When my kids were little, we read books every night. Some they picked, and some I picked. One series that I never chose, but they often wanted to read was The Berenstain Bears. I thought the books were a bit moralistic, and Papa Bear was a bumbler who needed lots of direction from Mama Bear. But my children loved the bear world, the true-to-life problems, the silly things that happened, and the neat wrap-up at the end.
Fast forward a few decades to brainstorming with David Powlison, then executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) about how to help children apply the Bible to their everyday struggles. We had often talked together about how to help parents bring the truths of the gospel to their children in a way that was understandable to both parent and child. I remember David saying to me, “When your child is afraid, there is more to say than, ‘don’t worry, Jesus is with you’ And when your child lies there is more to say then, ‘God says that’s wrong, and here’s a consequence.’”
Around that same time, I was talking to a young woman who told me that she and her friends often talked about how they didn’t quite know what to say or how to help their children with issues like anxiety, anger, jealousy, etc.—really just the normal stuff we all deal with every day.
To meet those needs, we decided to work with CCEF authors to put together the Good News for Little Hearts series of illustrated books that would be fun for children and also give them concrete, practical help with their everyday struggles. So like the Berenstain Bears in one way—a fun animal world with true-to-life problems—but completely unlike them in that the gospel would be lived out in a community of families and faith, who made mistakes, did and said wrong things, and got afraid, but then turned to Jesus and each other for hope and help. Enter the Mouse, Squirrel, Bunny, Turtle, Raccoon, and Hedgehog families of Mulberry Meadow.
Each story hinges on an issue that children (and their parents) regularly face—anxiety, anger, failure, sadness, loneliness, jealousy, lying, peer pressure, etc. But instead of moralistic advice, parents, children, classmates, teachers, and even the pastor (a moose) offer the grace of forgiveness, the remembrance of Christ’s presence, and the conviction and comfort of the gospel. Parents remember to pray with their children and share from the Good Book (aka the Bible). Each story also includes at least one (and maybe more) laugh out loud moments—animals fall, upend cupcakes and smoothies, cover themselves with kale, destroy piles of nuts, and even collapse a bouncy castle.
The editors of the stories—all CCEF faculty and counselors—use their many years of experience in applying the gospel to the difficulties of life to bring Scripture and just the right combination of fun and seriousness to each book. The amazing writer of the books, Jocelyn Flenders, creates a just-right story with real-life situations, catastrophes, and excitement.
Then Joe Hox, the wonderful illustrator for the whole series, brings the animal world to life. We knew we needed an illustrator who loved animals—Joe grew up on a farm and spent his childhood drawing animals. But we also needed an illustrator who could make animals and their world come alive. Joe has that gift. Every time we get his illustrations back for a new book, we crowd around to look at all of the fun details he has incorporated. Each book is full of found objects from the human world that are repurposed by the animals—cracker box beds, Christmas tree light chandeliers, bottle cap planters, carrots hanging from the ceiling—there are so many details to notice and delight parents and children.
Each story ends with a page to help parents apply the truths of the Bible to the specific issue the story covers. Here is the tangible help parents need from men and women who have spent their lives studying the Bible and doing personal ministry that centers on these same issues. Parents are challenged to see how they are also struggling with the same problem that their children have and to take the conviction and comfort of the gospel into their own lives, even as they bring it to their child. The guidance is gentle, biblical, practical, and full of gospel hope for parent and child.
This is one project that has taken a team of folks to make happen. Each part of the team is indispensable. It wouldn’t work without just the right editor, story creator, and illustrator—and God has provided each person at just the right time. I knew that the Lord had done something great when my friend told me that her daughter loves the books—and laughs through every one of them and that each book is the start of good conversation about how the animals are dealing with their struggles. From there she has a spring board to meaningful conversations with her daughter.
What a privilege it is to be a part of this team. Psalm 138 promises that “the Lord will fulfill his purposes for me.” We see that happening every time we publish a new book in the Good News for Little Hearts Series. Check out all of our Good News for Little Hearts books at newgrowthpress.com. Our coming soon fall release, Gwen Tells Tales: When It’s Hard to Tell the Truth edited by Edward T. Welch will help you see all the ways you shade the truth and give you concrete practical help in how to talk to your children about the truth and how to make room for them to actually come to you when they lie.
This article was originally posted at Gospel Centered Family.