3 Qualities You Need to Be an Author

Many factors will determine whether you ever become the author of a published book. Some are in your control, and some are not. Education, market forces, communication skills, economic stability sufficient to allow for intellectual life – the list of what impacts you is probably endless.

But there are 3 essential qualities I’ve observed in the 12+ years I’ve been involved in publishing. Whatever else may play a role in your success, you probably won’t make it without these three things. And no, TALENT is not one of them.

Sidebar: Talent is fascinating and complicated. Human beings enter the world with unique proclivities and inclinations. Your brain has preferences, and no doubt they partly depend on what it can do easily. Talent can be a necessary prerequisite in some instances, but it’s one that rarely stands alone. Most things aren’t achievable by sheer giftedness.

In my view, success for an author consists in being both published and read. Your book must arrive in the world and proliferate. It must become a known voice in at least one niche of the human experience. If no one reads your published book, it is a tree that fell in the forest and made no sound.

Thus, you must be effective to be successful. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But people forget. In the age of drive-by likes and headline scrolling, you can’t measure impact simply by publication. That’s where these 3 essential qualities come in.

Effective writers, who become successful authors, have 3 qualities in common: perception, coachability, and endurance.

Perception

The first decision you make as an author is what you want to say. This initial step must draw on a well-developed perception of your fellow humans. The beginning of any good book, fiction or nonfiction, is an accurate reading of felt needs. You may believe people need to read about a given topic or perspective, but it frankly doesn’t matter what you think. It matters what your prospective readers think. If you want actual communication to occur, you need to grasp THEIR opinion of what they WILL read.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting you go out and pander to the most commercially viable self-interest you can find.

I’m suggesting you put down your ideology, your experience, and your aggravation and place yourself as much as possible in other people’s shoes. Watch and listen without judging. Try to quiet everything but your powers of observation. What hurts them? Why does it hurt? What brings them joy? Why? What do they feel they are missing? Where do they go looking for it?

Let a little time pass. Did you observe a momentary trend, washed away by the next big thing? Or have you seen something real, something you can work with?

At this point, your perception turns inward. It’s essential to apply that same clear-sightedness to yourself. What do you have to offer in response to the needs you have perceived? Can you help? It’s going to take more than good will, and it’s going to take more than talent. What solution to their need can you truly identify and communicate?

Be realistic with yourself. No one author can write every book. Maybe research will make you capable. Maybe it won’t. We can be most fruitful when we play to our strengths. Do you have a strength you can polish and develop to meet their need? Yes? Then get started! No? Let that idea go. Turn your perception outward again. Keep looking for a genuine need that you are uniquely qualified to fill, a meaningful story you are equipped to tell.

Coachability

Congratulations! You applied your perception effectively, found a need, got down to business, and produced a manuscript. You survived the adventure of convincing a publisher to contract your book. The hard part is behind you, right?

Sort of.

A contract is a huge accomplishment! Toast your victory, call your friends, sleep all day Saturday, and revel in your awesomeness.

And then, sit down and buckle up.

Relinquish the rosy dream that what you submitted to the publisher was ready for publication.

It was not.

No, yours wasn’t either.

Or yours.

What you submit to a publisher is your writing pushed absolutely as far as you can push it without their editorial help.

Read that again.

You need an editor. You need the next dimension, the person who won’t mentally fill in what you meant to say, the fabled blue penciler whose professional career thrives on her ability to show you every hole you couldn’t see in your writing and support your dogged efforts to reconstruct that book without those holes.

Do not argue that the holes aren’t there. Do not decide you are a better writer than the editor. Do not get married to that paragraph in the third chapter she says must go.

Do not.

Is the editor always right? No. Is the editor usually right? Yes. Is that the point? Not really.

The editor is a trained linguist and skillful communicator who will bring your good writing to excellence. The editor is also the publisher’s front line. The publisher expects the editorial staff to guide authors to produce books worthy of their platform and appealing to their market. The editor’s pleasure in working with you will strongly impact their interest in your next submission. But more importantly, your open mind and collaborative spirit will drastically improve your writing and the subsequent success of your book.

Endurance

You don’t even need me to write this section, do you? It’s obvious. All the perception and coachability in the world won’t save you if you don’t have endurance.

You need the patience and motivation to stay the course, to keep on observing, writing, rewriting, listening, polishing. You need to keep caring about your topic or story and your readers all the way to the end. You need to fuel your endurance with the love that started you on this journey. Endurance is your commitment to that bright, quixotic, recurring ITCH God created in you that makes you write.

Take a break. Let the writing cool for a bit. Drink tea. Race beetles on the deck rail. Enter a racquetball tournament. Watch the 1966-1967 Russian version of War and Peace. All 7 hours of it.

And then, get back to your writing, to your revision, to the last round of changes your editor wanted. Get back to finishing your book. Be true to the blessed opportunity you’ve been given to say something worth saying, to say it well, and to those who are waiting for something lifegiving shining through your words.

Where to Buy Orthodox Children’s Books

I’d love to browse Orthodox children’s books in a cozy stone cottage. Sunlight would gleam through the mullioned windows, and the books would be neatly arranged on a home-built wooden farm table. Kittens would scamper under foot, and the breeze would bring garden scents through the open half door.

In real life, I’m thankful that Orthodox children’s books can be purchased in a variety of places, for those who never find the stone cottage of my imaginings. Most book sales occur in one of three ways, and I’ll discuss the benefits and limitations of those options here.

AMAZON

You know that’s the first place that came to mind. Isn’t it always?

Yes, you can purchase many Orthodox children’s books from Amazon, even some that may be out of print. Behemoth that it is, Amazon can offer you every amenity, free shipping, high speed, and considerable selection.

BUT…

If you have a choice, Orthodox publishers and authors agree – we’d rather you bought our books directly from the publisher. Amazon takes a bite out of every sale, and that reduces the payment to the publisher and author. One of the most powerful ways to support the genre of Orthodox children’s literature (and it needs our support now as it’s beginning to blossom) is to pay the people who create it directly.

Your Parish Bookstore

This is a wonderful option, although it’s not available to everyone. If your parish does have a book table or bookstore, make that your first stop when shopping for Orthodox children’s books. Your parish likely has a wholesale account with one of the Orthodox publishers. That means they purchase the books at a discounted rate and then resell them to you at the recommended retail price. Your purchase is thereby supporting your parish, the Orthodox publisher, and the author. Not only do you get a beautiful, faithful book for your little one, you have the satisfaction of supporting three good causes at once!

Direct from the Orthodox Publisher

Full disclosure: as you know if you follow this blog, I work for an Orthodox publisher! But I’ve also been published by two other Orthodox publishers, so I know this little world very well and can tell you that the companies who inhabit it are all worthy of your attention.

Perhaps the most wonderful way (other than that imaginary cottage) to purchase Orthodox children’s books is directly from the publisher. You’ll have access to their full selection, their dedicated customer service team, and other useful and beautiful Orthodox books and products in their webstore. Below is a list of Orthodox webstores hosted by these publishers.

  1. Ancient Faith Store: This one comes first because I work for Ancient Faith and have been published by them many times. In my view, they are the biggest thing on the Orthodox kidlit landscape. You can find their children’s department HERE.
  2. SVS Press Books: I’ve got one board book published, one at press, and a third just contracted with this publisher. Historically an academic press, they’re reviving and expanding their children’s line, which is exciting. See their children’s department here.
  3. Park End Books: Park End is the publisher of my recent middle-grade novel, Little Lost Nun. Although they publish a variety of genres, they are extremely Orthodox friendly. You’ll find children’s books in their shop here.
  4. New Rome Press: Books from New Rome are always beautifully produced! You can see their children’s books here.
  5. Potamitis Publishing: This family-run company has an astounding line-up of books about saints. I especially love their Paterikon for Kids. Those colorful little paperbacks are a godsend for little ones who struggle to focus in church. You’ll find these and other books from them here.
  6. Sebastian Press: This is a Serbian-American publisher on the west coast. At least one of my friends has been published by Sebastian, and you can find their children’s line here.
  7. Exaltation Press: This is a newer publisher, offering illustrated catechetical books for children. See their collection here.
  8. Philotheia: This is Kristina Tartara’s shop! She’s the illustrator of my three SVS Press board books and a good friend. You’ll find those books and her own board books, in addition to her other creations, here.

The 8 publishers listed above are well-known, but they’re not the only Orthodox children’s book publishers. Some, like Potamitis, offer their books in multiple languages, and of course I haven’t included Greek, Russian, and other international publishers because my knowledge of them is limited. I do know of one in Romania – Libraria Sophia, the publisher of the Romanian edition of The Barn and the Book.

I’d love to hear from you if you have publishers to add to this list! The more we share their names, the more their books will find their way into the hands of the children for whom they were created. May God bless the work of our hearts and hands!

Featured image by David Clode on Unsplash

Orthodox Publishers and Non-Orthodox Books

In the years since I’ve been involved in Orthodox publishing, I’ve seen numerous writers who hoped to publish a book that would reach the non-Orthodox. This isn’t unique to us. Christian publishing in general has this hope, and it is not entirely unfounded. But the vast majority of people who read Christian books of any kind are already Christian, or well on their way to becoming so.

This is not to say that when you write for an Orthodox audience, you should be inward looking and lean heavily on references and thought lines only your fellow Orthodox would understand. Clarity and kindness are always essential.

It is to say that if you want to write a book that is not intended for an Orthodox audience, you need to think seriously about why you are sending it to an Orthodox publisher.

Let me say that again.

You need to think seriously about why you are sending it to an Orthodox publisher.

Orthodox publishers have Orthodox customers. Their distribution network and marketing apparatus are designed to convey Orthodox content to Orthodox people, or to those strongly interested in Orthodoxy.

People who are not Orthodox and not currently interested in becoming Orthodox do not buy books from Orthodox publishers.

But there are other, larger flaws in the belief that covertly Orthodox and overtly noncommittal books are good publishing, or good evangelism. I’m reminded of that interesting period when many mainline churches in the USA instituted “contemporary worship” to attract young people and newcomers. In parishes, and in publishing, this amounts to bait and switch.

The religion itself is unchanged. Whatever you felt should be hidden or glossed over to make it more palatable to the uninitiated has not gone away. You’ve simply moved it further down the line, and when it reappears, you’ll face uncomfortable questions about why you felt the need to hide it.

Sincerity is a moral imperative, but it’s also a best practice when creating faith-based media. With that in mind, let’s drill down to four basic questions to ask yourself when considering an Orthodox publisher for your book.

  1. What is this publisher’s target audience?
  2. What is my target audience?
  3. What about me as an author makes me appealing to this publisher?
  4. What makes this publisher appealing to me as a writer?

The Publisher’s Target Audience

In the age of niche marketing and boundless content propagation, publishers excel when they serve a well-defined market. (This is true for other types of business as well.) They may publish books on a variety of topics, but you’ll be able to see common threads, a worldview or mindset, a branded look, that indicates who they expect will purchase and value their books.

Orthodox publishers publish Orthodox books. Some will be straight theology, some will be applied, and some will be fiction. But all will assume an Orthodox worldview, or at least awareness of that worldview, in the reader.

It’s absolutely possible for a publisher to reach readers outside the target audience. But this is more by the workings of providence than anything else. I remember reading once that the only way to expand beyond your niche market is to fill it first. A cup overflows when the water has filled every available space inside.

There are several ways to determine the audience a publisher hopes to reach. The simplest is to look at their website or catalog. What kind of books are there? Who are the authors? What do the submission guidelines say? What books seem to be getting the most attention and space on their website?

Think about the book you have in mind. Can you imagine it on their website? Would it fit in with the other books there? Would the publisher agree that it fit in?

All of these questions should be asked for any kind of publishing submission, not just those to an Orthodox publisher. But the answers should clarify whether your book is actually the type they would publish.

Your Target Audience

As you consider the publisher’s target audience, you’ll also be thinking of your own target audience. When you wrote your book, who were you talking to? Who will enjoy your book or benefit from it? Who buys books that are similar to yours?

Side note: If you believe there are no books similar to yours, ask yourself why that is. It’s a complex question. Does your book meet an unmet need? Or, does nobody publish books like this because nobody wants them?

The more specific you can be, in your own mind, about your target audience, the better. Again – you have to fill a niche before you can reach beyond it. Your writing will be stronger, more insightful and directed, if you know exactly who wants to read it.

Second side note: Remember, a target audience comprises people who want to read your book. You may think they need to read it, but yours is not the opinion that counts.

Once you’ve identified your target readers, compare them to your chosen publisher’s target audience. Are you trying to reach the same people?

If you are trying to reach Orthodox readers, an Orthodox publisher is the way to go. Orthodoxy is itself a niche in the Christian world, especially in the United States. Religious publishing is segregated by faith group, and most religious publishers are unlikely to publish materials espousing a different faith or denomination, both for marketing and for missional reasons.

If you are trying to reach non-Orthodox readers, your target audience probably doesn’t align well with an Orthodox publisher’s target audience. If your work is evangelical, you might find you’d be preaching to the choir. If the people you want to reach are truly “outside the dome,” there’s a good chance they’re also outside an Orthodox publisher’s community of readers and customers.

Appealing to the Publisher

When a publisher acquires your book, they’re also acquiring a professional relationship with you as the author. Don’t forget that you and your credentials are reviewed in any acquisitions decision.

It’s common for Orthodox publishers to publish Orthodox writers, but it’s important to understand the ways that Orthodoxy is and is not a credential for publication. The quality of your writing is the first criteria for publication. You won’t be published simply because you are Orthodox and other Orthodox people aren’t writing on this topic.

However, if you are a good writer and you’re writing on a topic that hasn’t been covered by other Orthodox writers, that’s a selling point. Maybe there are thousands of books on improving your marriage, but if there are only a few Orthodox books on improving your marriage, you have something unique and valuable to offer.

That said, if you are trying to write a book that would be unique in the Orthodox world, remember that it may not be unique in the larger world of Christian or secular publishing. An Orthodox worldview isn’t usually a valued credential “outside the dome.” The very thing that makes you a good prospect in Orthodox publishing may be a handicap with other publishers.

Appealing to the Writer

As an Orthodox writer, it’s tempting to submit everything you write to an Orthodox publisher. Perhaps you’ve published other books with them, or you know someone one staff. It feels like home, like a safe place. That’s understandable.

There’s also a temptation to feel that you’re more likely to be published by an Orthodox publisher than by a “real” publisher. Let that thought go.

Orthodox publishers ARE “real” publishers. They’re not operating from a place of desperation, whatever may have been true in the past. Every year, they receive more submissions than they can publish. Readership and sales are expanding. Many of the books published 20 years ago wouldn’t make the cut now, or would undergo a lot more editing before they did!

It is what it is

These questions and answers all add up to the same thing: Orthodox publishers seek to publish excellent Orthodox books. If that’s what you have to offer, your chances are good. If your book is excellent, but not really Orthodox, it’s time for some soul searching.

Not every book has to be Orthodox, or even about faith at all. As an Orthodox writer, your faith will always be part of your lens, part of your consciousness. But how much it shows in the finished product depends on many factors.

The important thing is to be true to your purpose. Pick a side. Take a stand. If you want to reach people for Christ, don’t hide Him.

What we want from Orthodox children’s books

Almost always, an adult is the starting point for a child’s exposure to a book. We choose the books, we purchase the books, we pack our offspring into the minivan and herd them into the children’s section of the library. They can’t obtain books without our help, so we play a large role in their encounters with literature.

That being so, it’s interesting to reflect on the assumptions and wishes that prompt an Orthodox grownup to reach for a particular book. What do we expect from “Orthodox kidlit”? There are many specific answers to that question, but here are three underlying ideas that I suspect are present when a book is invited into your child’s world.

It’s trustworthy.

If a book purports to be Orthodox, it must meet certain standards. You would be stunned to discover it was championing heresy, of course. But there are other, more subtle expectations. You expect it to support your child’s faithfulness, to offer good theology in simple terms, to help you out as a parent. Sometimes we offer a book to our children because we hope it will do a better job explaining than we could, or will at least make a change from our own voice constantly telling them how to be good. We expect the author to be “on our side,” sharing our motivation to pass on the faith to the next generation. If you’re writing Orthodox kid lit at all, you must be a member of the team that walks each child from the baptismal font to a fruitful Christian life when they reach maturity.

IT’S ENGAGING.

To be honest, parents are constantly being let down by books. Sometimes this happens because parents and children are human beings, and what they find appealing and compelling differs. Your child might not see what you see or hear what you hear in the story. But sometimes a book lets you down by failing to present concepts or adapt packaging to meet the needs of the target age. A child’s heart can’t be engaged if you’ve failed to accommodate her developing brain.

I’ve also learned, in recent years, that we adults can frustrate children by overexplaining. They quickly perceive that we don’t see them as capable of perception and discovery. The old advice to writers, “Show, don’t tell” could be a motto for adults interacting with children. I’m thankful for a recent conversation with my friend Sarah, who spoke eloquently about the importance of approaching a child as a full human, a whole person. Drawing on this wisdom, I believe a good book brings the child into experience directly, sparing them the tiresome process of being prompted to enjoy second-hand knowledge of someone else’s transformative delight.

It’s well done.

By this I mean something other than the quality of the book’s content. Like many new things, Orthodox children’s literature as a genre began life looking a bit “home-made” and frankly unprofessional in some instances. When you begin to do something no one has done before, your early attempts will be amateur and faulty. It’s the nature of new things, and it’s an honorable kind of failure, in my view. You have to start somewhere, and you have to make all the mistakes to propel the endeavor to higher levels of achievement.

But I’d posit that the exemption for new effort has expired for this genre. Our readers and their parents have the right to expect expect high-quality illustrations, well-crafted and well-edited text, good paper, durable covers, and the like. Children learn something from every facet of their daily life, and they will notice if the “church” books always look a little shabby next to the secular books.

KEep trying harder!

With no degree programs and only the beginnings of professional development or support for creators of Orthodox children’s books, it may seem presumptive to demand excellence in this field. But still – we should demand it. Any creative process thrives on concentration and persistence. We should be willing to push ourselves, to ask hard questions of our work and welcome honest answers. There’s a temptation to settle for second best, assuming that because there aren’t many Orthodox children’s books, it’s acceptable to put out work that is “at least better than nothing.” We may unconsciously expect that with smaller publishers and a market defined by our faith group, we don’t have to meet the same high standards that would be applied if we were submitting work to Random House or Harper One.

I reject that mindset.

Orthodox publishers in the United States are growing and changing. Higher standards and the ability to be selective are the natural consequence for companies that are thriving. This is an opportunity for sacrifice, or almsgiving. We can give our first fruits to the Lord, a gift that reflects the best of our ability, a gift that is, to the extent possible to a human maker, without blemish.

Giving away signed author copies of books

When your book is published, the publisher sends you a box of author copies. Opening that box is wonderful. Catching a first glimpse of your literary baby incarnated in glorious paper, feeling the cover on your fingertips, hefting that weight on your palm. There it is. Imagination made manifest.

What do you do with your author copies? If you are organized and a good promoter, you post an unboxing video, you run giveaways on your blog (which you pay attention to, unlike the owner of this blog who comes flying in here randomly when inspiration strikes her and forgets all about it for weeks at a time), you send some to the great uncle who always encouraged you to be a writer.

Or you put the box in a safe place on your book shelf, certain you will get back to it in a minute when your life calms down.

But it does not calm down.

This morning, I decided the time had come to send the author copies of my various books out into the world. Books are made to be read. They need to be liberated from my office and begin their happy life on your nightstand.

Therefore, welcome to my Author Copy Book Giveaway. Below I have listed the books I’m giving away, including the number of copies available. I’m happy to sign your book, and I will mail it to you if you live in the contiguous USA. If you live somewhere else, you need to pay shipping.

EXTRA CREDIT if you’ve got a Sunday school, a co-op, or some other special plan for the books!

INCLUDE THE TITLE OF THE BOOK IN YOUR REQUEST!

4 copies

Sam wants to know if animals (especially Saucer!) can speak at midnight on Christmas Eve. Grace and Macrina are competing to write a story, and Elias is losing his patience. Meanwhile, Sister Anna hopes God will rescue her from teaching Sunday school. Christmas is coming, but hearts are full of secrets and frustrations. The Barn and the Book is a story about the traps we build when we try to see in the dark. We tumble into trouble and confusion on our own, but God can steer us clear of our traps and shine His kindly light into our darkness. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 2 of the Sam and Saucer series.

6 copies

What happens when you can’t get away from the person who drives you craziest? Sam and Macrina are about to find out. Stuck working together to help the nuns, Sam and Macrina come up with a thousand reasons to disagree. Sam is too rude. Macrina is too bossy. Summer at the monastery will be miserable if they can’t find some common ground. With the help of three friendly nuns, a runaway bunny, and Saucer the trusty corgi, Macrina and Sam discover a big secret that helps put them on the road toward peace. A chapter book for ages 7-12. Book 3 of the Sam and Saucer series.

0 copies – all taken

Written by a group of friends, ​Seven Holy Women​ is a one-of-a-kind journey into the lives of seven women saints. Each section of the book includes a story from one saint’s life, told vividly and imaginatively in the second person; additional information about the saint to give her context; a reflection on ways the writer, reader, and saint intersect on their journeys; personal surveys for the reader and a friend to complete; and a journal prompt that encourages the reader to explore and document her encounter with themes from the saint’s life. Created as both a deeply personal and enriching communal experience, ​Seven Holy Women​ speaks directly to the reader, drawing her into the lives of seven saints as it invites her to look more closely and lovingly at her own spiritual journey and her friendship with the cloud of witnesses.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Saint Ia Rides a Leaf is a charming story from the life of Saint Ia, an Irish missionary to England in the fifth or sixth century. The town and parish of St Ives in Cornwall, England, are named for her, and she is commemorated on February 3 in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Join Saint Ia and her animal friends on an adventure to spread the Gospel! Board book for littles.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

How can one little peg doll have the power to heal two broken-hearted girls?

What happens when you do the wrong thing for the right reason? In this relatable story of the restorative power of friendship, two girls – Nina, who has everything, and Tabitha, who has almost nothing – find the strength they need to heal from a very sad day with the help of nuns both little and life-sized. Chapter book for ages 8-12.

0 copies – ALL TAKEN

Abigail is happy on the island of Inisheer, but God has other plans for her! An angel asks Abigail to search for nine white deer in the woods across the sea. When she finds them, Abigail will also find the place where God wants her to be. Journey with Abigail as she listens to ONE angel, sails with TWO fishermen, finds THREE deer, then SIX, then more! Count with Abigail all the way to her true home. Board book for littles, about Saint Abigail.

BOOKS FROM OTHER AUTHORS

0 copies – TAKEN

The Song of the Sirin is an epic fantasy retelling of the Russian fairy tale “Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf.” It is written in the tradition of the classic Christian fantasy of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and George MacDonald.

An evil omen clouds the sky. A song of lore returns. Can one man’s quest save the world?

Voran can’t help but believe the rumors. As blight ravages he countryside and darkness covers the sun, the young warrior of Vasylia hears of an ancient spirit that devours souls. He feels powerless to fight the oncoming devastation until an angelic creature entrusts him with a long-forgotten song. Legend has it that such a song can heal the masses, overthrow kingdoms, and raise humans to the divine. . . .

Armed with the memory of the song, Voran must hunt down the dark spirit before it achieves its goal of immortality. His quest takes him through doorways to other worlds and subjects him to ordeals against seductive nymphs and riddling giants. Voran’t journey is a trial—of faith in a world of doubt, love in a world of selfishness, beauty in a world of ugliness.

With each step of the journey, the strength of the villainous spirit grows, as does Voran’s fear that the only way to save his world is to let it be destroyed.

0 copies – TAKEN

Are you looking for a way to keep your family engaged in the true spiritual nourishment Lent has to offer? Tending the Garden of Our Hearts offers family devotions based on the scriptures for each day of Great Lent, including questions to discuss and ponder and an appendix full of hands-on activities to bring the lessons of the season to life. Whether you use it every day or dip into it occasionally as time permits, this book will help the whole family get more out of this crucial season of the Orthodox year.

List of Orthodox Christian Children’s Books

I was thinking of writing an article encouraging homeschool teachers to include at least one Orthodox children’s book in regular language arts curriculum each year. This led to the idea of making a list of children’s books by grade level. And that led to my best effort at compiling a master list of Orthodox Christian children’s books written in English and currently in print.

No doubt I’ve missed some. The world is a big place, and so is the internet. It wouldn’t be hard for a little Orthodox book, or even a little publisher, to escape my notice.

This list will need constant updating if it is to become a lasting and useable resource. But it is at least a beginning.

CLICK TO SEE THE LIST.

The list is housed in a Google spreadsheet. At this writing, there are 182 entries, and I am aware of at least 6 more titles that will release before the end of 2021. That’s a lot of books!

The spreadsheet makes some attempt to include notes on what’s in the books, what they could be used for in a Sunday school or homeschool classroom, or for family reading. That part is very incomplete for the simple reason that I’ve read or even seen only a fraction of these books.

TRENDS I NOTICED

Without reading every book on the list, my insights are limited. Based simply on the covers, blurbs, and other readily available details, I noticed several things.

1 – The number and quality of Orthodox children’s books appear to have increased greatly in the last 10 or so years.

2 – Orthodox children’s literature is largely catechetical.

3 – Fiction is rare.

4 – Books of any kind for older children are rare.

5 – The quality and style of illustrations varies widely.

6 – Board books are relatively new in this market, but they are popular and more are being published.

WHAT I THINK

People want good books to support their children’s faith. The number of newer publishing houses and their offerings suggests an active effort to fill the holes for this market. The larger Orthodox publishers in the United States have expanded and improved their children’s line in the last decade. Also, with the evolution of technology and publishing resources, smaller companies can form and produce professional-quality books for niche markets in ways that were not possible in the past. I saw some books and companies I felt were a direct result of this evolution. This is encouraging. I love to see people spend fruitful effort on what matters to them.

One question kept recurring to me as I worked on the list. How many of these books would a child read spontaneously? Are these books children would choose for themselves? Are we simply producing the kind of book an adult makes you read?

On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with reading books you were told to read because you need to learn the information they contain. This is a healthy life-long discipline we should acquire as children. Every aspect of our spiritual life can sometimes require self-compulsion, and the care and love that has gone into creating the books on this list make them accessible and valuable.

That said, I freely admit I was a child best reached through her imagination. Even as an adult, I often find myself most drawn to things I’ve encountered first in fictional settings. Stories are the way I find and remember meaning.

The books I’ve written for children are all either fiction or creative non-fiction (for example, an incident from the life of Saint Ia, told imaginatively in simple language). I don’t feel qualified to write instructional non-fiction.

I say these things to be clear about my perspective. In my mind, the height of excellence in children’s literature is achieved when some great truth shines directly into a child’s heart through a beautifully crafted, genuinely engaging story. In that context, the distinction between what is and is not Christian literature fades. If you are a Christian wherever you go, you can encounter and ponder your faith in fiction as well as non-fiction.

I know not everyone is like me. I know that many child THRIVE on non-fiction reading. I believe Orthodox children need and want more of every kind of book. When you consider how many secular books a child can read in the course of a childhood, 182 Orthodox books is not many at all.

For my part of the effort, this list urges me to keep working on Orthodox-infused fiction for children. It’s a craft that takes practice. A weak story wobbling under the weight of a catechetical agenda accomplishes little. God grant me strong stories that carry something essential with love and grace.