The worst days of the Covid pandemic are probably over. But they left in their wake loneliness, grief, fear, and anxiety, while headlines have been taken over by culture wars, wildfires, and scorched-earth politics. And kids see it all, says Linda Howard, associate publisher for Tyndale House. Religion and spirituality publishers are responding, bringing out children’s titles that comfort, distract, inspire, and delight readers young and old. “We have two audiences,” Howard explains. “We have the kids and we have the parents or caregivers while they are reading to them.”
She sees an emphasis on addressing mental health concerns with books such as Big Feelings Days: A Book About Hard Things, Heavy Emotions, and Jesus’ Love (NavPress, Oct.), by teaching pastor and podcaster Aubrey Sampson, and Peabody the Mini Horse (Tyndale Kids, Feb. 2024), about a dwarf horse that became a therapy animal and a TikTok star, by Faith San Severino, who uses her miniature horses as part of a ministry.
For faith, fun, and friendship, Howard expects an eager audience for the 12th title in the Dead Sea Squirrels series by VeggieTales co-creator Mike Nawrocki, which has already sold 250,000 books. In BabbleLand Breakout (Tyndale Kids, Jan. 2024), critters who once heard Jesus preach have somehow come back to life in modern times; embark on new, often ridiculous, adventures; and yet still convey Jesus’s lessons on sacrificial love, forgiveness, and friendship.
Helping children express grief and move forward with peace of heart is the goal in titles such as My Heart Sings a Sad Song (Pilgrim, Sept. 2024), by hospital chaplain and grief counselor Gary Shockley, and Where Grandad Lives (Hodder Faith, Oct.), by British rapper Guvna B and his wife Emma Borquaye, who has an online platform Girl Got Faith. The couple writes with the firm Christian faith that they will see their loved ones again, but until then, they live in one’s heart.
Grounded in Gospel
Several publishers are supporting the idea that everyone—including the adults reading aloud—can benefit from children’s books that overtly stress scripture and biblical principles.
The Good Book Company begins with flap-the-board books for tots in a new four-title series with two titles out now—What Are Hands For? and What Are Mouths For?—and two coming in February. The series, under the umbrella title of Training Young Hearts, is by Abbey Wedgeworth, and it encourages kids to “look to the Holy Spirit for help to use their bodies as God inten-
ded,” and takes on concepts of repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness, and sanctification.
Lexham adds to its FatCat series (the name stands for “rich in catechism”) with The Ten Commandments: For All God’s Children by pastor Harold L. Senkbeil (Jan. 2024), which pairs each of God’s rules with a moment in Jesus’s life, according to the publisher.
For the youngsters who wonder just who this great God is that everyone’s talking about, and adults who wonder how to answer, there are forthcoming titles that take this on, too.
Joy is the answer, according to God Is (Pilgrim, May 2024), by reverend and civil rights activist Kaji Spellman Douša. “Too many adults today are recovering from spiritually traumatic childhoods in which religion taught them self-doubt, shame, and guilt through the doctrine of a punishing God,” says publisher Rachel Hackenberg. “God Is provides an emphatic affirmation of God’s goodness and solidarity.”
God is throughout creation in God’s Little Astronomer by educator Tina Cho (WaterBrook, Feb. 2024), who uses a tour of the heavens to encourage children “to see God throughout the universe, and reinforcing the message that the same God loves them, too,” according to the publisher. Xochitl Dixon writes a rhyming tale of the rainbow as a way to explore the full spectrum of God in What Color Is God’s Love? (WaterBrook, Mar. 2024). Hachette imprint John Murray Press called on chemist Elizabeth Cole for a book that melds science, space, and chemistry in God’s Cosmic Cookbook (Oct.). John Murray editor Ruth Roff says such books encourage “a more confident conversation about the origins of our world—one that can appreciate the discoveries of science and celebrate the creator’s work.”
What If I Can’t Explain God? by Jennifer Grant (Beaming Books, Oct.) “gives parents permission to say, ‘I don’t know,’ ” says acquisitions editor Naomi Krueger. “The average parent should not need to be a theologian who can explain the Trinity. In the book, the adults struggle to answer a little girl’s questions until she decides for herself that she can accept things she can’t explain, like how God makes her feel peaceful and happy and that she is loved.”
But a life of faith is not all sweetness and sunshine. There are evil influences in the world as well, and publisher David C. Cook wants even young children to resist and overcome them. The press is launching a new six-book series under the umbrella theme of “growing strong hearts with God’s help,” says children’s acquisitions editor Laura Derico. The first title, The Heart Who Wanted to Be Whole by children’s ministry expert Beth Guckenberger, is out now. Each book is intended to give children tools to “battle against spiritual forces that often show up in our lives as negative thoughts, overwhelming emotions, and unhealthy behaviors,” Derico says. The second book, releasing in September 2024, will focus on God’s presence in worship as a tool for spiritual strength.
Crossway imprint the Gospel Coalition offers Bible-based titles such as Charlie and the Preschool Prodigal by Ginger M. Blomberg (Jan. 2024). It retells the story of the prodigal son to preschoolers with its lessons “about sin, grace, and the unconditional love of God,” according to the publisher.
Kregel Children’s Books wants tots to take the Bible to heart—and everywhere else. “Toddlers love carrying their toys around with them,” says publisher Catherine DeVries. One of several Bible books for children from the press is My Toddler Bible (Feb. 2024), featuring stories by Cecilie Fodor. It comes “with a handle so kids can take it with them wherever they go,” DeVries adds.
Great lives, great lessons
Christian and Jewish publishers are offering a range of biographies highlighting exemplary figures of faith from around the world and across history.
Southern Baptist press B&H highlights missionaries with Lottie Moon: The Girl Who Changed the World by Amy Whitfield (Oct.), Go Tell Everyone: 9 Missionaries Who Shared the Good News by Meredith Cook (Mar. 2024), and the life story of a Black physician and missionary, Lulu Fleming: The Doctor Who Shared Jesus by Jasmine L. Holmes (Aug. 2024).
Scientists of Faith: 28 Stories of Brilliant Scientists with Remarkable Faith in God by Christy Monson (Bushel & Peck, Nov.) introduces people from medieval to modern times who saw no conflict between belief in God and examining every aspect of creation.
Jewish publisher Kar-Ben spotlights bios of three people who lived for faith and justice: an African anti-Apartheid activist in Ruth First Never Backed Down by Danielle Joseph (Nov.), the modern founder of Reform Judaism in Dream by Dream: The Story of Isaac Mayer Wise by Geri Kolesar (out now), and Doña Gracia Saved Worlds by Bonni Goldberg (Dec.), about a 16th-century Portuguese Jewish woman who secretly kept her faith and helped others do the same during the fearsome days of the Inquisition.
Author-illustrator Ned Bustard continues his series of saint books for IVP with his third title, Saint Valentine the Kindhearted (Jan. 2024). And Paulist Press celebrates 22 people who fought to share God’s love in Rebellious Saints: Inspiring Stories for Young People by German author Christian Linker (Oct.).
The Hiding Place: A Graphic Novel (Apr. 2024) is a true story of the faith in the face of evil shown by author Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian who survived a Nazi concentration camp after she was arrested for hiding Jews during the Holocaust. It was originally cowritten in 1971 by Chosen Book’s founding publishers Elizabeth and John Sherrill.
Harvest House sought author and blogger Tim Challies for a graphic-format biography of Eric Liddell, the early-20th-century track star and British Olympian who became a missionary to China, in Eric’s Greatest Race (June 2024). “While graphic novels have been a huge hit in the general market, they have not quite caught on in the Christian market yet,” says senior acquisitions editor Kyle Hatfield, “so we see a huge opportunity for this book to stand out.”
Cathy Lynn Grossman is a veteran religion and ethics editor living in Washington, D.C.