Author: Jennifer Johnson
Illustrator: Marley Ungaro
Publisher: This is a self-published book, see www.ProperUseProject.com
Audience: Ages 4-8
Summary: The Proper Use of One’s Shell is a story about a little snail and the snail’s search for friendship and love. At a time when she feels very lonely, the little snail meets Sonny the Sunflower. The little snail says that she is not attractive the way Lily the ladybug is, she has had her feelings hurt by Hassan the Honeybee, and she could not follow the rules of friendship set down by Sammy the slug. Sonny the Sunflower tells the little snail about love, using the words from I Corinthians 13. The little snail says that she cannot know for sure that Sonny is a true friend because the little snail cannot see Sonny’s face. She slides back into her shell and cries. But Sonny whispers that “Love is patient, love is kind…” and gradually the little snail feels loved by Sonny–who has bent down, and brought his face closer to the little snail. At last, the little snail feels loved from the inside out. Unfortunately, Sonny, who was supposed to stay upright, facing the sun, begins to drop his seeds. He says that there is no greater love than one who will lay down his life for his friends. As Sonny’s petals begin to fall to the ground, the little snail is comforted by remembering Sonny’s important words: “Keep me in your heart and you will never really be alone.” The little snail plants sunflower seeds in honor of Sonny and she teaches the lessons she has learned to Ricky the red ant. This busy red ant tells the little snail how beautiful she looks, with many colors reflecting off her shell!
Literary elements at work in the story: Written in the third person, this picture book contains a story which is an allegory about self-discovery,self acceptance, friendship, love, and sacrifice. Scripture is woven into the story at appropriate times. The book includes seven activities parents and children can do together, based on the story of the book. The book lends itself to one-on-one time with parent and child enjoying the message the book provides, but it is also a good “read aloud” picture book for a class of young children. The lovely pictures of the characters bring the story to life. There are several themes; one theme is about being a friend, and what it means to be a friend. Another related theme is that true beauty starts from the inside, and travels to the outside. And there is the theme that “friends” can sacrifice themselves for friends, as Christ sacrificed his life for us. This last theme may be difficult for young children to grasp. It is noteworthy that scripture quoted is from the New International Version of the Bible.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The main character in this story is concerned because she does not have friends, and she is alone. She says that she is not smart enough, or attractive enough to have friends. She learns from a true friend and mentor that she is smart and attractive. She learns that not only can she have a friend, but she can be a friend to others.
Theological conversation partners: The first scripture included in this book is: “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” from Matthew 11:28. The little snail is in need of comforting as she says sadly that she guesses that she must remain alone and without friends. Sonny the Sunflower offers to teach the little snail—the proper use of one’s shell, and corrects the little snail’s thinking concerning friendship. Sonny teaches the little snail about love as described in I Corinthians 13. Another important scripture included at the end of the book is: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth,” from I John 3:18.
The author says that the book’s purpose is “to impart the theme that God has made everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11), and God has gifted us each perfectly and for a purpose.”
Faith Talk Questions:
1. Do you have a favorite picture in the book? Explain why it is your favorite.
2. Why do you suppose Lily, the ladybug, and the little snail stopped being friends?
3. The little snail’s feelings were hurt by Hassan the Honeybee. What did Hassan say that hurt the little snail’s feelings?
4. Try to think of a time when someone said something which hurt your feelings. Discuss what happened.
5. What was Sammy the slug’s plan to have friends? Did it work?
6. How did the little snail help Ricky the red ant with his problem?
7. Sonny the Sunflower says, “If you keep me in your heart, you will never really be alone.” What did Sonny the Sunflower means by these words?
8. The little snail had an outer shell; if we think of our “shell” as our mind, body, and soul, what is the proper use of our shell?
This review was written by Union Presbyterian Seminary student Chris Feno.