Sparrow’s Prayer AND When I Talk to God, I Talk About You

By Roger Hutchison, illustrated by Ag Jatkowska. Beaming Books, 2023. 32 pages. $17.99/hardcover; $16.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 4–8.

By Chrissy Metz and Bradley Collins, illustrated by Lisa Fields. Flamingo Books, 2023. 32 pages. $18.99/hardcover; $10.99/eBook. Recommended for ages 4–8.

These two books address spirituality for the young; they have basic similarities yet nuanced differences. Sparrow’s Prayer seems to this reader to admit a bit more existential anxiety into the spiritual practice of praying for support and growth. The first two pages of the book are bright with vivid colors of Sparrow’s day and daily prayer practice. But when the reader turns to the next spread, the sky is grayer, and the color of the trees, grass, and flowers is dimmer. Also our sparrow’s formerly upswept wings now tentatively approach his beak, as if to question why a song is not streaming out in full, confident breaths to praise his world.

Next, Sparrow has left his branch and is on the wing, spying Turtle below who asks, “How are you this fine day?” “Not great” Sparrow replies, “. . . today I can’t find my words.” And yet Sparrow’s next words, “Can you help?” show hope and enterprise. Turtle responds, “Hmmmm. I don’t pray with words. I pray by sharing.” Turns out Turtle wants to bake a pie for Fox but can’t reach all of the berries. Sparrow’s wings are now definitely up and beating as he helps collect the higher berries. The finished pie is delivered on Turtle’s back to a smiling Fox. Next Sparrow meets Mousie, who doesn’t pray with words but with colors. In one day, Sparrow’s spiritual journey opens his mind to some very different ways to pray: sharing and painting. Read this book to see just how wide Sparrow will spread his wings from a nest where his praying was all about words.

In contrast to Sparrow’s Prayer, which emphasizes the spiritual quest of a lone and lonely main character, the charismatic, spunky, and adventurous When I Talk to God, I Talk About You focuses on the parent–child relationship via a bevy of different species—including bear, fox, turtle, deer, and owl—and on encouraging a regular dialogue with God. The entire book is in the parent’s (or caregiver’s) voice, first explaining how they talk to God and feel grateful for their kind, caring, brave, and amazing child; then the focus shifts to address the child: “But did you know that YOU can talk to God, too? Your prayers are heard day and night. God’s by your side, a warm, safe light.” All of the text follows this rhyming couplet pattern, which children can quickly pick up on and actively participate in subsequent readings of the book.

Coauthor Chrissy Metz is perhaps best known as an acclaimed actress and singer; she starred in the long-running NBC drama series This Is Us, and for her first book project, she lends her voice to a supplemental Christian lullaby album titled Prayed for This Day that readers can access by following a QR code to a YouTube playlist of 11 songs inspired by the book. (Coauthor and former music executive Bradley Collins was a producer on the album.) Both Metz and Collins say that prayer is an important part of their lives, and that they wrote this book to help bolster children’s self-esteem and confidence.

As for the recommended ages for these two books, the publishers both say four through eight years old, but I’ll offer the following observations to help caregivers decide. Sparrow seems more grown-up. The circlet of leaves he nests in seems more like a single bedroom, with no parents in sight. Sparrow seems ready for doubt, for search, for uncertainty; whereas his forest mates in the other book seem of an age to seek all goodness comfortably in the reassuring touch of a warm, parental nuzzling nose. Both books do a very serviceable job of reaching through words and pictures, color, sound, and form to any audience ready to hazard smaller or larger steps toward loving, sharing, and praying.

James Foritano attends Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting.

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