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who sang her way through life—as if she was singing the soundtrack of her own life the movie—and became a frightened withdrawn child who spoke so softly you could barely hear her.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!

And the winner is…

Thanks so much, all of you, who dropped by to share a little virtual birthday cake! And for your birthday wishes and kind words. It’s always really good for us to hear what all of you are enjoying reading, what you find helpful, what you would like to hear more about.

And now to the drawing! Drum roll, please…

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We’re super excited to send Hannah a copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing! (Hannah, shoot us an email with your mailing info, and we’ll get it out ASAP!)  Thank you to everyone who commented – and check back again on Tuesday for the second half of our interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones, as well as another giveaway. Because it’s summer, and what’s better than a little reading in the sun?

A Gift For You: Our Interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones (part 1), Plus a Giveaway!

Blog Birthday 1

Happy summer, dear readers! Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning, or only recently stumbled across the blog, we’re so glad you’ve joined us on the adventure.

To celebrate 3 (3!) years of reading and writing about good, true, and beautiful theological kidlit, we’re thrilled to host an author of some of those books. We’re grateful to Sally Lloyd-Jones for taking the time to share with us about the process of writing theologically for children

We’ll also be giving away a copy of Sally’s recently released devotional for children, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, as an additional birthday present. To enter the random drawing, simply leave a comment sharing a book or a post that you’ve particularly enjoyed from the past three years – think of it as a birthday present to us. (No, I’m not above hinting which gifts I would like…just ask my family.)

And now, with no further ado: the interview!

Aslan’s Library:  We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about choosing story bibles for our children, and which ones to recommend to others. After all, a story bible is often a child’s first experience of Scripture – and yet, it’s not Scripture itself, not exactly. So any story bible we read with our children needs to be a faithful guide and witness; but it’s also, by nature, a partial and limited retelling of the messy, complicated, and HUGE Book that tells us “the true story of the whole world.” That’s a big task for an author! Did you feel that challenge when you began writing The Jesus Storybook Bible? How do you hope it will help children to approach the Bible?

Sally Lloyd-Jones: One time I saw this guy doing scrimshaw. I asked him, as he was carving a whale on a small piece of ivory, how long it took him. He looked up, paused and said, “About 5 hours and… 35 years.”

In a sense, your whole life goes into whatever you do. It’s taken my whole life so far putting it together that the Bible is not a collection of individual stories teaching us moral lessons that if we follow we can get God to love us, but a wonderful true story of a God who loved us so much, that he stepped out of heaven, came down and rescued us.

When I was 6, I went to a Sunday school that was very strict and seemed to me to be all about rules. I hated it. But I am grateful for it now—without it I wouldn’t remember what it feels like as a child to see God as a strict rule giver who is never pleased with you. That Sunday school fueled my passion behind writing the book: I want children to see that the Bible is not mostly a rulebook—it’s most of all a story. And it really isn’t so much about them and what they need to be doing—it’s about God and what he has done. Rules don’t have power to change you. But a story—God’s Story—can.

AL: One of our favorite things about The Jesus Storybook Bible is, of course, the way it teaches children that the Bible is essentially about God and his action – particularly, that it is a witness to Jesus. I was sold when I first picked up a copy and perused the introduction: “It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is a baby. Every story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle – the piece that makes all the other pieces fit together, and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.” 

We don’t often teach our children the stories this way. Do think the traditional way has led to a somewhat fragmented view of Old and New Testament?

SLJ: Definitely. You hear people saying, Let’s just read about Jesus and stick with the NT. As a child I thought that. But he is in the OT—all the way through. And seeing him there—it melts your heart. And it also shows you the Father’s Heart. You see the sacrifice, the depth of his love for us, the incredible richness of the story. No wonder angels never tire of it and can’t stop wondering at it and long to look into it.

The subtitle of The Jesus Storybook Bible is “Every Story Whispers His Name” because the Bible is all about Jesus. Both the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus himself said so.

AL: Are you finding adults are enjoying the Jesus Bible Storybook as well?

SLJ: Yes—and it was nothing I, or anyone else, expected. And at the same time it has me saying, “Of course!”

Of course God would do that. Of course he would blow us all out of the water and do something we never imagined. Of course he would use little children to lead us. (Of course he would—he has such a high view of children!) Of course he would use a humble children’s book to do something profound. To speak to parents as well as children; to help pastors preach; to be a set text in literature classes and theological classes; to speak to college students, to teenagers, to couples in their devotions; to be the book Japanese business men are studying before work; to be the book Chinese prostitutes are reading; to be a tool for sharing the gospel on missions trips,with English as a second language.

It’s thrilling and humbling and a huge honor—and I am very aware who is the author of the book’s success. To him goes all the glory and praise.

Next week, we’ll post the second half of our interview, in which Sally shares the genesis of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, as well as some of her own childhood reading. Be sure to stop back by!

Empty Space on the Shelves! A Call for Recommendations

Hey there, wonderful Aslan’s Library readers! I just spent a couple of hours combing through my booklists, checking library availability, and preparing a big long list of books to read and (hopefully!) review. But I can’t shake the feeling that I am Missing Something. Maybe I’m just tired of seeing only through my own two eyes, and would like some fresh perspective and new books?

(Do you ever find that you gravitate towards the same kinds of books for your kids, over and over? Our library branch is small enough that I’ve realized I do. I just keep checking the same books out unless I plan ahead and make some requests. In fact, I had a fairly eye-opening experience lately when we got a tote bag full of books from our preschool. Glancing through them, I felt the same mild disinterest I do when scanning an uninspiring shelf at the library. “I would have totally passed these over,” was my thought. “But now I have to read them.” I proceeded do just that, with the almost-three-year-old, and we actually mostly enjoyed them. It turns out that I have an unconscious bias against talking animal books, unless they’re fairy tales. Those are the books I always pass by without a second glance – to our reading poverty, apparently.)

Anyhow, in the event that I’m practicing a theological version of my unconscious anti-talking-animal bias: I’m polling all of you for some recommendations. Are there beloved titles on your shelf that you think belong in Aslan’s Library? Any new releases that you’ve been eyeing, trying to decide whether to purchase?

Oh, and by the way: keep your eyes open for some anniversary goings-on around here in the upcoming weeks. It’s hard to believe, but we’re coming up on three years…