The idea for my series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers came a few years ago, in 2008, just before Calvin’s 500th anniversary, when I was burdened by the lack of serious Christian biographies for children under 12 years of age. The books on the market (for that age bracket) were mostly hagiographies, historical fiction with an emphasis on fiction, and a few other oversimplified accounts. Not much (if any) on theologians, because most doctrine seemed to be out of children’s reach. On the other hand, my children were reading biographies of presidents, world-changers, artists, and musicians, many of them quite sophisticated in contents. Meeting that need was my primary motive, and John Calvin, first volume in my series, was published. I tried to be simple without being simplistic and to add photos and illustrations to provide both a sense of reality and context and vehicles to excite the imagination.
Then came the second volume, Augustine of Hippo. This time simplicity became a greater challenge, as it’s difficult to reduce Augustine’s life and thought into a few pages. The third volume, John Owen, was a little simpler, because his life and thought were quite straight-forward. The greatest challenge so far has been the fourth volume, Athanasius, with all the complexity of 4th century controversies. The fifth volume, Lady Jane Grey, still underway, is not proving to be any easier.
In between all this, I was asked to write a historical novel for young girls and I tried my hand at that too. I chose Olympia Morata because I am Italian and I believe the Italian Reformation has been largely ignored. Weight of a Flame, the Passion of Olympia Morata is now scheduled to be published next month. While this is historical fiction, it is based on thorough research.
In all these books, I have been trying to be as objective as possible. If my first goal was simply to fill a need for informative accounts, my second goal was to avoid turning these books into hagiographies. Some people have commented that I portrayed Roman Catholic authorities very positively in my novel, and I took that as a compliment.
It was also encouraging to see my book on John Owen nominated as finalist in the 2010 San Diego Awards. The book is now in the San Diego County Library and the San Diego Public Library (a separate entity) is considering it for inclusion in their catalog. This has prompted a new line of thought in my mind. Why don’t we have this type of books in public school libraries? Are my books objective enough to be included? Then I read an interesting quote by Dr. Diarmaid MacCullogh, professor of the History of the Church at Oxford and author of several books on the history of Christianity and on the Reformation. “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. […] I hope to give other people a sense of balance by complicating the story because all stories are very complicated.”
I am now more convinced than ever that accurate books on the history of Christianity are a must for children in all types of schools. We all know how difficult it is to remain absolutely objective when writing history, but I think Dr. MacCullogh hit the nail on the head. Christian biographies (or other history books) for children as well as adults must communicate the natural complexity of history in simple words. Can it be done? Historically, this type of books has been oversimplified, but today’s children are exposed to much more information and I believe they are ready to understand the idea of complexity. This has now become my third goal.