One morning, I put down Jesus Calling for Kids with a sigh. My kids look bored and it’s not worth the eye rolls. “Why does it say pretty much the same thing over and over?” the eldest asks. They haven’t been into Bible stories lately, either. We’ve read them all. "Let’s read Charlotte's Web today, instead” I suggest. They eagerly agree.
A few chapters in, I recognize the Gospel in Charlotte's web. One creature doomed from birth to die, another acting as savior, coming down from above--from a spiderweb, to be exact.
I pause, closing the book and using my finger as a bookmark. "How does this story remind you of the Bible?" I ask the kids. Silence. "OK," I venture, "how is Charlotte's Web like the Easter Story?" I watch light bulbs go on in their young minds as they recognize the familiar characters, the themes of despair and redemption. We talk about this for a few minutes--about how Charlotte calls herself "I am" just like Jesus did, how she ascribes worth and value to an animal that Farmer Zuckerman sees only as a ham. Charlotte writes "radiant" and "humble" in her web and makes untrue things true about Wilbur, just because she miraculously says so. Just like Jesus does for us.
The book ends with Charlotte’s sacrificial, lonely death. The kids are captivated and I secretly smile. We may not be reading the Bible, but we are reading the Gospel! Even when we put down our Christian books, we found Jesus in a children’s novel.
Looking for the gospel outside Bible stories might be nearly as important as reading Bible stories. One reinforces the other. It’s telling that we can't hardly write stories or songs or even live our lives without repeating gospel themes over and over.
I’m sad when the books ends, because it feels like the ending of a special moment of discovery with the kids. I shouldn’t have worried though--we move on to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and there God is again, this time as a candyman wearing a purple coat and inviting friends into a beautiful world he created. A world which humble, unassuming Charlie Bucket inherits in the end.
Here are some questions I use to help the kids process stories we read:
- Who is the hero in this story? Why? What character traits do they have?
- Who reminds you of God in this story? Who reminds you of Jesus?
- Who are you in this story? Why? Who do you want to be?