The Power of Reading
About the Guest
What summertime activities should parents be seeking during a time when those may be limited? Sally Lloyd-Jones recommends getting your kids into some books. She talks about the impact that stories can have on kids, even for sharing the gospel.
Sally Lloyd-JonesSally Lloyd-Jones is a leading writer of inspirational books for children. She is the author of three bestselling children’s Bibles, including the Moonbeam Award winner and ALA notable The Jesus Storybook Bible, as well as Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, winner of the ECPA Inspirational Book award. She has written many picture books for children, such as the critically acclaimed New York Times bestseller How to Be a Baby: By Me, the Big Sister and ...more
Sally Lloyd-Jones recommends getting your kids into some books. She talks about the impact that stories can have on kids, even for sharing the gospel.
The Power of Reading
Michelle: When you’re talking with little children, have you ever wondered how to develop their imagination, and wonder, and minds? Well, Sally Lloyd-Jones says there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about doing that, especially during story time.
Sally: Well, whenever we read a story—and we say, “What that story’s about…”—whatever we put on the other side of “about,”—that becomes the only thing the story’s about. The minute we do that, it’s terrible; it’s the worst thing you could ever say. I’m passionate about that, because what that does is—basically, you’ve decided what that story is about; you’ve decided what God might want to say to that child. But what if God wants to say something completely different?
Michelle: We’re going to go back to storytelling school today with Sally Lloyd-Jones and talk about what our children need. They need hope, and they also need joy; and they need us on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, I am tired today, because I have spent the last several days with a toddler and a five-year-old. Their mommy and daddy were in the hospital with their brand-new little sister, so “Auntie Chell” came in to save the day. Let me tell you, moms, I feel ya! Little kids are exhausting!
You know, it was so neat to watch their minds come up with things for us to do. Yes, we had to pry the five-year-old’s fingers off the tablet and from his shows; but once it was gone, and we were outside, the things that came to their little minds were amazing, and funny, and full of wonder. We played games; we chalked up the sidewalk; we ate ice cream; we went for a hike in the woods; we splashed in the creek; we sang songs; we went for a hunt for bears; and then, we played the “I Spy” game. There were just all kinds of fun things! We came up with songs and Dr. Seuss stories.
It got me to thinking about this generation that’s being raised now. You know, they say that Generation Z is like the Greatest Generation; they lived through the recession of the year 2008, and that shaped them when they were young. If that’s true for them, how is this current generation, who is living through COVID and watching the aftermath: “How is that going to shape them as they watch Mommy and Daddy live through this crisis?” You know, our kids do pick up on the stresses of life and, just like us, they need hope.
Sally Lloyd-Jones is a British children’s book author. You may recognize her for her book, The Jesus Storybook Bible. She has spent a lot of time with children, and she says hope is the number one thing that most children need.
Here’s Sally Lloyd-Jones with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Sally: I think kids look to us for everything, and that’s the right thing; but I wonder sometimes, in all the things we’ve given kids, have we forgotten to give them hope? You know, we have to instruct them; we have to teach them; but as adults, we need hope. Every morning, we need hope as we go into our days.
I just started to look at that and think, “I don’t think my nieces are getting hope.” They’re getting a lot of: “You do this,” “You do that,”—a lot of morality, which has its place—but unless you know, first of all, that you’re loved and that God says these incredible things about you, it’s going to be very hard to get the rules right.
Dennis: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask you: “Why are you saying, ‘Kids need hope’?” That wouldn’t be something—if I listed the top needs of kids—I think I’d probably go with character, with wisdom rather than foolishness.
Dennis: You’re starting with hope; why?
Sally: I think because children are so easily discouraged. I can see it in my nieces and nephews. They can have this sense that they are not getting it right. I knew I was a child like that—I wasn’t getting it right.
To have a book that tells you: “Look at what God says about you: He made the heavens; He made cheetahs; He made mountains; but what does He say is His masterpiece?—you!” See, when a child gets that message, something awakens in them. Then, out of that, comes everything else: I think heroism, courage, character.
But if they are beaten down with shame—and I think there is a lot of shame out there; not that we’re putting it there—but I know, as a child, I thought I wasn’t getting it right; because I wasn’t keeping God’s rules, and I wasn’t as brave as Daniel. I just had the sense that I wasn’t doing it quite right and making God into a slightly, not-very-pleased Father.
Dennis: So which one of these stories in here, that you’ve written in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing—would you call these poems?
Sally: That’s interesting. They did feel a bit like haiku, because you had to make them so lean and short.
Sally: They have to land; so in a way, they are.
Dennis: Each one is usually on one or two pages, and there is an illustration that goes with it.
Dennis: Go ahead and read the one that you’ve selected there.
Sally: Okay, so this one is called “Hope.”
When we use the word, “hope,” we say things like, “I hope we win.” It’s like wishing for something we’re not sure will happen; but in the Bible, hope means being absolutely certain something will happen. Jonathan Edwards, a preacher, said: “There are three things we can hope in if we belong to Jesus. One, God will turn even the bad things around for your good in the end. Two, your good things can’t ever be taken away from you. And three, the best things are yet to come.”
It doesn’t mean that everything in our story is happy today but that God is making the story end happily for the world and for His children. “The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope” Romans 15, verse 13.
Dennis: I’m glad you’ve anchored each of these stories with a Scripture.
Sally: I think that’s important, isn’t it? Because otherwise, it’s like, “Well, where did you get that from?” You have to have the authority behind it to say—especially, when you are distilling it down so much.
Bob: When you go to visit your nieces and nephews, do they want Aunt Sally to read a story?
Sally: Well, they are a bit old now, you see? That’s the trouble: I’m a bit slow. I get the inspiration, and then it takes me so long; they’ve grown into other things.
Bob: Have you ever felt like writing for children is kind of “You know, that is what lesser writers do”?
Sally: Well, I’ve come to see that’s not true; but I know that that’s a view that can be out there. I think a lot of times—you know, I’ve had people come up to me, well-meaning, holding one of my picture books, flipping through it backwards—which is really unfortunate for a writer, because it means it doesn’t really matter which order the words come in, you know?—flipping through it backwards, cheerfully announcing: “You know, I think I’m going to do one. I mean, really, how hard can they be?”
I tell that story because, first of all, how many of us would ever dream of going up to a surgeon and saying: “Angioplasty—I mean, really, how hard it can be? I’m going to do one.” [Laughter] But it tells you something—not so much what it says about children’s writers, because that’s not the important thing—it tells you what they think about children. What it tells you is that they don’t have a high enough view of children.
Obviously, children are much cleverer than we give them credit for; they don’t miss a single thing. Anyone who knows children should know that. We need to write better than we write for adults; because the responsibility is much greater, because you are dealing with young people.
Dennis: You’ve been in America now for 25 years.
Dennis: Tell us what you observe about how Americans value children.
Sally: I think they value them greatly, but I would say also—going back to the hope—in wanting to provide for children, we can sometimes, it seems to me, overwhelm them. We give them so much; they are so programmed. At least, this is what I’ve noticed with my friends and families that I’m around. The children have rich lives, but I sometimes think maybe it’s too much.
Maybe it would be nice for them just to be able to run outside and play rather than be scheduled to do all these different things—that are all great things—that could be, maybe, too much. Maybe, there is room for play, where imagination/where you just go outside and play rather than be scheduled off to do this and then that.
Dennis: That’s kind of an interesting conclusion, coming from a young lady, who was sent to boarding school at the age of eight. I would wonder if, at a boarding school, if there would be time set aside to just scoot you off to go play—much like parents would in the front yard—but at a boarding school, I don’t know—tell me if I’m wrong there.
Sally: That’s all we did do—was run around in the grounds. Then, we would be all running and imagination. I think that’s probably—you’re right; that’s where it’s coming from—because that, to me, is the richness of my childhood.
Dennis: So, they gave you plenty of time to be able to play and to imagine—
Dennis: —and to grow your gifts.
Sally: Yes; so we had schedules, but that’s not the main thing I remember. I remember hours of playing with my friends in the garden; that’s the thing I remember. When I see children doing all these different things, I feel sorry for them; because I think, as a grownup, it makes me stressed; I feel anxious with their schedule. It’s worse than mine, and mine is pretty bad. You know what I mean?
I know what I’m like—I suppose that’s what I start thinking—I know what I get like when I have too much going on. It’s crazy, and it feeds on itself. I sometimes think there is so much pressure on parents to do it perfectly; I feel sad, because there is no such thing. We can’t do everything perfectly. Loving your child—it might be simpler; maybe it’s simpler—but it’s jolly hard. I know, because of all the competition between parents, it seems to me. You are all meaning to do the right thing and help your child; but sometimes, it just seems so overwhelming and burdensome.
Bob: What do you think are the most important things? We’ve talked about hope. Are there things like hope that you would say, if you were talking to a parent, “Make sure that your child understands this…”?
Bob: Hope would be one of those things. What would some of the others be?
Sally: Well, I always make a disclaimer: I don’t presume to tell parents, or teachers, or anyone what they should be doing; but when I am with children, what I want to first of all do is have a sense of fun with them. You know, make them comfortable; be on their level and talk to them. They are people; they’re just smaller. And talking to them as someone—like you would talk to a friend—not sort of so that you are teaching them everything all the time, but having a conversation.
The other thing I’ve found helpful is asking, “I wonder…” questions. You know, sometimes I’ll be going around, speaking about The Jesus Storybook Bible. I tell this story on myself, that it’s very easy to read a story and then, at the end of the story, go, “Well, what that really means is this….” and then, you kill the story with some lesson that you’ve made up.
Instead of doing that, just say—like with the boy and his lunch—it’s so easy/the easiest thing to do—and I’ve done it—is to say, “Now, what does this story teach us about how we should behave?” But that’s not why this story is there; the story is there because Jesus did something incredible with what the little boy gave Him.
What I’ve found more helpful is to say/to wonder with a child so that you are on their level. You’re not the teacher, telling them. There is a place for the teacher; but as a parent, to sit with a child and be: “Well, I wonder what would happen if we gave God what we had? What would happen if you gave Him everything you had? What might He do with you?”
Just open it up to the child so that the child—their imagination takes it from there, and God works from there. I think that’s one of the key things—is to leave it open. That’s one of the things I wanted to do in Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing—is to leave it in that wonder so that, then, it’s between the Holy Spirit and the child what happens next. I don’t think we need to know exactly what’s happening; we just help them.
Bob: See, here’s—as you were saying that, I was thinking I would say, “I wonder, if Jesus had had only three loaves and one fish, do you think some in the crowd would have gone hungry?”
Sally: See, that’s a great question; they’d love that.
Bob: It would cause them to stop and think—
Bob: “What if He had a whole can of fish?”
Bob: “What if He had…”
Sally: Right; and engaging children, and not putting yourself up as the teacher, because then the child is just going to think there is a right answer and a wrong answer; they are going to think they are at school. The crucial thing, I think, for time at home, is to get away from that school thing and just be together, finding out how much God loves us.
Bob: When you started to tackle The Jesus Storybook Bible, that’s not a small project.
Bob: You had written some picture books for children.
Bob: Again, I don’t want to dismiss that as being something that’s easy or simple to do, but now we’re talking about a body of work that is pretty extensive. That had to be a little overwhelming, just to even consider.
Sally: Oh, yes. You know, I would sit down every morning, and there would be all these—you know, Anne Lamott talks about dysfunctional relatives that pull out your chairs behind you whenever you sit down to write—well, I had those, plus the holy ones. I had people saying: “That’s not funny. Why did you do that?” People are going to think I’m crazy now, aren’t they?—with all the voices. But this is a writer, and writers are a bit crazy.
You have all this resistance when you are sitting down. For me, it would be voices like: “You can’t say that; that’s not funny,” or “Oh, someone else will write this much better than you.” But on top of that, I then had: “Who do you think you are to write a Bible storybook? You didn’t have a very good quiet time,” and “What makes you think that you know anything? Shouldn’t someone like Frederick Buechner be doing this?” [Laughter] You know, all that sort of stuff. I’d get so overwhelmed.
One time, I did actually have—I was working on the story of Joseph—I thought, “You know, Frederick Buechner would write this much better than me.” Then, I thought, “Okay; well, this is rubbish.” I got to the point where I so frustrated myself that I said to God: “You got me in the mess, so You have got to do it. Unless You do it, it won’t get done; so You better do it.” Then, I started writing.
I think, when I get into that place, I’m in the best place I can be; because that’s the truth. Unless God does it, it won’t get done. He’s given us the gifts, but I can have a headache and not be able to do anything; so it’s all His grace. I know that you have to work hard at your craft, but God gives you the idea; but He’s the One who provides the harvest. He’s the author of the success of the book. I’m very grateful that it was overwhelming, because it put me in the right place.
Dennis: I want you to read the 23rd Psalm that you’ve written here, Page 132. What do you call this?
Sally: I guess it’s a paraphrase.
Dennis: I was going to say, “Is it the paraphrase according to Sally?”
Dennis: You’ve written a little piece at the beginning called “The Good Shepherd.” It’s about David.
Dennis: You tell that story, and then you set up the 23rd Psalm.
Sally: Shall I read the paraphrase?
God is my Shepherd, and I am His little lamb. He feeds me. He guides me. He looks after me. I have everything I need. Inside, my heart is very quiet; as quiet as lying still on soft, green grass in a meadow by a little stream. Even when I walk through the dark, scary, lonely places, I won’t be afraid; because my Shepherd knows where I am. He is here with me. He keeps me safe. He rescues me. He makes me strong and brave. He is getting wonderful things ready for me—especially for me—everything I ever dreamed of. He fills my heart so full of happiness; I can’t hold it all inside. Wherever I go, I know God’s never-stopping, never-giving-up, un-breaking, always-and-forever love will go too.
Michelle: God’s never-stopping, never-giving-up, un-breaking, always-and-forever love.” Doesn’t that just fill your heart full of warmth and hope?—not just for your kids—but also for you!
Hey, we need to take a break; but when we come back, Sally Lloyd-Jones is going to continue talking to us about filling our children full of hope and also wonder. We’ll take a look at that when we come back. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You know, when I was a little kid, Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House books went with me everywhere. I packed them with me when I was at the playground during recess. I packed them with me when I went to my grandmother’s house. They went with me everywhere! Books have a prominent place in our lives; they help us develop our mind and so much more.
Today, we’re listening to Sally Lloyd-Jones, who is a popular British children’s book author. You probably have heard of The Jesus Storybook Bible; she wrote that! She’s talking to us about where her love of books came from. Here’s Part Two of her interview with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Sally: When I was about seven, I thought books were to learn/to be serious—to do at school. I wasn’t a child that really thrived at school; I was a bit dreamy. I was given this book called The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear. In England, a lot of people know that book. They may not in America; he’s not quite so well-known here. I’d advise everyone to get that book—and I’m not getting anything; it sounds like I’m getting referrals—but I’m not! I’m just passionate about it. The reason I am is that it changed everything.
I got this book, and it was the first book I ever read all the way through; I was seven. I opened up the book; and there were these insane, in a good way, crazy limericks about people with long noses; and great, long beards; and birds that nested in the beards, you know? Then, he did all the drawings in pen himself; they were completely like just zany. It was a revelation; I had no idea you could have so much fun inside a book, and it changed everything!
From then on, I wrote limericks and illustrated them, and inflicted them on my poor friends and family. The reason I tell that story is that, they often say that whatever you were doing when you were maybe six—five, or six, or seven—before you became self-conscious, and you became what you thought everyone wanted you to be—whatever you loved doing at that point often clues you in to what should be in your life, whether it’s your job or a hobby.
For me, it’s been proven so true. I was loving this book that was so much fun and having fun inside books; and now, all these years later—it took a long time, and a long journey, and very twisty—but here I am, all these years later, basically having fun inside books and hoping that I can get children to have fun inside books.
Dennis: —inviting them to the party.
Sally: Yes, exactly; and realizing laughter—that is such a gift that God’s given us.
Bob: You had an experience, where you were telling a Bible story to a group of children, and it changed your thinking about how to tell stories to them.
Sally: Yes; I like to tell this story on myself, because I don’t ever want anyone to think I think of myself as an expert. I’m learning every time I read to children. This particular time, I was invited to a Sunday school. I was reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible; it was probably about six years ago.
I’m very good at getting children out of control; I think that’s part of my job—[Laughter]—getting them laughing—but I’m not so good at getting them under control. The Sunday school teacher had wandered away, so I read this whole story: Daniel and the Scary Sleepover. The story’s all about Daniel and how he was obedient, even though he might be punished and killed; and that, one day, God was going to send another hero, who would again be willing to do whatever God told Him, no matter what it cost Him—that’s how the story ends.
While I’m reading this story, there’s this young girl—she’s probably about six—she’s kneeling up. As I’m telling this story, she’s so engaged that she’s almost trying to get into my lap; she’s so engaged. At the end of the story, I panicked; because there was no teacher. I thought, “I have to say something.” I went, “So, children,”—and I was horrified to hear this come out of my mouth—I said, “So children, what can we learn about how God wants us to behave?”
As I said those words, the little girl—she physically slumped—her head bowed, and she slumped. I have never forgotten it, because I think that is a picture of what happens to a child when we make a story into a sermon. Because I said that question at the end of the story, I basically made that story all about her instead of pointing to Jesus. The minute we do that, we leave the child in despair; because we don’t need to be told to do it better. If we could do it better, Jesus never needed to have come.
The story of Daniel is there, not to tell us what we should be doing; it’s to tell us: “Look, this is what God is going to do. God is going to bring someone—who is not going to be saved at the last minute—who is going to actually die to rescue us, and that’s the most incredible story.”
I’ve learned from that, and I have never forgotten it; because whenever we read a story and then we say, “Well, what that story’s about…”—whatever we put on the other side of “about”—is basically what we leave the child with; that becomes the only thing the story is about.
Bob: To say: “The moral of the story is…”
Sally: —is the worst thing you could ever say. I’m passionate about that! It’s terrible.
Bob: But don’t you want kids to get it?
Sally: You do; but what that does is, basically, you’ve decided what that story is about. You’ve decided what God might want to say to that child; but what if God wants to say something completely different? It puts too much power in our hands. It would be much better to leave the story, because I believe a story is a seed; it grows when it’s left alone. It may take years for us to see the fruit of it. We may not see it growing, but that’s what a seed does; it grows in the dark.
Sally: It’s almost, I think, none of our business. If we read a good story to a child, it’s between the child and the Holy Spirit what happens with that seed. It’s not that we shouldn’t ask questions; it’s just that I think we need to be careful not to reduce the story down into a moral lesson—because there’s a place for moral lessons—but stories are so much more powerful, because they can transform your heart. A lesson doesn’t usually/like a moral lesson often leaves you feeling like the little girl—she felt in despair—because it was suddenly like, “God isn’t pleased with you, because you’re not as brave as Daniel.”
Sally: That’s what I used to think as a child.
People often say, “Well, if you can’t ask, ‘What is the moral of the story?’ what question can you ask?” because, sometimes you need a question. I always say: “What about if you, with the child”—like it’s you, on the same level with the child, as if you’re kneeling together before our Heavenly Father, because we are all children before Him—“What if you read the story together/coming together, not as you as the teacher, but as you and the child, as children of God? You listen to the story and then you go, ‘Wow!’ and you wonder aloud, and you say something like—say with the story of the feeding of the 5,000—instead of saying, ‘Well, children, what can we learn about sharing our lunch?’ you say, ‘The boy gave Jesus everything he had. I wonder what would happen if we gave Jesus everything we have?’ and you leave it open.”
Suddenly, that becomes completely open, and the child’s imagination can soar with that. That’s a question, I think, that’s a good thing to ask; but it’s not trying to teach a lesson.
Bob: Part of what you do in that question is you put the focus on what God can do—
Bob: —rather than what we’re supposed to do.
Sally: Oh, man; because then there’s hope.
Sally: We need to give children hope, don’t we? They obviously need guidance, and there’s a place for teaching and rules. I just think the story time is sacrosanct. We should come together, before our Heavenly Father, and wonder together.
Michelle: “Wonder together”—such inspiring words from Sally Lloyd-Jones today. Moms and dads, aunties and uncles, grandparents—you know, as you sit down with those little minds that are being shaped, just keep some of what Sally Lloyd-Jones has talked about today—you know, how to share stories from the Bible and how to instill that hope. Keep that in mind as you’re talking with your little ones today.
Hey, next week, dads, we’ve got a show just for you!—if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed/if you are feeling on top of the world—because you are superman with super powers! Hey, next week, it’s Father’s Day—hint, hint if you haven’t gotten your dad a card yet. Please listen in next week; we’ve got a great half-hour planned just for you.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, Keith Lynch, to our producer, Marques Holt. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and queen of it all, our production coordinator, is Megan Martin.
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