Friday Five Interview: Sally Lloyd Jones
She is the author of (in my opinion) the best Children’s story Bible on the market, The Jesus Bible Storybook. You can read my review of this here. Sally Llloyd Jones is a British children’s book writer based in the United States. Sally was born in Uganda and was raised in East and West Africa. She has written numerous children’s books including, The Ultimate Guide to Christmas, How to Get Married, and Baby’s Hug-a-Bible.
Sally has graciously taken time to be interviewed for my weekly Friday Five.
1) Share your journey—how did you find your calling as a children’s book writer?
When I was seven I was given a book. I couldn’t put it down. It was Edward Lear’s THE COMPLETE NONSENSE.
Things have not been the same since.
I had no idea you could be that silly in a book. I didn’t know it was allowed.
And it had all these crazy drawings in it and loony limericks that looked liked something I could try. And so I did. (My poor friends and family.)
That’s where it all began.
Later, in my first job as an editor in children’s publishing, I wrote the stories and poems to go inside their board books (they couldn’t afford to pay a “real author”). But that kind of writing didn’t count, I decided, I had my eye on picture books and harbored a dream of one day writing one—but I thought you had to write in a special way and sound like a picture book writer sounds. But I didn’t know what that was—let alone how to do it.
And then my nephew was born and I had a real child to write for. I stopped trying to sound like a children’s book and began just writing like I’d talk to Harry. And that got me back to the place where I’d begun—with Edward Lear and what he did so brilliantly: just be him on the page.
That’s what I think it means to “find your voice.” I started to just write what made me laugh. Or cry. And that’s when doors opened and I got my first picture books published.
I’m the luckiest person in the world because I have the best readers in the world. Children will go with you. They’re up for it in a way that we grown-ups sometimes aren’t. It’s a privilege and a responsibility.
2) The Jesus Bible Storybook is a powerful book and unique in that it sees Jesus in every big story of the Old and New Testament. Explain you’re process for putting this together.
One time I saw this guy doing scrimshaw. I asked him, as he was carving a whale on a small piece of ivory, how long it took him. He looked up, paused and said, “About 5 hours and… 35 years.”
In a sense, your whole life goes into whatever you do. It’s taken my whole life so far putting it together that the Bible is not a collection of individual stories teaching us moral lessons that if we follow we can get God to love us, but a wonderful true story of a God who loved us so much, that he stepped out of heaven, came down and rescued us.
When I was 6, I went to a Sunday school that was very strict and seemed to me to be all about rules. I hated it. But I am grateful for it now—without it I wouldn’t remember what it feels like as a child to see God as a strict rule giver who is never pleased with you. That Sunday school fueled my passion behind writing the book: I want children to see that the Bible is not mostly a rulebook—it’s most of all a story. And it really isn’t so much about them and what they need to be doing—it’s about God and what he has done. Rules don’t have power to change you. But a story can.
The other crucial piece, of course, is the ministry of Dr Tim Keller. He is the first person I acknowledge in the book because I could not have written this book without God leading me to that church, and to Tim’s ministry and to every Sunday listening to the Gospel of Grace preached.
3) As I read it to my children, I’m amazed at how every big story of the Bible connects to the story of Jesus. We don’t often teach our children the stories this way. Do think the traditional way has led to a sort of fragmented view of Old and New Testament?
Definitely. You hear people saying, Let’s just read about Jesus and stick with the NT. As a child I thought that. But he is in the OT—all the way through. And seeing him there—it melts your heart. And it also shows you the Father’s Heart. You see the sacrifice, the depth of his love for us, the incredible richness of the story. No wonder angels never tire of it and can’t stop wondering at it and long to look into it.
The subtitle of The Jesus Storybook Bible is “Every Story Whispers His Name” because the Bible is all about Jesus. Both the Old and the New Testaments. Jesus himself said so.
4) Are you finding adults are enjoying the Jesus Bible Storybook as well?
Yes—and it was nothing I, or anyone else, expected. And at the same time it has me saying, “Of course!”
Of course God would do that. Of course he would blow us all out of the water and do something we never imagined. Of course he would use little children to lead us. (Of course he would—he has such a high view of children!) Of course he would use a humble children’s book to do something profound. To speak to parents as well as children; to help pastors preach; to be a set text in literature classes and theological classes; to speak to college students, to teenagers, to couples in their devotions; to be the book Japanese business men are studying before work; to be a tool for sharing the gospel on missions trips, with English as a second language.
It’s thrilling and humbling and a huge honor—and I give him all the credit.
5) If you had one message you’d like parents, influencers, pastors, children’s ministry workers to send to the children they teach, what would that be?
I wouldn’t presume to tell pastors or parents or teachers or ministry workers what to do. But from what I’ve seen, I think for children—whose lives are so filled with rules—what they need most from us is Grace, what they need most to hear from us is that they are loved by the one who made them—with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love. And He has a plan for each of them that only they can do. He needed them. Here. Now. And they are part of his great and glorious story.