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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Christian Children’s Literature in the Library: A Quick Accounting

So I’m sitting at my desk the other day, paging through some children’s books I was sent from who knows where (my records are spotty at best and comparable to what happens when a raccoon is set free in a paper factory at worst) when I stumble across this book Stories of the Saints by Margaret McAllister, illustrated by Alida Massari.  I don’t need to tell you that here in New York there is a HUGE need for books on saints for kids.  The local Catholic schools regularly assign such a project to their students and I well remember sitting at the reference desk, stumped, as the kiddos asked for books on one obscure saint or another.  So I pick up the book and start reading and lo and behold it isn’t just beautifully illustrated (which it is) but written with a funny, not snarky, style.

Why am I so surprised?  Because great Christian literature for kids, that has been reviewed in professional journals, is very hard to come by. The need is there but the reviews are far and few between.  In New York we try to serve patrons of every religion, but it can be tricky when we’re talking about Christian publishers. Certainly I’ve been rather impressed by Lion Children’s Books as of late, and I’ve always admired the work of Eerdmans Children’s Books.  Add in Zonderkidz and you officially exhaust my knownledge of Christian children’s book publishers.

With this in mind I tapped my friend and author/illustrator Aaron Zenz and began to discuss with him those children’s authors and illustrators that work in the Christan book market.

The first thing Aaron informed me was that there are WAY more of them working in both the Christian and the secular publishing market than you might initially assume.  Here’s a quickie roster of some mainstream author/illustrators that straddle both fields:

N.D. Wilson – One of my first encounters with Nate came when I reviewed his book Leepike Ridge and his father linked to my review.  My blog stats skyrocketed.  Turns out his dad is Calvinist minister Douglas Wilson, who is a big time deal.  Nate writes Christian books for adults like Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl and has a series of interviews and lectures online as well as children’s book titles.  Aaron turned me onto a Lewis / Narnia one shown here:

John Hendrix – According to Aaron, John’s next book with Abrams is about the miracles of Jesus and is due out in 2016.  As it happens, John illustrates his church’s sermon notes and shares his sketchbooks online.  Naturally I hope they’ll be a book in and of themselves someday.

Doug TenNapel – This one I knew.  Turns out that the guy behind books like Bad Island and Cardboard is responsible for a whole lotta VeggieTales and has even been nominated for an Emmy.

Steve Bjorkman – I know him from a variety of picture books he’s illustrated though he may be best known for illustrating Jeff Foxworthy’s books.  Turns out he’s illustrated a bunch of Christian books as well.

Molly Idle – Surprise!  It’s true!  The Caldecott Honor winner actually was better known to Aaron as a Christian book illustrator long before Flora.  Did you know that?  I sure as heck didn’t.

Ben HatkeZita the Spacegirl rocks, but she was hardly Ben’s first work.  Turns out he worked on a couple other things first.

But that is not all, oh no. That is not all.  Aaron was kind enough to give me a rundown of some recommended Christian titles for kids that he can vouch for. And since I found it useful I thought you might like to see it as well.  Here are sixteen of his recommendations with his comments:

1. Tip of the Top, the absolute best of all time are the “Adam Raccoon” books by Glen Keane.  Yes, Glen Keane the animator behind Ratigan, Ariel, Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, Silver, Rapunzel.  There are 10 Adam Raccoon books, but I don’t know their print status, I have no idea if you can still get them.  If they are unavailable, it’s a huge shame.

2. “You are Special” by Max Lucado.  All of Max Lucado’s children’s books tend to be pretty good.  But his six(?) “Wemmicks” books are the best, and the first in the series “You are Special” is far and above.

3. “Tales of the Kingdom” by David and Karen Mains.  There are two other books that follow this one that I haven’t read but have heard aren’t quite as good.  But I’ve read Tales of the Kingdom to hundreds of kids countless times in multiple settings over the years.

4. “Hymns for a Kids Heart” by Bobbie Wolgemuth and Joni Eareckson Tada.  Four volumes – 2 regular, a Christmas one, and an Easter one.  Great stories behind classic hymns with wonderful illustrations.

5. “Noah’s Ark” by Peter Spier.  Classic, and a Caldecott winner, and one of the few shining stars.

6.Parable” — this is a collection of 17 graphic novel stories, just like the Flight series.  It includes work by Ben Hatke (Zita) and Stephen McCranie (Mal&Chad)

7. There are 3 books by Karma Wilson and Amy June Bates that are amazing: “I Will Rejoice,” “Make a Joyful Noise,” and “Give Thanks to the Lord.”

8. “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Kadir Nelson.

9: Two gorgeous books illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson: “Psalm 23″ and “The Lord’s Prayer”

10: Some favorite Biblical Chrstmas ones: “Through the Animal’s Eyes” by Christopher Wormell, “This is the Stable” by Cynthia Cotten and Delana Bettoli, “The Little Drummer Boy” by Ezra Jak Keats

11. There are some beginning readers just now coming out from Zonderkids illustrated by David Miles that are fantastic.

12. There are also some beginning readers from Zonderkids about a bear named Barnabas that I like.

13. “The Nicene Creed” by Pauline Baynes (yep, Narnia’s Pauline Baynes)

14. “Psalm 23″ by Barry Moser

15. “Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise” by Tomie dePaola

16. “Sidney and Norman” by VeggieTales creator Phil Vischer

Aaron’s Bookie Woogie blog has always been one of my favorites out there, partially because it’s one of the only successful review blogs I’ve seen to incorporate children’s comments about books.  I hadn’t noticed all his Christian children’s book reviews out there.  So just in case you need an opinion on some of the titles he recommended, try the following out:

Many many thanks to Aaron Zenz without whom this post would not be possible. As librarians we seek to serve all our patrons, even when the means are difficult.  Information like this can prove invaluable.  Cheers to that.

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Carmen Greene says:

    WOW! Thoroughly enjoyed this! …and, yes, Aaron rocks! ..as do each of his family members!

  2. Thank you for this article and so many good links!

  3. This is a huge help! So many “Christian” books seem to be published based on that word alone, actual quality being a distant consideration…pleased to see we do have a few of these (my kids love the Wemmicks), will start looking for the others!

  4. Thanks for this list! I review books for a Christian audience, and our website covers a wide variety of titles from both secular and Christian publishers. We are constantly on the lookout for truly well done Christian titles. You might like to add Caroline Starr Rose (BLUE BIRDS and MAY B. author) to your list; her husband is a pastor. There are other Christian authors out there, too, writing for the secular market (Janie Cheaney (SOMEBODY ON THIS BUS IS GOING TO BE FAMOUS is her latest) and Andrew Klavan (MINDWAR books) come to mind). Gary D. Schmidt has a few Christian titles (one is a Bible story compilation that is beautifully illustrated, but I can’t remember the illustrator offhand) and N. D. Wilson has some Bible story picture books.

  5. Rachael Starke says:

    Thank you for this list, Elizabeth. To this great list full of names I’d not heard of, can I add Sally Lloyd-Jones? Although she writes broadly and *brilliantly* for younger children (“How to Be a Baby” and “How to Find a Job” are just terrific), it’s books like “Thoughts to Make Your Hearts Sing” that have made her much beloved and considered one of the most influential Christian writers of the late twentieth/early twenty-first century. Also, she’s a longtime New Yorker!

  6. Jon Swerens says:

    Elizabeth: You will also appreciate the many fine books being created by authors aligned with the Rabbit Room. http://www.rabbitroom.com Especially:

    * Andrew Peterson, more well-known as a singer-songwriter but also the author of the four-volume Wingfeather Saga: “On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness,” “North! Or Be Eaten,” “The Monster in the Hollows,” and “The Warden and the Wolf King.”
    * Andrew’s brother A.S. “Pete” Peterson, author of the two-volume “Fiddler’s Gun” and “Fiddler’s Green.”
    * Pete’s wife Jennifer Trafton wrote “The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic.”
    * S.D. Smith, who’s branched out on his own with The Story Warren ( storywarren.com) and is the author of “The Green Ember.”

    • I second the recommendation of the Rabbit Room (and Story Warren)! I have read and love all of the books Jon listed above. Also loved Jonathan Rogers’ Wilderking Trilogy, which is loosely based on the life of King David. When I want to find a good book, I visit the Fiction section of the Rabbit Room store. I’m the mother of three kids 4 and under and can’t wait for my kids to begin reading these!

  7. Elisabeth says:

    This is great! I second the recommendation of the Adam Raccoon books and Tales of the Kingdom if you can find them.

    Two “funny yet not snarky” Bible story collections are Miss Lea’s Bible Stories and Bob Hartman’s Lion Storyteller Bible. These are brilliant read-alouds.

    Another great Christian children’s book illustrator is Dennis Jones. His Read With Me Bible kept my six year old entranced.

    I believe every library should have some of the Trailblazers books by Dave and Neta Jackson. These are historical fiction about Christian heroes such as Martin Luther, Harriet Tubman, John Wesley, and Menno Simons. Homeschoolers love these!
    Thanks for writing about this!

    • I LOVE the Trailblazers. The Jacksons are now selling a CD of electronic copies of all the books.
      I have put the links in “Website” here so you can click on my name to get there. So I’m uncertain if they are still in print or not. My 2nd grader has started reading them. I like that I can print them out and don’t have to worry about the book disappearing at school (too many books this year have) The first was too much (Too scary) to get through but he’s really enjoying the book about William Tyndale (bk 2).

  8. Have you ever read “Psalm Twenty-Three” illustrated by Tim Ladwig? It’s an older book (copyright 1993, I believe) but absolutely wonderful. Here’s how our library catalog describes it: “The text of the familiar psalm comparing God to a loving shepherd accompanies illustrations that shows the world of love and fear faced by an urban African-American family.” Read it once and you won’t forget it.
    PS–I LOVE Pauline Baynes’s Nicene Creed and have given it as a gift on several occasions.

  9. I’m so glad to see Aaron Zenz’s name again! When my first son was born, I was given a copy of his delightful story Hiccupotamus. It has been a family favorite, and I am so glad to see what he’s been doing since then. Thanks so much for the great list!!

  10. Hey! Thanks for mentioning a few of my books. I also love illustrator, Thomas Fluharty who has illustrated a few christian books beautifully. Most of my other favs have been mentioned already (Hi Aaron!)

  11. Ellen Keyes says:

    What about The Mice of the Herringbone series…one of our favorites! ( Tim Davis) We also really love this books for younger readers (best if read aloud)…If Everybody Did..JoAnn Stover. And though the book is not inherently Christian, the author is a burgeoning believer and serious about helping people embrace their gifts and be who they were designed to be….from 5-Foot High Marketing Guy, Jimmy Vee, comes Little Jimmy Says, “Same is Lame!” http://littlejimmybook.com/

  12. Kimberly Brubaker Bradley says:

    Hi Elizabeth–

    Nice post. Can I recommend my own middle-grades novel Leap of Faith? It’s about a young teen’s journey into faith–published by a mainstream publisher, Dial.

  13. Very interesting post, I was wondering if you know a good source for books for the Orthodox Jewish community that are of better quality than much of what is out there…

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      There is one publisher that specializes in Orthodox children’s books, yes. They’re called Hachai Publishing and they’ve been around for 26 years. As far as I can tell they’re the only game in town.

      • Yeah, we get those, and some that I guess are little indie operations, but the quality both in construction and content are lacking…

  14. What a timely post with summer right around the corner! We are compiling family reading lists right now. Thank you!

  15. Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen have written and illustrated winsome picture books based on Jesus’ parables, suitable for preschoolers. Gary Schmidt has a re-telling of Pilgrim’s Progress with stunning illustrations by Barry Moser. And I’d like to second the recommendation for Sally Lloyd-Jones. Her Jesus Storybook Bible does a beautiful job of conveying overarching Biblical themes, rather than just presenting a series of disconnected stories.

  16. Hi Betsy! Long time, no see – because I suck at getting back up with people! :( This is such a great list. I frequently lament the poor quality and gag-worthy market of “Christian” picture books, but I also greatly dislike “Christian” being used as a creative modifier anyway. (See awesome recent article by a music artist I appreciate: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/03/sufjan-stevens-and-a-better-way-to-write-music-about-faith/388802/) But I digress.

    I love all the suggestions here, most especially Adam Raccoon and Butterworth and Inkpen’s creations. I grew up with those and they are making a strong resurgence in our household on my children’s own discovery.

    For vintage titles, I also want to add the Barney Wigglesworth series by Elspeth Campbell Murphy & Yakovetic as well as the Building Christian Character series by Michael Waite with various similar illustrators. Individually, I love Who’s a Friend of the Water Spurting Whale illustrated by Tomie dePaola, Clown of God also by Tomie dePaola, and Psalm 23 by Tim Ladwig (perfect for city dwellers).

    Sally Lloyd-Jones would be a definite strong-name in the current market, although I cringe at some factual issues, the heart and tone of her books are right on. Naoko Stoop did a beautiful little board book called All Creatures Great and Small which we adore. And Ward Jenkins is an excellent illustrator in the picture book market, although I don’t recall him doing any overtly Christian titles yet.

    Thanks for compiling this awesome list Aaron and Betsy! I’m excited to check out the ones I’m not familiar with yet.