Friday, January 19, 2018

Encounters with Whales

At present, I’m writing a children’s curriculum for my church that connects to The Revised Common Lectionary. This week one of those scriptures is a portion of the story of Jonah. Jonah’s story is one of my favorites in the Bible so I thought I’d feature a couple of beautiful books, one secular and one sacred, that could be used in a lesson about Jonah. Enjoy!
Picture Book: The Boy and the Whale
Author & Illustrator: Mordecai Gerstein
Summary: In this powerful story, a boy and his father discover that a whale is caught in one of their nets.  
The father is concerned about his net which he cannot afford to replace; the boy is focused on the whale. 
They dive into the sea, assuming the whale is dead, 
and the boy remembers being caught in a net as a younger child. 
Then a surprise 
 and a rush for air!
Papa leaves, hoping to beg a relative for another net. Although the boy is forbidden to do so, he drives the boat out to the whale because he remembers how terrified he was to be caught in a net and how he needed his father to rescue him.
As the net is cut, the boy hopes the whale will wiggle to freedom, realizing how dangerous the situation is. 
He talks to the whale and apologizes for the net, explaining that fishing is "how we live." 
Looking again in the whale's enormous eyes, the boy begs the whale not to die. 
 The nets begin slipping away 
so the boy pulls the nets into the boat. 
Suddenly, the whale dives. As the boy stands, hoping to see the whale one last time... 
it springs out the sea, spinning and crashing again and again. The boy wonders if it is a dance of freedom or a dance of gratitude. 
When the boy returns to shore he realizes his father has been watching. After the boy admits to disobeying his father, his father simply says that what he did was foolish but brave. Then they go to repair an uncle's net.
Hanna’s Comments: One of the amazing aspects of Picture Book Theology is how children will be able to connect two very different stories. They've been taught to do this at school and may be more skilled at this than adults. The Jonah story could be presented via a children's Bible reading (it's a whole chapter in the Bible), another picture book like the one below, or by simply telling the story. Encourage them to find similarities and differences between these stories. They'll leave the lesson with a better understanding of Jonah in the Bible, and they'll have another great story in their experience. 
Original Publisher & Date: Roaring Brook Press, 2017
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Scripture Connections: The Book of Jonah; Courage/God with us (Joshua 1:9, Isaiah 41:10, Philippians 4:13, 2 Timothy 1:7); Breath (Psalm 150:6, John 20:22); Defiance as a sacred practice (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 2:23-28); Justice for the Captive (Luke 4:18, John 8:32, Galatians 5:1,13); 

Idea(s) for Application: Read this book to a group of adults and ask them to consider how defiance can be a spiritual practice and how Jesus models such action for us in the gospels. 

Picture Book: Jonah’s Whale
Author: Eileen Spinelli
Illustrator: Giuliano Ferri
Summary: This is the traditional story of Jonah told beautifully through the point of view of the whale. It begins simply: "God made Whale. God gave Whale a home in the blue-deep waters of the sea."
It focuses on the job God gave Whale and Whale's faithful response. But first, the whale is lonely so God gives Whale a family. Whale is hungry so God gives Whale "silvery sea-clouds of fish." 
God also gives Whale a "joyful song to sing" 
and the ability to move so that Whale can disrupt fishermen's lunches. 
And God gave Whale beauty.  
One evening a storm comes, and Whale spies a boat that is about to be torn apart by the waves. 
Whale hears a man confessing to his shipmates, saying that he is the reason for the storm. 
When the man jumps into the sea, God tells Whale to save the man so Whale does so in the way only Whale can. 
The man lands inside Whale, who burps and thinks, "Now what?" 
The first day, Whale does only gentle swimming for the sake of the man while the man prays in Whale's belly. Whale waits for God's instruction.
The second day, Whale becomes queezy and worries he might throw up. No instruction comes.   
By the third day, Whale becomes discouraged and knows the man must be discouraged too. Whale begins singing the song God has given him, hoping it will lighten the heart of the man. 
Eventually, "a whisper in the music" comes. God tells Whale to spit the man onto dry land. Whale does just that and then swims out to sea. 
Whale never forgets the man. Whenever he sees other boats in distress, he stays close and waits for requests from God. The man never forgets Whale either. Later, he walks beside the ocean and listens for Whale's comforting song.  
Hanna’s Comments: I hope you can see why I chose this book for my preschool lesson. It is beautiful and poignant. There are many picture books about Jonah ranging from board books for toddlers to this more complex tale. Choose wisely with the age and attention spans of your audience in mind. Also, notice where the story ends. In my opinion, the last part of Jonah's tale, the part where he is sitting outside of Nineveh feeling sorry for himself, is important. However, you'll see it left out of most picture books about Jonah. 
Original Publisher & Date: Erdman’s, 2012
Age & Grade Appropriateness: 4 and up, Pre and up
Formats other than Book: Tablet
Idea(s) for Application: Read this book about Jonah to a group of elementary children and challenge them to consider how they are like Whale and like Jonah.

Yesterday I received a gift from a reader. I was so grateful! It reminded me that it's been a while since I mentioned my PayPal Donate button in the upper right of this website. I do this work for you for free. I love it, but it takes a lot of investment of my time, energy, and money. Please consider showing me your gratitude with a donation so that I am encouraged to keep telling you about great picture books for your family, ministry, or classroom. Thanks! Hanna

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