Reviewed by Carolyn J. Mackie
I am a huge fan of both Pope Francis and children’s picture books, so I was full of anticipation for the release of Pope Francis’s new children’s book, Dear Pope Francis. But there was a little part of me that was slightly skeptical. On the one hand, the idea of Pope Francis answering letters from children all over the world sounded like a win on all counts. On the ther hand, it sounded like the kind of book that could be just a little too formulaic to hold any lasting interest. I wanted to see the final product before deciding whether Dear Pope Francis was a book I wanted to own for myself.
I needn’t have worried. Firstly, the book’s presentation (always important, but especially for a picture book!) is beautifully rendered. Loyola Press has done a fantastic job with the design and formatting of this full-colour hardcover, escaping the cheesy or tacky elements sometimes present in non-fiction children’s books. Each child’s letter and drawing is included in full, along with a photo of the child and the text of their letter translated into English (where applicable). On the facing page is Pope Francis’ response to the letter in large, readable type.
Secondly, and most importantly, Pope Francis himself saves the book from any temptation to become cliché. Always kind, yet never patronizing or slipping into maudlin sentimentality, Pope Francis addresses each child with gentle respect. Difficult questions are not glossed over, yet are answered in simple language that children can understand. The children’s letters cover a broad range of questions, all the way from thorny theological problems to personal questions about Francis himself, such as what he wanted to be when he grew up (spoiler alert: a butcher!!) and whether he liked to dance as a young man (he did!). Especially endearing is the personal way in which the pope interacts with each child’s artwork and questions.
This book may be especially welcome in Catholic households, but I would wholeheartedly recommend the book for any child – or any adult, for that matter. While a few of the letters and responses are more particularly Catholic in nature, most of Pope Francis’s answers are truly catholic and represent the teaching of all Christian denominations. If there a few points at which a Protestant parent might want to dispute with the holy father, these present an ideal opportunity for discussing theological claims with children.
An enchanting collaborative effort between “The Children of the World” and dear Pope Francis, this book just can’t lose. It may make you cry; it certainly will make you smile. It’s a keeper.