By Elisabeth Zartl. Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. 24 pages. $12/hardcover. Recommended for ages 4–8.
Since the original title of this lively picture book was Wo versteckst du dich, lieber Gott?, my first thought was to consult my German friend, who is a Lutheran. The English translation on the cover is “Where are you hiding, God?,” which my friend gently amended to “Where are you hiding, dear God?” “Much more friendly,” he explained. I’m still puzzled: why had the translator (who isn’t credited in the book) omitted the lovely word “lieber,” translated as “dear” or “beloved”? I am left wondering what else was lost in translation.
As I type this review, I notice that the book is open to one of my favorite pages. The little girl who has been searching for God is sitting on a tree branch, accompanied by butterflies, a bird, a small fox, a tiny rabbit, and surrounded by flowers. On the previous page, she sat under a tree “wishing I could see God. Then the wind blows a leaf down onto me.” The leaf has inspired her epiphany, the moment of revelation. “There you are! I’ve found you!” she says. “You are the leaf touching me. You are in the wind that sent the leaf down onto me.”
The first half of the book depicts the playing child seeking God in her bedroom “between my pants and socks?,” in her bathroom “under the washcloth and my little my rubber duck,” and in her garden “next to the flowers and the dragonflies.” It is only when she stops seeking so fervently that she becomes available for the silent message as the leaf blows onto her. Then she returns to the garden, the bathroom, the bedroom, understanding that God is everywhere. Finally, she realizes “You are here, and you are always inside me.” As the reading children see these words, they also see a picture of themselves, for the last page is dominated by a silver reflective mirror: “You are here and you are always inside me, too.”
Reviewing this book has taught me much, including a new word, pantheism: that everything is in God and God is in everything. For this I am indebted to the review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat that accompanies the 2017 Spirituality and Practice Award given to this book.
The message is clear and beautiful in both content and language. The book is visually beautiful too, glowing with color on every page. Every picture is full of interesting detail—to attract lively lookers who may not yet be readers—showing insects; birds; and other animals, including a naughty, amusing, companionable cat. It’s essential to ask whether this is a good book, or only a good book. I think it’s both.