Episode 132: Interview with Dennis Conrad and the Importance of “In God We Trust”

In this episode we talk with Dennis Conrad, author of the new “In God We Trust” Series of books. His first book is a great story of faith from the Civil War era about the Two Cent Piece coin.

Our Guest: Dennis Conrad

Dennis began writing stories for children in 2007. Over the years, he and his wife have entertained their 11 nieces and nephews. Having taught high school through university and around the world, he’s helped many to see God in their lives.

In September 2021, Dennis signed a contract for his seven-book In God We Trust Series of children’s picture books with Elk Lake Publishing, Inc. The first book in the series, The Two-Cent Piecebecame a #1 New Release on Amazon for Children’s 1800s American Historical Fiction.

Dennis is a retired Professor of Speech Communications from Barstow Community College where he taught public speaking and English.

Dennis is active in the writing community. He served on the Board of Directors of the Diamond Valley Writers’ Guild.

For decades, Dennis has studied the craft of writing at well over a dozen local and national Christian writers’ conferences and retreats.

Dennis is represented by Rev. Dr. Sharon Norris Elliott of AuthorizeMe Literary Firm, LLC.

Dennis has written Free Resources for teaching children how to start their first coin collection. He has two packets. One for Ages 5 and 6, and the other is for Ages 7 and Up. Or get both. My First Coin Collection.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books That Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that help us with everyday discipleship, every day, sparking important conversations with our children. Today we have a very special guest, Dennis Conrad is with us today, and he has written a wonderful book called The Two-Cent Piece, which is a historical picture book based on the Civil War and the two cent piece coin, which was the first one to have in God we trust, written on it. I’m so glad he is here with us today. Thank you, Dennis, for joining us.

Dennis:

I’m excited to be here. How are you doing?

Terrie:

Oh, I’m doing great. Thank you for asking. I am so jealous, no- is it okay to admit that I have never interviewed someone who has a seven-book contract out of the gate? That’s unbelievable. I’m so excited for you. Well, let’s start with the book that’s already been published and is out, it’s really exciting. Tell us about your first book and then tell us about some of the other books that are going to be in the series.

Dennis:

Great. My first book is The Two-Cent Piece, and it is the story of Anne, who’s a coin collector, and she wants to keep her coins until she finds out that her brothers are going off to the Civil War, need the coins to encourage their faith and also just to reinforce their trust in God. There’s another little boy who comes along. She prays about it and gives him one of the coins, and then it is what happens to the brothers and the coins, that is the rest of the story. This is the first book in the In God We Trust series coming from Elk Lake Publishing. I am very excited too, to have a seven-book contract and they’re all going to allow parents to have the salvation conversation with the next generation.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s wonderful. So what first caused them to put in God we trust on the coinage?

Dennis:

Well, there was a lot of religious sentiment during the Civil War on both sides of the conflict. And the north decided that there were some people who decided to advance the idea of putting in God we trust, and Lincoln was behind that, and fortunately it does come to pass in 1864. And ultimately those coins remained in circulation after the Civil War and they were issued and they ended up being, in some ways, a unifying force with the country after the end of the Civil War.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s pretty cool. So each of your books, are they going to be about different coins?

Dennis:

Well, they’re all about coins, yes. And they are about different coins. And for example, the next one that I’m working on is called Bible Coins. That’s the tentative title, and it is dealing with the different coins that we see appear in the Bible. For example, Jesus sees the poor widow, she donates the small copper coins, and I actually have one and it’s called a Widow’s Mite today because of that donation, and I’ll just tell you that it is the size of a person’s fingernail. Those coins, they’re, for example, when I’m working with the illustrator, I’ll have to let them know that they’re not all the same. We have round coins today and they’re very precise and they’re all the same, but back then, if it was a piece of copper and they stamped that it would work for a Widow’s Mite.

Terrie:

Wow, that’s so interesting, I didn’t know that. So one of the things when I read the book and was looking at the back matter, you have a lot of information for parents and how to get involved with coin collecting, and I thought, with homeschoolers, how interesting that would be to make it part of your history lessons to bring in coins and talk about the people on the coins, the history of coins, and bring in all the other history around it. Do you have any suggestions for homeschooling parents and how they could really make this something meaningful for their children? And like you said, even allowing them to bring in the gospel?

Dennis:

Yeah. Homeschooling parents, teachers, I have resources on my website and the website actually has a couple of alternatives here. I have ages five and six, and a packet for ages seven and up, a person can also get both. I have a sheet of paper for each that talks about simple coin collecting strategies. For example, there’s a nickel that was issued in 2005 that has a profile of Thomas Jefferson, and then the others have a little different type of view of his face. So even having five years old, six year old young children find the two different kinds and start to notice the different kinds, really gives them the whole flavor of starting to collect coins. Another example is take five pennies, but the oldest most worn on one side and the newest, brightest one on the other side, and it starts to give the idea, I don’t talk about it this way, but it is the idea of grading and starting to rank, and it gives the idea of critical thinking skills at a very basic level. For the seven and up I have draw your own coin in a crossword puzzle, those kinds of things, so a person can actually get both. They sign up for my newsletter easily, and then they’re going to go ahead and get that information that’ll allow them to have both five and six and seven and up, and they can put that in a little binder, or a teacher could distribute those to the class and go through that information. Very exciting for kids, and it’s also wonderful for families if a grandparent wanted to go ahead and bond with their children, that would allow them to do that.

Terrie:

Yeah, and you also mentioned some math activities, so there’s just so many great things we can do just to jump off from the story and make some really meaningful lessons for children. The sorting and counting… Yeah, the sorting and counting.

Dennis:

Yeah. They start to also get the whole idea of monetary values. Some coins have just a face value, and then others are a little bit more valuable, so they start to look for rarer coins and that gives them the whole idea and opens a whole world to them.

Terrie:

That’s great. Now I do want to talk a bit about you and your wife, and the work you have done in the past overseas and how that has all transpired in your lives to give back to the community to help people with learning English and missions and all of that. Tell us a little bit about your adventures you’ve had.

Dennis:

I will. God opened doors and every opportunity I walked through and really feel that we were led in many ways to do things. We were both community college professors, we taught speech. I taught also English at the college level, and one of the things that happened to us is we were invited to travel five summers to Kazakhstan, Central Asia. We went twice to South Korea and then we went three times to China. Now, we were not missionaries per se, we were Christian professionals as opposed to a professional Christian, like a pastor. So the doors opened for us because we were teachers and we got into places where other people could not go, but of course, if someone ever asked us a question, and I’ll give you a perfect example, and it relates to coins. I was walking in a zoo and there was a young boy who’s with his dad, and they were on this little excursion with us as a team, and the little boy finds a coin and he asks his dad and he gives me the coin. Well, I’m excited, but I reach into my pocket because I have a bunch of American money in my pocket, and I give him the change, and a few minutes later the father comes over and says, why do you have “in God we trust” on your coins?

Terrie:

Oh my goodness.

Dennis:

And so the door opens up, the Lord did that on so many occasions. There were conversations that we would have that were divine appointments. We knew it, and we just would accept that there was an opportunity there to really allow for us to be there as teachers, as credible professionals, to be able to just have opportunities to share.

Terrie:

That’s so amazing. I love how God does that.

Dennis:

Yeah.

Terrie:

Well you used to be an avid coin collector and you stopped. What is the story behind that?

Dennis:

I’ll start to let you know that I started when I was 10 years old. A man gave me a couple of V nickels and those are the nickels before even the buffalo nickels, some are very valuable today, but the ones he gave me were well worn and not worth very much, but that was my first introduction to coin collecting. And this is my dad’s friend, he invites us to the LA Coin Club. And for a decade I was involved in going every month to hear a speaker talk about coins. I had an opportunity to really attend auctions and started to accumulate quite a collection at that point. Well, then I got to work for a professional coin dealer and did that for a short period of time, but over the years I would visit coin shops and go ahead and stop in and pick up some more for my collection.

Dennis:

Well, my wife over the years had been asking me, why don’t you sell your collection? And finally, she’s about to retire in 2013 and she says, “Dennis, why don’t you sell your collection?” I said, “No, I love my collection and I’m not going to sell it.” And that is when I heard God’s still, small voice say, “Your coins have become an idol, sell your collection,” and I had to be obedient to that. It took me a while, I’ll be honest, but I kept asking God if this was the right decision. I sold them at the top of the market and I used the proceeds, now there was quite a collection there, so there was some cash involved, but then I used all of that to pay down the mortgage on our house, so we had no mortgage. And imagine 2013 to present day, no mortgage, figuring maybe a thousand a month or something like that. Well, it’s a hundred thousand dollars that my collection ended up providing for my wife.

Terrie:

That’s amazing. Wow, what a testimony to obedience to Christ, that’s wonderful. I know that you started writing at a very young age, according to your website, you were nine years old when you wrote your first story. Tell us about that.

Dennis:

Yeah. I’d say I got to write my first book and I’m kind of doing that tongue in cheek, but a book has a cover and it has a back cover and it has some pages in between. Well, my parents had grown up milking cows in rural Kansas. We were living in Los Angeles at the time, so it’s big city and you don’t get much exposure to farm life, and my parents decided to take me out to go to a farm. And we ended up seeing cows and calf, and when I got home, I drew a picture of a Guernsey cow and I ended up writing the cow at the top of a couple of lines, and I wrote out a story eight lines and signed my name. Imagine this, that cow, I still have it, I’m looking at it right now in my office, and it was evidence, I found it out in the garage a number of years ago and I said, there’s evidence that I was a writer as a kid. And so, because it has glass and it has the back cover, I can say that I wrote my first book when I was just nine years old.

Terrie:

That’s pretty cool. Yeah, I wrote a book when I was in second grade. Actually, I drew a book, it was bunches of pictures of birds, all the different birds. I was obsessed with birds, and I made a really thick little book of birds. But I don’t think I wrote a story at that point. I was into poetry in second grade.

Dennis:

Wow, I’m excited that you love birds. They’re fascinating to me. I like that.

Terrie:

They’re just so beautiful, and the colors, I’m just in awe of God’s creativity when I look at birds. So, okay, now you say that you believe reading not only changes lives, but reading can also save lives. So I have to know what you mean by that.

Dennis:

Well, I’ll start with my story. I was a slow reader and I was in the elementary school era and I was always in the third reading group, and that was the one that was the lowest in the fifth grade. A teacher asked me, have you ever had your eyes checked? And that was a life-changing event because my mom took me down, I got glasses and then I could see the board and life opened up, and within a few years, I actually won a full ride scholarship to the University of Kansas for a debate institute between my junior and senior year of high school. That would’ve never happened, had I not been able to see well. So I have a phrase that I’ve shared with everybody, and that is “Be wise, check their eyes” for parents and grandparents and anyone to just go ahead and make sure that there’s good vision for children. If you can imagine, life changes for me, but I also have a friend, Rich, he was in the 10th grade when he could not see the board, and he gets glasses, he’s studying college level subjects in the 11th and 12th grade. A friend of mine, Patricia, she would look at trees and see gloves, and then once she got her glasses, she could see the leaves. It was eye-opening for her when she was 30 years old and she had visual impairment, and still to this day, she’s relying on her glasses. But I’ve had some other friends who’ve had really difficult times. And when this one lady was sharing, the one thing that saved her life was reading, because it was a portal to a new world, she got a chance to see other things outside of where she was and start to get a vision for who she could become, and went on to be involved in other kinds of activities with kids and stuff. So that can save lives, that can change lives, that can be at a point where a person, if they’re wise, they can check their eyes.

Terrie:

That’s good. Yeah, I had a student one of my first years teaching in kindergarten, and she was cheating all the time, you know, looking at her neighbor’s paper when we would do these little quizzes where I’d say, draw a blue triangle to practice their shapes and colors, and she would look at her neighbors and then draw the picture, and it never dawned on me that she might have some problems. Well, it turned out she had visual problems, hearing problems, she was adopted and I guess she had a really rough time as a baby, and so she had all these impairments that we did not realize at first. And once those were taken care of, of course her behavior improved. Her grades improved and she did great from then on. Sometimes we just don’t recognize that’s what’s going on with children, and my cousin was the same way. She had such bad vision and she was a troublemaker in kindergarten. She got kicked out of kindergarten because she was such a troublemaker and always because she couldn’t see. And once they got her glasses, she was like, oh my goodness. And the same thing, trees have leaves, license plates have numbers, she didn’t see any of those things before. So I think a lot of times as a teacher now when I have a student with behavior problems, I start to look at is there something else, visual or auditory going on? And they’re just reacting and compensating the best way they know how can make a huge, huge difference in their lives. So in your book, the Two-Cent Piece, there’s a point where a coin saves a person’s life, literally. Did that really happen? Is that based on a true story?

Dennis:

Initially, it was based on my understanding that had happened during World War I and a number of other periods. But there actually is a story of a coin that saved a man’s life during the Civil War it’s a little bit thicker coin, but that goes back to a man who was a submariner and he told the story and he ended up getting in a submarine, and when they found the remains of the submarine, they realized there, they found the coin and it had a dent in it. So that is based on after the fact, realizing that there was a coin that actually saved a man’s life during the Civil War.

Terrie:

That’s so cool. So you do a lot of historical research for your books. Can you give our audience some ideas as parents, how we can help our children to do good research?

Dennis:

I can, and I’ll just let you know that you can go to a number of different sources. You can go to books, you can go to people, and you can go to media. And let me just give you this example, my illustrator did a lot of research to make sure that she was getting the clothing right, and the different kinds of colors right. Then I verified with a man that I knew and he had been a collector of Civil War memorabilia for years. He actually got to the point where he could donate his entire collection to a museum and they set up a room with all of his things that he had collected. Now his expertise provided some extra insight when I was checking things, the other thing we talked about was the historical accuracy of the coins. I was getting very specific about the coins that appear in the book, and you can see them when a person gets the book, but those coins are accurate to the point that I could get them. I got that information from the Red Book and gave some examples of pictures too, and the Red Book is a standard in coin collecting if a person wants to get that book. And that gave my illustrator the kinds of ability to take dates and everything and get them exactly accurate. So to encourage children to research, realize there are a lot of options, especially with media today, and it gives children an opportunity to really start to think they can be effective researchers, even with small things about coins, because people start to want to learn about the history they might want to learn about the symbols on coins. They want to learn, for example, the state quarters. They can learn all about the location on a map of where those quarters are from. Wonderful opportunities for research, again, for homeschoolers and for teachers who want to teach some of these very basic skills that are going to last a lifetime.

Terrie:

Yeah, and I think it helps History come to life, makes history so much more interesting when you dig in and find out all these fun facts that you didn’t know just from the surface of learning dates and times and people. I just always loved that. That’s why I like reading biographies too, cause you find out the details of a person’s life and it makes them more real to us as we’re researching them and learning about them. So I think, yeah, like you said, whether they’re teachers or homeschoolers, this can really help students to become more excited and enthusiastic about learning, and that’s cool. All right, can you think of anything else I need to mention that I haven’t?

Dennis:

Well, I just mentioned that in my book. I call it the read aloud bonus, and it’s one of the things that I mentioned right at the beginning of the material in the back of the book, and that is, as a child is being read to, parents will oftentimes do this, they’ll leave out a word or two, and that can happen with the words in God we trust. Okay, the other is there are three bible verses in my story. And for example, Acts 20:35, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.” And so there is a chance for the children to start to get a way to learn and start to memorize scripture too. So those are some ways that can be helpful for parents to just be, again, getting that conversation going. That’ll allow the parent there. And I’ll just say the last thing is, again, my website is DennisConradAuthor.com, and the free resources button allows a person to go ahead and check that.

Terrie:

So I appreciate you taking the time. And for my listeners, yes, I will have the links to the Red Book, to Dennis’s website, and when you get the book, he does, he provides a lot of back matter that is very educational and helpful to us as parents and teachers and will help our children to just enjoy experiencing the book, not just reading it, but really getting into the topic of coin collecting and the history of the Civil War and everything else. And of course, the most important thing, sharing the gospel and memorizing scripture. I just love that your book is so multifaceted in that way and hits on so many good things for parents and for teachers. Well, thank you so much for being with us today.

Dennis:

I’m glad that I was able to meet with you again and just really enjoyed this time. Thank you so much, Terrie.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books That Spark,” where we encourage each other to live out every day discipleship, helping to equip our children to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you enjoyed this episode, please like and share on social media. You can also comment on my website where it says podcast transcripts. You can comment below the podcast blog at terriehellardbrown.com. If you would like to get in contact with Dennis, you can reach him at DennisConradAuthor.com. And on his website, he also offers several free items to help with teachers and homeschool parents to have ideas of how to use his book and the topic it covers to help our children enjoy history and coin collecting and all that, as well as scripture memory and the gospel. We will be looking for more books from Dennis as he has a seven-book contract. So he’s got a lot of new books coming out in the future and we will probably talk to him again at that point. I’m excited to announce that we are also giving away Dennis’s first book, The Two-Cent Piece in God We Trust Series, and we will be giving away one copy of his book. And the way you can enter the drawing is to simply go to our podcast blog at terriehellardbrown.com, and just make a comment. You can ask a question, you can comment on the podcast, you can comment on the book if you’ve read it, and we will draw one of the names from the comments and that person will win the book. So please go to terriehellardbrown.com under the podcast transcripts and comment on this episode. We’d love to hear from you. We respond to every question and comment here at “Books that Spark,” we really pray that you feel empowered as a parent or caregiver to walk by faith and to embrace everyday discipleship every day with the children in your life.

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

4 thoughts on “Episode 132: Interview with Dennis Conrad and the Importance of “In God We Trust””

  1. Louise Johnson

    This sounds exciting for Christian homeschooling! Please enter me in the giveaway!! Thanks! 😊

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