Our Interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones, part 2: best enjoyed with some iced tea and fireworks!

Blog Birthday 2

Happy Fourth of July! We hope today’s holiday finds you enjoying the company of family and friends, hopefully some corn on the cob, and plenty of sunshine! On our end, I’m eagerly anticipating the homemade ice cream (in process right now) and Texas cake.

Before you head out to the fireworks, kick back with some iced tea and enjoy part two of our interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones on writing theologically for children, her own reading influences, and her encouragement for parents, pastors, and those who work with children. If there’s anyone you know who loves Sally’s work, or who works with children and would find encouragement in her words – please do pass both parts of the interview along!

We’re also giving away a second copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing! We’re interested in thinking through and finding good devotional materials for children: books that honor the complexity and depth of children’s spiritual needs, and so in a way that isn’t contrived or forced. Let us know your favorite devotional material, activity, or simple practice to do with children — or your desires for one, if you haven’t found it. All commenters will be entered in a drawing to win Sally’s book.

Here you go. Enjoy!

Aslan’s Library: We don’t want to neglect Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. I’ve been reading it every night with my 6-year-old daughter, and it’s a lovely, rich way to end the day. I especially love the profound respect it holds for the spiritual lives of children – their anxieties and joys and experiences of God. It’s something I often underestimate, honestly, as a parent. What inspired you to write the book?

Sally Lloyd-Jones: Almost overnight, my 8 year-old niece went from being a vivacious little girl who sang her way through life—as if she was singing the soundtrack of her own life the movie—and became a frightened withdrawn child who spoke so softly you could barely hear her.

It was as if she was literally losing her voice, herself.

And then we found out she was being bullied at school.

Later, she told me that she thought if she tried not to be her, she wouldn’t get in trouble.

It broke my heart. And I wished she had a book to read before school to hear what God says about her, not what those bullies were saying about her. So I thought I better write one—it’s called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing. And so it became a book of hope for children.

I wanted it to be a book gorgeous to look at—the picture in my mind was that it would be like a jewel, something that a child would want to keep by their bedside. Jago’s stunning illustration and the gorgeous design are of course absolutely integral to the whole. They make the book something a child will want to treasure. They make the truth accessible. They tell the story in their own way. Beauty and excellence—anything less is not good enough for children.

The other bonus is that adults are reading it as well—and in fact it just won an award for best inspirational book—not in the children’s category but in the adult. That makes me very happy. It is a great recognition of children and their literature and affirmation that they deserve nothing but the very best we can give them.

AL:  Our readers are largely lovers of children’s literature, theological and otherwise, and would love to know: where did your journey as a children’s book writer begin? How did you find your calling?

SLJ: When I was seven I was given a book. I couldn’t put it down. It was Edward Lear’s The Complete Nonsense.

Things have not been the same since.

I had no idea you could be that silly in a book. I didn’t know it was allowed.

And it had all these crazy drawings in it and loony limericks that looked liked something I could try. And so I did. (My poor friends and family.)

That’s where it all began.

Later, in my first job as an editor in children’s publishing, I wrote the stories and poems to go inside their board books (they couldn’t afford to pay a “real author”). But that kind of writing didn’t count, I decided, I had my eye on picture books and harbored a dream of one day writing one—but I thought you had to write in a special way and sound like a picture book writer sounds. But I didn’t know what that was—let alone how to do it.

And then my nephew was born and I had a real child to write for. I stopped trying to sound like a children’s book and began just writing like I’d talk to Harry. And that got me back to the place where I’d begun—with Edward Lear and what he did so brilliantly: just be him on the page.

That’s what I think it means to “find your voice.” I started to just write what made me laugh. Or cry. And that’s when doors opened and I got my first picture books published.

I’m the luckiest person in the world because I have the best readers in the world. Children will go with you. They’re up for it in a way that we grown-ups sometimes aren’t. It’s a privilege and a responsibility.

Aslan’s Library: If you had one message you’d like parents, influencers, pastors, children’s ministry workers to send to the children they teach, what would that be?

SLJ: I wouldn’t presume to tell pastors or parents or teachers or ministry workers what to do. But from what I’ve seen, I think for children—whose lives are so filled with rules—what they need most from us is Grace, what they need most to hear from us is that they are loved by the one who made them—with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. And He has a plan for each of them that only they can do. He needs them. Here. Now. And they are part of his great and glorious story.

Thank you, Sally, for sharing with us: answering our questions, and sharing your experience of God’s love with our kids in your books!

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6 thoughts on “Our Interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones, part 2: best enjoyed with some iced tea and fireworks!

  1. Our family would love to enjoy the new book! Our whole family is encouraged by the Jesus Storybook Bible, and we’ve already loved our way through three copies.

  2. We also love the Jesus Storybook Bible – we read it every night for family devotion time before our son goes to bed. It is so beautifully written and illustrated – I have never seen a children’s Bible like it!
    Just to share a wonderful idea that some friends did with their children for family Bible study time:
    They would read from the adult Bible (I think the kids were 6 and 4) and read the piece several times. Then, without them explaining anything, they would give the children a chance to draw how they heard/experienced the piece of Scripture. The children would explain their drawings, and then a wonderful time of discussion followed around the drawings. Such a good way to see what they understood, and help them in understanding it the right way!!
    I will definitely do this when my son is old enough.

    Kari

    • I love the idea your friends used, Kari. It reminds me of the response time in Godly Play (the children’s worship our church does), and I like the idea of inviting kids to respond creatively, teaching them dynamic engagement (and sometimes struggle!) with Scripture from an early age. I’ll definitely try this!

  3. We love the Jesus Storybook Bible, first being introduced to it when our son was born — we received 3 copies! Now with a 3 year old and 1 year old, we have limited attention for devotionals. Our favorite in this “explorer” phase is to take the boys on nature walks and talk about the things that God made for us: creation, each other, animals, trees, emotions like love, wind, our senses, etc. We try to teach how to see the awe of what is around us, freely given. We try to share how thanksgiving is our response to all that we have in God.
    Thank you for Aslan’s Library and for featuring wonderful works, like SLJ’s Storybook Bible. It helps this mom navigate children’s literature to find true works of beauty that point to God’s character.
    Nancy

    • That’s one of those simple, beautiful activities that I tend to overlook: just walking, looking, observing, and praising together. I love the idea of modeling attentive awareness and gratitude for God’s blessings that constantly surround us. Thanks for the reminder, Nancy!

  4. Thanks for sharing that, Nancy! My son is 2, and I totally agree with the limited attention! What better way to teach our children about God in this phase, than what you described. Everything He has created is so wonderful and exciting; sometimes we forget that in our busy lives, and miss the wonder of it all. I am grateful for the chance to explore it all again through little innocent eyes.
    Kari

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