African-American Characters in Children’s Books Today

If I were a child of any other ethnic background than what I am, I know I would get tired of–and be confused by–the people in my books seldom looking like me.

I’m happy to have worked for a publisher that embraced the belief that all children should be able to see themselves in their books and curriculum materials. Often, this meant including children from a variety of ethnicities in group illustrations or photos. Covers tended to show groups or feature a white main character. But not always!

Christianbook.com provides this list of picture books, biographies, and more featuring African-Americans, including several from Christian publishers. You can view and read an excerpt of each book on the list. It’s well worth checking out!

Do you think children from diverse ethnicities are depicted adequately in children’s books?
– Diane

Action & Adventure in a New Series for Preteen Girls

FaithGirlz from Zonderkidz introduced two titles in a new series for preteens in January, and readers are going to have a hard time waiting for the third title, due in June.

“The Good News Shoes” series by debut author Jill Osborne features 12-year-old Riley Mae. The cover of the first book, Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek, offers up plenty of pink–which Riley loves–but Riley also loves softball, her family and friends, and strong doses of action and adventure.

She loves God too, and is learning what it means to walk as his child wearing the “good news shoes” from Ephesians 6:15: “For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared” (NLT).

In Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek, Riley becomes the spokesgirl for the Swiftriver Shoe Company’s new outdoor sport collection. Soon she’s appearing in magazine ads and commercials–and she should be happy, right? But her life’s a lot more complicated now! And something’s not quite right at Swiftriver, which becomes even more evident when Riley laces up her Rock Shocker hiking boots and heads up Half Dome in Yosemite.

In Riley Mae and the Ready Eddy Rapids, Riley and her family and the Swiftriver team are hiding out for a while, and Riley’s in training for a whitewater photo shoot to spotlight the new Ready Eddy river sandals. With Sunday, a new friend from Kenya who had leukemia, and Rusty, a new friend from home, Riley Mae begins to discover the unpredictability of life and the certainty of faith.

And in book three … well, I have a feeling there’s lots more adventure and learning coming Riley Mae’s way soon!

– Diane

I’m Buying a Book a Month

So, here’s the truth. I’m an author, and I hope my books sell. In other words, I hope people buy my books. But I almost never buy books myself.

I used to. I’ve got a good collection of children’s picture books. I bought a variety of self-help and Christian living titles earlier in life. There’s some meaningful (to me) fiction on my bookshelves too. The people at Crossings liked me.

And when I worked for a publisher, I bought lots of books–on an expense account–to keep up with what others in our marketplace were publishing. I loved doing that!

But in recent years, when the discretionary dollars in my own wallet shrunk, I stopped buying books. I grew up using the public library, and I started visiting the ones near me more often. Free on Kindle became a draw too, especially if I hadn’t read a particular author before. Books for my grandsons?–Half Price Books and Goodwill!

It’s time to change course.

The library, free books on my Kindle, HPB, and Goodwill–still my friends. But I’ve decided I’ll also purchase a book a month throughout 2014 from regular retail sources. Many are likely to be Christian books, purchased from Christian bookstores. I appreciate the support they give to me as an author, and I definitely want to give back!

My first pick? Whatever: A 90-Day Devotional for Livin’ the True, Noble, and Totally Excellent Life by my friend Allia Zobel Nolan (FaithGirlz/Zonderkidz, 2012). Allia guest posted here when the book came out, but until I picked up the book to thumb through it at our local LifeWay store earlier this month, I hadn’t read it.

Allia’s breezy style paired with rock-solid biblical teaching drew me in. Whatever looks our thoughts and how what we think about impacts how we act and who we become, using Philippians 4:8 as an outline:

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Whatever helps girls think about
little white lies, cheating, and recognizing Satan’s deceptions,
trustworthiness, loyalty, and respecting parents,
loving “the queen of mean” and being thankful instead of complaining,
dressing modestly, avoiding alcohol, choosing entertainment wisely, and speaking honorably,
serving others, developing tested faith, and persevering–
and lots more!

Which all could be topics girls might roll their eyes at and say “Whatever” …

But Allia doesn’t talk down to her tween readers. I think they’ll gladly listen to what she has to say, where she gets her ideas, and why she loves the one who inspires all our true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable thoughts.

Allia, I’m glad I handed over my dollars to make Whatever my first “Buy-a-Book-a-Month” pick!

– Diane

Jesus IS the Light of the World

Is what to do about Halloween a conundrum at your house?

Scanning e-mail this morning, I saw a link to a roundup of viewpoints about observing Halloween in Christian families. In one of the entries I found a reference to my little book Let’s Shine Jesus’ Light on Halloween:

Growing up, our family went from one extreme to the other on how we celebrated Halloween. With our own family to think about now, my husband and I have changed our opinions on a few things over the years, but the overall thought is the same – we want Christ to be the center of whatever we do. We participate in a fall festival at our church, but don’t go gather candy from neighbors. We do carve pumpkins, but we always do one that is based on the book Let’s Shine Jesus’ Light on Halloween and The Pumpkin Patch Parable, and focus on what the light of Jesus and what He has done for us. We can’t avoid all the decorations that we see in the weeks leading up to Halloween, but we can talk about the scary things together. As believers we can still share and be the light of Christ during a holiday that is focused on darkness.

–Jolanthe, blogger at homeschoolcreations.net

When I was growing up, Halloween festivities were, well, festive. Outwardly at least, Halloween wasn’t nearly as dark and violent as it is today. I’m glad my daughters are careful about how their children participate.

They focus on the fun of dressing up in wholesome costumes as part of a yearly harvest holiday; they also talk with their children about the reasons they don’t decorate with witches or ghosts. They aren’t naive about the realities of the underside of Halloween and they avoid them, confident in the greater power of the one they belong to as Christians.

That’s the spirit of Let’s Shine Jesus Light on Halloween.

Halloween is jack-o-lanterns, costumes, and candy on a dark and spooky night, but Jesus is the light of the world! 

I love this little book, and I’m thankful to hear that my words and Rusty Fletcher’s art did and do make a difference!

The board book version is out of print, but the Happy Day version is still available from christianbook.com and amazon.com, local Christian retailers, and from Tyndale House Publishers, who recently purchased the entire Happy Day line from Standard Publishing. There’s also a coloring book version with colorful stickers.

How does your family handle Halloween, and why?
– Diane

Solomon’s Bible Words Box

 

A few weeks ago I found the metal box my watch came in and “customized” it for my grandson. Then I printed out the first three verses of Psalm 23 from the NIV and backed them with a magnetic strip. Sol’s been learning the verses with his dad.

We started this project with Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 106:1.

This week I’ll be sending Sol some nativity verses to learn. And I hope he’ll bring his Bible Words Box with him when he visits at Christmas so we can go over all his verses together!

– Diane

Confessions of a {Former} non-Bible Reader

Allia Zobel Nolan

My friend and fellow author Allia Zobel Nolan guest posts today!

When I met Allia, we both worked for publishing houses that sometimes collaborated to create children’s books. One day Allia sent me an e-mail asking what Bible versions I read or would recommend. The next time we saw each other, I knew something had changed. I’ll let her tell you more:


I admit it.  I never read the Bible much before I became a children’s book author. I’d just jump in and out when I needed a quote for a toddler’s Noah or Moses book I was editing. I never lingered.

Oh, I’d pour over books like The Purpose Driven Life or The Jesus I Never Knew or The Case for Christ. More my style. The Bible? Too dry for me.

That all changed when I made a deal with God one day: Heal me from a horrible nerve disease, and I’d write a book just for Him. I’d call it The Worrywart’s Prayer Book because not trusting God and being anxious was one of my greatest problems. So I figured I’d help myself as well as others researching a book like this.

Well, needless to say, God came through, and so did I. And that’s when I got really “into” the Bible.

And eureka! I could write pages about what I found there … because what I found is that it’s ALL there. An answer for every challenge, every problem, every doubt we face, all in that one Book.

Of course, I concentrated on worry, and the Bible didn’t disappoint.  I wrote 40 chapters on trust, patience, accepting joy, loss, change, finding a mate, job jitters, failure, success, possessive possessions, death, money, terrorism, and more. I found advice on it all, right in God’s own words.

My love affair with the Good News (and it’s all good) didn’t stop there. I became intrigued by Philippians 4:8, a Scripture verse from the apostle Paul. I call it the whatever Scripture:

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about those things.” 

Whatever, a word we hear so often, a word we use sarcastically to mean “Do what you want,” “Yeah, right,” or  “I don’t care.”  But Paul used the word in a totally different context. So I did too. I used it to write WHATEVER: Livin’ the True, Noble, Totally Excellent Life to help girls 9-12 “take captive every thought and hold it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Once again, in the Bible I found all the answers I needed that would resonate with young readers:

Bad hair day? The Bible says, “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty that depends on fancy hairstyles…. You should be known for the beauty that comes from within” (1 Peter 3:4).

No money for new duds? The Bible says, “And why worry about your clothes? Look at the field lilies. They don’t worry about theirs” (Matthew 6:29).

Feel uglier than a troll? The Bible says you are “amazingly and miraculously made” (Psalm 139:13). So feel blessed, not depressed.

And that’s just a sampling; I could go on and on.  (And I did, for 300 pages!)

Bottom line is, though, that through a GINORMOUS amount of grace, I found the Word to hold more knowledge than ten thousand Google searches on how to live a totally excellent, God-focused life now–as well as whatever I need to get me to my ultimate destination: the room the Bible says Jesus has gone to prepare for me. 

But don’t take my word for it, take HIS. You’ll find answers to whatever you’ve been searching for … and more!

Do you have a favorite Scripture that sheds light on an everyday challenge?
Please share it with us in the comments!

The Scripture in today’s post is from the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the Living Bible, and God’s Word Translation.

*****
Allia Zobel Nolan is an internationally-published, award-winning author of over 170 children’s and adult trade titles with close to two million books in print. Her books reflect her two main passions, God and cats, and include such varied titles as Cat Confessions: A Kitty-Come-Clean Tell-All Book, The Ten Commandments for Little Ones, The Worrywart’s Prayer Book, and her latest, WHATEVER: Livin’ the True, Noble, Totally Excellent Life, a Zondervan FaithGirlz title.
    
Allia lives in Connecticut with her husband, Desmond Finbarr Nolan, and their three feline children, Sinead, McDuff, and Angela. Visit Allia at www.AlliaWrites.com or on Facebook.

– Diane

Wonders and Worship on a Fall Walk

Yesterday I took a walk at a park near home. I started out on the paved path . . .

But then I headed out on the wetlands loop, all gravel and hilly.
Harder to travel, but worthwhile. I found gold!

And I found beauty among ashes . . .


If we will look, it’s easy to see the creation worshiping the Creator . . .

As we are meant to do.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.–Isaiah 61:3


Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.–Matthew 5:15-16

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.–Romans 12:1-2

Today’s Scriptures are from the New International Version.

– Diane

How to Make Memory Verses Magnetic


Memory Monday


Sometimes we need a little help to get verses to stick with us.


How about using magnets?


Last week I wrote “Let the Children Come,” about how much I enjoyed helping my five-year-old grandson memorize Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 106:1 while I was visiting.


We Skyped over the weekend. He still has the first verse down. He needed a little prompting to remember parts of the second. But he was proud to be able to repeat them both.


He’s learning to read. So I found some colorful card stock and printed out the verses in big type with extra spaces between the words. I cut out the strips and stuck them to a long magnetic strip with adhesive backing. Then I cut the words apart.


I am not crafty, but this was easy!


When Sol was a toddler, he loved the colorful ABCs we stuck to the fridge. I think he’ll have fun arranging his verses and love these magnetic words even more.


And I pray that the truths in the verses will stick in his heart as the words stick on the fridge.


So now I must go put his very own magnetic verses in the mail to him!


(And honestly, to help me learn a verse that tends to trip me up, I just might try this myself.)


– Diane

Let the Children Come

Afternoon at Forsyth Park

Me: Want to learn some Bible words?

Five year old: OK.

Me: In the beginning …

Five year old: In the beginning …

Me: In the beginning God created …

Five year old: In the beginning God created …

Me: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Five year old: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Woman rolling by in a wheelchair: Amen!

Me: Very good! When we get home, I’ll show you these words in the Bible.

Five year old: OK.

That evening

Me: Do you remember the Bible words you learned today?

Five year old: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Me: Very good! Want to see the words in my Bible?

Five year old: OK.

Me: Here they are, right at the beginning.

Five year old: Let me see.

Five year old, suddenly recognizing the words: In … the … begin-ning … God … creat-ed … the … heavens … andtheearth!

Me: Very good!

My grandson owns several children’s Bible storybooks. He has listened to Bible stories since he was very young, and now he can read them himself. And I’ve written and edited Bible curriculum, Bible stories, and Bible storybooks.

But helping him memorize Genesis 1:1 and pointing out the words to him in an actual Bible was a thrill.

Let the children come!

– Diane

Roma Downey, God’s Sweet Story, and Me

Cross-posted from the Christian Children’s Authors site.

We all need an entry point into God’s Word. Children too.

That’s why I’m so thrilled and blessed that The Sweetest Story Bible now comes in a deluxe edition, with all the stories narrated on two audio CDs by Roma Downey.

The forty stories in The Sweetest Story Bible focus on helping little girls get to know God–who he is and what he does. And each one relates in some way to the everyday sweet moments in a little girl’s life.

Here’s one little girl, Scottlyn, enjoying her book!

Scottlyn’s grandma asked me to autograph a copy of the deluxe edition for her.

Nearly a year ago, on my birthday, I got an e-mail from a Zonderkidz editor letting me know about the deluxe edition and that Roma would likely be the narrator.

Quite the birthday gift!

But nothing like actually hearing Roma read the stories I wrote! I waited a day after my sample arrived–there’s something quite scary about hearing your own words read back to you, especially by someone with such a wonderful voice. Finally I got brave and sat down to listen. Chills and tears!

We just have no idea, sometimes, what might happen with our small efforts, do we? May Scottlyn and so many other girls like her grow up to have a sweet relationship with God through his Son, the Word, Jesus Christ.

– Diane

Freebie

You CAN Read the Bible in a Year … Here’s How!