When I first read Jesus and the Very Big Surprise by Randall Goodgame, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri, I didn’t expect to actually be surprised. But I was.
I like to say that picture books are for everyone. And the best picture books live up to that promise. They have something to say to the adult reading the book as much as to the child listener.
And yet, when Goodgame writes in Jesus and the Very Big Surprise that Jesus told a story that would surprise anyone, “even you,” I didn’t really think he meant me.
But he was right. I was surprised.
I like to think I know my Bible pretty well. I was fairly certain that Goodgame would tell the parable about the servants keeping their lanterns lit as they waited for Jesus’s return. After all, the servants on the front are all holding lanterns, and this is a book about Jesus’s return. Or maybe it would be the story of the wedding feast where, when the invited guests don’t show up, the groom invites everyone from the streets to join the celebration.
But I was wrong.
In fact, the parable in this story is one that had slipped by me altogether. I had to look it up. In Luke 12, Jesus tells of servants waiting in readiness for their master’s arrival. But when he comes, rather than being waited upon, the master surprises everyone by serving his servants instead.
I didn't expect to actually be surprised. But I was.Carolyn Leiloglou
It’s a beautiful parable which Goodgame nestles into the book as a story within a story. He sets it up with other ways Jesus surprised everyone: the creator coming as a baby, the king of kings being born in a stable. But Jesus’ parable isn’t where Goodgame’s story ends. Just like the master in the story, Jesus will return. And just like the servants in the story, we have plenty to do while we wait, serving others just like Jesus did.
I love Echeverri’s illustrations, both in this book and the many other wonderful picture books she’s illustrated for The Good Book Company. Her art is playful and full of life, and she always includes a beautifully diverse array of people.
I realize you might be complaining that I’ve ruined the surprise of a book all about surprises.
But I think not. Because the surprise isn’t which parable Jesus told. It’s a surprise we’ve grown used to: that our God would behave in this astonishing way—taking on the very nature of a servant—not only when he came to earth as a man, but also in the future when he welcomes us home.
So, I hope you’ll allow yourself to be surprised along with your child, not merely when reading Jesus and the Very Big Surprise, but at the great goodness of our God. After all, Jesus asks us to come like little children. Recover your sense of wonder and be surprised.
Carolyn Leiloglou is the author of Library’s Most Wanted and the Noah Green Junior Zookeeper series. Her poems and stories have been published in Highlights, Clubhouse Jr., Cricket, and more. You can find her on her blog, housefullofbookworms.com, where she reviews her favorite children’s books each month.