Editor Joanna Echols – Wholesome Writing

Gleaning Gold— “Wholesome Writing”

An Interview with Editor Joanna Echols

by Sally Matheny

(Gleaning Gold is an ongoing series of interviews with editors, publishers, and workshop presenters who will be at the 2013 Write2Ignite! Conference)

There was a time, long, long ago when one could take children to the library and allow them to choose their own books. Now, even in the designated children’s section, parents find it necessary to preview books before children select them.

Some children’s book publishers have followed secular entertainment’s pyrite rule for “success.” The Ten Commandments are broken as often as possible and seemingly without consequences. Many children’s books distort the truth, deny God, and influence children to do the same. Occasionally they earn coveted book awards, which increase sales. Therefore the perpetuation of unwholesome literature continues.

Finding wholesome books to read is a common dilemma for many students. Public school students are required to read books designated on their reading level. Woe to the nine-year-old accelerated reader who must read books written for a thirteen-year-old. Even the nine year old who is reading on grade level finds it challenging to find a book that is not full of bad language, sexual references, and is explicitly offensive to the Christian.

Christian parents are diligently searching for good books that stimulate the minds and souls of their children.

We are tired of the “everything is permissible” attitude in books. My prayer is God will continue to mold writers who will write engaging literature that is not only pleasing to our children but to our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you have a desire to nourish the younger generation with your writing, then you’ll enjoy the Write2Ignite! Writer’s Conference.

Returning to the conference this year is Joanna Echols. As the Senior Associate Editor of Clubhouse Jr. Magazine, she has taught writing workshops across America. Joanna will be teaching workshops for teens as well as adults.

Joanna Echols understands the value of wholesome literature.

Her response about choosing work in the Christian market:

“Ever since I learned to read, I eagerly devoured every book and magazine I could get my hands on. My parents stocked our study shelves with wonderful, wholesome reading content, and I “listened” to those stories even when I wouldn’t listen to my parents.

Because God-honoring books and magazines made such a positive impact on me, I want to publish those kinds of stories to influence the rising generation.”

What advice would you give to teens who want to pursue writing careers?

“First of all, read good books! I’d recommend reading the classics and asking yourself, ‘What made this story stand the test of time, so people today can still relate to it and be inspired by it?’

I’d also recommend reading biographies of great men and women, as well as quality books in the genres that interest you.

In addition to reading, make time to write a little every day or at least each week. Journaling or blogging can be a great way to practice writing.

Seek a writing mentor who can offer suggestions to make your writing stronger.

Finally, don’t let yourself get discouraged. If God has given you an interest in writing, He has a reason for it, and no one else can write quite like you can. Your job is to develop the talent; God’s job is to reveal (in time) how He wants to use it.”

What does a typical day (if there is one!) look like for you as the Senior Associate Editor of Clubhouse Jr. Magazine?

“Thankfully, my typical day includes variety. I might be planning an upcoming issue, reading manuscripts, corresponding with writers or editing content. I might even be reading kids’ jokes or looking through their colorful drawings and cute photos, choosing ones to publish. If it’s August, I’m working on the Christmas issue . . . and if it’s Christmas, I’m working on Easter. So I’m usually a little mixed up about which month it actually is!”

What are Clubhouse and Clubhouse Jr. looking for right now?

“One of our greatest needs is for true stories of ordinary kids doing extraordinary things.

We love to publish articles about kids serving in their communities or raising money for a special cause—doing something that will inspire other kids to make a difference, too.”

Thank you, Joanna. Your words are an inspiration for writers to make a difference! We look forward to seeing you again at W2I!

Give the Writer You Love A Write2Ignite! Registration for Christmas – $95 check/MO or $100 via PayPal.

  1. Great interview, Joanna. I respect your love and concern for wholesome literature for our children. Thanks for leading writers in the right direction.

    And thank you, Sally, for helpful posts that keep us reading.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kim.
      Joanna is a wonderful lady. Writers will enjoy meeting her at the conference. Her gentle and kind spirit is a blessing as she teaches and encourages others.

  2. Wow- Nathan’s comments should be a blog all by itself! You struck a chord with this blog.

    • Carol- I’m not musically inclined so I pray my (writer’s) chord strike was on key. :)

      Writers take note–All good books have good guys, bad guys, and problems to solve. The best book, the Bible, is full of these.
      Most publishers don’t want material that is “preachy.”
      The challenge is writing engaging literature that benefits the reader’s moral and spiritual development, and not offending Jesus in the process.

    • Nathan says:

      LOL! Thanks, Carol. Sorry to ramble on so long… glad if it was helpful for someone though. :-)

  3. Pamela Hall says:

    Yes, I totally agree. Christian kids are square pegs in the secular world. I was an avid reader as a youth, and two of my children have developed that hunger to sate. The enemy is surely working overtime to use any means necessary to convert our youth.

    • Pamela- Thanks for stopping by. There is great literature out there, we just have to be diligent in our search for it. Be sure to promote publications and authors who produce excellent literature for children. Everyone benefits when we share!

  4. Nathan says:

    Thanks for the great and encouraging post. I am glad for groups like Focus on the Family publishing wonderful Christian magazines like Clubhouse, Clubhouse, Jr., Brio and Breakaway in particular, which I fondly remember reading as a teenager.
    Of course, this is in the non-fiction category, but The Bible is still the best selling Book ever and doesn’t use offensive language. ;-) Yet we also have explicit cautionary tales like in Judges 19 and a graphic object lesson in Ezekiel 23 as well as some erotic passages in Song of Songs. But, like the rest of The Bible, we must put those passages into context. The Song of Solomon not only describes the love between a husband and wife, but also the love God has for His people. And this is a wonderful and good thing in the right context of marriage. Judges 19 is a gruesome picture of murder that serves as a stark reminder that in those days Israel had no king and everyone did what was fit in his own eyes. And we see where this leads- to the outpouring of the disgusting sinful and selfish human nature. Ezekiel 23 uses graphic sexual pictures to show Israel how it had become a spiritual prostitute to God by profaning itself with idols.
    We use age appropriate Bible translations for kids and as they grow older, when they have trusted Christ as Savior and are ready and can understand such images, I certainly encourage them to read all of The Bible, keeping everything in context of course.
    In places where someone curses in The Bible, we generally have a phrase saying something to the effect that someone uttered a curse, but we don’t have the words themselves to dwell upon. This is important, particularly for visual learners, as it is very easy for such foreign words to get imprinted in our minds and then they become hard to forget.
    In a similar manner, we must help children find age appropriate books that follow the guidelines of Phillipians 4:8- whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think upon such things. And ultimately, hopefully all these things will point us to think upon Christ and things above, as Colossians 3:1-4 commands us to do.
    I think as kids get older and become teenagers and become more mature, they may be able to handle some books better than when they were younger. For example, even classics like Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” uses derogatory names for African-Americans that certainly we would not want anyone to repeat- but when a kid is older they can understand that they are there for historical context and as we observe Jim’s behavior in the book, we can learn how wrong people were in their thinking and learn to treat everyone with dignity and respect, which is certainly a good Biblical principle to learn and follow, as we are commanded to love everyone because God loves everyone.
    This is the balance we must tread in judging whether or not a book has merit to it and if it is worth the read or not. That is up to every individual person and their relationship with God. Certainly we can and should ask Him for guidance. Sometimes it takes harsh imagery to warn us away from doing such things. But sometimes harsh imagery only perpetuates such ideas in us and drives us to action.
    My approach to this matter is to follow 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 as best as I can, which simply says to “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.” (Some translations say, “Avoid all appearance of evil.” I think that is a good phrasing because it is important to remember other people’s perceptions and make sure we are not doing anything to make our brother stumble, as 1 Corinthians 10:23-33 commands us.
    Having said all this to keep in mind as guidelines with any book (or movie or TV show or song or magazine or Web site or Internet social media posting or media item in general, etc.)- here are some of my favorite reads for children.
    Of course, The Bible is the best Book ever because it’s God’s Book- so that’s always the number one choice! :-)
    For other non-fiction titles, there are a number of series that convey educational facts and theories in the form of a narrative and those are always fun to read. I would suggest most any “Sesame Street” book as well as “The Magic School Bus” series by Joanna Cole. Mr. Rogers (of the wonderful TV series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” which I love and would happily watch any time- he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister) also has a great “First Experiences” series of books for children dealing with practical issues like going to the potty and moving and going to the hospital, etc.
    And of course, there are a myriad of other educational non-fiction books for older ages, depending on the subject. I would just check the local public library for help with that. One good series I would suggest is the “DK Eye Witness” series, which covers all kinds of science and history topics, etc.
    As for fiction, here are a few series that I like for children.

    “Dallas O’Neil and the Baker Street Sports Club” by Jerry B. Jenkins
    (This is an 8 book series that deals with a different sport in each one. This is an awesome series from 9 to 10 year old boys particularly. There is also a follow up 8 book series- “The Dallas O’Neil Mysteries”. I grew up reading these as a kid and I still love reading them- Mr. Jenkins does a great job of realistically portraying a Christian kid trying to live out his faith in Christ with good examples of the both positive and negative responses he gets. It has the right emphasis in the right places without beating the reader over the head with spiritual lessons- but they are in place in the right doses.)

    “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis (Absolutely love this series! The 7 book series does an incredible job of telling some great fantasy stories that give us a wonderful picture of what Christ might look like if He came to Narnia as a lion as He actually has come to our world. We get a picture of the creation of the world and the fall of man, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and the salvation He brings us and the trails and travails of following Christ in this walk of faith with the constant battle between the old man of sin and the new man in Christ [2 Corinthians 5:17] and also the return of Christ and the eternal happy ever after ending as seen in Revelation. Of course, I would pretty much also recommend everything else by C.S. Lewis of course. Much of that would be non-fiction of course, like his classic writings “Mere Christianity” and “The Problem of Pain”, amongst others. However, “The Great Divide” and “The Screwtape Letters” both contain fictional stories that convey great non-fictional spiritual truth.)

    “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien (Younger kids can probably hang with this book, but it would be best to wait until they’re older for the follow up series, “The Lord of the Rings”. All of these books have great Christian values to be found therein, particularly the message that God can use anyone He chooses and He chooses the vain things of the world to confound the wise, as 1 Corinthians 1 tells us. Other books by Tolkien I would recommend- “Farmer Giles of Ham”, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight”, “The Silmarillion” and all the others, really.)

    “At the Back of the North Wind” by George MacDonald (I absolutely love this book!!! C.S. Lewis called George MacDonald his master and I can definitely see where he got some influence. George MacDonald was a Scottish pastor in the 1800s who wrote some wonderful fantasy books. This one conveys some great spiritual truth, as most all of his books do. I would also recommend “Lilith”, “The Princess and the Goblin” and “Phantastes”.)

    “The Sugar Creek Gang” series by Paul Hutchens (a wonderful series about a gang of Christian boys who seek to honor The Lord with their lives and have a lot of fun adventures in the course of their novels. The author does a good job of maintaining a balance, getting in a great story and also making wonderful Biblical points and conveying truth about our need for Jesus.)

    “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
    (This series of books is also from a Christian writer and conveys great spiritual truth as well.)

    “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson (This book by a Christian missionary kid has a great reference to C.S. Lewis and “The Chronicles of Narnia” and is such a wonderful world of its own. It is helpful for kids in dealing with death and it’s a great picture of friendship. I would also recommend “Jacob Have I Loved” by this author.)

    Other favorite series (not necessarily by Christian writers) that also convey some good messages and even Biblical truths at times include:

    “The Hardy Boys” by Franklin W. Dixon (I have long been a fan of this series and I think they are all great. I would caution parents though that “The Hardy Boys Casefiles” series is expressly aimed at teenagers- there is a greater level of violence that children may not be ready to read about. Unfortunately, the latest spinoff series, “The Hardy Boys: Undercover Brothers”, while having some good stories, generally is not quite up to the same quality of the original 58 books by Grossett & Dunlap or the subsequent 132 books in the series published by Simon & Schuster. Also, the “Undercover Brothers” books do unfortunately include some foul language, which is a sad veering away from The Hardy Boys’ tradition of being clean of such things. The Hardy Boys have long been pictures of hard-working, studious, generous, loyal friends who stand for justice and truth and are good role models for kids.)

    “Nancy Drew” by Carolyn Keene (Of course, I must mention the sister series, which is just as good. The same warnings will apply to “The Nancy Drew Files series, as it’s aimed at teenagers. And the “Nancy Drew: Girl Detective” series also has the occasional foul language to be wary of, unfortunately.)
    (However, next year starts a new series for both these legendary series- look for “The Hardy Boys Adventures” and “Nancy Drew Diaries” in stores starting next February. Hopefully these series will be a return to the high standard these characters have traditionally held. :-) )

    “Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators” series by Robert Arthur (and other authors).
    (This series can be rather hard to find, but they are still out there at used book stores and thrift stores at times. It is a great mystery series, filled with spooks and chills and thrills, and usually rather bizarre mysteries that somehow have a logical explanation in the end. This series is particularly good for fans of the “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” cartoon, though obviously these books are a bit more serious than that. Some books do delve into the supernatural and parents may want to be cautious on those- but older children should do well with these. There is also a spinoff series called “The Three Investigators: Crimebusters” which is aimed at teenagers.)

    “The Famous Five” and “The Secret Seven” series by Enid Blyton (both wonderful series of mystery books from one of England’s most famous children authors ever. These are all great books where the children are the heroes. Kids will enjoy reading about their exciting adventures and resourcefulness.)

    “Young Indiana Jones” series by Les Martin and others (For fans of the “Indiana Jones” movies, this children’s book series is a well written series worth checking out. It does a great job of telling exciting stories and also helping spark an interest in history, providing a list of reference books for children to look up for further reading on the events and people they read about in Indy’s adventures. Parents should note that many of Indy’s adventures involve supernatural occurences and so they may want to be careful with that.)

    “The Bobbsey Twins” by Laura Lee Hope (a great, long-running series of books and spin-off series, featuring twins Nan and Bert and younger twins Freddie and Flossie. They have adventures together and solve mysteries as well. A fun series that is well worth the read. The Bobbsey twins are good citizens who make great role models for kids. I particularly recommend the late ’80s series, “The New Bobbsey Twins” books, but they are all good.)

    “Tom Swift” by Victor Appleton (For fans of science fiction, this is one of the earliest, if not the earliest, classic series for kids, starting in 1910. Tom is a resourceful, intelligent, compassionate and caring young scientist who looks for ways to make others’ lives better. This is a great series to read as well. Parents should note that the late ’80s series of “Tom Swift” books are aimed at teenagers more so than kids.)

    “The Babysitters Club” by Ann Martin (This is a long-running, fun and wholesome series for kids, about a group of girls [and a few boys at times] who run a baby-sitting club and all the adventures they have with that. More so than even just the club, this series is mainly about their strong friendships and their loyalty and devotion to each other.)

    For a more current series on the market, I would recommend “The Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne, which combines some fantasy with history and science and makes for a fun read.

    Older kids may also enjoy the “Alex Rider” series of books by Anthony Horowitz, who is much like a young James Bond of sorts, going on secret missions for the government as a teenager.

    And while there are a lot of others series I’m sure I could go on naming, let me conclude by listing a few classics that are great reading for kids.

    “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (“Through The Looking Glass” is the follow up and worth the read too.)

    “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum (and the subsequent series of Oz books are great too.)

    “The Water Babies” by Charles Kingsley

    “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame

    “Journey to the Center of the Earth”, “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”, “From the Earth to the Moon”, “Master of the World” and “Around the World in 80 Days”- all by Jules Verne

    “The Men in the Moon”, “The War of the Worlds”, “The Invisible Man”, “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and “The Time Machine”- all by H.G. Wells

    “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, “The Prince and the Pauper”, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “Life on the Mississippi”, “Tom Sawyer Abroad”, and “Tom Sawyer Detective”- all by Mark Twain

    “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell

    “Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates” by Mary Mapes Dodge

    All the Sherlock Holmes books and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and “The Lost World” as well)

    “Kidnapped”, “The Black Arrow”, “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”- all by Robert Louis Stevenson

    “Captains Courageous”, “The Jungle Book”, “The Jungle Book 2″ and “Kim”- all by Rudyard Kipling

    “The Sea Wolf”, “The Call of the Wild” and “White Fang”- all by Jack London

    “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville

    “Great Expectations”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “David Copperfield”, “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol”- all by Charles Dickens

    “Peter Pan” by J.M. Barrie

    “Winnie The Pooh” books by A.A. Milne

    For a few modern day fantasy classics, try Roald Dahl- “George’s Marvelous Medicine”, “Matilda”, “The B.F.G.”, “The Witches” and certainly “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and its sequel, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator”.

    “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” by Richard Atwater is also a fun read.

    And the “Homer Price” stories by Robert McCloskey are wonderfully funny reads.

    “Chocolate Fever” by Robert Kimmel Smith and “The Chocolate Touch” by Patrick Skene Catling are both fun fantasy stories too.

    Good kids’ versions of classic Greek mythology and Shakespeare plays are also available and worth reading.

    For fans of the “Saved By the Bell” TV series, there is a wonderful series of books based on the show, as well as a series of books based on the spinoff series, “Saved By the Bell: The College Years” and “Saved By the Bell: The New Class”. All are by Beth Cruise and all are fun reads. (But these are more aimed at teenagers, though kids can enjoy them too.)

    And of course, a classic Archie comic book is great too. :-)
    (I love DC and Marvel superheroes too, but when we get to comic books, that’s a whole other discussion right there. There are definitely some comics aimed more at teenagers or even adults really and some aimed specifically at kids. Among the ones for kids, I absolutely love DC’s “Tiny Titans” series and “Superman Family Adventures”. And of course, “Looney Tunes” and “Scooby-Doo”. For Marvel, I would stick with “The Superhero Squad Show” comics. And don’t forget the classics from Disney, including “Donald Duck”, “Mickey Mouse” and “Uncle Scrooge”, among others- BOOM! Comics also had a series running for “Darkwing Duck”, “Chip ‘N’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” and “Ducktales” a while back. BOOM! was also doing a comic book based on “The Muppet Show” a while back that is a great, fun read too. And Papercutz is a great company for kids, with comics based on The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew (though at this point, it’s just Nancy Drew that still has a comic going- and it’s aimed at the younger crowd- 5 to 7 year olds.) Harvey Comics are classic as well, particularly with its Richie Rich comics.
    And Uderzo’s “Asterix and Obelix” series is a great, fun read too. And definitely Herge’s “Tintin” comics- a fun comic book series in the vein of Indiana Jones and The Hardy Boys. I recommend that one very much. :-)

    Well, I hope all that is helpful for someone. I love kids and I love children’s literature, but most importantly, I love Jesus first and foremost- and I trust that He is pleased with everything I do- including what I read. :-)

  5. Pam says:

    I agree totally that we need more Christian literature for our elementary and middle schoolers as well as our high schoolers.
    I loved reading when I was a child and came home each week from the library in the summer with a stack of books to devour! I remember still having to choose once I was allowed into the young adult section. Usually this involved flipping the pages to see how much profanity was there. If it was everywhere I looked I put it back on the shelf.
    When my eldest son was in public school and having to read AR books the choices became very difficult. The school library did not have all of the books that were on the approved list. I spent hours on amazon.com reviewing the titles, marking ones off the list based on the very content of the story, and then on Ebay trying to find good deals on the ones I thought were suitable.
    I spoke with the teacher about adding some books I had found at the Christian book store but the process for adding a book was foggy and this never actually happened, despite my attempts. This may have changed in the past 10 years and I hope it has. I believe there is a great need for solid literature that makes parents comfortable with what their children are reading.

  6. It is so encouraging as a writer to know that there are publishers out there that will seriously consider my work without a single bad word or any suggestive content. Thanks for this post!

  7. Linda Andersen says:

    Thanks for your post. It is good to hear from editors who want wholesome stories. Parents do need to be involved in reading choices for kids today. What series or authors do you recommend for the nine and ten year olds or others?

    • Linda A.- In answer to your question, books such as “Charlotte’s Web” and “The Cricket in Times Square” are good books for grades 4 – 6. Other wholesome writing is provided by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Mary Norton, Johann D. Wyss,and C.S. Lewis. A great resource, “Honey for a Child’s Heart,” by Gladys Hunt, lists many wholesome books for children. Hope that helps!

      • Nathan says:

        Ack- I can’t believe I forgot those. Yes, I definitely second all of those books too. :-)
        Particularly “Heidi” by Johanna Spyri and “Swiss Family Robinson” by Johann Wyss. Both are great classic books by authors from Switzerland (with “Heidi” largely set in Switzerland.) These books are also very praising to The Lord- “Heidi” ends with the grandmother calling Heidi to join her in singing praise to God. “Swiss Family Robinson” begins and ends with dependence on God and His hand of providence. It is very refreshing to read these fun stories with deep spiritual truths. :-)

  8. write2ignite says:

    AMEN!

    This evening my son and I were chatting on the phone. His three children are all avid readers, so books always come up in our conversations.

    He told me the title of a popular YA that his 10 year old son had just read. Then he asked his son about the language in the book. Boy was he surprised at my grandson’s answer which included the exact profanities in that novel.

    As parents and grandparents we can’t trust anyone else’s judgement, it seems, as we seek to raise up godly children.

    Thanks, Joanna, for this post.

    Jean

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