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Book Review of THE HEART CHANGER by Guest Blogger, Kathryn Dover

I enjoyed reading The Heart Changer by Jarm Del Boccio. Before I even started reading the story, I noticed on the copyright page the use of King James Version text as the basis for the story. This is rare and instantly caught my attention. This biblical basis is crucial because The Heart Changer is based on the account of Naaman given in 2 Kings 5.

In the passage, Naaman is instructed to wash in the river Jordon seven times by the prophet Elijah. He refuses to do so until his wife’s maid persuades him. This maid, named Miriam by the author, is the protagonist of The Heart Changer. The beginning of the story is somewhat gripping. The end is satisfactory but slightly abrupt: I was not expecting the story to end. Overall, the story flows very well with short chapters that keep readers interested, but it is not too difficult to put down if one has chores or homework to do. It is the perfect balance for students in school, both younger grades and teenagers. The mature language is also age-appropriate and can be enjoyed by a variety of ages.

While the plot contains some action, such as Miriam’s village being attacked at the beginning of the book, the main development is internal. All the characters, especially Miriam, exhibit visible growth throughout the story. Just like in life, the changes don’t happen instantly but occur gradually as the result of several events. The story is more realistic because Miriam’s growth happens slowly, and the ending leaves room for continued growth. Even after all she has been through, Miriam is still struggling with her “stubbornness” at the end of the story. Hence, readers can identify with her.

The title is an accurate description of Miriam’s growth and the theme of the story. She goes from have a “stubborn,” “anxious,” and “bitter” heart to one that is forgiving and set on Jesus. My favorite scene in The Heart Changer is where Miriam and Rana, the servant Miriam is replacing, are at first bitter enemies and become best friends simply after an encounter about Miriam’s faith. It shows that even the slightest contact with a Christian influence like Miriam can have a great influence on an unbeliever.

In addition, the setting is historically accurate. The details in the story show that the author researched her setting and time period. Minor details, such as pig being unclean meat, and references to real Bible characters and stories, such as Joseph, add depth and realism.

I enjoy reading books that take a seemingly insignificant character who plays a critical role in the plot and tells a story from her point of view. The Heart Changer stays within biblical parameters in a passage that allows for great poetic license. I hope for a series of behind-the-scenes Bible characters!

This book would make a great gift for the middle school or teen reader in your life! _________________________________________________________________

Kathryn Dover lives in South Carolina with her family including her cats, Prince and Harley; dog, Lady; and two fish, Minnie and Gilligan. She is a homeschool student and enjoys math, playing the piano, reading, and writing plays.

 

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Book Nook: By Way of Introduction

If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you. Maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you want to learn something, go to the source. —Natalie Goldberg

Hello everyone,

My name is Karley Conklin, and I’m a new blogger for Write2Ignite.

I’ve been able to attend Write2Ignite on four different occasions, and I must say, it’s been one of the best parts of my writing journey. The first time I participated in the conference, I was a timid high school senior, with no experience and no idea what to expect. Despite my fears, the conference planted in me a grain of confidence. As I introduced myself to editors and agents, I began to see myself as more than just a dreamer. Professionals in the publishing world were offering me consistent encouragement and affirmation, and I left the event feeling certain I was called to write.

Since then, I’ve graduated college with an Interdisciplinary Literature and Christian Studies degree—which is to say that my writing has sadly fallen to the back-burner. Though I’ve yet to publish the middle-grade novel I wrote four years ago, I’ve still managed to keep my creativity simmering, through editing, through smaller writing projects, and most of all, through reading.

It shouldn’t surprise you that a lit major (and now part-time librarian) would be an advocate for reading as much you can. Even though I’m biased, I firmly believe that reading is one of the best ways to learn to write well. In every book, we find examples of what works and what doesn’t. We find lessons in the flow of language, the nature of plot and setting, and the magic of character development. Reading allows us to observe the art we hope to master, and observation is a powerful tool.

My blog posts in the upcoming months will focus on sharing with you the best books on writing I can find. Mixed in with these textbooks of the trade, I’ll add reviews of children’s literature to encourage you to keep honing your observational skills.

I look forward to learning and growing with you all and hope that you’ll share your thoughts with our Write2Ignite community.

Since you now know all about me, I’d love to hear a little about you. What’s one of your favorite books, one that has inspired you or challenged your thinking?

(Mine would be Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, but more on her later.)

 

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Karley Conklin is a part-time librarian, part-time editor, and full-time bookworm. Her fondness for books borderlines obsession, as she engages in not only writing and editing, but also in book-binding. On her blog http://litwyrm.com/, she discusses all sorts of literature, from poetry to picture books. Her goal is to use the power of stories to remind others of hope and joy in a world that all too often forgets both.
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Decisions, Decisions

Here’s a sneak peek at conference presenters with descriptions in their own words. We’ll be posting a teaser page each  Monday. You still have time to take advantage of the Early Bird Discount.

Visit: https://write2ignite.com/registration-2019/

 

Kim Peterson – Deepen Your Middle Grade & Young Adult Novels

In this hands-on workshop, explore how to make your MG and YA novels more compelling. First, determine your novel’s theme and learn ways to reveal that message to the readers, making it memorable. Then, get to know your characters better by deepening characterization: explore your characters’ goals, what motivates them to pursue those goals, and how conflict grows your characters as they overcome obstacles. Finally, transport your readers into your
novel’s setting. Whether your characters visit the past, the present, the future, or a new land, learn how to create a place your readers want to visit often.

 

Nancy Lohr – Read Like a Writer

Just as athletes watch game tapes to study other athletes, writers need to analyze the work of other writers. You should read widely and read well both for inspiration and instruction. Whether intuitively or intentionally, writers need to read with a different focus and greater awareness than the average reader does. This workshop will examine various techniques for reading like a writer.

Attention Teens! Carol Baldwin – Creating a Sensory Setting

The Lord has given us five senses. So, why do we just describe things which our characters see? In this hands-on workshop we’ll touch, taste, hear, smell, AND see things that our characters may experience in different settings.

 

 

 

How I Turned a Facebook Page Into a Weekly Storytelling Medium.

I  give you a box with an “ON” switch in the palm of your hand.
I then tell you to close your eyes and think about a couple of those
publishing ideas you’ve been kicking around. While your eyes are still closed, I task you to choose one of those ideas…the one story you feel most people have the most excitement for.

You choose that one topic and then you open your eyes! Now you immediately flip the switch and you discover that what you’ve actually launched with that switch was…your own weekly magazine with content based on the idea you chose! This magazine you just published is full color, distributed all over the nation and has an audience that loving greats you each week, ready to consume more content related to your story.

If something like this is real, it simply couldn’t be free. And it’s not. What it costs is a little time, in exchange for your first 1,000 readers. Attend “How I Turned a Facebook Page Into a Weekly Storytelling Medium” and you will leave with a roadmap that reflects how Tony converted a Facebook business page into a weekly publication with an audience of readers from 0 to 5,000 people. No tricks or internet shortcuts, but proven steps applied to a modern reading platform.

Samantha Bell – Polishing Your Picture Book

You finally have the text of your picture book down on paper. You’ve heard every manuscript should be revised, but yours is only a few hundred words long. What more could it need? You’ll find out in Polishing Your Picture Book! In this workshop, attendees may bring along a copy of their works-in-progress. As a group, we’ll read as many as time allows. Then we’ll consider ways to polish the manuscript to get it ready for submission. Even if your story is still in the idea stage, you’ll learn valuable tips for writing your own picture book!  

 

 

Daniel Blackaby – Tolkien, Lewis, & Christian Imagination

Daniel Blackaby

How would you feel if your best friends called your book “almost worthless” or a “carelessly written jumble”? This was J. R. R. Tolkien’s review of C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The two dear friends are forever linked together as fathers of Christian fiction and Art, but each had a radically different idea of what Christian fiction should be. Their greatest legacy was not to establish a narrow template for Christian writers to follow, but to demonstrate that there is no template. In this seminar, Daniel Blackaby will explore these two vastly different approaches and showcase the great freedom you have as a Christian writer. 

 

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10 Questions about the fantasy genre and YA literature:

 While not every publisher accepts fantasy manuscripts, strong interest in this genre exists among children, teens, and young adults well beyond college age. This interview is the first in a series to explore fantasys appeal to younger readers, and to look at connections between this genre and Christian faith. Q: Before we start, how do you define YA literature? A: Literature written specifically to appeal to an audience from teens to young adult, up to 30 or beyond. Single [YA fans] can often be older, still in early stages of developing their adult career, delaying marriage, etc. Whether a person fits into the “YA lit” audience may be somewhat self-defined. There’s no age limit for enjoying YA lit.

  1. Q: What draws young adults beyond college age who continue to be fans and love to read fantasy? A: Fantasy explores a number of timeless themes. It allows the imaginative reader to engage with the impossible, experiencing things beyond mundane life. Additionally, not all fantasy is primarily for YA audiences. Young adults can enjoy and appreciate stories from Ursula K. Leguin (1929-2018) or Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), but they’re often not as simplistic as garden-variety fantasy. And as stories get older, they become less accessible to younger readers, but remain beloved to the adults who grew up with them.

The Dune series (Frank Herbert) is also fantasy (though often considered ‘science fiction’) but is not YA lit. YAs may read it, but many of its themes are oblique rather than obvious. In an early scene of the first book, protagonist Paul Atrides, then a young child, is subjected to a test that would certainly be considered cruel. His grandmother, a high-ranking member of an ancient, mystical, and politically powerful order causes him to undergo intense pain (the Gom Jabbar “Test of Humanity”). This is a scene I have considered multiple times since I first read it, and it remains compelling.

  1. Q: Besides Harry Potter, what are well-known YA fantasy series?

A: I sometimes hesitate to label something YA, because the term to some suggests simplicity and lack of rigor, but quite a number of excellent authors have written for younger audiences. A primary example is C. S. Lewis, who explicitly wrote The Chronicles of Narnia as a children’s series, while many of his other works are intended for adults. His space trilogy offers an intriguing escalation of complexity. Out of the Silent Planet might be considered a YA entry, as on its surface it is a tale of adventure in a fantastical setting. Perelandra, following the same protagonist to a second solar destination, is more a vehicle for philosophical and theological reflection than an adventure. As for That Hideous Strength, I still need to go back and re-read it (probably several times) because it was well over my head as a young adult.

Stephen Lawhead’s early stories are unquestionably YA, though his later novels grow in complexity as he grows as an author. J.R.R. Tolkien (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings) is often considered YA, though the generational gap makes his writing less accessible to younger readers. Frank Peretti writes both kids’ stories (The Cooper Kids Adventure Series) and books for YA or adult readers (e.g., This Present Darkness).

The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind also fit under the YA heading, as do Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and subsequent works.

[A search for dragons and fantasy produces another long list of fantasy authors named by fans. A search for Christian fantasy series yields this list on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/4258.Best_Christian_Fantasy_books ].

Q: What about todays popular series (turned film or TV show), like Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games? A: Game of Thrones, the first book in the series A Song of Ice and Fire (George R. R. Martin), may be more adult than YA. I have only read the first several chapters of the first book, but from the outset it delves into complex themes and difficult situations. The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins) aims at younger audiences, particularly considering the age of the main characters.

  1. Q: What features do young adults (through 30-somethings) appreciate most in the fantasy genre? A: For me, it’s two things: impossible things being possible and an alternate existence.

Q: Do these elements connect to Christianity? A: Many people who don’t believe in God still want to believe in the supernatural; this is one reason fantasy is broadly popular. People are dissatisfied with limitations in their actual lives and want to go beyond those. From wishing they could accomplish certain things to being seriously depressed and imagining other roles or abilities, they gravitate to the theme of wanting to be the hero.

Q: Is this a link to current interest in superhero stories? A: It can be, but there’s also just the idea of regular people performing heroic acts. One example is 300, the graphic novel turned movie loosely based on an ancient Greek historical event. No one in that tale has supernatural powers, but that feat performed well over two thousand years ago will likely continue to be celebrated for a long time.

  1. Q: What elements would discerning fans dislike in a YA fantasy book or series? A: A hero that can literally do no wrong. Some authors fall into the trap of creating impossibly good heroes, often to the point of writing “Mary Sue” characters. [Mary Sue or Marty Stu – a character inserted into the story that doesnt necessarily fit, an idealized (unrealistically perfect) figure, sometimes a self insert representing the authors opinions. https://www.writerswrite.com/fiction/characters/mary-sue/ ].

Another problem is significant, unexplained change in how characters behave from one book to another. A turn-off for me occurs when Terry Goodkind’s original protagonist, Richard Rahl, suddenly appears at the end of Pillars of Creation. That story had intrigued me right up until the end, as the first in the series that didn’t follow the original cast of characters. Then Richard Rahl showed up, saving the day, and speaking with words that, to me, did not sound like his own. Goodkind seemed to be using Rahl as a puppet, compromising the character’s integrity to make a point. This was particularly frustrating because the preceding book in The Sword of Truth series (Faith of the Fallen) was, in my opinion, his best to that point.

  1. Q: Of the most popular fantasy writers since 2000, which are most compatible with Christian worldview values? General themes that are common in much secular fantasy may include a “moral universe” (though not necessarily biblical), clear right and wrong, a creator, and an evil one. The Wheel of Time series features types for God and Satan (“The Creator” and “The Dark One”), and appears to suggest that there are clear standards for right and wrong, but some moral standards vary widely from culture to culture.
  1. Q: Give brief examples of fantasy content illustrating what todays readers find most significant in this type of story. A: The hero’s journey is always a big thing. Otherwise, someone who is marginalized suddenly becoming important, gaining a larger role in society, etc. Readers often see themselves in stories they read, and I’d argue that this phenomenon is more common in fantasy than in some genres.
  1. Q: How do todays fans see themselves and their experiences in fantasy novels or short stories? A: Most people are (or feel) marginalized in one way or another, disenfranchised literally or metaphorically. Characters in a story may not be intentionally limited by another party; their lack of influence may simply be a fact of their circumstances –e.g., growing up on a farm. But regardless of the reason someone lacks agency, people often want to move beyond their current situation.

Readers want to feel they are part of the journey – fighting against evil, whether supernatural in origin or just the result of people being people. They might not directly imprint on the main character (“this character is me”), but can imagine themselves as part of the situation (“this is somewhere I’d like to be, and something I’d enjoy doing”).

  1. Q: What do you see as the future of the genre? Is it trending in a particular direction in terms of content, types of settings and stories, themes, etc.? A: I honestly have no idea what the trend will turn out to be, but I wouldn’t mind if werewolves, vampires, and zombies were forgotten for a couple of decades. That said, I would like to see more genuinely new, creative entries rather than continual “remakes,” or resurrecting old series. The fantasy genre, to me, is all about going somewhere new and different. I can enjoy a particular destination for three books or a dozen, but when I pick up a new author, I want to experience something different enough that I see it as its own world. I am more convinced now than I once was that stories should have definite ends. Plenty of serial works (from TV shows, to book and movie series, to webcomics) have gone from stupendously amazing to “jumping the shark”[refers to criticism of the sitcom Happy Days.
  1. Q: What classic fantasy books are, in your opinion, the best models for fantasy writers?

A: None of them and all of them – don’t follow one particular novel. Read multiple, diverse things and see what grows out of that. Someone writing about 1950s America can go to a library or archive to view film footage or read books and newspapers in order to research the setting. When you write fantasy, you can’t research your setting in the same way; instead, you have to create the world. Research by a fantasy/sci fi writer is twofold. One component is the work you do creating a fictional fantasy world. The other part is reading existing stories (not only novels). In my experience, I get many more ideas when I’m actively reading than when I’m not.

When it comes to creating your world, as when you’re writing the actual stories, try to do a little work every day. Add things to your world that you’re not going to use – this creates flavor, a living, breathing world for the characters to inhabit. And you might find yourself using some of it anyway. Some authors will start the world-building process by drawing a map; others by creating characters.  Of course, not every story needs a map, but every story does need believable characters. Seek authenticity in how characters react to situations.

[ #Write2IgniteConference2019 will feature Worldbuilding workshops by Edie Melson and Daniel Blackaby! https://write2ignite.com/category/2019-conference-updates/

  1. Q: What caveats or suggestions, if any, would you give to parents of tweens and teens who are drawn to reading and/or writing fantasy literature?

A: Read some of it yourself. Talk with them about it, not to lecture, but to initiate discussion. Say things like “I thought this was interesting,” or “I didn’t quite get this.” Ask them questions, and be genuine. Parents who try to prevent their children from being exposed to something specific can’t afford any gaps in their defense; if kids want to make an end run around you, in most families, they’ll eventually succeed. I would not personally suggest restricting kids to reading only Christian literature. There are plenty of excellent Christian authors, but if your only criterion is “author and publisher must be Christian,” quality varies. Some publishers focus on iterations of the same tale, requiring that every story hit certain bullet points: a common example is “someone not saved gets saved.” While a story that fits a formula can be good, restricting oneself to only stories that fit a certain formula can stunt a reader’s growth.

An avid reader as a child, Paul DeCiantis grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. The latter cemented his interest in the fantasy genre and helped form his preference for book series over stand-alone entries. Other favorite series include Stephen R. Lawhead (The Pendragon Cycle; The Song of Albion), Robert Jordan (The Wheel of Time), and Frank Herbert (Dune). He has been writing off and on since finishing high school. He finds his pre-graduation writing embarrassing, but greatly enjoys the creative bursts involved in world-building and hopes to finish some of his current projects. Professionally, Paul has worked in Information Technology doing some form of Technical Support, including four years in the U.S. Army. He earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (North Greenville University 2009), with concentrations in Linguistics and Literature. He believes knowledge of literature is an expansion of language, as simple references to commonly-known tales can conjure up whole worlds of information in the hearer’s mind. (Consider phrases like “strong as Hercules” and “Cinderella story.”)

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“Christian Overtakes Faithful”: The Allure of Vanity Fair in Children’s Writing (in the Era of the Selfie)

     

Shortly before they enter Vanity Fair, Evangelist meets the pilgrims to give them a prophetic message about the dangers they will face there. Bunyan’s narrator follows this warning with the reminder that Christian and Faithful cannot avoid this test of faith, for “their way to the [Celestial] city lay through this town”; leaving “the way” was not an option, but biblical instruction, with Evangelist’s parting exhortation, helps fortify them against temptation:

“Let nothing that is on this side the other world get within you, and above all, look well to your own hearts, . . . ‘for they are deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked’; set your faces like a flint; you have all power in Heaven and earth on your side.”

Disillusionment with worldly pleasure emerges in Ecclesiastes, with its refrain “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” Christian and Faithful encounter Vanity Fair, Bunyan’s embodiment of “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Visitors are constantly called to sample the city’s merchandise and recreational activities to gain public approval. The pilgrims’ refusal infuriates the residents, who accuse them of either being mad or deliberately undermining society with their claim that instead of the fair’s wares, they will buy only “the truth.”

Testing in Vanity Fair begins with mocking, which both men answer gently and persistently. When some residents begin to recognize that their townsmen are lodging “baseless” accusations, the enraged majority incite more extreme persecution: imprisonment, torture, and a trial with life at stake.

How can we communicate the concept of vanity to children? What in a child’s world may be examples of vanity? Materialism is one form. Being targeted by advertisers to want the newest game or toy is a concept we can help children understand, analyze, and start applying critical thinking to. On a less superficial level, we might discuss what children value most and what things are really irreplaceable, using the example of a house destroyed by fire or flood. Toys can be replaced, but a special photo, craft, or original comfort item, such as a favorite blanket, may not be.

Sheltering children from bad news is a luxury, but is it the best biblical model? Children in many parts of the world face uncertain and harsh conditions: famine, religious persecution, war, or displacement as refugees. In the U.S., weather-related disasters, shootings, and other high-profile events confront us in news broadcasts, in newspaper headlines, on magazine covers, and in Internet photos. Knowing how much of this reality to share with children of different ages is difficult. Informing them of dangers and losses that children experience in places like Syria, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq may help them resist the Vanity Fair mindset which leads our first-world culture to seek increasingly self-indulgent lifestyles.

This is not to say that an occasional visit to a county fair or theme park is bad. Stories for today’s children need to include scenes of fun activities while building core values of healthy home and family life; interaction with and care for people; acquisition of important skills and knowledge; and especially, knowledge and love of God. Yet in this world, children as well as adults will “have tribulation.” They may experience loss of a home, a family member, a diseased or injured limb, a pet, a friendship, a favorite toy, a neighborhood or school due to family moves. They may face dangers including bullying or cyberbullying, molestation, substance abuse, gender confusion, and depression. Children may be victims or perpetrators. In a perfect world, they would never experience any of these evils, but we do not live in that world.

We think of today’s world as more dangerous and violent than Bunyan’s 17th century, but that’s probably not the case. In a time when public executions existed; when Bunyan himself was jailed multiple times for preaching; when lack of his income endangered his family and his wife begged his judges to release him; when meetings of “dissenting” believers were subject to sudden invasion and arrest by authorities, with trap doors for pastors to avoid their being seen entering or leaving the buildings;* children witnessed firsthand governmental and societal conflict as well as problems like poverty, disease, natural disaster, and crime.

Bunyan’s allegory incorporates elements necessary to form the character and commitment of a follower of Jesus Christ:

  • Clear, effective communication of doctrine—biblical truth attached to each episode of the story
  • Values (attitudes, behavior, responses to temptation or attack) based on the Bible principle
  • Repentance and confession when characters sin, forgetting biblical instruction
  • Encouragement (“edifying”) at key moments to prepare characters for trials to come
  • Coping skills to help characters whose natural response might be fear, anxiety, doubt, anger, or denying faith in order to fit in or avoid persecution

Bunyan leads his characters to understand, define, and demonstrate “HEART-WORK”—the difference between saying and doing, head knowledge versus heart knowledge. Christian and Faithful don’t just “Talk the Talk” of faith (like Talkative, the character they leave behind before Evangelist prepares them for Vanity Fair) but “Walk the Walk,” as they will need to there. Faith, not just a slogan or a proposition, must be lived out, as they do in this climactic chapter. By remembering everything they have learned from the Bible, Holy Spirit interpretation, and previous trials and errors, they not only maintain their integrity during the “testing of [their] faith” but also show the faith so persuasively that some in Vanity Fair become believers.

Do we help children acquire knowledge, coping skills and values, preparing them to respond appropriately to temptations, difficulties, and tragedies? Not every story will treat these hard subjects—but some must.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014.

http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573

 

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Writing in a Wonder-Full World

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but only for want of wonder.”—G. K. Chesterton

When you see a mushroom in your yard, do you dismiss it? Or do you tap it with a stick to see it bounce? Do you think of fairies and smile?

And when you see the little snail in the garden, do you start fretting that the slimy thing will ruin your petunias? Or do you notice the simple beauty of its shell? Do you watch it inch its way across the leaf?

Do you stop to listen to breezes dancing through windchimes, stop to admire golden light falling through leaves and branches, or to smell the roses you walk by every day?

When you step out your door and are faced with a thousand little amazing things, how do you respond to each of them?

What G. K. Chesterton, an English writer and philosopher, so rightly realized is that our lives are filled with what-ifs and maybes, how-does and could-bes; filled with questions that could awake our imaginations, if only we would think to ask them. God has blessed us with a world brimming with beauty and touches of magic just begging to be noticed. As writers, it is our job to give these details the recognition they deserve.

This is especially true for children’s authors, as wonder is the natural state of a child. Children are the ones who think of weeds as flowers, who chase crickets, and laugh with the birds. To them, the world is wonder, and how on earth can we ask young readers to enter our worlds if we won’t enter theirs? In our stories, we try to create spaces for children to play and dream, but in order to craft these realms, we must remember to dream a little ourselves. We need to live with awe and curiosity and weave that wonder into our words.

But how can we reclaim our wonder?

Here are five suggestions:

Practice Paying Attention

Every day, make a point of finding at least one item of interest, whether it be a street musician in your path, a tiny flower poking out of the sidewalk, or a cloud shaped like a fluffy bunny. Just find one thing that makes you smile.

Ask Questions

Let your mind wander every now and again, contemplating the details you notice throughout the day. Wonder where the geese you saw this morning might be heading. Ask yourself why the Lord decided to paint the sky blue instead of brown. The questions don’t have to matter for you to chase them. Your imagination can always use the exercise.

Read

Read stories that capture your imagination and make you curious. A few favorite recommendations of mine are The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Both of these are stunning stories and ones I believe every children’s writer should read.

Keep Notes

If you are especially touched by something you see, or if you find a question interesting, write it down. You never know what might be useful in a story later.

Recognize the Creator

Remember that the world around us was created by the Lord, and it declares His glory on a daily basis. He shaped every mountain and every blade of grass, and not a sparrow falls without His taking notice. That fact alone should be enough to place us in awe of the work of our Father’s hands, and to create in us a never-ending sense of wonder.

Karley Conklin is a student at North Greenville University, focusing on Literature and Christian Studies. Currently, she is the editor of The Mountain Laurel, her university’s art and literary journal, the last issue of which can be found online here. If she could be any literary character, she would choose Samwise Gamgee, with whom she shares a love for old stories, good friends, and delicious potatoes (in any form).

 

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Pilgrim’s Progress theme Part III

Write2Ignite Conference 2018 theme series—by Deborah S. DeCiantis 

After his escape from the Slough of Despond, Christian meets Mr. Worldly-Wiseman, who convinces him that an easier way to get rid of his burden is to turn aside from the path to the Wicket Gate and instead climb the hill to meet Legality and Civility. Christian believes him and takes this detour until he sees the true height and menacing overhang of the mountain. Now in doubt about this choice, he sees Evangelist coming and immediately feels ashamed.

Evangelist brings a stern look and rebuke, but when Christian fears he has lost his chance to get back on the right path, Evangelist reassures him that the way through the gate to deliverance is still open.

Several points related to our faith and writing journey emerge from this episode.

  1. Many sources offer persuasive words urging people to follow other worldviews, values, and self-help paths. These are often attractive, appealing to logic and human wishes (the “easier” way), and seem designed to help people achieve happiness and success. Those tempting alternatives, whether shortcuts or “new, improved” ideas, can trip up adults, too, especially when we are feeling vulnerable or defeated. Christian starts with good information (“the book”) and sound direction (Evangelist’s instructions), but his encounter with Mr. Worldly-Wiseman nearly derails his faith.
  2. Bunyan knew well through personal experience the dangers for a believer. His testimony includes not only struggles with doubt and discouragement, but one episode in which he heard the words, “Sell and part with this most blessed Christ. . . . Let him go if he will.” He tells [readers] that “I felt my heart freely consent thereto. Oh, the diligence of Satan; Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart.” For two years, . . . , he was in the doom of damnation. “I feared that this wicked sin of mine might be that sin unpardonable.” (Piper)
  3. Just as adults need to avoid these pitfalls in our own faith walk, children need to understand how temptations come and how easily they can fall prey to wrong ideas when people package them in nice words that seem to offer what they want or words that question what God says.

Bunyan continued in his state of fear and uncertainty for two years, but eventually he perceived the corrective and life-changing message “Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand” (qtd. in Piper). Although times of discouragement still followed, this turning point cemented his faith.

  1. Evangelist, in this illustration, fulfills a role similar to that of Christian writers who desire to help children establish their faith through finding and following the “narrow way.” Those who write Sunday school curriculum may present explicit spiritual counsel, much as Evangelist does for Christian. However, for writers of other genres—nonfiction articles, children’s stories, historical fiction—the challenge is to address these concepts while engaging children to enjoy the stories in which lessons (avoiding temptations to stray from what’s right) are embedded.

In Part II, we emphasized the author’s method of revealing background through the main character’s experiences (usually, mistakes) and explaining a principle the mistaken choice illustrates. This process is much like the principle often applied by both teachers and parents, known as the “teachable moment.” When things go wrong, people have a chance to take stock – to review the situation, words, decisions, and actions which led to an unwanted result.

Even young children can understand this principle: you know X is right, but in this situation, your words and actions went against X. Evangelist takes time, after rebuking Christian, to encourage him: “Thy sin is very great, for by it thou hast committed two evils; thou hast forsaken the way that is good, to tread in forbidden paths; yet will the man at the gate receive thee, for he has good-will for men; only, said he, take heed that thou turn not aside again. . . .”

Evangelist leaves Christian with a kiss and a smile – important signals that despite his failure, he will be welcomed at the gate. In fact, Good-will lets him in and directs him to find “The Interpreter,” who shows him many scenes of different characters and possible outcomes, good or bad. At first, Christian needs Interpreter to explain these, but as scenes continue, he begins to understand their significance.

Christian, who still bears his burden, is now encouraged and leaves to keep on the “straight and narrow” path which Interpreter has cautioned him to follow.

Contemporary stories may feature a spiny echidna’s adventures (real or imagined), a juvenile biography of Madame C.J. Walker, explanation of “How the U.S. Congress Creates a Law,” or a fictional teen’s struggles to deal with a family crisis. In each case, Bunyan’s model fusing truth principles and human experience with teachable moments offers Christian writers material for meditation and method for application.

Bunyan, John. The Pilgrim’s Progress in the Similitude of a Dream. 1678. All quotations from the online pdf at the desiringgod.org website © Desiring God 2014.

Piper, John. “To Live Upon God Who Is Invisible: The Life of John Bunyan.” Desiringgod.org. 2014. http://cdn.desiringgod.org/website_uploads/documents/books/the-pilgrim-s-progress.pdf?1417090573 .

Next time: More on Interpreter’s role, plus Christian’s encounter at the cross.