Luke. He learns that that’s because of God’s wisdom. Mum tells him: “God knows best.” But that actually provides the opportunity for Mum to teach Luke about relationship with God as well. Luke’s second lesson is that he can tell God that he’s grumpy because it’s raining and ask God to change it. Thirdly, he learns that the way God runs the world is good: he might not like the rain because it stops him playing outside, but he does like Mr Lee’s oranges that the rain helps to grow and the story ends with him eating one.
Mum is the vehicle for these lessons as she sits with Luke, explains to him why God won’t make the rain stop, and prays with him about that. Her explanations are clear and easy to understand but they’re by far the most text-heavy pages in the book. There’s nothing subtle about these parts: they’re explicitly theological. I think I felt that the story lost some of its artistry at this point as the theology overwhelmed the narrative.
The strength of that is that it’s a model to parents about how to have a conversation about God with their kids. In Notes for parents on the title page, the authors identify this as one of their hopes for this story, that it “will give you an idea of how easily and naturally you can talk about God with your children throughout the day.” In the same Note they give a number of excellent suggestions about how to do that: read these ideas in the Bible; talk like Mum does in the book; pray like Mum does in the book; draw pictures about things God is in charge of, etc.
Indeed, this book does seem aimed more at parents than kids. In addition to the Note, I think this is revealed by the didactic voice, that is, by the choice of Mum as teacher in this story. A third person narrator could well make the same observations as Mum; or Luke could meet Mr Lee who could tell him that he’s pleased to see it raining because it will help his oranges to grow. These options would be less of an intrusion on the flow of the narrative while still effectively teaching the same point to the child. However, they would not model to parents how to have the conversation.
If you’re a parent whose looking for ideas about how to talk to your kids about God in the every day, this is a great place to start.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.