Preparing for Thanksgiving this week, I notice heaviness in my heart, yet I want to be thankful for a life rich with good gifts.
I turn to Tomie de Paola’s golden-toned Look and Be Grateful and find the grace I’m seeking.
De Paola’s children’s books have a lovely simplicity. His images transport the reader to the innocence of childhood. His straightforward storytelling can prick the conscience yet leave the heart hopeful.
Look and Be Grateful was not written for the holiday, but for every day.
An aqua sky, starred in de Paola’s gentle style, begins to dim in the glow of a new morning.
We see a bedroom window. Then a boy in his bed, his eyes still closed.
The next page, lettered in soft capitals, states simply:
“OPEN YOUR EYES”
We see the boy looking right at us.
Then there’s that window again; now with the morning sun shining:
A red ladybug and multicolored beetle perch on the graceful blade of a day lily.
“AND SEE.” The ladybug is now in the child’s hand.
“AND SAY THANK YOU.” He lets it fly away.
Page by page my heart is drawn to the beauty of the everyday world.
A dove. Flowers. Oranges. Hands of every skin tone.
A little girl receiving an orange from her brother’s hand.
“TODAY IS TODAY, AND IT IS A GIFT.”
Together the boy and girl kneel, hands folded in gratitude, beneath the morning sun.
Look and Be Grateful subtly shifts me to prayer. Prayer for the wide-eyed wonder of a child.
Prayer for a grateful heart.
“Unless you become like a little child,” Christ said, “You will not see the kingdom of heaven.”
One has to become small to see that kingdom.
De Paola is the gentlest of guides to its discovery, enabling us:
To see it in the the speckled ruby shell of a ladybug.
To hear it in her raspy wing-snap as she whirs away.
To smell it in a pungent orange peel.
To love it in the gift of a little sister.
To yearn for it in the dove’s peaceful promise.
To receive it in the giving of a fine piece of fruit.
To recognize its humble king as the Giver of “every good and perfect gift.”
And to take our rightful place in his kingdom as we give thanks.
“BE GRATEFUL,” the book concludes.
And effortlessly somehow, I notice that my heart has changed, and I am.
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You might also like Grow Your Family’s Gratitude with The Secret of Saying Thanks and A Thanksgiving Children’s Book for Weary, Grieving Hearts (on Michael Rosen’s A Thanksgiving Wish, the best book I know for assuaging grief with gratitude).
Even Your Political Enemies Deserve a Piece of Pie by New York Times columnist Tish Harrison Warren can help make this Thanksgiving one of reconciliation and recognition of our interdependence. “Gratitude is an antidote to political polarization,” Warren writes, “…We are interwoven as human beings, even with those we call enemies.” Warren’s powerful tribute to one of my heroes—Why the Music of Rich Mullins Endures, 25 Years After His Death–is another reason why I subscribe to her NYT newsletter.
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Photos by Kent Pilcher, Justin Lauria and Ramin Talebi on Unsplash.