Episode 58 – Interview with Danielle Hitchen, Author of Baby Believer Series

In this episode I talk with Danielle Hitchen, author of the Baby Believer series of board books and founder of Catechesis Books. We discuss starting discipling our children from the time they are babies. 

Our Guest: Danielle Hitchen

Danielle Hitchen founded Catechesis Books in 2016 in order to build out a collection of biblical and theological resources for little ones. She desires to create beautiful books to help parents have better faith conversations with their children. She is the mom of three sweet kids. Her children are her primary inspiration for writing and publishing the Baby Believer Primer series.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript:

Terrie:

Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. This week, we have a special guest, Danielle Hitchen. Danielle founded Catechesis Books in 2016 in hopes of creating beautiful books to help parents have better faith conversations with their children. To date she’s published seven books, the Baby Believer Primers and loves partnering with parents to share the love of Jesus and the glory of God with their little ones. Thank you, Danielle, for joining us today.

Danielle:

Thank you so much for having me, Terrie.

Terrie:

Well, I’m very excited to talk with you. First of all, just tell us a little bit about what led you to create these books and to start your own company.

Danielle:

Yeah. So, back in 2015 somebody asked me what I was doing about the spiritual development of my oldest daughter, who was then only 18 months old. And it was like, uh, keeping her alive. You know, am I supposed to be doing something for an 18 month old? And I have the series of books that I really loved and still enjoy with my children called The Baby Lit Primers which take classic literature, you know, Jane Austin or Tolstoy or Homer, and reformat those stories into primer style books. And so that was just a really fun way to start to give my kids some familiarity with the characters of classic literature. And so I said to my friend, “Oh, you know what, somebody should make baby lit books, but with theology.” And kind of laughed it off. And then that idea just didn’t let me go. And I thought, “Well, surely somebody has had this idea already–primer-style, you know, Bible books. That’s a great idea. And I started looking around, and I couldn’t find anything. And I dug really deep because I was really hoping to find something. And at the end of the day, I was like, you know, what if there’s nothing out there, I bet I can write these books. So I sat down and drafted a few manuscripts and started researching the publishing process and ultimately decided that I wanted to have creative control over my work, which meant self publishing and, you know, starting my own company. So we Kickstarter-funded our first book back in 2016, and the rest is kind of history. We ended up partnering with Harvest House Publishers after that first Kickstarter book. And we haven’t looked back.

Terrie:

That’s awesome. And you now have seven books.

Danielle:

Yes. We have seven books out. We have a book being released in October.

Terrie:

You’re talking about your 18 month old. When do you suggest that parents really start teaching their children theology?

Danielle:

Well, in one sense, you are always teaching your children theology, right? From the moment they’re born. Children are spiritual beings because they’re humans, humans are spiritual beings and they are constantly absorbing messages about religion and spirituality and theology and the same way that they’re absorbing information about language. You know, they see you pray. They notice that you take them to church. They hear the songs that you sing to them. They hear the ways that you talk with your spouse or with your other children, and all of those send signals that play a part in the spiritual development of a child. If we’re talking about a formal, like catechism or teaching time, I honestly think that you can also begin that from their earliest days. And you know, when my daughter was two, this was right around the time that my first book First Bible Basics was published. We were reading that book a lot to her. And at Christmas time she picked up baby Jesus in the manger, and she was like, “Baby Jesus, fully God, fully man.” And we were like, “Yes, that’s exactly right.” Now at two, can she explain the incarnation to you? No, but she’s starting to build the basic vocabulary of what it means that Jesus came from heaven, took on flesh, and became one of us. And that’s really the point of the work that I’m doing is to start to give families the building blocks, the foundations, for having deeper and richer faith conversations.

Terrie:

That’s great. On the website, I noticed you offer books and flashcards. How would you encourage parents to best use these resources?

Danielle:

So, I mean reading books to kids, I think that one is fairly obvious probably to anybody who listens to your podcast. Kids learn so wonderfully well in the laps of their parents, and pick up so much just by reading and rehearsing these stories and concepts over and over again. In terms of the flashcards, every family might use those a little bit differently. I personally find that that kind of material is best engaged while my children’s hands or mouths are otherwise engaged. So over a meal is a great way to work on memorization projects like the Lord’s prayer or the Apostle’s creed. I would suggest hanging them or displaying them in your home somewhere with regularity so that your kids can see them and ask questions about them and touch and feel them. And yeah, I would just say experiment with the flashcards and see what works best for your family.

Terrie:

Okay. That’s good. So can we go through each of the titles of the books you have out and the one that’s coming out soon and just let our listeners know a little bit about each one?

Danielle:

Yes, absolutely. So my first book is First Bible Basics: A Counting Primer. This one counts one through ten and talks about some basic theological concepts. So, one God, two natures of Jesus–fully God and fully man, three persons of the Trinity all the way up through the nine fruits of the spirit and the 10 commandments. Our second book is Psalms of Praise: A Movement Primer. The text of this one is entirely taken from the Psalms, and it talks about different ways that we can use our bodies to praise God from kneeling, to jumping and dancing, to sitting in stillness. The book ends with lie down. So it’s a really sweet bedtime read if you’re looking to help your children calm their bodies. Our third book is Let There Be Light: An Opposites Primer. This walks through the story of creation beginning with quiet and loud, God speaking, and then ending with work. And our fourth book is From Eden to Bethlehem: An Animals Primer. And this one walks through many of the old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah using animals as a rubric. So we start with the snake in the garden and the ram at the sacrifice of Isaac and several of the passages from Isaiah–the peaceable kingdom passage: the wolf shall lie down with the lamb and so forth. And then we jumped to the Christmas stories of the donkey that Mary rides on all the way up through the camels at the adoration of the wise men. Our fifth book is Holy Week: An Emotions Primer, which walks through the story of Jesus’s last week from Palm Sunday through the resurrection using emotions to help kids understand the various parts of the story. So Palm Sunday is excited. Jesus and the Garden of Gethsemane is overwhelmed. The crucifixion, the Roman soldiers are scared. And then of course they’re surprise at the tomb and joy at the resurrection. Our sixth book is Jesus Heals: An Anatomy Primer. This book goes through the many healing miracles of Jesus and the ways that he cares for people’s bodies. So we look at healing the blind man; look at eyes. We look at the deaf and mute man; talk about how Jesus heals mouth and ears. And then all the way through to the fact that Jesus carried our sins in his body so that we would be healed from our sin. We have all experienced the ultimate healing miracle in that healing from sin. It’s a really sweet one. And it’s really joyful. And the longer it’s been since I published it, the more families I get who talk to me about really hard things that their kids are dealing with: childhood cancer or major injuries, illnesses, and parents. And this is a booklets become a go-to, which I never expected, but it’s been such an honor to know that this book has offered encouragement to families walking through these really hard situations.

Terrie:

It’s amazing.

Danielle:

Our seventh book is We Believe: An Alphabet Primer. And this is of course an ABC’s book, which goes through, again, a lot of basic theology. A is for Ascension, B is for baptism, C is for church, D is for disciple. And, there’s a good amount of language from both the Apostles and the Nicene Creed in this book, which is where the title We Believe comes from. But there’s also probably two thirds scripture as well. And some hymnity is quoted too. And then our eighth book, which is coming out in October of 2021, is called Our God: A Shapes Primer. And this is a book about how we see God manifest in his creation. And then the things that we see all around us, our God is like a strong tower. So that’s similar to a rectangle. Our God us the rock eternal. It looks like a circle. And just trying to go through several of the attributes about who God is and relating those to shapes so that kids can get some handholds on the character of God in a way that they understood.

Terrie:

I love these books. I just think it’s such a great, you know, jumping off point with children. Like the Jewish tradition, they start when children are babies, teaching them and talking about the scripture, talking about their faith. And then I see how we can use these with our children as they get a little older. I think the youngest ones would just eat up the pictures. The pictures are amazing, and then you can deal more with them memorizing the scriptures as they get a little older and understanding a little bit more deeply as they continue to grow. I could see even using these with my adult children, they’re just so cool. And they just make the basics of our faith so simple and clear and open up those discussions. So I think it’s fantastic that you’ve created these. I’m so thankful that God led you to do that.

Danielle:

Well, thank you so much. It’s been a joy to work on this project, and you’re right that the books can absolutely grow with the child from infancy through early elementary school. Although I have been very surprised by the number of adults who come to me and tell me that they’ve learned so much from these books as well, which I just think is fabulous. You know, you mentioned the way that the Israelites used to teach their children and the verse that they have written at the very top of my first manuscript, very first document, is from the Shema and Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, with all your might. And these words that I command to you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children.” And I just had this heart for equipping parents to do that, to learn to love the Lord with their whole selves and to equip their children to do the same.

Terrie:

That’s great. Yes. Love that verse. Also, you have a podcast don’t you?

Danielle:

The final episode is being released within the next couple of weeks. So it was kind of a short run, but the podcast is called “Sacred Season” and it’s relevant for all time periods because it is about the church calendar and observing the church year, particularly for moms parenting in the little years. But I thought it was applicable information about the church year and what we can glean from the church year, through the whole podcast.

Terrie:

Okay. And those are available on–

Danielle:

So you can find them at sacredseasonpodcast.com on most podcast apps.

Terrie:

One of the questions I always ask my guests–two questions–first, other than your books, what are some of your favorite books to read aloud with your children?

Danielle:

Kids really love The Big Picture Storybook Bible. So I always recommend that to the parents. If you’re looking for additional Christian resources, it’s a really wonderful storybook Bible for children. And I think it draws the big story from creation a second coming really well. And it’s appropriate for like a toddler and young elementary school age group. It’s not over their heads. But if that as like just random, run-of-the-mill books goes, we really run Julia Donaldson’s work. So I started with The Gruffalo, but have since expanded into many of her other titles, Zog and The Gruffalo’s Child and Stick Man. And my kids are just delighted by the language and the illustrations in her book. And I really enjoyed them as well.

Terrie:

Okay. And then how can we best support you in your ministry and the work you’re doing?

Danielle:

You can always pray for me, you know, for guidance of the Holy Spirit and that the books fall into the hands of the people who need them, the Holy Spirit would be moving in their hearts and growing their hearts, whether adults or children, towards Him. And then if you buy my books, we always really appreciate that too. And you can buy them at catechesisbooks.com or babybeliever.com. That’s series title is Baby Believer. You can also get them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Christianbook.com or your favorite local bookseller. Support your local bookseller. If that’s the thing that you do, and if they don’t carry it, just check in with them. And I’m sure that they can special order it for you.

Terrie:

Please tell us about the illustrator.

Danielle:

Yeah. So the illustrator’s name is Jessica Blanchard, and she is really fabulous. We met through a mutual friend when I was starting to conceive this project, and I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination whatsoever. This project could have been dead on arrival for lack of an illustrator, right from the start, but Jess really got the vision for the books. And I knew from the beginning that I wanted these books to be beautiful, you know, God is beautiful. We are called to create beautifully as he does. And I feel like a book about a beautiful God should be a beautiful book. And so Jess took that idea, understood it in her core, and just really ran with it, which was delightful. You know, we wanted to stay away from anything which looks kind of dumb or cartoony or overly sentimental. We wanted the books to be appealing to adults and to children because, goodness knows, parents have to read books on repeat all the time. If they are unpleasant to look at, or you don’t enjoy them, those are the books that get shoved to the back of the shelf where your kids can’t find them. Right? So we wanted us to do a book that was just a pleasant overall reading experience. And for many people, their first encounters with God are through beauty. They see something that stirs their soul and it pulls them to wonder at the divine. And we hope that these books would be a child’s one of–one of the first opportunities a child might have to be stirred in their soul and to glimpse the divine. You know, these books are not the same as a beautiful cathedral or a stained glass window, or, you know, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. But, you know, it is our great desire that these books draw people into all the goodness and beauty that God has created in the world and invites them to explore more deeply what’s out there.

Terrie:

That’s great. And I also appreciate that your books–they are not geared toward one denomination. They are very general and very universal, I would say, for the Christian faith. And I appreciate that because so many books, it seems, are geared toward one denomination or two denominations. And these are very solid theologically, very centered in scripture and in the traditions of the faith. And I just think that’s amazing and really great that you guys protected that so much. And I even noticed on your website, you mentioned how many times that Jesus is depicted in your books because I know certain denominations have difficulties with any kind of imagery of Jesus or God, and that you’ve respected that as well and let parents know exactly what to expect in your books. And that’s just wonderful, I think.

Danielle:

Thank you. It’s been a learning process for sure. I did not anticipate some of the pushback we have received with the images of Jesus and a few other things here and there. But in general, we have tried to make our books as merely Christian as possible and stuck to scripture so that parents have space to have both age and denomination appropriate conversations with their kids about touchy subjects. You know, I get emails all the time about, “Oh, how do you handle baptism?” Like, well, I handle it like the way the book of Acts does. So you can run with that whichever direction you want, you know? And then I don’t get into it in my book.

Terrie:

That’s great. And it is hard. I used to work for a Christian radio station and mercy, you know, you can’t make everybody happy. You just have to do the best you can.

Danielle:

Yes. That’s definitely true. You cannot make everybody happy, but we’re hoping that these books serve a broad audience, for sure.

Terrie:

Yeah, I think you’ve done a great job. I’m a huge fan. I just think they’re fantastic. I just really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me today and to share with us. I love your heart for getting the word of God into children’s lives from the very beginning. And that’s what our podcast is all about as well as discipling our kids from the beginning and taking seriously the commission, the command that God has given us in the Great Commission and in Deuteronomy–that we teach our children in every opportunity and open up these important conversations. So thank you for what you’re doing.

Danielle:

Well, you’re welcome. Thank you so much for having me today. I really appreciate it.

Terrie:

For our devotion today, I wanted to share from Hope for Each Day. This is from the July 13th devotional: “Spiritual Training.” And I chose this one because of what Danielle is trying to do, what we are doing here at “Books that Spark,” that we want these truths to be not only in our hearts and minds, but in the hearts and minds of our children, that they will fully embrace Christ and choose to follow him their whole lives. So spiritual training, Hebrews 13:5 says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” “Have you ever been bullied, or do you know someone who has? Learning how to deal with a bully is wise. Satan is the ultimate bully, and God wants to teach us how to defend ourselves against him. Satan will do everything he can to discourage and defeat us. He attacks us where we are weakest. He wants to keep us from serving God and living in heaven forever. God offers spiritual training to build us up in our hearts and minds like physical exercise makes our muscles stronger. He also has given us everything we need to defend ourselves from Satan’s attacks. These include reading the Bible, being constant in our faith, and listening to the Holy Spirit who lives inside us. God has promised to be with us when we face any trouble. We must remember that he’s bigger than every problem and use the weapons he has given us. Most of all, we must never forget that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Satan has already been defeated and someday the war will be over.

Terrie:

Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussions as we disciple our children and help them to follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with Danielle, you can find her information at catechesisbooks.com. There, you can also order some of the products, the Bible memorization cards, the flashcards, the books, and also have access to her podcast. You can also find her podcast on all the different channels that you’re used to looking at for podcasts, but you can also reach it from her website. And if you would like to connect with me, you can sign up for my mailing list at TerrieHellardBrown.com. You will receive notifications when I post a new blog post or a new podcast, and you can also receive several freebies that are not available to anyone who is not on my mailing list. On my website, you can also find several free items that are available to anyone who’s interested. And please be sure to share this podcast with your friends. We would really appreciate it. Our hope, our goal is that this podcast will bless you in many ways.

Your Host:

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 are published each Thursday and discuss living as a disciple of Christ while discipling our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ.

For more information, visit her website at terriehellardbrown.com

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 “Growing older is inevitable; growing up is optional” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.