A Christian Fable for Children: “So Much the Better”

MuchTheBetter-coverSo Much The Better by Megan Means

“When I encountered you, Ari, you caused me to look at life differently. The ways of my world seemed clearly wrong. I was puzzled. I was changed. I was bewildered. So, I had to follow you…My heart beats differently now and strangely enough, I do yearn for the things you speak of. I never cared about such ideas in the past. Being told I am trustworthy is something foreign to me and I want to understand more.”
 
“Gamzo, it appears old things have passed away and all things have become
new. It does happen to those who seek it.”


My sister asked me if I would read a book that a friend of hers wrote and maybe write a review of it, so I agreed. Before talking about the book itself, here’s a little bit about the author:

“Megan Means’ children were the inspiration for her to begin writing stories. Megan has a passion for children’s literacy and wants every child to have a love for books and reading. Megan enjoys volunteering in her community with the local Literacy Council to promote reading for young children and has served as a reading tutor in her local public schools to help children with learning disabilities.”

Like Megan, I also have a passion for promoting children’s literacy and for instilling a love for reading in children, and I have also tutored children in reading. (Personal side note: I recently found out that my husband and I are going to be first-time grandparents in March, and I cannot wait until I get to start reading aloud to my grandchild! 🙂 )

So Much the Better is a sweet adventure story about having the strength and courage to overcome hatred and evil with love and forgiveness. At first it sort of reminded me of Pilgrim’s Progress, except with animals for characters, so it’s really more like a fable. Unlike Bunyan’s allegory, this story isn’t about salvation but more about applying Christian principles in life’s circumstances. It doesn’t have the strong symbolism that Bunyan uses in his allegory, but the author uses stock characters and inserts ideas and themes from the Bible into the story.

The main character, Ari, is a young lion cub who is driven far from his pride during a violent storm. He find himself alone in a dark forest, but he soon meets other creatures who share their wisdom and companionship with him as he sets out on the journey back to his homeland. With Eliezer the eagle serving as his guide and counselor, Ari must face his inner fears as well as external dangers and challenges. Along the way, the eagle’s wise words of instruction come to Ari’s mind just when he needs them; some of them come right out of the Bible, especially Proverbs, like:

A soft answer turns away anger.”
Stay alert and watchful at all times…Consider well the path of your feet.”
He who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself from trouble.”
Keep your heart full of love and you will never fail.
Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

Ari must patiently persevere and remain alert in order to discern friend from foe. He even learns that by extending kindness and forgiveness it is possible to turn a potential enemy into a faithful ally. When he finally reaches his homeland, Ari finds his greatest challenge awaiting him, one which puts everything he’s learned to the test. The story comes to a gratifying conclusion in which good, in fact, does overcome evil, and peace is restored.

One word of caution: As I stated earlier, the value of this story is that it teaches general truths and Christian character traits; from what I can tell it’s not intended to be directly allegorical nor to convey a salvation message, which is important to keep in mind. If one is not discerning, a subtle, underlying lesson that could be taken away from the story goes something like this: “Be brave and strong and trust your heart; have faith – you have all you need within you to achieve your goals.”

For example, early on Eliezer the eagle exhorts Ari, “You must search for wisdom as it will defend and protect you.” Ari asks, “How do I find this wisdom?” to which Eliezer replies, “Answers will come as the questions are asked. As you look within your heart you will find what you seek.” Later on, a new friend of Ari’s observes that he is troubled and gives him these words of advice:

I see the tranquility fading from your heart. do not let it slip away so easily. You have gained much wisdom from your journey. Remember, Ari, when you listen to wisdom you shall live in peace, you shall dwell safely, and you will be quiet from fear. Draw from the wells of wisdom within you. Trust that peace and courage will show you the way.

The trouble with this is that the Bible tells us that the human heart is depraved, darkened by sin: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Man is incapable of bringing about a change of heart or “making old things new.” That requires a divine act of God. We must instruct our children that we cannot trust our own wisdom, and it’s not enough simply to “be strong” or “have faith.” Our faith, hope, strength and wisdom must be in Christ, not conjured up from within ourselves. Just as Ari calls out to Eliezer for help, we must always seek the Lord in prayer in times of need. And just as the wisdom Ari demonstrates for the most part he learned from Eliezer, we should also have God’s Word “hidden in our heart, so we may not sin against Him” (Ps. 119: 11), and we must remember that God is the source of all wisdom. I just wish this truth had been presented a little more effectively, rather than coming across as an innate goodness or truth that we have residing within us.

So Much the Better has a diverse cast of character and a plot that maintains the reader’s interest. I would say this book is most appropriate for about ages 9-12 and is a great story for a family read-aloud, prompting good discussion about how the characters handle different situations and the character traits they exhibit.

Do you have a favorite children’s story that teaches Christian character qualities?
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