Today’s post is a conversation between me and Summer Kinard, about Katherine Bolger Hyde’s new book, Everything Tells Us about God. Katherine’s publisher, Ancient Faith, sent us each a complimentary copy.
Charlotte: When I got my copy of Everything Tells Us about God, the first thing I noticed was the illustrations. The illustrations are by Livia Coloji, and they are a little bit retro. They remind me very much of the work of Gustaf Tenggren. He was a Disney artist, but his best-known work is probably The Poky Little Puppy. Did you know that’s the most printed children’s picture book ever?
Summer: I knew the style reminded me of something! There are certain illustrators whose art is filled with light, almost like it’s meant to be an animator’s gel. I think Steven Salerno’s drawings have a similar effect. (Salerno’s Pantaloon illustrations are absolutely delightful.) They are so well-suited for books like this one, where you are meant to receive the message that joy or love or an intangible benevolence shines through the settings.
Livia Coloji’s use of color and light reflect the light that shines on our hearts from our Creator. God is everywhere present and fills all things, and Coloji shows us that in sun-filled pages.
Charlotte: Let’s talk about the story in Everything Tells Us about God. When I opened it, I saw that the end papers have a puzzle pattern, and one of the pieces is missing. Of course, puzzle pieces are sometimes used to represent autism or autistic people. So, for a moment, I wondered if the book was about autism.
Summer: I noticed that puzzle pattern right away, too. Autism is so much a part of my life as parent to four (or five) autistic children that I expect to see a story about or an accommodation or message for autists when the puzzle piece appears.
Rather being about autism, Everything Tells Us about God is autism-accessible due to the tangible, concrete thinking. The metaphors are spelled out for us. We have a book telling us that the world of the seen and unseen are cohesive. Everything we see really is about God, and above all, about God’s love. My autistic seven-year-old daughter loves this book for that reason.
Charlotte: That’s a theme we see in the Scriptures, too.
Summer: In the scriptures, we have the heavens telling the glory of God, rocks that can cry out the name of God, fierce animals who become tame when God says so, water that you can walk on if you hold Jesus’ hand, the uncut mountain, and a temple made without hands. In the Orthodox Church, we hold onto these concrete truths about God and let them pull us toward the heart, the place in every human where heaven and earth meet and our eyes can see truths in patterns that stretch through both time and eternity.
Those ideas are so big when I say them like that! But here’s where the gift of the simplicity of God meets us. There’s no break to the pattern of God’s love, not anywhere in all of creation seen or unseen. That’s why we can have this book tell us in words and pictures that God is here, and we can believe it. It’s why so many Christians around the world love the hymn of St. Francis, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” that shows every part of creation praising God. It’s why in my family we treasure our Celtic Christian heritage and St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I can pull tight the strings of God’s love into a cloak around me, because that love is really there.
We liked this picture book right away, not because it’s the loftiest example of this teaching, but because it’s of a piece with what we already know and practice about God in our daily life.
Charlotte: You read the book with your autistic daughter. Can you tell me about that?
Summer: My daughter Anastasia is extremely sensitive. We call her our little bird girl. She’s attuned to subtleties and feels best when she knows she’s safe in being small. For Anastasia, this book was comforting and bright, just enough to let her repeat the pages the way she likes to. My husband and I can get a bit rugged in the way we talk about theology, and that can be too much for her sometimes. She wants to pause and look at each flame in a tongue of fire. She gets overwhelmed by the whole Burning Bush at once.
You see I’m speaking in concrete allusions, and you might think I’m not answering your questions. But in my house, the concrete stories of faith are exactly how we communicate truths. We can’t abstract. We have to bring one another right up to the truth like a path at our feet. Ask my daughter about the book, and she’ll say she likes it. Ask her why, wait a few minutes for her to put it into words, and you’ll get a little story. “Sometimes I do that, too,” she’ll say, pointing at the page, “I like that.” She doesn’t abstract. She bears witness. That’s what this book builds on and why we like it.
Charlotte: Let’s come back to that puzzle piece, the one we saw on the end papers in the front of the book. The very first page of the story picks that up, telling us that the world is like a giant puzzle. After that, there’s nothing in the book about puzzles until we get to the next to the last page of the story, where we read, “Do you see God’s puzzle coming together? But we need one more piece to complete it: YOU.” Which is really very clever, to introduce an image in the end papers, and to use the image as a device to frame the entire story. In the gorgeous book, In the Candle’s Glow, Elizabeth Crispina Johnson does something like that with the breath of wind that frames the story. Yet I think you and Anastasia and I all found the very last page of Everything Tells Us about God unsatisfying. Can you tell me about that?
Summer: The only thing I found disappointing about the book was that there was no mention of disabilities or the way God loves us through them. I think that’s partially a flaw of the sort of reasoning that we’ll be made perfect in the resurrection, which a lot of people think means we’ll have all our parts together in working order as a restored cohesive whole. The flaw, of course, is that we can be made perfect right now as we are now, whether we have all of our limbs or faculties and whether or not their function is impaired.
For me, the truth is that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God and therefore nothing that can keep us from our purpose of seeing, loving, and becoming like God. For my daughter, the problem was that, as she put it, “The pictures don’t match.” Throughout the book, the light-filled illustrations reflected and built upon the text. Suddenly, the pattern broke on the last page. Anastasia no longer saw herself and the people she loves in that page. She needed to see light in the complicated bodies she recognizes.
Charlotte: How did you help her do that?
Summer: We decided that we would fix that page by applying the truth that runs through the book – everything tells us about God – to our bodies. That truth stands, even if the expression is not executed so well on the last page of the book.
The key is that we’re not alone. We don’t understand ourselves as being individuals, but as persons who are part of the whole Church. My son’s dysgraphic hands might show God’s love through the careful practice that helps him learn to write, or they might show God’s love by being lovely even if they cannot write lovely. My other son who cannot speak might show God’s love by learning day by day to speak, or he might show God’s love in loving actions and words spoken through his speech generating device. Our family’s bodies and our friends’ bodies – disabled, impaired, differently abled, and typical – all show the love of God because God is with us loving us.
That’s the primary theme of the book. God’s love is everywhere we are and wherever we could go. That’s a truth that makes us feel safe being small.
Charlotte: Thank you so much, Summer, for talking with me about Katherine Bolger Hyde’s new book, Everything Tells Us about God. It’s been a joy!
About Summer Kinard
Summer Kinard is a Greek Orthodox Christian, the homeschooling mother of autistic children, and author of Christian fiction and Sunday school curricula. She shares resources for making faith life accessible to concrete thinkers on her website. She is currently writing the book Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability, which will be out in October 2019.
17 essential picture books for Orthodox Christian kids: If you’re looking for picture books that include stories about Orthodox Christian people and traditions, you’ll find them on this list.
The Logos for My Nonverbal Son: Summer Kinard talks about language and faith as the mother of a nonverbal child in a church where God is revealed to us as Logos, Word.
Loving an Autistic Child at Church: How can you help an autistic child in your parish grow up to be an autistic adult who is still in the Church? Love.