by Catherine Mackenzie
illustrated by Rita Ammassari
24 pages / 2013
This book prompted me to ask, what is it that qualifies a book as being "really good"? Both my wife and I were struck by this children's biography of C.S. "Jack" Lewis, and yet in talking about it, we agreed on the book's notable shortcomings - the story just doesn't flow like it should.
So why did we also like it so? Because, in telling us about C.S. Lewis's life in a way that children can understand, the book introducing children in an age-appropriate manner to topics like the death of pets and of loved ones, doubting and denying God, unanswered prayers, and returning to God. There's more to the book - there is a page or two on how Narnia came to be, of course - but it is the "adult" topics presented in a real, but not forceful way, that makes this book something special.
The structure of the book is that each two-page spread is, effectively, its own short chapter. There are not actual chapters in the book, but every left hand page tells its own self-contained little story of Lewis's life, with the righthand presenting a corresponding full-page picture. This works for the most part, but there are a couple of times where the transition from the previous spread to the next is too ragged and jumpy with no clear transition marking what might be a leap of 5 or 10 years that took place in the page turn.
But if that's the book's flaw, the strength is in the depiction of Jack's fight, and submission to God. So, when his mother dies when Jack is still a boy, we see him ask "Why didn't God answer my prayers and make her better?" Then, as he goes off to war, we hear him say to himself, "God does not exist." But then, gradually (well, not that gradual - this is only a 24 page book), we also see God at work, pursuing and changing Jack, until finally he says, "I've spent years running away from God. I didn't realize that all that time God was really chasing after me." And after Jack gives in, we hear of his joy, but even here this little book doesn't gloss over the difficulty that Christians can face – when Jack's wife Joy dies, we hear him say, "Grief feels like fear."
This was a wonderful tool to talk with my daughters about topics that are important, but aren't covered in most other children's books. And it is done in such a careful and age-appropriate manner. So this gets two thumbs up from both my wife and I. And our kids enjoyed it too, even if not to the same degree as their parents.
You can pick up a copy at Amazon.com here and Amazon.ca here.