Illustration here and below from Hannah and Sugar by Kate Berube
Taking a break from the PBT series on theological questions for young children, I’m offering a couple of picture books about bravery, one for young children and one for older children. Both have young girls as protagonists which is becoming more common in children’s literature.
The Holy Scriptures have loads of examples of humans being brave in difficult circumstances, but they are usually male and adult. Pairing one of these Bible stories with one of these two books invites all to hear stories of bravery that they can relate to with real possibilities.
Illustration from Brave Irene by William Steig
My favorite Bible verse about bravery is not a story. It’s Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. I know this verse by heart because of a wonderful VBS (Vacation Bible School) song I taught when my children were little. Also, it has offered me comfort in times of fear, and I hope it will offer my children the same since they know the verse thanks to the song. The first book I offer is for young children.
Each time she gets off the school bus and greets her Papa, Hannah is asked if she wants to pet Sugar, a peer’s dog, and each time she says, “No, thank you.”
When Sugar goes missing, the other children are very upset. Hannah promises to help look for the dog although she doesn’t. What she does do is empathize with Sugar.
Hannah imagines how scary and sad it would be if she was lost and hungry. That night, when Sugar has still not been found, Hannah hears a whimpering from outside her house.
She finds Sugar, whose leash is tangled in some bushes. The next sentence is crucial for a PBT lesson. “Hannah closed her eyes and took a deep breath.” She reaches for Sugar with trembling hands. Sugar rubs her hand, glad to have been found. All are relieved and Hannah’s father is proud of her.
As the book ends, Hannah is not only petting, but lovingly hugging Sugar at the school bus stop. Hannah has been transformed!
In a PBT lesson, you could focus on several aspects of this book. Hannah’s empathy, a foundational biblical instruction, sensitizes her to hear Sugar’s whimpering. After closing her eyes (prayer) and taking a deep breath (Holy Spirit as strengthening breath), Hannah has the courage she needs to reach out to Sugar. Hannah’s father’s pride could allude to God’s pride when we do the hard tasks and rely on God for strength.
Lastly, Hannah is transformed; her life is more abundant because of her new relationship with Sugar.
Picture Book: Hannah and Sugar
Author & Illustrator: Kate Berube
Original Publisher & Date: Abrams Books, 2016
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 5 and up, K and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
The next book is an old-fashioned story from a classic children’s author. Here’s a list of others of his books I’ve featured here at PBT:
Pete’s a Pizza – 3/1/15
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble – 6/12/14
Amos & Boris – 12/29/14
Irene’s mother is a dressmaker who is finishing a gown for the Duchess to wear to the ball, but the dressmaker is feeling ill. The ball is tonight! Irene offers to take the gown despite the snow and distance. Her mother is reluctant to allow it, but Irene is determined. She places the gown in a big box and wraps herself up in lots of warm clothes.
The snow is deep and the wind is cold and fierce so that the box is very awkward to hold. Eventually the gown is blown out of the box and disappears.
Irene continues, but she’s distraught. She twists her ankle and falls into deep snow. Nevertheless, she perseveres and still holds on to the box so that she can explain to the duchess.
Irene ingeniously uses the box as a sled to carry her that last leg of the trip to the Duchess’ door. There, pressed against a nearby tree, she finds the gown, places it in the box, and rings the doorbell.
Irene is greeted with cheering and joyful admiration. She’s invited to spend the night and attend the ball where the Duchess looks beautiful and Irene gets to dance with men who hold her so that her feet float above the floor.
The next morning, Irene is returned to her mother along with a doctor who brings treats from the Duchess including a note declaring that Irene is a brave and loving person. Her mother knows this is true and is so proud of Irene for her courage and devotion.
Although this is a more complex story than Hannah & Sugar, it’s theme is the same: bravery born out of loyalty and love for others, a theme that could be easily connected to many stories of courage found in our Holy Scriptures.
Picture Book: Brave Irene
Author & Illustrator: William Steig
Original Publisher & Date: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet