‘This Little Light of Mine’ shines

McNicholas' illustrations are a delight

“This Little Light of Mine.” Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. New York: Scholastic, 2012. 12 pp.

“This Little Light of Mine.” Illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas. New York: Scholastic, 2012. 12 pp.

There are no surprises in the text of this 6-spread board book, which begins with a paraphrase of a few verses from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, followed by four verses of the classic spiritual “This Little Light of Mine.” The creativity is in the charming illustrations; they tell a story in which the song functions as a soundtrack.

Two children (brother and sister, it appears) walking down a sidewalk, see a girl with a sad expression sitting in her yard. From the pile of lumber sitting next to her, it appears she intends to build a tree house, but she is also holding a poster indicating that her dog has run away. The siblings help the girl carry the lumber to her back yard and begin building the tree house. Meanwhile, the missing dog appears in the background and edges closer as the tree house is completed. The dog joins the group for the last spread, and they all play in the yard around the finished tree house, in the window of which burns a conspicuously placed shining light.

The positive message of the picture story matches the positive tone of the lyrics to the song, which makes this book a good candidate for a bright bedtime story for a wide age range. The lyrics can, of course, be sung as the pages are explored, which provides another level of fun. The sturdy construction of the book allows for children to explore it themselves without worry of torn pages or paper cuts – no minor consideration when slightly older children occasionally insist on reading to younger ones.

“This Little Light of Mine” is not intended for “picture walks” or vocabulary building. Because the illustrations function as a story in themselves, the text does not provide opportunities for connection with the pictorial scenes. Likewise, the tree house motif and the lost dog motif effectively function as two separate plots, which, depending on the age of the reader, might be slightly too complicated for a six-spread book. Either plot could easily have filled the book with illustrations without requiring additional elements. On the other hand, when the young reader notices the dog sneaking closer in the background, delighted squeals of laughter may ensue, which might well have been the point. Nonetheless, sensitive young readers may initially worry about the lost dog and wonder why the children don’t try to find it first. This is a potential distraction, but only a minor one.

There are several meaningful discussions for which the book provides opportunity: the goodness of helping others, alertness to the need that exists around each of us and what “this little light of mine” might actually mean.

While it is not a book that makes any ground-breaking new discoveries or literary triumphs, it was not intended to be. “This Little Light of Mine” is a simple book with a simple theme – much like the song that inspired it! Reading (or singing) it is light and fun, and the heartwarming illustrations are full of kindness and innocence.

My children have enjoyed the book and returned to it repeatedly, which I believe will be a typical experience for others. Our family has found it a worthwhile addition to the bookshelf.


(Joe Woodfin is a first-year seminarian at Sewanee School of Theology, University of the South, and a postulant in the Diocese of Tennessee. He is married with two children, ages 2 years and 8 months. He enjoys preaching, reading, cooking and playing racquetball. Follow him on Twitter @joewoodfin or Facebook.)


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