A couple years ago, I read an op-ed in the paper where the author bemoaned how toy manufacturers always marketed their products as “educational.” Nowadays, it seems as if every dolly and digger needs some sort of salubrious rationale before a kid can play with it. What’s the problem with simply having fun? the author wondered. I share his concern, particularly when it comes to children’s publishing. When browsing for something to read to my kids, I have a hard finding much of anything that doesn’t bow to the educational impulse. There’s nothing wrong with learning, but I want them to enjoy the written word in and of itself. Of course, if every educational children’s book was as well presented as Nicole Lataif’s Forever You: A Book About Your Soul and Body, I don’t think I’d mind them one bit .
Forever You states its thesis (if one can use that term) right upfront:
Zebras have stripes.
Bunnies hop by.
Leopards have spots.
You have a soul.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It is—and it isn’t. What Lataif has done is create a primer for very young readers about Christian dualism. She starts off with our eternal existence (“Your soul is your spirit. / It’s the life in you that eyes can’t see. / Your soul will always be”). Then she discusses how the soul shines through in our talents and passions, our intellect and affections, and how it also animates our physical selves (“Your soul gives life to your body. / Use your legs to climb a tree. / Use your hands to bang the drums. / Use your arms to swing a bat”). Additionally, Forever You isn’t shy about addressing some pretty weighty theological topics. Your kids probably don’t know about dichotomism versus trichotomism, Gnosticism, soul creationism, glorification, and the resurrection of the dead, and even if though those strange words make them scrunch up their faces, by book’s end they’ll have an orthodox Christian understanding of all of them.
But you know what? Aside from all of that, Forever You is fun. Illustrator Mary Rojas alternates bright primaries with soft pastels as she portrays children doing things that kids do best. Playing with bunnies. Shaking tambourines. Building sandcastles. Spooning up ice cream. They’re a joy to look at, and you’ll probably recognize your own little ones in some of the drawings. Forever You never forgets the fundamental rule of writing for children: You have to delight as well as instruct.
(Picture: Copyright 2012 by Nicole Lataif; used under Fair Use)