The Right Kind of Indoctrination: A Review of Donkeys and Kings by Tripp York
The Right Kind of Indoctrination: A Review of Donkeys and Kings by Tripp York

Christian Children's Books [sigh]

I love reading to my kids before bed. But I find it very difficult to find books that I’m truly excited to read with them. Many Christian children’s books out there are just too hokey. Before finding Donkeys and Kings: And Other “Tails” of the Bible by Tripp York, the only Christian books I'd ever been excited to read to my kids were those from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis. Part of it is just pure selfishness. It’s not just that I don’t want to subject my kids to the subpar storytelling of some Christian children’s books. It’s more that I just can’t tolerate hearing myself read them—and I can only roll my eyes so much before they are bound to get stuck in the back of my head. That's why I'm so thankful for Donkeys and Kings. It’s biblically-literate, theological-astute, accessible to children, and interesting to adults—all at the same time! Also York is a genuinely great writer. His storytelling is compelling, he creates interesting characters, and he skillfully utilizes dialogue.

Is it Indoctrination? Yes, the Good Kind!

In Donkeys and Kings, York tells very familiar biblical stories from the perspective of the animals. Now, that premise may not be unique. But I think York’s Anabaptist 1 take on the overall biblical story is the active ingredient that brings this book to life and makes it brilliant. In each story, you can hear York’s passion for an approach to Christian life that is much more faithful to the New Testament portrait of discipleship. For example, York picks up on the subversive and prophetic contrast meant by Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, rather than a proud stallion, in a story called “Making History.” The Friesian stallion, Constantine, chastises the accidentally history-making donkey, George, saying,
You see, your kind does not get to make history. History is made by the strong, the powerful—those in charge. It is made by kings, Caesars, warriors, government officials, nobility, and stallions. It is not made by the weak, the lowly, those filled with resentment for their small and insignificant place in life. It is not made by creatures like you or the one you gave a ride into the city. (43)
I also loved the strong female stallion character, Sabina, who stands up for George the donkey and confronts Constantine’s clique of bullies. Maybe more of our sons and daughters could benefit from meeting a few more characters like Sabina. York is unapologetic in his endorsement of nonviolence. This might make some readers uncomfortable. If that’s the case for you, I’d recommend you also read either Myth of a Christian Nation by Greg Boyd or Mere Discipleship by Lee Camp. Also, I’d recommend Soong-Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism for its explanation of U.S. American Christianity’s captivity to Western culture (which really should include the justification of violence). Parents, come close; you need to hear this: Your kids are going to get indoctrinated somewhere. There’s no avoiding it! Every day, in a million different ways, messages are bombarding your children. Most of the time these messages are attempts to make them consumers. Those are pretty blatant. Others are more subtly teaching them a way of life, and if that way of life is not the Way of Jesus, they are being indoctrinated by the powers that be. As parents, part of our job is to model and transfer your values and way of life to your children. If you’re a Christian parent, then you're job is to model and transfer the Way of Jesus to your kids. So, if you're the kind of Christian parent that wants your kids to follow the Way of Jesus, you will deeply appreciate this book. If you're the kind of Christian parent who is unaware that your children are being formed into the image of the prevailing cultural milieu, then this book will likely strike you as odd, if not offensive. Good! I’m glad this book cannot be easily dismissed. Like every important message, the message of this book is challenging.

Praise, Minor Critique, and Recommendation

All the stories in Donkeys and Kings are creatively-written, funny at times, moving at others, uplifting, and communicate important biblical truths. If I had one criticism for Donkeys and Kings, it would be that it was too short! I got through my copy, reading one story a night, in just over a week (8 chapters). But I’d also say that, at times, the vocabulary was slightly above my kids’ level (10yo, 7yo, and 6yo). But not drastically more so than Lewis’s Narnia series—and York more than makes up for its sophisticated language with vivid and accessible descriptions. I can’t think of another book quite like Donkeys and Kings. It manages to combine so many good things in one package. If you’re a Christian parent who isn’t content to allow your children to grow up as nationalistic consumers, this is the book for you!
1. If you’d like to read more about York’s Anabaptist views, check out: Third Way Allegiance and the unfortunately titled A Faith Not Worth Fighting For.