I have long had a love-hate relationship with Christian publishing. Since my teenage years I’ve rolled my eyes at most of the Christian bestsellers. It didn’t take too much time outside of my fundamentalist Baptist junior high to realize that I actually hated the Left Behind series, and while 2002′s The Purpose-Driven Life was certainly of a higher caliber, it still ultimately screamed “trendy mediocrity” in my mind.
The same year, however, was also a time of discovering some high-quality Christian books, thanks to my newfound interest in women in ministry. I quickly noticed that InterVarsity, Baker, and Eerdmans were publishing books that represented a sort of smart Christianity I wasn’t exposed to growing up—the sort of Christianity I’d been dying to find existed outside of my dreams. By college, I had become an avid reader of thoughtful Christian books, largely by these three publishers. I also sampled from overly corporate Zondervan, cutely small Paraclete, and university presses; in seminary, I added several smaller and mainline publishers to my Christian book collection.
These publishers have given me access to both popular and academic works that have greatly influenced my thought and faith over the years, and I know they also offer important resources to people across the country without a theological background. Most evangelical bookstores stock fewer of these “good” books by “good” publishers, but they do always carry some. I am very thankful for that fact, despite my general cynicism about Christian bookstores. There is one section in the typical Christian bookstore, however, with a perpetually awful selection—as in no more than one or two books I’d ever buy. I was particularly struck by this during our recent Christian bookstore sale shopping. I have since then explored the Internet a bit and decided two things:
(1) It’s nice that Eerdmans seems to publish some decent children’s books, but they don’t seem to be stocked by Barnes and Noble OR Christian stores. The situation is even worse for most mainline publishers. Many evangelical know Eerdmans; fewer, in my experience, know Abingdon. The only Christians publishers that seem to get a lot of merchandise on the shelves are more conservative companies whose books for children I often find cheesy, unintelligent, or even theologically suspect. For those already publishing alternatives, people need better access to your products. Otherwise, they will either not know you exist or have no idea what quality your products are and if they want to bother to order them.
(2) InterVarsity Press needs to publish children’s books. IVP is my absolute favorite publisher in the world for many reasons: their affiliation with InterVarsity, the variety of topics their books cover, their commitment to increasing books by female and minority authors, their growing academic line, the unprecedented number of intelligent non-academic books also available for lay readers, their refusal to publish fluff just to make more money, etc. The one complaint I have about IVP at the moment is that children’s books are entirely off their radar. They actually list children’s books on their we-don’t-want-these list, along with romance novels, cookbooks, and end times propaganda. This is sad because IVP finds good authors, pairs them with good editors, and generally develops very good products that I can recommend to both Christian and non-Christian friends. If there’s anyone I could trust to publish stuff I would feel comfortable buying for my [future] kids, it’s IVP. I’m rather bummed that I don’t get the option…
As for how I can save the world in this instance, I am not yet sure. For now, I will simply say that helping make good Christian books exist, helping people gain access to those books, and helping people enjoy actually reading on a regular basis is up near the top of my felt-life-callings. I hope very much that in the coming years, the Christian children’s book situation, in particular, will change for the better.