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Book Review: Big Thoughts for Little People: ABC’s To Help You Grow by Kenneth N. Taylor, Illustrated by Andrea Petrlik Huseinovic

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Kenneth Taylor – well known as the author of The Living Bible, and founder of Tyndale House publishers – was a man dedicated to conveying the Christian message to children (he had 10 himself) in simple, understandable truths. Big Thoughts for Little People, a much-loved, best-selling picture book has now received fresh new illustrations while maintaining Taylor’s text from the original edition.

Many readers my age may be familiar with the original version of this classic title, which was wildly popular during the ‘80s, and be looking forward with nostalgic fondness to sharing this new release with their own children. I however, missed out on the first edition as a child, so it was with fresh eyes that my daughters and I dug into it together. My first impression was that this vibrantly illustrated hardcover filled with bright, action-filled paintings of children with simple text and discussion questions might appeal to my three-year-old, I was wrong. Every time I open its pages I’m surrounded by a flock of eager faces – 6, 3, and 1, as all of my children adore this newly revised classic.

Arranged around the letters of the alphabet, each letter features a lesson relating to Christian character and moral development. A is for Asking, B is for Behave, C is for Crying and so on. Introduced by a four lines of rhyming verse:

D is for doing
What needs to be done.
So please do it cheerfully.
Then you’ll have fun.

At this points all parents are saying, “Huzzah!” Who can argue with reading this to their children? But, how do the children react? I was afraid that the simple, direct, and pull-no punches moral teachings might be considered boring for my little ones, but if we take it one letter at a time and allow the lessons to sink in, they eat it right up.

A paragraph discussing the concept and relating it to the accompanying illustration follows the rhyme. Three brief, age-appropriate questions are then asked. At times these questions encourage children to examine and interact with the artwork (“What are some good things the children are doing? Tell about each one.”). At other times the questions encourage the child to engage in personal reflection and encourage brainstorming ways to do better (“What kind of thing could you do to help someone?”). Each letter closes with a scripture verse from Taylor’s own The Living Bible.

At times my three-year-old needs some guidance through the more contemplative questions, my six-year-old dives right in (they actually can’t wait for their turn to tackle each question), and my one-year-old slaps at the bright illustrations and tries to turn pages (I have the page tears to prove it). Who would have guessed? My children have been captivated by this seemingly simple formula that repeats throughout the book.

Does it work? If taken a letter at a time and reinforced by the parent, I’m going to say yes! After reading, “C is for Crying”, in which Taylor explains that crying isn’t really necessary unless an injury has been sustained, I started asking my three-year-old if she’d been hurt when she was sniffling to herself. Sometimes she said yes, I kissed her better, and she went on with her day happily. Other times she didn’t say anything, thought about it, and stopped crying. Wow.

Andrea Petrlik Huseinovic new illustrations for the classic text certainly provide much of the appeal found within the pages of Big Thoughts. Her use of thickly layered bright paints, and ‘toothy’ paper lend her bold palette a highly developed sense of texture and motion. Busy paintings filled with a plethora of active children, activities and objects that start with the target letter, and hidden ladybugs to count give equally busy eyes something to keep them busy while little minds absorb the lesson embedded in the text.

Big Thoughts for Little People can easily serve as a comprehensive, back-to-basics course in proper behaviour for preschoolers, and a launching pad into further discussions with any early-primary students who may want to listen in and chime in when it’s time to answer the questions. Ken Taylor went home in 2005, years after the first edition of this enduring title was published. One of his life’s goals was to reach children with the knowledge of God and instruct them in Christian living. It’s clear that his vision is an enduring one which will continue to reach many children for years to come.

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About Jennifer Bogart