Episode 89: Interview with Author/Illustrator Dawn Stephens and Understanding Bearing Fruit

In this episode we talk with author/illustrator Dawn Stephens about her books, curriculum, and helping our children understand bearing fruit in their Christian lives.

Our Guest: Dawn Stephens

Dawn Stephens is an award-winning children’s author and illustrator. She’s spent many years as a mom, teacher, and school principal. During that time, she created stories about clay vessels discovering their purpose. Each pot has a unique relationship to the potter, and their stories represent the stories we sprout alongside our creator. Just as Little Pot grows strawberries, we can produce the fruit of the Spirit. Like a teapot, we were created to serve others. As an oil lamp gives light, we can shine. Dawn together with the characters she’s created help children grow physically, spiritually, socially, and academically. Each area leads to serving, shining, and bearing fruit for the potter.

Above all, she loves helping parents and educators confidently and creatively teach children about God and His creation. Her creative teaching resources can be found at DawnStephensBooks.com and at TeachersPayTeachers.com/Store/Dawn-Stephens-Books

Her work has won a Dove Award, a Mom’s Choice Gold Award, and Disney’s I-Parenting Award. She has illustrated titles that have been taken around the world by missionaries and organizations that aid children in third-world countries. She has written and illustrated 12 books and speaks on the subjects of parenting, family, faith issues, and women issues. Her books include: “The Little Pot Book Series”, “Mother Goose meets Mother Nature”, and “Janbatis ak Jozyann Refe”. She and her husband of 30+ years reside in Raleigh, NC.

Books Discussed in This Episode:

Transcript with Links:

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 today. I’m very excited to introduce you to our special guest today. We’re having Dawn Stephens speak with us about her books, her ministry, and her teaching resources. Thank you for joining us today, Dawn.

Dawn:

You’re welcome. Thanks for having me

Terrie:

Tell us a little bit about your first book you wrote, The Little Pot.

Dawn:

So basically, The Little Pot is a story about a vessel made by a Potter who is trying to figure out exactly why the Potter made him, what the purpose in creating it was. So he gets several things. The Potter gives him papers and then Little Pot gets very excited because he feels like he’s going to become very smart by holding all the Potter’s important papers. So he just thinks paper pots are the greatest thing in the world until the Potter makes another vessel and removes the papers from him. And then he’s feeling empty and unfulfilled–kind of worthless. Then the Potter gives him coins, and he loves that because he feels his job is now to be a coin pot. And he’s thinking he’s very rich, but then the Potter creates a piggy bank and takes all of its coins from little pot. So he’s empty again. So the process continues. He gets some dirt from the Potter. He’s not very excited about being a dirt pot, but then the Potter plants something inside of him, and it begins to grow. And he thinks, as we sometimes get ahead of God, he thinks ahead and says, “Oh, I’m going to be a flower pot. That must be my purpose. I’ll be beautiful!” And sure enough, he meets with the Potter every day. He gets water and sunlight, and he grows these beautiful flowers, but that isn’t his purpose either. The flowers don’t last; they turn hard and green, and he becomes very concerned. Again, he’s not rich, smart, or beautiful in his mind. And the Potter tells him that His special plan is for him to become a fruit pot. And those flowers have turned hard and green and eventually turned to strawberries. So he discovers that his true purpose is to grow fruit for the Potter.

Terrie:

I just love that. That is awesome. And it kind of, it sounds like from your biography, that it kind of follows the way God has worked in your life, giving you one role and then changing that, and you had to roll with the punches and find God’s purpose

Dawn:

Very much. So. Yeah, The Little Pot really is my testimony. I don’t know, just maybe being a little girl that grew up in the eighties and after the seventies of women’s lib, I was always told you can be anything you want to be. And so I just put a lot of value in that–that I was going to have a career and a job, and that’s what I would be. And I don’t know if other people do it, but I very much defined myself by the things that God gave me, not by the things that He could grow through me. So when He made me a teacher, I was so excited to be a teacher and wanted to be the best teacher that I could be, you know–same with when He made me a mom and a wife. And, you know, as things didn’t last in my life, as He took away different careers and jobs, I was devastated by that. I really had a hard time defining, you know, who I was. I knew that I was His child and always wanted to serve Him, but I struggled with what that looked like. He gave me a lot of things and He took a lot from me throughout my life to show me that that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about what growing love and joy and peace and patience, the fruit of the spirit.

Terrie:

That’s awesome. Yeah. I think so often too, we tend to think bearing fruit has something to do with what we do in ministry–how many people we tell about Jesus or something like that. And I love that your book brings it back to the truth of what bearing fruit is, and that’s seeing the Spirit of God exemplified through the fruit of the spirit in our lives. And I just think what an important lesson for our kids to get, so they don’t wind up, you know, running on this treadmill of life, trying to please God, instead of just knowing Him and letting Him work through them. I think this is brilliant.

Dawn:

After the book was published, God called me to become a principal of a Christian school. I took on that role kind of apprehensively, but we used this little pot to be the vision of the school and kind of created a curriculum around it so that the children would understand their purpose–kind of just what you said–that God could grow the fruit of the spirit through them. But one of the things that we discovered was as we did that with children, they became prideful. They Thought that they were the ones that were being loving and joyful and peaceful. And so we kind of had to go another level and make sure they understood that fruit isn’t something that they possess–that it’s something that grows. So they don’t have patience, they show patience. And so to help them to understand that is where the next book The Tea Pot came from because it’s another vessel Potter makes for the purpose of brewing tea and pouring tea. But teapot is a vessel that did not want to share. He wanted to keep his tea for itself. And there’s some peer pressure that goes on in the book because it convinces Little Pot that it should keep its fruit and that it’s fruit it’s for, you know, it’s better when it has fruit. And so Teapot and Little Pot in that story decide they want to keep their tea and fruit for themselves. The Potter allows them to do that. But through that process, the tea grows stale, and Little Pot’s fruit begins to rot, and the plant doesn’t produce more because it’s not allowing the Potter to pick the fruit. They have to repent, and the Potter has to come back, and He washes the Tea Pot clean, you know, as the Bible tells us, like washes us white as snow. And so He removes all the tea stains from Teapot and prunes Little Pot so that they can be vessels that can be used by the Potter again. So that’s kind of where the second book developed from just as we used it more and more with kids. We wanted them to understand that they were simply the vessels, that it was the Potter that was doing the work through them.

Terrie:

That’s wonderful. And then how about the third book? The Oil Lamp.

Dawn:

So the third book came about after a few years. We worked with The Little Pot with them. Then we developed The Tea Pot. We really wanted them to understand that now that they understood how to grow fruit, that they go out and produce that fruit and share it beyond themselves and to shine. So, and that’s where The Oil Lamp came in. I had made a trip to Israel. I bought an antique oil lamp from the time when Jesus walked the earth. And to be honest with you, I was just shocked at how small oil lamps were at that time and just what a tiny little thing that was. That would’ve been the example that people would have looked at when Jesus was saying, “Shine your light.” That became the vessel for the third book about even though you’re small, God expects you to shine. In the process of the Little Oil Lamp learning to shine, he does that because Teapot and Little Pot share their testimonies with it.

Terrie:

Nice. That’s so great. I love the whole set and the whole platform of what you are teaching and offering to families to teach their children about the values and the fruit of the spirit and just living out our faith. And I think it’s just wonderful. Tell us a little bit about the curriculum. You did create the different teaching resources you also have available.

Dawn:

So when I worked as the administrator of the school, we created a curriculum around this. It’s basically a standard-based curriculum. So we followed the standards, but we rewrote the standards from a biblical perspective. We used them to help children understand that there’s three areas: spiritual, social, and academic growth that they need in order to produce fruit. So we took Little Pot’s process in growing a strawberry, and we broke it down into those three areas. So the first area, well, aside from physical growth, which is the Potter creating the little vessel, and as He creates all the vessels, they all look differently. They’re made from different shades of clay. There are different sizes; there are different shapes. And so we really wanted our students to appreciate the way God made them. If He made them to be a boy or a girl or white or black or brown–He had purpose and exactly the size, color, and shape that He created them to be.

Dawn:

So from there, the Potter gives Little Pot dirt and a seed. And so those two things represented: the dirt is humus soil or humus, which means good soil. So it represents being humble. And the second thing, the seed, represents God’s word. So they understood that they needed to be humble, and they needed to plant God’s word in their heart, and everything would grow from God’s word. So we put a big emphasis on scripture. The seed would then grow into a stem, and the stem started the social growth for them because the stem represented their integrity. We took several verses from the book of Proverbs that talked about a man of integrity being straight and upright. And we talked about how a stem is straight and upright. It’s strong. And you know, you can put your–you can take your thumbnail and put a little crack in the stem of a plant. And, you know, you can think, “Oh, it’s just such tiny little crack.” And you might tell a tiny little lie or do something very small, but it damages the plant. And so it can’t produce fruit. We talk with the children about integrity and how, you know, no one looks at a plant and says, oh, that’s a nice-looking stem because nobody’s really going to look at you and say, “Hey, you have great integrity.” But if your integrity is damaged, it’s going to affects everything that you do. So we did that. From the stem forms, leaves, and the leaves are all about photosynthesis taking light and making it into nutrients for the plant. So for the students, our leaves represented their relationships. So once they had good integrity, they could form great relationships with their teachers, with their friends, with other students, with their parents. The job of a relationship was to take the light of Christ and feed their soul. And so if you have a leaf in your life or on the plant that isn’t doing its job, what do you do with a bad leaf? Well you need to take it off so that the good leaves can grow. And so we just talked about choosing wisely, who their relationships were with the friends that they had and how they could be a good friend to others once the leaves were formed.

Dawn:

So we went from the spiritual growth was, which was the dirt and the seed, the social growth, which was the stem and the leaf to academic growth. And that became the flower. So we talked to them about blooming knowledge, teaching them about pollination and what the job of a flower does, how it reproduces and how that’s knowledge that they produce, you know, they learn things–they grow in their knowledge. So that was the flower. And from there the fruit forms. So they don’t have to do any more than that because the Potter’s producing the fruit. So, those were the seven things that we taught, and we focused on that throughout all of our curriculum, things that we use. So I do offer like a nursery rhyme curriculum that we used with early childhood students, and the teachers guides for that nursery rhyme curriculum also follow those main areas of growth: spiritual, social, and academic.

Terrie:

Oh, nice. And also if someone joins your mailing list right now, I noticed that you send them this fruit of the spirit scripture file that gives us all the scriptures for these different steps.

Dawn:

Yes.

Terrie:

And so that’s, if you want to sign up for her mailing list, her website is DawnStephensBooks.com, and it’s Stephens with a ph. And so when you sign up, you’ll get this automatically. And it’s the whole list of all the scriptures that’s behind this curriculum, and it’s just really nicely done. And it’s very cute. I love your artwork that you do. It’s really cute.

Dawn:

If you do sign up for the mailing list, you get those seven steps that I just explained in more detail, but it also kind of puts you on my mailing list. So I send out a little note each Friday. I call it “Fruitful Friday,” just to kind of let you know what’s coming. I am working on a fourth book this year. That is that goes along with Oil Lamp. You know, there’s been a lot of things in our world recently about Christian leaders who have fallen, you know, who have been elevated. And they haven’t, for some reason, you know, stayed on top of where they need to be, and they’ve lost their positions. And it’s kind of damaged the kingdom in a lot of ways. The Oil Lamp ends where the Potter places him on a lamp stand so that he could shine for all of the vessels in the workshop, and, you know, shine his light. But from there, he basically feels as he is a leader, and he’s been placed above the other vessels. But he doesn’t have the interaction that he needs. He doesn’t get the oil that he needs to continue to burn and shine his light because he feels that the Potter placed him on that lampstand, and he needs to stay above everyone. So that’s the next book that I’m working on this year. And if you’re on the mailing list, I’ll be asking some questions and getting some input from you on the writing of that. And I would love to have people involved in that.

Terrie:

Oh, that sounds wonderful. Okay. All right. And I always ask my guests, what was your favorite picture book as a child or one that you really enjoyed reading to your children?

Dawn:

So for me as a child, I would say one of my very favorites was Corduroy by Don Freeman. And basically, because to me that is the perfect illustration–Jesus’s redemption for us. You know, He knows that we need a friend and we need a home. And that’s exactly what Lisa saw and provided for Corduroy, the little bear. So, she kind of, you know, bought him just the way he was and gave him a friend and a home. And that’s what Jesus does for us. I think it’s interesting, Don Freeman is not a Christian, but his story very much is Jesus’ story. I think it’s just interesting how Jesus can tell His story through anyone and anything if we pay attention to it. So that’s really a book that I loved as a child.

Terrie:

How can we best support you in this wonderful ministry that God has given you?

Dawn:

I’m excited that you gave me the opportunity to do the interview. One of the books I’ve been reading recently is Opportunity Leadership. So I’ve been praying for new opportunity. So when you contacted me, I was excited. I was like, oh, there’s another opportunity. I’m excited to share what God has done in my life with others. So any opportunity that I get, I would tell your listeners, you know, come visit me on the website. Definitely, definitely sign up for my mailing list. I need community. When I stopped being a principal, my husband and I also moved to a new area. So I definitely would love to have them a part of what I’m doing that would help me in many ways.

Terrie:

And do you do classroom visits and things like that?

Dawn:

I do. So I used to work for a publisher where I took other authors into schools years ago. And so I love to do that for my own books and do school visits. I’m also very fortunate because my daughter is a flight attendant, so I get to fly for free.

Terrie:

Oh, that’s great.

Dawn:

So I can pretty much go to any school in the country, you know, if they invite me and we can work out a time. Of course, with COVID it was difficult, but I am getting that set back up to do some school visits again. And I would love to do that. Definitely open to that–homeschool groups or anything like that and sure.

Terrie:

Yeah. What a blessing. That’s awesome. All right. Well, thank you so much for being here. I appreciate what God has put on your heart and how He’s using you. And I think the message you’re sharing with children is just vital. So I love that you shared with us today. Thank you so much.

Dawn:

Thank you, Terrie.

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 follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to get in touch with Dawn, you can reach her on her website at DawnStephensBooks.com and you can join her mailing list there and get those seven points she mentioned while ago. And if you’d like to connect with me, you can reach me at TerrieHellardBrown.com. We both would love to hear from you. Please comment on this blog, download it, let us know what you think, but we would love to hear from you.

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 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.

2 thoughts on “Episode 89: Interview with Author/Illustrator Dawn Stephens and Understanding Bearing Fruit”

  1. That was wonderful! So glad you told me about it. I was almost late for work listening. Lol. I will be ordering her books for sure.

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