NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Friday, May 12th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Nick Eicher.
MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown.
Up next: summer reading. For many families, school’s out, or about to go out, and it’s time to stock up on books for the break.
Now, many kids get bogged down with school reading lists and never seem to enjoy the books or benefit from what they read.
EICHER: But that’s where one collection of fables can help. WORLD reviewer Emily Whitten says this one teaches solid Christian truth in a way that kids of elementary ages will love.
MICHAEL DOWLING: It was a rainy day. Too rainy for even a frog to go out and play. “I’ll stay inside and write a story,” thought Frog. He took a pen and a piece of paper and started to write, “Once upon a time.”
EMILY WHITTEN, REVIEWER: That’s author Michael Dowling reading his recently updated book, Frog’s Rainy Day Stories and Other Fables. He’s reading there from the first story in a 76-page picture book including 9 Christian fables. While the art has a light-hearted feel, the morals deal with deep Christian truths—like God’s authority as Creator in our lives. For instance, in Frog’s tale, the letters refuse to form words in Frog’s story.
DOWLING: Suddenly, something strange started happening. The letters were marching toward the end of the page. “Stop!” shouted Frog. “I’m using you to write a story.” O rolled out front and looked up at frog. That’s just the problem. We’re sick and tired of being used.
It’s the humor that makes this book work. You can almost hear Babylon Bee-type social commentary as the letters rebel.
DOWLING: “And another thing,” said a, “why am I lowercase when O is uppercase? We should all be equal.” “And we should all be rich,” added p. “RICH! RICH! RICH!” “Fame and fortune! Fame and fortune!” yelled the letters, marching again to the edge of the page. “Wait!” said Frog. “You were created to make words. If you don’t make words and stories, what are you going to do?”
Dowling says the fables grew out of his own spiritual struggles. Even after he became a Christian as an adult in the 1970s, it took a long time to root out unbiblical thinking.
DOWLING: After that, it was a process of renewing my mind, and counseling with pastors. It took a long time to shift my mind to God is real and in charge and I’m not God.
Sarah Dowling, Michael’s wife, is the illustrator of the book. But she says her career as a fine artist didn’t make illustrating the book easy. It took a while to find the right approach.
SARAH DOWLING: Beaver was the one. I figured if I could get beaver, I could get the rest of them. You could ask my son, I probably had 50 beavers laying around the studio.
She initially thought that because the ideas were serious, the illustrations should be, too. She considered doing formal wood cuts. But then, a clerk at a Charleston arts and craft store helped her find a more whimsical approach.
SARAH: Out of the blue, he says to me, have you tried this new product that we got? And he takes me over and it’s like this little chunk of watercolor with charcoal in it. I took it home and worked on the beaver and it created some real character in the fur. The charcoal did. I said, that’s it. And so the beaver started to take form.
Elizabeth Urbanowicz is the founder of Foundation Worldview—an organization that offers Christian worldview curricula, podcasts, and other resources. Last November, Urbanowicz recommended the Dowlings’ book for 8-12 year olds as part of her monthly book club. (And by the way, I do recommend the Foundation Worldview book club if you’re looking for more summer reading.)
As for the Dowlings’ book, Urbanowicz says she came to appreciate it during the COVID lockdowns.
ELIZABETH URBANOWICZ: So I just turned my car into like a traveling library and I went around, you know, to visit different families in my church and I just, you know, sit out on the front lawn with kids and just read to them. And so this was one of the books that I brought along with me and got to read to lots of different families of, you know, of kids in my church. So it was, yeah, it was exciting and the kids were really engaged with the stories.
Urbanowicz likes the Biblical worldview concepts—both in the stories and in the quotes and discussion questions. She points to the moral learned by Frog’s rebellious letters.
URBANOWICZ: The moral for that at the end is, we were made for a much larger story which we miss out when we seek our own glory. And so I think that's so important to teach our kids in our culture that's just so individualistic, you know, like you do you so long as it doesn't bother anyone else. But if we don't align ourselves with how God has designed us, we miss out on so much, you know, because God is the one who designed us and created us.
Urbanowicz does have one criticism. She says one of the stories—Miss Hen’s Boyfriends—doesn’t do a great job of portraying the moral it tries to teach. But that’s a small problem in an otherwise excellent resource. Kids ages 8-12 can engage the book independently, but she says ages 4 and up can find something to like here.
URBANOWICZ: I love this book so much because I think all of those little things, you know, that you've talked about like the illustrations and the humor, which just might go over, some people's heads really help solidify the lesson for both young kids, older kids and adults.
Frog’s Rainy Day Stories and Other Fables by Michael Dowling is a unique picture book for all ages that’s both thoughtful and entertaining. If you take the time to read it with your kids or grandkids this summer, I hope it will brighten your rainy day.
Reporting for WORLD, I’m Emily Whitten.
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