Zion Learns to See – Terence and Zion Lester

Zion Learns to See: Opening Our Eyes to Homelessness by Terence Lester, Subi Bosa, Zion Lester
Also by this author: All God's Children: How Confronting Buried History Can Build Racial Solidarity
Published by IVP Kids on March 12, 2024
Genres: Children's, Children's Educational
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Every person matters to God. And that means every person should matter to us.

Zion has no idea what she's getting into when she decides to join her dad at his work on Saturday. But she quickly discovers that a day at the community center brings new and wonderful people into her life. Join Zion as she learns about people experiencing homelessness, and see how she is moved to respond as she recognizes that all people matter to God.

Inspired by real-life events, this story written by Terence Lester and Zion Lester, and illustrated by Subi Bosa, will be enjoyed by children and the adults who read with them. Also included is a note from the author to encourage further conversation about the content.

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Zion Learns to See is the story of a young girl who goes with her father to the community center where he works and discovers a passion for helping those less fortunate than herself. The story is based on the real-life experience of Terence Lester—the founder of Love Beyond Walls, a nonprofit focused on poverty awareness—and his daughter, Zion, who became interested in her dad’s work when she went with him to work one day when she was seven years old.

The story is straightforward. Zion’s dad asks if she wants to go to work with him. He says his job is to make sure the people he helps know that they matter. They make a stop for food. Her dad orders FIFTY sandwiches. Why did he need so many? Then, they get to the community shelter. Zion sees all the people there—all colors, all ethnicities, all ages. Zion spends the day helping the people, playing with the kids, and learning to see that the people she met weren’t really any different from her. She decides to tell her school about the community center and get them engaged in helping and sharing. The book ends with Zion and Terence delivering all the things they’ve collected to the shelter.

The final page of the book is a nonfiction note from Terence and Zion. They talk about the heart of this story—which is to help readers be more aware of the more than a million students experiencing homelessness in the United States. They give a quick plug for their ministry, Love Beyond Walls, and talk about the need to see those experiencing homelessness as people created in the image of God. They also talk about the good that young people can do in this work.

Overall, Zion Learns to See is fine. There’s no big aha moment. The story is straightforward. It’s simplistic, as befits a picture book. Subi Bosa’s illustrations shine, really bringing the book to life in vibrant color. But I kept feeling like I wanted more depth. And I struggle with whether or not that is a fair complaint to have when it comes to a picture book.

I think it could have pushed the message more. But what was the message? That young kids can engage in community activism? That all people are valuable? That even kids experience homelessness? The story touches on all these points but never really drives it home. It’s hard to criticize a story that’s based on real life experiences (and life is story, after all). But geared toward young kids, I would liked to have seen a stronger thematic push to ensure the message came through.