Tag: pilgrim’s progress

The Tinker’s Daughter | Wendy Lawton

First of all, my apologies for publishing nothing last week. We are preparing for a dramatic home remodel, and as I bend my attention toward packing and dismantling and readying ourselves to live a nomadic life for a few months, things have begun to fall through the cracks.

Last week’s post fell through the cracks.

But I’m back this week with a summer re-run! This post originally appeared in February 2015. I loved reading back through it and realizing that I have found so many more books that portray Christian characters beautifully and believably since writing this post’s lament. But I am always searching for more! Please, tell me if you know of any I might have missed.


Twice in one week, I found myself deep in conversations with friends about one question: Why is it so difficult to write about Christian characters?

The question surfaced after I narrowly resisted the urge to throw a certain children’s book across the room when the heroine—a Christian girl who held fast to her faith during adversity and yet to whom I remained thoroughly unsympathetic—”sobbed violently” one too many times. This offended both the reader and the editor in me, but also flummoxed the Christian in me, because shouldn’t a character’s relationship with the Lord form a compelling thread within a story? It’s something so beautiful, so rich. Shouldn’t authors be able to capture that well?

Some do. John Bunyan comes to mind, and so does C.S. Lewis. And Marilynne Robinson. But when the work is intended for children, somehow the Christian element emerges either in an understated theme or in allegory—both of which are fine—or else the Christian threads become so overt that they seem superimposed upon the story’s plot, lending the book an unwelcome awkwardness. A preachiness. And I wonder if anybody likes preachiness.

The Tinker's Daughter, or "Why is it so hard to find strong Christian characters in fiction?" | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a few children’s books that not only weave threads of Christian belief into a plot gracefully but also make them a key point of the story, and here they are:

Heidi. Treasures of the Snow. What Katy Did. That’s it. I have read a lot of children’s books and those are the only three that come to mind.

So, why is it so difficult to write believably Christian characters and to capture their walk with Christ in a way that is both genuine and appealing?

Here is my theory: Writing about something as intimate as a person’s relationship with an unseen God must fall into the same territory as writing about one’s own marriage without resorting to cliche or sentimentality. To succeed in communicating something so intimate about a subject to which you are so close, you must strike all the notes just right or the chord fails and turns from pure music to dissonance, and the reader finds herself (for example) tempted to chuck a book across a room in frustration, because the thing the writer attempted to do should have been beautiful but wasn’t.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

For a writer to capture something as personal as a character’s spiritual growth, they have to be willing to allow the character’s doubt onto the page at times, and to accept the fact that faith is complex—it is neither simple or moralistic. They have to be willing to step back from their own relationship with the Lord a little and observe how it works, and to lend their characters just enough of their own experience that the characters successfully cross that gap from stereotype to genuine, likeable person.

I say this as a reader, mind you. I haven’t even dared tackle this subject in my own writing. But I have seen novels make the ambitious attempt to scale the twin peaks of faith and fiction only to tumble into a crevasse somewhere between the two and land in my “used bookstore” pile. Which brings me back to that book that I did not finish.

That story should have been at least interesting, if not absorbing. But it wasn’t. And after I abandoned that particular ship, I found my desire for good, Christian literature hardening into a resolve to find good, Christian literature for our daughters, as well as for the kids at school. I took to roaming the e-aisles of Amazon, looking for potential gems.

The Tinker's Daughter, by Wendy Lawton | Little Book, Big Story

And that is how I found The Tinker’s Daughter. More to the point, I suppose, is the fact that I found Wendy Lawton, an author capable of writing a compelling story that neither cheapens her characters’ Christian faith nor makes them unpleasantly trite. The Tinker’s Daughter is a well-crafted, fictional account of Mary Bunyan, John Bunyan’s eldest daughter, during the time when her father was newly imprisoned for “unsanctioned” preaching. His faith throughout the story is abundant and beautiful to behold. Mary’s faith is that of a fledgling, taking off timidly by the end of the book.

Another point in Lawton’s favor: Mary is blind, and for an author who can make me feel and smell and listen to the world of a girl without sight, I have nothing but admiration.

Daughters of the Faith Series | Little Book, Big Story

I have read a handful of books in this series so far, and I must warn you that Lawton does not tackle easy material: Shadow of His Hand relates Anita Dittman’s experience in the concentration camps of Germany; Freedom’s Pen tells the story of Phillis Wheatley, who was captured in Africa as a young girl and endured the horror of the slave ships before being sold to a wealthy New England family.

Lawton handles this material well, including just enough detail for the reader to grasp how truly terrible these historical events were without making the stories too heavy to bear. She allows her characters to ask hard questions through it all, and includes answers that satisfy the reader without oversimplifying the truth. So, I like the fact that these books tackle content like the Holocaust and slavery. But I don’t recommend handing them over to your children without reading through them for yourself.

That said, some of them I did allow Lydia to read on her own (after reading them myself)—The Tinker’s Daughter was one of those. We’ll wait on Shadow of His Hand and Freedom’s Pen for now. I believe there are nine books in the series, so I have more to read, but for now I’m savoring each new volume and rejoicing in the existence of an author like Wendy Lawton. These books allow me to hope that there are other authors out there like her.

And it occurs to me that you might know about them: Do you know of any chapter books that center around characters whose Christian faith is a central part of the story? Please let me know in the comments!


The Tinker’s Daughter
Wendy Lawton (2002)

Dangerous Journey | Oliver Hunkin

I love it when I’m wrong about books.

Years ago, a friend showed me this one and I considered how excellent a children’s rendition of A Pilgrim’s Progress would be. I read a few sample pages and loved the tone of the story. But the illustrations—they were so intense. So many pointy teeth and warty giants! Egad. I thought that maybe some day my daughters might appreciate it—maybe. But at that point, we were still having nightmares about VeggieTales, so that day seemed a long way off.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

But this year, some wise educator included Dangerous Journey in our history curriculum, so we gave it a read, even though I was still pretty sure at least one of the girls was way too small for it and another would listen to the story while giving every bodily clue that she hated it.

But I was wrong: Dangerous Journey became our favorite read aloud, the one that got applause when the girls saw it in the stack. “It’s Dangerous Journey day!” became something they said with the same enthusiasm they show for the ice cream truck in the summer. (Note: I am not exaggerating for effect.)

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story

I’m so glad I was wrong about that, because reacquainting the girls with the story of Pilgrim’s Progress (we read Little Pilgrim’s Progress a few years ago) gave us a beautiful shared analogy for the Christian life that we’ve come back to often since our Dangerous Journey days ended. When someone descends into the depth of a terrible mood, I can draw them back gently with, “Remember when Christian left the path? Do you remember where he ended?” Or we can spur each other on in good works by remembering the Celestial City. Through Dangerous Journey, Pilgrim’s Progress has become part of our family’s shared language.

Dangerous Journey, by Oliver Hunkin | Little Book, Big Story


a quick comparison

For a moment, though, let’s consider what makes this version different from Little Pilgrim’s Progress. Dangerous Journey is told in picture book format (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is a chapter book), but even so, it’s language is a little more advanced. In it, Christian is an adult (he is a child in Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a perspective that obviously has its own benefits). Dangerous Journey’s illustrations are dark and a bit dated, but something about them really did connect with my girls (Little Pilgrim’s Progress is minimally illustrated), and I think the visuals helped them understand better what was happening in the story.

Both books are excellent, and both have found deserving spaces on our shelves, though they each approach the story of Christian’s journey to the Celestial City differently. And neither gave our girls nightmares. That’s a definite plus.


Thank you all!

Thank you so much to all of you who entered the Slugs & Bugs giveaway, and congrats to Emily and Jen, our winners! Since I can’t send you all home with an album, I’ll do the next best thing and play you out with a song. Here is the video for the song “The Ten Commandments.” Enjoy!


Dangerous Journey
Oliver Hunkin (1985)