I Have a Movie Recommendation for You

Movie review-The Case for ChristI was pleasantly surprised when I recently went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending.) That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. Christian films have a reputation for being predictable.

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on several things I’ve been thinking about lately. I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me.

I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. (See my previous post if that topic interests you.)

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a right perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Update:  I’m starting artwork for my next kids’ book, The Friendly City. I’ll keep you posted!

New Release: The True Story of Christmas

Christmas storybook-shepherds at mangerAfter 30 years of marriage and raising 5 kids together, Mollie and I have accumulated a beloved little collection of illustrated Christmas storybooks. When I worked at Hallmark Cards, the Creative Library there would bring in some of the best Christmas books on the market, and I ordered a few of my favorites for my kids (and for Mollie and myself!)

Some we bought for the great artwork, some we bought for the story. The best ones combined both. An important part of our Christmas season included slowing down, snuggling up, and reading Christmas stories to the kids in the evenings in December.

But I could never find a book like the one I’m making available to you and your family today.

Special care has been taken in The True Story of Christmas to remain as true to the biblical narrative as possible while still keeping the story accessible and engaging for children. The book seeks to reinforce the biblical narrative rather than the extra-biblical traditions that have grown up around the Christmas story.

For example, the scriptures do not say that a blazing star led the Magi to the manger in Bethlehem. (The Magi arrived in Jerusalem, where Herod eventually sent them to Bethlehem to search for the child. Bethlehem was just a few miles down the main road.) The scriptures also indicate that the Magi visited Jesus as a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, not in a stable on the night He was born.

Bible storybook-The Wise Men

The Magi visiting Jesus in Bethlehem, from The True Story of Christmas

While these details may or may not be significant, to me it seems best to be in accord with the scriptures regardless of how harmless such extra-biblical traditions may seem. Learning the true narrative at a young age will help to keep faith in the reliability of the Bible intact when such extra-biblical traditions, (and there are many,) are debunked later in a child’s life. The biblical narrative stands up to scrutiny – the extra-biblical traditions do not.

Perhaps more importantly, The True Story of Christmas gives the big picture context of the birth of Jesus according to the Bible. The book begins with God’s perfect creation, followed by the tragic consequences of the fall for humanity – the reason we are all in need of a Savior in the first place. After Noah’s flood, God’s restorative plan begins with His choosing of Abraham and the people of Israel. Kids are introduced to Israel’s prophets and their foretelling of a special child who would be born to Israel to set up a good and eternal kingdom. The Christmas story is the beginning of the fulfillment of this long-anticipated promise.

Following are some of the book’s illustrations and copy:

Christmas storybooks for kids-Malachi

“The very last prophet to speak of the promised messiah was named Malachi. After Malachi there were no more prophets at all in the land of Israel until it was time for the Messiah to be born. Israel had to wait 400 years after Malachi for God’s promise to come true. That is a very long time! But then, it finally happened!”…

Here’s an example of how the type appears on the page:

Birth of Jesus storybook

To Order:
The True Story of Christmas is now ready to order! In order to ensure delivery before Christmas, my printer has informed me that HARDCOVER orders should be placed by December 3rd. To order now, CLICK THIS LINK

Christian Christmas storybooks

The flight to Egypt, from The True Story of Christmas

Thank you so much for your support!
May you and your family have a joyous Christmas season!

All images copyright Scott Freeman, 2015
Special thanks to my 3 favorite teaching pastors – John Meyer, Pat Sokoll, & Jonathan Williams – for consulting with me in the making of this book.

Preview: New Christmas Storybook in Progress

Does the world need another Christmas storybook for children? I think so!

The book I’m currently at work on is called, “The True Story of Christmas.” If that title sounds presumptuous to you, I’ll only say that I believe the Bible gives us the true story of the birth of God’s Messiah – an event that we have come to call Christmas. The book I’m working on seeks to recount the story for kids, with as much fidelity to the Judeo-Christian scriptures as possible.

For example, I don’t recall having seen a kids’ Christmas storybook where the Magi show up in Bethlehem at Jesus’s house when he is a toddler, as the scriptures tell it.

I’ll explain more when the book is released. I’m not at all sure I’ll be able to get it done in time for ordering for this Christmas but I’m sure trying!

Survey Update:
A couple of weeks ago I did an informal survey on Facebook around the styling of the characters in the book. I was just about to start painting the first illustration when a thumbnail I had previously done caught my attention, and I suddenly had second thoughts about the styling I had developed for the characters. So I roughed out a couple of samples in a more elongated styling, posted them side by side, and asked people to vote on their favorites. I asked parents to get their kids’ input as well. There were lots of interesting comments.

Here are the roughs I posted:

Illustration roughs-Scott FreemanSurprisingly, the votes were fairly evenly split, but a significant majority of adults voted for the squattier figures. However, many did so because they felt this styling would appeal more to kids. Interestingly, slightly more kids voted for the elongated figures. However, the very youngest kids did seem to favor the squattier characters.

I promised to post my final decision and the finished version, so here it is:

Joseph Mary Donkey BethlehemOne of the other distinctive aspects about this Christmas book is that it puts the Christmas story in context, and explains the reason why there is a Christmas – the Big Picture. It tells of the nation of Israel and introduces children to Israel’s prophets, and their foretelling of a child who would be born to bring peace to the world. I like the way the illustration of the prophets came out. You might recognize the surrounding symbols from various prophetic biblical passages:

Christian storybooks-Scott FreemanAnd now, I need to get back to work if I’m going to get this done in time for Christmas! I’ll keep you posted…

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New Storybook Release: Bear Island

Kids' storybooks-Bear Island

I’m excited about this one!

Over the past few years, thanks to some great teaching by a couple of pastor friends, I’ve come to appreciate that one of God’s primary attributes is that He is relational in nature. As human beings created in His image, we are relational as well; created to live in loving relationship with Him, and with each other. Since our triune God exists in relationship within Himself, we can say that our need for loving relationship is not a shortcoming or flaw, but is rather an essential part of our Creator’s design for us.

The idea of a personal God who is loving and relational is not as inevitable as it might seem. This is unique to a biblical worldview. For example, the Allah of the Quran has always existed as a solitary being, and there is no indication that he desires relationship with man. Furthermore, Allah’s eternal aloneness suggests that love could have only existed in theory until man was created. In contrast, Jesus describes being in perfect loving relationship with the Father from before creation (Jn 17:22-24.) Thus the scriptures can truthfully say that God is love, and always has been.

Marriage is one picture of the relational unity-in-diversity that God designed us for. The creation story explicitly states that “oneness” is God’s intent for marriage. Family is another picture. The church is meant to be yet another manifestation of loving, relational unity. The greatest commandments of Jesus reflect all of this. Even on a worldly level, everyone on the planet seeks community and unity in some form. This is all from God, and Jesus claims that His salvation is what makes relational unity – first with God, and then with our neighbor – truly possible. In this way we can say that our deepest desires are met in Jesus.

Bear Island is a simple story that was designed to capture these truths at the simplest level. It’s a story about love, friendship, and family.

Bear Island tells the story of an island that should be a wonderful place for bears to live. Unfortunately, all of the bears are lonely because they mistakenly believe that the way to be happy is to be selfish. The strongest bears push the smaller bears around, and there’s generally lots of fighting and grumpiness. Bear Island is not a very nice place to live.

Stories about bears

One day an enormous, new bear visits the island, and the other bears are immediately afraid of him. However, rather than behaving selfishly, as they expect him to, he brings love and friendship to the island, eventually transforming the whole island.

Books for kids-Bear Island

Children's book illustration“…Every day Burly Brown Bear made a new friend by being kind to another bear. Soon there was a whole party of brown furry bears sharing their berries and sharing their days together. Bear Island was becoming a more heavenly place!…”

Biblical Worldview for kids

 

 

 

 

Bear hug

 

 

As a side note, the idea for this story came to me after my wife and I had completed a marriage class through my church that deeply affected us. This was also during the Ferguson riots, (near where I grew up.) At the time, I was struck with how seldom fatherlessness and the decline of marriage were a part of the ensuing discussions on race relations in America. I think the story of Bear Island came out a little differently because of all of this than it otherwise would have. I mentioned in a previous post that the characters in the story were designed so that children of any ethnic makeup would be able to identify with them. My hope is that this book can make inroads into the Black and Hispanic communities. Eventually I hope to offer a Spanish version as well.

So there you have it! Thanks again for your support – I hope you and your family are having a great summer!

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Storyboo-love & friendship

A Peek at Work in Progress

Scott Freeman-children's book illustrator

Here you can see stages in the development of a finished watercolor illustration.

I’m quite enthused about the storybook I’m currently working on. The book is called Bear Island. It’s a story themed around the idea that we were all designed by God for loving relationship. When I release the book, I’ll divulge more of the storyline.

Here’s the story in a nutshell. Bear Island is a great place for bears to live, but all of the bears are alone. They’re alone because they think that the way to be happy and strong is to be selfish. There’s a lot of fighting and grumpiness on the island. Then one day a very large, new bear visits the island. All of the native bears are afraid of him at first, but he goes against the grain of the culture and models selflessness and love to the island, changing the culture.
Mama Bear-watercolorThe point of this post is to give you a glimpse of how the artwork is coming along. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that they would like to see some work in progress. I hadn’t thought of doing this because, well, I see my own artwork everyday. If readers seem interested, I’ll do this with each new book. With each book I plan to employ a different style to fit the attitude of the book – fanciful, or silly, or realistic – so I hope this will help to keep it interesting for you.
Books for kids-Bear IslandBear Island was written to be accessible to a slightly younger audience than were my previous books. The illustration style for Bear Island is simple and pared down, in keeping with the simplicity of the story.
Bear Island-Scott FreemanAs a side note, I’ll mention another hope I have for this book. I designed it with the intention of making it palatable to Black and Hispanic readers. When I worked at Hallmark as a greeting card artist, I learned why greeting cards often feature animals as “spokespeople.” A primary reason is that this allows people of differing races to identify with the character. In the same way, Bear Island is peopled with brown bears, (not polar bears, mind you!) So my hope is that the characters will appeal to kids of any race, enabling them to fully identify with the characters. The story makes a point of affirming intact, loving families as an ideal. Also, after the selfish bear culture has been transformed into a life-affirming, relational one, new and creative possibilities that didn’t exist before emerge on the island.

Christian storybooks-Bear IslandHere you can see some of my favorite illustrations so far. What you’re seeing are the untouched paintings shot with my lame camera, but you can still get a pretty good idea of how they’re coming along. I’m juggling a lot of other work right now, but I expect to release Bear Island by the month of April. Enjoy!

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