Religion publishers have mission on their mind when they look to the children’s bookshelf. They want to engage and entertain within a framework of religious and spiritual values, beliefs, and principles. New books publishing between now and spring include introductions to God for babies, anti-racism titles for tweens and teens, and more.
“Children’s book purchases tend to be driven by whatever is uppermost in a parent’s mind,” says Laura Barker, v-p and publisher at WaterBrook & Multnomah. “We’ll continue to publish books on character, Bible stories, family relationships, and other core themes for a Christian consumer.”
At Beaming Books, acquisitions editor Naomi Krueger says a third of their titles are aimed at progressive Christian audiences. The remainder, Krueger says, are books for the general market that focus “on helping kids thrive holistically: socially, emotionally, and spiritually.”
Talking about tough topics
Publishers see tweens (ages 9–12) and young teens as being ready to dig into contemporary issues such as racial injustice and racism. Barker says she knew immediately that Hues of You: An Activity Book for Learning About the Skin You Are In (Jan. 2022), would be a valuable resource to equip children and adults “for conversations around skin tone, hair texture, and other physical differences that we too often stumble to describe.” It’s written by Lucretia Carter Berry, founder of the anti-racism agency Brownicity, and illustrated by Adia Carter.
One of the bestselling authors on combatting racism with Christian values, Jemar Tisby (The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism), joins marketing experts and devotionals author Josh Mosey in How to Fight Racism: Young Reader’s Edition—A Guide to Standing Up for Racial Justice (Zonderkidz, Jan. 2022) Megan Dobson, v-p and publisher for Zonderkidz, says she expects it will resonate with the general market as well as Christian readers.
New Answers to Big Questions: Progressive Christianity for Children and Families by Episcopal priest Claire Brown and Baptist pastor Anita Peebles (Church, Jan. 2022) zeroes in on how faith plays a role in anti-racism, gender equality, economic justice, care of the environment, affirmation of LGBTQ people, trauma-informed practice, and global citizenship, according to the publisher. Perry Hodgkins Jones does the illustrations for the book.
Even pre-K is not too young to begin learning about inequality, according to Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman. Due out in November, The Rabbi and the Reverend: Joachim Prinz, Martin Luther King Jr., and their Fight Against Silence by Audrey Ades with illustrator Chiara Fedele, tells how Prinz, a refugee from Nazi Germany, stood with King at the March on Washington and joined in the work for justice.
Race isn’t the only hard topic on publishers’ minds. Beaming Books’ Kreuger thinks LGBTQ youth will relate to artist and author Stacey Chomiak’s self-illustrated memoir about being gay and Christian in Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-of-Age Story—An Illustrated Memoir (Oct.).
Jewish publisher Kalaniot looks at the complexities of Israel’s history and its diverse population in My Israel and Me by Alice McGinty, with illustrations by Rotem Teplow (out now). It’s told from a child’s perspective, in an effort to prompt children and adults into thoughtful conversation “about the complicated feelings surrounding modern day Israel,” says publisher Lili Rosenstreich.
Upcoming books feature children of varying race, ethnicity, and ability who are learning and living the values that frame a good character. Always Tell the Truth (Brown Books Kids, Nov.) by former TV producer Kyra Robinson with illustrator Cynthia Matthew, hits its moral message in the title. The book follows a girl who accidentally breaks a neighbor’s window and finds it hard to fess up. Sir Drake the Brave (Morehouse, Oct.) by Joy Jordan-Lake with illustrator Susan Eaddy offers a lesson in empathy as a boy with a physical disability uses kindness to face down bullies, according to the publisher.
Bethany House also stresses kindness in The Happy Crab (Oct.), about a crustacean who could have become a collectible shell until a little boy sets him free. The authors are blogger Layla Palmer and her husband, songwriter Kevin Palmer, while Guy Wolek illustrates. Inspiring gratitude is the aim in For Every Little Thing: Poems and Prayers to Celebrate the Day (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, out now), with 51 contributors’ prayers, poems, and prose edited by June Cotner and Nancy Tupper Ling. Helen Cann illustrates.
Teaching, not preaching
New Growth Press zeroes in on doctrine crossed with delight by using the alphabet to teach about God. “We’ll read it, rap it, or sing it—it’s fun! Till Jesus comes back and his kingdom has come...” it says in The Acrostic of God, (Oct.) by Jonny Gibson, a professor of the Old Testament, and Timothy Brindle, also an Old Testament expert, with illustrations by C.S. Fritz. Fritz is also the author and illustrator of NavPress’s Good Night Classics: A Fairy-Tale Journey Through God’s Good News (Apr. 2022), which flips familiar fairy tales into Christian teachings. In this telling, Jack (of bean stalk fame) learns money isn’t the treasure he needs, for example.
Author Amy Gannett takes on curious kids in her Tiny Theologians series coming in February 2022 from B&H: Does God Sleep?: A Book About God’s Power; Does God Go on Vacation?: A Book About God’s Presence; and Did God Learn His ABCs?: A Book About God’s Knowledge. The illustrator for all three is Nate Farro.
Deborah Lock, editor for Lion Hudson’s imprint Lion Children, also wrote one of the house’s upcoming titles. She puts Christianity in the context of other major belief systems in What Are Religions and Worldviews: An Introduction to Beliefs Around the World (Nov.), which includes facts on history, worship, festivals, and prayers.
STEM + God
Children’s publishers have pumped up the volume of activity books and guided devotionals, particularly in the sensitive area of science and religion. Tyndale House associate publisher Linda Howard decries the “myth” that “if you believe in science, you can’t believe in God—and if you believe in God, you can’t believe in science.” She adds: “That is simply not true. God himself created the building blocks of science.” In this vein, Tyndale Kids is publishing Faith and Science with Dr. Fizzlebop: 52 Fizztastically Fun Experiments and Devotions for Families (Nov.). It is accompanied by videos starring author Brock Eastman, who can pivot from a kitchen-table-top experiment to a biblical passage in minutes.
SPCK draws a direct line from God to T. rex with God Made the Dinosaurs (Feb. 2022) by veteran science-and-religion writers Michael and Caroline Carroll and illustrated by Jesús Sotés. The authors collaborated with the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, a Cambridge-based institute focused on mutual understanding between the two realms. Two people who work for the institute, Lizzie Henderson and Steph Bryant, are behind 101 Great Big Questions About God and Science (Lion Children, Mar. 2022), along with illustrator Andy Rowland. The authors supply answers and personal testimonies from scientists and theologians, as well as instructions for at-home experiments for kids to try.
Tommy Nelson is publishing The Wonder of Creation: 100 More Devotions About God and Science in November. It’s the third science-meets-God devotional title by megachurch pastor Louie Giglio with Tama Fortner. Nicola Anderson illustrates.
Moody Publishers will add two new titles next July to its Tree Street series for middle grade readers, which launched last year. Lions to the Rescue! and Mystery in Crooked Creek Woods, both by author Amanda Cleary Eastep, weave “science, literature, and history facts into the not-so-ordinary adventures of ordinary kids,” according to the publisher.
The Bible is the backbone
According to Scholastic editor Rachel Matson, “Every parent wants to build a bookshelf for their baby.” To gain the trust of Christian parents, she says, Scholastic has teamed with the American Bible Society since 2006 on content such as its My First Read and Learn Bibles program. In February, Scholastic’s Little Shepherd imprint will publish the first volume in a new series, Baby’s First Bible Stories, with God Loves Me by Virginia Allyn, who also illustrates.
Zonderkidz’s The Beginner’s Bible Read Through the Bible—8 Stories for Beginning Readers (Feb. 2022), melds The Beginner’s Bible brand with the I Can Read format.
Among upcoming titles from The Good Book Company is The Big Wide Welcome: A True Story About Jesus, James, and a Church That Learned to Love All Sorts of People (Jan. 2022) by Trillia Newbell, a prominent voice on faith and diversity, and illustrated by Catalina Echeverri.
Publishers are also jazzing up titles with technology. Warner Press Kids introduces more than 400 QR codes that link to short videos in its new edition of Egermeier’s Intereactive Bible Story Book (out now). Written by Elsie Egermeier in 1927, it has been expanded, updated, and re-illustrated by Mark Harmon.
Two prolific Jewish writers—Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine—aim to reach both Jewish and Christian readers with The Good for Nothing Tree (Flyaway, Mar. 2022). It is a retelling of the parable of the barren fig tree (Luke 13:6–9) that grows with love and care.
Among Lion Children’s many upcoming Bible-based titles is Queen Esther, Nation Saver and Other Tales (May 2022) by Amy Scott Robinson and illustrator Evelt Yanait , which features 12 strong women and girls drawn from scripture, from Exodus to the Gospels.
Children’s shelves often carry books by or about high-profile people of faith. Tommy Nelson is publishing prolific author and pastor Max Lucado’s upcoming title for tots, You Can Count on God: 100 Devotions for Kids, in February. Tim Tebow, the famed quarterback turned TV analyst, with coauthor A.J. Gregory, adds a second title to the Bronco and Friends dog-who-does-good series for WaterBrook: Bronco and Friends: Mission Possible (Mar. 2022).
Sometimes the star of a book is a name few modern readers know. Bala Kids focuses on a Buddhist ruler who repented his early, violent conquests and began promoting compassion and tolerance in Ashoka the Fierce: How an Angry Prince Became India’s Emperor of Peace (Dec.) by Carolyn Kanjuro with illustrator Sonali Zohra.
Many titles aim to encourage and instruct kids when it comes to prayer and meditation. IVP Kids’ Little Prayers for Ordinary Days (May 2022), cowritten by Anglican priest and prize-winning author Tish Harrison Warren and songwriters Flo Paris Oakes and Kay Bowser and illustrated by Liita Forsythe, is meant to start little ones on a lifetime habit. And for Catholic children, Ascension Press’s Pray and Think Imaginative Rosary Book (Dec.) by illustrator Candace Camling (My First Interactive Mass Book) uses artwork to prompt children’s imaginations as they learn to pray the rosary and meditate on its meaning.
Plum Blossom Books’ Where Is the Buddha? (Nov.) by famed monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, illustrated by Nguyen Quang and Kim Lien, guides youngsters to discover the Buddha within them. Sophie Learns to Be Brave (Bala Kids, Mar. 2022), written by Zen priest and anthropologist Joan Halifax and illustrated by Kiersten Eagan, follows a little girl who finds calm in a storm by remembering: “Breathing in, I am safe; breathing out, I am free.”
Lest anyone take mindfulness too seriously, Wisdom is releasing Your Mind Makes Thoughts Like Your Butt Makes Farts (Aug. 2022) by filmmaker and author Todd Strauss-Schulson, who goes for gross-out giggles with a fresh take on “making friends with your mind,” according to the publisher. Phil McAndrew is the illustrator.
Whether faith-based books for kids are humorous or helpful, entertaining or educational—or all of the above—Carl Laferton, publisher for The Good Book Company, is confident they can adapt to current issues and shifting interests, while still offering inspiration and eternal truths. “The market will go on wanting books for kids that are creative, faithful, relevant and fun,” he says.