The profit motive and the prophet's message : a multicultural reading of the Christian worldview in children's books for the Christian market
Sekeres, Diane Lynn
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Christian publishers occupy a small niche in the children’s book industry. These publishers have a stated mission to print excellent stories that help Christians apply Biblical truths to their lives, but they deal with the same market forces that drive the editorial and marketing strategies of secular publishers which may cause the books to offer a narrow range of themes. Publishers refer to their books as "safe," which generally refers to the lack of controversial content. My reading of 29 books and interviews with four editors and/or publishers in the industry revealed that the range of topics and representation of characters mirror the conservative nature of the consumers, who are primarily white and middle-class. The image of Christians which I read from these books was that they are white, middle-class suburbanites who own their own homes, who live in families with two, heterosexual parents, and who experience no dysfunction, disabilities, or addictions. Christians are much more diverse than this, however, and they live in a world filled with diversity. I maintain that while Christianity begins with and is empowered by a personal relationship with God, Jesus calls Christians to follow the model he lived that was recorded in the New Testament Gospels. I claim he was a social activist for whom service and self-sacrifice were the hallmarks of his life. He crossed cultural, traditional and legal boundaries to help people. For most of the books, a typical character’s relationship with God was a personal one that often did not ask characters to move out of their comfortable communities and show compassion and love to others who were unlike them. I suggest that Christians’ public relationships are also important Biblical themes to be included in children’s literature. Christian children of all kinds need to see themselves in literature, and they need to read literature about others who are different from themselves in order to be better able to live a life of service. I approached the books in two ways to rate characters’ Christianity, both private and public. I used Christian practices of prayer, scripture reading, and God-talk, or conversations about God between characters, to determine the degree to which the presence of God was integrated into the characters’ lives. I used the presence of multicultural characters and plot lines to discern the extent to which characters became involved with diverse peoples or situations that required them to go outside their communities or sacrifice for others. There were notable books among my sample that engaged issues of social justice, such as racism, or class or gender distinctions, but they were few. Still, their presence indicates that publishers could successfully expand into markets that include the diversity of Christians as well as provide books that show Christians living in the world as it is, modeling a life of service.
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