Interview with the author and the illustrator of Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer, another Baby Believer Book
My second time interviewing author Danielle Hitchen and illustrator Jessica Blanchard left me feeling the same as the first. When will I get to meet these two in person and talk for hours about how beautiful words and art are formational, even with toddlers?
The last time I talked with Danielle and Jess, they were working on a Kickstarter campaign to launch a book independently: Bible Basics: A Baby Believer Counting Primer. Since then, Harvest House Publishers has approached them and acquired Bible Basics and changed its title to First Bible Basics. They hear often from people, who, according to Danielle, tell them that “their faith has been renewed or deepened” from reading First Bible Basics to their children. Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer, just released, may have a similar influence. The text below has been edited for coherence and brevity with permission from Danielle and Jessica.
Why did you choose the Psalms?
Danielle: We had a couple options for our second book, but this one seemed like a really sweet companion to First Bible Basics. We felt like it was important for children to know that their bodies were created by God, that God has sovereignty over them, that bodies are part of worshiping God. And the Psalms are the prayer book of God’s people; they seem like the sort of thing that children should know and be familiar with, and internalize early in their life.
Jess: I just love Danielle’s vision for this book. What better way is there to engage kids in Scripture than to have them move around? They can associate these joyful movements with Scripture and have that be something that they’ll carry with them throughout their lives. Just reading the book to my children and not even trying to get them to memorize the Scripture, they’ve already practically memorized the whole thing. And, going along with First Bible Basics, it’s been powerful to put these truths into their minds and hearts.
How did you decide what you would do in the book to represent the Psalms? Did you look at different Psalms? How did this process work for you?
Danielle: I was inspired by a summer series on the Psalms that my pastor was doing. He gave his final sermon of the series on Psalm 150, about all the different instruments used to praise God and how we are all different things used to praise God. Sometimes, some of us are clashing cymbals, and sometime we are things that are more subtle, but they all work together to be part of the body of Christ.
So, that got me thinking about ways we worship. Worship is full of movement, and worship is full of noise. And I wanted a way to convey that to children. Once I started thinking seriously about the Psalms, it seemed like movement was the natural thing to map onto the Psalms for children. So many of the Psalms we sing regularly within worship—especially thinking of Psalm 95—“O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before our Lord and Maker.” This is something that kids need to know. We kneel as a part of worship. But, we can also run, we can also dance, we can also lie down at peace.
One of the things we did with the book is design it to move in sort of an arc: from calm to excited to calm again. You start with kneeling, and then it moves upward to clap, dance, and jump. And then it slides back down to the final pages, which are sit, still, and lie down. We hoped it would be a fine enough bedtime book for kids to get their last wiggles out, and then you end with lie down so that they’re nice and calm.
Jess, explain to me how you decided on the illustrations.
Jess: We started with some ideas that would maybe make it a little more abstract, kind of hinting at forms and states, hinting at the movement but not being quite as literal as we ended up with. But then we realized we really wanted the kids to see themselves in the book.
When we moved to actually deciding to illustrate the children doing the movement, the other consideration was including different races and gender in equal measure. At first we thought we’d make the kids outlines of the child with their faces, but maybe not having any skin tones, to be more inclusive.
But then, the more we were working on that approach, I really started feeling this nudge from the Holy Spirit. God created us with skin tones. He created us each to be a different color, and that is beautiful. I felt so strongly, after going the other direction, that we should include skin tone, and Danielle agreed. We tried to include a variety of skin tones and an equal number of boys and girls, so that kids could really see themselves [in the book].
It’s been really fun. My children see themselves in the kids. They’ll point to the children in the book and say, “That’s me, Mommy!” It’s really sweet. We wanted to have a colorful but calm background for each one, so we used a watercolor approach, a little softer than First Bible Basics, which was shape oriented.
What are your hopes for this book? Who are you hoping to reach to with it? What are you imagining right now?
Danielle: In one sense, I don’t have many expectations for Psalms of Praise, because God will do with it what he will. This is a book about his people, and his Word, and the way he created us and made us, and I hope that he will put it in the hands of the people who need it the most. I don’t know exactly what that looks like at this point.
I do sincerely hope for other parents who just want Scripture-based books that are appropriate for their young children, that they will enjoy this; that their children will begin to memorize the Psalms; that perhaps it will renew parents’ own interest in, and love for, the Psalms. It’s really renewed mine in its own way. I’ve loved just going through this text and reading the Scriptures over and over again, thinking about the Gospel truths that they communicate.
One thing I’ve really loved in reading this book to my own children is my daughter memorizing the first page. I’ll say, “I praise you,” and she shouts, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made!” It’s just such a joy to hear her know that about herself, and I hope this is something that stays with her and becomes an integral part of her identity for the rest of her life.
Along with being a mother to two young and remarkably different daughters, Heather Walker Peterson is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and Chair of the Department of English and Literature at University of Northwestern-Saint Paul.