Jeannie St. John Taylor's Am I Making God Smile? teaches children that we should attempt to please God in our everyday behavior.
The book opens with a young boy named Erik scurrying to get ready for school. The box of waffles is empty and the milk is sour, but instead of being upset, he decides to shrug it off and eat a banana. He thinks, "My cheerful spirit makes [God] smile...doesn't it?" Then he attempts to find a neat rock he wanted to bring for show-and-tell, but before he can find it, his father tells him to hurry up because otherwise he'll be late for work. Instead of complaining, Erik makes a conscious decision to thank God for a dad who drives him to school. "That makes God really happy," Erik thinks, "because he likes it when kids have good attitudes. Isn't that right?"
Arriving to class late, Erik finds himself stuck with the new kid, Chuck, as his partner in a nature hunt. He knows the other kids will make fun of him for being Chuck's partner, but he doesn't want to hurt Chuck's feelings. "I'll bet God smiles when I decide to treat Chuck nice," Erik thinks. Sure enough, one of the boys makes disparaging comments about Chuck, but instead of saying what he thinks his bullying and popular classmate wants him to say, Erik decides to do what God would want him to do. "I don't think Chuck's a dork," he says. And then he thinks, "That makes God smile, doesn't it?"
And so the day progresses, with Erik always trying to do what God wants him to do. When a classmate smirks at his classroom achievements, he prays for God to help him not be mad, and asks God to forgive the classmate. He comforts Chuck when their project together doesn't go as planned. He eats lunch with Chuck and decides to do a cooperative show-and-tell with him. And when their show-and-tell awes the class, they're just as nice to the mean kid who's been teasing them as they would be to anyone else. The book ends:
"And God looks down on us with a HUGE grin. I'm certain. We're sure showing God a good time today."
What I Like:: The concept is terrific. By having a young boy tell this story in his own words, we can crawl into his head and see that while he may be tempted to follow his instincts and react negatively, he makes a conscious choice to do what God wants him to do instead. Taylor's illustrations are big and bold and quirky. They include many interesting details to hold even younger children's attention. (Although I do wonder why a mysterious and funny looking bird can be found on every page...) Taylor also includes a page for parents, with suggestions about reading the book, talking about it, and putting it into action.
What I Dislike: It bothers me that Erik ends many actions with a question. For example, after comforting Chuck, he thinks, "When God sees me comfort Chuck, he smiles...doesn't he?" This makes it seem Erik is unsure of God's reaction. In my opinion, it would be better to make these questions statements...or possibly leave them out altogether.
Overall Rating: Very Good.
Age Appeal: According to the publishers, 9 - 12, but my 3 year old likes it, too.
Publisher Info: Kregel Kidzone, 2005; ISBN: 0825437253; hard back; $12.99