Meet Sally Lloyd-Jones, the most successful Christian author you’ve never heard of
How do you get kids to read one of the world’s oldest books? Ask Sally Lloyd-Jones, whose "The Jesus Storybook Bible" recently passed the critical mark of 1 million copies sold.
The British ex-pat and now proud New Yorker has never married or had children of her own, yet aims to retell the Bible to something that comes alive for young people.
One of her editors told her once that there are two types of children’s books authors: the ones who are around children, and the ones who are children inside.
"It kind of freed me, because I think I know I’m that second one," she said. "And I can still write from that place, because my childhood is so vivid."
Her "The Jesus Storybook Bible" was not an overnight best-seller, nor was her path to best-selling children’s author a direct one.
"As a 6-year-old, I dreaded going to church," she said. "I made a little promise inside my head that when I grew up I was never going to church again."
Lloyd-Jones says that the Church of England Sunday school she attended was focused on keeping rules.
"I didn’t get any sense of wonder, or adventure, or any story," she said. "That’s why whenever I was working on a story and there would be a temptation to do a moral lesson, I’d have such a huge reaction."
"The Jesus Storybook Bible," originally released by Zondervan in 2007, was an attempt to get through barriers children may have. "The challenge with that book was ‘How do I tell this story so a child would hear it for the first time in a fresh way?’" she said. "I wanted to explain it in a way that wouldn’t rely on jargon."
Christians with a literary bent sometimes have difficulty in the publishing world, said Eric Metaxas, author of the biography "Bonhoeffer" and several children’s books who has known Lloyd-Jones since she moved to the U.S. Children’s books, he said, are in many ways harder to write than books for adults.
"Kids can’t be fooled," Metaxas said. "There has to be a level of honesty and authenticity that isn’t easily achieved."
The one biblical story she wanted to include but didn’t was the wedding at Cana when Jesus turns water into wine, considered his first miracle. But Zondervan was worried about a story featuring wine. "I just love that the first thing that Jesus does is a party!" said Lloyd-Jones.
A petite, blonde-haired woman who jogs and photographs for fun at 53 years old, Lloyd-Jones’ energy is contagious. Born in Uganda, Jones spent her first years in Africa.
"You would think my parents might be missionaries. Everyone thinks that’s a much better story," she said. "My dad was working for Shell."
She said she was 4 when she became a Christian.
"I was tricycling around with a friend, and my father said, ‘Sally, darling, would you like to invite Jesus into your heart?’ and I said ‘No, thank you,’" she said while laughing.
"Later I said yes."
While her parents were still in Africa, Lloyd-Jones attended boarding school in England, where a teacher first told her she could one day become a writer.