Over the last year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what Jesus looked like.
A book I wrote and illustrated about Jesus, called Miracle Man, for Abrams Books for Young Readers, came out in February. As both a writer/illustrator and Christian, I had always wanted to make a book about Jesus, but imagined it would happen much later in my life. Deep down, I think I was terrified of all the challenges at the core of telling this story. The pitfalls are everywhere when making a visual storybook for kids about Jesus. How do you draw Jesus? What stories do I include, or worse, what stories do I leave out? How much can I editorialize the Gospel accounts? Am I trying to “reboot” the Jesus story?
The first reason I wanted to write and illustrate this story is that I am a follower of Jesus. At a very young age, I fell in love with the Miracle Man. To this day, merely reading his words in the simple clarity of the Gospel story can stir my soul. I vividly remember being drawn to the red ink of his words in my very first Bible. The stark black-and-white tones of the Scriptures were broken with that sudden incarnation of vibrant crimson! In many ways, the illustrated and illuminated text in this book is aspiring to be like that first Bible of mine, bringing his words into vivid life. Even those who have heard of Jesus many times before, my hope is to share the familiar story with you in a new way.
In fact, if you read this book with kids, you will notice just how much is left unsaid. This might seem problematic with a book that contains the truth of the biblical scriptures. But, what I’ve noticed is that when you open a door for children, they will rush through it. Kids love to guess, speculate and tell you their ideas. So, I longed to create a book about Jesus where there was as much conversation between the page turns as there was in the written narration. The only way to get that result is to leave some of the work to the reader. Jesus isn’t referred to by name until the very last page.
In fact, I think the best way to experience the Easter story is to momentarily forget about the trappings of religion around it and see the man at the center. In my experience, the story changes when we think of the people who experienced Jesus in person during the time he walked among us. Those people didn’t have a steepled church building or know anything about Christian theology. They simply met a man, some of them for only a brief moment, and they were changed forever.
Several observant kids have noticed that I hid a few “Easter Eggs” (in this case, almost literally) throughout the book. If you know your bible stories, see if you can find these hidden references: the temple curtain torn in two, the snake and the apple, Jesus drawing an Ichthys, the rooster of Peter’s denial, the lion laying down with the lamb, the coin in the fish’s mouth, a broken manger, the stump of Jesse, and the temple guard’s restored ear.
Creating an illustrated book about the life of Christ is both a frightening challenge and a dream come true. As with all stories that have been told many, many times before, it is hard to avoid the familiar, well-worn paths. This is a particular challenge when visually depicting Jesus himself. In this book, I have aspired to render him as a man of his time and place and not as a construction of western idealism. In my book, some characters are named, but many are not. These edits and omissions were not meant to obscure but rather to cast the familiar in a new light.
So much of storytelling is editing. In fact, I had to leave out my favorite gospel miracle, the raising of Lazarus. There just isn’t room in a 40 page kids book for all of Jesus’ wonders. I regret leaving anything out, but even the Gospel writer John notes this in John 21:25: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” I hear you St. John!
Despite being one of the oldest stories humankind has ever continually told, the story never grows tired to my ears. Jesus did not remain in the tomb on Easter morning—and the unbelievable story of God Himself on Earth walked out with him.
I hope you enjoy the book for many years if it is a part of your collection at home. You can find it in the Rabbit Room Store.