I was at a women’s book group earlier this week and the the conversation turned to stories about grace. (Did you know The Charlatan’s Boy is appropriate for women’s book groups? It is.) I tried to draw a distinction between good, moral stories that are compatible with Christianity, and stories that actually hinge on the action of grace that is at the heart of the gospel. There aren’t all that many immoral or amoral children’s books and movies out there. Where stories depict the struggle between good and evil, good almost always wins. Characters’ actions have consequences; people get what they deserve.

“The Little Red Hen” is perhaps the purest form of the morality story. Since only the hen worked, she had the privilege and joy of plopping right down in front of everybody and eating her bread while their stomachs rumbled. Perfectly moral. Everybody got what they deserved. And I have to say, the story had an impact on me as a boy. It surely gave me something to think about while I sat and watched my mother bustle about. I even started lifting my feet so she could vacuum near the spot where I was sitting, without having to be asked.

I’m not opposed to moral stories. But I get more excited when I find stories about grace–stories in which people are transformed because they receive better than they deserve. Previously on this blog I have mentioned the picture book Sidney and Norman: A Tale of Two Pigs. A totally put-together pig and a pig whose life is a mess each encounter God. The one pig learns that God loves him in spite of his mess, and the other learns that God loves him not because of his goodness but in spite of his self-righteousness. And in the end, the two pigs find common ground and are both better than they were. I’m always on the lookout for stories like that–stories that prepare the reader’s heart for the truth that we become good and moral not by tapping our inner reserves of goodness and morality, but by opening ourselves up to the work of a God who loves us in spite of ourselves.

For Audience Participation Friday, I want to hear about your favorite stories about grace–stories about people who are transformed because they receive better than they deserve; a variation is the story in which a person comes to terms with his or her own shortcomings and is thereby opened up to the possibility of receiving grace (DiCamillo’s Edward Tulane comes to mind). When I use the word “grace,” I am not limiting the conversation to grace that is explicitly extended by God. People extend grace to one another, and that grace prepares our heart to receive the greater grace.

So…what are your favorite grace-centered books and movies? Grown-up stories are as welcome as children’s stories.

  • Fellow Traveler
    12:51 AM, 17 June 2011

    “There aren’t all that many immoral or amoral children’s books and movies out there.”
    Sadly, that’s not true, but I suppose it would be true if you limited yourself to old-fashioned fairytales like “The Little Red Hen.”

    • Sally Apokedak
      4:02 PM, 17 June 2011

      Maybe it depends on the age of the audience more than the age of the book. The group that is reading The Little Red Hen and Sidney and Norman probably still have plenty of books to read with moral characters, while the middle grade and young adult shelves have liberal offerings of books with immoral heroes.

      • Julie Silander
        4:17 PM, 17 June 2011

        Yes – I’d agree.  The good news is that for those who are willing to look, there are wonderful books that do exist.  In our home, we try to have a list of great, worthwhile books from which to choose.  The list most often takes us to books at the library (or to addall.com used books, or ebay) rather than the local bookstore.  For those of you who don’t know Jan Bloom’s book, it’s worth the investment.  She wrote “Who Should We Then Read” for that very purpose.  Sarah Clarkson’s “Read for the Heart” as well. 

    • livingoakheart
      1:03 PM, 18 June 2011

      I find it easier to discover moral, excellent books in the junior fiction section in my library that the adult fiction section.

  • ARogers2
    1:06 PM, 17 June 2011

    My favorite story about grace is The Secret of the Swamp King.  I love the section where Aiden is talking to Bayard and he says that Maynard was right about him not deserving to be the Wilderking.  Then Bayard explains that is what grace is all about.  It is so beautifully written.  

  • Leanne
    2:24 PM, 17 June 2011

    I love this topic and have been pondering the question for a few minutes as I sip my morning coffee. I want to keep thinking about it awhile, but the book that initially popped into my mind is Charlotte’s Web. The spider gives her time, love, effort, friendship, and ultimately her life to rescue a pig. And it’s a pig that’s nice enough, but really kind of whiny and silly. There are few scenes in literature that choke me up as much as the description on Charlotte’s death, all alone at the county fairgrounds, while Wilbur goes home, having had his life secured by the sacrificial spider. Gulp. That’s grace.

  • Julie Silander
    3:49 PM, 17 June 2011

    Well, choosing between books feels somewhat like choosing a favorite among your children.  So, here are a few…
    for adults –

    The Trunk – Elizabeth Coatsworth (one of my favorite surprise finds… I’d spoil the best parts if I said too much)

    The Hawk and the Dove – Penelope Wilcox (beautiful picture of what it means to learn to live out grace in community…  it’s also a great book for men who might not typically enjoy fiction)

    The Keeper of the Bees – Gene Stratton Porter (beautifully written)


     for children as well as adults –

    Teddy’s Button – Amy LeFeuvre (one of the best explanations of the gospel for adults as well as children)

    Just David – Eleanor Porter

    Amos Fortune, Free Man – Elizabeth Yates

    Triumph for Flavius – Caroline Snedeker

    The True Princess – Angela Hunt

    My Child, My Princess:  A Parable About the King – Beth Moore (I tear up every time I read the last page)

    The Birds’ Christmas Carol – Kate WigginThis Way to Christmas – Ruth SawyerMy favorite books are those in which the theme of grace isn’t obviously front and center.  Rather, grace is woven deep within the tapestry of the story and comes out in bits and pieces.  Much like life.  

    • Julie Silander
      3:50 PM, 17 June 2011

      by the way, sorry for the random formatting… not sure what happened there.

  • Sally Apokedak
    4:08 PM, 17 June 2011

    It surely gave me something to think about while I sat and watched my mother bustle about. I even started lifting my feet so she could vacuum near the spot where I was sitting, without having to be asked.
    We don’t believe you when you say this kind of stuff. We’re sure you were an angelic little boy who loved his mama and wanted only to serve her. 🙂

  • Jess
    5:03 PM, 17 June 2011

    The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. If you haven’t read it, do. Because this is one of the best portrayals of grace on the planet.And, of course, Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson.
    It would be unfair of me to make you read something by me about how these are stories full of grace. Read them.

  • Jess
    5:03 PM, 17 June 2011

    The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. If you haven’t read it, do. Because this is one of the best portrayals of grace on the planet.And, of course, Fiddler’s Green by A.S. Peterson.
    It would be unfair of me to make you read something by me about how these are stories full of grace. Read them.

  • Becky
    11:40 PM, 17 June 2011

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe yet. That’s as close to a grace-filled story as they come, I think. It’s also one of my favorite.
    For whatever reason, I also thought of A Christmas Carol.


  • Sally Apokedak
    11:48 PM, 17 June 2011

    Great topic. And, boy, am I relieved. When you said I wouldhave much to contribute, I naturally assumed it was going to be something like,
    what’s the stupidest thing you’ve ever done…because, you know, I have a whole
    storehouse full of those stories.

    But grace-filled stories…I agree with you and yet, as I was
    reading your post, I realized that my own books have not been about grace. They
    have been good against evil stories. I try to put self-sacrifice into them—a
    Christ figure. But it’s usually the main character sacrificing for the others
    who are undeserving, so the readers (if I ever manage to have readers, that is)
    won’t get to relate to the one who has been died for, rather they will be relating
    to the One who died. And that’s OK but maybe not the best way to tell a story.

    So, thanks for posting this. I’m going to chew on it a

    As for books that are grace-filled: I have always been
    partial to the orphans. Oliver Twist, Anne Shirley, Gibby Galbraith, Sarah
    Crewe, and my most recent favorite orphan, Grady (Cato) Turtlebane. These
    children are all good children, as far as children go, so I can’t say they
    aren’t deserving of their good fortune in the end. What little wrong they do is
    done out of ignorance, because they have not been brought up well. What is far
    more noticeable than any wrongs they do is the fact that despite years of
    ill-treatment, they have such good hearts. They just want to love and be loved.
    They are trusting and generous and that’s why they are so easily deceived or

    On the one hand, then, their stories don’t look like grace
    stories, because if anyone deserves happiness it’s the innocent orphans. When
    their fortunes are restored they are getting their just deserts.


    We see grace in these stories, though, because we are all orphans.
    We are all looking for love. We are all throwaways, deceived and dirty and
    scrabbling along as best we can in a harsh and broken world. We were created by
    a loving Father for life in a palace but we were stolen away and stuck in the
    workhouse, where we scrape and steal and cheat, trying to get ahead of the guy
    standing next to us. Satan lies to us in the same way Floyd and Fagin lied to
    Grady and Oliver, telling us that we have to make our own way (go his way)
    because, after all, our Father has abandoned us.

    Every orphan that’s adopted reminds us that we have been
    graciously adopted. The restoration of their fortunes is a picture of God’s
    restoring to us what was lost in Eden.
    The dirty little orphan taken into the fine house and bathed and loved, looks like
    God translating us from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his
    marvelous light and cleansing us and protecting us and attending to our needs.  

    The orphans are powerless and impoverished. They have nothing
    with which to earn acceptance. The adopting parents are motivated by love and a
    desire to transform the orphans and give them an abundant life. All the orphans
    can do is accept the gift.  

  • Loren Warnemuende
    2:38 AM, 18 June 2011

    I had to go browse my shelves to trigger some memories….
    As Sally mentioned, there’s Sara Crewe in The Little Princess, but there’s also Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden (not to mention her cousin Colin). Both Mary and Colin are desperately lonely children without boundaries and it comes out as nastiness until others show them true grace (which involves love and discipline given in love).

    Another set of books are Jan Karon’s Mitford Series with Father Timothy. Those are full of grace. Love those stories!

  • Madeleine
    4:51 AM, 18 June 2011

    Interesting that you should mention A Christmas Carol, Becky. I was going to mention it too, but for a different reason. This past fall I read The Light Princess by George MacDonald. Then I read A Christmas Carol. I was stunned by the contrast. In both stories the main character has a major flaw that isolates him or her from society. Neither has the ability (or perhaps even the inclination) to solve the problem alone. Both receive saving grace. It was the difference in the means of grace that struck me and made The Light Princess my new favorite book and left A Christmas Carol as almost a disappointment.George MacDonald did an amazing job portraying grace and redemption. A willing victim had to give his life to save the Princess and her nation. His sacrifice not only allowed life in the country to continue, but restored the Princess to a fullness of life she had never known before. I was impressed to read of Christ and His sacrifice in such a totally different story.
    Dickens’ Scrooge also gets a chance at a fuller life, but it’s not quite as clear what happened to make his change. He does thank the spirits for their gift, but it seems that his reformation was more from logical persuasion (or maybe even scare tactics, that Ghost of Christmas Future was rather frightening.) To me it seemed like the humanistic message of “we can all be good if we just try a little harder and be a little nicer.” It’s nice that Ebenezer had a good life and helped others from that day forward. Who can help be happy for Tiny Tim? But after reading The Light Princess I found A Christmas Carol to be empty of true grace and hope for eternity.
    So, here’s my question for you all. As a Christian, when you read books that offer grace, is there, should there be, a distinguishing between how the grace is offered? Does any kind of grace in a story point us to God just by the fact that it is undeserved favor, or does the way that grace is offered make a difference?

  • livingoakheart
    1:11 PM, 18 June 2011

    Hrm… picking books that portray grace that haven’t been chosen yet is harder than it looks.Ah, Here we go-
    Till We Have Faces, CS Lewis–The entire book is about a woman receiving grace who doesn’t realize, and shoves it in the giver’s face. It gets better though. Definitely not for children.
    A Double Story, or The Wise Woman, G. MacDonald–About a women who takes two little girls and confronts them with grace, and their reactions. Slightly scary.

  • Breann
    1:13 AM, 19 June 2011

    Walter Wangerin shares a story of how grace brought about a change in his son that the Law could not. It’s in his book The Manger is Empty and it’s called “Matthew, Seven, Eight, and Nine.” Have any of you read it? And speaking of Wangerin, the most grace-centered book I’ve read is The Book of Sorrows. 

  • Laura Peterson
    6:01 PM, 19 June 2011

    “Godric” by Frederick Buechner.  I read it  a year ago and it’s still hard to wrap my head around.

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