Children's Author: Use Time with Toddlers to Teach Values
- Randall Murphree <i>Agape Press</i>
- 2004 4 Apr
"When I grow up I want to be like Justin's daddy," says little Nathan. "He's a race car driver."
"Being a race car driver is a fun job," Nathan's mom replies. "But who you are is more important than what you do. We want you to have discipline."
Nathan and his mother are the two characters in When I Grow Up, a children's book recently released by author J.J. Jasper (http://www.jjjasper.com). Nathan doesn't quite understand his mom's response, but this story leads him to finally grasp what she means. It is a solid story in a format appropriate for reading to toddlers or for beginning readers to read for themselves. It is also being used to teach positive values in secular school classrooms and Sunday schools.
J. J. is the early morning on-air personality for American Family Radio (http://www.afr.net) (AFR), but that's only a part of his diverse and far-reaching ministry. He is author, speaker, and standup comic in demand at Christian and secular venues across the nation.
"My wife, Melanie, was asking me to pray about writing a children's book five years ago," he says. "She saw the rapport I have with kids." The Jaspers have four children -- Lauren, Sadie, Maddie and Cooper, the first son, born just this spring. Melanie observed the way J.J. related to their girls, helping tuck them in at night, often creating original stories that captivated their imaginations.
"Our children are the joy of our lives," says J.J. "We love spending time with our little ones. I had always heard how valuable reading to your children is. I noticed that our three little girls had an insatiable desire to be read to. They would rather you read a book to them, almost, than eat candy or play with a toy. That surprised me."
He was also surprised that the girls would ask him to read the same book, over and over again, and that they memorized the stories before they could read. "I was intrigued to see them jump ahead," he says, "and they know what the next page is supposed to say. And you can't skip a page. Lauren once called me a page-skipper. That was the harshest thing she could think to call me."
Use the Time We Have
The Jaspers are child advocates beyond their own home. As a family, they sponsor Gabriella, a child in El Salvador, through Compassion International (http://www.compassion.com). A portion of each $10 sale of When I Grow Up goes to Compassion. On the air and on the speaking circuit, J.J. urges parents to make the best possible use of the time they have with their children while they're very young.
"They're little sponges," he says, "jumping up in our laps and saying, 'Read me a book!' I began to notice that the books we had to choose from were lacking in value lessons. You know the kind -- 'Muffy loses her mitten. She looks here and there.' Maybe she finds it, maybe she doesn't. Cute book, great illustrations. And that's okay. But we have these little ones who are just soaking in every detail and I think we're missing a great opportunity to say, 'Love Jesus. Obey your parents.'"
After Melanie's years of urging and their praying together, J.J. didn't want to write stories of the animal characters he created for his children's bedtime tales. He wanted to offer a story that taught some solid values. About a year ago, he felt like a story just dropped into his heart.
"I hope it's okay to say it's inspired," he smiles. "If a project doesn't turn out well, you don't want to blame the Lord." The concept was simple -- use a children's story to teach the fruit of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5:22-23 -- and to help children understand that who we are is more important than what we do for a living.
J.J. is prolific in his praise for illustrator Brad Bullock, a co-worker at AFR. "He made it a fun project," J.J. says. "People just go on and on about how beautiful the pictures are." Brad also designed the cover of J.J.'s previous book Moses Was a Basket Case, a collection of hilarious personal essays with spiritual application.
Brad says he was stressed out for a while because he didn't know if his work would be good enough. "It was hard to get started because I was really not sure," he says. "But once I got into it and prayed about it, the ideas started coming." With a diverse background in advertising and design, he adds, "I am pleased to do something that has value other than selling a product or a service."
J.J. says his prayer is that When I Grow Up will plant some seeds in children's minds and hearts. The harvest should occur a few years down the road, when children who read it -- maybe over and over again -- become young adults facing turbulent years or crucial life choices. Maybe they'll remember, "Who I am is more important than what I do."
Randall Murphree, a frequent contributor to AgapePress, is editor of AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association. For more information about J.J. Jasper or to purchase his books, visit his website: www.jjjasper.com.