Inside: With fewer than 20 words per page, some may think the picture book Perfect Square is not for older kids. But three siblings ranging from upper elementary to high school share some deep insights and creative art projects from this simple yet powerful book.
While I still read aloud to my family daily–chapter books, news articles, and devotionals–my days of gathering all my kids, now ages 14, 12, and 9, around stacks of picture books each night before bedtime seem a bit distant.
However, when I read Perfect Square to them, their initial skepticism soon gave way to familiar habits of engagement. First, they balked at the pages that showed the first slices of the square, then marveled at the fountain, and by the “Thursday” page, they predicted outcomes and readily tossed out reflections.
Perfect Square Picture Book
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In this popular book, a red square is perfectly happy being perfectly neat and straight. But some things happen to the square that are out of its control. One day it is cut. Another day it is torn. Still other days it is snipped or shredded or poked. What’s a square to do? Each day the square makes itself into something new–things that are surprising and beautiful (and carry some pretty great symbolism too). And the square learns lots of ways to be happy.
As we discussed the book, I initially asked each kid to reflect on a favorite page or share an activity idea. Instead, each child seemed more focused on the big-picture takeaways.
Perfect Square and God’s Beautiful Design
Nine-year-old J marveled at how one shape could change into so many different structures. He pondered that just as a square can be turned into many structures with different colors, people aren’t always the same either, and we can all accomplish complementary feats. “We can all mix together and do wonderful things,” he declared.
To further his point, he continued, “All races matter to God, so we should do what God wants us to do,” noting that the squares of different colors were all squares. His siblings agreed, noting that God makes us all different, and we are all children of God.
Perfect Square Art to Celebrate Diversity
As a response to the book, J extended his theme of diversity and chose a project: Use different colors of squares to create a sky or river, which he then changed to a 3D lake.
He had fun tearing his squares into lots of smaller pieces first. As the nature scene emerged, we talked about the lovely colors and patterns in creation that come together gorgeously to complement each other. Then we related that to how we as humans display different colors, features, and abilities beautifully.
A key verse for this project is:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”Psalm 19:1 NIV
Perfect Square and the Path to Resilience and Rescue
L, age 12, veered in a different direction, musing, “If someone breaks you up, you can turn into something beautiful, even if it’s not necessarily that one original thing.”
The destruction of the squares bothered him, until he recognized the reconstruction of the pieces. He further discussed how you can battle back from something negative to turn it into a positive, which ultimately is even better than avoiding the pain in the first place.
Spiritually, he related that when circumstances feel hopeless, God rescues us.
Perfect Square Art to Practice Resilience
L focused on a pathway for his project. Here is the road he designed after he cut apart his square. Do you see the more organic path that goes between the two sections of road?
I love the idea of kids designing a road and then using it to chart God’s faithfulness. For example, during a particularly challenging future circumstance, you could encourage a collaborative time of tearing a square to symbolize frustration. Then the child could reform it into a road.
Over time, you and the child could come back to the project and record how God is moving to change feelings or provide support in the changes. When you notice any results, add that at the end of the path, while also reminding kids that we won’t always see a good outcome in this world, but we know God ultimately redeems us.
Use the visual of the pathway as a concrete reminder to:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)
Perfect Square and the Beauty in the Mess
“Everything’s connected,” M (14) simply summarized. Even as all the kids quickly picked up on the square transforming into different objects, the way each object relates to the others at the end spoke differently to her. Viewing the last page as a complete composition, with each reformed “square” intentionally relating to the others, she sensed the correlation of elements in her own life.
While situations may seem disjointed initially, looking at the larger scope gives a sense of connectivity and purposeful thought. In the same way, God makes the big picture of our lives, and we’re all part of His beautiful plan. When it seems hopeless and confusing sometimes, she says, “the story’s just not over yet.”
Perfect Square Art to Find God in the Mess
Taking a more imaginative approach, M wanted to create an abstract art piece, with the torn and cut square swirling into patterns and designs without a specific form. Somehow this seems appropriate for a teenager learning to see the gray areas and unresolved conflicts in life. For her, the response is less about creating a recognizable shape and more about making a beautiful, connected creation that encompasses the pieces.
Seeing the beauty in the mess and knowing that God connects the fragments into something with purposeful beauty, we remember the words in Isaiah 61, which read:
“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…”Isaiah 61:1b-3a (NIV)
Some Picture Books ARE for Everyone
Each child moved through Perfect Square with different reflections, and what was seemingly obvious as a takeaway for one person didn’t occur at all to another. For my part, I enjoyed hearing these kids, each at different developmental stages, process a simple book into deep and abstract concepts.
By listening to them first and letting the conversation flow through their perspective, rather than trying to teach a concept first, we connected well with the book and with each other.
Perhaps family picture book time isn’t so distant for us after all.
What are you reading with your crew these days? Have you ever been surprised by your child’s reaction to a book? We’d love to hear from you, so drop us a line in the comments.
Other Posts in this Series
- Help Kids Find God in Any Book – Two Simple Questions (Post 4)
- Siblings Share Inspiration: Perfect Square Picture Book (Post 2)
- Lessons from Kids on the Perfect Square Picture Book (Post 1)
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