The Marvelous Mustard Seed by Amy-Jill Levine, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, and Margauz Meganck

[1] As a parish pastor I am constantly on the lookout for resources to support faith formation for the children in my congregation. Among my favorite resources is children’s literature. Children’s literature, good children’s literature, is a powerful way to engage children. Through literature, children are able to enter into realities far different from their own, contemplate ideas they have never before considered, or sometimes see their own lives from a different point of view. Just as Jesus’ parables lingered in the ears of his listeners, children can take ideas from books and live with them for a time. The challenge is finding the right books; books that demonstrate theological integrity and biblical accuracy with a developmental sensitivity. This is a tall order so I was delighted to discover The Marvelous Mustard Seed written by Amy-Jill Levine and Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and illustrated by Margaux Meganck.

[2] Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is an established author in the world of children’s literature, writing books that speak to Jewish and Christian children alike. Amy-Jill Levine is a relative newcomer to children’s literature but is a prominent voice in the academic world. I have tremendous appreciation for the work of these two women who have a wealth of expertise regarding biblical and theological issues and write for children. Often scholars of such caliber focus their attention exclusively on adults. Too often, children’s Bible story books are trite and overly simplistic.  They stray far from the biblical text and are untrusting of children’s capacity to grapple with issues at the convergence of life and faith. The Marvelous Mustard Seed avoids these traps. It presents Jesus’ Parable of the Mustard Seed in a straight-forward manner that preserves the integrity of the biblical text and invites young readers to find a connection between the gospel narrative and their own lives and experiences.

[3] The story, like Jesus’ parable, does not tell listeners what to think nor how to interpret the text. Rather the story introduces the concepts of the small becoming large, of mysteries unfolding that we cannot initially perceive, of the unexpected coming in ways we cannot miss, and of God’s kingdom growing in our midst. Any one of these themes is worthy of contemplation for small and tall children, but additionally the authors take the step of inviting readers to imagine what the story says to them in their own lives. In taking this critical step, the story both trusts and encourages children to be theological thinkers in their own right.

[4] Illustrations matter in children’s literature. Sometimes the art functions to directly support the text, emphasizing details in the words to aid in understanding. Other times the art itself bears additional meaning beyond the text. My preference is for the second type of illustration as it has the capacity to beckon children into the story to discover layers of meaning for themselves. Margaux Meganck’s illustrations do this well. Her art is bright, colorful, and welcoming. She does a commendable job of representing God’s people in their diversity. The illustrations are strong enough that a child unable to read would enjoy exploring the story through the art alone.

[5] The end of the book includes a message for parents and teachers. I am a fan of this technique. It expertly provides context and ideas to guide adults as they seek to engage children in the story. Too often adults feel unprepared to help children explore the complexities of life and faith. A letter such as this one can help them feel more prepared to talk with children about issues of ultimate importance.

[6] It is also worthwhile to point out the value of a stand-alone storybook featuring an individual biblical text. There are many children’s Bibles on the market. They are a necessary feature of Christian Education opportunities. At the same time, children’s Bibles can be limiting in that illustrations are held to a minimum, and texts often sound remote to a child’s ear. Stand-alone storybooks have the space to develop the text, building ideas with each page turn, helping children experience biblical literature in its fullness. Communities of faith would benefit from having many more stand-alone storybooks such as this one.

[7] For pastors, teachers, and parents searching for resources to support children as they grow in faith and years, I recommend The Marvelous Mustard Seed. I hope children and adults alike will take time to ponder the truth that God’s Kingdom is like a tiny mustard seed that surprises us so we can “imagine what can be…but isn’t…yet!” While lingering on this idea, readers might discover that the story does not end with the final page but continues as people live within God’s Kingdom.


The Rev. Dr. Stacy Johnson Myers is an ELCA pastor currently serving as Minister of Christian Education at First Congregational Church in River Falls, Wisconsin and author of Picture the Bible Christian Education resources (




Articles published in the journal reflect the perspectives and thoughts of their authors and not necessarily the theological, ethical, or social stances of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.​

© July/August 2018
​Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 18, Issue 4