Jennifer Grant knows how young children think. That’s something most of us forget. But Grant remembers. And in her book, Maybe God Is Like That Too, she explains who God is, and what God is like, in a way that will make sense to young children.
Young children are not small adults. They don’t experience the world the same way adults do, and they don’t reason the way adults do. Sometimes adults forget that. Sometimes we try to teach children the same way we would teach an adult, just using smaller words and simpler sentences.
That doesn’t work.
If we’re going to teach children, we have to understand them. We might start with something like Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.
That seems to be exactly where Grant started with her book. It seems to be crafted for children in the latter part of Piaget’s preoperational stage of development. This stage generally includes typically developing children between 4 and 7 years old. In this stage, children are learning to think about their experiences, including things that they haven’t experienced directly. They can think about stories. But they understand and interpret the world through their own eyes and their own experiences. And they think about the world, and about their experiences in it, in very concrete, literal ways.
And that’s exactly how Grant explains God to children in Maybe God Is Like That Too.
Thinking about God
Maybe God Is Like That Too tells a story from the point of view of a little boy. The boy lives in a city where he sees all kinds of things. But he realizes one morning that he has never seen God. So he asks his grandmother if God lives in the city.
For an adult, even for an older child, that might seem like a silly question. But for a very young child, it’s exactly the right question.
And the child’s grandmother answers him: God is here, “you just need to know where to look.” If you want to see God, she tells him, look for love, joy, and peace, patience kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And so he spends the day looking for these things.
He’s not looking for things that are abstract and theoretical. He doesn’t know how to do that. He’s looking for God in the concrete world around him, in things that he can see with his own eyes and understand through his own experiences.
On the way to school, he sees a bus, and taxis, a man sweeping, a dog wearing a fluffy purple sweater.
And then, at school, “Grandma hands me my lunch and hugs me close before she says goodbye. That’s what love looks like to me. Maybe God is like that too.”
And so on through the day, and through all the fruit of the Spirit.
At the end of the day, when the boy is in bed drifting off to sleep, he thinks, “I don’t see God the way I see my friends or the streetlights or the river, but I see signs of God’s Spirit all around me, right here in the city. I know what God is like. Maybe I can be like that too.”
A story on a single level
Most of my favorite picture books work on many levels. A story like Dan Santat’s After the Fall resonates as strongly with teens and adults as it does with young children.
Maybe God Is Like That Too isn’t that kind of a story. It works on a single level. It asks one question: “If I haven’t seen God, how do I know he’s here?” And it answers that question in a way that will make sense to children who are concrete in their thinking, and who interpret the world through their own experiences. That includes children between the ages of 4 and 7, of course. It would also be a good choice for children who on the autism spectrum or who are neuro-atypical in other ways.
Maybe God Is Like That Too does only one thing. But it does that one thing extremely well.
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Everything Tells Us About God: An autism-accessible book: If you’re looking for books like Maybe God Is Like That Too, you should check out Everything Tells Us About God.
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