Glenda Mathes is a familiar name to many readers within the Reformed community. Reformed Fellowship carries her workbook in the Life in Christ curriculum, Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism. Reformed Fellowship also publishes Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, which brings biblical hope from a Reformed perspective to those grieving such losses or those who seek to comfort those who mourn. Her devotionals, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God and Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law, go beyond most modern devotionals by digging deeply in Scripture while applying the Word to the reader’s heart. Glenda contributes regularly to Christian Renewal and The Messenger (the newsletter of Mid-America Reformed Seminary) and speaks to women’s groups in a variety of venues, including prison.
What Outlook readers may not realize is that Glenda Faye Mathes also writes fiction. All three novels of her Matthew in the Middle series are now available on Amazon: Matthew Muddles Through, Matthew Makes Strides, and Matthew Moves Ahead. The Outlook recently interviewed her about this juvenile fiction series.
Outlook: Glenda, I understand you’ve written a series for young readers. Who is your target audience with these books?
Glenda Faye Mathes: The novels are aimed at middle graders, ages eight to twelve, but readers of other ages are enjoying them as well. Many parents share that they’re reading them to their children and how the entire family loves them.
Because I have six grandsons and I care about providing them with excellent literature, I wrote this first-person narrative with boys in mind. Lots of boys tell me how much they like the books, but I keep hearing from girls and adults who also identify with Matthew and his struggles.
Outlook: What are some of Matthew’s struggles?
GFM: Matthew is a PK, a preacher’s kid, who’s the middle child in the family of a minister within the Dutch Reformed tradition. His house is so small he has to share a room with his annoying younger brother, and his church is so small his catechism class meets in his living room. He struggles with friends who tease him, teachers who pick on him, and concerns about his mom’s health. He’s fascinated with military exploits but faces paralyzing fears. And he longs to attend the Cadet International Camporee, but everything seems to go against him.
Outlook: How does the setting of a Dutch Reformed family play out in these books?
GFM: Within the context of engaging stories, readers see this family regularly attending church and practicing daily devotions. But more than that, readers see how their faith informs their living. The Christian life is more than religious routine for Matthew and his family; it’s a vibrant current that surges through these people, shaping their thoughts, words, and actions. Is this family perfect? Far from it. But by God’s grace, they grow in the process of sanctification.
Young readers won’t see big theological words in the books, but they will see how Matthew progresses in many ways. He comes to accept and appreciate people who are very different from himself. He attempts to get along with obnoxious friends and brothers. He overcomes fear by trusting in God. And he learns more and more what it means to take the Cadet theme song to heart by living for Jesus.
Outlook: What specific reviews have you received for these books?
GFM: God has blessed this series with terrific endorsements. Jeanie B. Cheaney writes: “The real texture of life is found in ordinary, everyday occurrences, but it takes a special gift to make these seem extraordinary.” Douglas Bond says I write with “energy and intentionality” and that young people “will feel like the author knows them, is inside their heads, so intimate is her knowledge of her readers.” Simonetta Carr says, “There are surprises along the way, and important lessons as Matthew strives to overcome his fears and to be more like the heroes he admires.” Chaplain Paul T. Berghaus believes I do “an excellent job portraying the trauma, excitement, and relief of events where great danger and courage are present” and applauds me “for taking up topics of fear, loss, courage, and authentic masculinity.” Norm Bomer says the author “pegs fun, insightful, and altogether natural word pictures” and that the “young boy in the heart of Glenda Faye Mathes is us—and he comes to life with rich and believable detail, warmly testifying to God’s love in real time.” Dick Broene, Executive Director for Calvinist Cadet Corps, recommends the books for any young boy “especially a Cadet who has actually participated in an International Camporee” and calls it a “tale well told.” Best-selling author Sigmund Brouwer loves Matthew with his “humorous voice, active imagination, and fledgling faith” and says, “Because Matthew Moves Ahead in realistic ways that reflect universal childhood disappointments and joys, readers will love Matthew, too.” I’ve overwhelmed with God’s goodness in provided such outstanding endorsements from people with recognized expertise.
Outlook: What are your hopes or goals for this series?
GFM: I want to engage readers with an entertaining story, while helping them grow in their appreciation for quality literature and their love for the Lord. So much fiction for young people—even highly popular and successful fiction—doesn’t qualify as literature. Too much of it seems little more than glorified garbage. Giving inferior novels to young readers is like feeding kids junk food. Children acquire a taste for what they’re fed, and they need a healthy diet of quality reading material.
But more than simply providing entertaining and well-written stories, I want to show readers how vibrantly they can live by loving the Lord. Christianity isn’t banal or restrictive; it’s festive and expansive. We can enjoy reading and camping and eating—all things—for God’s glory.
That’s my goal for this series as in everything I do, not to bring fame or wealth to myself (which I don’t anticipate will ever happen); but somehow doing it all for the church’s good and God’s glory.