From the Magazine: The Message of Mercy in Children’s Books

This list can be found in Issue 3 of the magazine. It comes from the […]

Mockingbird / 1.7.15

This list can be found in Issue 3 of the magazine. It comes from the inimitable Rev. Matt Schneider.


I’m picky about children’s books. There’s a lot of pablum out there, but once in a while my wife and I will find a surprisingly good book for our daughters. The standouts usually have an intangible quality to them, often corresponding with paradoxical acts of mercy between one character and another (and the positive effects). This is an incomplete list of some favorite books that you might consider picking up for your child, niece, godson, grandchild, or maybe even for yourself.

The Pout-Pout Fish story by Deborah Diesen, pictures by Dan Hanna

The Pout-Pout Fish is the clearest example of the type of book I’m describing. It’s the story of sad Mr. Fish, and all the other fish of the sea, who give him platitudes, telling him to cheer up. Each time he responds: “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face. So I spread my dreary-wearies all over the place.” Just when it seems Mr. Fish is beyond repair, a silver fish comes to him and instead of unhelpful advice gives him a kiss. Mr. Fish’s disposition reverses as a result, and he sings: “I should have known it all along. I thought I was a pouty, but it turns out I was wrong. I’m a kiss-kiss fish with a kiss-kiss face. For spreading cheery-cheeries all over the place.” Mr. Fish finds joy and hope after this kiss, and he even becomes capable of loving others.

ishish story and pictures by Peter H. Reynolds

ish is a very sweet book that contrasts the fallout of judgment versus the life-giving effects of loving gestures. The story is about Ramon, who loves to draw: “Anytime. Anything. Anywhere.” That is until his older brother laughs at one of Ramon’s drawings. The laughter haunts Ramon, who then strives for perfection in his art only to crumple each new piece into a ball. But one day he discovers his younger sister has been taping the discarded works to her bedroom wall. This act of grace completely changes Ramon’s outlook on life and art. I won’t spoil the ending. Instead, I hope you’ll check it out.

Those Darn Squirrels! story by Adam Rubin, pictures by Daniel Salmieri

Writing and illustration team Rubin and Salamieri are a lot of fun. My favorite book of theirs is called Dragons Love Tacos. (Enough said?) Their most worthwhile book in terms of plot is Those Darn Squirrels, depicting an all out war between a surly birdwatcher named Old Man Fookwire and a gang of squirrels who eat all his bird food. This crime caper comes to a head when the squirrels realize how lonely Fookwire is after his birds fly south for the winter. Instead of continuing their heists, the antagonists become the heroes, surprising Fookwire with a creative act of love and truce that begins to soften the curmudgeon’s heart.

Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! story by Kent Redeker, pictures by Bob Staake

This story is a lot of fun to read with kids. It even includes a four-page fold out. More importantly, Don’t Squish the Sasquatch! sticks to our theme of merciful je ne sais quoi. Señor Sasquatch wants to ride Mr. Blobule’s monster bus, but he hopes the bus doesn’t get too crowded since he doesn’t like to get squished. Who does? “Okay!” Mr. Blobule agrees, and proceeds to tell each new passenger, “Please don’t squish the Sasquatch!” But they eventually do squish him to the point that the bus explodes (four-page spread): “Ka-blooey!!” But Mr. Blobule saves the day by proposing an affectionate remedy for the squished Sasquatch involving each of the perpetrating monsters.

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) story & pictures by Peter Brown

Bobby is a young boy whose teacher is a monster. She’s not literally a monster, but Bobby believes Ms. Kirby is one since she stomps and roars, enforcing the class rules. That is until one Saturday Bobby awkwardly runs into her at the park. After the initial strangeness wears off, and he helps her find her hat, Bobby becomes acquainted with the real Ms. Kirby. She lets her guard down, and they play together. She even helps him fly a paper airplane—something she would have prevented in class. Ms. Kirby then slowly transfigures before our eyes from a green monster to young human lady (probably in her first year of teaching).

Mister-Bud-Wears-the-Cone-cone-onMister Bud Wears the Cone story and pictures by Carter Goodrich

Mister Bud and Zorro are two dogs who share the same owner. Poor Mister Bud has an itchy hot spot, so he must wear a cone around his head. Zorro, the smaller and more energetic of the two dogs, is jealous because Mister Bud is suddenly getting more attention. While their owner is away, Zorro exacts revenge, making fun of Mister Bud and creating a big mess. In the chaos Mister Bud accidentally knocks over a lamp. “Now you did it!” Zorro says. An embarrassed Mister Bud hides, but their owner simply says, “Poor guy. It’s hard to see with this thing on isn’t it?” The master forgives Mister Bud his trespass. But that’s not the only act of mercy. Grace upon grace, Mister Bud shares his treats with the Zorro, absolving him of his crimes.

The Dark   story by Lemony Snicket, pictures by Jon Klassen

This is a slightly haunted tale about the relationship between a young boy named Laszlo and the dark. Laszlo is afraid of the dark, and he handles his fear by talking aloud to the dark, hoping this will keep his fears at bay and never expecting a response. But the dark is not afraid of Laszlo, nor is the dark as bad as Laszlo imagines. Knowing Laszlo’s fears, one night the dark speaks and leads Laszlo to a basement drawer containing a nightlight for his room. After this gesture, Laszlo is no longer afraid of the dark. It turns out his worst fear was a benign presence at worst and maybe even a little caring.