Preaching to the Chickens: The story of young John Lewis is a new book written by Jabari Asim and illustrated by E.B. Lewis. It gives us a glimpse into the childhood of John Lewis, a civil rights leader who was a member of the Freedom Riders, and is now a Georgia congressman. In this book, John grows up on a huge farm in Alabama, where, much to his delight, he is put in charge of the sixty chickens. Preaching to the Chickens tells the story of how the chickens quickly became friends to John. Inspired by the ministers at his own church, John would preach to the chickens in his yard, even peaking to each chicken with a different teaching. What’s more, to John, the chickens would often respond, clucking and nodding their heads. He speaks up for the chickens to prevent them from being sold, saves them from the well, heals them, and even baptizes them.
What stood out to me most about this book is the style of the prose, and its tone. It’s beautifully written, and carries a warm tone. It’s almost as if if the pages on a book could be humans, they would embrace and welcome you the minute they were opened up. More importantly, the words of Asim’s book are inspiring, with every page imparting some kind of uplifting word. For example, he writes, “John learned to speak up for those who can’t speak up for themselves,” and John preaches, “God makes miracles every day.” The words of this book are empowering, and I especially appreciate how this book does it effectively without preaching at children or talking down to them. This book can present more sophisticated themes and ideas, but it successfully presents them in a way children will understand and enjoy.
To go along with the beautiful prose are the beautiful illustrations. They are done mostly in watercolor, and seem to have an impressionistic aura. I am fascinated by Lewis’ use of watercolor to bring so much depth, dimension, and life to the illustrations. These illustrations, along with the prose, do a beautiful job of capturing life and culture on a Alabama farm. You can almost feel the heat of the southern sun on a day of labor radiate off the pages. The illustrations successfully immerse you in the story.
This book is great for children in that it sends a message of hope, whether the reader of the book is also a Christian or not. The book ends with John grown up, but still dreaming his dreams of preaching in front of a crowd. Thus, this would be a great supplement to a history lesson on civil rights, for example, because as fate would have it, John Lewis did successfully get to do just that, and change the world because of it. Any child, regardless of what they believe, will feel inspired by John’s story.
Post by Joyce Hwang