Sep 23, 2018

Paul Writes (A Letter): A Chris Raschka Picture Book

It should come as no surprise that I'm a longtime fan of picture books by Chris Raschka. Who isn't? His books, many of them award-winners, are characterized by playfulness, lighthearted humor, affection, and gentle sincerity. This is true in books featuring adolescents (YO! YES?) and books for preschool audiences (IF YOU WERE A DOG, Swenson), whether he authors the book himself or is illustrating the text for other authors. And now he has taken on the incredible challenge of adapting and illustrating excerpts from the letters of Saint Paul in the New Testament. 
Eerdmanns Books for Young Readers

Wm. B. Eerdmanns Publishing Co. is widely recognized for their catalogue of distinguished religious, philosophical, and cultural books for adult readers Their children's imprint, Eerdmanns Books for Young Readers, sets a high bar and publishes many award-winning books but doesn't limit their focus to topics of the parent press. 

You can see in the categorical index on their home page, copied here, that their publishing interests are diverse and they appeal to a wide range of readers' interests and ages. 
In the case of Raschka's recent book, there has been a perfect pairing of artist, content, and publisher. A quick Internet search will link you to hundreds, probably thousands of books aimed at making Biblical content kid-friendly and accessible. 
But PAUL WRITES (A LETTER) is so much more than that. Raschka has produced a book that humanizes and energizes a character whose name graces Christian and Orthodox churches around the world. 
I can't recall ever seeing images of Paul that are not austere, severe, and distant from modern life. A bit of digital digging on my part revealed that Raschka's Paul appears to be a more accurate portrayal of Paul than the many classic images would suggest. Post-conversion, he seemed to view his role as man-of-the-people. Paul was both Roman citizen and Jew, he traveled extensively throughout the Mediterranean regions at a time when that was far from common, and he used letter-writing (in Hebrew, Greek and Latin) to sustain and expand a long-distance ministry. In all that, he seems to have foreshadowed today's globe-trotting evangelists and tele-ministry superstars. 
But in Raschka's hands, Paul's whiskered, balding persona is appealing and far from formidable. With slight shifts on facial features and posture, Raschka's Paul reveals a wide range of emotions: peaceful or puzzled, weary or worried, anxious or aggravated. 
The text is not a simple attempt to "translate" or "modernize" established Biblical language. Instead, Raschka has mined the extensive text attributed to Paul and extracted nuggets of wisdom that comprise a story, of sorts. This little book takes even the youngest readers on Paul-the-Disciple's life journey. The passage references at the bottom of each page allow easy referencing, but my feeling is that the blend of casual and classic letter-writing expressions used here should (and do) stand on their own merit. Each double spread begins, as letters should, with a "Dear Friends" greeting, including updates, plans, questions, and advice. 
The authenticity, simplicity, and heartfelt wording that Raschka utilized makes so much sense, and will be readily absorbed by even the youngest audiences. My favorite?
There is faith.There is hope. There is caring for others. The greatest is caring for others.
Words to live by, I'd say. Especially in current times. Raschka's short forward says that Paul used letter writing to change the world. Few could argue the point. But the success of this book is that it offers Paul's wisdom and comfort and advice in ways that invite repeated readings and reflection. It brings Paul into our laps and into our lives, at any age. With those messages comes the possibility that we,the readers, might act to change the world. After all, Paul's epistles follow the book of  ACTS. And it the ACTS of our lives to which Paul's letters are addressed. 

The endpaper maps are clearly labeled, but Raschka's style, the cheerful colors, and portrayal of charming villages, ports, and other details offer a delightful, intriguing, blurry-edged childlike feel to a corner of the world that, even today, suffers many trials and challenges. 
This was true in Paul's day, and in ours. 
In his corner of the world and in ours.
Paul's words, and Raschka's book, offer hope. 


  1. Paul's epistles are NOT in Acts. (I believe the Acts are attributed to Like.) But they indeed do follow Acts and there are many epistles that follow most of which are beautifully, powerfully, and thought-provokingly written by the never-at-loss-for-words St. Paul.

    1. Thanks for the catch- with evidence that I know much more about picture books than about the books of the Bible!

  2. That should read Luke not like!!

    1. It's such a relief to see others make typos, too! Thanks for the fix, and for chiming in with your helpful comments.


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