Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones

It is a great honor and privilege to welcome Sally Lloyd-Jones to my blog today. Sally is the author of The Jesus Storybook Bible - a book that has come to mean so very much to our family.

When I asked Sally if she'd be willing to answer some questions regarding The Jesus Storybook Bible, she immediately and excitedly agreed!

Thank you, Sally, for your openness and for being so willing to share your thoughts with us! And, thank you for writing The Jesus Storybook Bible. It has changed and impacted our family like no other book we've read.

Following my interview with Sally Lloyd-Jones, I have posted a brief interview with Jago, the incredible illustrator of The Jesus Storybook Bible. The illustrations in this book are magnificent, and as you'll read from Sally, were a core part of the success of this wonderful book.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is one of my favorites. The first time I read it, I wept. Is there one story in the book that particularly moved you? Do you have a favorite?

That’s a hard one. I think I’d have to say what children say when asked a question like this (hating to leave anyone out), “They’re ALL my favorites!”

So, I love all of the stories for different reasons. And all the stories moved me.

But if I had to choose one, funnily enough I think that one of the hardest to write is probably one of my favorites: Leah and Rachel. I love it because it combats what I saw my nieces already having to battle even at 4 and 5 years old—the message that beauty is what the world tells you it is—instead of what God says it is. God loved Leah and thought she was special and gave her the ultimate fairytale come true story: he made her a princess—one of her children’s children’s children would be a prince. The Prince of Heaven and Earth. The fairy tale really does come true. The Hero comes back for his lost treasure; the Prince comes back for the one he loves. And “the ending of our Story is Joy!”

(My second favorite might be A GIANT STAIRCASE TO HEAVEN/Tower of Babel just because it gets so many laughs. But then again I do love A NEW BEGINNING/Noah. And what about GOD’S MESSENGER/Jonah. Oh dear. You see, it’s hopeless.)

As I watch and listen to my children as we read this book to them, they cheer, they whisper, they are animated as they listen to the stories; and they've heard them over and over. Does that surprise you? What kinds of reactions have others told you they've had to the book?

That’s great to hear. It’s what you always hope for as you write a story. To engage the reader like that.

It may sound strange, but aside from the animated response--the consistent reaction from many adults is that it makes them weep. (I think that’s good? Is it? I hope so)

With a children’s book you must distill everything down to its simplest form. Arthur Schopenhauersaid, “use ordinary language to say extraordinary things.” The Story is extraordinary; using simple language lets it through more powerfully. I think adults are responding because they are hearing the complete plot line of the Bible told in its distilled form, and they are being reminded of the Magnificent Story that we are all a part of.

Young couples are reading it to one another as their devotional. Pastors are using it to help them with their preaching (I heard someone call it, “the storybook for preachers”)and even theologians have it as a set text for seminary students (the guys at WTS called it a “theological masterpiece.”) I got one letter from the UK from a guy who thanked me for “helping his heart sing again.” It’s just wonderful. And I praise God for it.

And of course families are reading it together. Teenagers and college students have told me they are enjoying it. I heard from one dad that his young boys listen to each of the stories and as they near the end of each story, they whisper just one word: “Jesus.” Could you ask for a better response?

So the book seems to be breaking out of the traditional audience for a children’s storybook Bible, which I didn’t foresee and am thrilled by. I like books that break out of the mold.

The titles of the stories are wonderfully descriptive. What inspired you to create such creative and colorful titles for each one?

I wanted the titles to tell the story as much as the stories themselves--and for the titles to capture a piece of the puzzle, to build the portrait of Jesus. So I tried to make the titles point to Jesus and foreshadow him in the Old Testament and reveal Him in the New Testament . (With only 550 words per story--I couldn’t waste a single word!)

The tagline for The Jesus Storybook Bible is "Every story whispers his name." That concept is so simple, yet so profound. What inspired you to write a children's book that proclaimed Jesus as the hero of every story?

When I first saw that everything in the Old Testament, is pointing to a child—the one who is coming—it blew me away. Suddenly, here was a way to read the Bible without it leaving you condemned (I’ll never keep all the rules all the time) or in despair (how can I ever be as brave as Daniel? or David?).

I found it so moving when I started to discover how the Old Testament is basically one long record of failure—the failure of God’s people time and time again to live rightly, to rescue themselves—and that the stories in the Old Testament are all getting us ready for the One who is coming. They are all signposts to the True Hero, the True King, the True Prince, the True Servant, the greater David, the greater Daniel. The Rescuer.

As a child, I thought the Bible was packed with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you). I thought, in short, that the Bible was all about me and what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing. Until I read a Story.

It’s the Story running like a golden stream underneath all the other stories in the Bible: the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. Suddenly, I realized the Bible wasn’t mainly about me and what I should be doing. It was about God and what he had done. And it changed everything.

So, throughout the mapping out of the book and writing the stories, I was resolute in my determination to avoid even a whiff of moralizing in terms of applying the stories. The absolute last thing I ever wanted to ask a child was: “And what can we learn from David about how God wants us to behave?” The story isn’t there to be an example for us to follow. If that were the point, Jesus would never needed to have come. We could have saved ourselves.

The story is there because it’s true and because it’s telling the bigger story—of the greater David who is coming. To do for us what we couldn't do for ourselves, to fight the battle we could never fight. To be the Hero we all need. To be our Rescuer.

I wanted children to know this Story—and to meet this wonderful Hero in the pages of this book. Because rules don’t change you. But a story can.

My husband and I both see Jesus differently than we saw him prior to reading your book. Did writing this book change your view of Jesus? Do you see him differently now? If so, how?

It was like having a personal mini revival at my desk every day and at the same time, a personal major all out battle at my desk every day.

This was not an easy book for me to write or produce (as any of my faithful praying friends and family will attest!) and yet those things that demand most of you, cost you the most, push you the furthest, often end up being your most precious treasure of all.

And just when I was thinking smugly to myself, Oh these Israelites, why were they so slow to believe? God would turn the story round and show me my heart. When I was writing the story about the Israelites wandering in the desert, for instance, I started thinking, “how could they be so dense? and think that God didn’t love them after all he’d done--rescuing them from Egypt, etc.--how could they think He was trying to kill them out there?” and then immediately I’d be reminded/convicted--wasn’t I doing exactly the same thing by worrying about how to write the story? By being afraid? By not trusting God? Every time I wrote a story, I kept being thrown back on God and reminded: it’s all Grace. It’s all about Jesus. It’s not about what I can or cannot do; it’s about what He can do and what He has done. So I would start each day totally overwhelmed at my computer, thinking I can’t do it, there’s no way and then just say: “OK God, if you don’t do it, it won’t get done!” and then just start work. And do the next thing.

I am so grateful that God had more at stake than solely the book--while I was working on words and stories, he was quietly working on my heart. And by the time I’d finished writing the book, I had a whole new level of awe for the incredible Story I am part of. And I had definitely fallen more in love with its Hero!

Our boys love the Tiny Bear Bible. Can you share a bit about some of your other books?

Thank you, of course I’d be delighted to. (Oh dear, that is a dangerous question to ask an author!)

A “Guide” to the behavior of babies by the older sibling

(named one of only 6 books by the New York Times as Notable for 2007, New York Times Bestseller, winner of the National Parenting Publications Award and the CCBC Best of the Year)

An “instruction manual” for kids on how to care for their Grandparents

a hilarious chapter book for toddlers

a lyrical celebration of the baby born that first Christmas

MY MERRY CHRISTMAS and the real reason for Christmas Joy
a glitter window book that helps children discover the meaning of Christmas traditions (lights, angels, Christmas tree, presents) by showing how they all point to the story of Christmas

And some exciting SNEAK PEAKS at new titles coming in the spring:

A Child’s Eye-View of Manners

(one of my friends nearly died laughing when I told her I was writing a manners book. I have no idea why, but clearly she doesn’t realize that my manners are the stuff of legend and my exquisite social graces are envied the world over)

(a companion to HOW TO BE A BABY)

Advice from the 6-year old “bride to be” on dos and don’ts of who to marry, etc.

(perfect book for kids who play pretend and throw mock weddings, and also for grown-ups who are actual brides-to-be.)

What are some of your favorite children's books?

EDWARD LEAR (The Complete Nonsense)
RUSSELL HOBAN (The Frances Books)
C.S. LEWIS (The Chronicles of Narnia)
MAL PEET (Tamar)
HENRY WILLIAMSON (Tarker the Otter)

Anything by:

MARGARET WISE-BROWN (Runaway Bunny is one of my all time favorites)

Jago's illustrations are a perfect compliment to each story. How do you think his illustrations enhanced the book?

I can’t say enough about Jago. I’m one of his biggest fans!

The first thing I would say is this: If the illustrator had not been right, then the book would not have got over the first hurdle: being picked up off the shelf. With an illustrated book, the illustrations are like the front door. They open the door to the text. Once you’ve picked up the book and opened it, then the text has its chance to speak. But you’ve got to get people to pick up the book. That’s what Jago’s art did.

But more than that, of course, Jago’s illustrations are core to the book: his illustrations work in sync with the text. He has such a great sense of humor (crucial); his illustrations are very dramatic; and they tell the story. And most important of all, they have heart. There are a lot of children’s books out there. But what I always look for--in both humorous as well as serious children’s books--is that quality that makes the book live. That touches you and moves you. Jago’s art is part and parcel of why this book lives.

And then the last thing is voice. You really want the voice of the text to match the voice of the illustration. The ideal is when the voices are so in sync that someone coming to the book fresh might think the same person who wrote it also illustrated it. I think that’s what happened for me and Jago on this book.

It seems like this book would be perfect for an adult Bible study or small group. Did you think about that at all as you were writing it?

Yes the book is definitely being used in that way. And, no, I didn’t think about that at all as I wrote--probably just as well. If I’d known people (including theologians and preachers!) would be reading it for Bible study—I’d have got stage fright.

Really, I was just concentrating on my job: which is to tell the best story I can.

This is what is so exciting, though. What God is doing with the book is so much above and beyond anything I could have hoped or dreamed. But then again, we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, that does seem to be God’s favorite way to work, doesn’t it, completely blowing us away?

What I love is that God is using a children’s book to lead adults to deeper faith. Who’d have planned it that way? But then again, of course, it’s totally fitting. Jesus has such a high view of children.

It is God’s Wonderful Story--and it is my honor and joy to have had a small part in retelling it for children--of all ages. It is humbling to see the ways in which God is using this children’s book in people’s lives. I am very grateful.

Thank you, Sarah and all your readers, for your part in helping get the word out about the book and getting The Great Story into more hands--big and small.


To contact or learn more about Sally Lloyd-Jones, you can visit her website at sallylloyd-jones.com.

I am incredibly grateful to Jago, illustrator of The Jesus Storybook Bible, for answering a few questions regarding the illustrations in the book. They are some of the best illustrations I have ever seen in a children's book. To view some of Jago's illustrations in The Jesus Storybook Bible, go to jagoillustration.com, choose Portfolio, and click on The Jesus Storybook Bible.

Thank you, Jago, for answering these questions and giving us a better understanding of your work. The illustrations you created for The Jesus Storybook Bible are truly remarkable.

How long did it take you to complete the illustrations in The Jesus Storybook Bible?

In total I worked on the illustrations for around 10 months pretty much full time, although I did also manage to fit in buying my first house, moving house and having a baby (with some help from my lovely wife)... There are 180 illustrations in the book and I had to produce rough drawings for each of them before moving on to the final coloured artwork. I work digitally so each of the drawings was drawn initially in pencil, then again in ink and then scanned in to my Mac. I then created the colours and textures in Photoshop. The whole book fills up about 75Gb of space (150 CD's or 16 DVD's!) and I had to keep several backups while I was working on it so that I wouldn't lose it if something catastrophic happened to my computer. Once the artwork was finished, Sally and the publishers had to approve it and suggest any changes that needed to be made.

Your illustrations in the book are a perfect compliment to the stories. They evoke very strong emotions from my children. In the chapter, "The Young Hero and the Horrible Giant", the illustration covers both pages. Each time we turn onto this page, our four year-old gasps at how big Goliath is. What was your reasoning behind the two-page illustrations?

I can't take all the credit for this I'm afraid. The book's excellent designer, Julie Chen came up with this idea (I think). She produced small thumbnail sketches of every page (or spread) in the book, which I then worked from when producing my rough drawings. Normally I would do this stage too but as the book was so big I'm glad that Julie was working on this or it might still not be finished. I would imagine that Julie's reasoning was to produce just the kind of reaction you describe!

How did you come up with the vision for the illustrations? How would you describe the style of these illustrations?

I'm often asked this and the answer is very simple, but often suprising to some people: the text. This is where the inspiration always comes from first, I simply read the page and see what pops in to my head. Then I draw it and see if what I've drawn would look better viewed from further away or closer up, or from above (like the city of Jericho in the book), or from down low (like the spread with Goliath). That's it in a nutshell, the really tricky bit is getting the pictures on the paper (or screen) to look like the pictures in my head!

I'm not sure how to describe the style to be honest. I guess I always want my illustrations to not be obviously digital, and for the people and animals not to be too cartoony or too realistic either.

To contact or learn more about Jago, you can visit his website at jagoillustration.com.

*If you have not yet entered to win one of ten free copies of The Jesus Storybook Bible, you can do so here.


  1. I'm glad you got to interview both author and illustrator. It makes me even more anxious to see this book.

  2. Congrats on getting to do these interviews! How very exciting!!

    We have this book and when my hubby took it out and read it to our son the first time, they could not stop at one chapter, my son sat on his lap as they read chapter after chapter, very eager to see what was coming next. Isn't it exciting to see children hunger and thirst for the Word of God like that?

    Also, I too love how Jesus is the hero of each story. That is something our Children's Ministry at church focuses on as well, with each SS lesson, catechism class, etc... they remind the teachers that when teaching the Bible stories, the hero of each story is Jesus, not the Bible character. I appreciate this so much.

  3. thank you so much for this interview..God is so funny..it like literally changed my life..this is something God has place on my heart years ago, but obsticle after obsticle has prevent it from coming to pass, i was so inspired by sally Lloyd' jones words and even by jago's interview..it helps me know that with God all things are possible..thanks so much.

  4. Wow, Sar, what a great interview! It's so obvious how clearly Sally's work is being used by God. Thank you for committing to do all this work for our benefit!

  5. Wow, this was excellent! I so enjoyed reading this.

    AND after reading this post last night I pulled out a copy and read it for my personal devotional time before bed. It was great!

  6. Thanks for this great interview, Sar! (And Sally Lloyd-Jones, too!). It makes me so excited to get this book in my hands (I will DEFINATELY be buying it if I don't chance to win it). I just loved reading Sally's take on the story of the Bible. Just her few words here brought tears to my eyes. I love that about God and His Truth. It always registers somewhere deep, whether it's in an eloquently written speech or a simple statement.
    Love you, my friend!!!

  7. Way to go on getting the interviews! You did a great job and it was very insightful. Thank you :o)

  8. I am surprised the illustrations took only 10 months.(Did I read that correctly?) Any idea how long it took to write each story using only 550 words per story? I know it's not as easy as it sounds.

  9. It was tricky fitting the entire story into just 550 words.

    Each story (once I had the outline and the research done) took about 1-2 weeks for the first draft.

    But there were several drafts... the entire book took a year to write (including research).

  10. great interview sarah. you achieved your goal with me. now i want to go out and buy the book (but i'll wait to see if i win). a children's book that appeals to adults? a children's book where adults can grow closer to Jesus? yep, definitely a book i want. thanks.

  11. Yes 10 months, for comparison, most children's picture books I work on only take 2-3 months from start to finish... and it was 10 very busy months, with not a great deal of sleep involved!

  12. WOW! What a wonderful post! It is so cool to see the people behind one of our favorite books!

    I'm so glad you had the chance to do these interviews with them!!

    Way cool!

  13. I just bought this book for my three year-old son for Christmas. I was excited to begin with, but now I want to get it out and read it!

  14. Great interview! I'm also a blogging mom and found this book on a clandestine trip to a Big Box Bookstore (I sell Barefoot Books). Anyway- I agree, it's an amazing book! http://junipernews.blogspot.com