After featuring Danielle Hitchen’s new project on Monday, I wanted to ask her a few more questions about the counting primer specifically and about more general work that she is doing with Catechesis Books. So in this brief interview, we’ll hear how Danielle (and artist Jessica Blanchard) chose the visuals for the book, selected text excerpts to feature on each page, and more. Remember, if you’re interested in Danielle’s project and want to support it, you can do so via their Kickstarter page.
The first thing that stood out to me as I looked at the proofs is that you’ve made some really interesting choices for the topics you cover. It’s a counting primer board book for very small children, but you’re covering things like the two natures of Christ, three persons in the trinity, etc. How did you decide what things to feature on each page?
As I was outlining the book, I thought a lot about what I wanted my own children to know and understand about God. I wanted to make sure the concepts in the book were actually meaningful. For instance, Abraham had a total of eight sons. That’s not particularly important in the grand scheme of the Christian faith though. Eight Beatitudes are much more theologically and spiritually instructive, for small children and for adults. I love the idea of having a visual point of reference to remind my children that God calls us to be merciful and peacemakers.
At the end of the day, I don’t expect children to come away from the book with a fully-formed theology of the Trinity. The goal is to help kids gain a baseline familiarity with theological vocabulary, and to give parents a jumping off point for conversations about faith issues.
Backing up a little bit, can you talk a bit about why you created this book in the first place? Obviously there are tons of counting primers for kids and no shortage of Christian board books for small children. So what made you want to create one and what makes yours unique?
You’re absolutely right – counting books are ubiquitous for small children. I have at least eight on my daughter’s bookshelf! As I was thinking about the kind of Christian literature I wanted for my young daughter, I knew I wanted more than story Bibles.
It occurred to me that if we teach our kids to count random things like flowers and dogs, we might as well teach them to count meaningful things like Gospels and Beatitudes. Kids have to learn counting anyway, so from where I’m sitting, it just makes sense to attach the counting alongside of spiritually formative concepts. The counting format has the added bonus of helping children to memorize and gain familiarity with the theological and abstract Biblical content presented.
One thing that stands out to me as I look at the proofs of the book is that you’ve clearly taken a lot of time on the visuals with this book. In one sense, that’s not a surprise, I suppose, because visuals are a huge part of any childrens’ book. But I imagine it was much harder to get them right for a book like this because of the concepts you’re trying to explain. Can you talk a little bit about your goals for the art in this book and what kind of priorities you had to balance as you made decisions about the look of the book in general and about particular pages?
From the beginning of this project – almost before there was text! – I knew I wanted this to be a beautiful book. A book about God should be beautiful, because God is beautiful. As a mom, I wanted to make a book that would appeal to both children and parents (especially since children often enjoy reading books on “repeat”).
I teamed up with Jessica Blanchard, a mom and an artist / graphic designer. She’s been a terrific collaborator on this project. We were working with such a diverse range of images, and Jess did a fantastic job of maintaining a coherent aesthetic – clean, calm, simple without being minimalistic. Her choice of colors and textures for the book is age-appropriate without being “kiddie.” I just love her work!
There were a couple of major challenges in illustrating the book. The first is that it’s a counting book so each illustration had to have the right number of countable objects. For instance, we couldn’t depict the 10 Commandments on two stone tablets – we needed ten objects to represent the commandments that children can count. So we ended up with ten scrolls each with a Hebrew numeral (1-10) on the scroll.
The second challenge was not being heretical in our visual representation of the theological content (especially one God, two natures of Jesus, and three persons of the Trinity). Illustrating the two natures of Jesus was, by far, the most difficult – we didn’t want two figures of Jesus and we didn’t want Jesus to be “half and half,” but we needed two things to count to represent Jesus being fully God and fully man.
The third challenge was having to come up with images for abstract content, like the eight Beatitudes, which could be represented in any number of ways. I actually love how that page turned out – each virtue is represented by a flower receiving water (a blessing) from heaven. The 10 Commandments falls in this category as well as the four Gospels, five books of the Pentateuch, and nine fruits of the Spirit.
One of the other charms of the book is the way you’ve chosen texts from scripture, church history, and classic hymns to illustrate the ideas you’re talking about. So you’re not just introducing an idea, you’re introducing biblical texts, figures from church history, and songs we use in public worship to introduce the idea. How did you choose what texts to use?
The answer to this question largely depends on the page! In general, I tried to choose texts which best encapsulated the concept in a concise and precise way. Because this book is also intended to be “merely Christian” and not denominationally affiliated, I also chose texts which are appreciated across a variety of theological traditions. One additional goal in choosing texts was to expose children (and maybe some parents!) to the variety and richness of Christian thinking available to instruct us.
Two of my favorite quotations in Bible Basics are the lines from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and a prayer written by St. Augustine – both demonstrate a profound understanding of scripture and theology, and offer that understanding back to the reader in a way which is both beautiful and accessible.
This is the first project for Catechesis Books. Can you talk about any other projects you are working on?
Jess Blanchard and I are in the early stages of production for a second Baby Believer Primer. For now, the primary project for Catechesis Books is building out that series. We hope to do a number of additional concept books which introduce kids to scripture and basic theology. Eventually, I’d love for Catechesis Books to grow into a company which produces content for adults as well.