On writing for children…and learning from the Irish…

I have not had the privilege yet in life to be a father, nor have I worked as extensively as many in children’s music. I have written and reflected a little on the subject this month as we focus on children’s music and as Kristyn and I begin to plan towards our new children’s music project being released in the next year.

The thoughts of two Irish people have been particularly challenging as we approach the subject of addressing artistic creativity in the context of the children who belong to our churches.

While at home in Ireland I live on the beautiful North Antrim Coast – many of you saw my father-in-law’s photographs on our facebook page – that’s County Antrim and, for the most part, County Derry where we live. It’s interesting that the fine hymn writer Cecil Frances Alexander hails from there, having been a Pastor’s wife in Londonderry in the last century. She saw a need to write hymns that helped teach the Bible and, until recently, I was unaware that her efforts to teach the Apostle’s Creed through hymnody were actually efforts to teach the Apostle’s Creed specifically to children – hence hymns such as “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, “Once in Royal David’s City”, and “There is a Green Hill Far Away” – and this to children without many of the education privileges we have today.

It strikes me particularly unusual, giving the fact that much of children’s literature today is story-driven, highly involved, complex, mystical and requiring of such intellectual commitment, yet much of children’s theological teaching, songs and even worship to Almighty God can be so simplistic and shallow rather than telling the ascendant and beautiful story of Christ.  When it comes to writing for children I have also always loved what Belfast-born CS Lewis had to say in “On Stories”:

  1. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better nor to have read at all.
  2. Where the children’s story is simply the right form for what the author has to say, then of course readers who want to hear that will read the story or re-read it, at any age. I never met The Wind in the Willows or E. Nesbit’s Bastable books till I was in my late twenties, and I do not think I have enjoyed them any the less on that account. I am almost inclined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.
  3. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
  4. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel. For, of course, it wants to be a little frightened.
  5. Those of us who are blamed when old for reading childish books were blamed when children for reading books too old for us. No reader worth his salt trots along in obedience to a time-table.
  6. And I think it possible that by confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures 
are not merely terrible, but sublime.
  7. Once in a hotel dining-room I said, rather too loudly, ‘I loathe prunes.’ ‘So do I,’ came an unexpected six-year-old voice from another table. Sympathy was instantaneous. Neither of us thought it funny. We both knew that prunes are far too nasty to be funny. That is the proper meeting between man and child as independent personalities.

So why have the creativity of Lewis and Alexander both had such enduring appeal to children and value to the church? Ultimately there is something mysterious about art but there are several factors we can certainly learn from:

  • A high view of art: timeless excellence in all their work and paying no attention to temporary fads or gimmicks.
  • A high love for people: the ability to always communicate warmly and accessibly through their art without patronizing us.
  • An infectious and childlike love for God’s creation and all things that are good, true and beautiful.
  • A clear, enthralling vision for helping people see with fresh eyes the Gospel story.

-Keith

Read more about the music of Keith and Kristyn Getty at www.Gettymusic.com

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About gettymusic

Keith and Kristyn Getty have been at the forefront of the modern hymn movement over the past decade demonstrating the ability to successfully bridge the gap between the traditional and contemporary.
This entry was posted in Christ, gettymusic, Hymns, in christ alone, irish, Jesus, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Writing for children and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to On writing for children…and learning from the Irish…

  1. Thank you! I read the Narnia series on my lunch breaks when I was a bank teller. (I can’t think of them without also remembering the ramen noodles I was eating for lunch at the time.) My husband and I were talking recently about the children’s stories of today that are only fit for children, and thinking of the works of C S Lewis and Carol Ryrie Brink and Frances Burnett–those stories we still enjoy as adults.

  2. NatalyaKay says:

    I enjoyed reading this blog.
    Please keep posting.
    May God continue to bless you ministry,

  3. Ross Gill says:

    Thank you for this. I first read the Narnia series in my twenties and I have made a point of reading them every now and again. Just recently I heard about a new book written for older children (12 or so) by the Irish Oxford theologian Alister McGrath called ‘Chosen Ones’. I have it on order. I’ve also enjoyed reading the ‘children’s’ books by George MacDonald.

  4. jacquelyn says:

    Hooray!! I love the perspective you are coming from. Developmentally, intangible concepts are difficult for children to understand but there is much “concrete” theology that can be taught to kids from an early age. I think the human soul no matter what stage of life responds to beauty, great word pictures/ poetry (see my latest blog) and story and if you are being intentional about what is in that story you can artfully instruct children of all ages in a way that everyone can connect with. I’m excitedly waiting to see where you go with this as I have 4 (with another on the way) kids and few CDs I let them listen to because kids’ music seems so trite sometimes.

  5. Jeff says:

    Glad to hear you’ll be coming to Tennessee! If you’re in Nashville looking for a community to be a part of or just a place to worship corporately on a Sunday, stop by Grace Community Church. I think you guys would find a lot of like-minded folks to sharpen and be sharpened by.

    Jeff Bourque
    Director of Worship and Prayer Ministries
    Grace Community Church
    Brentwood, TN

  6. Jonathan H says:

    Some great thoughts from C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors! It’s good to hear that you’re working on some more children’s music… looking forward to its release!

  7. Jan Brown says:

    Keith,

    Most of what I remember, I learned as a child. They are capable of deep spiritual truths and deserving of much more than junk food. I believe a child needs to learn “Things that are True about God” , so that when hardship comes or error is introduced they have an anchor that is steadfast. A child can learn that God is sovereign, eternal, present everywhere, omnipotent, all knowing, all wise, holy, fair, just, merciful etc. Knowing these things keeps us from creating a God made in our own image. A frail wimpy God that wants to be our buddy rather than a strong mighty God who is holy and lovingly disciplines. I also know that learning and embracing these truths as a child leads you into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ. I will be praying for you as you take on this year of study and your preparation to feed the lambs.

  8. étrangère says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere. Love the thoughts. Something went very wrong with our literary education when it left off literature for the sake of literacy. I grew up with myths – Norse, Greek, Roman, Irish, Kipling, Lewis, Tolkein, Lindgren, MacDonald, Kingsley… Perhaps as adults we become as shallow as the diet we have as children. Feed a child ‘real life’ under the sun fiction, and we turn out depressed and depressing, seeking entertainment to escape. Feed on the myths and legends, fantasy and fairy tale, and it’ll be more true to life, which is more than the eye can see. We’re liberated to live life fully as it is, even under the sun. We know that we’re in a ‘meaning-drenched universe,’ despite its temporary sentence of futility.

  9. Christine Russell says:

    Your words are so true! As a children’s choir director for my church, I am often frustrated by the lack of quality children’s music! I either find really lame lyrics or music that is totally inappropriate for children’s voices (ie., music that doesn’t stay on the staff in keeping with children’s voice ranges) or really complicated rhythms that take away from the message of the words. I love Judy Roger’s “Why Can’t I See God” CD/music for the way it teaches children from the Children’s Catechism. I also love teaching them straight Scripture songs to help them learn Scripture and apply it to their lives. We have some great discussions about what the words mean to them and how their lives should be impacted as a result of this knowledge about who God is and what He expects of them.

    I’ll be really interested to see what you produce this year! 🙂 Thanks for your wonderful ministry of music!

  10. Sarah says:

    I appreciate your persepctive on music and literature. My kids love your children’s CD, but they’re also learning the songs from your “adult” CD’s as well. Even if they don’t understand all of the words now, they will someday, and they’re learning great truths and doctrine. I’m excited to see what you are going to write next!
    I think it so important to guard what our children are exposed to, not just to protect them from evil, but to foster the love of good and great in them. When it comes to books and music, I like to think of feeding my kids mentally like I do their bodies. Just like I don’t want my kids to have a steady diet of junk food, I don’t want them to have a steady diet of mental junk food either, and I don’t mean just “bad” things, but trite and empty things as well. I think one of my fun jobs as a mother is finding the very BEST God glorifying books and music for us to feed our minds on.

  11. Vanessa says:

    RICH stuff!! Loved reading the excerpts from “On Stories”. C.S. Lewis is one of my top 10.
    Keep it coming! I thoroughly enjoyed it!!

  12. Pingback: The Getty’s new blog « Words of Grace

  13. Andrew says:

    Keith,

    Out of the mouths of babes… Ps 8.

    I suppose the capturing and teaching of truth about God in “hymn” form comes down to us from David’s psalms, as you would know some are tagged “Maschil Psalms” – i.e. for instruction.

    I think that somehow the concept of biblical teaching has taken a sharp hit among Christians in the last 100 years. “Leave it to the minister/pastor – we don’t need anything but some practical tit-bit” is the cry – but to live practically, you need to be sound theologically!

    Anything that promotes a reverent grasp of Divine Truth among the young, that sows the seed of God’s word in their heart is to be applauded, for the devil also starts working with children when they are young.

    Andrew

  14. Rich says:

    glad to see you have a blog!

    will be linking it to my site…

    • NatalyaKay says:

      Yes this is awesome that you have a blog. I love reading and listening to what you say. So smart and talented!

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