Reading to Children
About the Guest
Author Sally Lloyd-Jones tells about her calling as a children's author and stresses the importance of reading and connecting with children. In her latest book, "Baby Wren and the Great Gift," a tiny wren is in awe of the incredible creatures that surround her, all the while wishing she had a special gift to share. As she marvels at the beauty around her, she discovers a unique talent that's been inside her all along.
Author Sally Lloyd-Jones tells about her calling as a children’s author and stresses the importance of reading and connecting with children.
Reading to Children
Bob: Do you read stories to your children? Do you read Bible stories to them? Sally Lloyd-Jones has a caution for you.
Sally: Whenever we read a story and then we say, “Well, what that story’s about…”—whatever we put on the other side of “about”—that becomes the only thing that 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 of 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?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, December 8th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. There is great power in telling good stories. We’ll hear from a great story-teller today, Sally Lloyd-Jones. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. We’re having a delightful time this week with a delightful friend.
Before we introduce her again, we’re in the final weeks of the year. This is a pretty important, pretty strategic time for us as a ministry.
Dennis: It is! I’ll tell you something that delights me—I love hearing from listeners. I heard, recently, from a single mom who said our broadcast gives her hope every day to keep on keeping on. Here’s one from somebody who struggled through the heartbreak of a divorce and a broken family—she said: “It helped me grow in Christ immensely.” And then one other: “Our marriage was falling apart. I started listening, daily, to FamilyLife Today. The information I received gave me the strength to fight for my marriage.”
We have a lot of folks, Bob, who are finding help and hope for their marriage and family. But in order for us to do that, we need listeners to step up and say: “I want to stand with you guys as you guys proclaim the biblical blueprints for a marriage and a family. You’re ministering to marriages and families and leaving legacies, all across the nation and all around the globe.”
Would you stand with us right now?
Bob: It’s easy to make a yearend contribution. You can do it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. There’s a matching-gift opportunity that’s in effect so, when you give your donation, it’s going to be doubled—the impact of your giving will be doubled. You’ll help us reach more people in 2018 and that’s our goal—is to reach more people with practical biblical help and hope. Again, you can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, back to our conversation with our guest, Sally Lloyd-Jones. We’ve been talking about holidays; we’ve been talking about family, and fun, and about food. In fact, you don’t think there can be good Christmas food in Great Britain. When you were over there, you thought all the food was horrible; right?
Dennis: “I was trying to find out a way to get across the English Channel to get to France.” [Laughter]
Bob: Have you watched The Great British Bake Off? Have you watched that show?
Dennis: I have not, Bob.
Bob: Have you watched it?
Sally: Yes; everyone’s obsessed!
Bob: I know, it’s amazing; isn’t it?
Dennis: Bob, I’m concerned about you—you’re watching The British Bake Off!
Bob: The Great British Bake Off is a great reality show. Barbara, you would love The Great British Bake Off.
Barbara: I would? Okay.
Bob: So, make Dennis watch it.
Dennis: No; she wouldn’t; she does not like to cook! [Laughter]
Barbara: I enjoy watching other people cook.
Bob: That’s exactly the point.
Sally: That’s perfectly fine with me!
Dennis: I do want to welcome Sally Lloyd-Jones back to the broadcast. Welcome back.
Sally: Thank you so much.
Dennis: We’re thrilled to have you. She was born and raised in Africa, schooled in England, lives in New York City, but will celebrate Christmas back in England—
Barbara: —eating figgy pudding—we found out.
Dennis: —eating figgy pudding.
Bob: That’s right!
Dennis: She is a great author. She’s written a number of best-selling books, including The Jesus Storybook Bible, Song of the Stars, and one we are going to talk about today called, Found, which is the 23rd Psalm. And then a book about a child’s identity, and his voice in this world their living in. How many books have you written?
Sally: Over 25. I had to count them up the other day.
Dennis: Yes? That’s amazing!
Your whole journey started out writing books for children when you were a little girl and you read a book that opened your mind and your heart to a whole new world with books.
Sally: Yes! When I was about seven, I thought books were to learn, to be serious, [and] 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 by Edward Lear. In England, a lot of people know that book; but they may not in America—he’s not quite so well-known here. But I’d advise everyone to get that book! 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 had 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 and 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. It changed everything. From then on, I wrote limericks and illustrations and then 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’s 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; 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; and I was reading from The Jesus Storybook Bible—it was probably about like six years ago. I’m very good at getting children out of control—I think that’s part of my job, 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 was 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—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.”
So, 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.
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 lead 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 the 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. 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,”—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 lesson?’ what can you ask?”—because, sometimes, you need a question. I always say, “What about if you, with the child”—like it’s you are 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: Amen, because then there’s hope. 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.
Bob: So when you approach writing a story like, Baby Wren and the Great Gift, which is not overtly a Christian story / no Bible verses in it—do you approach that differently than when you are writing something for The Jesus Storybook Bible?
Sally: The helpful thing about The Jesus Storybook Bible is the plot‘s already worked out. [Laughter]
Bob: The story’s already there; yes.
Sally: So with Baby Wren, I try and “be someone on whom nothing is lost.” I think Henry James said that—I may have got that wrong—“be someone on whom nothing is lost.” I’m always open; and that book—what I have learned with books is—an idea will come from anywhere; but when it comes and it hits me in a poignant way, or it makes me laugh, or does something with my heart, I’ve learned to listen; because I realize, “Okay; I think that’s God working to show me there’s something here that I need to follow.”
I don’t always know what the story is—but with Baby Wren and the Great Gift, the thing that struck me was—I was in Texas at Laity Lodge. There was this little wren called a canyon wren. Literally, one time, I was just hearing this huge song; and I said, “What on earth is that?” And they said: “Oh, that’s the canyon wren. You never see it—it’s too tiny to notice—and yet, look at its great song.”
That idea started playing in my head. I started thinking: “That’s like a child. A child is only small, and they have so many insecurities; and where do they belong in the big world?”—that’s where the book came from. That wasn’t really me setting out with a message—it was me responding to a clue I was given and then following clues.
That’s how I think the books come. I trust the Lord with that; because, if the joy and redemption are at the center of my life, they are going to be in my books—I won’t be able to help it. In a way, that frees me to trust the Lord—that my passion is to bless children with the truth and with hope. That can come in the form of pre-evangelistic—it can be like Emily Dickinson said, “Tell all of the truth, but tell it slant.”
The thing about the story is—you’re not coming at it, head on, like you are with The Jesus Storybook Bible—but even there, it’s a story. Every time you tell a story, what happens is—it captures your heart. It doesn’t come at you with rules and lessons; it comes around the side and it captures your heart. I just basically trust that, “If something moves me, that’s something I need to listen to.”
Dennis: I think you’re exhorting us, as adults, as we tell stories to kids, “Let’s leave room for imagination.”
Sally: Yes; that’s really well-put.
Dennis: Comment, if you would, on your children’s book called Found.
Bob: You said that’s an edible book; right?
Sally: Yes! It’s The Jesus Storybook Bible—the edible version. [Laughter] Basically, it’s a padded board book. The board book is one of those books that toddlers cannot rip.
Barbara: They can chew on.
Sally: They can chew on and not destroy—
Dennis: Oh! Okay.
Sally: —because, when you are a baby, you don’t read them; you eat them.
Dennis: You are going all the way through the 23rd Psalm and just unpacking it, verse by verse.
Sally: Yes; it’s the same version as in The Jesus Storybook Bible. We re-illustrated it—we have given it like 12 spreads, I think. If you put, individually, one line on a page and then you illustrate it, you give space to the whole psalm. Jago has done the most incredible job of—what we talk about in picture books, you have to have heart—you have to have it in the text, and you have to have it in the art.
That’s an indefinable thing; but you know when you haven’t got it, and you know when you get it.
Dennis: Well, you’ve got it; because here’s the—I guess, almost halfway through the book—“…even when I walk through the dark, scary, lonely places…”—there’s a lonely lamb in a valley with a rainstorm.
Barbara: That’s my favorite spread.
Dennis: It is mine too.
Barbara: Because that little lamb—it’s just so representative of, not just children, but all of us.
Barbara: He looks so alone, and I think that just captures what we all feel that the 23rd Psalm speaks to.
Sally: You know what’s interesting? It’s children’s favorite spread, as well.
Barbara: Oh, is it?
Sally: They will always go there no matter how tiny they are. I think that’s fascinating; because, again, we try and—it’s appropriate to protect children—but we have to be sure that we are equipping them as well. Little ones know that not everything is right out there. Whether or not we’re telling them, they know—so the more that you give them a safe place—
—that’s why I think they love that spread, because they’re looking at something scary, which they know exists; but they are doing it with you, they’re doing it with the lamb, and together you’re going to get through this story. It’s very important that we let them look at the dark, not just the light, obviously, in an age-appropriate way; but I think that’s why it’s powerful to them.
Dennis: Yes; and then the next page, of course, it says, “I won’t be afraid, because my Shepherd knows where I am.”
Sally: And he’s panned out; hasn’t he? He’s panned out, and you see that he wasn’t alone—the shepherd was running. The look on the shepherd’s face—again, heart—it’s just so—it’s poignant to me. When I saw the illustrations, I was just blown away.
Dennis: Sally, I want to ask you for a book that you’ve never written / a book that has never been illustrated, but it’s a story that is a book in your mind that you love to tell children.
Bob: Are you looking for a scoop here? You trying to get—
Sally: Yes; I mean, gosh! [Laughter] Yes; I know he’s trying! He’s got a notebook—I can see it!—and a recorder. [Laughter]
Dennis: I’ve already got the publisher lined up, fellas! [Laughter]
No; I just have to believe that you’ve got a few tucked away that you’ve never put on parchment—it’s just a favorite of yours. I’d be interested if you wouldn’t mind telling it to our audience here.
Sally: Oh my; I’ve gone completely blank.
Dennis: Have you?!
Sally: Yes; performance anxiety, you see. [Laughter] I need to skip to the loo. Maybe I’ll think about it.
Dennis: Okay! We can come back at the end of the broadcast, and you can tell a story.
Sally: Yes; okay; okay.
Bob: Barbara, as you look at books and their illustrations, you recognize the power that comes. I mean, Sally’s prose is beautiful prose; but let’s be honest—the book, Found, is what?—maybe 40 words?—maybe 50 words?—and well-chosen words. The illustrations are what give the words a context and a texture that bring it alive.
Barbara: I always looked for books for my kids that had beautiful illustrations. To me, that was as important as the story—
Sally: Oh, dear; yes.
Barbara: —because I loved the illustrations as much as my kids did.
It allowed the story to come alive at a level that the words couldn’t do on their own—
Barbara: —because the illustrations support it / they give it life. They make it three-dimensional. As you said, with that center spread of the rainstorm, it takes you to that place that the words alone can’t do.
Sally: Yes; that’s true.
Barbara: I just think illustrations are powerful in books.
Sally: Yes! I love hearing that. I feel the same way. I also think design—you know, like the cover—so much goes into a picture book. What you said is so true; because a picture book is a story told in two languages, word and image. The best picture books are when, as a publisher of mine said: “One plus one equals more than two. Neither of them would work without each other.” Also, what you want is that it should look as if the person, who illustrated it, wrote it; and the person who wrote it, illustrated it—they should have the same voice.
Barbara: They both have a message too. The words alone don’t say what the pictures alone say. They work together so that the whole thing is a much greater package, as you were explaining.
And it’s a gift. When you get a book like that, you feel like it’s a treasure. Your anticipation is greater when you get a—
Sally: It’s true, because it’s beautiful.
Barbara: —beautiful book than [when] you just get a book.
Sally: Another thing I’m passionate about is—beauty honors God—
Sally: —when we do something beautiful. I also think it reaches everyone—beauty calls to everyone. Our job is to be as excellent as we can be; because beauty honors Him, and it also—it just takes away the obstacles. Like I was describing with the design: “If it’s really well-designed, there’s no obstacle to the story.” I think my job is always to get out of the way and let the story through. If you are a good designer, get out of the way and let the story through; and if you’re an illustrator...
Bob: At what age do kids move beyond you?
Sally: Never! I collect picture books, and I never grow out of them. They’re an art form that—well, C.S. Lewis said it; didn’t he?—when he dedicated—
Barbara: He did! I was just thinking about his—
Sally: Yes! You probably remember it better, but I can’t remember exactly the words.
Barbara: I don’t remember exactly how he said it either.
Sally: He dedicated it to his—to Lucy—he said, “You’re too old for fairy tales, but you’ll grow up and become young enough,”—or something like that.
Barbara: He also said something about “A book that’s good for children is good for adults,”—if it’s good enough for them, then it should speak to all ages.
Sally: Like “There is no book that’s only for children,”—is what he said—“only good for children; because, if it’s not good enough for children, it’s not”—something—we’re really massacring this quote; aren’t we?! [Laughter]
Barbara: I know! That is the idea—I’ve always loved that quote.
Bob: Have you ever had a desire to write young adult fiction?—or to write a novel?
Sally: Well, sometimes, I think about that; but then I think I’m already reaching adults in the best way, by reaching children.
Sally: I just love the idea that they—you know, like Found, or Baby Wren, or Song of the Stars—they’re books designed to read together; and the sound of the language—C.S. Lewis, again, said, “You should write for the ear as well as the eye.”
Bob: And most of the books on my bookshelf have been read once, if they’ve been read at all.
Sally: Isn’t that the truth? There, again—you see?
Bob: But children’s books?
Sally: Children’s books—
Barbara: —over and over.
Bob: —books get read. I mean, we could almost recite Goodnight, Moon; can’t we?
Sally: Oh; I mean, it’s a genius book; and it’s so deceptively simple; isn’t it?
Bob: Yes; yes.
Dennis: It is! So, I’ve stalled here for you.
Sally: Oh, dear; you did, and I still haven’t got that story. Well, I think the thing is—my stories—I may have them; but they are sort of, again, a bit like seeds. I never quite know what they are—I have to keep following them. I have lots in process but not—I don’t know—if I’ve got one ready to tell, I usually do it—
Barbara: So you have lots of ideas, but they haven’t been developed yet.
Sally: Yes; like picture books—I can have an idea that can sort of—I was going to say “vegetate”—that’s not the right word; is it?
Barbara: —germinate. [Laughter]
Sally: —germinate / vegetate doesn’t sound nice—germinate—thank you!—for several years. I find that’s the best way; because, again, following clues—I follow clues.
Sometimes—I’m working on a middle-grade novel; but I—you know, sometimes, you don’t actually want to talk about the book until it’s done; because, if you talk about it, you’ve kind of told the story and you take away the energy you need to finish it.
So, that’s a good excuse; isn’t it? [Laughter]
Dennis: It really is!
Sally: You can’t say anything now.
Barbara: It works; it works!
Dennis: I just hope you‘ll come back,
Sally: I’d love to come back; it’s always so fun!
Dennis: So, you just need to know—Bob is a “foodie.” So, next time you come back, bring bread crumbs and—
Sally and Barbara: —figgy pudding.
Dennis: —figgy pudding!
Sally: Well, I might send you a figgy pudding.
Bob: I’m waiting for it; yes.
Sally: No; he looks like it’s a threat! [Laughter] I might send it to you, and you might have to eat it on air!
Bob: I will—I will eat your figgy pudding.
Barbara: If you send it, we will have to taste it for sure, after all of that!
Bob: Then, I’ll let you know whether to send me anymore after that. [Laughter]
Dennis: That’s right! I will—if I eat it, and I like it—I will repent of all my—not all—but some of my comments about English food. [Laughter]
Sally: I think you’re just really jealous of England really; aren’t you?
Dennis: Oh, I do love England!
Barbara: We really do love England.
Dennis: I do! We had a delightful time.
Sally: You’re right. English food—you don’t really see English food restaurants. Although, you do in New York—fish ‘n chips / Toad in the Hole! Now, I’m really confusing you! [Laughter]
Dennis: No; no. I know—[Laughter]
Bob: By the way, we have none of that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; but we do have some of Sally’s books.
Dennis: Toad in the hole? We’ve got some of that; don’t we?
Bob: It’s not in the FamilyLife Today Resource Center. [Laughter]
You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the books that Sally has written for children: the Christmas story—Song of the Stars; the 23rd Psalm book called Found; and of course, The Jesus Storybook Bible. We’ve got all of those available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order at 1-800- FL-TODAY.
We’ve also got the resources Barbara Rainey has worked on for the holiday season for families, including her new set of Christmas tree ornaments that reflect the Eternal Names of Jesus. Find out more about those when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Or call if you have any questions: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, as Dennis mentioned earlier, this is a significant time of year for this ministry. We’re hoping to hear from listeners to take advantage of a matching-gift opportunity that has been made available to us. Our friend, Michelle Hill, who is the host of FamilyLife This Week, is keeping us up to date this month on all that’s going on with the matching gift. Hi, Michelle!
Michelle: Hi Bob yeah, what’s happened is pretty simple…and very generous. Some friends of FamilyLife offered to match every donation in December, so yesterday…when Leona from Pennsylvania called in? Our friends matched Leona’s gift, dollar for dollar! Simple! Your gifts are being matched all December, up to a total of two million dollars, and Bob? As of today, our listeners have given just over three hundred six thousand dollars…which is REALLY encouraging!
Bob: It is indeed! You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. John Stonestreet will be here to talk about how we can raise children in a culture that does not always support what we believe. Hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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