Saturday, November 12, 2011

Learning From a Master

I've been trying to convince you for a couple of months that we need more Christian children's writers. But if we want more Christian children's writers, we need to buy the books they write. So I figured November would be a good time to highlight a couple of my favorite general market children's books written by Christian authors as a way of helping you with your Christmas shopping.

So, today we'll look at Kathryn Fitzmaurice's lovely middle grade book, The Year the Swallows Came Early. I've written a review and posted it here. I hope you check it out because I give more info about the book, there. But here, I want to talk a bit about the Christian worldview the author wove into the story.

This book is not put out by a Christian publisher, but there are all these deep and thoughtful ideas woven through the story: People are imperfect, people need to forgive and to be forgiven, nature gives us pictures of a God who keeps his promises, and Jesus is better than a horoscope.

If I had to pick one argument the author was proving, whether purposely or not, I’d say it was that people are not all one way or another. If you take the time to look you will see that the good have some bad and the bad have some good and we need to accept them, and forgive them, and love them right where they are. So Fitzmaurice is not preaching the gospel in the book at all. She’s simply making an observation about people. I’m not saying it’s a Christian book. What I’m saying is that I learned a lot from Kathryn Fitzmaurice and her delightful main character, eleven-year-old Eleanor (Groovy) Robinson.

Groovy's mother plans her life around the daily horoscope and Groovy doesn't like that too much. She thinks that her mother is "more apt to believe in superstition and her signs rather than Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. She said it was the Louisiana in her.”

But then Fitzmaurice goes on to make the superstitious, horoscope-reading mother into a character with some wisdom and strength that young Groovy hadn’t seen before. This doesn’t make Groovy believe there is something to the horoscope stuff after all. She still sees that her mother is a little ditzy and a little vain--a woman who looks for wisdom in the stars and for comfort in bottles of hair conditioners and dyes. But Groovy learns that her mother has this core of strength and love, too. She comes to appreciate her mother.

And then the mother grows, showing that given time and love, people can progress away from superstition and toward Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. There is no cheesy conversion, no turn around that makes us groan. But there is definitely growth in the character.

I loved Groovy’s mother with her flashy nails and bleached hair and the way she called Groovy “baby” all the time. She was a real character with strengths and weaknesses, and she grew but didn’t make a completely out of character about face and get converted.

The way the author contrasted superstition with Jesus, really worked. Clearly Groovy was saying that Jesus is not a superstition, he’s real. But Fitzmaurice used a light and skillful hand when she allowed her character to speak instead of forcing sermons into her mouth. Anyone can read this book and not be offended by Groovy's belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Firzmaurice was not pounding an agenda, she was simply allowing Groovy to be a Christian.

And readers can't help by love the little Christian Groovy. She forgives someone who has hurt her and so she displays a family likeness to Jesus. I don’t think most readers will pick that up. But I think they will be attracted to Groovy’s love and willingness to forgive even those who have betrayed her and carelessly crushed her underfoot.

This book with it's Christian main character stands up next to Because of Winn Dixie just fine. Readers will take from it much or little depending on what they are ready to take, but they will grow from reading it. Because the characters in the book grow.

Just about every character in the book grew.

And that’s the way to give readers a satisfying experience, I think. Let them watch as the characters struggle and grow.

Before I go, one quick plug for Christian children's author D. Barkley Briggs. He's running a contest with a huge giveaway--a Kindle Fire loaded with YA books.

Sally Apokedak has two copies of The Year the Swallows Came Early. One was signed by the author and the other Sally studied and dog eared the pages and wrote in the margins and stuff.  

is represented by Reclaim Management. Her short works have been published in various magazines,including Highlights for Children, she blogs about young adult novels at, and she'd be thrilled if you would go over there and check out a sample of one of her YA manuscripts The Button Girl


Karen Kyle Ericson said...

Oh wow! Thanks for this post. I was just remembering my dream of writing children's books yesterday (since I was a kid). I didn't realize there was a need for Christian books. This is very encouraging to me and I love the review- will check it out. Maybe this is the genre the Lord is leading me too.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

hahaha just realized I'm a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Could God be more obvious? Thanks so much! Doh!

sally apokedak said...

Karen, I'm so glad that God may be re-awakening a dream for you. We are desperately in need of Christian authors writing for children.

SCBWI is a great organization. If you have a chance to go to any of their regional or national conferences you should do that. They are usually very good.

Karen Kyle Ericson said...

Thank you Sally! I will try and make it to the conferences. I've been playing with little cartoons and photos on my devotional blog. I feel like the path is finally coming out of the fog for me. When I try on the other genres they don't seem to fit. This does. : ) God bless you!

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Great post, Sally. I've read The Year the Swallows Came Early and agree that it is an excellent, well-crafted book with wonderful themes, forgiveness being so central.

This would be a perfect gift for the middle grade reader in the family.