The title says it all! Author Bob Hartman speaks from experience and shares a great way to engage reluctant readers in reading about Jesus!
Fifteen years ago, I was the pastor of a Baptist church in Trowbridge, a small town near Bath, in the southwest of England. Because the UK has a state church, most every school teaches religious education. So I was invited, as the new minister in the area, to speak to a group of ten-year-olds about the Christian faith.
I wanted to keep things simple, so I told the children that Christians follow Jesus. We try to live as he did. Then I asked if any of them knew anything about Jesus. Hands didn’t exactly shoot up in the air, but after a bit of coaxing and reminding, we talked about Jesus healing people and feeding people. At that point, a boy at the back asked, “Didn’t Jesus die by being squished under a big rock?”
I’d never heard that theory before, but I wanted to be respectful, so I suggested that perhaps he was thinking about what happened to Jesus after he died. Then I told him about the Cross, and what Christians believe about the Cross, and explained that following his death, Jesus was placed in a tomb and a “big rock” was rolled in front of the entrance.
The boy nodded, like he got it, so I thought it was only fair to finish the story. “Three days later,” I explained, “the stone was rolled away, and Jesus wasn’t there anymore, because Jesus had come back to life!”
I know that “eyes as big as saucers” is a cliché, but his eyes were. They really were! And his mouth had dropped open as well.
“WOW!” the boy shouted. “Really?” And I nodded and smiled and replied, “Yeah, really.”
In a couple of months most of the readers of this blog will be celebrating Easter. We will rejoice at what God did through the resurrection of Jesus. But I suspect that hardly anyone in our churches will shout, “WOW! Really?” And that’s because, unlike the boy in that school, we know the story. We know how it ends. And sadly, perhaps, we have also even come to take it a bit for granted.
But that boy reacted as anyone would react when they heard for the first time about a man coming back from the dead. And it was a wonderful thing to behold.
The sad thing, of course, is that he had never heard that story before. And if he hadn’t heard that story, then how many other stories had he never heard, stories that Christians often assume everyone knows?
While it’s probably the case that most of the ten-year-old boys in your church know the story of Jesus’ resurrection, I bet there are lots of other stories from Jesus’ life that they don’t know. Or perhaps stories they think they know because they heard them in Sunday school or read them from a children’s Bible when they were younger but haven’t really explored since.
That’s one of the reasons I wrote The Big Pig Stampede. I wanted to tell Jesus’ story to boys of a certain age—boys who had grown past children’s Bibles and who were looking for a retelling of Jesus’ story pitched at their level, expressed in their terms, so they could explore the stories in a fresh way and get past the “been there, done that” thing—so that they could find the WOW in those stories again.
The key to that has a lot to do, I think, with humor. If you look at the mainstream books that are grabbing the attention of boys, humor plays a big part. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a great example. Boys are drawn to stories that make them laugh. I have been telling stories in schools for nearly thirty years, and whether I am simply telling the story or I’m helping the children to build their own stories, boys respond best to stories that make them laugh.
I have lost track of the times that teachers have come up to me at the end of a session and expressed their amazement at the way the boys in “the lowest group” participated and at the wonderful ideas they shared. The reason is simple: I encouraged them to come and “play” along with me and made it clear that being funny or even silly wouldn’t be discouraged. Boys love that. And if a book about Jesus’ story mines the humor in his life and also the humor in the lives of the other characters in the story, then boys will respond equally well.
That is particularly true if the main characters are boys their age—or better still, just a little bit older. And that’s how it works in The Big Pig Stampede. The three main characters—Goat Boy, Bug, and Lump—are just a bit older than the target audience. Goat Boy’s and Bug’s dads are market traders, and they decide that it makes perfect business sense to follow the crowds that are following Jesus. That is how the three boys come into contact with Jesus and his disciples and all the incredible things Jesus does.
Through the eyes of these boys, the reader can also see what Jesus does—but almost like it’s for the first time, because that is what it’s like for the boys in the book. As the characters talk about their experience of Jesus and express their wonder and curiosity and ask their questions, the reader is invited, more or less, to join in that discussion—and also to join in the adventure, which is, of course, the other thing that boys love. The three main characters don’t just watch this whole thing passively. They have challenges of their own to overcome. There are scary moments and tense moments and even several quite sad moments to balance out the humor.
So how do we encourage boys to read—and to read about Jesus in particular?
Give them something to laugh about. Give them a challenge to overcome. Give it to them in the language of their peers—boys to whom they can relate. And finally, give them something that makes them go “WOW!”
Bob Hartman is a pastor, author, and storyteller with a rich history in publishing and whose books have sold more than 1 million copies. Bob is best known for The Lion Storyteller Bible, which sold more than 200,000 copies, and The Wolf Who Cried Boy, with more than 90,000 copies sold. He is also the author of You Version’s Bible App for Kids, which has been downloaded over 9 million times. Bob is married to Sue, and they have two married children and three grandchildren.