My little daughter wanted to be in the Bible.
More specifically, when I was reading her Bible stories she asked if she could be in them. Oh boy.
It was my own fault really. I had just finished writing a book called The Granny JJ Adventures :Guyana’s Daily Detective which was a children’s adventure based on her grandmother who lives in South America.
Seraphina, 8, was in those stories and, therefore, she felt it perfectly acceptable to be in the stories with Jesus as well.
What to do?
You see, Christians treat the words of the Bible as holy, and there are dire warnings in the last book of the Bible (Revelations) not to add or take away anything from it. Anyone, who does will have their reward in heaven reduced.
Now, some of you will say that the Bible itself is fiction so it doesn’t matter – but let’s set that view aside for now and discuss it as the book 2 billion people plus on this planet say they revere.
Plus, as a Christian myself how would I help my daughter know the difference between anything I made up, and what was in the Scriptures themselves?
Well, the New Testament clearly shows Jesus as valuing little children and interacting with them, so it was perfectly plausible he had conversations with some, even if we don’t know the content. I had also been teaching her about Jesus from when she was little.
So I hoped that by telling her up front that I was making stories up for her she’d enjoy them but not take them as truth.
And it worked. In fact, at times we laughed so much (especially at some of the ‘made up’ conversations between her and Jesus) that a seed was planted… Could I actually write something to inspire children to develop a relationship with Jesus?
It’s not like I hadn’t read other books fictionalising the life of Jesus. Even Anne Rice, author of Interview with the Vampire had written a couple of books about the young Jesus.
But what would Jesus look like through the eyes of a youngster who knew him? And what if Jesus didn’t look like the warrior that first century Jews mostly expected – a King that would drive out their oppressors and restore the nation of Israel to a leadership position? That would create a conflict which could make for an interesting story!
I started with researching the life of the average Israelite; what would home life be like? What information was there about the locations my character, Imma, would visit?Slowly, a picture of everyday life began to build up – things the characters would have believed and what they could have been doing when they came into contact with Jesus.
- They could be cutting across the Temple courts to the market in Jerusalem when Jesus threw out the money changers.
- They could have been invited to listen to Jesus speak in Bethany, where the Bible says that Jesus’ friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived.
- They could have been visiting relatives in Bethsaida where Jesus fed the Five Thousand.
It became possible to construct a narrative where Imma, this radical little girl, gets to talk to Jesus in plausible conversations – that never got recorded in Scripture. I based her sparky character on that of my real daughter Seraphina.
Next I had to figure out how to separate my words for Jesus with the words he actually spoke. I figured that ‘adding’ probably meant trying to pass off fake words as though they were really His. I wasn’t planning to do that.
I remembered that Red Letter Bibles put the words of Jesus in red. So I decided to put the actual words of Jesus in red, and anything I had made up would be in blue. I worked that into the introduction so the parents knew.
Lastly, I wanted a Jesus that actually looked like He might have looked. Scientists had reconstructed a face around a First Century Israelite skull, and I used this picture (and some research on dress of the time) to build a Jesus who I felt represented what he might have looked like (not blond hair and blue eyes).
So, in the end Seraphina did get into the book – Imma, the main character is based on her – and the precocious attitude she has comes from my daughter as well.
And the reception of the book?
Well, it has 40-plus five-star reviews across Amazon sites and it’s being considered by an audio-book company, AND it’s being pitched as a pilot series to a TV network in a few weeks. So, I guess the gamble paid off in the end.
It actually doesn’t matter than I wrote Biblical children’s fiction: I can still make this point – you may have some crazy cross-over ideas for a book. I’ve written:
- Biblical children’s fiction
- A parenting advice colour-in storybook
- A series of adventures about a nosy Creole grandmother detective.
The first and third projects have produced real fruit. Jesus and Me: One Child’s Friendship with the Son of God may soon reach a much wider audience in audio. The Granny JJ Adventures sell copies every month in the US, Canada, Germany, UK and other places. We sold hundreds of copies to the Guyanese Education Ministry earlier this year so at some point an entire country of children could be reading it.
My books are unusual – but they work perhaps partly because they are different.
It’s not all about the money though. Sometimes, it’s about you scratching a creative itch – which may or may not make you rich. But you’ll feel richer for having scratched it.
Joshua Cartwright is an innovative and inventive writer who creates quirky fiction that entertains and educates. He’s written 17 books including ten non-fiction psychology book. He likes films with big spaceship, and creating household gadgets.
His latest book Jesus, The Good Trouble Maker aimed at preteens is out You can get it here