In the vein of continuing to find books that will help me as a parent communicate the Gospel to my child, I found The Boy and the Ocean by Max Lucado to be helpful, though incomplete. First, let me begin with what is most helpful:
This is a book that does a good job of using a story of a boy alongside his parents (and I do appreciate that both parents are portrayed as being involved in their child's spiritual formation - if only more books would include fathers in such a way!) to explain the extent of God's love. Moving throughout various observations of the natural world, the parents use metaphors such as the vastness of the ocean to show their little boy the great love of God for those who are His. The continued refrain throughout the book is: "[God's love is] always here. It's always deep. It never ends. God's love is special."
The story itself is a simple one and I believe that would easily help young children to grasp the meaning of it. What parent hasn't heard questions from their children about how big the ocean is or how high a mountain is? What parent hasn't seen their child gaze in wonder up to the sky? The metaphor is a helpful and powerful one.
As well, I appreciate that this book focuses more on a particular aspect of God (His love) than it does on the boy, or the parents, or what they are thinking in life. Too many children's books seem obsessed with self-analysis of what the child is thinking about a particular situation. While I'm not saying that there is no place for such thoughts, I do find it refreshing that this book focuses on God's character as a constant, regardless of what we do or don't like about it.
From an aesthetic angle, the illustrations are wonderful and do a great job of helping to reinforce the "vastness" theme of God's love.
One other positive comment is that I enjoy how this book causes us to wonder at God all the more rather than too quickly jump to some sort of application about how we need to love our neighbors or our little brothers and sisters when they wrong us, etc. Moralizing is something that is all to common in children's literature - especially Christian children's literature - and it was helpful see God's love presented as a truth to be wondered at and thought upon.
Negatively, what stuck out to me the most is the lack of taking the theme of God's love any further. There was no semblance of how a person is to live in or respond to God's love. It's as if God's love is portrayed as simply being a reality of the world that is, rather than something that should merit a response and heart change on our behalf - God's love is assumed. While I mentioned above that it was nice to see a book that didn't immediately moralize everything, it was disconcerting that there was no direct link to the Gospel overall or Jesus Christ specifically. And all the more so because it would have been a ready-made link - "Mommy/Daddy, what does it mean that God's love is special?" could have easily been a couple of pages that led to a discussion of John 3:16 or verses like it.
I don't say that to jump on the all too common bandwagon of "the author should have written the book the way I would have_" but rather to point out a place where parents will need to supply what is missing. The theme of God's love is a rich one which can be shown to be all the more meaningful and potent if a child were to know how God's love would apply to them directly and what it looks like to live in it (by trusting Jesus Christ as their Savior who died for their sins).
My verdict? This is a helpful starting point if you want your kids to wonder and marvel at God's love. It's lacking when it comes to showing them how to find themselves not as outsiders to God's love, but as insiders who know that they are loved by God because Jesus Christ is their Savior.
(I wish to note that the publisher of this book, Crossway, provided it to me at no cost as a review sample. My review is in no way influenced or controlled by them, nor was it required to be positive, thus I write my review of this book with honesty and integrity.)