Believe it or not, heaven will not be populated exclusively by Sydney Anglicans!
And I, for one, am thankful to God for that.
Because I cannot wait to sing God’s praises shoulder-to-shoulder with JS Bach and Martin Luther. And marvel at the glory of the new creation alongside Rembrandt and Joni Eareckson Tada. And consider the depths of God’s grace that saved a wretch like me with John Newton and William Wilberforce. And honour the Lamb who was slain to set the captives free with Argula von Grumbach and Corrie Ten Boom. And be part of the throng containing Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon, listening to the word of God in full clarity. And bow in humility to the King of Kings as Edward VI and Lord Shaftsbury pay homage to their ruler.
All of these past saints, and more, are featured in Everyone a Child Should Know (2017) by Clare Heath-Whyte, and illustrated by Jenny Brake.
Don’t let the title deceive you. Everyone a Child Should Know is not just for children.
Naturally, the illustrations, layout and font are all designed to capture a child’s attention. And the language is simple enough for a child in Years 1 or 2 to read. Yet, the biographies this book tells have enough in them to intrigue the minds of younger infants, as well as those in primary school.
Unlike some children’s books, Heath-Whyte does not patronise her audience. Instead, she invites us to “meet fifty-two Christian men and women from all walks of life, who wanted to live for their ‘friend Jesus” (p 9).
Arranged in alphabetical—not chronological—order, this collection introduces us to saints from across the historical landscape of the past two millennia. So, we begin with Brother Andrew, who courageously took Bibles into locations where it was illegal to do so in the twentieth century. Then, we turn the page and ponder how Augustine went from being ‘a naughty boy’ to ‘one of the world’s most famous Bible teachers!’.
There are also forgotten heroes of the faith like the English Test cricketer, CT Studd, and the founder of Sunday Schools (and public education), Robert Raikes.
Importantly, there are many women honoured in this book too. The prolific hymnist, Fanny Crosby, the quintessential nurse, Florence Nightingale, and civil rights protestor, Rosa Parks, all feature. But so do less well-known figures such as missionaries, Gladys Aylward (China) and Lilas Trotter (Algeria), as well as Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and Hannah More, who both used their wealth and positions of influence for the glory of God.
CS Lewis (who also appears in this book) spoke about ‘chronological snobbery’. Everyone a Child Should Know, is a helpful antidote to that sinful arrogance.
This book helps us to recognise that God’s family is wider than we often appreciate. It also reminds us that God’s family is longer than our short term (or is it short sighted?) memory allows us to comprehend.