As faith-based children’s book publishers strive for greater inclusivity and diverse representations of all people within stories, decisions do not always come easily about which pronouns to use for God or what skin color to use in illustrations of Jesus. PW asked several publishers about what led to their choices in upcoming children’s books.
In portraying Jesus, they all say they’re going for historical accuracy, which translates visually to varying shades of pale to medium-brown skin tones for Jesus. Carl Laferton, publisher at the Good Book Company, considered the setting of biblical times, when “Jesus would have looked neither Caucasian nor sub-Saharan African,” he says, “and so we depict him as a first-century Middle Eastern man.”
However, Lexham Press’s new children’s imprint, FatCat, launches in February with The Apostles’ Creed: For All God’s Children, the cover of which, by illustrator Natasha Kennedy, shows Jesus as a Black man surrounded by BIPOC children. “We wanted our depiction of Jesus to break folks’ categories a bit,” says Lexham Press academic editor Todd Hains, “to fit with the regal image that folks have of Jesus, while also reflecting his Middle Eastern heritage and setting.”
But the press is going traditional with masculine pronouns for God. “The Bible doesn’t shy away from pronouns for God, nor do we,” Hains says. “Not because we think the invisible God is an old, bearded man in the sky, but because we’re following the Bible’s words.”
Not so for Beaming Books’ upcoming title, Mother God by Teresa Kim Pecinovsky (Mar. 2022), which begins, “You know God the Father/ But God is your Mother too./ You are made in Her image—/ She is making all things new.”
All the pronouns in Mother God are feminine, and the art by illustrator Khoa Le is of women showing strength, love, and wisdom. The drawings were inspired by feminine descriptions of God from scripture, according to acquisitions editor Naomi Krueger. “It’s so important for children to be introduced to God as mother, too,” she says. “They shouldn’t have to wait until adulthood to discover this part of who God is.”
Deborah Lock, publisher for Lion Hudson’s children’s titles, says the pronoun decision—to use he or simply God—varies by author, and is not something the press alters.
In Flyaway’s upcoming title God’s Coming to Visit! (Oct.), God “transcends gender,” says editor Michele Blum. The story follows animal characters who are in a tizzy of anticipation until they realize that God is always with them. “None of us can see God in a literal, physical way,” Blum says. “Rather, God’s presence is reflected in the hearts and minds of the faithful, and in their love for one other.”