In 2003, Cynthia Rylant, Newbery Award winning author of Missing May and the beloved writer best known for her early reader series Henry and Mudge and Mr. Putter and Tabby, wrote a slim volume of poetry entitled God Went to Beauty School. “He went there to learn how/to give a good perm/and ended up just crazy/about nails . . . /He got into nails, of course,/ because He’d always loved/ hands—/ hands were some of the best things/ He’d ever done . . . .
The free verse style and the simple, straightforward language make the poems easily accessible, a lot like the God who’s depicted in them. And despite being, well, GOD, he wonders about the world he set in motion and the things people are doing in it. What a spark of inspiration Cynthia Rylant must have had to write about a God who does the ordinary—who makes spaghetti, who goes skating, and gets a desk job. God also watches too much cable, God has body issues, and God even gets arrested (but it was righteous anger)!
Each poem is written with gentle humor and insight, centering on an unassuming God who’s not throwing his weight around and who gets treated like everybody else. Yet even though he’s being unobtrusive, he’s still GOD, so when “God got in a boat” or “God took a bath,” the actions take on more significance and meaning. And that’s the beauty of this little book: revealing the extraordinary in the ordinary, showing that God can be just like us, or perhaps, we can be a little like God.
A decade later, in the fall of 2013, Cynthia Rylant teamed up with two-time Caldecott Honor medalist Marla Frazee to repackage God Went to Beauty School. The original 23 poems were whittled down to sixteen. The order was reshuffled and the second poem in the first book became the new title, God Got a Dog. In addition to adding Marla Frazee’s incredible illustrations, the most notable change to the new book is God’s interchangeable pronoun. Several poems have recast God as a “she” and the corresponding pictures shows God in a multitude of charming personas—racially diverse, old and young, male and female. There’s God as a middle-aged white guy with red plaid pajamas enjoying his coffee from a smiley-face mug. There’s God as a small, dark-skinned girl sporting a yellow life vest, her numerous pigtails sticking up from her head like exclamation marks as she glides along the lake in a swan boat. And there’s the God in the title poem, an old woman on a rainy day, with an umbrella and shopping bag in one hand and a purse in the other.
God Got a Dog takes the essence of the first book and makes it shine a little brighter. Celebrate the remains of National Poetry Month by checking this title out. Better yet, try both books and do a comparison. Which one do you prefer?