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Book Review: Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm illustrated by Johannah Bluedorn Stanford

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Bless the Lord, O my soul:

and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
– Psalm 103:1, KJV

So opens Bless the Lord: The 103rd Psalm. Drawn word for word from the King James Version of the Bible, Johannah Bluedorn Stanford has called upon her considerable illustrative talent to produce 30 rich, full-page ink and watercolour paintings to accompany the 22 verses of David’s psalm of praise in this picture book.

Filled with delicate detail, the illustrations evoke fond pastoral imaginings of simpler times. Each image of gardens, dry goods stores, livestock, home life and celebration, incorporate the glory and wonder of God’s creation. Each page contains visual symbolism that reflects the word of God that it accompanies.

Rather than relying upon a literalistic visual depiction of the verses, the text is intertwined with depictions of the daily life of a halcyon by-gone age. For example, Psalm 103:4, “Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies,” is graced with two young children at playful rest in a pasture with their cattle. The children are making daisy chains to place upon the head of their beloved Jerseys, crowning them in an act of affection.

The scriptural tie-ins are therefore subtle in many cases, but will still serve as effective mnemonic aids for memorization as the book is reread. While providing visual associations for each verse, Bless the Lord is an exquisite work of art in its own right. The rich details and light-filled scenes invite readers young and old to linger over each page, basking in the joy evident therein.

Stanford’s illustrations also serve as visual inspiration for artists-in-training. In the course of making day-trips with our copy, I’ve had self-trained artists who work in other illustrative styles seize the book and pour over it, “Wow, she’s good – who did the illustrations?” Homeschooled by her parents Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn, Stanford is a self-taught artist who has attained a sense of proportion and form that is increasingly absent in the field of children’s literature.

Harvey Bluedorn’s passion for psalmody is made event by the inclusion of sheet music he composed to set Psalm 103 in simple song. This span of four pages is far from bereft of Stanford’s touch; her background washes and decorative accents mark the sheet music as the loveliest I’ve seen. Clearly a multi-purpose title, Bless the Lord proves a useful aid for memorization and deeper delving into scripture while inviting readers to dive into the illustrations and relish the simple delights to be found there.

Each of Stanford’s titles are handsomely bound as hardcovers, charmingly illustrated and focused upon carefully chosen content. After reading my first introduction to her work — My Mommy My Teacher — I have been slowly gathering a full collection of her titles. No Christian family seeking to engender a sense of grace, tender beauty, and deep respect for God and His works in their children should pass her work by.

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