Skylar Burris's Reviews > God's Paintbrush

God's Paintbrush by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso
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Jun 18, 2008

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bookshelves: childrens
Read in June, 2008

This book, which aims to help children think about God in terms of the world they see, was written by the second woman to be ordained as a rabbi. It is non-sectarian and can probably be comfortably read by any monotheistic family. There are questions at the end of each page that prompt children to think about their feelings and about God. This was the commentary my daughter offered between gymnastic tricks on the couch:

Me (reading): How can you be God's Friend?
Daughter: I already am.

Me (reading): How can your hands help God's hands?
Daughter: Picking stuff up.

Me (reading): Can you dance God's dance?
Daughter: I don't know. What is God's dance? (Good question.)

Me (reading): Sometimes I think God is just like my Mom when she helps me look –
Daughter: Why is she calling God a she?
Me: She's not calling God a she; she's comparing God to her mom and her mom is the she in that sentence. (At this point, however, I am reminded that I rolled my eyes when I saw the back cover blurb boast of the book's "non-sexist" language. I tend to think women have enough real sufferings to worry about that they don't need to expend their energy fighting semantics and making language more cumbersome. When I read that blurb, I admit I was afraid the book would insist on calling God a "she," which might make it unreadable for me because, really, that kind of political obsession with language kills my spiritual buzz. Fortunately, she opted instead simply for avoiding pronouns for God altogether, which sometimes meant repeating the word God up to three times in a single sentence. It's awkward, but at least it won't shatter any young girl's self-esteem and leave her with the impression that she can never be God just because she's a girl.)

Me (reading): I wonder if God has eyes.
Daughter (emphatically): He does.

Me (reading): And I can paint with God's paintbrush.
Daughter: God doesn't have a paintbrush. Can we read something else?

I can see the potential in this book to get children to explore their questions about God...but children are going to pose their own questions to their parents anyway: they don't really need a script that might not fit them. I can also see a sort of warm non-discriptness in the book's spirituality, which I think frankly bored my daughter. When it comes to religious stories, there's pretty much just four she really wants: the one where Solomon threatens to cut the baby in half, the one where Jonah gets swallowed by a whale, the one where David kills Goliath, and the one where Christ is crucified and rises from the dead. But we have to protect our children from dark complexity these days.

The book also focuses an awful lot on personal feelings. This seems to be a very popular approach to take with children these days in literature and television shows and in school, but I find that all this persistent encouragement to focus on her feelings has the detrimental effect of making my daughter more self-absorbed and less sensitive to the needs of others. I find I am constantly having to remind her that our actions towards others matter more than our personal feelings, because all this talk therapy has given her the impression that if she has negative feelings about something, that's more important than whether or not it's the right thing to do.

I understand what this book is trying to achieve, and I bet it works well for many kids. The illustrations are colorful and soothing, and the basic concept is good, but I just don't think it's going to work for the personality of my particular daughter. It may be more appropriate when she is a bit older and is struggling more with questions about God, and I will try it again then.
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message 1: by booklady (last edited Jun 29, 2008 06:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

booklady Your daughter sounds like mine at that age! ☺ I never tried this book on them when they were young--only acquiring it later when they were older.

I liked it because it was useful to draw out reticent school-age children from broken homes who were unfamiliar -- and often uncomfortable -- talking about themselves in front of others. Also, many of my students were almost totally unfamiliar with the concept of God; it was a good introduction.

You are right, however, about children like your daughter who come from stable, two parent homes where love is assumed and only manners need a little polish. In that case, this book could be superfluous.

PS I really get a kick out of the conversations you include in your reviews! Thank you for them! God bless!

Skylar Burris Thanks, Booklady. Do you teach at a private school? I am wondering if you would be permitted to read children generic books about God like this in a public school setting.

booklady No I taught religious education at my church. It was for those children who were undergoing instruction to be baptized Catholics and/or receive Confirmation. The program fell under the adult Rite of Catechetical Initiation for Adults (RCIA) which our deacon taught. Many of those entering/returning to the church had children and grandchildren who also needed instruction. The levels of knowledge/familiarity about God varied so widely; this was a good book to find out where everyone was, break the ice, etc.

Skylar Burris Ah, that makes sense.

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