Engaging With Children
About the Guest
Kids need to know they're loved, but they also need hope. Children's author, Sally Lloyd-Jones explains that children are easily discouraged when they sense they aren't getting it right. Sally tells how her book, "Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing," invites children to see what God-the Creator of everything-says about them, His true masterpieces. Sally wants children to know that God will turn everything bad into good in the end, and that the best is yet to come.
Kids need to know they’re loved, but they also need hope. Sally Lloyd-Jones tells how her book, “Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing,” invites children to see what God says about them, His true masterpieces.
Engaging With Children
Bob: Anytime you sit down to write anything—whether it’s an email or the great American novel—you ought to have your audience in mind. When Sally Lloyd-Jones sits down to write a storybook for children, she has a little boy in mind that she’s writing to.
Sally: When I’d be working on a Bible storybook, I’d be thinking: “Well, what would Harry—how would I say it to him? He’s not going to understand sin. I can’t just say, ‘sin.’ He’s not going to know anything about that.” So, it forced me—and it became a great training. I started to think of a real child—talking—just talking. My writing started to change—where it became not sounding like writing. I love what Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” It shouldn’t sound like writing.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, November 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Bible stories have been connecting with hundreds of thousands of kids all around the world.
We’ll talk to her today about how she tells those stories. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition. I’m just curious to see if our guest can sound anything like Eliza Doolittle. Do you know who that is?
Dennis: Well, only because you told me earlier [Laughter] —My Fair Lady.
Dennis: There you go.
Bob: I’m just—can you do a cockney accent?
Sally: Well, you know, if I try, I’m going to become Indian or something. That’s what happens to me. [Laughter] So, I do. I start off Welsh, and then, I become Indian. Then, it’s all a very politically-incorrect accent.
Bob: What about Mary Poppins? Can you do a Mary Poppins?
Sally: Well, that’s Julie Andrews. No, I can’t possibly do Julie Andrews. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well, that’s the voice of Sally Lloyd-Jones who refuses to leave her nationality to do an imitation. [Laughter] Sally is a writer of inspirational books for children. Bob said it earlier, “Grandparents just need to go ahead and get their”—
Bob: —“get the credit card out.”
Dennis: —“get the credit card out.” You’re going to want what Sally has done here.
Bob: If you have not purchased The Jesus Storybook Bible for your grandkids or your children and the new devotional, Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, I’m just guessing—before we’re done here today—there are going to be parents, who are going to say, “That’s going to be under the Christmas tree, this year, for my kid.”
Dennis: Yes. And the “Forward” is—at least, to Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing—is by Tim Keller. So, that lets you know she’s travelling with some good company.
Bob: Tall cotton.
Dennis: She goes to his church. She lives in New York City. Let’s talk about both of these books. I just want you to give our listeners just a real quick synopsis of what each of these is about. First of all—The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name—this is a storybook, along with a DVD.
Sally: It’s really telling the great story underneath all the stories of the Bible because, when I grew up, I thought the Bible was about me and what I’m supposed to be doing so God would love me. I thought it was a book of rules that you had to keep; and then, God would be pleased with you and love you.
Or else, it was a book of heroes you’re supposed to copy. I thought: “How can God be pleased with me? He can’t.”
So, this book came out of that because the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. It is most of all a story. It’s the story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. At the center of the story there is a baby; and every single story, in the Bible, whispers His name.
Dennis: That’s a good description of The Jesus Storybook Bible. This other one—Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing—share with our listeners what this is about.
Sally: This book was inspired by my niece who went from being a very vivacious little girl of about eight, at the time. She would kind of walk through her life, singing the soundtrack for her own life kind of thing. She went—almost overnight—she turned into someone who you could hardly hear speak. We, then, found out she’d been bullied at school. I thought, “I wish she had a book that told her what God says about her instead of what the bullies say.” That’s where this book came from. It’s a book of hope for children.
Dennis: This book was written to really gain access to children’s souls and to put them in touch with God.
Sally: Yes. I wanted them to know what God says about them and to raise their eyes to see these magnificent things He says.
Bob: Because you think kids don’t have a correct view. You didn’t have a correct view.
Sally: No. 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?” Well, 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 are 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 are 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 is: “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. 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 of that they are not getting it right. I knew I was a child like that—I wasn’t getting it right. So, 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 and 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: 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 little bit like haiku because you had to make them so lean and short—
Sally: —and 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. 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 15:13
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’ then, it takes me so long. They’ve grown into other things.
Bob: When was the point in your professional career—you were working as an editor / you were writing these stories kind of on your own—was there a point when you said, “I think maybe mine are as good as or maybe better than what they are publishing here”?
Sally: Well, there was one time when I was working on a verse—
—it was for a book that was a flat book. As I said—those kinds of books—you don’t often rely on the content. You rely on the fact that it flaps, or squeaks, or something. I was writing a poem; and I thought: “Wait a minute. This could be a poem. It doesn’t need to have a flap or a squeak. It’s good enough as a poem.” I think that was a slight switch for me. It was all very gradual.
But the first time I realized I could do it was when I sent a manuscript in—terrified. The publisher, within five minutes, called me back and said, “This is wonderful.” But he didn’t say, “The story was wonderful.” He said, “He loved my voice.” For a writer, that was such a gift. It was like God’s mercy to me and His grace because I was so sure that I wasn’t good. That was the best thing anyone could say because, suddenly, the outside evidence wasn’t matching what was happening in my head.
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 clever 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—like 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—and maybe, there isn’t 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.
Because 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 what we did do—is 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 grown-up, 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—is 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…” Hope would be one of those things. What would some of the others be?
Sally: Well, I always make a disclaimer of 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 are 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; 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—was 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 that—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. There would be all these—you know—Anna Mott [spelling uncertain] 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.
So, you have all this resistance to 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?”
You know, all that sort of stuff. So, 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 it’s—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. 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, unbreaking, always-and-forever love will go too.
Dennis: As you write, do you read these aloud so you can kind of pick up the cadence and picture yourself with a gathering of little children at your feet or in your lap?
Sally: Yes, that’s exactly—I mean, I didn’t used to—I didn’t know that that was what you have to do because you can make anything sound great in your own head; but yes, I do read it out loud. Then, the next stage I have is I get a friend to read it to me because—even me reading it out loud, I can make it work because I know it—but if you get someone who doesn’t know it to read it, you’ll hear where they stumble—you’ll hear where it doesn’t sound quite right.
I think children’s books, especially, are meant to be read aloud. That’s what is so lovely about them. What’s so lovely about doing a children’s Bible storybook is that you’ve got the Bible—that was an oral tradition—so, all of it should be read aloud.
Dennis: Just assuming nothing for a moment. When should you read these stories aloud to children?
Sally: Whenever you can, but I love the idea of bedtime.
Dennis: Yes, because they’ll say, “Read another one.”
Sally: Yes, and that’s what is so awful. I did all kinds of evil cliff hangings. No—not evil, obviously, not evil [Laughter]—but, you know, I felt slightly naughty because I knew—
Dennis: Only slightly naughty though.
Sally: —yes—only slightly naughty because I would think of the poor parents: “They are not going to be able to make them stop”; but I do things like: “Fairytales don’t come true, or do they?” [Laughter] Then, you really want—
Bob: “Read another one.”
Bob: “Read another one.”
Sally: So, you—that’s what I hope, and that’s what happens. I keep hearing that. Parents are like, “Oh, dear, please go to bed!”
Bob: Do you read children’s books yourself?
Sally: Yes, I love—I collect them.
Bob: And who’s your favorite? Are you—
Sally: Well, Narnia. I can’t—you know, when I was about ten—before I knew I couldn’t do everything—I would choreograph, compose the soundtrack, star in it—I did the whole thing! I was a nightmare.
Bob: Where you Susan or Lucy?
Sally: I’m sure I was Lucy. [Laughter] It was fun.
Bob: And George MacDonald, I would imagine?
Sally: I actually didn’t come to him until older—
Sally: —but I love him, yes—Narnia, and Edward Lear, and then Bible stories. My dad always used to read Bible stories to us; but I dare not—well, I’m going to admit this. He always used to say, “Now, darling, which story would you like?” And you know, you hope for anything but this story—and I would always ask for—guess which one—Salome and John the Baptist’s head. [Laughter] Isn’t that frightening?!
Bob: You—this was because you were in that haunted—
Sally: I think so.
Bob: —girls’ school.
Sally: And of course, it is a great story; but my poor dad. I think he was getting a bit disturbed. [Laughter]
Dennis: Is your father still alive now?
Sally: Yes, he is.
Dennis: I have an assignment for you—
Dennis: —before we’re done with the broadcast here today.
Bob: I tell you what—before you give her the assignment, let me just let our listeners know how they can get the books that Sally has written—The Jesus Storybook Bible, which comes in a deluxe gift pack that’s got a DVD and a read-along audio CD with it. You’ll find that at FamilyLifeToday.com. She’s also written a book called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing; and we’ve got that in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on these resources by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Or call us, toll free, at 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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If you can help with a donation right now, we have a book from Barbara Rainey that we’d like to send to you. It’s designed to be read aloud to the family. It includes stories all about gratitude. The book’s called Growing Together in Gratitude. We’ll send you a copy of that book, as a thank-you gift, when you support FamilyLife Today with a donation. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I care,” to make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY— make your donation over the phone. Or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Dennis: It’s been our treat to have Sally Lloyd-Jones with us. She is a children’s writer; and we’ve delighted in your accent, here on FamilyLife Today. Here is your assignment. You’ve spoken so lovingly and descriptively about your daddy. I would like to seat your daddy across the table from you and ask you to give him a verbal tribute.
Dennis: And it needs to be in first-person. It needs to address him—not me, seated here, Bob, or the audience.
Bob: Just pretend like we’re gone.
Dennis: Pretend we’re gone and give him a tribute. Can you do that?
Sally: Yes, I think so—hopefully.
Bob: What would you say?
Dad, I owe everything to you. You have been a faithful father to me. You have provided for me. But the thing that I’m most grateful for is that you, as a young man, gave your life to Christ.
Then, as my dad, invited me to let Jesus become my Savior. Even though I said, “No,” at first, you shared Jesus with me. That’s been the greatest gift.
And I thank you for being so proud and supportive, and for believing in me, and giving me education that was the best I could have had. And also, for letting me come to America because that was where God was calling me; but that was a cost to you. So, I’m very grateful.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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