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.
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.
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 Betsy Bird
Betsy 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.
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