Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding with artwork by Caitlin Connolly (link)
It’s easy to underestimate a kid’s book. After all, they look as if you could write one in less time than it takes for a Netflix binge and you can read one to your kid in twenty minutes or so. But the impact that a little book can have on a little mind is enormous.
And that is why I find this book fascinating. It presents an LDS theology of the family to preschool and younger elementary-aged children. And, perhaps amazingly, it is one I suspect progressive Mormons will warmly embrace. All references are to “Heavenly Parents,” quotations are drawn from female and male leaders, and a variety of family formations are acknowledged. The focus throughout is on the crucial importance and central role of families, and how to make our earthly families more like our heavenly family.
Now, I don’t know if children will love this book. Pages are titled, for example, “Families Thrive with Love” and “Families Counsel Together.” There are two-paragraph explanations of each title followed by several questions for discussion (“What’s your job in a family council?”) and a quotation from an LDS authority. There’s no story. It’s pretty didactic. It reads a bit like a church lesson manual.
So this might be a book that pleases the adults more than the kids. But I still think it has great value. If you spend any time on the Internet, you realize that LDS sentiment (at least, the vocal portions of it) is divided into two camps: one thinks the family is under attack and so we need to talk and preach and teach about the family, and one thinks that appeals to “the family” are mostly efforts to stigmatize certain kinds of families. I’m not seeing a lot of middle ground out there. But I do in this book: it is extremely family-focused in a way which I think more conservative saints will appreciate but also extremely inclusive, in a way which I think more liberal saints will appreciate. The way that they pulled off the pro-family and pro-inclusion message in one short children’s book could hopefully be a template for how we might talk about families–and for healing the chasm between the two sides.
Review copy provided by publisher.
Julie, I apologize in advance for this comment, which is tangential and probably unfair to the book. I will understand if you delete it.
With that preface, the cover art for the book strikes me as awkward (to be charitable). Why is it that HF and HM are glowing white? And why it that, as their children get farther away from them, the children’s skin color darkens? Perhaps I’m reading too much into this image, but I can’t get those questions out of my mind.
Evaluating the artwork is an entirely appropriate topic for a review of a children’s book.
First off, it isn’t clear to me whether that piece is supposed to depict Heavenly Father + Mother + human family, or Adam + Eve + earthly family. I suspect it might be intentionally ambiguous.
I had the same reaction to the skin color issue that you had. My guess is that they were not comfortable showing God or Adam/Eve with darker skin but wanted to show the children with a variety of skin tones, and this led to the unfortunate dynamic you describe. I don’t think that the artist’s intention was for the children to get darker the farther away they are from the parents–I think the lightness of the closer children is because many of them are actually part of the woman’s body, which is highlighted. To be fair, the male’s body is quite dark. Knowing what I do about the project, I am sure the motives were good, but I agree that the execution is confusing or, as you say, awkward.
I hadn’t considered that the parents might be Adam/Eve rather than HF/HM. The glow around their heads suggests to me some sort of deification (similar to middle ages art). And even if the parents are Adam/Eve, I’d still question why they are so white. That said, I agree that the intent was not to convey a skin color change correlated with distance; it’s just happenstance.
Enough about that topic (for me). Since posting my comment, I’ve looked over the artist’s website (http://caitlinconnolly.com/) She’s really good. I’m seriously thinking of buying one of her prints for my wife.
While I applaud this efforts, as a mother of young children I was bothered by all the religious picture books masquerading as children’s books but which are really meant to be adult coffee table decor. My toddlers had no interest in being read these sorts of treatises which Deseret Book churns out. I wish they were marketed for adults instead of for children, since the intended audience doesn’t match the content well at all, and as a librarian I am appalled that it is categorized as “children’s ages 4-8” on the Deseret Book website.
This is McArthur Krishna, one of the authors of the book. I actually lobbied the artist to make the Heavenly Parents’ hair silver– a universal symbol of wisdom across cultures. I’m sorry that it appears to be a glowing white — was not intended to be racist.
As for color of children, in no way was the placement of color and distance from Parents indicative of a racial commentary. If you see the image in real life, with more detail, you would see dark colors as well as greens and blues are used throughout. (Greens and blues obviously not aliens. :)) And, actually, some of the darkest tones are in Heavenly Father’s right shoulder. There ARE darker tones in the first front lines but I perceived that as prominence rather than distance from Heavenly Parents. And, for me personally, I appreciate brown prominence. :) I am married to an Indian and have gorgeous dark-skinned children. Additionally, in my nuclear family of origin we have Polynesian, Native American, and Haitian people. We love the rainbow of color our family has.
Caitlin may have more to say from her artistic expertise perspective– but this is my two cents.
Come see the painting in real life if you’re in the SLC area! (I’m not, but I’ve blown it up big on my screen.)
The artist also shows HF with no beard, likely an intentional statement. I prefer bearded representations of deity and important figures in Mormon culture and history, because they highlight the ridiculousness of the church’s 20th century assault on facial hair that continues to this day.
Thank you for the review. I am looking forward to purchasing this book, I would but it just to support content that acknowledges the Divine Feminine. I plan on using it for FHE.
That should say, “I would BUY it just to support content that acknowledges the Divine Feminine”.
I asked Caitlin to write up a statement about her choices in colors and values. Here is what she said:
I am happy to share some of my thoughts behind this cover painting.
I painted many of the figures with oranges, yellows, greens, blues, and reds, as a way to move away from overly obvious racial skin tones and create a vibrant and rich image.
I did paint the two central figures white. Literally, straight out of the paint tube white. This felt different to me than “white people” white which isn’t white at all. Their skin tones are different than any skin tones of the figures that possess them. That was important to me.
Compositionally I wanted the primary focus to be in the bottom third of the image with the children and the people which are more saturated and contrasted with one another. I wanted the image to lighten as it moved heavenward, which I accomplished by lessening the saturation and contrast, to create a cyclical viewing experience to pull the viewer back and forth between heaven and earth in a captivating experience of unity.
It is very important to me that a wide array of images exist for people to experience unity, heaven, and belonging. I hope other artists will add their own interpretation and representation of this theme to fill the gaps where my offering is lacking.