In fall 1972, when climate concerns were just dawning and the streets were roiling with anti-war demonstrators, Catholic social activist Trina Paulus had an idea to write and illustrate a parable starring two fuzzy insects. Fifty years later, Paulist Press has sold four million copies of Hope for the Flowers: A Tale Partly About Life, Partly About Revolution, and Lots About Hope for Adults and Others (Including Caterpillars Who Can Read). It’s Paulist’s bestselling title for children and among its top three titles for adults, says marketing director Bob Byrns.

Paulus, age 91, is still a social justice and sustainable organic agriculture activist who attends Catholic Mass every day she can. Her theme, drawn from the text of the Mass, is that life is not taken away from us, it is changed and transformed, she says. It begins with two caterpillars frantically striving for some unknown, unseen goal. Even after they give up the fight, they discover one more test, to build a cocoon and surrender to the darkness, before they can emerge as butterflies, carrying seeds and love among the flowers.

“It’s really a modern book for our times,” Paulus says. The anniversary edition includes a new intro from the author, highlighting the book as a rousing call to “leave the competitive life, embrace the cocoon, and become our full flying selves so that together we can create the world we all want. May we continue to challenge ourselves and others to heal the personal and systemic wounds of selfishness.” It’s signed, “In hope always, Trina.”

In 2007, when there was much less attention being paid to representing a multitude of races, ethnicities, and cultures in children’s books, Sally Lloyd-Jones and illustrator Jago presented Jesus—whose name, she writes in The Jesus Storybook Bible, is whispered in every story—as a “brown-skinned Middle-eastern Jew.” In words and images, their book puts forth that “we are all unique by design and Jesus came for everyone,” the author says. Zonderkidz has sold more than six million copies of the JSB and its offshoots, including books that retell the Psalms for little ones.

The 15-year-old brand is the leader of the company’s backlist, appearing in homes, libraries, and ministries around the world, says publisher Megan Dobson. Dobson says the key to the JSB’s power lies in the author’s refrain declaring God’s “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.”

Lloyd-Jones says she included that easily repeatable phrase to express the idea of “agape—the love we all strive for,” noting, “No matter what our age, we never outgrow this longing. I didn’t want to present the Bible as a book of rules or filled with stories of people like Daniel whose bravery I could never match. Someone once told me, ‘You are reaching the child
inside the adult.’ ”