THE FORGIVENESS JOURNAL
THE FORGIVENESS JOURNAL. By Alison Andreasen. Illustrated by Jill Dolan. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2018. 32 pages. $9.99.
The Forgiveness Journal by Alison Andreasen is a children’s book that shares the concept and importance of forgiveness in a concrete and creative way.
Miriam is a young girl who receives the gift of a new journal from her mother. Her mother suggests to Miriam that she should record in her journal every time she hears someone say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.” As Miriam records these events in her journal she increases in her own understanding of what forgiveness is, where it’s found, and why it’s important. Miriam experiences both sides of forgiveness. She experiences having to give it and having to receive it.
The strength of this book is that forgiveness is not a "stand in" for something bland or generic, like exhorting children to “be nice” to each other. It actually connects forgiveness to Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death. Miriam’s attentiveness reveals that forgiveness is shared between many people and that it is not just found in everyday conversations and experiences, but is also given to those who received the Lord’s Supper. In teaching her about forgiveness, Miriam’s father reminds her of the certainty of forgiveness delivered to her in her own baptism.
I like how the book speaks about sins of commission and sins of omission without using that exact verbiage. The book also illustrates how there are sins of thought, word, and deed. Miriam records her observations of such experiences in her journal. This is done creatively in a way that honors the integrity of the story of the book. That is to say, it's not too heavy-handed.
The illustrations in the book are well-done and they have a consistency throughout the book. There is a unique artistic distinction to the illustrations so that if I, hypothetically, picked up another book illustrated by Jill Dolan, I would be able to recognize it as her work immediately. I thought that was wonderful.
I read this book with my 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. My son never got bored with the book, he listened attentively through the whole thing. My daughter wasn’t interested in the words, but had many questions about the illustrations (especially about the cat Emmy). When I finished the book, I asked my son what the book was about. He said, “It’s about forgiveness, Dad.” He said it in a pandering way, probably because I literally asked him, “So, what is The Forgiveness Journal about it?” I gave away the answer in the title. I’ll be sneakier in my wording next time. I’m sure we’ll read it again in the not-too-distant future.
My strongest critique of the book is its ending. After the book is pretty well wrapped up and Miriam is summarizing what she has learned about forgiveness through her journaling experience, her final comment isn’t a summary at all but the presentation of entirely new information. Her last comment is that “Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. Some sins will never be forgotten. When they are forgiven, it means they won’t come between two people anymore.” While true and well-stated, this feels like a very late addition slapped onto the manuscript at the eleventh hour. This aspect of forgiveness warranted its own journal entry and illustration earlier in the book. Its hasty inclusion at the very end of the book detracted from the book’s otherwise organic feel.
All-in-all, The Forgiveness Journal is a great book. You won’t find anything else like it. It is suitable for reading (repeatedly) to children six and under. There are a lot of Lutheran schools in America. They should add this book to their children’s libraries. In fact, this book would fit well in any classroom 2nd grade and lower. Parents should also add it to their bookshelves. It certainly wouldn’t hurt for children to be introduced to the contours of forgiveness by this book. It would be even better if this book supplemented a home environment where the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are shared early and often between family members.
Rev. Timothy A. Koch, Pastor of Concordia and Immanuel Lutheran Churches in Cresbard and Wecota, South Dakota.