Faith-based children’s books, so often presented as birthday and holiday gifts, are known to delight, teach, or soothe. Titles can excite adventurous spirits and curious minds. They can inspire young souls and assure them that God is found in the love of family and friends, in every land and culture, and in the glories of the natural world.
These themes flourish in a number of new and forthcoming books, including Chasing God’s Glory (WaterBrook, Apr. 2023) by Dorina Lazo Gilmore-Young, host of the Eat Pray Run podcast, which features a mother and daughter delighting in sunrises and hugs. In A World of Praise (Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, out now), writer and editor Deborah Lock, who is also publisher of Lion Children’s Books in the U.K., offers “reminders of God’s goodness” with images from every continent, according to the publisher. Home, church, and community are presented as the bulwarks of care and encouragement in Meg Is Not Alone by Megan Hill, the managing editor of the Gospel Coalition. The book, due out in February 2023 from Crossway imprint TGC Kids, features a girl befriended by other worshippers after she is accidentally left behind at church one morning.
Publishers of religion titles for children often start with guiding tots toward God by teaching them simple prayers of gratitude and praise, and then introduce more complex theological ideas for elementary schoolers. Along the way, parents whose own religious training may have faded can be evangelized, too.
Belief begins with baby steps
Zonderkidz leads their forthcoming list with a first printing of 50,000 copies for the latest title by Fox & Friends cohost Ainsley Earhardt. In I’m So Glad You Were Born (out now), Earhardt celebrates how children are “divinely designed and creatively crafted,” according to the publisher. Also with a robust initial print run, Jesus Storybook Bible author Sally Lloyd-Jones’s Known (Zonderkidz, Oct.) is a retelling of Psalm 139 that centers on a toddler secure in his daddy’s arms, thinking of his holy father.
Look and Learn—Toddler Edition: First Words for Catholic Kids (Paraclete, Feb. 2023), by debut author Casey Pawelek, introduces young readers to the sounds and symbols of faith in a Catholic parish. Islamic publisher Kube offers My First Book About Salah: Teachings for Toddlers and Young Children by Sara Khan (out now). It’s part of a series on the five pillars of the faith, one of which is salah—worshipping Allah with five daily prayers. How Our Family Prays Each Day (Ave Maria, Sept.), by psychotherapist Gregory K. Popcak, teaches school-age children the importance of spending time with God daily, “not just during Mass or family prayer time,” says Karey Circosta, Ave Maria publisher and CEO.
Publishers also spin children’s books out of adult bestsellers. Sarah Young, whose Jesus Calling brand of titles have sold more than 40 million copies combined, now has Jesus Listens: 365 Prayers for Kids (Tommy Nelson, Oct.), aimed at parents who want to bring Bible verses into their children’s daily lives. Coming from NavPress in October, How to Pray: A Guide for Young Explorers by pastor Pete Greig is filled with images, activities, and lessons for school-age kids, drawn from his 2019 title How to Pray.
Learning the ropes of discipleship
Many authors of faith-based books for children thread their work with subtle theological lessons to give children an early taste of religious values.
Some publishers see school-age children as ready for deep theological ideas. “I don’t think children are too young to learn about the concept of sin,” says Kyle Hatfield, acquisitions editor for children and family titles at Harvest House. He points to Harvest’s October title The Biggest, Best Light, by author and podcaster Dan Darling and social activist writer Brianna Stensrud, noting, “The authors tackle sin in a way that doesn’t normally get taught to children. They show the readers that our sin isn’t just disobedience to God but that it also has the potential to affect and hurt other people.”
Author Rebecca McLaughlin brings the first volume of a planned series of Bible studies from Moody Publishers aimed at kids ages 10–12 with Exploring the Earliest Gospel: A Kid’s Bible Study on the Book of Mark (Jan. 2023). And Discipleship for Kids: Helping Children Grow in Christ (Navigators, Apr. 2023), by spiritual formation expert Rebecca Ruybalid Stone, weaves together Mark’s stories about Jesus, biblical vocabulary, and scripture verses.
New Growth Press employs the popular concept of “life application Bibles,” which offer notes for relying on scripture to face life’s challenges, in its children’s titles. Barbara Miller Juliani, acquisitions editor for New Growth, says, “We do believe that the message of the Bible is timeless, but that families need help understanding how they can apply it to their everyday lives.” Forthcoming titles from the press include two word-puzzle books, the Acrostic of Salvation (Sept.) and the Acrostic of Scripture (Feb. 2023), both by seminary professor Jonathan Gibson and hip-hop artist Timothy Brindle, who aim to bring contemporary rhyme to the Bible’s eternal message about God and Jesus and “make the catechism fun,” Juliani says.
Lexham Press is expanding FatCat Books, a series launched last year that spotlights how the catechism is “fat” with meaning. The next installment is The Lord’s Prayer: For All God’s Children (Oct.) by pastor Harold Senkbeil, which “encourages children to pray to our Father with reverence and boldness,” according to the publisher.
Boldness is big, adventure too
Faith publishers recognize kids’ eagerness for thrilling adventure tales, action stories, science experiments, intriguing chronicles of heroic deeds, and more. Below is a sampling of upcoming books, which all feature a theme of finding God’s plan, as described by the publishers.
● Brave Quest: A Boy’s Interactive Journey into Manhood (Chosen, Oct.) is a modern mythic pursuit designed by fantasy author and former pastor Dean Briggs, geared toward helping fathers share with their teenage sons a path toward becoming men of purpose and conviction.
● Indescribable Activity Book for Kids: 100+ Mind-Stretching and Faith-Building Puzzles, Crosswords, STEM Experiments, and More About God and Science! (Tommy Nelson, Apr. 2023), by evangelist Louie Giglio, twines scripture and science in a collection of fun activities.
● Land of the Lost (Focus on the Family, Apr. 2023) is the 30th installment in author Marianne Hering’s Imagination Station series. This installment sends its young characters hurtling through biblical history once again, this time meeting Noah as he prepares to face the flood.
● Seven Clues: A Catholic Treasure Hunt (Loyola, Nov.), a debut children’s novel by theologian Scott Hahn, who teamed with writer Maura Roan McKeegan, depicts children on a scavenger hunt following clues from a mysterious scroll to learn how “the words, signs, and symbols of the Church reveal the life and Resurrection of Jesus.”
● The Top 50 Bible Lessons About Ordinary People in God’s Extraordinary Plan (RoseKidz, July 2023) by family ministry director and children’s ministry blogger Amber Pike reveals how the imperfect people of the Bible were still valuable in God’s plan.
Like most children’s book publishers, faith-based houses have stepped up in their efforts to publish works that include illustrations of children and young adults of differing races, skin tones, and abilities, while also highlighting cultures and historic moments not often represented on bookstore shelves.
In A Family Prayer (Convergent, May 2023), playwright and novelist Shay Youngblood’s central character is “a little brown girl who finds joy in asking God to keep her family safe”—with “family” extending to all the biological and community connections in her life, according to the publisher.
Austin Channing Brown, speaker and author of the bestseller I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, has adapted her book for young readers. In this new version of I’m Still Here (Convergent, Jan. 2023), she writes about finding a haven in a Black church where “Jesus cared about my soul, but he also cared about what it was like to move through the world as a Black girl who often felt unseen and misunderstood.”
IVP Kids offers The Birth of the Chosen One. It is a First Nations retelling of the Christmas story (Sept. 2023), translated and edited by Terry Wildman, who also translated the 2021 IVP title First Nations Version: An Indigenous Translation of the New Testament, from which the new book is drawn. Wildman, who is Ojibwe and Yaqui, writes of a Great Spirit who sends his son, named Creator Sets Free, to live among humankind and “set people free from their bad hearts and broken ways.”
WaterBrook has a slate of authors highlighting the Christian faith as a guiding light for all youth, with many offering perspectives from BIPOC authors. Among these, Dorena Williamson’s Brown Baby Jesus (out now) features “the characters and stories leading to Jesus”; Crystal Bowman and Michelle S. Lazurek encourage girls to dream of all the ways they can serve God in Who God Wants Me to Be (out now); and children’s ministry leader Sara Chinakwe shows Black boys their God-given worth in the stories of their ancestors in You Come from Greatness: A Celebration of Black History (Jan. 2023).
Focus on the Family is launching a new series by Bill Myers about the Magnificent Mulligans, a family that includes fostered and adopted children and a baby who is born blind. In the first title, Leapin’ Leopards (Mar. 2023), the family counts on Christ and their commitment to one another to deal with mayhem, like the time a leopard escapes from the animal park they operate.
The Story of Us (Beaming Books, out now) by author and India-born Californian Mitali Perkins looks at the urgent issue of climate care. She retells the biblical story of a Redeemer and Restorer, who use the elements—fire, water, air, and earth—to heal and serve a world rife with greed, war, and devastation. “There is a hunger in progressive Christian communities for more faith-based books that speak to the challenges of our day, and a lot of interest in books by diverse authors; this book has both,” says editor Naomi Krueger.
“We all benefit when different experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds are brought to the table,” says Hatfield at Harvest House. “I know that for me, as a Taiwanese American, it would have been huge for me to see Asian faces in books when I was growing up.” On Harvest House’s list is Like Me (Jan. 2023) by Laura Wifler, cohost of the Risen Motherhood podcast, who focuses on one day in the life of two siblings, the younger of whom uses a walker. In the book, the older brother also accompanies his sibling to therapy for learning to walk and talk. The story is meant to help kids “recognize the many similarities they share with children whose needs are different than theirs, and that they are loved equally by God,” according to the publisher.
Publisher Lili Rosenstreich, founder of Kalaniot Books, says observing and identifying with others’ traditions can make the world “a richer place for all.” Out now from the publisher is The Very Best Sukkah: A Story from Uganda. It portrays Jewish families in the Abayudaya community in eastern Uganda celebrating the harvest festival of Sukkot by building booths, known as sukkahs, decorated with fruits and vegetables. The author, Rabbi Shoshana Nambi, the first female rabbi in Uganda, grew up in this community.
Kar-Ben publisher Joni Sussman says several of the Jewish house’s new titles “include stories about the Sephardic Jewish community that came from the Levant, as well as the more typical stories taking place in the Ashkenazi world descended from Eastern Europe.” Among such titles are Hanukkah in Little Havana (Oct.) by debut author Julie Anna Blank, as well as Luis de Torres Sails to Freedom (June 2023) by Israeli writer Tami Lehman-Wilzig, set during the Inquisition, when Jews were expelled from Spain. In Lehman-Wilzig’s book, the protagonist is a converso, a secret Jew, who escapes by joining Christopher Columbus’s voyage.
Green Bean Books’ forthcoming mystery story The Lost Spy and the Green Dress (Nov.) is set in Israel in the 1960s—a time when Israeli author Alex Paz-Goldman, born in 1955 to Holocaust-survivor parents, would have been around the same age as his 12-year-old protagonist. The novel touches on difficult topics such as the Holocaust, trauma, mental health, and poverty. Publisher Michael Leventhal says he’s seen “an increasing number of translations of Hebrew-language work from award-winning Israeli authors and illustrators,” noting that “new subjects and new areas of history that have never been tackled are finally being portrayed, too.”
Life stories inspire and encourage
IVP launched IVP Kids last year with a book on St. Nicholas written and illustrated by Ned Bustard, and he’s back in February 2023 with Saint Patrick the Forgiver: The History and Legends of Ireland’s Bishop, a whimsical look at Saint Patrick, who, it turns out, wasn’t even Irish.
Paulist Press author Gian Paolo Cesarani tells a story of the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was devoted to the poorest of the poor in Saint Teresa of Calcutta (out now). Kube offers titles on the founder of Islam, including Prophet Muhammad: Where the Story Begins (Oct.) by teacher Farhana Islam, about the prophet’s childhood and those who influenced his early life.
But saints and prophets aren’t the only ones who can inspire and encourage young people to live their faith. Kar-Ben has veteran children’s book author Susan Tarcov introducing influential Jewish philosophers—Martin Buber with Professor Buber and His Cats (Sept.) and Maimonides with The Rabbi and His Donkey (Apr. 2023). Kar-Ben also looks to key contemporary figures with titles such as Debbie’s Song by Ellen Leventhal (Apr. 2023), about the late singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman, whose music can be heard in synagogues across the country.
Dealing with painful emotions
“Fear not,” the Bible often commands—but it’s no easy command for children. A recent story in the Guardian found that “publishing is awash with titles for kids focused on worries, feelings, and emotional literacy—and parents are buying them in droves.” Faith-based titles lean toward hope and joy, but publishers also know youngsters need encouragement in difficult times. Several forthcoming titles aim to reassure rattled children as well as their parents.
In her first children’s book, evangelical author Ann Voskamp offers words to ease the mind in Your Brave Song (Tyndale Kids, Feb. 2023). It tells the story of a girl named Una Rayne whose mother teachers her to sing, “Jesus loves you, makes you strong. In Him, you’re brave and you belong.” Linda Howard, associate publisher, explains, “The name ‘Una’ means ‘one’ or ‘lamb,’ and ‘Rayne’ means ‘abundant blessings from above,’ but can also mean ‘song.’ ”
Below is a sampling of forthcoming titles in which children learn how to care for themselves emotionally, with descriptions provided by the publishers.
● I Am Not Afraid: Psalm 23 for Bedtime (Beaming, Feb. 2023) by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, a rabbi and author of 25 children’s books, reimagines the verses for a child afraid of the dark who can reach out to “God her comforter” to quiet her anxiety.
● If I Were a Tiger (WaterBrook, Oct.) is by Caroline Coleman, who was once afraid of the dark. In rhyming verse, Coleman writes about a boy named Tim who’s so timid “he won’t wear his sneakers because he fears hidden creatures,” until he learns to trust that God is “only a prayer away.”
● Lucky for Winnie (Mar. 2023) and Homesick Horse (Tyndale Kids, Apr. 2023), both by Mom’s Choice Award winner and children’s author Dandi Daley Mackall, address finding comfort in the unconditional love that family—and Jesus—can offer. These are prequels to Tyndale Kids’ popular Winnie the Horse Gentler series. “Every time you bring out a new book in a series or brand, it gives you a fresh reason to talk about the entire collection,” Howard says.
● Sylvie and the Wolf (Sounds True, May 2023), a debut picture book by writer and editor Andrea Debbink, tells how Sylvie’s fear of a wild wolf controls her life, until she learns she can confront her fear and “move forward and live alongside it.”
Parents today seek “books that engage children in conversation about some of the complexities of life: racism, bullying, anxiety, inclusion, etc.,” says Elissa Schauer, IVP’s managing and associate trade editor. “A lot of children’s books we’re seeing today are books that those authors wished they had read as children.” For example, All Will Be Well: Learning to Trust God’s Love (IVP Kids, Oct.) by author and spiritual director Lacy Finn Borgo addresses the loss of a loved one. The book centers an ill grandmother who assures her granddaughter, “When you don’t see me anymore, I will be where God is. Because God loves you and God loves me.”
Flyaway Books has several forthcoming titles that confront death while focusing on community and compassion. In Grandpa’s Window (Feb. 2023) by children’s author Laura Gehl, a boy learns from his grandfather about life after death and dealing with grief. And children get a vision of hope in Fly High: What God Says About Grieving (End Game, Oct.) by journalist and author Michelle Medlock Adams, in which two children grieve when a mama bird dies, but the baby birds in her nest live and fly, embodying “the promise of hope that is found in new beginnings.”
Mindfulness for little ones
“It’s important for children to connect with their rich inner landscape of feelings at an early age and, in doing so, to learn how to care for themselves and others in a world that can feel stressful and unpredictable at times,” says Jaime Schwalb, associate publisher for Sounds True. “Learning to notice and tend to our emotions, and to calm our bodies and minds through practices like breathing and awareness, has a lasting effect on our overall health and emotional well-being.” Among several of Sounds True’s titles for tots is Alphabreaths Too: More ABCs of Mindful Breathing (out now) by psychologist Christopher Willard and family therapist Daniel Rechtschaffen. Every letter teaches “a simple mindfulness, or compassion-based, practice to help kids focus their thoughts, feel calm, express gratitude, and hold positive feelings for others,” according to the publisher.
Bala Kids introduces Buddhist values with titles including Leo Learns to Meditate: A Curious Kid’s Guide to Life’s Ups and Downs and Lots In-Between (Oct.) written by Buddhism practitioner Francesca Hamilton. It’s a graphic novel–format tale of an elementary schoolboy learning to cultivate mindfulness and loving-kindness.
In Buddha and the Rose (Running Press, out now), wellness and mindfulness expert Mallika Chopra retells a myth about the Buddha that reaches “awareness, wonder, and the joy of being present and open to seeing the world in new ways,” according to the publisher. Wisdom Publications offers The Secret of the Sand Castles (Nov.) by prolific author Demi, about a group of children who feud over their sand castles until a magical wise man teaches them “it is the things we can’t see that really matter most.”
Lessons of faith in action
Many titles directed at teens package life lessons—chief among them trusting God—with vivid stories and epic series. “The great novelists of faith throughout history have always created stories that draw upon allegory, myth, fantasy, and worldbuilding that point back to essential truth,” says Peggy Schaefer, associate publisher for WorthyKids. She notes that these qualities are joined by “subtle yet visible nods to faith” in The Ink of Elspet (The Inkwell Chronicles #1), a debut YA title by J.D. Peabody (WorthyKids, out now).
Biblical parallels and Christian prayers are threaded through End Game Press’s YA novels, says managing and acquisitions editor Hope Bolinger. She highlights Inside the Ten Foot Line (out now) by writer Lori Scott, a teacher and former collegiate volleyball player. The book features a high school volleyball player who learns what counts most in life as she faces competition, dangerous secrets, and the loss of her aunt, who had been her inspiration.
Additional advice-bent books for YA readers include Winning the War in Your Mind for Teens: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (Zonderkidz, Apr.) by pastor Craig Groeschel. It has been adapted from Groeschel’s 2021 bestselling original adult version for teens struggling with today’s challenges. From WaterBrook, famed footballer turned sportscaster and outspoken Christian Tim Tebow is repurposing his bestselling Mission Possible: Go Create a Life That Counts with a young readers’ edition releasing in March, which aims to help teens discover their God-given purpose. And finally, Multnomah advises teen girls on looking forward to a faith-filled marriage in Before You Meet Your Future Husband: 30 Questions to Ask Yourself and 30 Heartfelt Prayers (Apr. 2023) by authors Robin Jones Gunn and Tricia Goyer.
Cathy Lynn Grossman is a veteran writer on faith and ethics living in Washington, D.C.