I never had this routine as a child, but it’s one I relish as a father and my children now expect each evening: read-aloud storytime. Whether it’s rehearsing a Bible story, searching for Wimmelbook characters, or working through another Sandra Boynton whimsical tale, children’s books make indelible impressions on young minds. That’s why we at TGC have begun a new line of children’s books in partnership with Crossway. We want to do our part in shaping young minds with the truth of the gospel and to form souls that love goodness, truth, and beauty.
To learn more about this initiative, I corresponded with Betsy Childs Howard, author of Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up. She shares the vision for TGC Kids books, how “story-driven” tales form our children, how reading fiction complements reading Bible stories, and more.
What’s the vision behind TGC Kids books?
Over the past three years I’ve overseen the children’s book category of TGC Book Awards. As I became familiar with the books Christian publishers are producing, I noticed a lack of books written from a gospel-centered perspective that teach discernment and moral formation. There’s a wonderful wealth of kids’ books being published that teach theology and the story of salvation. But there are far fewer books that help children learn how to live as Christians in the world.
Secular publishers produce book after book with clever plots and engaging illustrations that encourage the worldview of expressive individualism. TGC and Crossway hope to produce story-driven books that will catch children’s imaginations while at the same time teaching and reinforcing biblical morality.
What do you mean by “story driven”?
A story-driven book doesn’t come across as a teaching vehicle. A child who encounters a story-driven book won’t view it as about an issue, but as about the characters and what happens to them. For example, the delightful book Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban is, in one sense, a book about picky eaters. But if you ask a child what the book is about, they will tell you it’s about a badger who will only eat bread and jam, and who misses out on lots of other tasty foods.
We hope to produce fictional stories with engaging illustrations that children ask to read again and again. We want these stories to entertain while at the same shoring up a biblical moral foundation and helping kids feel the way they ought to about sin and holiness.
Is it right to read fiction to children instead of Bible stories?
I would never recommend fiction instead of Bible stories. I believe we should see the two as complementary rather than competitive. Along with Bible stories, most Christian parents are reading their children a lot of fictional picture books from secular publishers. Rather than replacing a children’s storybook Bible, I hope that our TGC Kids books will work themselves into that stack of beloved picture books read before bedtime and help children apply biblical truths to their lives.
What is Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up about?
Arlo is a little boy who does something very naughty—he colors on his wall during his rest time. He begins a desperate attempt to cover up his disobedience from his mom, and as he does so, he gets more and more miserable. To Arlo’s surprise, he experiences relief when his mom finds out his sin. He learns that relief and reconciliation come through confessing our sins rather than covering them up.
Is this book an allegory?
It’s not an allegory, though it echoes the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After Arlo disobeys, he hides from his mother as our first parents hid from God. But Arlo and the Great Big Cover-Up is meant to stand on its own as a story, so not everything in it corresponds to our relationship with God. For example, in the story, Arlo disobeys his mom, and she (rightly) gives him a punishment. But those who are in Christ are not punished by God, because Jesus took our punishment for sin.
What’s the plan for future TGC Kids books?
In partnership with Crossway, we hope to publish fictional picture books from a variety of authors addressing issues of moral formation from a gospel-centered worldview. Stay tuned!