Christian Heroes for Children by Kathie Johnson

Christian Heroes for Children

In my last column, I described a number of books about saints. Now I want to turn to books about other Christians. These will mostly be Protestants, as that is the world I live in.

I'll start with a set of small books that I have picked up over time. When a library patron asked for books about Christians that might provide models for a fairly young child, I gave her one of these. She liked it so much that I looked for others and discovered I had quite a few. They were big hits. They are from the "Christian Heroes" or "Stories About Christian Heroes" series put out by Winston Press. Each book is 30 pages long, with more pictures than words, except for a full-page biography at the end. Subjects include John Bosco, Philip Neri, Edith Cavell, Wilfred Grenfell, Elizabeth Seton, Mary Bethune, and others.

Next are books about Christian thinkers and writers. John Bunyan is a favorite of mine, as we retraced some of his steps when we visited his part of England, including where he was imprisoned. The biography I have of John Bunyan is for the better reader. It's William Deal's A Pilgrim Who Made Progress (also titled John Bunyan, the Tinker of Bedford). There's also a biography of Bunyan's daughter by Wendy Lawton, called The Tinker's Daughter. It's part of a series called "Daughters of the Faith."

For Martin Luther, there are several choices. The biography by May McNeer is probably the simplest, with pictures on most pages, but there are also Luther the Leader by Virgil Robinson, Thunderstorm in the Church by Louis A. Vernon, and The Monk Who Shook the World by Cyril Davey.

Greenleaf Press has published biographies by Joyce McPherson of Blaise Pascal (A Piece of the Mountain), John Calvin (The River of Grace) and Sir Isaac Newton (The Ocean of Truth). The pages are uncrowded, and there are a few pictures. The text contains lively dialogue and interesting stories. Another biography of Newton with a Christian slant is by John Hudson Tiner (Isaac Newton: Inventor, Scientist, and Teacher); it has lovely soft line drawings on some pages.

Catherine Swift's biographies of John Newton (The Man Who Found Amazing Grace) and C. S. Lewis from the "Men of Faith" series, are both a readable length for good readers, about 120 pages, but without illustrations. Other good biographies of these men are Kay Marshall Strom's Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, and Beatrice Gormley's C. S. Lewis: The Man Behind Narnia. The latter contains photographs on nearly every page, which enliven the text.

Spreading the Bible

Then there are books about the spreading of the Bible. There are several books about Gutenberg. Joann Burch's Fine Print is 60 pages, with fairly large print and ink drawings. Leonard Everett Fisher has done his usual fine job with Gutenberg—more pictures than words, offering a good sense of what the early presses were like. Brian Koscielniak's Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press is a color picture book that covers the history of paper and printing in brief form, though there's not much mention of the Bible in this one.

Louis A. Vernon has written a number of fine Christian biographies. One of them is The Man Who Laid the Egg, about Erasmus, who encouraged people to read the Bible for themselves. The Hawk That Dare Not Hunt by Day" is historical fiction by Scott O'Dell based on the life of William Tyndale, who risked his life to get the Bible into the hands of ordinary Christians in England.

Missionaries & Workers

Finally, there are the missionaries and other Christian workers. There are many fine series that cover these. A good one for younger readers is "Heroes for Young Readers" by Renee Taft Meloche and published by YWAM. Each book is about 30 pages long and filled with colorful pictures and rhyming stories. Some of the many people included in this series are Cameron Townsend, Eric Liddell, George Müller, Ida Scudder, Jim Elliot, and Mary Slessor.

A series for the older reader is "Trailblazer Books," from Bethany House, by Dave and Neta Jackson. These are stories about famous Christians, told in a fictionalized style, about 150 pages each with few pictures. They are engaging to read and help a child understand the time and place depicted by including a child in each story. The series includes stories about Dwight L. Moody, Nate Saint, John Wesley, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, Festo Kivengere, and many more.

The series "Christian Heroes: Then and Now" is by Janet and Geoff Benge. These books are a more "grown-up" version of the "Heroes for Young Readers" set. They also are published by YWAM and include most of the same missionaries and others as the books for the younger set, including Adoniram Judson, Betty Greene, Sunday Singh, Hudson Taylor, and Gladys Aylward, to mention a few more names. These books are about 200 pages long, without pictures, but are written in an engaging style that will absorb the good reader.

Still another series is "Heroes of the Faith." There are probably more than one series with this title, as some of the books I have are published by Barbour and others by Word. Some of the people included are Corrie Ten Boom (Paint the Prisons Bright), Gladys Aylward, Billy Graham, and Samuel Morris. These books range from 80 to 200 pages and don't have pictures.

Things to Learn

What can children learn from reading about these people? At the very least, they can learn about how much work it took to spread the gospel to all the world. They can learn about how people have lived out their faith. They can learn about times and places other than their own. But in addition, they can learn some wonderful, specific lessons. From Corrie ten Boom, they can learn about overcoming hardships and the power of forgiveness. From Adoniram and Ann Judson (missionaries in Burma), they can learn what it means to deal with false accusations and about learning to trust. From Gladys Aylward (a missionary to China), they can learn about persistence and determination in the face of dire circumstances.

From Isaac Newton they can learn that a great scientist can believe (and should believe) in God as creator. From Jim Elliot (missionary in the Amazon) they can learn about sacrifice and its power. From Betty Greene (who helped start Mission Aviation Fellowship) they can learn how a person can turn a personal dream into something wonderful for God. From George Müller (who built orphanages in England), they can learn what it means to rely fully upon God. There are many more people to learn about and many more lessons that can be learned. But this is a start. 

Kathie Johnson has always had a love for children's books. She collected many as a teacher and began sharing them with other teachers. In 1986, she opened a children's library in her home, and it has continued to expand over the years. Many home-schooled and schooled children borrow books from it, and she takes great pleasure in finding the "right" book for a child. She attends First Presbyterian Church in Berkeley.

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