Several Christian publishing houses with children's imprints also are adding general market titles to their lists. These books make no explicit mentions of God, Jesus, prayer, church, or theological concepts such as sin, redemption, and salvation. But publishers and marketers say, they look for content that aligns with religious values, then leave it to the readers or their parents to draw the connections if they choose.
Zonderkidz produces several general trade titles for tots up to teens, which publisher Megan Dobson says are true to their brand. "The core of who we are is publishing faith-based books for a Christian audience. The general market books that we do may not speak specifically to the faith, but they are all clean, fun, hopeful messages by Christian writers from a Christian worldview."
Many of these authors built their audience platforms in broadcasting. The multicultural, multiracial picture book, The Smallest Spot of a Dot: The Little Ways We’re Different, The Big Ways We’re the Same, (Jan.) is by ABC News journalist Linsey Davis. Blink YA, the house's young adult imprint, is offering Come Home Safe, (Feb.) a social justice novel about two teens falsely accused of crimes, a debut book by Brian Buckmire, an ABC News legal analyst and lawyer. And in March Catholic author Raymond Arroyo, news director and lead news anchor for Eternal Word Television Network, will launch a new series for Zonderkidz—picture book biographies of famous people in history—with The Unexpected Light of Thomas Alva Edison.
Dobson says, "Raymond loves history and he loves to write underdog stories of children who encounter challenges but someone or something turns it around for them." In the leadoff title of the Turnabout Tales series, Edison’s mother believed in Thomas, even when he was a mischievous boy. Arroyo has written bestsellers for other publishers, but he came to Zonderkidz with this idea, she says "because we are uniquely positioned to reach the broader culture."
At Tyndale Kids, associate publisher Linda Howard says general trade titles are in their wheelhouse when they offer "literature consistent with Biblical principles. The spiritual needs of people encompass a wide spectrum from those who are fully committed to those who may be antagonistic to faith. Books like these allow us to reach a wider audience with core Christian values, like family bonding, in a non-threatening way. For example, the embrace of love is expressed by sweet critters in books such as A Kiss Is Coming (Oct.) by writer-illustrator Marilyn Janovitz, and Bedtime in the Barnyard (Mar.) by Annie Sarac."
In a title geared toward middle graders, The Architect (Tyndale, Feb.) by Jonathan Starrett, the main character and his band of friends work to free their city from the lies and control of a shadowy villain. The book "explores questions about whether pursuing truth is worthwhile and whether you can believe in something/someone you can’t see," Howard says.
The prospect of a broad general audience also appeals to B&H, the publishing arm of Lifeway. Although it is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, it's comfortable with titles that highlight Christian values without labeling them, as such Innis and Ernest (Nov.). Author-illustrator Carissa Shillito portrays young Innis learning to love and appreciate a 90-year-old man who moves into his home. "It doesn't specifically highlight salvation, but it does show an aspect of our Christian lives, that we should value—loving those different than us, specifically the elderly," says Karen Murphy, marketing strategist for B&H.
The general market is not new to Paraclete, which has long published titles to "further our mission and capture our heart without specifically religious language," says marketing director Rachel McKendree.
"Especially in the case of fiction and children's books, sometimes a good story conveys truth and beauty without ever mentioning the name of God, although spiritual themes are still at the heart of the book," she adds. McKendree highlights Laura Alary's Here: The Dot We Call Home (out now), aimed at "teaching children about stewardship and the miracle of creation, inviting them to wonder about the Creator, and consider their role in the midst of it all."