Here is a mini-contest for all you CBFYR young fans. Look at the titles of the first seven books in the series as they are listed in the CBFYR tab on the website and see if you can detect a pattern in the names of the characters. The eighth book breaks the pattern. Then click on […]
I was caught by surprise when Anselm of Canterbury won the San Diego Book Award for Best Published Biography. It’s a great honor, especially considering the other finalists in the same category have presented very valuable books. Winners were announced at the Twentieth Annual San Diego Book Awards Ceremony (2014) in San Diego, California. Anselm of Canterbury has already […]
First of all, thank you for participating to the 32 Author Scavenger Hunt! I was happy to “meet” so many new people. I hope you will stay tuned to this blog or our social media accounts. I am sure most of you have already found out, but here are the results of the 32-Author Giveaway. […]
My Three-Ladies (Lady Jane Grey, Renée of France, and Olympia Morata) Giveaway has come to a close. The winners of the set of three books were chosen randomly (I used Random.org with my 16-year old son as a witness) among the names of those […]
Hello Scavengers! I am glad to see you have made it to the fifth stop on the 31 Author Scavenger Hunt! By now you have learned how this works, so relax and enjoy this interesting article by Donita K. Paul on what makes a classic. For those who have just discovered the hunt by […]
About a month ago, a group of ladies from our church met for their quarterly Book Club meeting. This time they discussed my book, Renée of France (EP, 2013). I led the discussion. I must admit I was not really prepared, but it didn’t matter. I only had to ask one question (what did you […]
I love it when young people review my books. After all, they are written for them! This is a review written by Katharine Olinger. Katharine is already a teenager, but still close to the book’s target age and, as you will see, has great writing skills. This review was published in the November 2012 issue of New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is reprinted here with the editor’s permission.
I appreciate how Katharine pointed out her favorite aspect of the book. This type of reviews helps me to decide what features to emphasize or even omit from future titles. Thank you, Katharine!
A correction for the upcoming Lady Jane book. On page 10, I said that, after Jane, Francis and Harry Grey had two more daughters and two sons. As far as we can tell by the documents available, this is wrong. They probably had one son named Henry before Jane, but he died as an infant, probably in his first year. There is also a possibility that Francis had a son from a second marriage. In any case, Francis and Harry did not have two sons together.
I was given this mistaken information by an expert who has since apologized for the confusion. I also apologize for not checking his information against other sources. It’s a good lesson learned, and this mistake will be corrected at the first available opportunity.
Just to let you know how I work, normally I send my manuscript to at least two leading experts on the specific character I am studying. When they send back their corrections, I insert them. If they seem to disagree with each other, I ask for further explanations.
I have learned from this last mistake that I should check every single correction they send, unless they both send the same one. God willing, the quality and accuracy of these books will continue to improve.
William Boekestein and I share much of the same vision and passion for teaching church history to children. He is the pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Carbondale, PA, a father of three young and very bright children, and author of three books in a series for children about the stories behind the Reformed confessions (Faithfulness Under Fire, the Story of Guido Bres, The Quest for Comfort, the Story of the Heidelberg Catechism, and the upcoming The Glory of Grace, the Story of the Synod of Dordt). Recently I have had the pleasure to ask him a few questions about his thoughts and plans. Here are his answers.
I have done a similar re-evaluation a few days ago, when my illustrator raised his fees. It was a perfectly legitimate request. No illustrator of his caliber gets as little money as he does. He initially gave me low fees to help me out, but it’s time that he gets proper remuneration, especially since he has a family to support.
I don’t know if this is of any interest to others, but if you have appreciated the quality of the illustrations in the series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers, published by Reformation Heritage Books (RHB), you may want to know how they come about.
First, I must explain the financial side and my arrangement with RHB. Most people are surprised when they find that I have a publisher but I pay for my own illustrations and photos. The reason is simple. RHB is still a relatively small publisher, and the type and amount of photos and illustrations I have envisioned for these books is beyond most editorial budgets. Of course, there are large publishers who have the means to take on this type of projects, but initially they haven’t shown any interest.
When I proposed my first book (John Calvin) to publishers, one very frequent objection was the cost. The first publisher I approached (a rather large Christian publisher) told me that for any company to consider this idea, it would have to be a small paperback book in black-and-white. That’s why the illustrations in my first book are not in color. Eventually, they rejected the proposal even under those terms.
Other publishers made similar comments. One told me that I could not choose my own illustrator, and that they never pay much for illustrations anyhow. I don’t know what thoughts inspired RHB to publish my books in color with a hard cover and an impeccable layout, but they did, and I am grateful for it. By contract, I am paying all expenses related to artwork and photos. Thankfully, they pay upfront and reimburse themselves from my royalties, otherwise I could never afford it.
There are, as I said, some Christian publishers who have the means to invest in high-cost productions, but they have to believe they will get appropriate returns. It has to make marketing sense. Again, at the time of my first proposal, a publisher told me that single biographies for children would never sell. A few others concurred. No explanation was given. They said it was just something they had experienced in the past. On the other hand, non-Christian biographies are selling fairly well. Why?
I am not a marketing expert and I am not ready to study this rather mysterious field, but one reason why children’s biographies which are not specifically Christian in nature sell well may be that they are backed by teachers and school librarians. On Martin Luther King Jr.’s day, for example, thousands of children throughout our nation are directed to libraries to read about this man. Some biographies are read in schools. Left to themselves, typical school-age children roaming through a library might be more prone to pick up a book about Captain Underpants, but parents and teachers often lead them to different choices.
If this consideration is correct, the question is, do parents and Christian-school teachers believe that biographies are important for children, and do they promote them? I think the homeschooling community is doing very well in this respect. My feeling (and I may be wrong) is that other parents and Christian school staff could do better. I have talked about the benefits of teaching Church history to children in another blog post.
This is where my stubborness gets evaluated. Why am I insisting on quality illustrations? Can I lower the standards? Are they really important? The answer boils down to my initial commitment to produce all-around quality books.
My initial motivation for writing this series, as I have mentioned in other blogs, has been the desire to see Christian biographies for children rise to the same standard I had been noticing in children’s biographies in general, which are constantly improving in quality, accuracy, fairness, and visual appeal.
Accuracy and fairness of course take the cake. Until recently, historical accuracy in children’s books has not been a major concern. In the 19th century, most biographies for children were largely fictionalized and had a strong message which took precedence over the actual retelling of facts. Today we see a much greater interest in accuracy, especially in the homeschooling community where these books are often used to supplement a serious study of human history.
Accuracy in Christian biographies is important not only to teach children what really happened in church history, without embellishments, exaggerations, or cover-ups, but also, in my view, as a way to inform non-Christians. I have already quoted Dr. Diarmaid McCullough, professor of the History of the Church at Oxford, as saying, “It seems to me that the history of Christianity is absolutely essential to talk about because there is so much bad history about it, and arrogance, conceit, dogmatism are all based on bad history.” After all, understanding the history of Christianity is essential for anyone who wants to understand Western history and our present time.
To achieve the appropriate accuracy in my books I spend a year studying the subject and consulting experts, who normally read my manuscript and make comments and corrections. Even the illustrations are done under the advice of experts in the field, who have been amazingly gracious in answering all my questions.
Photos are important to show young children that these characters really lived, and we can still see the buildings they saw, the churches they attended, and even some of the furniture or other objects they used.
Art is important to spur the imagination and to keep the attention alive. Besides, since my books are very factual, illustrations give me a way to show what the feelings may have been or how some situations may have appeared to an observer, without having to interrupt my account of facts with too many “maybe’s” or “probably’s.”
It’s true that I could just use lower-quality artwork, which would reduce the costs, but I think it’s too late for that. We have set the standard too high in every way. The only solution is to increase sales to be able to pay the illustrator. I believe the project is important and the products are well done. To increase sales I need to raise awareness, especially in schools and in the homeschooling community. Or we could go back to ancient times, when patrons sponsored artistic and cultural enterprises…