Interview With Bestseller 'Jesus Storybook Bible' Author Sally Lloyd-Jones
By James Lam
"The Jesus Storybook Bible" recently passed the critical mark of 1 million copies sold. Sally Lloyd-Jones, the author has never married nor had children of her own, yet is able to write at the place of a child. She is famous for her unique understanding of the power and beauty of storytelling. Below is an interview she had ealier with Zonderkidz about her book:
1. Why did you decide to write The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name?
Sometimes I go into sunday schools and ask two questions of the children. "How many people here think you have to be good for God to love you?" And "How many people here think God will stop loving you if you stop being good?"I wrote this book for the children who put up their hands.
Unfortunately quite a few do. And these are not children who don't know the Bible. These are children who know their Bible stories very well, who could answer all the questions, who go to sunday school, who are "good." But somehow they're missing the most important thing of all. What the Bible is all about.
2. What's so unique about The Jesus Storybook Bible?
The distinction between a childen's Storybook Bible (which is a shorter retelling); and a children's Bible (which is a translation) is probably obvious but nevertheless I think crucial to make here because it sometimes gets lost.
In a retelling, in a children's Bible Storybook, you have some hard choices to make. You are translating in the sense that you're finding a way to speak children's language, you're putting difficult concepts into words that a child can understand. But, unlike a translation, you're leaving bits out, you're selecting stories, keeping some, leaving others out, cutting, paraphrasing.
The Bible is, of course, an adult book so in order to make it accessible to children, by it's very nature, as you retell it, you're going to have to reduce it down. Unfortunately, the danger is that you reduce it down into moral lessons. Almost like a Bible Aesop's Fables. Children are then left with the impression that they must be good for God to love them. Disastrous. It's as if Jesus never came.
So I wanted to write a children's Bible storybook that first and foremost told the Great Story of the Bible-the story running under all the stories of the Bible like a golden stream-the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. The Story that at the center has a baby, the child upon whom everything would depend-Jesus. The only, real true Hero of the Bible. I wanted a Bible Storybook that was, like the Bible is, not all about us and what we should be doing-but about God, and what he has done.
3. Tell me more about the subtitle "Every Story Whispers His Name"-the idea of children learning the
continuity of the Bible. Is that one reason for this book?
Absolutely. If you lose the greater Story of the Bible, the danger is you start thinking that it's all about you and what you should or shouldn't be doing. You can start to think it's a book of rules to follow (of course there are rules in it and they show us how life works best but if we could save ourselves by following the rules, Jesus never would have had to come); or you can think it's a book of heroes to copy (clearly that can't be right though. So many of the people God uses are not heroes at all-they're broken sinners!).
But if you see that everything in the Bible is pointing to the greater one, the greater Hero, the greater David, the greater Daniel, the Greater Shepherd, the True King-it transforms everything. Suddenly it's an incredible adventure story. A wonderful love story.
The rescue of Noah and the ark was great-but it was not enough. Isaac was a brave son-but there would be another braver son. The promised land was good, but it wouldn't last. The law was good, but it wasn't enough. A greater rescue, a more wonderful home, a more obedient son was coming.
The Bible isn't a book of rules, or a book of heroes. It's most of all a Story. And there's only one hero of that Story. And it isn't us!
It's all about Jesus, it's always all been about Jesus, from the very beginning. Jesus himself said it, didn't he.
"Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." Luke 24:27 (NIV)
4. How do you hope The Jesus Storybook Bible inspires others, especially children?
Children's lives are so filled, it seems to me, with rules and lessons and instructions and directions and dos and don'ts. (Of course these are all important in their place; all children need guidance and that's appropriate!) But I don't always.see much Grace being extended to children. We know, as adults, where to find Grace in the Bible. We go the Bible for strength and comfort in times of need, don't we? But I worry that children aren't always being offered that refuge, for when they are in need of strength and comfort. I worry that they don't always know that this incredible, outrageous
Grace is for them too.
Children need to know that they are loved by the one who made them. No matter what. Always. Forever. Period. And it isn't depending on how good or nice they are. It's always and only depending on Jesus and what he has done for them.
How great if we can help our children understand something of that incredible Agape love God has for us that doesn't depend on us. The unconditional love He has for us. The love that will not let us go. Ever.
5. Are you surprised that The Jesus Storybook Bible is impacting people of all ages, and not just
Now with hindsight I'm not. Now it makes perfect sense. Of course, it would be just like God to use a humble children's book to reach grown ups--even pastors and academics. (Jesus after all has such a high view of children, he told us grown ups to learn from them and become like them, didn't he.) So that makes perfect sense!
And then the whole thing of the book breaking out of any mold--reminds me that God is always doing so much more than we could ask or imagine.
But at first I was very surprised. I never imagined anything of the sort as I was writing it. Which I think is just as well. If I'd been sitting down every morning to write with pastors and theologians crowding around, peering over my shoulder (along with my normal crowd of dysfunctional people who crowd around my chair to criticize me as I write) well, I probably would never have written a word!
It sounds strange, but the consistent reaction from many adults is that it makes them weep. (I think that's good?)Parents are reading it to one another as their devotional before bed. Pastors are using it to help them with their preaching. I heard someone call it, "the Storybook for preachers."
And of course, families are reading it together. Teenagers and college students have told me they are enjoying it. I heard from one dad that his young boys listen to each of the stories and as they near the end of each story, they whisper just one word: "Jesus." I couldn't ask for a better response. May all of us to be whispering His name in all the stories of our lives!
So the book seems to be breaking out of the traditional audience for a children's Storybook Bible, which I didn't foresee and am thrilled by. I like books that break out of the mold.
With a children's book you must distill everything down to its simplest form. Arthur Schopenhauer's said, "Use ordinary language to say extraordinary things." The Story is extraordinary; using simple language lets it through more powerfully. I think adults are responding because they are hearing the complete plot line of the Bible told in its distilled form, and they are being reminded of the magnificent story that we are all a part of.
6. How has writing The Jesus Storybook Bible impacted your life?
In so many ways. In the people I meet (in person, via the web, in the letters they write to thank me, in the moving stories I'm told). It's incredibly humbling and wonderful and encouraging. Many times they make me cry, these stories and letters of the way God has used the book to reach a child.
I've also been impacted just by the experience of writing it. It's God's Glorious Story and my honor and privilege to have been able to retell it for little (and not so little!) ones.
Every story was a great blessing, struggle and challenge to write. All at the same time. And sitting down at my desk every day was like an all out battle and mini desk revival every time! But what a privilege and I'm so grateful.
Working on this book was also one of the hardest things I've ever done. And several times I wanted to give up. How grateful I am that God didn't let me. Another thing God impressed on me throughout was this: just because it's hard doesn't mean you're not meant to be doing it!
From the outset, the Lord gave me a vision for this book that he also gave me the strength to keep hold of no matter what, even when it seemed impossible. I grew through it not just as a writer, but also as a Christian. I learned that despite all the internal resistance that comes up for me whenever I set out to do something new (all those reasons why you can't do this, shouldn't be doing that, should give up, are wasting your time, etc.) my job is to just get out of the way and let the Story through. I can't afford the luxury of self-doubt. Someone said that and I aspire to that.
Certainly by the time I'd finished writing the book, I had a whole new level of awe for the incredible Story I am part of. And I had definitely fallen more in love with its Hero!
Probably all of it is best summed up with one thing that I need to learn to do more of: get out of the way!
7. How has social networking, and blogging in particular, helped spread the word about The Jesus
I think it has everything to do with it. There is a constant stream of blogs every week since it was published. Once again, I know I could not be doing what I'm doing without people out there doing what they are doing. (So a huge thanks to all you bloggers!)
It's what you always hope for with a book. That people will love it so much they'll feel like it's their own and want to share it with everyone else. How wonderful. And, of course, it is theirs, because it's God's Wonderful Story.
8. What did you use as guidance, such as Bible stories, devotionals, or readings, when writing The Jesus Storybook Bible? Did experiences from your personal life inspire your writing of these stories?
Here I must mention Dr Tim Keller, my pastor in New York (and the first one I acknowledge in the book). His teaching informs every word. He taught me how to find Christ in all the Old Testament scriptures. I could not have written this book without the benefit of his teaching. There's always a point in every sermon he preaches, where everything looks to Jesus. It's the turning point of the sermon. It's the point where Grace comes in.
I also got hold of a tape series from a theological seminary to help me follow the plot line of Redemption from Genesis to Revelation. That gave me all the connections and filled in any gaps between the stories so I could be sure to be getting the thorough story down.
Then I prayed before reading each story in the OT to ask God to show me the angle to use. And then mostly, I let myself be guided by what moved me, knowing that what moved me I would write with passion and tears. As Frost said, "no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."
For each story I identified what character trait/truth of Jesus to draw out from that story (always many more than one!). I thought about each story as building a portrait of Jesus. I told the story with that trait central in my mind so that the entire story turns on it.
Hans Hoffman said: "The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak," I keep that taped in front of my desk.
9. How do you feel about working with such talented artists-Jago and David Suchet?
Incredibly lucky! (Except, of course, that I don't believe in luck.) Seriously, I'm humbled and honored and extremely grateful. I know that I could not do what I'm doing without the wonderful team I'm a part of.
In an illustrated book the illustration is like the front door; it's what gets someone to pick up the book in the first place. Without compelling illustration, the words wouldn't even be read. The words can't do their job unless someone one picks up the book. Thanks to Jago they are picking up the book! But then the illustration has to do more than that, they have to keep a child's interest. The words need the illustrations; the illustrations need the words.
And as far as audio books? Having a talent as huge as David Suchet to read your words ...? I have to keep pinching myself. An audio book is only as good as the voice and the storyteller. People will simply switch off the audio if the voice isn't compelling and again, the words won't stand a chance.
So you see, as the writer I'm extremely indebted to both Jago and David and utterly dependent on both of them:--it's the illustration that gets the book picked up in the first place and that keeps the reader reading; and the voice of the actor that engages and transports and holds the listener. Either way, the words won't stand a chance without those two
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