An Interview with Simonetta Carr about Christian Biographies for Young Readers: John Calvin and Augustine

Book review writer Annette Gysen had the opportunity to ask author Simonetta Carr a few questions about her new Christian Biographies for Young Readers series.

Why are the books in this series particularly valuable for children of Reformed families?

For children who are taught to see the Bible as an organic drama of God’s unfolding revelation, these books bring to light the continuity of Christ’s covenant people throughout the centuries and God’s preservation of His church. They also provide valuable tools for parents and teachers in their doctrinal instruction of their little ones, bringing theology to life. For example, I am presently writing the fourth book in the series, which is about Athanasius. I have chosen Athanasius because of his importance in the formulation of the Nicene Creed, which our children commonly recite in church. My hope is that after reading this book, the words of the Creed will come to life and acquire fuller meaning as they are placed in their historical context.

What makes these children’s biographies different from other children’s biography series?

Most children’s biographies on the market are written for older children. I am fully persuaded that young children are able to understand theology and history more readily than we often think. In fact, they possess a natural hunger for answers about the world around them. Why do we believe what we believe? Why do we worship a certain way? Many of these questions find an answer in church history.

I was recently encouraged by a visit to The Cambridge School of San Diego, a classical Christian school for grades K–12. The school’s curriculum uses history as its organizing theme, so my books are a natural fit. It was inspiring for me to see the undivided attention these children gave to my presentation and to be able to converse freely with third and fourth graders on Augustine’s stand against Pelagius and the decisions he made in his life.

In targeting a young age, I use a simple style and easy vocabulary, and I include many photos and beautiful full- page illustrations, which keep the interest alive. The photos are useful to help the children realize that these people and places really existed. Because of these features, these books are usually appreciated by children of all ages. Younger children love the pictures and illustrations, and older children (and adults) enjoy this fun way to explore the lives of these great men and women of God. In fact, they have been very useful in some other countries as a simple way of introducing church history to all, young and old. Rev. Sutjipto Subeno, Editorial Director of Momentum Christian Literature, told me that the book on John Calvin has been very appreciated in Indonesia in the local language.

These biographies are also different from a few others on the market because they are not written as a way of providing positive role models. There are books written with that intent, and they are very inspirational. My idea is to create a series that allows children to recognize God’s hand on His church throughout history and a development of the doctrines we hold dear, hopefully avoiding the same ancient heresies that keep lurking in our hearts. With this view in mind, my books are not elevating these characters to a lofty status, but rather introducing them in their historical and theological context, with particular emphasis on their impact on church history. In this respect, I believe they are filling an important hole.

How did you select the subjects of the biographies in the series?

Calvin was my first title, chosen in honor of his five hundredth anniversary (2009). I chose Augustine as a second title because our doctrine of grace rests heavily on his writings.

What will be the next title? When will it release?

The next title is John Owen. I have a new illustrator for this book, and I feel that it will be an improvement on the former two. It will be released in 2010.

Why do you think it’s important that children read biographies?

Biographies—as opposed to a simple study of theology or church history—have a way to bring the events, convictions, and customs of each generation closer to our hearts. We can read the history of the English Civil War and the Great Ejection and formulate our opinions (as our minds are always prone to do), but when we see the same events through the life of someone who lived them, like John Owen, we suddenly understand much more on an emotional level. And when we finally come, almost exhausted, to the end of his life, after learning of the death of all his eleven children; his gain and loss of Cromwell’s favor; the massacres in Ireland; the devastation of England by war, pestilence, and fire; the consternation of the people at the execution of their king; the dismay of the church at the loss of two thousand ministers in one day; and the frequent and relentless religious disagreements, John Owen’s late words ring exceptionally close, “I am leaving the ship of the church in a storm; but whilst the great Pilot is in it, the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable.”

Biographies add a human perspective to history and widen our views, just as talking to a native of a country is much more enriching than simply reading a book about that country. All this, of course, applies also to children.

Is there anything else that you would like readers of The Outlook to know about these books?

I want once more to thank Reformation Heritage for the wonderful edition of these books. Each volume is attractively produced with a clear typeface, high-quality paper, and a hard cover. Overall, the books have an antique look and are a pleasure to handle. They are sturdy enough for little hands and elegant enough to beautify your shelves for generations.