About the Guest
Are you looking for fun ways to influence your kids in the faith? Look no more! Natalie Hankins, a wife and mother of three, tells how her deep love for her children and her passion for music and the scriptures led her to create better alternatives for her own family's entertainment. The end result: Iesodo, a highly acclaimed children's animated series featuring a cast of birds who live in a Cypress Tree on the shores of Galilee.
Natalie Hankins tells how her deep love for her children and her passion for music and the scriptures led her to create better alternatives for her own family’s entertainment.
Bob: The things you’re teaching your children about the Bible—how many of those things will they remember years from today? Natalie Hankins says that depends on how engaged they are right now.
Natalie: You can tell a story, and it’s words. The kids might remember it. And you can paint a picture, and they’re likely to remember it; but if you sing a song and you show them the picture and you’re telling the story, it’s going to penetrate to them on a different level.
[Scene from Iesodo]
Iesodo: Welcome, one and all, birds from near and far, birds of a feather now together. My name is Iesodo.
[End of scene]
Natalie: So, we see this animation as just a tool to get the conversation going to help your kids visualize and imagine the life of Jesus and to accept that it really did happen.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 3rd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We want to tell you about a new animated series for children that’s recently been developed and introduce you to one of the co-creators.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, you got pretty excited about this cartoon back last Thanksgiving, right?
Dennis: I did. We had all of our family together at Thanksgiving—or most of our family—and the adults want to have a conversation after we’ve kind of eaten the meal, and you can’t have a conversation when you’ve—
—got as many as 15 children running around ages one year to fourteen years of age. So, you are looking for something that will get their attention, keep their attention, and be something of value.
Dennis: So, we played this children’s animated series that is located in a Cyprus tree on the Sea of Galilee—spectacular!
Bob: The series is located in a—
Dennis: It’s located there because it’s about a bunch of birds that each represents a New Testament character. It’s called Iesodo, and I am excited that we have one of the executive producers of Iesodo with us. Natalie Hankins joins us on FamilyLife Today. Natalie, welcome to the broadcast.
Natalie: Thank you so much for having me.
Dennis: Natalie is married to Jared. They have three children. She’s a graduate of Pepperdine University and, also, Bob—
Dennis: —a little drum roll—
Dennis: She’s a graduate of my sixth grade Sunday school class.
Natalie: That’s true.
Dennis: All the way back—
Natalie: And proud.
Dennis: —when I used to have anywhere from 55 to 70 eleven and 12 year old young people in my class. That was one of the greatest privileges of my life, Natalie. There is a story your mom tells—I wanted to ask you if you could remember it—about one day that you threw yourself across the bed, had a conversation with your mom. She told me about this; and you said, “All I can think about are the apples.”
Natalie: Oh, the apples. Are you still teaching about the apples?
Dennis: I’m still teaching about the apples.
Natalie: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” That message was engrained in me because you brought these apples to class, and you had a bag of good apples and one rotten apple. You put the rotten apple in the bag with the good apples, and you showed us how that one rotten apple would rot the other good apples.
Dennis: We parked those apples together in a sack—
Dennis: —and put them in a closet for six months. So, what do you think is going to happen—
—with one bad apple and six good apples?
Bob: I think the Health Department is going to shut you down, is what I think.
Dennis: It was a putrefied applesauce. It was terrible. The kids would all gag, and they’d make fun of it. Anyway, Natalie’s now married, got three kids, and she’s produced this animated cartoon series that really is spectacular. It’s all about the New Testament, about Jesus. Explain what you and your husband and others have put together.
Natalie: Well, we set out to teach families and teach kids the way of Jesus, the message of Jesus, the love, the faith, the forgiveness. We wanted to do it in a way that would reach kids where they are now, and what better way to do that than through cartoons, through their entertainment.
Jared, my husband, loves cartoons. I love cartoons, and this just was a perfect match. It was a call that Jared felt the passion to communicate the message of Jesus with kids in a way that they would understand and relate—
—to because we see them relating to the characters they see on their entertainment now, like Tom and Jerry—or whatever cartoon characters they see, they act like. They imitate them.
We want them to get to know Jesus in that way. We want them to see His character, imagine what it was like to live in His world or be part of His flock—as we say now—and see what His disciples would have done and what He really did, the miracles, because we don’t believe they are being given the opportunity to hear those stories enough.
Bob: This was really burden for you, as a mom, with your own kids. I’m just curious, “Did you sense from the beginning when your first child was born—did you feel the weight of teaching your son about the Scriptures?”
Natalie: Oh, absolutely. I mean we’re called to train up our children in the way they should go, and what a huge job that is as a mom to find the right opportunities to slip it in. I don’t think we take enough of those opportunities.
So, we hope that this animated series will be a tool that will give parents (the ability) to bring up the conversations—to show them an episode that mimics the Sermon on the Mount. Then, their kids ask, “Did that really happen?” The parents get to interact; and they get to teach in a way, maybe, they wouldn’t have.
Bob: When your kids were young and you didn’t have the cartoons available to them, what kinds of things were you doing as a mom to try to engage them in these conversations?
Natalie: Well, you know I did a Bible study with my boys when they were three and five years old and four and six years old. I loved it. It was precious time—just me and the boys. We would pick one Scripture, and it was our memory verse for the week. I loved those times together. When it came time to do something fun together and have entertainment, of course, we had what was on TV; but we didn’t have good videos that we could put in that I approved of and that they liked.
They weren’t really happy with some of the entertainment that’s really popular today. They just didn’t want to watch it. So, I hope now that we have Iesodo—and it’s something that families can feel great about putting in because their kids will enjoy it and the moms and dads will approve of it.
Dennis: You and Jared worked on this—or have been working on it—for four years. It took a while to produce it. It had over 3,000 illustrators and animators, or artists that worked on putting it together. It really is spectacular, and there are three different DVD’s in the series; but to go all the way back when you had the chance to show your kids the first series you created, take us back to that moment when you and Jared kind of unveiled it for your kids and what happened.
Natalie: The kids sat down, and what was so neat was that afterward they asked us questions about the episode. It was specifically an episode—
—that involved the healing of the blind man and Jesus had put mud on the blind man’s eyes. They asked us, “Did Jesus really do that?!” And we said, “Well, He did.” So, for fifteen minutes, we sat around the Bible getting the Scripture reference and talking about it.
I stepped back for a moment and realized this is exactly what I want families to do. I want them to have the opportunity to ask questions and the kids to see a new story from the New Testament that they hadn’t heard about Jesus before.
Bob: Do you guys have a background in making cartoons? I mean you said you like cartoons, but it’s not every mom and dad who sit down and say, “I wish there were cartoons. Let’s go make some. Let’s go hire 3,000 animators to help us put this together.”
Natalie: No, apart from being cartoon connoisseurs, I’m full-time mom; Jared has a background in video production. But when he felt this call, we really felt like God was part of it and confirmed that this was something He wanted to do because He connected us with—
—the most incredible production team—really talented people that have worked on popular products that we’ve all seen from Pixar Animation to Marvel, things that—we’re really just blessed to have their talent part of Iesodo.
Dennis: Didn’t one of the animators or producers work on Toy Story 2 and A Bug’s Life?
Natalie: Yes. We have some very talented people working on this. Our director was part of a lot of the Pixar animations. Our producer, also, was an executive at Marvel. Our other producer and writer has produced a lot of films and animated products for kids even in the faith based industry. So, we really are blessed to have these credible people working on our project.
Dennis: Okay, I’ve got ask you the question, “Why did you use birds?” I mean you could have used whatever you wanted to. I mean we’ve got—
Bob: Now, wait. Bears were taken because you’ve got The Bernstein Bears, right?
Natalie: That’s right. That’s right.
Dennis: You’ve got cucumbers and tomatoes—[Laughter]
Natalie: Vegetables were taken.
Dennis: They’d been taken.
Natalie: You know we started this with mission to do the animation. Then, we did have the question, “What are we going to use? What medium?” About that time, one of our producers and writers, Rob Loos—wonderful man—he had gone to Israel and taken a whole lot of pictures of the beautiful scenery. He noticed that there were a ton of birds passing through; and he thought, “That’s perfect.”
It’s a great analogy for the Kingdom of God—every color, every species come from all over. From an animating standpoint, they are easy to move. They have moveable arms, and it just was just a great match. So, now, we have all of our animation set in Israel with the beautiful scenery, all the different colors of birds and varieties.
Dennis: So, introduce us to some of the birds and who they represent.
Natalie: Okay, so, our main bird is Iesodo. He is our—
—representative of the Jesus character. We’ve got Rocky who is a bulbul bird. He is a representative of Peter. Maggie who represents Mary Magdalene—a very sweet bird—a lot of the little girls are liking her. She has a pretty purple headband, and she sings pretty songs. We have the fussy brothers, Jack and Jacob, two pelicans, like James and John and fisherman. I love those two brothers because they fight a lot, and that’s just the nature of brothers, I think.
Bob: Reminds you of home, a little bit?
Natalie: Just a little bit. We help address some sibling rivalry issues—
Dennis: There you go. There you go.
Natalie: —and forgiveness.
Natalie: And everyone loves our Tom character. He is a cute little kingfisher. He’s based on a doubting Thomas, and he is always questioning himself. He has a cute little accent.
Dennis: Yes, earlier you were talking, each of these birds are a character; and they have a personality and kind of a style—
—of relating to each other, and it represents these biblical characters that we know about. So, you are really introducing Peter and what he was like and the doubting Thomas at that point. You’re really attempting to connect them around who they were as human beings.
Natalie: Yes. Yes, this is all—we say it’s an allegory. This is like C.S. Lewis did with his Narnia series. We are representing the Bible and staying true to the message of the Scripture. So, all of these characters really embody the essence of what the real characters in the New Testament did.
Bob: How do these cartoons fit into the broader scope of what a parent ought to be doing in terms of passing on faith to the next generation because obviously this isn’t the one stop shop? You don’t just show your kids some cartoons and go, “Oh, well, we’ve taken care of their faith training now.” How do you fit this into an overall picture as a mom?
Natalie: I think this is just a tool. This is support.
This is our backup because we need entertainment for our kids. They are part of the generation that needs TV, DVD’s. They love that. They enjoy it. We want this to be something the whole family can participate in; but ultimately, it’s Mom and Dad’s responsibility to be sure that their kids are introduced to the Bible.
I asked my son, my twelve year old, last night, how he feels the Bible is important for young children to know and what parents should be doing to introduce it. He said, “Kids need to know what the Bible is. They are going to hear about it the rest of their lives. Parents need to be sure their kids know that God gave us that gift of showing us His preferred way for us to live”—which is so true.
He even referenced some animation that he’s seen—some faith based animation. There are only three of them, and they are really great. It was about angels and demons. I showed it to my kids when they were—
—six and seven years old, and that stuck with them; and they asked questions about Heaven, about Hell, about the angels. We had really great conversations because of the animation, and they still remember it.
So, we see this animation as just a tool to get the conversation going, to help your kids visualize and imagine the life of Jesus, and to accept that it really did happen.
Dennis: You also have some, I guess, they’re teaching tools to assist parents in teaching some of the passages of Scripture that you are animating that help parents pass on the truth—
Natalie: We do.
Dennis: —of the Bible to their kids. Explain what your goal is there.
Natalie: We have a great website at Iesodo.com, and we have a family discussion guide for each episode that helps guide you through the Scripture that we use when writing those episodes. We also have fun things like color sheets—
—and I even printed off some valentines—really cute valentines we made up. I printed off 30 of them with my daughter, and we cut them up. That was a fun, easy way to do that for the class.
But we really want to support parents, not just give them a DVD; but we want them to know that we’re here to minister to them and their kids and give them the tools they need to back it up.
Dennis: Bob’s a music guy—I don’t know if you know that or not, Natalie—but he’s—
Bob: Well-known for my musical ability.
Dennis: Our listeners know he’s a music guy.
Bob: That’s right.
Dennis: Explain the music bed and how you really put that together because it’s spectacular.
Natalie: Well, thank you. Jared, my husband, is a musician as well, and we really wanted to have quality, original music on this. So, each episode has at least one original song. And you know we’re from Arkansas—so, in Episodes 3 and later, we have some music from artists that are in Arkansas.
Dennis: Oh, great.
Natalie: It’s fun. It’s poppy. I catch my five year old running around singing it. My little niece who is three, she’s singing it all the time, all the theme songs; and that just blesses us to know—because we believe that you can tell a story, and it’s words. The kids might remember it. You can paint a picture, and they’re really likely to remember it; but if you sing a song and you show them the picture and you’re telling the story, it’s going to penetrate to them on a different level. So, we hope we’ve done all three.
Bob: Well, let me get our listeners—of course, they can’t see it hear, but let me let them listen to how you have tried to engage children in the animated series you guys have created called Iesodo.
[Scene from Iesodo]
Bird (1): Barry, my fine feathered friend, based on your great and helpful service, we selected you for a very special assignment.
Up north, many birds are gathering. They pose a threat to our traditions and our way of doing things. They are led by that trouble-maker dove with the funny name.
Barry: Some say he’s all about peace, love—
Bird (1): Don’t believe them. He’s radical message is a danger to all bird-dom. If birds start questioning the way things are, the very feathers of the bird kingdom will molt. Thousands of years of bird tradition will become meaningless. We must stop him.
Barry: When duty calls, I’m always the one standing on the side that’s right, doing my best, earning respect, bringing justice to the light. I uphold our traditions day-by-day, but I wonder if there is another way. Is this the right thing to do?
[End of scene]
Dennis: And Natalie, Bob’s kind of bashful. He wouldn’t say this about himself; but if you’ve got three of these done now, if you need an original song and talent, Bob would be happy to help you with number four.
Bob: I’d say that about myself. Yes, absolutely. I’m not bashful about that. [Laughter]
Natalie: So glad to know that.
Bob: Absolutely, yes.
Natalie: Thank you.
Bob: I’ve got some audition tapes I can give you.
Natalie: We’ll remember that.
Bob: You are on these DVD’s as well in some of the bonus features talking to the moms, right?
Natalie: Yes, and it’s just an extra support to let moms know that we’re not hired people out to sell a product tapping into a market. We are parents, and I’m a mom. I just want other parents to have this helpful tool, and I want moms to feel free to ask questions about the episodes. Please give us feedback.
We set out to do this. This is our project we’re throwing out to the world, and we want to know what you think about it. So, if there are episodes that you want to see created—maybe there is a story from the New Testament—
—or a Parable that Jesus did—let us know. Come to the website. Find me at Natalie’s Nest, and we love to hear from viewers.
Bob: We’ve got a link to your website on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. So, if listeners just want to visit FamilyLifeToday.com, they can link up and fine out more about the Iesodo website. They can also find these DVD’s in a local, Christian bookstores. Wal-Mart has at least one of them. Of course, we’ve got them here in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center as well. So, if folks are interested, they can check it out at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Dennis: And you’ve got three of these that are now out. Explain the difference between each of these three DVD’s. There is one about faith, love, and believe.
Natalie: Yes. So, we’ve paired together, on each DVD, two episodes that are 15 minutes each. The first DVD is all about believing, meeting Jesus, who is He—or Iesodo. Love is our second DVD. We released that around Valentine’s Day—
—appropriately; and a lot of that’s just about forgiveness and love.
Then, the faith episodes are really my favorite. They are moving. They are engaging. The story of the storm where Jesus calms the water, walks on the water, that’s a big one for kids. I am anxious to see more reaction from kids to that because my kids really hadn’t ever imagined what it would have looked like for Jesus to walk on the water and call Peter out to walk on the water until they saw this with the birds. It’s just a fun episode.
Bob: And this fall, you’re going to tell the Christmas story with birds.
Natalie: Yes, and in the fall, we’ll be releasing our next DVD titled Joy; and really, really, sweet story about Jesus birth. It’s a new take on the Nativity, and we have seven DVD’s in all releasing. So, throughout 2015, we’ll have several more coming out.
Dennis: So, as we move toward Christmas—
—I’m just wondering what kind of bird you’d use to cast for the wise men.
Bob: Oh, come on! Duh.
Natalie: The wise owls, of course. [Laughter]
Dennis: Of course.
Natalie: And they are so cute, and they ride on the back of tortoises. It’s just adorable. I love what our writers have done with it.
Dennis: Yes, and I hope parents will take advantage of what you all have created here. It really is extremely well done. I know when we were raising our family, we were looking for all kinds of various resources to be able to expose our kids to, especially when going on a vacation and travelling across country.
You were driving down the road the other day, and you looked up and there was a van in front of you that was—
Natalie: Yes, we saw Iesodo playing on the DVD player of the minivan in front of us, and I was so excited. [Laughter] I said, “Those are our birds.”
Bob: Did you start honking at the driver?
Natalie: I didn’t. I didn’t want to scare the kids. [Laughter]
Dennis: But I hope our listeners will take a look at this—maybe go to FamilyLifeToday.com and check—
—out some of the trailers we’ve got there to show you about the quality of this. It really is going to be something, I think, parents take advantage of in the future. Natalie, thanks for being on FamilyLife Today, and thanks for you and Jared persevering over a four year period to make this a reality. I love the vision, love the heart, and we’re all about kids here on FamilyLife Today.
Natalie: Thank you. I appreciate it.
Bob: You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’d like more information, like to find out more about Iesodo. If you’d like to go to their website, we’ve got a link. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click in the upper left-hand corner where it says, “GO DEEPER,” and all the information you need about the video series is available there. You can order online if you’d like, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. Ask about the video series, Iesodo, when you get in touch with us.
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I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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