Outside In by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Cindy Derby

Outside In
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This Caldecott-winning book offers a lyrical journey exploring common grace, as manifested in the relationship between human beings and their natural environment. It all began with original unity: “Once we were part of Outside and Outside was part of us. There was nothing between us.” But that harmony was soon lost, and we feel alienated from the rest of creation. What used to offer us joy, peace, and unity seems not to matter anymore—“We forget Outside is there.”

Nevertheless, the magic of nature welcomes us even when we ignore it. Breathtaking views of sunsets, delightful visits of butterflies, the tapping of the rain, and the chirping of birds on our rooftops all beckon us to notice. The mystery of creation reaches all our senses: “It beckons with smells, sunbaked, fresh, and mysterious.” As self-absorbed human beings, we need to be constantly reminded that “Outside feeds us”—“Sun, rain, and seed become warm bread and berries.”

Though we have taken for granted that God daily provides for our needs, it is refreshing to realize once again that this material world supports our very existence. As the author puts it, “Outside cuddles us in clothes, once puffs of cotton. It holds us in wooden chairs, once trees.” The images are in sync with these reflections. From a child’s eyes, the chair on which she kneels down is sprouting a tree-shaped shadow. The imaginative naivete and detailed observation of a child makes every page a moment of contemplative meditation. The author seeks to invite readers to rethink how the world works around us and marvel.

A vital part of the charm this book offers is the illustrator’s choice of Asian ink painting. This artistic technique best fits the nearly mystic tone of the words as the author meditates on God’s grace in our natural environment. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

About the Author

Mary Li Ma, Ph.D., is a a member of Plymouth Heights CRC church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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