Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
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Kids' questions, pope's answers offer lots to think about.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows kids they way the pope thinks about God, families, children, life, work, play. Could open up thinking and discussions about how the reader feels about those things. Through their drawings, shows glimpses of how kids in other countries live. A map marks each place -- among 26 countries on six continents -- that a letter came from. 

Positive Messages

Every letter is filled with positive messages. Here are a few: "God can hear us even if the words don't come out of our mouths. God listens to the heart." "Suffering is to be lived with hope. We are not prisoners of suffering." "People who can't express joy are always serious. Dance now, children, so you won't be too serious when you grow up!"

Positive Role Models & Representations

The pope assures kids that God loves them, hears their prayers, and will not abandon them. He encourages kids to not give up hope and expresses compassion and understanding. To a 10-year-old boy in Syria named Mohammed, he notes, "In today's world there is so much suffering. And, unfortunately, you know that firsthand." The letter writers are curious, kind, and respectful.

Violence & Scariness

The pope comments on suffering, the deaths of parents, and war and wishes that "there were no longer any slaves in this world." He tells a story of a man who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge, causing his wife to worry that he'll go to hell. The pope tells the letter writer that a French priest, John Vianney (later canonized as a saint), assured the wife, "Look, between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God." An 8-year-old girl from Singapore asks, "Why do some saints have the wounds?"; red marks appear on the hands of a figure she's drawn. The pope says, "Yes, some saints -- like Saint Francis of Assisi -- had the 'stigmata,' what we call the wounds of Jesus." He explains that they loved Jesus so much "they became like Jesus in their bodies. But be careful -- not everyone who has wounds is a saint!"


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dear Pope Francis is a charming picture book by the pope himself, in which he answers 30 illustrated letters from children around the world who pose a range of questions, from "Why do you wear that tall hat?" to "If you could do one miracle, what would it be?" His answer to the latter is, "I would heal children. I've never been able to understand why children suffer." The pope speaks in everyday language that kids can understand. When asked where his favorite place to pray is, he names a couple of places but adds, "I can also pray while walking, or even going to the dentist." Some tough subjects include his wish that "there were no longer any slaves in this world" and a story of a man committing suicide by jumping off a bridge, causing his wife to worry that he'll go to hell for it. The pope tells the letter writer that St. John Vianney assured the wife, "Look, between the bridge and the river, there is the mercy of God."

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What's the story?

DEAR POPE FRANCIS is a collection of illustrated letters from children around the world -- including Syria, Kenya, Peru, China, and the U.S.A. -- and the pope's answers to their questions, from the theological to the everyday. Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope, and Jesuit institutions in 26 countries solicited children's letters for this project and collected 259. Of those, Jesuit priest Antonio Spadaro, director of the Rome magazine La Civilta Cattolica, presented 30 to the pope. According to a note at the back, the two men spent an hour and a half together, with the pontiff thoughtfully considering and answering each question and Spadaro recording his responses. Spadaro then transcribed what the pope said for the book. The pope often comments on the colorful drawings in the letters, noticing telling details about the kids' lives. The book's cover illustration is from a letter sent by a 9-year-old girl in Belgium.

Is it any good?

This warm and charming collection of kids' letters and the pope's simple but meaningful responses help the pontiff seem more human and God more accessible. The children ask all kinds of questions, from practical to profound ("What did God do before the world was made?" "Our deceased relatives, can they see us from heaven?" "How can God hear us?") and the pope's responses are gentle, direct, reassuring, encouraging, and humble. With a light touch and impish humor, he also reveals things about himself, including that he really likes soccer and played it ("but I don't have a nimble foot"), that "as a young man, I liked to dance the tango," and that as a child he wanted to be a butcher when he grew up. The tone of his responses is that of a friendly, compassionate uncle, not some pompous high official or strict cleric.

While many questions and answers will resonate with curious children and Christians of various stripes, a Catholic perspective colors the endeavor, with references to catechism, mass, first communion, and the stigmata. The overall themes are fairly universal, but some of the vocabulary and specifics will have more appeal and familiarity for Catholics.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how they think of God. Is your view similar to the pope's? How is it different or the same?

  • How do you like the book's form of kids' questions and the pope's answers? Does seeing the kids' handwriting in a variety of languages along with the pictures they drew make them seem more real to you than if their questions were simply typed?

  • How do you like the pictures the kids drew? How do their lives, homes, and countries look different from or the same as yours?

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